This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
With all the favourable reports from the great fruit-growing districts of the "promise" for fruit crops, and the singular lateness of the season which is likely to keep the flower-buds from opening, so that they would be out of danger of late frosts, yet the buds are open or opening, and the severity of the weather decreases but little, so disappointment may come after all. On looking over a very fine "set" of Peaches and Nectarines on the open walls, we find the greater portion of them black and soft as pulp. We fear if a favourable change does not come soon (May 14), the sanguine hopes of the great fruit-cultivators will be greatly modified.
Trees trained to walls and other fences will now require a general overhaul. The strong shoots which are so general on healthy trees may require stopping before they rob their fellows. Thin out all shoots not wanted for next season's fruit-bearing; endeavour to get all bare portions of the walls covered - not at random, however, but by systematic training, keeping the shoots as straight as possible, pointing regularly in the right direction - that is, when fan-training is practised. If horizontal - training be the style adopted, then lead them in lines running straight with the bricks. Where wires have been placed, the horizontal system is partially carried out. Perpendicular training is gaining in favour with many, and it answers well where walls require partly filling-up. A tree with from two to four and six upright shoots, trained from 8 inches to 1 foot apart, will produce a large quantity of fruit. Whatever the favourite method is, there should be no vacant space on the walls, and there should be no crowding of branches together. The crowding system defeats every effort to secure crops of fruit. In the autumn, when sun and air should have free access to every leaf and branch, by crowding the current year's growth the ripening process is much retarded or entirely prevented.
The labour that crowding gives, too, is very objectionable, especially where labour power is limited. All outward growing shoots are objectionable: if fruit sets on them, they are kept from the walls and loose their protection; in course of time they become ugly and unfruitful. This applies to Peaches, Nectarines, Plums, and Apricots. Dryness at the roots of newly-planted trees should be remedied by applications of soft-water which has been exposed to the atmosphere. If trees are starting weakly into growth, guano-water would be of service in starting them. A mulching of good rotten manure is of much benefit, by keeping the roots cool and nourishing them.
Aphis and other insects are generally found to become active at this season, and they should not be allowed to have a footing on the foliage. Tobacco-water or tobacco-powder dusted over the trees, or syringed on them, mixed in water, or Gishurst's compound in 2 ounces per gallon, are some of the most destructive remedies, and no insect life can stand against them. However, if the vermin should get established, the remedies must be applied almost daily. The grub found on Apricots, curled up in the leaves, can only be mastered effectually with thumb and finger. Morello Cherries are very subject to black-fly - a most formidable insect: a small vessel filled with Gishurst's compound, and the points of the shoots dipped in the liquid, will do much to destroy the brood; but often, where the foliage is close to the walls, the best plan is to nip off the points of the diseased shoots and burn them.
Pears, as a rule, are not so liable to aphis, but are subject to scale, which is worse still: syringing with warm soapy water will do much to act as a preventive. During winter, when the foliage is off, a painting of soft-soap, soot, and sulphur would kill scale - a brushing with soft-soap and water would destroy the greater portion of insect life. When Pears have made good growth, it is well to begin shortening the young shoots in time. The method of stripping the trees all at once is objectionable: some do not allow the young growths to form at all, but we prefer the medium course, and begin at top of the trees, say about the third week in June, and shorten back about a third of them; in a few weeks later the middle portion of the trees are trimmed back, and later the bottom portion of the tree has attention. We have seen this system answer admirably: with many years in succession there were loads of fruit always to thin off. In autumn, when growth ceased, the shoots were well cut in, and many buds were thus formed. In winter there was little else to be done. Apples as espaliers we would always treat in the same manner.
When wood became extra gross and spongy, root-lifting piecemeal is had recourse to; not left to winter, as is often done, but during the latter part of summer or early in autumn. Suckers must not be allowed to grow, but be taken off as soon as they appear. Cherries and Plums are very liable to form suckers also, and should be often looked over to see that none are growing from the roots or below the graft. Grafts must be looked over, and the ties partially or altogether loosened to allow them to swell. Budding may now be done: it is simply forming a slip in the bark of a stock, cutting across, forming the letter T.- The bark is raised up and the bud (which has been previously divested of its wood, the bark cut to fit that in the stock) is slipped in and fitted neatly, with the point alone exposed, and all the other portion being neatly bound closely with soft matting. Standard trees receive little help during summer; but if time and means would allow, they could be kept in fruiting condition and made haudsome by attention to disbudding. - Open hearts for bush-shaped trees, and the permanent branches kept at regular distances, is very desirable.
Pyramids, being generally dwarf and more come-at-able, receive more careful attention. They may be thinned and stopped as the growth of the tree indicates. Keeping a straight centre shoot, and the others branching out and upwards at equal distances, demands attention. This rule applies to all trees and plants, as the stopping of one shoot strengthens the others. Dwarf-bushes known as small fruits require the same attention as directed for last month.
Figs will now be making rapid growth, and where grown thinly with leading shoots and short spur-looking wood, should be encouraged, for it is always fruitful. These young growths should be carefully gone over, and the points squeezed at every fourth leaf or so. If plenty of fruit is showing, they should be exposed to the sun as much as can be done. If there is a wall to cover, leading shoots should be trained and kept as leaders. Figs do admirably with any kind of training. Just as the Pear is manageable, so is the Fig. Cordons, either as large or small trees, can be made and kept fruitful. Such sorts as Castle Kennedy, Gros vert, and Brunswick, often require much cramping at their roots, and even a little cutting, to keep them stiff in growth and fruitful. Brown Turkey and White Marseilles hold their own with most Fig fanciers, yet Negro Largo is a fine and free bearer.
In the orchard-house abundance of work will give the cultivator exercise of body and mind, if he is an enthusiast. Thinning of fruit, keeping down insects by fumigation and washes, stopping of shoots to direct the course of those left, keeping the trees from becoming matted, careful ventilation, watering with care, giving thorough soakings of weak manure-water, syringing plentifully, keeping healthy open surfaces of pots and borders, and applying wholesome mulching of rotten manure, - are objects which all in their part tend to make orchard-house tree-culture a success, and be something different to the starvation method we often see. M. T.