Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Trees by Anna Botsford Comstock
 
Handbook of Nature Study: Trees by  Anna Botsford Comstock


[Illustration]

A Baldwin apple tree.

The Apple Tree

Teacher's Story

As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.

—The Song of Solomon.


dropcap image N old-fashioned orchard is always a delight to those of us who love the picturesque. The venerable apple tree with its great twisted and gnarled branches, rearing aloft its rounded head, and casting its shadow on the green turf below, is a picture well worthy of the artist's brush. And that is the kind of orchard I should always have, because it suits me, just as it does bluebirds, downies and chickadees, as a place to live in. However, if I wished to make money by selling apples, I should need to have an orchard of comparatively young trees, which should be straight and well pruned, and the ground beneath them well cultivated; for there is no plant that responds more generously to cultivation than does the apple tree. In such an orchard, a few annual crops might be grown while the trees were young, and each year there should be planted in August or September the seed of crimson clover or of some other good cover-crop. This would grow so as to protect the ground from washing during the heavy rains and thaws of fall and winter, and in the spring it would be plowed under to add more humus to the soil.

The apple originally came from southwestern Asia and the neighboring parts of Europe, but it has been cultivated so long that we have no accounts of how it began. The prehistoric lake-dwellers of Switzerland ate this fruit. In this country the apple thrives best on clay loam, although it grows on a great variety of soils; where wheat and corn grow, there will the apple also grow. In general, the shape of the apple tree head is rounded or broadly pyramidal; however, this differs somewhat with varieties. The trunk is short and rather stocky, the bark is a beautiful soft gray and is decidedly scaly, flaking off in pieces which are more or less quadrangular. The wood is very fine-grained and heavy. On this account for many years it was used for wood-engraving and is also a favorite wood for woodcarving; it makes a most excellent fuel. The spray is fine, and while at the tips of the limbs it may be drooping or horizontal, it often grows erect along the upper sides of the limbs, each shoot looking as if it were determined to be a tree in itself. The leaves are oval, with toothed edges and long petioles. When the leaves first appear each has two stipules at its base. The shape of the apple leaves depends to some extent upon the variety of the apple.


[Illustration]

It has long been the practice not to depend upon the seeds for reproducing a variety; for, since the bees do such a large work in pollenating the apple flowers, it would be quite difficult to be sure that a seed would not be a result of a cross between two varieties. Therefore, the matter is made certain by the process of grafting or budding. There are several modes of grafting, but perhaps the one in most common use is the cleft-graft. A scion, which is a twig bearing several buds, is cut from a tree of the desired variety, and its lower end is cut wedge-shaped. The branch of the tree to be grafted is cut off across and split down through the end to the depth of about two inches; the wedge-shaped end of the scion is pressed into this cleft, so that its bark will come in contact with the inner edge of the bark on one side of the cleft branch. The reason for this is that the growing part of the tree is the cambium layer, which is just inside of the bark, and if the cambium of the scion does not come in contact with the cambium of the branch they will not grow together. After the graft becomes well-established, the other branches of the tree are cut off and the tree produces apples only from that part of it which grows from the graft. After the scion has been set in the stock, all of the wounded parts are covered with grafting wax, which keeps in the moisture and keeps out disease germs.


[Illustration]

Budding is done on a similar principle, but in a different fashion. A seedling apple tree about a year and a half old has a T-shaped slit cut into its bark; into this suture a bud, cut from a tree of the desired variety, is inserted, and is bound in with yarn. The next spring this tree is cut back to just above the place where the bud was set in, and this bud-shoot grows several feet; the next year the tree may be sold to the orchardist. Budding is done on a large scale in the nurseries, for it is by this method that the different varieties are placed on the market.

Most varieties of apple trees should be set forty feet apart each way. It is possible, if done judiciously, to raise some small crops on the land with the young orchard, but care should be taken that they do not rob the trees of their rightful food. The dwarf varieties begin to bear much sooner than the others, but an orchard does not come into full bearing until after it has been planted fifteen or twenty years. The present practice is to prune a tree so that the trunk shall be very short. This makes the picking of the fruit much easier and also exposes the tree less to wind and sun-scald.

There are certain underlying principles of pruning that every child should know: The pruning of the root cuts down the amount of food which the tree is able to get from the soil. The pruning of the top throws the food into the branches which are left and makes them more vigorous. If the buds at the tips of the twigs are pruned off, the food is forced into the side buds and into the fruit, which make greater growth. Thinning the branches allows more light to reach down into the tree, and gives greater vigor to the branches which are left. A limb should be pruned off smoothly where it joins the larger limb, and there should be no stump projecting; the wound should be painted so as not to allow fungus spores to enter.

We should not forget that we have a native apple, which we know as the thornapple. Its low, broad head in winter makes a picturesque point along the fences; its fine, thick spray, spread horizontally, makes a fit framework for the bridal bouquet which will grow upon it in June; and it is scarcely less beautiful in autumn, when covered with the little, red apples called "haws." Though we may refrain from eating these native apples, which consist of a bit of sweet pulp around large seeds, the codling-moth finds them most acceptable.


Lesson CXCIX

The Apple Tree

Leading thought—The tree of each variety of apple has its own characteristic shape, although all apple trees belong to one general type. The variety of the apple grown upon the tree is not determined by the kind of seed which is planted to produce the tree, but by the process of grafting or budding the young tree.


Method—A visit to a large, well-grown orchard in spring or autumn will aid in making this work interesting. Any apple tree near at hand may be used for the lesson.


Observations—

1. How tall is the largest apple tree you know? What variety is it? How old is it? How can you distinguish old apple trees from young ones at a glance?

2. Choose a tree for study: How thick is its trunk? What is the shape of its head? Does the trunk divide into large branches or does it extend up through the center of the head?

3. What sort of bark has it? What is the color of the bark?

4. Does the spray stand erect or is it gnarled and querly? Does the spray grow simply at the ends of the branches or along the sides of the branches?

5. Are the leaves borne at the tip of the spray? Are the leaves opposite or alternate? Describe or sketch an apple leaf. Does it have stipules at its base when it first appears?

6. What is the character of apple-tree wood? What is it used for?

7. Did this tree come from a seed borne in an apple of the same variety which it produces? What is the purpose of grafting a tree? What is a scion? How and why do we choose a scion? How do we prepare a branch to receive the scion? If you should place the scion at the center of the branch would it grow? Where must it be placed in order to grow? How do we protect the cut-end of the branch after it is grafted? Why?

8. What is meant by the term "budding?" What is the difference between grafting and budding? Describe the process of budding.

9. Where is budding done on a large scale? How do nurserymen know what special varieties of apples their nursery stock will bear? How old is a tree when it is budded? How old when it is sold to the orchardist?

10. Why should the soil around apple trees be tilled? Is this the practice in the best-paying orchards?

11. What is often used as a cover crop in orchards? When is this planted? For what purpose?

12. How far apart should apple trees be set? How may the land be utilized while the trees are growing? How old must the apple tree be to come into bearing?

13. Is the practice now to allow an apple tree to grow tall? Why is an apple tree with a short trunk better?

14. What does it do to a tree to prune its roots? What does it do to a tree to prune its branches?

15. How does it affect a tree to prune the buds at the tips of the twigs?

16. How does it affect a tree to thin the branches? Describe how a limb should be pruned and how the wound thus made should be treated. Why?


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