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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter VI.—Planting a Peach-orchard—How to preserve Peach-trees


It was now the season for me to bustle about, fix up my land, and get in my crops. I examined it more carefully, walked over it daily, and made myself thoroughly acquainted with it. As before mentioned, it had been utterly neglected for a whole season, and was grown up with enormous weeds. These, after a day or two of drizzling rain, when the seed-vessels were so wet as not to allow their contents to scatter out, I mowed off, gathered into several large heaps, and burned—thus getting rid of millions of pestiferous seeds. Then I purchased ploughs, including a subsoiler, a harrow, cultivator, and other tools. One acre of the whole was in clover, another was set aside as being occupied by the dwelling-house, garden, stable, and barnyard; but much the larger half of that acre was allowed for garden purposes. This left me just nine acres for general fruit and vegetable culture. I hired a man to plough them up, he finding his own team, and another to follow him in the furrow with my subsoiler. The first went down ten inches, and the latter ten more.

My neighbors were extremely kind with their suggestions. They had never seen such deep ploughing, and warned me not to turn up the old subsoil, and thus bring it to the surface. But they were not book-farmers.

Now, this business of deep subsoil ploughing is a matter of indispensable value in all agriculture, but especially so in the planting of an orchard. No tree can thrive as it ought, unless the earth is thoroughly and deeply loosened for the free expansion of the roots. If I could have ploughed two feet deep, it would have been all the better. In fact, the art of ploughing is in its mere infancy in this country. Too many of us follow blindly in the beaten track. The first plough was a tough, forked stick, of which one prong served as a beam, while the other dug the earth as a Coulter. Of course the ploughing was only scratching. It would have been preposterous to expect the ploughman of Hesiod's or of Virgil's time to turn up and mellow the soil to a depth of fifteen or sixteen inches. Down to the present age, ploughing was inevitably a shallow affair. But iron ploughs, steel ploughs, subsoil ploughs, have changed all this. It is as easy to­day to mellow the earth to the depth of two feet, as it was a century ago to turn over a sward to the depth of six inches. Besides, our fierce, trying climate, so different from the moist, milder one of England, Ireland, or even Holland, whence our ancestors emigrated, absolutely requires of us deep ploughing. Drought is our perpetual danger. Most crops are twenty to sixty per cent. short of what they would have been with adequate and seasonable moisture. That moisture exists not only in the skies above, but in the earth beneath our plants. Though the skies may capriciously withhold it, the earth never will, if we provide a rich, mellow sub­soil through which the roots can descend for moisture.

The hotter and dryer the weather, the better our plants will grow, if they have rich, warm earth beneath them, reaching down to and including moisture. "We cannot, and we need not plough so very deep each year to assure this, if the subsoil is so underdrained that the superabundant moisture of the wet season does not pack it. Underdraining as the foundation, and deep ploughing as the super­structure, with ample manuring and generous tillage, will secure us ample crops, such as any section of our country has rarely seen. Our corn should average seventy bushels per acre. Every field should be ready to grow wheat, if required. Every grass-lot should be good for three tons of hay per acre. Abundant fruits should gladden our fields and enrich our farmers' tables. So should our children no longer seek, in flight to crowded cities or the remote West, an escape from the ill-paid drudgery and intellectual barrenness of their fathers' lives, but find abundance and happiness in and around their childhood's happy homes.

I laid out two hundred dollars in the purchase of old, well-rotted stable manure from the city, spread it over the ten acres, and ploughed up nine of them. I then set out my peach-trees on six acres, planting them in rows eighteen feet apart, and eighteen feet asunder in the rows. This accommodated a hundred and thirty-four to the acre, or eight hundred and four in all. These would not be in the way of any other crop, and in three years would be likely to yield a good return. The roots of every tree underwent a searching scrutiny before it was planted, to see that they harbored no members of that worm family which is so surely destructive of the peach. As trees are often delivered from the nursery with worms in them, so many of these were infected. The enemy was killed, and the butt of each tree was then swabbed with common tar, extending from where the roots begin to branch out, about twelve inches up. It is just about there, say between wind and water, at the surface of the ground, where the bark is soft, that in June and September the peach-moth deposits her eggs. From these is hatched the worm which kills the tree, unless picked out and destroyed.

To perform this searching operation on a thousand trees every year, would be laborious and expensive. There would also be great danger of its being imperfectly done, as many worms might escape the search, while the vital power of the tree would be seriously impaired by permitting them to prey upon its bark and juices even for a few months. Prevention would be far cheaper than curing. The offensive odor of the tar will cause the moth to shun the tree and to make her deposit somewhere else; while if any chance to light upon it, they will stick to the tar and there perish, like flies upon a sheet of fly­paper.

The tar was occasionally examined during the season, to see that it kept soft and sticky; and where any hardening was discovered, a fresh swabbing was applied. The whole operation was really one of very little trouble, while the result was highly remunerative. Thoughtfulness, industry, and a little tar, did the business effectually. I believe no nostrum of putting ashes around the butt of a peach-tree to kill the worms, or any other nostrum of the kind, is worth a copper. The only sure remedy is prevention. Do not let the worms get in, and there will be no effort needed to get them out.

I planted none but the rarest and choicest kinds. Economy of a few cents in the price of a tree is no economy at all. It is the best fruit that sells the quickest and pays the highest profit. Yet there are still large quantities of fruit produced which is not worth taking to market. The best is cheaper for both buyer and seller. Hundreds of bushels of apples and peaches are annually made into execrable pies in all the large cities, merely because they can be purchased at less cost than those of a better quality. But it is a mistaken economy with the buyer, as a mild, good-flavored peach or apple requires less sugar, and will then make a better pie. Many persons have a pride in, and attach too much consequence to a tree which sprung up spontaneously on their own farm, or perhaps which they have cultivated with some care; and then numbers of comparatively worthless seedlings occupy the places that should be improved by finer varieties, and which, if cultivated, would afford a greater profit.

It is as easy to grow the choicest as the meanest fruit. I have a relative in Ohio who has a peach orchard of eleven acres, which has yielded him five thousand dollars in a single season, during which peaches were selling in Cincinnati at twenty-five cents a bushel. It is easy to understand that his orchard would not have produced him that sum at that price. No, it did not. He received two dollars a bushel more readily than his neighbors got twenty-five cents for the same variety of peaches, and this is how he did it. When the peaches had grown as large as a hickory nut, he employed a large force and put on one hundred and eighty-five days' work in picking off the excess of fruit. More than one-half of the fruit then upon the trees was carefully removed. Each limb was taken by hand, and where, within a space of eighteen inches, there would be probably twenty peaches, but six or seven of the fairest would be left to ripen. Thus, by carefully removing all but the strongest specimens, and throwing all the vigor of the tree into them, the peaches ripen early, and are remarkable for size and excellence of quality.

But this was labor! Seven months' labor of one man in a small peach orchard! But be it so—the net profit was between three and four thousand dollars. If he had neglected his trees, the owner's profits would have been a crop of peaches hardly fit to feed the pigs. I have profited largely by following his example, and will relate my own experience when the returns of my orchard come in.

I intend to be particular touching my peach orchard, as well for the gratification of my own pride, as an incentive to those who cannot be made to believe Ten Acres Enough. My success with it has far outstripped my expectations; and I pronounce a peach orchard of this size, planted and cultivated as it can be, and will be, by an intelligent man not essentially lazy, as the sheet anchor of his safety. I was careful to plant none but small trees, because such can be removed from the nursery with greater safety than large ones, while the roots are less multiplied, and thus receive fewer injuries; neither are they liable to be displaced by high winds before acquiring a firm foothold in the ground. Many persons suppose that newly planted trees should be large enough to be out of danger from cattle running among them; but all cattle should be excluded from a young orchard.

Moreover, small trees make a better growth, and are more easily trimmed into proper shape. All ex­perienced horticulturists testify to the superior eligibility of small trees. They cost less at the nursery, less in transportation, and very few fail to grow. One year old from the bud is old enough, and the same, generally, may be said of apples and pears. I dug holes for each tree three feet square and two feet deep, and filled in with a mixture of the surrounding top-soil and leached ashes, a half bushel of the latter to each tree. Knowing that the peach-tree delights in ashes, I obtained four hundred bushels from a city soap-works, and am satisfied they were exactly the manure my orchard needed. Every root which had been wounded by the spade in removing the tree from the nursery, was cut off just back of the wound, paring it smooth with a sharp knife. The fine earth was settled around the roots by pouring in water; after which the mixture of earth and ashes was thrown on until the hole was filled, leaving a slight depression round the tree, to catch the rain, and the tree at about the same level it had maintained when standing in the nursery.

I did not stake up the trees. They were too small to need it; besides, I should be all the time on hand to keep them in position. Being a new-comer, I had no straw with which to mulch them, to retain the proper moisture about the roots, or it would have been applied. But the season turned out to be abundantly showery, and they went on growing from the start. Not a tree was upset by storm or wind, nor did one of them die. I do not think the oldest nurseryman in the country could have been more successful.

This operation made a heavy draft on the small cash capital which I possessed. But small as it was, it was large enough to show that capital is indispensable to successful farming. Had I been without it, my orchard would have been a mere hope, instead of a reality, and I might have been compelled to wait for years before feeling rich enough to establish it. But when the work of planting was over, my satisfaction was extreme; and when I saw the trees in full leaf, giving token that the work had been well done, I felt that I had not only learned but accomplished much. I had been constantly on the ground while the planting was progressing—had seen for myself that every tree was cleared of worms—had held them up while the water and the earth and ashes had been thrown in and gently packed about the roots—and had given so much attention in other ways, as to feel sure that no part of the whole operation had been neglected; and hence I had a clear right to regard it as my own job. The cost of planting this orchard was as follows:

804 trees at 7 cents....................$56.28
Planting them, 2 cents................. 16.08
Ploughing and harrowing............... 20.00
400 bushels of ashes.................... 48.00
Manure...................................... 200.00
Total $340.36

I have unfairly saddled on the orchard the whole charge of two hundred dollars for manure, because it went to nourish other crops which the same ground produced. But let that go—the land was quite poor, needed all it got, and I had no faith in farming without manure. Had my purse been heavy enough, the quantity should have been trebled.

As I am writing for the benefit of others, who, I hope, are not yet tired of peaches, let me add that this fruit will not succeed on ground where a previous orchard has been recently grown; neither can one be sure of getting healthy trees from any nurseryman who grows his on land from which he had recently produced a similar crop. The seed must be from healthy trees, and the buds from others equally free from disease. The peach, unless carefully watched and attended, is a short-lived tree. But it returns a generous income to a careful and generous grower. Of latter years the worm is its most formidable enemy. But with those who think a good tree is as much worth being taken care of as a good horse, there will be neither doubt nor difficulty in keeping the destroyer out.

Ten well-grown, bearing trees, which I found in the garden, were harboring a hundred and ninety worms among them when I undertook the work of extermination. I bared the collar and roots of each tree as far as I could track a worm, and cut him out. I then scrubbed the whole exposed part with soap-suds and a regular scrubbing-brush; after which I let them remain exposed for a week. If any worms had been overlooked, the chips thrown out by their operations would be plainly visible on the clean surface at the week's end. Having tracked and cut out them also, I felt sure the enemy was exterminated, and covered up the roots, but first using the swab of common tar, applying it all round the collar, and some distance up.

These garden-trees were terribly sacrificed by the worms. But the cleaning out I gave them was effectual. The soap-suds purged the injured parts of the unhealthy virus deposited by the worms, leaving them so nice and clean that the new bark began immediately to close over the cavities, and soon covered them entirely. I thus saved ten valuable bearing trees. Then I shortened in the long, straggling branches, for the peach will certainly grow sprawling out on every side, forming long branches which break down under the weight of a full crop at their extremities, unless the pruning-knife is freely used every season. All this was the work of less than a day, and shows that if peach orchards perish after bearing only two or three crops, it may be attributed solely to mere neglect and laziness on the part of their owners. They plant trees, refuse to take care of them, and then complain if they die early. The world would soon be without pork, if all the pigs were as much neglected. These ten trees have never failed to produce me generous crops of luscious fruit. I cannot think of any investment which has paid me better than the slight labor annually required to keep them in good condition.

I have tried with entire success two other methods of protecting peach-trees from the ravages of the worm. I have found gas-tar equally effectual with the common tar, and much more easily obtained. But care must be taken not to cover a height of more than four to six inches of the butt of the tree. If the whole stem from root to branch be covered, the tree will surely die. Another method is to inclose the butt in a jacket of pasteboard, or even thick hardware paper, keeping it in place with a string, and lowering it an inch or two below the ground, so as to prevent the fly having access to the soft part of the bark. These jackets will last two or three years, as they should be taken off at the approach of winter, to prevent them from becoming a harbor for insects. But they are an infallible preventive. I have recently procured a supply of the thick tarred felt which is used for making paper roofs, to be cut up and turned into jackets. This material will last for years, being water-proof, while the odor of the gas-tar in which it has been steeped is peculiarly offensive to the whole tribe of insects.


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