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.
To aid me, an amateur fruit-grower in central Iowa, I have for some time been a subscriber to four Agricultural and Horticultural Journals, but as none of these papers has discussed the subject of fruit-growing as applicable to this climate, to the extent desired, I became a subscriber to the Horticulturist. I am now in receipt of two numbers of this paper, and may say that I am much pleased with it. I trust you have any number of subscribers in this State, and for the reason that there arc thousands of the citizens of Iowa who arc interested, and deeply interested, in the subject of fruit-growing; and they need just such a journal as yours is, one that is to a great extent devoted to this subject.
You may know that up to 1855, Iowa bad some reputation as a fruit-growing State, and that the Horticulturist of that year published several articles giving an account of "Iowa monster productions," "Magnificent Apples," uPeaches near 12 inches in circumference," and" Pears weighing 1 1/2 pounds,"' etc. Now, while these accounts were no doubt true, yet as fruit-growing at that time was mostly confined to a portion of the country adjacent to the Mississippi River, the State, as such, could not be said to have established her reputation in this respect; and even the portion of country mentioned had not then passed through the ordeal of the winter of 1855-6. But whatever may have been our character at this time, we can hardly be said to have a good reputation for fruit-growing now. Indeed, perhaps nine persons out of every ten who have lived in Iowa during the last ten or fifteen years will say this: "That there is no use trying to raise fruits here," that "the climate is too changeable," "too hot days in summer and cold ones in winter," or that "the soil is too rich," etc., etc.
Now, without pretending to agree with the public as to the particular cause of our failures, or of all of them combined, which it is alleged have produced this result, yet the experience of the writer is in conformity to that of the mass of the people, or, in other words, that the results justify a verdict of this kind.
I have lived in the portion of Iowa known as the Des Moines Valley for sixteen years, and to the present writing have never seen a Pear, Quince, cultivated Peach, or Plum, growing here. We have a plenty of the wild plums, but the winters are said to be "too cold " for the cultivated sorts. During a few of the years mentioned, say three, and at most four, some few have been successful in raising seedling Peaches, but these have been exceptions to the rule. Now what is to be done? Shall we stop making experiments, and thus confirm our already poor reputation? We say not. We have already learned from experience that we have some grounds for hope. For instance, we have learned that certain kinds of Apples may be raised here, and with very great certainty; and the same is true of Grapes. Pears are growing in some places on the Mississippi River; why may they not be grown here? And so of the Quince, Peach, Plum, Cherry, etc. The writer has been of the opinion for a long time that proper exertions will yet be crowned with success, and he is therefore now acting and will continue to act on the strength of this belief; and we know that there are hundreds of others scattered all over the State who think likewise. The last spring we planted Peach pits, and they have a fine growth.
We also grafted the Peach into the wild Plum, and set out others from the nursery. We also set out Pear-trees, dwarf and standard, standard and dwarf Cherry-trees, with a considerable quantity of small fruits known to be tender here, and all have grown luxuriantly. It is, however, fall now, and what we wish to learn by this communication is, (and I trust you have a thousand readers as much interested as I am,) how may these young trees be preserved through the coming probably "Iowa" winter? And here it may not be amiss to state what we have heretofore done in the way of winter protection. Four years ago (upon the recommendation of the "farmers' club" and others to the effect that they "were hardy ") we paid fifty cents apiece for a dozen roots of the celebrated New Rochellc Blackberry. They grew well every summer, and died to the ground each winter. Last fall we set out for winter protection , for them. We made frames around them, bent down the canes, covered them [with brush, and the brush with straw. When spring came, and the said covering came to be removed, judge of my surprise when it was discovered that, as before, they were dead to the ground.
This experiment with the New Rochelle Blackberry ends for the present, after four years' trial, with the raising of eight berries, and all of which the birds (Henry Ward Beecher's) got before they were fully ripe. Now for the Peach-trees. After winding their stems with cloth, we made and placed frames around the cultivated sorts, leaving the seedlings to stand the winter or not These frames were then filled with straw, and thus they remained through the winter. Upon removing their covering late in the spring, it was found that the limbs were killed to near the body of the tree; and again, that the seedlings had fared no worse than their neighbors. And all this happened while the thermometer did not reach to exceed twenty-two degrees below zero. Of course we did not commence spring operations in very good heart, having an eye to the future, but nevertheless we set out more trees the last spring than ever before; and, die or live, it has done me some good to see them grow during the summer. But more than this: we are still ready to make more experiments, in fact, do almost anything to save these young trees from the perils of the coming winter.
Any hints or any suggestions, therefore, that you may give on the subject of raising fruits in this climate and at this time, having particular reference to winter protection, will be gladly received and acted upon. Will you not "come over into Macedonia and help us?"
[We shall very cheerfully do so; it is for such we labor. We could help you more efficiently, however, if you had told us somewhat precisely the nature of your soil, the prevalent direction of your winds, in what way and how far you are protected, and other matters of like kind. Your soil may be, like that of some of the western States, light, very rich, and deep, but without body, and the roots of the trees being unable to find any secure hold, they are swayed by the wind, the roots loosened and drawn out, and the trees thus perish. It may also be that you have no sufficient protection, by belts of timber, from the cold and heavy winds of winter. The trees in your rich, virgin soil make a rampant growth of wood deficient in density. which ripens imperfectly in the fall, and is consequently winter-killed. Let us know more precisely the conditions under which your trees are growing, and we will give you the best advice we can. You have undoubtedly made some mistakes in the selection of your fruit. There are some varieties of northern apples which we have no doubt will succeed with you; and so will some of the pears.
Peaches you had better let alone for the present, as well as the New Rochelle Blackberry, and other things of that kind, unless you take the trouble to bend them down and cover them with earth. But when we hear from you again, we will make out a list of fruit which we think will suit you, and give you some advice in regard to modifying your soil. Your determination to plant more, if it be only to see the trees grow, is admirable; such a spirit deserves and will meet with success. The best advice we can give you at present, is to bend down your peach-trees and bushes to the ground, and cover them with some six inches of earth, and on this throw some brush. Do it when the weather is dry. If your trees had been planted with a view to this, the operation would be comparatively easy. But we think we can put you in a better way for your future planting, if your evil is what we think it is. - Ed.]