Tree Crops by J. Russel is a fantastic book and available for free as the copyright has expired.
J. Russel was so ahead of his time as the book was published in 1929. His thinking aligns with my goals so much that he has moved into my top 3 list of deceased people with whom I would like to have a drink. Grafting trees is fascinating and I wanted to dedicate a portion of my garden to growing my own root stock. This book is invaluable in providing the guidance I need to determine which trees to propagate for myself and my animals.
Keep in mind that the publication of 1929 predates the Dust Bowl Era in the united states and Russel’s main argument is that tilling land is destroying our soils through erosion. His right to a “told ya so” is possible the greatest depressing one in the history of ecology and agriculture. By extensive travelling all over the world, Russel noted two main points:
- Tilling land is arguably permissible in flat terrain with absolute perfect and consistent weather scenarios but has been dangerously adapted to sloped terrain or regions with inconsistent precipitation resulting in every precipitation event washing away topsoil leading to deep gullies.
- Observing throughout the world that areas with staple diets of tree crops have the least erosion and are the most sustainable farming model through all of recorded history.
He goes on to list many viable species that begs for experimentation in hybridization. However he notes figures of production by the genetically unaltered native parent trees, even averaging all qualities of specimens in entire countries. Economies developed around sustainable agroforestry of chestnut trees in Spain and France, Carob trees in Hawaii and the Mediterranean nations, etc. are compared to corn economies in different US regions. Spoiler alert: the tree-based economies win by a landslide. He argues that research in to breeding hybrids with more variety like every other crop in human history would only increase the viability, profitability and value of tree crops. Also noted is the need to develop mechanized post-harvest processing equipment to add even more economic potential to tree crops.
Tree Crops can be summarized as a collection of observations and anecdotal evidence as well as private orchard data Russel compiled after being continuously rejected in his pleas for experimentation, research and funding from the US Department of Agriculture and other agricultural entities. He seems to have a bone to pick with Secretary of Agriculture Jardine as he continuously responded to J Russel’s request for science by saying they need to devote all of their resources to existing crop diseases. The science presented in the book is solid such as noting that American farming practices are destroying soil 8 times fast than any other civilization in history or that Chestnuts in the mountains France and Spain outperform corn in the matching climate mountains of Appalachia.
I’m only a quarter through the book and wish I had more to learn from this author. I can’t imagine the anguish he went through when his unanswered pleas led to the dust bowl era or when the American Chestnuts of his childhood went all but extinct.
I plan to order 2 hardcopies, one to mark up then keep in my library forever and one to loan out.