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when one thinks of tillage only as labor. The work must be done because, somehow, plants thrive best when it is done; but the sooner it is done and the less there is of it the easier, and what is the easier is the better.
It was, no doubt, some such mind as this which dominated the rude farmers in the early history of the race Throughout all the years until now-and, unfortunately, too often even now-tillage has been a mere necessity forced upon the husbandman by a most ungenerous Nature. The first tillage probably arose from necessity of breaking the earth to get the seed into it; and the second step was the digging out of other plants which interfered with its growth. In many cases, still another hardship was imposed, for the earth must be disturbed to get the crop out of it. These three necessities served to keep the surface of tamed lands in a greater or less state of agitation until it finally came to be seen that there is something in the practice which causes plants to thrive wholly aside from the lessening of the conflict with weeds. But it is only in the last century or two that there appears to have been any serious attempt to discover why this age-long practice of stirring the soil is such a decided benefit to plants.
One reason why the art of tillage has made such slow progress is because it seems to be wholly contrary to the operations of nature. In very recent years it has been vehemently proclaimed that the proper treatment of an orchard is to plant it thick and to allow the leaves and litter to cover the
Forest and Orchard Unlike.
ground, wholly omitting the stirring of the soil, for this is the method of the forest; and forest lands increase in fertility from year to year and the moisture is held in them as in a sponge. The reasoning is plausible. There are two ways of testing it,by experience and by reflection. It needs only to be suggested that the experiment has been tried, and is now trying, upon an extended scale, as a large part of the apple orchards of the country testify. The chief beneficiaries of the experiment are the bugs, mice and fungi, all of which would vote the method a success. The reasons why the forest method is successful are because the trees stand so thickly that the earth is protected from the drying effect of sun and winds, the forest cover is so extensive as to produce a climate of its own, all the product is returned to the soil, and there is no haste. In every one of these essentials the orchard is unlike the forest. Those writers who urge that the orchard be planted thick enough to imitate the forest condition, should also make it clear how the insects and fungi are to be kept at bay, or how acceptable fruit can be obtained upon trees which are unpruned and unthinned. The objects to be attained in the forest and in the orchard are wholly unlike. In one case it is the perpetuation of the species, and there results a severe conflict for existence, in which more plants die than reach maturity; in the other it is the securing of an abnormal product of the plant, -a product which can be kept up to its abnormal or artificial development only by
abnormal conditions, -and the struggle for existence is reduced to its lowest terms, for it is desired that not a single plant be lost. It is simply because it is impossible to imitate the forest conditions that the forest methods cannot be followed in fruit plantations.
Now that we have come to understand why and how it is that the stirring of the soil makes plants thrive, the old-time drudgery of tillage becomes the most important, the most suggestive, and therefore the most difficult to properly understand and perform, of all purely farming operations. If we cannot have the protection of the forest cover and the forest mulch, we must make a mulch for the occasion; and if we wait impatiently for results, we must unlock the granaries of the soil more rapidly than nature does. We must till for tillage's sake, and not wait to be forced into the operation-as men have generally been-by the weeds; yet, whilst we have outgrown the need of weeds, we should not despise them, but remember them kindly for the good which they have done the race. They have been an inexorable priesthood, holding us to duty whilst we did not know what duty was, and they still stand ready to extend their paternal offices.
Coming, now, to the specific question of the tillage of fruit lands, one is struck with the fact that all kinds of fruits are commonly more productive than the apple; and a moment's reflection brings to mind the fact that the apple alone is the fruit which is commonly raised in sod, and which every
Old and New Methods.
where receives the least attention. The presumption is at once raised, therefore, that this sod and neglect are in some vital way associated with the declining productiveness of apple trees. In order to put ourselves right upon the question, we must first of all ascertain, if we can, why the apple is of all fruits the most neglected.
My older readers will recall the fact that until recent years the effort of the farmer has been directed to the growing of hay, grain and stock. Previous to this generation, the growing of fruit has been a matter of secondary or even incidental importance. A bit of rocky or waste land, or an odd corner about the buildings, was generally given over to the apple orchard, and if the trees received any attention whatever it was after all other demands of the farm had been satisfied. All this was particularly true of the farming previous to the second third of this century, and the apple and standard pear orchards of the country still record the old method. It has required at least a generation of men in which to thoroughly establish any new agricultural system, and the time is not yet fully arrived for the passing out of the old orchards and the coming in of the new. In other fruits than apples and standard pears, the generations of trees are comparatively short-lived, and those fruits sooner feel the effect of new agricultural teachings. Vineyards, and orchards of plums, dwarf pears, apricots, cherries and quinces, have mostly come into existence along with the transition movement from the
old to the new farming, and they have been planted seriously, with the expectation of profit, the same as the grain crops have. Peaches had passed out in most parts of the east, and they are now coming in again with the new agriculture. At the present time, men buy farms for the sole purpose of raising fruit, a venture which would have been a novelty fifty years ago; but the habit of imitation is so strong that the apple planter patterns after the old orchards which were grown under another and now a declining system of agriculture, and many of which are still standing on the old farms of the northeastern states. The apple orchard, therefore, upon the one hand, and the well-tilled vineyard upon the other, are the object lessons which illustrate the faults of non-tillage and the gains of tillage.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF TILLAGE.*
Tillage may be defined as the stirring of the soil for the direct purpose of making plants thrive. Its immediate effect is to ameliorate and modify the soil itself, but its secondary effects are those which are desired, and which are also intimately concerned in the welfare of the plant. For example, tillage is capable of lessening the capillarity of the surface soil, and from this there may result a saving of moisture from evaporation, and it is the moisture
*The reader who desires the fullest and best exposition of tillage in its various aspects should consult "The Soil," by King, and "The Fertility of the Land," by Roberts.