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REFLECTIONS  OF  A  SOLDIER  SETTLER  N0  3

The immediate objective of the writer of these articles is, to cause the growers to use their imagination and picture for themselves the conditions of living throughout this district under the regime of scientific orcharding or improved cultural conditions.  Mr. Ranger suggests in his most opportune “Review of the past Season” that the growers should take steps, with a view to increasing their fruit production per acre.  To those who do not appreciate the exact position of fruit marketing and probable improved methods of distribution in Queensland, the poor prices received last season for good well packed fruit, is a sufficient reason for asking: “What is the use of increasing production”?  That question will be answered in the most satisfactory manner, when the supply of deciduous fruits on the markets of Queensland is being regulated by a packing shed marketing association of all the growers.  Present markets can be extended and others developed when a standardised product is available.

There has grown up a fixed opinion amongst the growers, that associated community packing sheds would be a rather expensive luxury.  Many growers have not only become expert packers, but with the help of their womenfolk and kiddies, have built up “private markets” which entails a huge amount of daily work; writing, advertising, packing, shipping, etc., which, with the 101 other jobs on the farm, keeps all the members of the family hopping from the start to the finish of the season.  Should conditions be the same next season, the building up of private markets is the only hope for all those growers who still shift their fruit to Roma Street.  There will thus be an ever increasing quantity of well packed fruit for “special loadings” for the north and west and a correspondingly decreasing quantity for Roma Street, until a day arrives when all the growers of this Belt, who survive as growers, are working night and day to get their fruit away to private markets.  The result of cut-throat competition for certain of these so-called “private” markets is too hideous to contemplate.  In the meantime the Group Committee would do well to earn their bit of pocket money, by organising and leading a parade of fruit growers and their families through Stanthorpe, at the beginning of each season; [they’ll be too tired at the end], and carrying a banner of strange device, “Conservatism in Excelsis”.  But hold up!  By that time our production problem will have become so acute that the few bushels per acre gathered in those days will have to be sold at about ₤2 a case, so as to provide just tucker money; and the nine star artists of the Group Committee cum defunct District Council, will have to forfeit their pocket money.  While the rest of the world is increasing production and using up to date marketing methods our production will be decreasing; because we will not have time during the season to do the necessary cultivation, etc., which is one big factor in the production of high grade fruit.

This, our course, would all be possible if we did not have Mr. Ranger looking out for our interests and for the future of this Belt.  Remember it was this Granite Belt that gave Mr. Ranger his start and opportunities.  He has done well for himself and he will do well for us because it is to his interest to do so.

By being able to get shut of our fruit as soon as it is picked, by carting from the tree to the Packing House on the railway siding, we will have plenty of time to cultivate our orchards, pick up fallen fruit, attend to fly-traps, etc., and possibly find time to plant some other crop so as to extend the working season.  If this state of affairs should obtain next season, throughout this Belt, the buyers will sit up and take notice that the C.O.D. is out to get production costs in the sale of our fruit at Roma Street, Rockhampton and maybe a dozen other centres throughout the State.  It is a fact that the extension of markets is practically easy to accomplish in a place like Queensland, when a standardised packing shed product is available for distribution.  Satisfied customers is the first essential to a stabilised price and it is much more satisfactory to everybody concerned, to have the C.O.D. and agents supplying the buyers with a standard pack of fruit at a good price, than for 700 growers to be supplying about half the buyers; and those mostly in districts outside Brisbane, leaving the Brisbane demand to be supplied by southern imported fruit.  By doing what Mr. Ranger suggests, we will be able to capture all Queensland markets.

Should next season see the beginning of such a forward movement, arrangements would very likely be made, whereby the renovation of all orchards would be undertaken and a beginning made with a view to the “improved cultural conditions” so necessary for increased production per acre.  When one understands the principals governing the mechanical and physical conditions of the soil in an orchard, it is a simple matter to enumerate a few first benefits to be derived from a powerful organisation of all the growers.  Black powder and fuse for the purpose of breaking up the hard-pan and sub-soil generally; agricultural drain tiles, for the purpose of removing surplus drain water from the soil and sub-soil; seed for sowing extensive summer crops; and lime.  Under present conditions the prices of these things are prohibitive, because a big percentage of growers are living on the bread line; but with the C.O.D. marketing our fruit, it would be possible for finance to be obtained from the banks, repayable over a term of years, for improvements in production methods.  When grape growers can obtain small mesh wire-netting surely apple growers can get a few drain pipes.  When such an organisation of growers was able to procure up-to-date machinery, a tractor school would very likely be available each winter and the hiring of a tractor, rotary hoe or rotary mould-board, plough and other machines, for a few hours now and again, would be the new method of general cultivation.  The year 1938 should see the orchards of the old Granite Belt replanted and well established with production problems overcome and with something like 200 bushels minimum per acre for apple trees nine years old.  But we must get back to those great first principals, which the science of horticulture insists on; that is, if successful production is to be attained.

Last week, in concluding, I mentioned that the warm air followed the rain down into the sub-soil as the surplus water drained away through the drain tiles.  That is not strictly correct, as the air is but a medium.  The soil is a conductor and absorbs the heat of the sun and by radiation causes the surrounding media to become warm.  The rain, falling on the warm earth, takes the warmth downwards.  The roots of the trees must have warmth to become active.  When a tree is in leaf, the temperature of the ground and roots must be slightly higher than that of the tree, so as to cause the feeding roots to become active and extend in search of plant food, so as to supply the demand made by the leaves.  Should conditions be such that the temperature of the tree is higher than that of the roots, then growth is either very slow or ceases altogether until temporary fibrous roots are sent out, by the thin trickle of descending sap, in search of plant food; usually in that portion of the soil in the immediate vicinity of the butt of the tree.  Hairy root is the peculiar local name.  “Fibrous feeding roots” is the correct botanical term.  Where “Hairy Root” is found, there is unsuitable orchard land.  Much of this unsuitable land can be converted into first class fruit growing land by the breaking up of the hard-pan and sub-soil generally, to the depth of 4 feet and the laying of drains from 60 to 100 feet apart.  There are also some ridges that would be greatly improved by the laying of drains and also, in some cases, by the judicious use of a little black powder.  The timber that grew on the ridges was very heavy and the sub-soil in this Belt is not elastic, but tends to be of a concrete-like formation.  There are orchards in England, which are treated with explosives every third or fourth year, for the purpose of opening up and airing or draining the sub-soil.  The trees, in many orchards are but 15 feet apart and one effect of this treatment is to break many roots; this having no visible ill effects, as the roots grow again; good crops being the rule instead of the exception.

When the soil is waterlogged after heavy rain, the heat of the sun will not penetrate downwards, because of the fact that the water will not transmit heat downwards.  In water, heat will only go upwards, so, as radiation is going on from the soil all the time, its warmth is steadily decreasing.  Hence the necessity for perfect drainage, so as to allow the drain water to get away, after warming the sub-soil, through which it passes  and being relieved of its ammonia content and other chemicals.  With such congenial conditions of “bottom heat”, the roots of Northern Spy grafted trees will thrive and extend; and obeying the influence of the winds, will establish anchor roots, the same as any other tree.  I have 9 year old spy stock trees in my orchard which would require a winch to pull out.  One great advantage that the spy stock tree has over the seedling is, and the objective of the Nurserymen has been to produce trees that have either no tap roots or only weak ones.  In Victoria the growers sometimes have trouble with a tree because of the strong growth of a tap root; which causes the tree to remain vigorous and continue to grow wood instead of bearing fruit.  One great advantage of this Belt is that this shallow soil does not encourage the growth of tap roots; that is, where the Northern Spy grafted tree is concerned.  What the result of growing Seedling apple trees on a large scale is going to be remains to be seen.  I would not plant Seedling apple trees in my orchard except as a very limited experiment.  Another reason why drainage should be installed in orchards is, that the growth of the tree, production and maturing of fruit, depends on the elaboration of sap in the leaves.  When the soil is very wet, the air becomes saturated with moisture.  When the air is dry, the perspiration of the leaves is normal and healthy; but when the air is saturated with moisture, perspiration is necessarily slow.  Taken in conjunction with the fact that evaporation from the soil causes the ground to cool off, we now have light on a combination, which will enable growers to recognise the disability under which this apple growing industry is languishing.  The interested reader will have sufficient food for thought for the ensuring week.  Another reason for drainage concerns the ability of a tree to overcome the effects of frost, but this will keep until next week.  The results of adequate drainage would cause the fruits to mature and colour much easier than obtained last season and especially Gravensteins under similar weather conditions.

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