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Mistakes in Orchard Culture.
the fall rains. We may, therefore, SOW some catch or cover crop. (See Chapter IV.)
4. Till in such manner that the land shall be in uniformly fine tilth. Every good farmer knows that the value of his crop depends more upon the tilth of the soil than upon the mere richness of it. Fertility is largely locked up in poorly tiled lands. Orchards which are plowed late in spring are usually in bad condition all the season, especially if the soil is clay. Fall plowing upon stiff and bare lands is apt to result in the puddling of the soil by the rain and snow, as already explained; if there is sod on the land, this injury is less likely to follow. In general, it is best to let orchard lands pass the winter under a catch crop.
5. Remember that tillage may be overdone. Trees may be made to grow too much wood, and therefore too little fruit, and they may be sent into the winter in soft and unripened condition. If land is in good tilth, as it is when in best condition for the growing of potatoes or melons, tillage beyond that needed to conserve the moisture is useless; and even this conservation-tillage may well stop in late summer in very many cases, as already indicated It is a common practice to severely head-in trees which are making a too vigorous growth, but this practice usually aggravates the difficulty rather than corrects it. The fundamental treatment for such trees is to check the growth by some means, as by lessening the tillage or by withholding stimulating fertilizers.
CROPPING THE ORCHARD.
It will now be asked what crops may be grown in the orchard. Grain and hay, never! Any hoed crop may be used for the first few years; but it must be remembered that every crop competes with the trees for food and moisture, and whatever may befall the crop, the trees should not be allowed to suffer. An open space should be left about the tree, free of crops, at least several feet in extent. As a general statement, it may be said that a space three feet wide should be left upon all sides of the tree the first year, and this area should be enlarged a foot or two each year. This space should enlarge from time to time with the spread of roots of the tree. Corn and some other luxuriant plants appropriate moisture more quickly than the tree can. In general, some low-growing crop which demands. good tillage and comes off the land early is best. The notion that young trees should be shaded by a crop is probably erroneous for most regions. In orchards set less than twenty feet apart, the land should rarely be cropped after the third year; but apple orchards, if well cared for, may be cropped lightly for seven or eight years. In no case should the grower expect to secure as much crop upon orchard land as upon other areas; and the drier the land, the less should it be cropped. When the orchard comes to bearing age, give it the entire land. Thereafter, the most profitable secondary crop to raise is cultivators.
Crops for Fruit Plantations.
In general, it may be said that only those crops are allowable in a fruit plantation which demand such treatment as to improve the land for the fruit plants. The growing of light crops is a means of keeping the land stirred when it might otherwise be neglected; and if the grower is careful to see that the physical condition of the land is improved, and adds enough plant-food to supply the loss, the light cropping of orchards for the first few years may be a decided benefit. At all events, cultivated crops are better than sod. The danger is that the fruitgrower will continue the cropping too long, and expect too much from it. In an orchard, the crops ought to pay for taking care of the land until the trees come into bearing. Strawberries and the bush fruits may be advantageously set in alternate rows with beans or potatoes, and the same tillage is required for each crop.
Only annual crops should be grown in fruit plantations. The growing of nursery stock in orchards a frequent practice in parts of the north-should be discouraged.* This crop makes essentially the same demands upon the land as the orchard itself, and it does not allow of those variations in cultivation and management which may be essential to the varying seasons. It may be true that enough fertilizer can be placed upon the land to replace the loss of plant-food, but it is rarely done; and, more than this, the nursery stock drinks up the moisture
*The double-planting of fruit lands-the mixing of different kinds of fruits -is discussed in Chapter V.
which should be used by the orchard. Nursery stock is known to be particularly hard upon land, so much so that nurserymen seldom grow two crops of fruit-tree stocks in succession upon the same area; but this injury to the land is an impairment of physical condition rather than exhaustion of plantfood. (See Chapter IV.)
Sod may sometimes be allowed in an orchard if it is closely pastured, but hay should never be cut. Sod lands are not only drier than cultivated ground, but they are favorite breeding places of insects. Borers are particularly bad in grass land. No stone fruits should ever be allowed to stand in sod, and the same may be said of dwarf pears. Apples and standard pears may now and then be seeded with safety, but it is certainly true that, in general, fruit decreases in proportion as sod increases. Very thrifty young apple and pear orchards may sometimes be thrown into bearing by seeding them down for a time, but the sod should be broken up before the trees become checked in vigor. The whole question as to whether sod is hurtful or beneficial to an orchard is a local one. The grower must determine it for himself. If the orchard is in sod and is not doing well, the best advice in general is to plow and till it. Certainly it is better to make tillage the rule and sod the exception, than to start out with the intention of growing an orchard in grass and cultivating it only when forced to do so. It is better to pasture an orchard than to allow the grass to grow at will, but close pasturing can by no means take the place of tillage.
Remedy for Unprofitable Orchards.
If one wants to raise hay or grain, it is cheapest to grow it where there are no trees to bother. If he wants to grow apples or grapes, he had better choose some other place than a meadow or grain field. The use of clover and other temporary cover crops as a means of fertilizing the land is another matter, and is discussed in the next chapter.
Most apple orchards are in sod, and growers are always asking if they shall be plowed up. If the growers of apples are satisfied with the crops, let the orchards alone; but if it is thought that better crops are desirable, do not hesitate to make an effort to obtain them. It is surprising that the disastrous failures of recent years have not awakened farmers to the necessity of really doing something for their orchards. Now and then an enterprising man makes an energetic attempt and is rewarded, but the greater number continue to exercise the most thoroughgoing neglect and to bewail the failure of the crop. Yes, plow the old apple orchard; then fertilize and spray it. Or, if the roots are too near the surface to allow of plowing, harrow it thoroughly when the turf is soft in spring, and continue to work it during the season. If this is not feasible, then pasture it closely with sheep or hogs, feeding the stock at the same time. If this cannot be done, and the orchard is unprofitable, cut it down.
When orchards begin to bear well, the crops should be discontinued. Young orchards may sometimes be summer-fallowed with the very best results if the land is hard and intractable. This fallowing