This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
There are very few people to whom a portion of good fruit is not both grateful and beautiful, if partaken of with propriety; and there can be but very few, who are in any way engaged in the cultivation of the soil but will have an interested as well as a pleasurable desire to grow some one or more of the fruits which thrive in our climate.
Fruit also forms (or should form) a very considerable staple in every market; and while its cultivation gives remunerative employment to the growers, it also forms one of the best and healthful of exercises for the amateur. From thus viewing the importance of good and productive fruit-trees to the country generally, I have been led to write the few following remarks, which, if but pointing in the right direction, may be beneficial in drawing attention to the subject.
The propagation and raising of the various sorts of fruit-trees for the stocking of orchards and fruit gardens, is a business of considerable magnitude, and there are few businesses regarding which so much trust has to be exercised by the customer as with the tree grower or nurseryman. A considerable time is required to prove what he has got, and seeing that the price of the trees is not the one-hundredth part of the loss should disappointment ensue.
In the earlier settlement of this country, orchards (as many evidences yet existing testify) had been mostly raised from seeds of the various fruits intended to be grown; many varieties of fruit were thus raised. Indeed, scarcely are there to be found two trees with fruit alike in the older orchards which had been thus raised; yet mostly all were of an inferior quality. Now and then, a tolerably good fruit would be got, arising, probably, from having been cross or hybrid bred between two pure, or nearly pure, original (but different) sorts, the combination of the properties of which were fitted to form a right consistency for a good fruit; but this was chance.
A little later, grafted and budded trees had been introduced - that is, trees grafted or budded with scions or buds (from any good sort that it might be wished to increase) upon a young seedling tree or stock. This process, which is now well understood, most admirably answers the purpose of propagating and multiplying good varieties, with the certainty that they will be identically the same sorts as the parent trees from which the scions or shoots were taken. In respect to general principles of working, this process is complete; but I consider that much has to be learned and observed before we have the full benefit of its very adaptable qualities for increasing and preserving our fruits pure and productive.
In all well regulated nurseries, the different sorts of trees are marked with either names or numbers on the ground where they stand, and, generally speaking, very great care is taken to have the kinds true to the names given with them; and, except from any accidental mistake (which, under the best regulations, will sometimes occur), many, I believe, are worthy of every confidence. But then, these names and, numbers only speak truth as to the sorts from which the grafts were taken.
Now, without attributing other defects than those of the present routine of practice, and, of course, a desire on the part of nurserymen and tree growers to raise as large a quantity at as cheap a rate, and in as short a time as possible, I consider that there is a very great oversight in the present mode of propagating and raising fruit-trees, and which, in my opinion, lies in the indiscriminate way in which the stocks (or seedling trees to graft upon) are raised and used. For instance, in the case of apples, if a cider-mill is near, a quantity of seeds are very readily obtained; but such seeds are probably from fifty or one hundred varieties, most of them having pedigrees, connections, relations, differences, and affinities to others, and to and from each other, inextricable beyond all calculation. They are sown and grown, of course, indiscriminately, and the further probability is, that many of them may be already hybridized with, and allied to, the sorts which will be grafted or budded on them, and presuming that the stock exercises a most decided influence on the graft, and also on the quality of the fruit, but, more especially, on the health and productiveness or unproductiveness of the trees, and that, notwithstanding the goodness or productive quality of the sort which may have been grafted from, such indiscriminate amalgamation as this must be detrimental and deteriorating.
Some practical nurserymen say, that by the root-grafting system, the unsuitable-ness of stocks to grafts is done away with, from the graft itself rooting into the soil. I am of a different opinion, because I think that the rooting of the graft rather aggravates the difficulty than otherwise, as, then, there will be two distinct sources through which the tree will be supplied with sap, the amalgamation of which may be very injurious to either health, growth, productiveness, or quality. With other fruits which, come under the process of budding or grafting (as with the apple), the procedure has been pretty much the same, and need not be enlarged on.
The pear, when budded on the quince stock, has shown us some lessons in the direction aimed at in the foregoing, as many sorts of the pear do not succeed on quince stocks, which, on pear stocks, are thrifty, and good bearers. This can only be attributed to the influence of a stock which is not fitted for them. In other sorts, failures occur on pear roots, but, no doubt, from a similar cause.
By great attention and care in the proper hybridizing and crossing of the different sorts, the French and German growers have suceeeded in raising many new seedling varieties, possessing first-rate qualities while on their own roots pure, or when grafted upon suitable stocks, but which also get much deteriorated by being grafted on unsuitable stocks. Many good American seedlings have lately appeared, which, if thus indiscriminately matched in grafting, must share the same fate.
By gathering seeds which may have been hybridized by insects, or in any other promiscuous manner, some good pears may be raised, but only by the merest chance; and the chances against it are manifold.
By a like hypothesis, I have been led to believe that the indiscriminate manner in which seedling stocks are raised, reduces the productiveness, the size, the flavor, and also, in a very great degree, the constitutional health and vigor (or hardiness) of many of our fruit-trees, to be, in a great measure, a matter of chance, dependent as to whether any particular sorts of grafts may happen to have been put upon stocks suited to them; and I suppose there will be but very few who will think otherwise than that their chance of being so placed would be but very slender indeed.
Nurserymen and fruit growers certainly deserve well for having introduced many fine sorts of fruit into the country; whether for self-interest or philanthropy, matters not, as, in either case, the country is benefited. The progress made in propagating has also been great, but, by reason of those oversights which I have been endeavoring to point out, I think we have been (and are yet) working greatly in the dark, and making success more a matter of chance than it otherwise might be.
As a commencement to improvement, the adaptation of properly bred stocks to the various sorts which it may be wished to grow, might be the first aim; and, in my opinion, the nearer thorough bred (borrowing a term), or bred as nearly as possible in a direct and pure line from the crab-apple, pear, or plum, etc, so much the more likely are we to bare success in producing healthy, hardy trees, and clean, handsome, and high flavored fruit. This one branch of the improvement is of itself a great work, and must also be a work of time and experience; but the importance of such a work ought to be sufficient to enlist the united efforts and energies of all who are interested in fruit growing, and who is not?
I have not written the foregoing remarks as pretending to impart any definite information on the subject (in detail), as neither time nor opportunity has been had in order to experiment for that purpose, and the subject is of too much importance for random conclusions. I have only endeavored to point out a problem, the working out of which is of great interest, but which, if properly taken up by nurserymen and horticulturists, may be solved to much advantage, and which, I have every reason to believe, will account for many of the discrepancies and difficulties hitherto experienced with fruit and in fruit growing.