May 25 1928   NO2

Before I proceed to pass on the “first principals” of horticulture to the interested reader, it may be opportune to give the reasons for this series of articles re Fruit Culture by one who has had but nine years experience of this district.  Mr. Ranger’s timely “review” indicates that our problem is a production one.  If the production problem can be solved by improved cultural conditions, then it behoves all growers and others interested in the industry to make the “stitch in time that saves nine”.  An experimental station will very likely be established in the Granite Belt, with a view to finding out things which were the subjects of experiments 70 years ago.  The results of these experiments and collected world-wide data is available in “Lindley’s Theory and Practice of Horticulture”.  The whole of the orchards planted in this Belt constitute a huge experiment, and such a fact as the sequence of failures over this last few years, indicates to the average intelligence that it is the cultural methods which are at fault.  With such favourable climate conditions as mostly obtains here, production should be prolific in place of the meagre 53 bushels of apples per acre per year.  Many men became orchardists in the Granite Belt area without having had previous experience in the planting of trees and the production of fruit.  The available hand-books on fruit growing are no doubt quite suitable in localities where the soil and sub-soil is in ideal condition for planting and maintaining trees.

The original orchards established in this locality were planted in very favourable locations, for the simple reason that the pioneers had the whole of this Belt to choose from.  An ideal position for an orchard is on top of a ridge or a hill, everything else being equal of course.  There are many suitable ridges and hills throughout this Belt, but for obvious reasons, such locations are not possible for the 700 or 800 growers.  By the way, the fact that the number of orchardists is steadily decreasing, shows that there is something very much the matter.  And it is mostly the growers of 7 to 10 years standing who are going under.  The fact is that many of these men, either bought into or planted, an orchard on land that was not first-class, because it was not naturally well drained.  That “First Great Principal” of perfect drainage has been long overlooked, because the original orchards did very well without artificial drainage, because of their locations.  Consequently the present production problem is laid at the door of the Southern Nurserymen, when the onus should be placed on the shoulders of the official instructors who, on the face of what has happened, must have failed to grasp the importance of attending to “first principals” as insisted on by the Science of Horticulture.  The agitation for a local nursery, because of empirical teachings concerning “Crown Gall and Hairy Root” was nothing but a “red herring”.  “Lindley” exposed many such empirical teachings 70 years ago, giving to the simple gardeners, that which enabled them to bring to perfection, the practice of their art.

Another reason is that, should the growers be able to confidently determine that which is the root cause, [no pun intended] of the production problem, an effort might be made, so that no more growers will go under; by arrangement with the banks and the C.O.D., so that finance can be obtained for the purpose of renovating many orchards.

The reader will understand while I deviate for a moment to deal with a pernicious little item contained in what otherwise is a most commendable article by “Piers”.  He says inter alia:  This is not to say that we can absolutely control the fly – though I believe that such a grotesque claim has been made to certain quarters.  But forget that.  And it maybe that we never shall”.

What I want to impress on the minds of my fellow growers is, that it was just such empirical teachings, inflicted on the gardeners of England over 70 years ago, that caused Lindley to step down from the Professional Chair of Botany in the University CollegeLondon, and explain the chief operations of gardening upon physiological grounds.  I will deal with possible fruit-fly control in a future article.

An interesting quotation:- “Though I am very sure that it is from long experience chiefly that we are to expect the most certain rules of practice, yet is withal to be remembered that the likeliest method to enable us to make the most judicious observations, and to put us on the most probable means of improving any art, is to get the best insight we can into the nature and properties of those things we are desirous to cultivate and improve”.  This will be dry reading only for those who have no heart in their work.  But to continue from last week – Mr. Ranger recognises the fact that it is going to be a strenuous job to organise this district.  The results of last season most certainly must have created the psychological moment of suggestions to the growers, seeing that the Group Committee were dormant.

It is impossible for any grower to become a good physiologist and a practical orchardist, but it is certainly desirable that all growers should recognise the importance of attending to first principals.  According to Lindley “Horticulture is that branch of knowledge which relates to the cultivation, multiplication and amelioration of the vegetable kingdom.  It divides into two branches, which, although mutually dependant, are, in fact, essentially distinct; the art and the science.  Under the art of horticulture is comprehended whatever concerns the mere manner of executing the operations connected with cultivation, multiplication and amelioration; the science explains the reasons upon which practice is founded”.  So it is up to all growers to acquire a knowledge of the reasons or first principals, upon which the successful practice of fruit culture is based.  “The difference between failure and success, usually depends upon slight circumstances, very easily overlooked and not to be anticipated beforehand, even by the most skillful; their importance is often unsuspected till an experiment has failed and may not be discovered till after many unsuccessful attempts, during which more mischief may be done by extensive failures, than the result is worth when attained”.

The Granite Belt fruit growing industry is just such an experiment, and the sequences of failures prove that first principals have been overlooked.  The prophetic words of Lindley exactly fit the present condition of this industry.

The “great first principal” is one with which all growers are acquainted, as is dealt with by all good authorities on fruit growing.  Mr. A.H. Benson has stressed the importance of “natural” drainage, in his article dealing with fruit growing on granite soils.  His exact words are:  “My advice, to anyone thinking of planting an orchard on granite soil, that is not naturally well drained is, don’t”.

In years gone by, when the industry thrived and after all the available good locations had been picked out, inferior ground was cleared and planted.  That is the period when our troubles began.  Then in 1916, when the Government was wanting areas close to the railway for soldier settlement, the great tragedy for this district happened.  Owners of private land cut up their estates and vied with the Lands Department in creating closer settlements on land which up till that time had been regarded as unsuitable for fruit growing.  Take at random an issue of the “Border Post” for the past two years and read particulars of some poor fellow being sold up.  From 20 to 50 acres, so many claims of fencing, netting, etc.  A four-roomed house, tank, horse, cart, harness, implements etc. and from 7 to 10 acres of seven or eight year old trees.  Ye gods and little fishes!

These places should never have been planted.  The sub-soil is sour in that ground over which the rain runs away instead of soaking through.  Nature provided that each and every acre of land should receive about 12 lbs. of ammonia each year through the agency of rainfall.  Examine any piece of land and the evidence of suitability of soil is right there on top of the ground.  The layer of dark coloured soil on the surface shows to what depth the rain and air have penetrated.  Below the layer of aerated soil is the sub-soil and if the sub-soil provides good digging with a shovel for three feet down, there is good orchard ground.  But if one finds but a thin layer of good soil on the surface and hard pan within three feet, take Mr. Benson’s advice and “Don’t”.

In England 70 years ago, the gardeners had exactly the same troubles that we have now.  They solved the difficulty by “drainage”.  To-day throughout England there are hundreds of thousands of miles of drain-tiles laid, not only in orchards, but in paddocks which are devoted to a rotation of crops such as potatoes, wheat, turnips, pasture, oats etc.  Here is the result of the application of a first principal which has been thoroughly investigated.  Nature intended the ammonia and other chemicals carried by rain should soak down and sweeten the soil.  It is only on the ridges throughout the Granite Belt that good drainage obtains.  Where seepage occurs there sour sub-soil water.

Every orchardist that visits my place at Amiens is invited to see for himself, what I have found out, with the aid of Lindley, concerning the location of apple trees.  I have 30 Granny Smith trees at the top end of my orchard, on the ridge.  I have 80 Granny Smiths at the bottom end of my orchard.  The 110 trees arrived in one parcel.  The 30 trees standing in deep well drained soil are doing very well and have given me from two to three bushels each this last season.  Of the 80 trees which were planted at the bottom of the orchard, in what appeared to be very good soil, [there was a drought on in 1919] grew very well while the dry conditions lasted; but when the wet season came two years later, they stopped growing and about half of them have either died out altogether or are in a very bad way.  The other half, being at the side which is slightly higher, are still surviving but are stunted, because of the unhealthy condition of the roots, which has been so misleadingly named “Crown Gall and Hairy Root”.

One does not find the good fruit growing land in rectangular formation and there is hardly an orchard planted since 1918 that is all good fruit growing land.  There is one way to convert second rate land into good orchard land and that is by breaking up the hard-pan and sub-soil generally, with the use of black powder.  Of coarse, artificial drainage must necessarily follow the opening up of the sub-soil, so that the rain can soak straight down where it falls and so deposit the chemicals obtained from the air, without which no soil can be sweet.  As the rain drains away, leaving the soil with just sufficient moisture, the warm air follows down into the sub-soil and thus provides that “bottom heat” so very necessary for the perfect development of an adequate root system.  I will explain the “principal of bottom heat” another time.  It is the “absence of bottom heat” that is the cause of unhealthy condition of the roots, known locally as “Crown Gall and Hairy Root”.