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.
Who can tell the number of fruit trees that have been planted in the country within the last twenty-five years? That they have been many, every observer knows full well; that a large proportion of them have amounted to no more than the setting of so many dry poles. Indeed, we have seen men laboring in tree setting, who did not seem to give more labor than they would have done in set ting a hop-pole, much less than in setting a bar post; simply a hole as large square as the blade of the shovel, and of a depth of two-thirds its length, was made, sometimes in swarded land that for long years had not polished a plowshare, and the roots of the tree thrust in, and the earth and turf replaced; and so the labor of planting an orchard was soon over. We have seen many trees so planted die, just what they should do, if they fell into the hands of those who would not use them better. And then we have heard vile anathemas denounced on nurserymen "who sold such miserable trees," and that it would not do to bring trees from such a section of country, the soil and climate were so different. We have heard those who carelessly planted trees, and very properly lost them, say, " We would like an orchard, but have tried setting out trees, and they would not do any thing.
My soil or the seasons, or some thing, is so different from what it formerly was, that trees fail, and I have given up trying to raise them".
Touching the first of these excuses of want of success, we are inclined to the belief that, as a body of men, our nurserymen are as honest as any other class. In our experience, we have sent orders for trees, and have had them filled as much to our satisfaction as though we had been on the ground to see to selecting, taking up, and packing ourselves. That there may be exceptions to this class, is very possible. Indeed, it is very strange if there are none. It becomes purchasers to find who these exceptions are, and let them alone before beginning with them. We fully believe there are honest men enough in the world for all honest men to deal with. To cure dishonest ones, it is prudent to let them alone until they are willing to act on principles of probity, and thus we would dispose of the first ob. jection to raising fruit trees.
"The soil and seasons are so different." With regard to the soil, this assertion, so far as it relates to the older settled portions of the country, is partly true and partly false. The soil, what remains of it, is the same now that it was ages ago. The same rocks are disintegrating now that were crumbling to pieces for time indefinite before the arm of cultivation had gathered the first bountiful harvest that civilization had called forth from the teeming bosom of fertility. It is only the circumstances of the earth have changed. Continued croppings and careless tillage have to a great extent effected this. What quantities of beef, pork, mutton, wool, grain, hay, and, indeed, all marketable substances that the earth brings forth by cultivation, have been taken and sold from off the farms and gardens of the country, for which no restorative properties have been returned? Considering the amount of soil that has been so taken off and disposed of it is in no way strange that mother earth sinks back exhausted into her own lap, and refuses to labor as she did in her youth, for the benefit of her earth-robbing children.
It is no wonder that her once deep, virgiu soil sinks down to a few fertile inches, and becomes cold, and hard, and damp, as she settles into the lethargy induced by labor; no marvel that her natural drains and water courses, that fed the beautiful springs of other years, have become clogged up, and that their waters spread and settle when they can, giving clamminess to soils that once were light, and acidity where once all was sweetness.
"The soil is changed." Not in its primitive condition so much as in its productive powers. It has been robbed of the strength which was accumulated by ages of forest growth and decay, when each year it produced more and retained all. The economy of nature has farther been disturbed. Her pores have been closed up, so that the powers of absorption and evaporation have become inactive and unhealthy. Man, not nature, has effected this change for the worse. Man has the means to apply the remedy for the evil he has so heedlessly inflicted. He should have gratitude to do it; at least his self-interest ought to set him at work.
How to do it, may be a question.
There are two conditions existing in a great proportion of the soil in the older portions of the country, denoting that it has changed, and that fruit trees will not succeed as well as they formerly did. One of these is a superabundance of moisture in wet seasons, and a great lack of it in dry ones. This may seem a contradiction, but it is not. Such lands are too wet in rainy periods, because all the water that falls upon them, and perhaps more, is compelled to remain on or near the surface. The natural channels for removing it have become clogged, so that it can not pass away. Then the earth beneath has been robbed so that it has become compact. Its pores are closed so that it can not absorb this water, and retain it in its reservoirs, to be taken off again through the same pores for the benefit of plants, as their circumstances need. There it remains surface water, or water just below the surface, until the storms are past, and the thirsty air drinks it in particle by particle, until a baked dryness marks the place once almost a quagmire. The condition of the soil may or may not be quite so bad as we have shown. Circumstances may change with locality. Cause and effect may vary in degree according to circumstances.
There is much land in this condition in various degrees, within our knowledge. The character of all crops changes on such lands. Grains die out upon them. The finer grasses die earlier here than in proper soils, and are succeeded by coarse, sour ones, if any at all, that even the beasts of the field reject Can trees grow in such soils ? Turn them out to common and see what happens. The willow may live, but it will not flourish there. How much less, then, can a fruit tree succeed ? Their planting out may well be given up, because the condition of the soil (not the soil) is changed.
The condition of this soil can be changed again. It can be made as fertile as it was in the first harvest that moved over the ruins of the forest which gave way to the wheat field. It can be made to produce as large and as beautiful fruit trees now, as were those that took the place of the Oak, the Maple, the Chestnut, or the stately Elm. How? Let man retrace his steps and repair the evils he has wrought. The earth is the same.
To do this, there are, in the first place, two very important labors to be performed. First, thorough draining; after that, deep and thorough culture. There are other things that may follow, but these are the main considerations. Make your land so dry that there will be no excessive moisture in storms. Open the water courses so that no water will remain standing there to freeze and thaw with every change of temperature; and work deep and thoroughly, so that structure may be called from beneath in dry times, and the roots of the tree may travel free and unrestrained to gather food and support for the beautiful structure over them.
[Mr. Bacon has here painted a life-like picture with the pencil of an artist. It is only, unfortunately, too true, and needs no embellishment at our hand. - Ed].