The question of intercropping a young orchard is one
to be carefully considered. As it is often practiced it is very
injurious to the orchard, but it is possible to manage crops so as to
be of very little harm to the trees.
While the practice may be inadvisable in many commercial orchards, yet on a general farm we should by all means think that it was the right thing to do. Certain facts must be remembered, however, which have a bearing on the subject. Trees are a crop, as much as corn or grass. If we grow a crop between the tree rows we must remember that we are double cropping the land and that it must be fed and cared for accordingly. There is absolutely no use in setting an apple orchard, expecting it to take care of itself, "just growing," like Topsy, as numerous dilapidated and broken down orchards bear ample testimony. If orchards are to be cropped this must be judiciously done with the trees primarily in mind. The best crops to grow in a young apple orchard are those requiring cultivation, or which permit the cultivation of the land early in the season. Field beans, potatoes, and garden truck of all kinds, as small vegetables, melons, etc., are among the very best crops to grow in the young orchard. Corn will do if it does not shade the trees too much. Small grain and grass should not be used, especially where they come up close to the trees. These crops form too stiff a sod and use up too much moisture. A mulch of straw, cut grass, or coarse manure will help to correct this condition somewhat when these crops must be used. After cultivation until midsummer buckwheat makes a satisfactory orchard crop in some cases. A regular rotation may be used in the young orchard to advantage when a space is left next the trees to receive cultivation. This space should be at least two feet on each side of the tree the first year and should be widened each year as the tree grows older and larger, to four, six, and eight feet. This method has been used by the author very successfully for a number of years. Some good rotations to use in a growing orchard are: (1) Wheat or rye one year, clover one year, beans or potatoes one year; (2) oats one year, clover one year, potatoes one year; (3) beans one year, rye plowed under in spring, followed by any cultivated crop one or two years. The essentials of a good rotation for an orchard are: A humus and fertility supplying crop, preferably clover, in the north, and cow peas in the south, and at least two crops in four requiring cultivation up to the middle of the summer. Most of the points regarding the management of young trees have already been mentioned, but a few others should have attention directed to them. Fall planted trees should not be cut back until spring. In the spring all newly planted trees should have their tops cut back rather severely to correspond with the injury to the roots in transplanting, thus preserving the balance between root and top. This will usually be about half to two-thirds the previous season's growth. From three to five well distributed branches should be left with which to form the top. During the first few years of their lives the young apple trees will need little or no pruning, except to shape them and remove crossing or interfering branches. Constant cultivation at frequent intervals until midsummer should be the rule with young growing trees, with which this is even more important than with older trees. It is a good plan to plow the orchard in fall where possible, always turning the furrows toward the trees, leaving the dead furrows as drainage ditches between the rows. At Beechwood Farm we have always banked the trees with earth in the fall, using a shovel. This not only firms the soil about the tree, holding it straight and strong through the winter, but it affords good protection against rodents, especially mice. Where rabbits are prevalent it is well to place a fine mesh wire netting around the trees in addition to this.
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Next: Pruning The Trees
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