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.
Last spring we took a corner of an old garden spot which, though it had always been liberally manured and plowed as well as such a piece of ground could be, and to put it in a condition for fruit trees we gave a good dressing of manure and a thorough spading to the full depth of an unworn spade, the longest we could find in the market In this spading operation, we often came in contact with a subsoil so stiff that it offered a strong resistance to the spade; still the spade was put in at the cost of much physical exertion. The old soil and manure were laid in the bottom of the trench, and the heterogenous and apparently sterile material on which it had reposed, were placed upon the surface. This new earth, upon much of which the sun had never shone, and the dew had never fertilized, was, in due time, planted with garden vegetables - not, however, in expectation of much crop, for the very surface gave almost positive assurance that such things would never grow there. They were sown and planted to furnish a motive for a continued tillage through the season, and, in addition, the ground was planted out with dwarf Pear trees.
The season in our region, as in many other sections of the country, was one of distressing drouth - but very little rain from May to October -and, in consequence, the ground on this patch was probably oftener and more thoroughly hoed than it would have been had the dews and rains fulfilled their labors as usual.
We now speak of the result Our Pear trees (some twenty) on this patch, not only lived but made a desirable growth; and as for the vegetables - Melons, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, etc, etc, to the end of the catalogue - they gave us a crop superior to any we had raised for years.
From this operation, we infer, in the first place, that deep and thorough tillage, and frequent stirring of the earth, are good preventives of the effect of drouth. The deeper and better pulverized the soil, the greater its power of absorption; consequently whenever there is moisture in the atmosphere, such lands are certain to attract their full share of it. It is so, also, with the vegetable-nourishing gases which the air from time lime contains. Such lands also suffer less in rainy seasons from excessive moisture, for the same qualities which enable them to absorb when there is a scarcity, enable them to throw off when there is a superabundance.
In the second place, deep and thorough tillage proves, to us, conclusively that the productive powers of earth are not always as nearly exhausted as many strive to imagine, but that the vile skinning, skimming system - the plowing three, four, and five inches deep - is what induces the sterility which so many lament Any clayey soil -and they are among the best for many purposes - may be made as barren as the desert of Sahara by such a system. Plow shallow and the earth under the furrow will lose the influence of the two essentials of fertility, sunshine and air, and will, of course, become cold, compact, and barren. Roots will avoid such earth; or, if they make an effort to penetrate it, it will be like attempting to extend themselves into a rock to meet the invigorating influences of an iceberg.
In tree-culture - especially in growing fruit trees - even a tolerable degree of success cannot be realized unless this shallow stirring of the earth is given up and the earth stirred deep. Trees may, as we have seen, sometimes live in such shallow soils, but they will always be stinted, sickly, and produce but ordinary fruit; but it is more often the case that they die in the effort to live, and then comes the bitter denunciations on the nurseryman who reared them, the adverse climate, and sometimes the locality, and even the soil, which, under favorable culture, would be just the thing for them, is blamed for the lack of those qualities which man, in his indolence, or grasping after present gain, has taken from it.