Our harsh, capricious climate north of the latitudes of Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and St. Louis—so much severer than that of corresponding latitudes in Europe—is unfavorable, or at least very trying, to all the more delicate and luscious Fruits, berries excepted. Except on our Pacific coast, of which the Winter temperature is at least ten degrees milder than that of the Atlantic, the finer Peaches and Grapes are grown with difficulty north of the fortieth degree of latitude, save in a few specially favored localities, whereof the southern shore of Lake Erie is most noted, though part of that of Lake Ontario and of the west coast of Lake Michigan are likewise well adapted to the Peach.
It is not the mere fact that the mercury in Fahrenheit’s thermometer sometimes ranges below zero, and the earth is deeply frozen, but the suddenness wherewith such rigor succeeds and is succeeded by a temperature above the freezing point, that proves so inhospitable to the most valued Tree-Fruits. And, as the dense forests which formerly clothed the Alleghenies and the Atlantic slope, are year by year swept away, the severity of our “cold snaps,” and the celerity with which they appear and disappear, are constantly aggravated. A change of 60°, or from 50° above to 10° below zero, between morning and the following midnight, soon followed by an equally rapid return to an average November temperature, often proves fatal even to hardy forest-trees. I have had the Red Cedar in my woods killed by scores during an open, capricious Winter; and my observation indicates the warmest spots in a forest as those where trees are most likely to be thus destroyed.
After an Arctic night, in which they are frozen solid, a bright sun sends its rays into the warmest nooks, whence the wind is excluded, and wholly or partially thaws out the smaller trees; which are suddenly frozen solid again so soon as the sunshine is withdrawn; and this partly explains to my mind the fact that peach-buds are often killed in lower and level portions of an orchard, while they retain their vitality on the hill-side and at its crest, not 80 rods distant from those destroyed. The fact that the colder air descends into and remains in the valleys of a rolling district contributes also to the correct explanation of a phenomenon which has puzzled some observers.
Unless in a favored locality, it seems to the unadvisable for a farmer who expects to thrive mainly by the production of Grain and Cattle, to attempt the growing of the finer Fruits, except for the use of his own family. In a majority of cases, a multiplicity of cares and labors precludes his giving to his Peaches and Grapes, his Plums and Quinces, the seasonable and persistent attention which they absolutely require. Quite commonly, a farmer visits a grand nursery, sees with admiration its trees and vines loaded with the most luscious Fruits, and rashly infers that he has only to buy a good stock of like Trees and Vines to insure himself an abundance of delicious fruit. So he buys and sets; but with no such preparation of the soil, and no such care to keep it mellow and free from weeds, or to baffle and destroy predatory insects, as the nurseryman employs. Hence the utter disappointment of his hopes; borers, slugs, caterpillars, and every known or unknown species of insect enemies, prey upon his neglected favorites.
At intervals, some domestic animal or animals get among them, and break down a dozen in an hour. So, the far greater number come to grief, without having had one fair chance to show what they could do, and the farmer jumps to the conclusion that the nurseryman was a swindler, and the trees he sells scarcely related to those whose abundant and excellent fruits tempted him to buy. I counsel every farmer to consider thoughtfully the treatment absolutely required for the production of the finer Fruits before he allows a nurseryman to make a bill against him, and not expect to grow Duchesse Pears as easily as Blackberries, or Ionas and Catawbas as readily as he does Fox-grapes on the willows which overhang his brook; for if he does he will surely be disappointed.
Some of our hardier and coarser Grapes—the Concord preëminent among them—are grown with considerable facility over a wide extent of our country; and many farmers, having planted them in congenial soil, and tended them well throughout their infancy, are rewarded by a bounteous product for two or three years. Believing their success assured, they imagine that their vines may henceforth be neglected, and in the course of two or three more years they are often utterly ruined. I know that there are wild grapes of some value, in the absence of better, which thrive and bear without attention; but I do not believe that any grape which will sell in a market where good fruit was ever seen, can be grown north of Philadelphia but by constant care and labor, or at a cost of less than five cents per pound, under the most judicious and skillful treatment. In California, and I presume in most of our States south of the Potomac and Ohio, choice grapes may be grown more abundantly and more cheaply. Yet I think the localities are few and far between in which a tun of good grapes can be grown as cheaply as a tun of wheat, under the most judicious cultivation in either case.
I do not mean to discourage grape-growing; on the contrary, I would have every farmer, even so far north as Vermont and Wisconsin, experiment cautiously with a dozen of the most promising varieties, including always the more hardy, in the hope of finding some one or more adapted to his soil, and capable of enduring his climate. Even in France, the land of the vine, one farm will produce a grape which the very next will not: no man can satisfactorily say why. The farmer, who has tried half a dozen grapes and failed with all, should not be deterred from further experiments, for the very next may prove a success. I would only say, Be moderate in your expectations and careful in your experiments; and never risk even $100 on a vineyard, till you have ascertained, at a cost of $5 or under, whether the species you are testing will thrive and bear on your soil.
In my own case, my upland mainly sloping to the west, with a hill rising directly south of it, I have had no luck with Grapes, and I have wasted little time or means upon them. I have done enough to show that they can be grown, even in such a locality, but not to profit or satisfaction.
I would advise the farmer who proposes to grow Pear, Peaches, and Quinces, for home use only or mainly, to select a piece of dry, gravelly or sandy loam, underdrain it thoroughly, plow or trench it very deeply, and fertilize it generously, in good part with ashes and with leaf-mold from his woods. Locate the pig-pen on one side of it, fence it strongly, and let the pigs have the run of it for a good portion of each year. In this plat or yard, plant half a dozen Cherry and as many Pear trees of choice varieties, the Bartlett foremost among them; keep clear of all dwarfs, and let your choicest trees have a chance to run under the pig-pen if they will. Plant here also, if your climate does not forbid, a dozen well-chosen Peach-trees, and two each year thereafter to replace those that will soon be dying out; and give half a dozen Quinces moist and rich locations by the side of your fences; surrounding each tree with stakes or pickets that will preclude too great familiarity on the part of the swine, and will not prevent a sharp scrutiny for borers in their season.
Do not forget that a fruit-tree is like a cow tied to an immovable stake, from which you cannot continue to draw a pail of milk per day unless you carry her a liberal supply of food; and every Fall cart in half a dozen loads of muck from some convenient swamp or pond for your pigs to turn over: Should they leave any weeds, cut them with a scythe as often as they seem to need it; never allowing one to ripen seed. There may be easier and surer ways to obtain choice fruits; but this one commends itself to my judgment as not surpassed by any other. I think few have grown fruits to profit but those who make this a specialty; and I feel that disappointment in fruit-culture is by no means near the end. You can grow Plums, or Grapes, or Peaches, outside of the climate most congenial to them, but this is a work wherein success is likely to cost more than its worth. Try it first on a small scale, if you will try it; and be sure you do it thoroughly.
This article was taken from,
WHAT I KNOW OF FARMING: A SERIES OF BRIEF AND PLAIN EXPOSITIONS OF PRACTICAL AGRICULTURE AS AN ART BASED UPON SCIENCE:
Author: HORACE GREELEY