The greatest of the many delusions which mislead people who want to grow their own fruit is that it cannot be done in a small garden.
The largest quantity of fruit cannot be grown on a small plot of ground, but the best quality can. The man who knows everything, and has likewise forgotten a good deal, may point to the low standard of merit observable in the market produce sent up from the little homestead; but he forgets that the sender has very likely inherited a legacy from a predecessor who first of all put in bad trees and afterwards made worse of them by ignorant management. Where trees are well handled in small gardens they yield superb fruit, although the quantity of it may be small.
I want to show how it is possible to get good fruit in nearly every garden, however limited it may be; and I also want to make clear that much depends on a wise utilisation of the space at disposal. The art of economical fruit culture is to make the best of every inch of ground. By selecting the right type of tree, and cultivating and feeding the soil thoroughly, a score of healthy trees, yielding large, juicy fruit of the finest quality, may be grown on a space often devoted to only one.
If a dead fruit grower of the old school heard of sixty fruit trees being grown on 3 square rods of ground in an open situation in the kitchen garden, without wall or fence, he would turn in his grave; yet there is nothing whatever impracticable about it. On the contrary, it may be done with ease, without a great deal of expense, and with immense interest and benefit to the cultivator.
B, supporting wires.
C, stout posts set at a slight angle.
D, lighter posts (vertical).
E, galvanised wire for supporting trees.
F, soil level.
G, trees trained diagonally.
Fig. 1 represents a framework of posts and wire by means of which twenty-four trees may be grown in 20 square yards of ground. A A represent stumps driven into the ground, and C C show stout posts connected with and supported by the stumps through the medium of stout galvanised wire, B B. D D D indicate lighter posts set between the larger ones. E E E show the wires for supporting the trees G, and F F is the ground line.
Let us glance briefly at each of the items of this much-in-little system.
The stumps A should be 1 yard long or thereabouts, pickled or well dressed with creosote. They should be at least 4 inches in diameter, and must be driven into the ground at a slight angle. Holes must not be dug for them, as, however well the soil may be rammed in afterwards, the stumps will not hold. They may be set about 5 feet behind C.
The wires B should be strong, at least 1/4 inch in diameter; strand wire (say 7-strand) is best.
The uprights C should be about 8 feet long, of which 2 feet must be driven into the ground. They must be set at a slight angle, like the stumps. It is an advantage if they are "shoed" at the base, and a strut taken from the tip of the "shoe" to the post above ground. The connecting wires B should be attached to the stumps before the latter are driven into the ground, and made quite secure by means of staples (which cost about 2d. per lb.). The upper part of the wire may then be bent round the uprights and drawn tight by means of a special tool, which can be hired or borrowed from the ironmonger who supplies the wire.
When stumps and principal uprights have thus been made secure, the intermediary uprights D may be driven into the ground. There should be one at every 6 yards at least. Hop poles about 2 inches in diameter answer for these, and the base at all events must be creosoted.
The wires may now be stretched. Five-strand wire, 1/8 inch or so in diameter, will be suitable, and it should be well galvanised. Attach at one end and make secure with staples driven well home; then strain tight at the opposite end. Care should be exercised in uncoiling the wire, otherwise ugly kinks may be caused, and the work will look slovenly.
Except for the sake of appearances, it is not necessary that the wires should be as taut as fiddle strings. If tight enough to "sing" a little when drawn laterally and released, all practical purposes will be served. It is important to tighten up the wires by degrees, beginning with the intermediate ones. If the top or bottom one is put on first and strained tight, it will loosen when the next one is put on and similarly tightened.
In districts where it is difficult to get posts of a suitable character, recourse may be had to metal uprights to take the place of C and D. The first cost will be greater, but the framework will of course be more lasting.
In planting the trees it is a very good plan to proceed as follows: Begin at one end and make a trench about 18 inches wide and 1 foot deep, throwing the soil into a ridge along the edge of the trench. Having arrived at the other end, turn, and dig over the subsoil, shifting it another foot deep, not merely scratching it over. Spread on the subsoil before turning it one of the following mixtures: -
1 oz. of muriate of potash,
2 oz. of basic slag, per yard run.
1 1/2 oz. of kainit,
1 1/2 oz. of superphosphate, per yard run.
In the absence of these fertilisers, road scrapings, burnt refuse, mortar rubbish, or well-decayed manure may be dug in. All are good; but I deprecate large quantities of rich, rank dung, because it will tend to entice the roots downwards, and foster an exuberant, unfruitful growth, rendering speedy relifting or root pruning absolutely necessary.
Having thus prepared the trenches, the trees may be selected. Many do this first; but if the trenches are made well in advance of planting it is an advantage, as the lower soil becomes weathered and sweetened. The trees should be of the upright cordon class, and the price will vary from 1s. to 2s. 6d. each, according to age and variety. Trees three to four years old are the best. 'They may be bought already furnished with fruit spurs, and with a web of fibrous roots.
The loosening of the subsoil will have partially filled up the trench, and a layer of the surface soil may now be shovelled in, reducing the depth of the trench to 6 or 8 inches, which will be quite suitable. Place the trees in the trench about 2 feet apart after cutting any of the prong roots which may have been broken smoothly across; arrange them at an angle of about 45°, and shovel soil over the roots, working it carefully in amongst the fibres. Tread gently, but firmly, and spread over all a coating of well-decayed manure, subsequently covering this with the remainder of the soil.
By following this system, there can be scarcely a doubt about the trees taking kindly to the soil. They will bear some fruit the first season, even though very little. It is no disadvantage to have a light crop the first year of planting; on the contrary, it should be viewed with satisfaction, because there is then no danger of the trees suffering from an over heavy burden.
The whole of the work indicated, from the erection of the framework to the planting of the trees, may be done in autumn, in winter, or in early spring. Midwinter is not a very good time, because the posts and trees have not a good chance of becoming bedded to their positions in the soil, owing to the changes brought about by rain and frost.
Apples and Pears are admirably adapted to this method of culture, and by selecting sorts with care (see a subsequent chapter) and pruning judiciously (also to be treated later) a long succession of fruit can be had. True, each tree will only yield a limited quantity, but it will be of large size and splendid quality.
Plums are not quite so well suited, as they are naturally of much more vigorous growth than Apples and Pears, and not nearly so amenable to the restrictive system of pruning. I prefer to grow them as pyramids or standards.
Gooseberries and Red Currants may be grown with great success on the cordon principle, and it may be practised unhesitatingly with the former where a good many varieties are wanted for dessert or exhibition.
It is important to utter a warning that the system herein described is not suitable for market work. The cultivator who grows fruit for profit will want large quantities of a limited number of chosen sorts, not one or two trees of a great many varieties. (Sec chapter on "Profitable Culture.")
The full advantages of the system are only manifest to the private grower. To the latter it means the ability to grow a great many varieties on a very small strip of ground, without the aid of a fence or wall. By choosing varieties which ripen in succession he will not have a good deal of fruit ready at the same time, but will have a long and continuous supply. He can have both Apples and Pears, in fact, from July to April, and of the former a few of the best keepers may last until the next crop is ready.
It may be desirable in some cases to establish more than one of these frameworks on the same plot of ground. Any number may be so provided if a space of about 4 feet is allowed from one to the other. This distance will permit of plenty of sunlight getting to the trees, of a free circulation of air, of space for pruning, and of freedom of movement in surface culture. It will also allow of the roots spreading without one row robbing another.
By no other means can space be so closely and well cropped with the larger kinds of fruit in gardens where walls or suitable fences do not exist.
Where there is more space at disposal, and a desire exists for a complete fruit garden, an interesting and valuable adjunct to a home may be established. Fig. 2 shows the ground plan of an amateur's fruit garden, arranged with a due regard to the various interests involved, such as the inclusion of the principal kinds, suitability of site and aspect, and the welfare of other occupants of the garden.
B, paths, 6 feet wide.
C, stoneware edging tiles, rope pattern.
D, line of cordon Apple trees on Paradise stock, 6 feet apart - 112 trees.
E, double trellis for horizontally trained Pear trees - 12 trees.
F, open spaces or beds for Strawberries or flowers,such as Roses and Carnations: all dwarf to admit of light and air to the espaliers.
G, wall (south aspect) wired for Peach trees, for trained - 5 trees.
H, wall (east aspect wired for Plum trees, fan trained - 7 trees.
I, wall (north as-pect) wired for Cherry trees - 5 trees.
J, wall (west aspect) wired for Pear trees, horizontally or fan trained - 7 trees; or double cordons, 2 feet apart - 12 trees.
K, galvanised iron arches, 8 feet in height, for double vertical cordon ornamental Crabs, 2 trees to each arch - 20 trees.
L, pyramidal Pear trees - 9 trees.
M, bush Apple trees on Paradise stock - 24 trees.
N, single vertical cordon Pear tree at ends of double trellis - 24 trees.