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.
Much of late years has been written and said about apple orcharas and their cultivation. On most all farms of any extent in the Eastern or Northern States there are more or less of old apple orchards. These, for the most part, have been left to grow up and take care of themselves, which, in the long run, amounts to just no care at all. The consequence has been, that they have become, by this neglect, unthrifty, scrubby trees, full of dead limbs, the trunk and limbs covered with moss and rough bark, presenting an unsightly appearance; and in eight or ten years, the farmer, in early spring, would mount the trees, axe in hand, and cut and slash off large limbs and small, leaving the spurs sticking out from three to six inches long from the trunk, while the tree would be so much relieved from wood that it would take it ten years to get back to where it was at the time of pruning - so that, in the long run, we think that the "let alone system" much preferable to the ten years' trimming plan, although both plans are what every good reasonable farmer should be ashamed of.
Now what these old orchards want, is, a thorough renovation in the shortest possible time. The first thing to be done, is, to cut off the old top of the growing trees and set on a new one by grafting. This can be done best by the common mode of "cleft grafting." Those limbs that are the size of a "hoe-handle," or an inch and a half in diameter, should be selected, as they soon heal over, making the limb sound. The " grafter" should commence in the top of the tree to saw off limbs, and so work down, taking care to graft every tier of under limbs at a longer distance from the trunk, so that the grafts will have plenty of room to grow and not interfere with each other. To have this work done in a business-like manner requires three hands - one to saw off the limbs and pare the stocks; another to set the scions, two in a stock; and the third hand to put on the wax. All old trees that have a good sound trunk, however many dead limbs they may have, should be sawed and grafted. But many old trees require different management. Some, by bad pruning, have grown their old tops up very high.
To graft these old tops at such a distance up, would be a difficult job; at the same time they would make an unsightly appearance in growing.
Such trees should be "hood down is the off ot such distance down the tree, that when the new shoots put out they may form a handsome top. These sprouts, if they are of thrifty growth, may be grafted the second season, or "budded," as the case may be. Old large trees of slow growth should not, in all cases, have their whole top taken off at once, as the shock might kill them. But in these cases the south half of the tree might be taken off first; then, say in two years after, the north half could be treated in the same way, and the tree saved. As to the time of pruning apple trees, it may be done any time from May to October; but it should be done regular every year, and then only small limbs will be taken off; but in the case of old, neglected orchards, more or less of large limbs must be removed. About all the tools wanted are a sharp hand-saw, a fine pruning-saw, and pruning-knife. It will be well to have the large wounds covered by a composition of gum shellac, dissolved in alcohol to the consistency of paint, and put on with a brush. This, I think, is as cheap and as good composition as can be had for closing the pores of the wood - also protecting it from the weather.
The best grafting wax I have ever used is that made of four parts of rosin, two of bees wax, and one of tallow, melted together, and kept in an iron kettle. In an ordinary sunny day the kettle, standing in the sun, will gather sufficient heat to keep the wax in good working order. This wax will not melt in the hottest weather; neither will it crack and come off in the coldest weather; but it will remain on the stock two or three years, or until it is entirely healed over. Another thing which should be done at the time of pruning is, the trees should be scraped entirely of moss and rough bark, by a "tree scraper." This can be done best directly after a heavy storm, as the bark and moss then will be in the right condition to come off. After this cleaning, a wash, made from wood ash lye, or potash water, should be put on the trunks and large limbs, which will kill all insects and larvae, giving to the bark a smooth appearance. The " scrapers" may be had at any of the implement stores at a cheap rate.
If I were to advise whether to plant a new orchard or renovate an old one, I should say, renovate the old one first, by all means; because your labor can be made to pay a great deal quicker on the old orchard than on the new. In from three to four years' time your newly grafted trees will begin to bear, and so continue to increase from year to year, while at the same time you have made a handsome improvement on the stock of your orchard. Old orchards that are kept permanently in grass should have the soil dug up around the trees every season; and if done as far as the branches extend, it will be all the better. Manure should be dug into the soil occasionally, as the case requires. Where orchards are near the "pigery" it is a good plan to let the swine have the run of the orchard through the warm season, as they will eat and destroy most of the "windfalls" under the trees, and also keep the soil stirred up in search of worms, Ac. Much is being done, at present, by farmers and cultivators, in setting out young orchards.
This is a commendable work, and shows that the right spirit is at work among our farmers. e setting out of a young orchard, and then letting the trees take care of th is a "loose business," which too many cultivators still follow to their own lc.
The soil in an orchard should be kept under c whole time, until the trees shade the ground so much that it will not be profitable for hoed crops or grain. As to the distance apart the trees should stand, it will depend something on the trees planted. My observation tells me that, as a general thing, apple orchards are set too close on the ground. The trees should be set at such distance apart that the trunks will grow to at least eighteen inches in diameter before the branches approach each other. Some six or seven years ago I set out a young orchard of Baldwins at a distance of forty feet one way by thirty the other, and when the trunks reach the size of a foot and a half, I think that the ground will be nearly covered. An orchard of Rhode Island Greenings should be set at least forty feet each way, as this tree opens more like the umbrella in shape; the branches extending out horizontally from the trunk, it covers a large surface. There is nothing to be gained by crowding trees so that the branches will come together when the trees are eight or ten inches in diameter at the trunk; but much is lost in this way. The trees should have room to extend their branches, should the orchard live and thrive for an age or century to come.
The quality of fruit is much better, also, when the trees have plenty of room and sun-light to mature the fruit.
One word as to the over-supply of good fruit for market, which some cultivators seem to apprehend from the great attention given to this business. I have no idea that the supply will equal or exceed the demand for good fruit in this country in the next fifty years to come. Of course, prices will vary according to the amount of fruit grown in a season, and other circumstances connected with the business; but good fruit of all kinds will always bring a remunerating price to the careful and patient cultivator; and then we look for the cultivation of hardy kinds of apples for the "foreign trade," to become a business hereafter of which we know but little at present. Something has been done in this way already; but that a great deal more will be done in the next half century, and that, too, at a large profit, we have no reason to doubt at present. Farmers and cultivators will continue to make all the improvements they can, both in their apple and other fruit orchards.