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How Best To Feed The Apple Orchard

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen—When your Secretary asked me to .prepare something on this topic, he intimated that he would like to have it very brief and to the point.

Now the topic of feeding the apple orchard may be made very brief, and I will try to be brief, but I hope I may be able to contribute a few hints that may help in feeding the apple orchard so as to get it to a condition of productiveness.

In the first place I want to describe the conditions under which we are working, and then you will better understand our methods. Our soil, in the state of nature, was covered with white-oak, hickory, beech, maple, basswood and elm; a heavy loam; one of those soils good to produce wheat, oats, corn, hay and a general diversity of farm crops.

On this same orchard we produced fourteen tons of clean beets after the tare was taken while the trees were growing, per acre. This will give you an idea of the kind of soil that it is.

This orchard that I am speaking of, was planted twenty-one years ago last spring. It has produced seven crops, commencing to bear fourteen years from the planting.

Our plan, and it is one that we have followed for several years, is a compromise between clean cultivation and grass mulch or along that line. We plow once a year, in the spring as soon as the ground is in condition to work. After getting it in condition, we sow Canada field peas, two bushels to the acre. When the peas have matured we turn in the hogs.

And right here I want to say that I have been asked about having hogs run in the orchard. I have answered this question a good many finies and I would like to make this statement here now so that it will go on record, if any body has had trees injured by hogs it is be-cause he had too many hogs or not enough orchard and did not feed his hogs well enough. The destiny of a hog is to eat and to be eaten ; and that is the only use for which a person should keep a hog.

After the peas have been harvested by the hogs, we spread shelled corn in the orchard. By this way we aim to have about five hogs to the acre and we rely upon our fertilizer which comes from the stock that eat the shelled corn, fed out on the open fields to hogs. We allow the hogs to remain in the orchard until the fruit begins to bear the limbs of the trees down within reach of the animals and then we take them out and keep them out until the fruit is picked. After which they are returned to pick up any apples that may be left and are kept in as long as the weather will permit.

We have used a little commercial fertilizer but the aim and object with us has been to get humus. If we can get this we can get everything else we want for the production of fruit.

I have no war to make on men who believe in clean culture except I do not believe that it applies to the apple orchard, the life of which should be from seventy-five to perhaps one hundred and twenty-five years.

I have trees that my father set out that are sixty-five years old and they are now just in their prime, producing excellent fruit and in good quantities.

It is my theory, and I think it is borne out in practice that a clean cultivation does not add anything to the fertility of the soil. It makes available the elements that are in the soil, but if we can grow Canada field peas, we can get all the nitrogen we need.

We get the nitrogen from the air. It is stored up in the product of the peas and goes back to the soil. There is plenty of evidence that we have sufficient nitrogen in the -soil, as mushrooms grow very abundant and is a great place for our city friends to come out Sunday afternoons and gather them ; and if we get humus we can unlock the store of phosphoric acid and potash that is in the soil; and there is plenty of it there for all time to come.

Our aim is to have everything made as near dormant in the orchard during the progress of the growth of the fruit as possible. After the peas are harvested we go over the orchard with a mowing machine and clip off whatever weeds there are and we have the ground pretty thoroughly mulched with pea-straw and weeds. We had rather have weeds than bare ground, but we do not like to have weeds, we had rather have peas.

I need not tell you that this plan of enriching the orchard is not very expensive. When we can buy corn at sixty-seven cents and sell pork on foot for seven to ten cents the hog proposition will take care of itself, so we have been very liberal in this kind of fertilizer in the orchard. And I might say that when the hogs are not in there we have enough of the mulch to almost cover the soil. It is about all we can turn under with the ordinary plough the next spring. I think we get good results by having this ground covered with this mulch and we try to keep down all the drain from the soil while the fruit is in that critical condition of not having enough moisture during the month of August; however, we have had a plenty of it during the past two years, but this is the month that there is the greatest danger from this cause, and we have adopted this plan while the fruit was in the heighth of its development.

This is about all of our system of feeding the orchard and I do not know but it is far enough for me to go along on this line.

There are, however, some other conditions which make for successful apple growing that are not fully tied up in the feeding.

If we were to feed a horse or a dairy cow we would as far as possible eliminate all the conditions whereby they might consume food unprofitably, and this we aim to do for our orchard with the pruning shears. We wish the trees to bear fruit; at the same time we do not want them to over-bear. It has become an established fact that the core and the stem of the apple take more phosphoric acid than the pulp itself. The pulp is made up, according to analysis, of 92% of water and sunshine—no drain on the soil. We try to eliminate the unprofitable growth of small apples; and while this has been a discouraging year for apple growers I do not think we should lie down until we can make every apple as good as these here shown on this table. In a close tab kept on our packing we found that we were able to get about 75% of this kind.

This system has eliminated the Codling Moth. We are not troubled with it now at all. This year has been an unusually bad one for the fungus and we have had more difficulty along this line this year than from any or all other causes together.

It is not necessary to take up any more time in discussing this phase of the question. I have been in a few of these meetings and have found that the most profitable part of the meetings is what comes out in the discussion, and if I have not made myself plain along this line I am here to answer any questions or explain any subject that I have not fully covered.

In maintaining the fertility of the orchard, as I said at the outset, we must plan to conserve this fertility for at least seventy-five to one hundred twenty-five years.

You men who are growing peaches do not come in this class at all; we who are growing apples must provide for the longer term of years and we must, for this reason, conserve the fertility of the soil. We can burn it up but this is not what we should do if we want to get out of the soil, in our trees, the profits we should have for our labor.


Mr. Bassett—Will you please state your varieties?

Mr. Hall--This orchard I speak of is Northern Spies and I will say that it is nearly the only apple I know anything about, and I wish I had never known any other apple than the Northern Spy. It is good enough for me.

A Member--Over how much space do your trees shade the ground?

Mr. Hall—Our trees are set forty feet apart and they are twenty-one years old, and they have just begun closing up the angles. They cover at the present time about twenty-five feet to each tree. However, we have some trees that my father set in the old orchard that I think have a breadth of fifty feet. I have taken from one of these trees this year fifty-five bushels of apples, and the limbs were not broken down.

The Chairman—According to the program, Mr. E. J. Overton of Bangor is to lead in the discussion of this question, and, after he is through, then you may fire in as many questions as you wish and they will no doubt take care of them for you in a satisfactory manner.

Mr. Overton—Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen—The cover crop is undoubtedly one of our best means of feeding the apple orchard. Nature abhors barrenness and makes every effort to cover up the bare spots; so I am in favor of the cover crop to this extent that I would cover all the ground all the while with as dense and compact a covering as I could produce; and in my estimation there is no cover that is better than June grass and with plenty of mulch around the trees. Sixteen years ago I planted an apple orchard on the intensive plan. This orchard was planted on a clover sod, turned under the previous year. The trees were set twenty feet apart for a permanent orchard and crops were grown among these trees for three years. Then it was seeded down to clover with a mixture of Alsike and timothy. The seeding was done in the spring of 1899. I got a very good growth the first year, which was cut and left upon the ground around the trees. The next year we had a very fine growth of clover, around two tons to the acre. This was also left upon the ground and part put around the trees as mulch. After that the timothy was more in evidence which made a very vigorous growth from the feeding of the previous crops that had gone back to the soil. The result of this method, the sod mulch method, was a uniform growth of trees, very hardy, came into bearing young, and have borne continuously. This orchard commenced bearing at ten years of age and it has been an annual bearer ever since.

I am very much encouraged with the future prospects of the apple industry. I believe, yes, I know, there is success for those who are planting and growing orchards in Michigan; for they are building not only for themselves, but for generations to come.

A Member: Don't you break up that sod at any time?

Mr. Overton--It has not been broken for thirteen yearn.

A Member—What kind of soil is this?

Mr. Overton—Clay sub-soil; a part on heavy clay soil, sandy loam with clay sub-soil.

A Member—Have you suffered any from drouth?

Mr. Overton—To no extent.

A Member—What varieties do you have?

Mr. Overton—Johnithans ; Dutchess and Oldenburg.

A Member—Are all of these trees twenty feet apart?

Mr. Overton—Yes, sir.

A Member—Are your Johnithans large and marketable?

Mr. Overton—Yes, sir.

A Member—What did you do with the tops of the trees that are twenty feet apart?

Mr. Overton—When I planted this orchard I planted it with the idea that to succeed I must know not only how to conserve the fertility of the soil, but also the growth of the trees. I have done this by annually heading-in and heading-back as they came into this allotted space that had been given to them and they are not crowding any today. They filled the space five years ago and they are no larger to-day than when they came into that space which was allotted to them. It is my intention to hold this orchard where it is, a semi-dwarfed orchard made so by annually trimming it.

A Member—When do you do this?

Mr. Overton—In the fall and winter; at any leisure time I have be-fore the growth starts out in the spring.

A Member—How much do these trees bear?

Mr. Overton—Three barrels to the tree.

A Member—What did you say the age of them was?

Mr. Overton—Sixteen years.

A Member—How many acres do you have?

Mr. Overton—Five acres.

Mr. Wilson—I would like to ask if you thin out your trees so as to let the sunlight get in?

Mr. Overton-Yes, sir ; and I may say that under the Sod Mulch System, we are not growing as much wood as we were under cultivation, but we are getting the fruit, the quantity, the quality and the color.

A Member—That's good enough. How much alfalfa do you use?

Mr. Overton—I do not know about that. I cannot say for certain.

Mr. Wilson—I just want to say a word about this alfalfa business. I seeded down a little orchard that I have of Ben Davis and some other varieties. A year ago last spring I got bacteria from the college, and there was a good growth of mammoth clover, but among the mammoth clover there must have been a few seeds of alfalfa. This had been growing for some time until this year when we started in plowing it up and we found roots of the alfalfa as big as your wrist that would turn a plow out of the ground. I had read of roots of alfalfa going down 137 feet to the coal mines for moisture and so my boy, who did the plowing, thought he would- dig down and see how far those roots extended downward. He dug down for three feet and the root remained the same size. Then there were two roots, double the size of my finger that branched off and he continued on digging for six feet, when pulling them too hard, he broke them off and they were still practically the same size. I do not know how much farther they went down into the ground. I have thought it would be a great feat if we could in some way graft the roots of our apple trees onto alfalfa roots and these would go down to the moisture, no matter how far it was below the surface, and then there would be no danger whatever from drouth. (Laughter.)

A Member—Michigan is a great state. Now this gentleman (Mr. Overton) is from Bangor. I am from Traverse City. His method may be all right for his section of the state, but it would prove an absolute failure in Grand Traverse county. -

Mr. Wilde—It is our sub-soil that will tell' whether it is right or wrong. On our sub-soil I don't think we could get size in a dry season on account of the fact that the ground is of a rolling and stiff clay. With stiff clay there is nothing to hold the moisture up and for that reason we have to conserve what moisture we have. I have seeded it down once or twice and, with me, the results were not what I would like, but I believe that these men are right—on some soils you have enough moisture while on others you do not. We have always practiced clean culture for apples, and sometimes for peaches, then we sow cover crops, oats and vetch—sowed about the first of August and then plow the vetch under, which we do with a gang-plow, soon enough so that it can be done without difficulty. If left too long, the ground will be hard to plow. We sow only about ten pounds of vetch to the acre. It has been twenty-five years since I planted the orchard, but we have had good results. We get size, but not always the color but, as the orchard becomes older, we are getting more color. I don't know as I am doing the best thing, but I believe that our treatment must depend upon our subsoil, for we cannot treat all sub-soils alike and get the same results.

Mr. Hall—"This proposition is one that every person must work out for himself. There is a vast difference in Michigan soils. When you plant out trees it is not like taking a cow to pasture—if the pasture is not right she can move, but it is not so with your orchard. So it is up to the individual grower, under his own conditions, to study out the method that will produce the best results, and it often happens that each tree in an orchard may need different management. We have found this to be the case in our own experience. We have had trees growing fruit that are too corky—the fruit too soft. We suspicion that this is because they are getting too much nitrogen, so we must add phosphoric acid and potash, and the best method to apply this is wood-ashes. How-ever, of late years wood-ashes is not very much in evidence and not very available. Where this is the case, we must use commercial fertilizers. With us, we do not make a point of putting out and spreading so much to the acre over the whole orchard, but we study each tree, and if it is growing fruit lacking in color, large and-spongy, it is an evidence that it needs phosphoric acid and potash, and so we feed each individual tree to meet its requirements. We are working along on this line, with a view of securing a uniform growth of fruit under the variety and condition of soils, and it seems to us as the years go by that we are making some progress, but I wish to emphasize again that each individual should study his own conditions."

"Now let me illustrate what I mean : Here I hold in my hand this fine large specimen; what is the matter with it? You say it is overgrown, and that means that if you should cut into it you would find it was spongy. Now here is another apple even more pronounced in this respect, you do not want to raise that kind of apples so you must take steps to have your trees yield a different type of fruit, but here is another—one of the same variety—that is in ideal condition—right size, high color, free from blemishes and would be in demand in any market. Now, this is what we are trying to work for. These two types of apples were grown in the same orchard two rows apart; the tree from which this apple (exhibiting specimen) was grown is getting an excess of phosphoric acid and potash, or a minimum amount of nitrogen, while this specimen shows that the tree is receiving the opposite, so you see that in this orcharding proposition every grower must be a careful student of his individual conditions, and in time I am satisfied that every true apple grower will be able to solve these problems that confront him under his conditions, to his satisfaction."

A Member: "I have had an idea that we might feed color into the apples and have tried phosphoric acid and potash in about 400 pounds to the acre, and use bone meal at the rate of 1,000 pounds, but in three years we have not received satisfactory results; perhaps it takes even more time to get good results, I do not know as for that."

A Member—"What kind of soil do you have?"

Answer—"Clay loam, the clay is quite thick, dry in dry seasons, but we have not been troubled any with dry weather during the past two years. Either our trees have a full meal and are not taking in any bone meal, or the bone meal was not good-though, I do not think this could be the case, as we procured it at the Agricultural College, and it must be all right. I think there must be some other reason. I know on a lighter soil one gets results from manure quicker than on clay soil, this is our experience, and we are feeding ten acres out of forty."

Mr. Overton—There is an idea that I am working out in connection with the feeding of an orchard and that is to lessen tree competition as much as possible for food and moisture. This is done by interspersing the summer varieties among the winter. For instance, the Duchess is interspersing among my winter varieties. Their demands upon the soil are early in the season. And their work is completed be-fore the winter varieties make their demands upon the soil. I am quite sure that this is an important point that will be worked out in the future and especially where there is close planting of trees. I have but little use for second grade apples and I think that this grade can be almost wholly done away with through proper effort.

A Member—When we have one limb that will grow these spongy apples one year and small ones the next and vice versa, what are we to do?

Mr. Hall—I have known these conditions; and I will go still further and say that while my orchard was growing up I was running a saw-mill and had an abundance of wood-ashes. I set my teamster to hauling out these wood-ashes to the trees, and so liberal was he in his use of them, that out of the seventeen rows he covered only six, but these six rows have produced more apples in this orchard under equal conditions—no difference in soil—more fruit and better fruit in the. last seven years than the other eleven. I will say this for wood-ashes--we did not get results, as Mr. Wilde says on the spur of the moment as when we applied it to annual crops, but wood-ashes that I applied have been worth—I would not undertake to say how much as I said before, the six rows are much more valuable than the other eleven. This is a proposition, as I said before that every person should work out under his own conditions.

A Member—How do you apply the wood-ashes?

Answer—In this case they were fed over the whole ground twelve years ago, care being taken not to get them up against the body of the tree.

A Member—Which apple do you think brings the best price in the market, the small one, large or medium?

Mr. Hall—I think the medium apple has the most ready sale.

A Member—Have you ever had buyers kick on their being too large? Mr. Hall—Yes, I have.

A Member--ii)on't you think the different sizes of the trees have something to do with the limbs and the nourishment that come from the trees?

Mr. Hall—We see these conditions on individual trees. One side of the tree is out-growing the other and needs attention to keep it well balanced. This must be attended to with the prunning shears, in such cases too much sap goes to one side while the other side is being robbed. It is hard to overcome this and cannot well be done this year, but next year by eliminating the strong growth, there can be a balancing up of the tree so that it will produce all right.

I have a case in point. In an early day a log house was built upon one corner of this orchard which later was burned down, the ashes of which were left on the ground; later on the orchard was planted, one tree near the location of the old house. One side of this tree is feeding from this soil impregnated with ashes while the other side is feeding from soil in a normal condition. So pronounced is the difference in the fruit upon the two sides of this tree that I have had many very heated arguments with buyers, they believing the tree is from two separate grafts.

A Member—I would like to have an answer to question No. 33: "How can we get higher color in our fruit?"

Prof. Eustace—This is a very important question just now when you are coming in competition with western fruit which has that high color. To my mind, it is a little doubtful whether we can in the East secure color so as to compete with that secured on the western fruit. You understand that the apples grown in the Hood River and Yakima valleys and other sections of the West are in the sunshine from the time the trees are in bloom until the fruit is ready to be picked, except at night. We must grow apples that are of fine color if we are to compete with them on this point. How can we do it? I have seen at-tempts made, careful experiments, endeavoring to put the red color on the apples by feeding the tree salts of iron and large amounts 'of wood-ashes and other chemicals, but I have not seen any of them that are entirely satisfactory, so I have almost come to the conclusion that you cannot get the color on the apple in that way. But I believe you can get it with a sod mulch and enough sun. There have been very careful experiments made in New York where one-half of the orchard was cultivated for a series of years with clean cultivation while the other was in sod and there was a very marked difference. The apples grown on the sod would have better flavor and a richer color than the other, which might possibly be due to the fact that the apples matured earlier on the sod than on the other, and early maturity brings color.

Another thing is thinning, pruning and doing anything to open up the tree so that the sunlight will get in. After this is done, then the cold nights will do much. In parts of New York and Michigan, where they have cool nights and the winter apples are out, they color up very fast. In high latitudes, they have a much better color then in lower. In the northern part of this state, the Mackintosh, Snow and other apples like that take on a beautiful color; more so than in the southern part of the state.

You ask about pruning. Prune the trees so they can get a large amount of sun-light. Thin the fruit and that will help. Undoubtedly, large amounts of wood ashes will have a desirable effect. Michigan apple growers must get that color. The western fellows have it, but it comes because of the perpetual sunshine they have.

Mr. Wilde—These heavy cold soils, deficient in lime do not produce the fruit with color that those warm, limestone regions do. I have never seen a case where the soil was deficient in lime has produced highly colored fruit, and I am not familiar with any case where specially large quantities of lime have been added to bring about this change, so I can not say whether it will give the desired results or not.

Question 26--How many haw had profitable results from the use of commercial fertilizers? Can we afford to buy stockyard manure?

A Member—We have been conducting experiments on the Dutchess apple and failed to get very satisfactory results. We use a complete fertilizer—potash and phosphate—phosphoric acid and nitrogen.

Question-Is your soil not naturally rich?

Answer—Yes, it is.

Member—Then it did not need it.

A member—We have been using potash, phosphate and bone with good results, and are well pleased with it, and we have thought we secured a good deal of color out of commercial fertilizers. I know we have on the peach, and I think we have on the apple also.

Mr. Wilde—We have had results on plums and peaches, but what about apples? Apples do not seem to respond.

Mr. Bassett—Our experience proves that there is just one way to get color, and there is no other system by which you will get that apple to take on the right color except to get it under the sun's rays—then you will get some color, but you can not get it by putting on phosphoric acid, potash, etc. If that apple is hid away from the sun, there is no way to get the requisite color except by getting it exposed to the sun by cutting away the branches so there is not so much shade. This is the gospel truth.

A Member—What is in the rind of that apple there before us that makes it so dark, and this apple so much lighter. Has that ever been answered?

Answer—This is because of the different characteristics of the apple. A Member—Then is it the sunshine that does it—that puts the rind on the apple?

Mr. Bassett—It is because of the pigment which responds to the coloring. The apple is white because there is an absence of pigment.

Prof. Eustace—A part of it will come from sunshine, and another part from some source which has not yet been discovered. You take an apple tree that is growing on poor soil, but where the sun has kissed that apple, and you get that color. A tree growing on a cold clay soil, you do not get the same color you do where the same tree is growing on a warm limestone soil—you get a good deal better color in the latter case. Sometimes the difference is so marked that it is difficult to identify them. Then if you put a bag over some of these apples, they will be grayish green. Just how much on one and how much on the other is due to sunshine or the other elements, I do not know.

A Member—Why will grass grow bristles on a hog and wool on the back of a sheep? I think the same thing applies in the case of the apple.

Mr. Hall—There is a great difference in the pulp?

A Member—Does the color of the pulp make a difference in the color of the skin?

Prof. Eustace—Take this Northern Spy that is well colored; let the chemist analyze it, then another apple grown on the same tree of a grayish green—there is a- decided difference in the taste. I have some students right now working right along that line, and they find that they are able often to detect the difference in the taste and tell the color of the skin from the taste alone.

A Member—Then does not the degree of ripeness have something to do with it?

Prof. Eustace: At the Geneva Station they have been carrying on an experiment of determining the flavor of apples on cultivated soil and on sod, and I am sure that you would all say that the apples from the trees on the cultivated part was much finer in texture and more tasty than those grown on the sod. It was my job to inspect these ap-

ples in cold storage for the Government, and I noticed this, and remarked upon it, and then I tried it on every man around the place—I said, "You eat this apple, and this, and tell me if you can distinguish any difference," and in every case they could tell the difference.

A Member—Was the lightest colored apple the best?

Prof. Eustace—The apples on the sod were the highest colored. The point may be, these apples were possibly over-ripe—they may have passed that point when they were not at the best in their life history. Some varieties of apples, when their chemical and physical properties are just right are better than at any other time.

A Member—Overloading of the trees may take the flavor out of the apples?

Prof. Eustace—I would not wonder but that would have such an effect.

A Member—Does the color have anything to do with the value of the Greening? The Judge gave the first prize to the apples that had a red tinge on every apple. Was that right? The fact is that the Judge was severely criticised? Did he do the right thing?

Answer—My opinion is that he did right.

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