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.
In looking at the remarkable statements which have been made at various times in the fruit conventions, and reading them over again as they have circulated in the periodicals, one would suppose that the profits of pear growing were enormous. The statements which have usually been put forth, relate to single trees in a favorable place, or to a few trees only, and in a bountiful year. The average of years would tell a far different story; and having experienced the same variations of success in my own cultivation, and seen it among my neighbors, warrants my own belief as to the facts. Forty years ago, when a boy, I saw beautiful Virgalieus selling in the New York markets, at the fruit stands, for two or three cents each, then the only really choice pear; now the Virgalieu is seldom in market, having been attacked almost all over the country, and on all varieties of soils and situations, with spot, and crack, and shrivel, and blight Nor shall I allude to the cause of this recent disease, for nothing is yet known about it, other than that it exists; and although various cures have been suggested, the Virgalieu still suffers, except in some favored localities.
That fruit, therefore, cannot be longer relied on, at present.
Within a few years past, other good varieties, as the Bartlett, Dutchess D'Angouleme, Winter Nelis, Stevens' Genesee, Vicar of Winkfield, a variety or two of Summer Pear, and others, have been seen in the markets, and sold in their seasons at from a cent or two to five or six cents each, possibly more in a few instances; but large sales at the latter prices are not frequent. Bartletts - the best market pear we have - are seldom worth over three dollars a bushel, and must be good specimens at that. Virgalieus, when really good, will bring five to six dollars a bushel. Seckles, better flavored than either, are worth no more, and, from their inferior size and color, unless the buyers know their excellence, will not sell for near as much. Indeed, the size, color, and appearance of the fruit, help the sale far better than flavor, and one may talk of "flavor" in an ill-looking pear to all eternity, and the public won't buy it. A good-looking choke pear is better, with them. We never could get over three dollars for our Bartletts in the very best samples when our orange pears, not good for the table compared with many others (yet are the very best for preserving), will sell for a dollar and a half to two dollars.
In fact, so obtuse are the public to pear flavor, that a wilding will sell for nearly as much, in large quantities, as the best of other varieties, with no better looking outside; while in bearing, they will yield double or treble the quantity on the same sized tree. I met a friend the other day who had a few bushels of well-grown Vicars, which he sent to market some weeks ago, and could not get two dollars a bushel offered for them in a city of over eighty thousand people! He grows more pears than any one else about here, as he Bays, and only gets three dollars for his best Bartletts, which don't pay for growing, taking the seasons as they run. In fact, the only men about here who make any money by their pears, are a few farmers having large, old, wilding trees, which give large annual yields, and sell at about a dollar a bushel on the average. I have a single tree of the orange pear, thirty odd years old, which gives me an average annual yield of about eight bushels, worth more to me, at market, than all the others put together, expense of cultivation considered. How an orchard of them would succeed, I don't know; for although the single tree I have is healthy, a score or two of them might fail in part, or wholly.
Still, I would rather risk them than any others I have ever tried; and they are a better fruit, every way, than the overpraised Vicar of Winkfield.
Now, the above is right in the teeth of all the flattering stories we so often hear of the "profits" of pear culture; and if anybody has a better story to tell, I want to hear it. Don't be afraid, gentlemen; you won't raise competition enough to damage your business. Our fruit markets are as lean of good pears as of fresh figs or pine-apples, although millions of trees have been planted within the last dozen years; and if those who have planted are fortunate enough to secure a good supply for their own tables throughout the pear season, they are to be congratulated.
Now, after all this flat-footed confession, a great many people may set it down as the grumblings of a disappointed man. Be it so. I have only told my own experience, and the conjugated experience learned from others. It is useless to say that we have taken no pains with our trees; that they were not properly cultivated and pruned. It is not so. Not half the pains have been taken with any other fruits we have cultivated. Cutting back, scissoring, pinching, and all the thousand and one "peddling" devices of the savans have been resorted to, and failure, so far as anything beyond a very partial success, in a few instances, has been attained, is the grand result. Men are inclined to let their success be known to the world, but of their failures they incline to say little.
"Well," it may be asked, after all this discussion, "do you recommend us to stop growing the pear altogether ?" By no means. If you have a favorable soil and locality, grow the pear for your own use, and the market, too, if, on trial, it succeeds. Grow the dwarf, even in your garden, but not elsewhere, and plant out standards at large, and make the most of them. I conceive the great objection to the dwarf to be, that the quince and pear woods are so diverse in formation that the open-pored wood of the pear will not closely unite with the compact and smaller-pored wood of the quince. Consequently, they are subject to blow off, when they get to any size, for want of adhesion, which, on examination of such cases, will be found never to have intermingled their heart-sap; and in other cases, after growing a few years, they will stop further growth altogether. In these last, examine the connecting point of the two woods, and they will be found to adhere only at the bark, and perhaps a small portion of the sap-wood, while the original stocks will no more be joined together like an apple or pear, worked into its own wood, than a pine knot which falls out of a board as you are nailing it up, joins to the grain of the main wood.
Aside from this difficulty, dwarf-trees require quince culture in a quince soil, which are far from being so universal as pear soils are.
A long story, and a very useless one, I fear, Mr. Editor; but as the spirit moves, I have felt disposed to tell you my experience.