This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
When we read the many treatises on fruit tree culture, we are apt to be bewildered by what seems to be the contrariety of opinions; but it very often happens that these differences often harmonize, if only people would look a little deeper into reasons than they do. Now in regard to pruning, whether of roots or branches, there is generally an immediate advantage to be gained, and it is therefore well to prune, but on the other hand it is equally true that in a greater or less degree, pruning of roots or branches is an injury more or less to the vital constitution of the tree. So what we gain one way is at the expense of another point. Sometimes the loss to vital power is so slight, that we gain the other advantage cheaply; but then again we often pay dear for it. No books or lecturer can teach one just what to do. The decision must be applied to-such a case. This is the true dominion of practical fruit culture. So in our treatment of fruit trees, their vital powers are often weakened by the necessities of our practical treatment; but instead of looking to the real cause of our trouble we wonder if the "variety is hardy," whether the "climate has changed," whether we have "applied the right fertilizer," or some other outside operation has just fitted right.
It is well to remember that when a fruit tree has its vital power weakened and the necessities of culture results in this, the tree is much more liable to disease, than when it is as healthy as a wildling in a place where the art of the fruit grower has never been called into play. This is particularly true of discussions about manures for fruit trees. When they have not been weakened in their vital powers by injudicious root pruning, they thrive on the grossest manures, but when severe root pruning has reduced them to weak tender bodies, we have to manure with great caution, or there will be late growths which suffer in bad winter weather.
In planting fruit trees aim to have them so that the hot dry sun will not have full effect on the ground about the roots. The great heat in this way injures the trees. Many who have trees in gardens plant raspberries under them. The partial shade seems to be good for the raspberries, and helps the trees. Blackberries would no doubt do well in the same situation; and strawberries it is well known do not do badly, grown in the same way.
Whitewashing the stems of orchard trees has a very beneficial effect in clearing away old bark and destroying the eggs of innumerable insects. The white color is bad; throw in a little soot or some other matter to make it brown. In greenhouses sulphur has been found of benefit in keeping down mildew. Possibly if mixed with the whitewash in tree dressing, it might do good against fire blight, and such like fungoid troubles.
In fruit growing remember that fruits are like grain and vegetable crops, in this, that they must have manure to keep up fertility. Unlike vegetables and grain however, their feeding roots are mostly at the surface. It is best, therefore, annually to top-dress fruit trees. If manure cannot be had, any fresh earth from ditches or road sides, spread half an inch or so under the trees, will have a wonderful effect. Indeed, we do not know but that for the pear tree a thin layer of road sand is one of the best of manures. We have seen apples thrive amazingly with a coating of coal ashes.
Whatever may be said of birds and their evils when the fruit is ripe, there can be but one opinion about their value now. They have nothing but insects to live on, and they eat them by the millions. Insects are a far greater scourge to the fruit grower than birds, - it will be wise to encourage them. We see the English sparrow is getting naturalized in various parts of the country. We expect to hear in time great complaints from its graminivorous propensities; but this can be better guarded against than the attacks of insects. As Professor Riley says it is easy to shoot them when they become a nuisance, and we can make them pay for powder and shot, as they are usually nice and fat, and are as great a luxury as the famous reed-bird.
Deep rich soil, now so generally condemned for fruit gardens, is of the first importance here. Soil cannot be too deep or too rich, if we would have good vegetables. It is indeed remarkable, that in many respects we have to go very differently to work to get good fruits, than we have to perfect vegetables. While, for instance, we have to get sunlight to give the best richness to our fruits, our vegetables are usually best when blanched or kept from the light. So also as we keep the roots as near the surface as we can in order to favor the woody tissue in trees, we like to let them go deep in vegetables because this favors succulence.
It is best not to sow tender vegetables too soon, they get checked, and the last will be first. Asparagus is one of the earliest crops to set out. It was at one time believed that the varieties of this would not come true from seed, and that there was but one best kind. We are not so sure of this now. Many plant them too deep and fail; four inches is enough, rows 20 inches, and plants one foot apart will do Make the soil particularly rich.