Successful Peach Growing
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
HORACE SESSIONS, SHELBY.
Mr. President, Ladies and 'Gentlemen : Yesterday when I sat back there and saw that fine bunch of young men up here on the rostrum and listened to them give us such splendid short and pithy speeches on vital topics, I -remarked to Mr. -Bassett, "It would be better to call on them to take my part than for me to speak."
I don't know anything new in peaches—it is the same old story—almost as bad as the Irishman. It seemed that Pat had not had much experience in horticulture in Ireland; never saw a peach grown, did not know anything about peaches when he came to Michigan. But Mike had been telling him about the wonderful peaches, especially in Oceana county, and at evening Pat suggested that they take a stroll out and get some peaches. So they went out. The night was rather dark but Mike knew where the peaches were and so when they got to the orchard, he said to Pat : "If you want some good peaches feel around on the ground." He did so and finally found a peach, but there was a small hop-toad on it, but he ate it down just the same. Then he exclaimed, "Mike, Mike do peaches have legs?" "Of course not" said Pat. "Bejabers then I swallowed a' straddle bug." I know a little more than that, but not much.
I did not think how egotistical that would look in print. I do not think, however, I am so egotistical as that might give you an idea—not so bad as the story I heard the other day.
It seems that a man had a dream and he thought that he had passed over the Great Divide and arrived at the Pearly Gates. But he found Roosevelt had arrived there just ahead of him and was knocking at the Gate when he came up.
Saint Peter said "who's there?" And the voice called out, "Roosevelt."
"Ah, open wide the gates" said Saint Peter:
"How are you? Walk right in." Then Roosevelt said:
"Is there anything to do in here?"
"Yes," replied Saint Peter.
"Well, I don't want any ordinary job—I want something big. Have you anything big? What is the biggest job you have?"
"Well we need a leader for the choir."
"That's all right if you can give me a big enough choir."
"How many do you want?"
"I want a million sopranos, a million altos, and five hundred thou-sand tenors" and Roosevelt stopped.
"How about the bass?" said Saint Peter.
"The bass?" said Roosevelt, "Oh, I will sing that myself."
My wife remarked to me a few days ago, "Horace, you have not writ-ten your speech yet." I said, "I know it and I guess I won't write it I will just tell them off-handed what I know which is not very much." So here goes.
The first thing that should be considered in peach raising is the man. The most important thing that goes with successful peach raising is the man. The man must love the business. That is all vital. A great many people have come to me and said : "I believe there is money in raising peaches in Michigan and I would like to get in the game, but I don't like peaches, I never did. I hate to work around them, I like to harvest them. I am on a dairy farm and would like to make a little money, and I think I can do so out of peaches." Well, what I have to say to these people is: "In all probability you will make a failure. The man must be enthusiastic. No half-way business will go. There is something about Horticulture and the growing of peaches especially, that requires enthusiasm. If you have plenty of enthusiasm, it seems to enthuse your help and your neighbors and everybody, and things go with a vim.
Another thing that is needed is self confidence. I don't mean by that egotism or conceit. But still of the two I would rather see a man with a little conceit than to have no confidence in himself. You will make a very poor success if you have no confidence in yourself, but you cannot make anyone else think that you have ability when you are all the time depracting yourself.
Another vital thing is personal touch. It is possible for some to make a success of raising peaches and live ten or a hundred miles away from the orchard, and go there only occasionally, provided they get the right man. But in my own observation I believe that very close to ninety per cent of those who raise peaches by proxy will make a failure. But I believe that the peach business especially requires you to be "Johnny on the spot," ready for any emergency and pay close attention to the details. This detail work is very, very vital in horticulture and especially in the raising of peaches.
Then there is the question of location. If a person were going to build a good house, he would want a good location, sightly, well-drained, etc. In planning for the location of an orchard we have to take into consideration the land, the nearness to a large body of water—we had a little on that line yesterday—but the all important thing in planting the orchard is to put it on the ground where the orchard will stay. The orchard is not something which you will plant today and in four or five years, pull it up. When I plant a peach orchard I am planting it for at least twenty-five or thirty years, perhaps longer. Then I want that location should be where the trees will be as immune from frost as possible. Then you recall the question came up yesterday as to whether a fair location close to a railroad or a good location considerably back would be the one you would choose. My advice would be emphatically to take the location back, because if you have not got the fruit you can not market it. If you do have it and it is not back too far, you can get it to market. The vital thing is to get the stuff; the rest you can take care of.
One thing that has knocked, as a horticultural state as much or more than anything else is the advertising and exploiting and selling of lands by real-estate men for fruit culture that are entirely unsuited for that purpose. Michigan is the grand old state for fruit—no question about it—I don't mean that every inch of land in Michigan will raise peaches. There is only a very limited area that is really good peach land. I honestly don't believe that there is over one acre in a hundred that is exploited or sold for good peach land that is even half way fair, and especially the more tender fruits, such as peaches, and the one great orchards in unsuitable locations.
If you are going to build a good house, the most important thing would be to put it on a firm foundation so that it would not be destroyed by the elements or blown down in time of a storm. So it is with the orchard, put it on a firm foundation, and then it will give you paying crops for twenty years or thirty years. I have seen peach orchards forty years old in Northern California, still in a thrifty condition.
Another important thing is the setting of the trees. Some make the mistake of getting the trees in the ground wrong. That is possible, especially on rolling ground. You may get them in deep enough. A peach tree should be put in, even on level ground, two inches below the surface, and on side hills it should be six or eight inches. It is safe to put them in deep. More trees are lost by being planted too shallow than too deep.
As to the distance apart, our own orchard is planted twenty feet each way. If I had the thing to do over again, I would plant at least 25 feet one way.
As to the growing a crop between the trees, there is quite a diversity of opinion. Many advocate in our farm papers that the land should be first cropped for two or three years to get it in a condition for setting the trees; but my personal observation has been that in most of our soils in Michigan, the ground is none too good at its best—there may be here and there a spot that is very rich that it would be a good policy to crop it, but in nine cases out of ten, the thing to do is to put in fertilizer and give the tree a good start. But if you have land that will grow 100 bushels of corn or 200 bushels of potatoes to the acre, it will pay to put in a crop two or three years. ,
As to cultivation I presume we are considered as sort of a crank, but we do a lot of cultivation and we start it early. It should be started about the time the buds begin to swell and the growth starts, and stop early. Late cultivation has ruined many a prospect for the coming year, and perhaps for coming years, by making too spongy growth in trees. Begin the last of April or the first of May and stop the first or the middle of August. We cultivate usually about twice a week. Then we have a disk—an ordinary straight frame disk with an extension top—so that in driving cornerwise through the orchard it just fills the row and throws the dirt to the trees and reversing the disk, draws it from them. In this way you can cultivate an orchard that is trimmed low. Our orchard is trimmed low. (You noticed in the photo that was shown you yesterday that this is so.) We go over about eighteen feet. The horses walk in the middle of the row and in this way no peaches are knocked off. One team will go over twenty or thirty acres a day.
In such seasons as last year when it was so dry, we harrowed every other day, every foot of ground, and we did not suffer any from drouth. Moisture was everywhere to be seen.
Then there is the trimming. It is not necessary to say much about trimming young trees. Just cut them off two feet above the ground. If the shoots are thrifty, we leave one or two limbs with one or two buds on. Do not cut too close to the tree or you may destroy the bud close to the limb.
Later on, in the trimming of the tree, form a well balanced head with three to five strong leaders, and up to the growth trim symmetrical, then when they get older you can do some trimming. We have a 10-acre block of trees, twenty-three years old and we pick one-third of these right from the ground and every peach can be picked from a fourfoot ladder and not do any reaching. The balance of our bearing orchard is 16 years of age, and they are all the same size.
As to location we have a block of twenty-three. year old trees that stand on the highest part of our farm and have borne continuous crops since they were four years old or nineteen consecutive crops, that has made possible by leaf trimming for one thing and giving it plenty of growing wood, so that no tree is allowed to overbear. The main thing is not to allow the trees to become sappy or have a spongy growth. Even there was a fair crop of peaches on these trees.
As to varieties, I would not want you to have any of the varieties that I have. Twenty-three years ago, we did not have the same ideas of what was the right peach to raise or sixteen years ago. The forty-acre block is set with our yellow peaches. We like the New Prolific pretty well, Kalamazoo and Elberta. We have quite a lot of Gold Drop peaches. They made us as much money as any trees we had in the orchard. We have 'Gold-Drop trees that have yielded us nine or ten bushels, and one year they sold at $1.75 per bushel,- that is at the rate of about fifteen hundred dollars an acre, —and that compares very favorable, I think with the Westers stories that come to us. The Gold-Drop is good if not taken too far north. Perhaps the Elberta is King of them-all.
Well, I don't know but I have told you all I know on this subject of peach growing, and it can be emphasized and summarized in the three points, first, we want the right man in order to make a success of the business, and we want to get varieties that the public demand, lastly a suitable location, and then there is no question but what any man will certainly succeed as a peach grower in Michigan.
Question—Did you get any peaches this year?
Mr. Sessions—Yes, we had in round numbers about eight thousand bushels.
Question—Are you bothered with the yellows?
Answer—No, not seriously. In our' orchard we have about ninety acres and this year we took out four trees only.
Question—Are you troubled with little peach?
Answer—Not this year but last year we took out about a dozen. I have not heard of any Little Peach in our neighborhood.
Question—Do you think that certain varieties are more susceptible to Little Peach than others?
Mr. Sessions—In regard to that I cannot say. In our own experiences we have lost more Gold-Drops by Little Peach than any other variety. Possibly they may be more susceptible. Perhaps it may be that in the Gold-Drop block they were in the side of the orchard where the Yellows and Little Peach came in. There are no bearing orchards north or south and all the disease came from the east and the Gold-Drops are located along that territory. As I said, we lost more Gold-Drops than any other variety.
Question—Have you noticed that some years when the Yellows were not very bad?
Mr. Sessions—Three years ago, we took out 34 trees, that is the worst we have had the Yellows in and around our vicinity for nine years, but we were not obliged to take out only three or four trees on the start. I have sometimes thought that Yellows were worse in varieties where the blossoms open up wide.
Question—What about cover crops? Did you use them?
Mr. Sessions—That is a subject by itself. We like sandvetch and rye. It is impossible almost to put the whole orchard into vetch and rye for it makes us much work and we aim to get over the orchard at least once in three years. With rye and vetch and a portion of it every once in three years; intervening years we plant crops, we always have cover crops.
Question—Do you get growth enough to put it under early?
Mr. Sessions—Yes, we begin plowing when it first starts to bloom and when we get through plowing—it takes a week or ten days—it is getting a little old, but we never had any serious results from being too dry. The ground worked thoroughly after it is plowed under.
Question—Do you roll?
Mr. Sessions—No, but we go over with a disk or spike tooth harrow. It is pretty hard to get a roller under our trees.
Question—What is the nature of your soil?
Mr. Sessions—Sandy loam with clay sub-soil.
Question-How is the best way to destroy borers in peach trees?
Mr. Sessions—We don't have any serious trouble with borers. We take them out with a knife. When we get through trimming about the first of June we go over the trees, dig the dirt away, examine for borers and then leave the opening open and then go over again in two or three days and kill what may be found. We never saw any advantage in heading the trees high. The borers just went up in the limbs. We took the borers out right after trimming, possibly about the first of June and then leaving the holes open around the trees and in about two days we go over the work again and where we can see signs of the working of the worms, we investigate and in this way we get practically all of them. Then the hole is filled. Perhaps I cannot convince some of you that the borers that work up in the limbs are the same as those that work in the roots, but they are the same.
Question—What is the difference between the saw-tooth and the ordinary borer?
Mr. Sessions—I am not familiar with them but we have not been troubled with them to any extent.
A Member—I assume that Mr. Sessions sprayed first with lime and sulphur solution. How does he manage to prepare his solution?
Mr. Sessions—I cannot give you any light on this. We spray our trees early in the spring with blue stone for curl leaf and we have not been troubled with brown rot or kindred rots and never spray for leaf rot. This is the first year that it has ever been serious with us at all. I think I will experiment with at least a portion of the orchard with lime and sulphur.
Question—How cold was it last winter up there?
Mr. Sessions—I believe it was about twenty below zero—all the way from eight below to twenty above. I was not at home at the time so cannot tell you definitely.
Question—Are the borers the cause of the gum that comes from the trees?
Mr. Sessions—Sometimes the gum may exude from the tree from injury or freezing or other causes, but if the borers are working the gum will exude.
Question—Is it possible to disk a cover crop of rye and vetch instead of plowing?
Mr. Sessions—Yes, it is possible, but if your orchard is in shape to plow you can get it in nicer shape. It is not so satisfactory as plowing the ground.
Question—Your orchard is 24 years old, how many trees have you lost to the acre?
Mr. Sessions—I should say perhaps about one-quarter of them. We have reset all of these. There are perhaps twenty-five per cent of the original trees that are at present gone.
Mr. Chairman—The discussion of this question is to be led by Mr. Oscar Braman of Grand Rapids who will now take the floor.
Mr. Braman—Mr. President, I am just played out and have been under the weather for the last couple of days and I haven't really pre-pared anything very definite for this occasion. What few remarks I do make will be informal, but the ground has been so very thoroughly covered by my predecessor, Mr. Sessions that I don't know as I can offer anything very new at this time.
Our experience in the growing of peaches—we did not have very much success in growing peaches this year—we had zero weather for three weeks and from that down to 20 below, and we didn't expect to grow a bushel of peaches this season, but to our amazement, we had a few hundred bushels.
One thing of importance in growing peaches is to get an ideal location. We prefer to have a location which is high and well drained, a north to eastern slope, although we have some of our orchards located on a southern slope, and they usually did very well, but occasionally we get a winter when the sun will melt and the wind will blow off the snow and then we have trouble with "root freezing."
The first consideration is to have a location which is above the other fellow's location, the highest you can get, with a gradual slope, although one of my best orchards is on a level plateau. I like a loam soil, under-laid with clay-subsoil, although our orchard varies from a sandy loam to heavy clay and we plant the varieties according to the condition of the soil.
In the next place we must not have a location where the water stands or where the land is springy. Where these wet spots are you will find that the yield will be poor and the fruit will be liable to drop off before its time.
As to fitting the ground for the trees, I like to plow under a good heavy clover sod, or sod of some sort, and I believe in supplementing with commercial fertilizers. One of the best orchards I ever grew, when we planted the trees after we plowed under a heavy clover sod, and another that was very successful was where we plowed under a heavy crop of June grass. It had not had a load of manure for fifteen years previous to the planting of that orchard and developed into being one of the best in Kent county.
As to soil I think a sandy loam, or clay loam, underlaid with red clay.
A Member—Do you under-drain when you set your orchard?
Mr. Braman—We have had some under-draining, but none of our peach orchards are under-drained. In our location the soil that needs under-draining is unfit for peach orchard lands.
A Member—You let the other fellow do the under-draining.
Mr. Braman—Yes. This orchard we fall-plowed just before Thanks-giving and then the next spring set out the trees after thoroughly fitting the ground and planted corn in between. And then we went and gave that land an application of 300 lbs. of fertilizer to the acre. I grew the best corn on that piece that I ever grew in my life. Last year, a year ago, we sowed some sand-vetch and we had quite a crop of sand-vetch. This last year we plowed it under. My men are not very much in love with turning that stuff under. We discarded it this season and used clover more. Perhaps we would not have had so much trouble but I think we did not get at it soon enough and then I think another reason that made it so hard was that it got so dry.
Now as to the varieties that you should plant. This all depends upon the market which you cater to—whether shipping your fruit or disposing of it in a local market. Personally, we have two classes of markets to deal with, local and the shipping market. For shipping we use such varieties as the St. Johns of Michigan, Engles, Elberta also some Gold Mine, but for local trade we start in with the Deweys which has been one of the best money makers here in Grand Rapids. We have had from two to three dollars a bushel for these peaches every year. It is the only one we had to thin this year. We followed up with the other varieties, Elbertas and Oceanas. This last is one of the most profitable for shipping that we have had. We really have not had Oceanas enough for our local market. The public is just getting on to the fact that the Oceana is about the best peach that we have. Personally, I think it is the best, quality considered, surpassing the Barnard and Crawford. The grocers are calling for them very generally. We are also planting the Gold Mine. This is a very good peach and they bushel up very fast. However, there is one objection to them, some years they will shell or drop off before they ripen up. I cannot under-stand just what the trouble is. I think, however, that it is due to the effect of scab, though I am not sure of this. It seems that wheather conditions will cause peaches to drop. They are something like the Barnard, years ago, with which we used to have this same trouble a long continued cold spell just before ripening, and then comes on the sunshine and they fall to the ground. Some seasons we are not troubled at all that way. Otherwise, the Gold Mine is one of the best peaches we have.
The next important thing that we should consider is pruning. We like to form our heads from about 20 to 36 inches from the ground. We leave from 3 to 5 limbs scattered on the southwest and west sides of the trees. We cut back every year from 1/4, to 1/3, all depending upon the growth of the tree. Sometimes we cut back on the east more than others. We throw the top on the side of the prevailing winds.
A member—Do you prune in the fall or in the spring?
Mr. Braman—Our young trees, we set in pruning just as soon as we get our work in shape to do it, but bearing trees we do not do any-thing with until the 10th or 15th of March. If the buds set heavy, and they are not injured, we feel it is all right to go on and do our pruning. If the buds are thin we do not do so much pruning unless they are all killed. We did not do much pruning on our bearing trees because the buds were so few we did not want to sacrifice the crop. We will start in a couple of weeks and get the dead wood out, which with us is considerable on account of last year's freezing, and then finish early in the spring.
So far as apples and plums are concerned we would prune any time now. The next important thing is the question of spraying and I want to say that this is a very important factor. About five or six years ago the scale got scattered throughout our orchards. We went at it and thoroughly sprayed the orchard with sulphur and lime, one man with one hose on the tank and the other on the ground spraying up, and we practically got the scale under control the first season, and we have not had scale in our orchard outside of two apple trees which I lost this last spring, but not much of the fruit was affected.
One of the most important features of successful peach growing is the successful spraying of trees. We have made our own sulphur and lime up to the present time, although I would not hesitate to use the commercial product. We soak the trees so that the spray will run right down the bark. You never want to do a half-way job in spraying. If you do, it is time, material and money thrown away. The first spraying for scale will destroy the "curl leaf" then following that spray again with the second spray just as soon as the shuck falls from the peach with the cooked sulphur and lime spray. We made it 15 of sulphur, 15 of lime, to the 100 gallons of water. You know how that is made. That is one of the most effective fungicides for the control of the peach that we have. It is safe, it is reliable, it prevents the scab from the peach and also prevents rot and we have not had any trouble in burning the leaves where it was properly made and put on, We also make two sprayings, one when the shuck drops and then three or four weeks after. One month before the marketing begins we use another spray and by this method we are quite successful in keeping the rot from getting much foot-hold on our peaches. Three sprayings is all that we use on our peaches. In the second spraying we put in arsenate of lead to control the curculio, but in the last spraying we not use it.
In regard to thinning and cultivation—we do so by plowing our orchard with a gang plow, three or four inches deep then follow with a spring-tooth harrow with a stirrer, and we level 'our orchards and then after that we use a 90-tooth three-section harrow. We have been successful in keeping the orchard in goon condition for we go over it with a gang plow and spring-tooth harrow and level it down. The moisture is absorbed and the trees are kept in very healthy, growing condition. I advocate a very thorough thinning, taking all poor fruit and leaving only as much fruit as the tree will profitably support.
We market herein half-bushel and bushel baskets. ' Our fruit is all packed in the orchard. We don't take to the packing house. We have men right in the orchard who do the sorting of the fruit so you see it is really handled but once. And by thorough pruning and spraying, and thinning we eliminate all the culls.
A Member—Are- you troubled with rabbits girdling the trees, and if so what do you do?
Mr. Braman—We have never been troubled with rabbits at all, but last season for the first time to any extent, we had difficulty with the short-tailed mice. We lost perhaps 60 or 75 trees from one to three or four years old. Not having had any experience with them before I did not know just what to do. I think, however, we will mound the young trees high up and then if they are gnawed there will he body enough below to start another tree. There are various precautions that are had but I am not familiar with them.- A neighbor of mine had some experience with rabbits. They began gnawing the trees and we took linseed oil and ground-graphic and applied it in the form of a paint to the bodies of the trees and it seemed to have the effect of keeping the rabbits away.
A Member—When does your Gold Mine ripen as to your Elberta? Mr. Braman—It follows right on the heels of the Elberta. We begin
picking it just as soon as we finish picking the Elberta. - A Member—At what age do you try to have your peach trees bear? Mr. Braman—Just as quickly as possible.