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.
HIs is a question that can not be answered properly in a few words, yet we are over and over again requested to answer it within the limits of a brief letter. We propose, therefore, to devote a short chapter to the subject now, in order to avoid the necessity of frequent and unsatisfactory replies hereafter.
Looking at the question in the abstract, we can say, without the slightest hesitation, that Pear culture, for market, is profitable. Land of the finest quality for the purpose, situated in the finest fruitgrowing districts of the United States, and of easy access to the best markets, can be purchased for fifty to one hundred dollars per acre - varying with the value of the improvements, in the way of buildings, condition of the land, contiguity to railway stations, etc. This is one great point settled, - good cheap land, in a favorable climate, and all desirable facilities for marketing the crops at any season of the year.
As to the prices of Pears, we need say but little; they are so high as to be the subject of general remark. In our most abundant Pear month of all the year, October, good Pears, such as Virgalieus, sell readily at Rochester, in the orchard, at five dollars per bushel, and in New York for nearly twice as much. A few days ago, Messrs. Curtis etc Lincoln, of Boston, sent us a small box of Easter Beurres which, as they stated, sell readily in Boston at two to five dollars per dozen. And it is well known that Pear-culture around Boston is, and has for years been, a sort of speciality with nearly every man who has land that Pear trees can be grown upon. Neither is it at all likely that prices will come down to a low figure in a great length of time; for the population, wealth, taste, and luxurious habits of living, are all increasing at such a rapid rate in every city, town, and village, in the country, that no moderate extension of culture can possibly keep pace.* Then it takes at least twelve or fifteen years to bring Pears on Pear stocks to that condition when their fruit may be taken into account It is perfectly safe, therefore, to assume that Pear-culture is not only profitable at present, but is likely to remain so for - we can not say how long.
It is altogether unnecessary to enter into any calculations respecting the cost of establishing and keeping orchards, or the probable produce of trees at a given age. This has often been done already, and the results, however they might vary according to circumstances, have invariably been encouraging to the planter. Our principal object now is to draw attention to certain causes which have already led to disappointment, and are likely to do so hereafter.
* Previous to 1850, the population of New York increased in five years, 144,405; Boston, 22,500; Philadelphia, in ten years, 150,725; Baltimore, in five years, 66,741; Brooklyn, in five years, 37,272; Williamsburg, in five years, 11,138. Between 1850 and 1855, the increase has undoubtedly been still greater in proportion. The interior cities and villages, as well as the rural districts, are increasing in population at an amazing rate. Cincinnati, in ten years, between 1840 and 1850, increased 72,000; and in the same period Milwaukie sprang up from 1,000 to 20,000, and Chicago from 4,000 to 30,000. See how new States grow up, like Minnesota and Kansas, in a lew years, without a bearing fruit tree.
During the last seven or eight years, a large number of persons hare engaged in pretty extensive experiments in growing Pears for market, without possessing the slightest degree of experience in either that or any kindred branch of cultivation; and that, too, without calling in the aid of any one having the requisite skill and experience, or of devoting to it their own personal care or direction. Engaged in some other pursuit, they have taken this up as a sort of speculation or investment, and have attempted to carry out their plans with such assistance as common field laborers are competent to give. It is scarcely possible that these persons could succeed in realizing their expectations, for although the culture of the Pear in our soil and climate is a very plain and simple matter, yet it can not be done on an extensive scale, in such a manner as to be satisfactory and profitable, except under good and skillful management This is certain. There are various considerations that require to be well weighed and studied by one who has had experience. The soil must be suitable, the location eligible, varieties well adapted to the soil and other local circumstances, as well as to the markets for which they are grown.
The trees must be properly planted, and afterwards pruned and trained, and the soil must be kept in good heart and good tilth about the trees. Insects have to be watched and destroyed; and a great variety of minor matters, accidents and incidents, must be encounterd and provided for.
A common laborer, who might be a capital spademan or plowman, and who might very well take care of a crop of Potatoes or Corn, is no more competent to direct the management of an extensive orchard of Pears, or any fruit trees, than he would be to conduct the machinery of one of the great cotton mills at Lowell. The planter may fancy that, being well read on the subject, he can in a short lecture make it all plain to his laborer; but he is mistaken. We know from experience that it is not an easy matter to make a good tree-cultivator with mere words, however explicit and forcible they may be. To plant a tree well, is an easy matter, no doubt We know many amateurs who, by a little experience, have become most successful planters - their trees live if they have a spark of vitality left when planted; while we hear hundreds of people complain that they have "bad luck" in planting - their trees die, or they don't grow, or there is something wrong. Thousands of trees are annually lost through errors committed by inexperienced planters; and in most cases it would be impossible for any one to discover where the error was, unless by pulling up the trees.
They may have been planted too deep - the roots placed out of the reach of the genial and exciting warmth of the atmosphere, there to remain dormant for a season, and finally die. They may have been planted too shallow, and thus too much exposed to the heat and dryness of the atmosphere, or to the action of frost in winter. The roots may have been huddled in, all curled and twisted in unnatural positions, and thus checked in their attempts to recover from the shock of removal; or they may have been bruised and broken when taken up, and these mangled and decaying parts allowed to remain, instead of being carefully removed with a sharp knife. The tope may have been branchy and full, while the roots were meagre and defective, and yet no pruning given to restore the necessary balance. Then there are a multitude of little points that would appear to be scarcely worthy of notice, yet by no means unimportant to the future growth and vigor of the trees; but they can only be understood and appreciated after some degree of experience.
What we have said in regard to planting, applies with equal force to pruning. This must be done at the proper time and in a proper manner. A person who has not studied the nature and habits of a tree somewhat, is as likely to injure as improve its condition by the application of the knife. Only a few of those who profess to be gardeners, have learned to use their knife at once wisely and well. The head needs to be trained as well as the hand. The good pruner not only makes a clean, handsome, quick cut, but he cuts precisely what he should, and nothing more; and that, too, at the right time. We would greatly prefer to open the gates of our orchard, and let in a drove of cattle to browse on the branches, than allow such men to prune them as we have known to be entrusted with that duty.
Then again the cultivation and cropping of the ground requires good judgment, as well as great care. Some people suppose that if they grow root crops, or such as require clean and constant culture, among their trees, that it will be all right And so it would be, if it were done in a proper manner. We are satisfied, however, that in a multitude of cases the young trees are so starved and stunted by allowing the intervening rows of root crops to encroach upon them, that they are permanently injured, if not ruined. We have known a very intelligent cultivator ruin an extensive young Pear orchard by cropping the spaces between the rows, with corn. He took the precaution to leave an open space of several feet on each side of the rows; yet the injury arising from exclusion of air, etc, was quite obvious in comparing the trees with others differently situated. We have seen others much injured by a crop of Carrots: a small space was left between the roots and the trees; yet the result was a rich harvest of Carrots, and stunted trees. Other rows of trees in the same plot, having no Carrots between, made a luxuriant growth.
The fact is, these root crops gather food from a greater breadth of ground than people generally suppose; and when their feeders come into contact or rivalry with those of a fruit tree, they are sure to become successful usurpers. In this matter we speak not only from observation, but experience. We sometimes plant Strawberries among our specimen trees, in some cases allowing them to cover the ground; but during the drouth of last summer, and previous summers too, we found that where the Strawberries had taken root thickly over the roots of fruit trees, that the leaves of the trees fell prematurely, and the fruit failed to reach perfect maturity.
Our intention now is not to dwell upon these points minutely, or give any practical instructions, but to call attention to the necessity of skill and judgment in the direction of fruit tree plantations, and to warn those who are planting extensively, with a view to profit, against the dangerous notion that any smart laborer may manage their trees. We do not of course wish to be understood as arguing that every man who engages in the culture of fruit trees must possess experience; but unless he does, and can devote his time to it, then he should employ a competent assistant Far better do this than lose his capital, and have the mortification of seeing his cherished project become a failure and a discouragement to himself and all who see it, and then to raise bitter complaints against this one and that one who deceived him, either by selling him bad trees or by giving him false counsel >