Charles Louis Flint.

Culture of the grasses online

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An Extract from thb Fourth Annoal Report of Charles L.' Flint, Sboeetart of thb
State Board or Agricdlture. ''


OP Agriculture, for general circulation.




It is difficult to overestimate the importance to tlie farmer
of a good selection and proper mixture of grass seeds for
the various purposes of cultivation, for mowing, for soiling,
for permanent pasturage, or for an alternate crop.

Doubtless the varieties of seed usually sown in this State,
consisting almost exclusivelv of Timothy and redtop, with a
mixture of red clover, are among the best for our purposes,
and their exclusive use is, in a measure, sanctioned by the
experience and practice of our best farmers; yet, it would
seem very strange indeed, if this vast family of plants, con-
sisting of thousands of species and varieties, and occupying,
as already intimated, nearly a sixth part of the whole vege-
table kingdom, could furnish no more than two or three
truly valuable species.

When we consider also, that some species are best adapt-
ed to one locality, and others to another, some reaching
their fullest and most perfect development on clay soils and
some on lighter loams and sands, we cannot but wonder
that the practice of sowing only Timothy and redtop on
nearly all soils, clays, loams and sands, indiscriminately,
both on high and low land, should have become so prevalent.
It is equally remarkable that while but very few of our
grasses, and these, for the most part, species peculiar to
sterile soils, flourish alone, but nearly all do best with a
mixture of several species, it should so constantly have
been thought judicious to attempt to grow only two promi-
nent species together with merely an occasional addition of
an annual or a biennial clover, which soon dies out. When


this course is pursued, unless the soil is rich and in ijood
heart, the grass is likely to grow thin and far between, pro-
ducing but half or two-thirds of a crop, whereas, the addi-
tion in the mixture of a larger number of species, would
have secured a heavier burden of a better quality. These
considerations, it seems to me, indicate the true direction
in which the farmer who wishes to verify the saying of Dean
Swift and "make two spires of grass grow where one grew
before " without impoverishing the soil, a condition which
ought always to be added, should turn his attention.

I hold this proposition to be indisputable, that any soil
will yield a larger and more nutritious crop, if sown with
several kinds of nutritious grasses, than when sown with
only one or two species. Indeed, it is a fact well estab-
lished by careful experiment, that a mixture of only two or
three species of grasses and clover, will produce a less
amount of hay than can be obtained by sowing a larger
number of species together. There may be some excep-
tions to this rule, as in cases where the yield of Timothy
and redtop, owing to the peculiar fitness of the soil for
these grasses, is as great as can stand on the ground
covered by them.

But it is nevertheless true, that if we sow but one kind
of grass, however abundantly the seed may be scattered, or
on whatever soil it may be, or under however favorable
influences, yet only a part of the plants will flourish j vacant
spaces will occur throughout the piece which will be filled
up after a time by grasses of an inferior quality, weeds or
mosses. This is the case in some degree also, where only
two, or a small number of species are sown; while if a
mixture made up of a larger number of kinds of seed is
used, the plants will cover the entire surface and produce
a far better quality of herbage.

In sowing such a mixture of several different species, we
do but follow nature, who, after all, will generally be found
to be the best teacher, for wherever we cast our eyes over
an old, rich, permanent pasture, we ordinarily see from
fifteen to twenty species of grass or forage plants growing


in social profusion. If the soil be very poor, as a cold,
hard clay, or a barren sand, perhaps two or three varieties
will suffice, but on good soils a larger number will be
found to be far more profitable. Especially is this the case
where the land is to be left in grass for some years, and
eventually pastured, as is frequently done in New Eng-
land, for it is then desirable to have grasses that reach
their maturity at difFerent times, as a constant succession
of good feed throughout the season may thus more surely
be obtained. It is well known that there is no month of
spring or summer in which some one of the grasses does
not attain to its perfection, if we except the month of March.
For good soils, eight or ten species of the grasses or six
or eight of the grasses proper and one or more of other
herbage plants would probably be found to be profitable.

I am aware that the prevailing practice is decidedly
against the use of any thing but Timothy, redtop and clover
and that very large crops of these grasses are often raised
but it is nevertheless true that we obtain on an average
less than a ton to the acre, while with the same culture and
a larger number of species we ought to get double that

Before proceeding to consider the proportions in which
the different species should be mixed, it may be well to
refer to the mode generally adopted for estimating the
quantities of seeds their and relative weight. Old or
poor seed weighs less than that which is fresh and new.
Now if a farmer buys by weight, even if he does get an old
or inferior quality of seed, he gets a much larger number
of seeds, and this larger quantity of seed which he receives
for his money, may make up for the inferior quality, and he
will have a larger number of seeds capable of germination
than he would have if he bought by measure. It is to be
regretted that it has become so nearly universal to pur-
chase by measure, though as this course is for the seller's
advantage, it may be difficult to change the custom.

I have expressed the opinion that we limit our mixtures
to too few species, thus failing to arrive at the most profit-


able results, and have said that, in a piece of land seeded
with one or two favorite grasses only, small vacant spaces
will be found, which in the aggregate will diminish very con-
siderably the yield of an acre, even though they may be so
small as not to be perceived. It might be thought that this
could be avoided by putting into the ground a very large
number of seeds. But a knowledge of the quantities of
seed ordinarily used in this State for sowing, and an inquiry
as to the number of plants necessary to cover the ground
with a thick coating of grass, will show that this is not the
case. I have in my possession letters from some of the
best farmers in all parts of the Commonwealth, in which
they state it to be the prevailing practice to sow a bushel
of redtop, a half bushel of Timothy, and from four to six
pounds of red clover to the acre. Some of them vary the
proportions a little, as by tne use of one peck of Timothy
and a larger quantity of clover, but the general practice is to
use nearly the quantities stated, some even using a consid-
erable larger quantity. Now if we examine the table
(given in the Report) we shall find that in an ounce of red-
top seed there are 425,000 grains. In a pound there are
6,800,000 seeds; in a bushel, or twelve pounds, there are
81,600,000 seeds. Now take only one peck of Timothy
seed to mix with it. In an ounce of Timothy grass seed
there are 74,000 grains. In a pound there are 1,204,000
grains. In eleven pounds, or a peck, there are 13,244,000
seeds, and if we take but four pounds of clover, which is
below the average quantity used, wo shall find by the same
process that we have 1,024,000 seeds. If now we add
these sums together, we shall find that we have put upon
the acre no less than 95,868,000 seeds 1 This gives over
15 seeds to the square inch, or about 2,000 seeds to the
square foot !

Now it is a well known fact that the sward of a rich old
pasture is closely packed, filled up, or interwoven with
plants, and no vacant spaces occur. Yet, in a closely
crowded turf of such a pasture, only one thousand distinctly
rooted plants were found on a square foot, and these were


made up of twenty different species. Tlio soil should be
supplied with a proper number of plants, else a loss of
labor, time and space will be incurred ; but however heavily
seeded a piece may be with one or two favorite grasses,
small vacant spaces will occur, which, though they may not
seem important in themselves, when taken in the aggregate,
will be found to diminish very considerably the yield of an
acre, even if they are so small as not to be perceived. And
undoubtedly some allowance should be made for the seeds
and young plants destroyed by insects, birds and various
accidental causes; but even after all deductions for these,
we see that in this State, at least, there is no deficiency in
the quantities of seed used, and the imperfectly covered
ground cannot be explained in this way.

We sow seed enough, frequently, for fifteen plants to the
inch, but rarely obtain above two or three, and very
frequently even less than that.

The difficulty of procuring the seed, and its expense, have
been the strongest objections to the use of many species.
A demand for these species, however, would soon remove
this difficulty, and varieties would everywhere be kept for
sale at a reasonable price. When it is considered that the
additional expense of sowing a field or permanent pasture
with a greater number of species will be, comparatively,
very small, while the additional yield will be proportionably
large, — if the result is as favorable as the opinion of many
who have made the trial would lead us to expect, — every
farmer must admit that it is for his interest to try the ex-
periment, on a small scale, at least.

It will be evident, after a moment's reflection, that very
different mixtures, both as regards the species and the
relative quantities of each, will be desirable for different
soils; that dissimilar mixtures would be required for alter-
nate cropping or laying down land for only a year or two,
and for permanent pasture. In our practice it is most com-
mon to seed down for some years, and not unfrequently
this is done with the design of cutting the grass for hay for
a few years and then pasturing the field, in which case our


seeding down assumes the character of laying down for
permanent pasturage. Equally good, but very different
mixtures might be made, also, for the same soils by different
individuals, who had different objects in view, some desiring
a very early crop, some wishing to select species which
resist the access of profitless weeds, and others to cultivate
those varieties which exhaust the soil the least. Each of
these mixtures may be best adapted to the specific object
of the farmer who makes it, and if composed of a sufficient
number of species, may be good and truly ecomomical.

The nutritive qualities of the grasses differ widely; and
their value as feed for stock will depend, to a considerable
extent, on the management of pastures and mowing-lands.

Informing a mixture for pasture grasses, the peculiarities
of each species should, therefore, be regarded: as the time
of flowering, the habits of growth, the soil and location on
which it grows best, and other characteristics. Among the
grasses found on cultivated lands, in this country, the fol-
lowing are considered as among the most valuable for ordi-
nary farm cultivation ; some of them adapted to pastures,
and others almost exclusively to mowing and the hay crop:
Timothy {Phleiim pratense). Meadow Foxtail [Alopecurus
pratcnsis). June, or Kentucky Blue Grass {Poa pra-
tensis). Fowl Meadow [Poa serotina). Rough-stalked
Meadow {Poa trivialis). Orchard Grass (Dactylis glom-
erata). Perennial Rye Grass (Lolium perenrie). Redtop
[Agrostis vulgaris). English Bent [Agrosiis alba).
Meadow Fescue (Festuca pratensis). Sweet-scented
Vernal [Aiithoxanthemuni odoratum). Hungarian Grass
[Paniciun germanicum). Red Clover (Trifolium pra-
tense). White or Dutch Clover {Trifolium repens,) and
some others.

Of those, the most valuable, all things considered, is the
first, or Timothy. It forms a large proportion of what is
commonly called English, or in some sections meadow hay,
though it is said by some to have originated where it was
first cultivated, in this country. It contains a large percentage
of nutritive matter, in comparison with other agricultural


grasses. It thrives best on moist, peaty, or loamy soils, of
medium tenacity, and is not well suited to very light, sandy
lands. On very moist soils its root is almost always fibrous ;
while on dry and loamy ones it is bulbous. On soils of the
former description, which it especially aflects, its growth is
rapid, and its yield of hay large, sometimes amounting to
three and four tons to the acre, depending much, of course,
on cultivation. But though very valuable for hay, it is not
adapted to pastures, as it will neither endure severe grazing,
nor is its aftermath to be compared with meadow foxtail,
and some of the other grasses.

June Grass (Fig. 1,) better known in some sections as
Kentucky Blue grass, is very common in most sections of
the country, especially on limestone lands, forming a large
part of the turf, wherever it flourishes, and being univer-
sally esteemed as a pasture grass. It starts early, but
varies much in size and appearance, according to the soil ;
growing in some places with the utmost luxuriance, and
forming the predominant grass ; in others, yielding to the
other species. If cut at the time of flowering, or a few
days after, it makes a good and nutritive hay, though it is
surpassed in nutritive qualities by several of the other
grasses. It starts slowly after being cut, especially if not
cut very early. But its herbage is fine and uniform, and
admirably adapted to lawns, growing well in almost all soils,
though it does not endure very severe droughts. It with-
stands, however, the frosts of winter better than most other

In Kentucky, a section where it attains its highest per-
fection and luxuriance, ripening its seed about the 10th of
June, and in latitudes south of that, it sometimes continues
green through the mild winters. It requires three or four
years to become well set, after sowing, and it does not
attain its highest yield as a pasture grass till the sod is even
older than that. It is not, therefore, suited to alternate
husbandry, where land usually remains in grass but two or
three years before being ploughed up. In Kentucky it is
sown any time in winter when the snow is on the ground,


Fig. 1. June Grass.

Fig. 2. Orchard Grass.

tiiree or four quarts of seed being used to the acre. Ifi
spring the seeds germinate, when the sprouts are exceedingly
fine and delicate. Stock is not allowed on it the first year.
The Meadow Foxtail is also an excellent pasture grass.
It somewhat resembles Timothy, but is earlier, has a softer
spike, and thrives on all soils except the dryest. Its growth


is rapid, and it is greatly relished by stock of all kinds.
Its stalk and leaves are too few and light for a field crop,
and it shrinks too much in curing to be valuable for hay.
It flourishes best in a rich, moist, and rather strong soil,
sending up a luxuriant aftermath when cut or grazed off,
which is much more valuable, both in quantity and nutritive
value, than the first crop. In all lands designed for perma-
nent pasture, therefore, it should form a considerable part
of a mixture. It will endure almost any amount of forcing,
by liquid manures, or irrigation. It requires three or four
years, after sowing, to gain a firm footing in the soil. The
seed is covered with the soft and woolly husks of the
flower, and is consequently light ; weighing but five pounds
to the bushel, and containing seventy-six thousand seeds to
the ounce.

The Orchard Grass, or Rough Cocksfoot (Fig. 2) for
pastures, stands pre-eminent. This is said to be a native
of this countrj^, and was introduced into England, from Vir-
ginia, in 1764, since which time its cultivation has extended
into every country of Europe, where it is universally held
in very high estimation. The fact of its being very pala-
table to stock of all kinds, its rapidity of growth, and the
luxuriance of its aftermath, with its power of enduring the
cropping of cattle, have given it a very high reputation,
especially as a pasture grass. It blossoms earlier than
Timothy; when green is equally relished by milch cows;
requires to be fed closer, to prevent its forming tufts and
growing up l^o seed, when it becomes hard and wiry, and
loses much of its nutritive quality. As it blossoms about
the same time, it forms an admirable mixture with red
clover, either for permanent pasture or mowing. It resists
drought, and is less exhausting to the soil than either rye
grass or Timothy. The seed weighs twelve pounds to the
bushel, and when sown alone requires about two bushels
to the acre.

The Rough-stalked Meadow Grass (Fig. 3) is somewhat
less common than June Grass, but is considered as equally
valuable. It grows best on moist, sheltered meadows,



Fig. 3. Eough-stalked Meadow Qraes.

Fig. 4. Rye Grass.

where it flowers in June and July. It is easily distinguished
from June Grass, by having a rough sheath, while the latter
has a small one, and having a fibrous root, while the root of
June Grass is creeping. It possesses very considerable
nutritive qualities, and comes to perfection at a desirable
time ; is exceedingly relished by cattle, horses and sheep.


For suitable soils it should form a portion of a mixture of
seeds, producing, in mixture with other grasses which serve
to shelter it, a large yield of hay, far above the average of
grass usually grown on a similar soil. It should be cut when
the seed is formed. Seven pounds of seed to the acre will
produce a good sward. The grass loses about seventy per
cent, of its weight in drying. The nutritive qualities of its
aftermath exceed very considerably those of the crop cut
in the flower or in the seed.

Fowl Meadow Grass is another indigenous species, of
great value for low and marshy grounds, where it flourishes
best; and, if cut and properly cured, makes a sweet and
nutritious hay, which, from its fineness, is eaten by cattle
without waste. According to Sinclair, who experimented,
with the aid of Sir Humphrey Davy, to ascertain its com-
parative nutritive properties, it is superior, in this respect,
to cither meadow foxtail, orchard grass, or tall meadow oat
grass ; but it is probable that he somewhat overrates it. If
allowed to stand till nearly ripe, it falls down, but sends
up innumerable flowering stems from the joints, so that it
continues green and luxuriant till late in the season. It
thrives best in mixture with other grasses, and deserves a
prominent place in all mixtures for rich, moist pastures, and
low mowing-lands.

Rye Grass (Fig. 4) has a far higher reputation abroad
than in this country, and probably with reason ; for it is
better adapted to a wet and uncertain climate than to a dry
and hot one. It varies exceedingly, depending much on
soil and culture ; but, when cut in the blossom to make into
hay, it possesses very considerable nutritive value. If
allowed to get too ripe, it is hard and wiry, and not relished
by cattle. The change from a juicy and nutritious plant to
woody fibre, possessing but little soluble matter, is very
rapid. Properly managed, however, it is a tolerably good
grass, though not to be compared to Timothy, or orchard

Redtop (Fig. 5) is a grass familiar to every farmer in the
country. It is the Herd's grass of Pennsylvania, while in


Fig. 5. Rcdtop. Fig. 6. English Bent.

New York and New England it is known by a great variety
of names, and assumes a great variety of forms, according
to the soil ill which it grows. It is well adapted to almost
every soil, though it seems to prefer a moist loam. It
makes a profitable crop for spending, in the form of hay,
though its yield is less than that of Timothy. It is well
suited to our permanent pastures, where it should be fed




Fig. 7. Meadow Fescue. Fig. 8. Sweet-scented Vernal.

close, Otherwise it becomes wiryaud innutritions, and cattle
refuse it. It stands the climate of the country as well as
any other grass, and so forms a valuable part of any mix-
ture for pastures and permanent mowing-lands ; but it is
probably rather overrated by u.s.

Meadow Fescue (Fig. 7) is one of the most common of-
the fescue grasses, and is said to be the Randall grass of


Virginia. It is an excellent pasture grass, forming a very
considerable portion of the turf of old pastures and fields;
and is more extensively propagated and diffused by the fact
that it ripens its seeds before most other grasses arc cut,
and sheds them to spring up and cover the ground. Its
long and tender leaves are much relished by cattle. It is
rarely sown in this country, notwithstanding its great and
acknowledged value as a pasture grass. If sown at all, it
should be in mixture with other grasses, as Orchard Grass,
Rye Grass, or June Grass. It is of much greater value at
the time of flowering than when the seed is ripe.

The Sweet-scented Yernal Grass (Fig. 8) is one of the
earliest in spring, and one of the latest in autumn ; and this
habit of growth is one of its chief advantages, as it is
neither a nutritious grass nor very palatable to stock of any


Online LibraryCharles Louis FlintCulture of the grasses → online text (page 1 of 2)