This section is from the book "The American Garden Vol. XI", by L. H. Bailey. Also available from Amazon: American Horticultural Society A to Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants.
THIS most fatal scourge of the Michigan fruit grower first made its appearance in the "peach belt" on the east shore of Lake Michigan about twenty years ago. It began in the southern portion of Berrien county, where the largest orchards in the state were planted. The disease spread from orchard to orchard for several years almost unnoticed, even by the fruit growers.
Peaches were sent to market tinctured with the disease, and relished by the average consumer, because they were in advance of the market. The steady march of the disease was directly northward, along the east shore of Lake Michigan. In 1886, it had reached the northern boundary of Allegan county, beyond the Kalamazoo River. This being the northern limit of extensive peach orchards at that time, the disease stopped, after a full twenty years of a steady march of death. The only check it ever received in its onward course of devastation was the use of the axe, the grub-hoe and fire, and in all localities where this merciless remedy was resorted to most promptly, will be found the best orchards of to-day, both old and young.
Different varieties, both early and late, were all attacked nearly the same in all localities. Trees of all ages and conditions were attacked alike in all seasons, whether cold and wet or hot and dry. The model thrifty young orchard standing on the vergin soil of the heavy timbered lands, composed of loam or clay, was often the first to go, while the neglected one on a sand drift, poor and exhausted, was the last to yield to the fell destroyer. The owner of one orchard might remove his affected trees at sight and destroy them, but if his immediate neighbors neglected to do the same, all perished together. On the other hand, whenever one or two dozen peach growers, joining farms, were all agreed in removing and destroying every diseased tree at first sight, the orchards escaped. The most of these peach growers have a majority of their old trees still left and bearing good crops of fruit. Most of the orchards in which the trees have been removed promptly and the vacancies filled, have grown and borne good crops of fruit; and strange as it may seem, they have developed no yellows to speak of, probably not one in a thousand.
At first, only a few pomologists could be made to believe that the disease is contagious. Nor has it ever been proved beyond the possibility of a doubt that such is a fact, but circumstantial evidence has been so strong and conclusive that nearly all fruit growers on this shore agree that the disease is contagious. At any rate, there is no more argument in the pomological meetings at. tempting to deny the fact. Some believe it is disseminated by the bees, others by the pruning knife or saw, while a much larger number think it is from the pollen borne through the atmosphere by the winds. There have been a number of cases in the vicinity of South Haven and Casco,* which give very strong evidence in proof of the disease being contagious under certain conditions. On one side of a highway an orchard of a few hundred trees, about fifteen years old, was struck with the yellows, and the owner refused to cut them down until after he had gathered the fruit. The third year following, this orchard was all dead. On the opposite side of this highway was a very thrifty young orchard, six years planted, of over two thousand trees.
No evidence of yellows had been seen in this young orchard until the second year after the old one was attacked, when about one dozen trees next to the highway were affected with the disease and promptly removed as soon as discovered, and burned. The next year about forty of these beautiful young trees full of peaches developed yellows, both in tree and fruit These trees were promptly removed from the orchard with care and likewise destroyed. The old orchard was also taken out, root and branch, and committed to the flames. The next year no yellows appeared in this young orchard, nor has there been any trace of it since. Several cases could be cited equally as strong, but one more will be sufficient to note at this time.
* Casco adjoins South Haven on the north. - Ed.
A prominent peach grower had a very fine bearing orchard of two thousand trees. Just over the division line was another orchard of about twelve hundred trees of the same age. The first orchard came out with the yellows, mostly near the division line - about forty trees. When the owner was notified by the commissioner to cut down the diseased trees, he threatened to shoot the first man who entered the premises for that purpose. The result was, that in three years his orchard was all dead. The owner of the adjoining orchard found a few trees showing the disease the second year, but he quickly cut and burned. During the next three years, over two hundred trees were taken out, and no more yellows appeared. The vacancies have been filled, and a good average orchard is still left, worth two thousand dollars. The orchard is now sixteen years old, and bearing good crops of fruit. I think this is very strong evidence that the disease is contagious.
By request of the fruit growers of West Michigan, the Legislature of this state enacted a law, known as " the Yellows Law," for the repression of this disease. The fruit growers of the peach belt can hardly estimate the direct benefit to them of this enactment. It may be said in truth, that all fruit growers who faithfully and honestly carried out the provisions of this law were well paid by so doing. In most cases, the disease was not only arrested in their own orchards, but the spread of the contagion to their immediate neighbors was also largely prevented. The peach growers of Berrien county have often declared that if they could have had the benefits of that law the same as Van Buren and Allegan counties did, they could have saved the larger part of their orchards. But there was no union of action in Berrien county, either in discovering the developments of the disease, or enforcing the law.
Of course Van Buren and Allegan counties had a fierce combat with the ignorance and prejudice which more manifested in many instances, in strong opposition to the will of the majority. It is now an admitted fact by nearly all intelligent fruit growers that all we have left of the old original orchards - many of them from sixteen to twenty years old - have been saved by the strict observance of this law. Nor is there any doubt now existing in the minds of nine-tenths of the fruit growers of this shore, that all of the younger orchards have been kept free from attack of this disease by "stamping out" the virus in the old trees. The South Haven and Casco Pomo. logical Society is not discussing this vexed question any more, only to hear the reports of the commissioners once a year. These reports have kept us posted on the number of trees cut out, also if any diseased peaches are being shipped from this port to injure the reputation of our fruit growers in the market. In a word, we are masters of the situation, and firmly believe that we can "hold the fort".
For a time, when the disease was moving to the northward at the rate of about five miles per annum, the majority of Michigan peach growers began to lose faith in the business. Very few had the courage to set out new orchards ; and more were willing to await developments. When the tide of devastation was checked, all began to take on new courage and prepared to plant new orchards, except in Berrien county, where the destruction had been so complete that no new orchards were planted until the years 1885-6. It is worthy of note here, that those who had been the most prompt and thorough in destroying their diseased trees, were the first to plant new orchards, showing their faith by their works. Since confidence has been restored, the planting of new orchards has increased beyond all precedent. Although no exact statistics can be furnished, it is safe to say that more peach trees have been planted within the last five years in Van Buren and Allegan counties than ever before in any ten years. Berrien county is following, with more caution, yet with very encouraging prospects of future success.
The St. Joseph and Benton Harbor fruit region has learned a lesson that will never be forgotten, nor yet repeated in Berrien county.
A very great majority of the South Haven and Casco fruit growers always acknowledged the presence of the yellows in their peach orchards; yet it was a hard matter for several years to convince many of them that the best thing to do was to destroy every diseased tree, then and there. It certainly requires a good deal of courage and self-sacrifice to lay the axe to the root of a peach tree from four to seven years old, and full of beautiful peaches. The diseased peach is very high-colored, and has, in contrast with the green leaves, a most luscious appearance, yet the flavor is very poor and insipid But just as soon as these same fruit growers were satisfied that it was to their interest to destroy a tree, they showed no mercy. Whether a tree had five or fifteen baskets of fruit, it made no difference; the order was carried into execution. So the work of demolition went on until nearly every vestige of the arch enemy of the peach grower was cut out, burned out and "stamped out," with the encouraging results I have briefly noted.
South Haven, Mich. J. G. Ramsdell.