Cyril G. Hopkins.

The Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, online

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it might be best to make some use of acid phosphate in addition to
the raw rock, at least until you are ready to begin turning under
more organic matter with the phosphate.

There is only one other suggestion: If you wish to make a start
toward better crops as soon as possible, you may well use some
kainit, - say six hundred pounds per acre every four or five years,
preferably applied with the phosphate. In the absence of decaying
organic matter, the potassium of the soil becomes available very
slowly. The kainit furnishes both potassium and magnesium in soluble
form and it also contains sulfur and chlorin. As soon as you can
provide plenty of decaying organic matter you will probably
discontinue the use of both kainit and acid phosphate. If you sell
only grains and animal products, the amount of potassium sold from
the farm is very small compared with your supply of that element,
which would be sufficient for one hundred bushels of corn per acre
for seven hundred years.

I have some doubt if it will be worth the expense involved to have
the samples of subsurface and subsoil analyzed at this time; but you
might save them for future use if desired.

I shall always appreciate the kindness shown me by being permitted
to enjoy your hospitality and to profit from the information you
were so able to give me concerning the history and general character
of your lands.

My mother asks to have her kind regards extended to you and yours.

Very sincerely yours,


WESTOVER, January 2, 1904. Percy Johnston, Esq., Winterbine, Ill.

MY DEAR FRIEND: - We were all pleased to receive your letter
informing us of your safe journey back to Illinois. I had hoped that
you might find a piece of land here in the East which would suit
you; but I am not surprised that you and your mother should prefer
to remain in Illinois, because of your former associations and your
better knowledge of the Western conditions. Northern men who come
South often have serious difficulty to manage our negro labor.

I am surprised, however, that you were able to purchase, even in
Southern Illinois, such prairie land as you describe for the price
of $18 per acre. I supposed $190 an acre for your corn belt farm was
a good price, although it is commonly reported to us that Illinois
land is selling for $150 to $200 an acre.

Now, in regard to correspondence with Adelaide, let me say that we
could have no objection whatever, except that it might be
misunderstood, more especially, of course, by Professor Barstow. I
do not think I mentioned it to you, but the fact is that the
Professor and Adelaide are essentially betrothed. I do not know that
the final details are perfected, but doubtless they are, for they
have been much together during the Christmas weeks. The Barstows, as
you probably know, are still among the most prominent people of
North Carolina. Adelaide is young yet and we respect her reticence,
but her mother and I have both given our consent and Professor
Barstow has every reason to be satisfied with the reception he
invariably receives from Adelaide.

I only mention this matter to you that you may understand why
misunderstanding might arise in case of such correspondence as you
suggest, even though, as Adelaide has explained, she has very
naturally become interested temporarily in some of the economic and
social questions relating to agriculture, and would unquestionably
read your letters concerning these state and national problems with
continued interest. I shall hope, however, that she may still have
that satisfaction, for I am very deeply interested in all such
questions, and I am particularly interested to know more of the
details of your southern Illinois farm, including the invoice of the
soil, which you say has been taken by your Experiment Station, and
especially your definite plans for the improvement of the land. I
hope the name you have chosen for your farm is not so appropriate as
it would be for some of our old Virginia farms.

I shall also be under renewed obligation to you if I may
occasionally submit questions concerning the best plans for the
restoration of Westover to its former productiveness. I have decided
at least to make another trial with alfalfa next summer, following
the valuable suggestions you gave me.

In closing let me renew my assurance of our deep gratitude for the
special service you so nobly rendered when fiendish danger
threatened my daughter. We shall always regard you as a gentleman of
the highest type. Very respectfully yours,


Percy read this letter hurriedly to the end, and then slowly reread
it. His mother noticed that he absent-mindedly replaced the letter
in the envelope instead of reading it to her as was his custom.
However, he laid the letter by her plate and talked with her about
the corn-shelling which was to begin as soon as the corn sheller
could be brought from the neighbor's where Percy had been helping to
haul the corn from the sheller to elevator at Winterbine. Dinner
finished, he hurried out to complete the preparations for the
afternoon's work. We have no right to follow him. His mother only
saw that he went to the little granary where a few loads of corn
were to be stored for future use. Yes, she saw that he closed the
door as he entered. Not even his mother could see her son again a
child. Women and children weep, not men. The heart strings draw
tight and tighter until they tear or snap. The body is racked with
the anguish of the mind. The form reels and sinks to the floor. The
head bows low. Pent up tears fall like rain. - No, that cannot be.
Men do not shed tears. If they are mental cowards and physical
brutes they pass from hence by a short and easy route and leave the
burdens of life to their wives and mothers and disgraced families.
If they are Christian men they seek the only source of help.

Mrs. Johnston watched and waited - it seemed an hour, but was only a
quarter of that time till the granary door opened and she saw Percy
pass to the barn with a step which satisfied her mother's eye.

She drew out the letter, and from a life habit of making sure,
pressed the envelope to see that it contained nothing more. She
noted a slip of crumpled paper and drew it out. Upon it was written
in a penciled scrawl:

_"Her grandma has not consented."_

She read the letter, stood for a moment as in meditation, then
replaced the slip and letter in the envelope, and laid it on Percy's
desk. The letter was plainly a man's handwriting. The envelope was
addressed in a bold hand that was clearly not Mr. West's writing.




Mr. Charles West,

Blue Mound, Va.

MY DEAR SIR: - I have delayed writing to you in regard to the plans
for Poorland Farm, until I could feel that we are able at least to
make an outline of tentative nature. The labor problem of a farm of
three hundred and twenty acres is of course very different from that
on forty acres, and we are not yet fully decided regarding our crop
rotation and the disposition of the crops produced (or hoped for). I
realize that to rebuild in my life what another has torn down during
his life is a task the end of which can hardly be even dimly
foreshadowed. Some friends are already beginning to ask me what
results I am getting, and they apparently feel that we must succeed
or fail with a trial of a full season. I have said to them that I
have no objection whatever to discussing our plans at any time, so
far as we are yet able to make plans, but that I shall not be ready
to discuss results with anyone until we begin to secure crop yields
in the third rotation. This means that I am not expecting the
benefits of a six-year rotation of crops before the rotation has
been actually practiced. You will understand of course that, if all
your land had been cropped with little or no change, for all its
history, you would require six or eight years' time before you would
be able to grow a crop of corn on land that had been pastured for
six or eight years; but some people seem to take it for granted that
one can adopt a six-year rotation and enjoy the full benefits of it
the first season.

I remember that you were surprised that I could buy a level upland
farm even in this part of Illinois for $18 an acre; but you will
probably be more surprised to learn that this farm had not paid the
previous owners two per cent. interest on $18 an acre as an average
of the last five years. In fact, sixty acres of it had grown no
crops for the last five years. It was largely managed by tenants on
the basis of share rent, and because of this I have been able to
secure the records of several years.

I at least had some satisfaction in purchasing this farm, for the
real estate men were left without a single "talking point." I
insisted that I wanted the poorest prairie farm in "Egypt," and
whenever they began to tell me that the soil on a certain farm was
really above the average, or that the land had been well cared for
until recently, or that it had been fertilized a good deal, etc., I
at once informed them that any advantage of that sort completely
disqualified any farm for me; and that they need not talk to me
about any farms except those that represented the poorest and most
abused in Southern Illinois.

I may say, however, that $20 an acre is about the average price of
the average land. I had an option on a three hundred and sixty acre
farm cornering the corporation limits of the County Seat for $30 an
acre, and all agreed that the farm was above the average in quality.

Heart-of-Egypt is a small station on the double track of the
Chicago-New Orleans line of the Illinois Central, and there are
three other railroads passing through our County Seat. Poorland Farm
is less than two miles from Heart-of-Egypt and only five miles from
the County Seat, with level roads to both.

As to the soil, I may say that in some respects it is poorer than
yours, but in others not so poor. The amount of plant food contained
in six and two-thirds inches of the surface soil of an acre,
representing two million pounds of soil, are as follows:

2,880 pounds of nitrogen

840 pounds of phosphorus

24,940 pounds of potassium

6,740 pounds of magnesium

14,660 pounds of calcium

By referring to the invoice of your most common land, you will see
that Westover is richer in phosphorus, in magnesium, and in calcium,
than Poorland Farm. But, while your soil contains a half more of
that rare element phosphorus, ours contains a half more of the
abundant element potassium. In the supply of nitrogen we have a
distinct advantage, because our soil contains nearly three times as
much as your most common cultivated land, and even twice as much as
your level upland soil, which you consider too poor for farming, but
in which phosphorus and not nitrogen must be the first limiting
element, the same as with ours.

The fact is that the nitrogen problem in the East was one of the
reasons why we have chosen to locate in Southern Illinois. I am
confident that the level lands I saw about Blairville and over in
Maryland are more deficient in organic matter and nitrogen than your
uncultivated level upland, and probably even more deficient than
your common gently sloping cultivated lands, because of your long
rotation with much opportunity for nitrogen fixation by such legumes
will grow in your meadows and pastures, including the red clover
which you regularly sow, the white clover, which is very persistent,
and the Japan clover, which it seems to me has really benefited you
more than the others.

To me a difference in nitrogen content of two thousand pounds per
acre signifies a good deal. It plainly signifies a hundred years' of
"working the soil for all that's in it," beyond what has yet been
done to our "Egypt." The cost of two thousand pounds of nitrogen in
sodium nitrate would be at least $300 and even that would not
include the organic matter, which has value for its own sake because
of the power of its decomposition products to liberate the mineral
elements from the soil, as witness the most common upland soils of
St. Mary county, Maryland, with a phosphorus content reduced to one
hundred and sixty pounds per acre in two million pounds of the
ignited soil. The ten-inch plows of Maryland, the twelve-inch of
Southern Illinois, the fourteen-inch of the corn belt, and the
sixteen-inch of the newer regions of the Northwest, signify
something as to the influence of organic matter upon the horsepower
required in tillage; and the organic matter also has a value because
it increases the power of the soil to absorb and retain moisture and
to resist surface washing and "running together" to form the hard
surface crust.

To think of applying two thousand pounds of nitrogen by plowing
under two hundred tons of manure or forty tons of clover per acre at
least requires a "big think," as my Swede man would say.

Of course, with our western life and cosmopolitan population, where
"a man's a man for a' that," mother feels that it would not be easy
for us to fit into your somewhat distinctly stratified society. We
would not be "colored" if we could, and perhaps we could not be
aristocratic if we would; and the opportunity to become, or, perhaps
I should say, to remain, "poor white trash," though wide open, is
not very alluring. I realize, of course, that there are some
whole-souled people like the West's and Thornton's, but I also found
some of the tribe of Jones, and I have much doubt as to the social
standing of one who would feel obliged to demonstrate that he could
spread more manure in a day than his hired nigger.

My Swede and I are like brothers; we clean stables together and talk
politics, science, and agriculture. In fact he is as much interested
as I am in the building up of Poorland Farm, and has already
contributed some very practical suggestions. I pay him moderate
wages and a small percentage of the farm receipts after deducting
certain expenses which he can help to keep as low as possible, such
as for labor, repairs, and purchase of feed and new tools, but
without deducting the taxes or interest on investment or the cost of
any permanent improvements, such as the expense for limestone,
phosphate, new fences and buildings, and breeding stock.

Referring again to the invoice of the soil, I may say that the
percentage of the mineral plant foods increases with depth, the same
as in your soil, but not to such an extent, and with one exception.
The phosphorus content of our surface soil is greater than that of
the subsurface, but below the subsurface the phosphorus again
increases. This is probably due to the fact that the prairie grasses
that grew here for centuries extracted some phosphorus from the
subsurface in which their roots fed to some extent, and left it in
the organic residues which accumulated in the surface soil.

Aside from the difference in organic matter, the physical character
of our soil is distinctly inferior to the loam soils about
Blairville and Leonardtown. We have a very satisfactory silt loam
surface, but the structure of our subsoil is quite objectionable. It
is a tight clay through which water passes very slowly, so slowly
that the practicability of using tile-drainage is still questioned
by the State University, although the experiments which the
University soil investigators have already started in several
counties here in "Egypt" will ultimately furnish us positive
knowledge along this line.

As for me, I purpose making no experiments, whatever. I do not see
how I or any other farmer can afford to put our limited funds into
experiments, especially when we often lack the facilities for taking
the exact and complete data that are needed. It takes time and labor
and some equipment to make accurate measurements, to weigh every
pound of fertilizer applied and every crop carefully harvested from
measured and carefully seeded areas, especially selected because of
their uniform and representative character. I think this is public
business and it is best done by the State for the benefit of all.

I have heard narrow politicians call it class legislation to
appropriate funds for such agricultural investigations, but the fact
is that to investigate the soil and to insure an abundant use of
limestone, phosphate, or other necessary materials required for the
improvement and permanent maintenance of the fertility of the soil
is legislation for all the people, both now and hereafter. Would
that our Statesmen would think as much of maintaining this most
important national resource, as they do of maintaining our national
honor by means of battleships and an army and navy supported at an
expense of three hundred million dollars a year, sufficient to
furnish ten tons of limestone to every acre of Virginia land, an
amount twenty times the Nation's appropriation for agriculture; and
even this is largely used in getting new lands ready for the
bleeding process, instead of reviving those that have been
practically bled to death.

As for me, I shall simply take the results which prove profitable on
the accurately conducted experiment fields of the University of
Illinois, one of which is located only seven miles from Poorland
Farm, and on the same type of soil, I shall try to profit by that
positive information, and await the accumulation of conclusive data
relating to tile-drainage and other possible improvements of
uncertain practicability for "Egypt."

Say, but our soil is acid! The University soil survey men say that
the acidity is positive in the surface, comparative in the
subsurface, and superlative in the subsoil. Two of them insisted
that the subsoil has an acid taste. The analysis of a set of soil
samples collected near Heart-of-Egypt shows that to neutralize the
acidity of the surface soil will require seven hundred and eighty
pounds of limestone per acre, while three tons are required for the
first twenty inches, and sixteen tons for the next twenty inches.
The tight clay stratum reaches from about twenty to thirty-six
inches. Above this is a flour-like gray layer varying in thickness
from an inch to ten inches, but below the tight clay the subsoil
seems to be more porous, and I am hoping that we may lay tile just
below the tight clay and then puncture that clay stratum with red
clover roots and thus improve the physical condition of the soil. I
asked Mr. Secor, a friend who operates a coal mine, - and farms for
recreation, - if he thought alfalfa could be raised on this type of
soil. He replied: "That depends on what kind of a gimlet it has on
its tap root."

Some of the farmers down here tell me confidentially that "hardpan"
has been found on their neighbors' farms, but I have not talked with
any one who has any on his own farm. I am very glad the University
has settled the matter very much to the comfort of us "Egyptians,"
by reporting that no true "hardpan" exists in Illinois, although
there are extensive areas underlain with tight clay, "of whom, as it
were, we are which."

I am glad that the nitrogen-fixing and nitrifying bacteria do
business chicfly in the surface soil, because we are not prepared to
correct the acidity to any very great depth.

The present plan is to practice a six-year rotation on six
forty-acre fields, as follows:

First year - Corn (and legume catch crop).

Second year - Part oats or barley, part cowpeas or soy beans.

Third year - Wheat.

Fourth year - Clover, or clover and timothy.

Fifth year - Wheat, or clover and timothy.

Sixth year - Clover, or clover and timothy.

This plan may be a grain system where wheat is grown the fifth year,
only clover seed being harvested the fourth and sixth years, or it
may be changed to a live-stock system by having clover and timothy
for pasture and meadow the last three years, which may be best for a
time, perhaps, if we find it too hard to care for eighty acres of
wheat on poorly drained land.

In somewhat greater detail the system may be developed we hope about
as follows:

First year: Corn, with mixed legumes, seeded at the time of the last
cultivation, on perhaps one-half of the field. These legumes may
include some cowpeas and soy beans and some sweet clover, but that
is not yet fully decided upon.

Second year: Oats (part barley, perhaps) on twenty acres, cowpeas on
ten acres, and soy beans on ten acres. The peas and beans are to be
seeded on the twenty acres where the catch crop of legumes is to be
plowed under as late in the spring as practicable.

Third year: Wheat with alsike on twenty acres and red clover on the
other twenty, seeded in the early spring. If necessary to prevent
the clover or weeds from seeding, the field will be clipped about
the last of August.

Fourth year: Harvest the red clover for hay and the alsike for seed,
and apply limestone after plowing early for wheat.

Fifth year: Wheat, with alsike and red clover seeded and clipped as

Sixth year: Pasture in early summer, then clip if necessary to
secure uniformity, and later harvest the red clover for seed. Manure
may be applied to any part of this field from the time of wheat
harvest the previous year until the close of the pasture period.
Then it may be applied to the alsike only until the red clover seed
crop is removed, and then again to any part of the field, which may
also be used for fall pasture. To this field the threshed clover
straw and all other straw not needed for feed and bedding will be
applied. The application of raw phosphate will be made to this
field, and all of this material plowed under for corn.

The second six years is to be a repetition of the first, except that
the alsike and red clover will be interchanged, so as to avoid the
development of clover sickness if possible; and to keep the soil
uniform we may interchange the oats with the peas and beans.

This system provides for the following crops each year:

40 acres of corn;

20 acres of oats;

10 acres of cowpeas for hay

10 acres of soy beans for seed

80 acres of wheat

20 acres of red clover for hay

20 acres of alsike for seed

20 acres of red clover for seed

20 acres of alsike for pasture, except from June to August.

We also have some permanent pasture which we may use at any time
that may seem best. If necessary we may cut all the clover for hay
the fourth year, and we may pasture all summer the sixth year. We
can pasture the corn stalks during the fall and winter when the
ground is in suitable condition.

We plan to raise our own horses and perhaps some to sell. In
addition we may raise a few dairy cows for market, but will do
little dairying ourselves.

We expect to sell wheat and some corn, and if successful we shall
sell some soy beans, alsike seed, and red clover seed.

How soon we shall be able to get this system fully under way I shall
not try to predict; but we shall work toward this end unless we
think we have good reason to modify the plan.

I hope to make the initial application of limestone five tons per
acre, but after the first six years this will be reduced to two or
three tons. I also plan to apply at least one ton per acre of
fine-ground raw phosphate every six years until the phosphorus
content of the plowed soil approaches two thousand pounds per acre,
after which the applications will probably be reduced to about
one-half ton per acre each rotation.

There are three things that mother and I are fully decided upon:

First, that we shall use ground limestone in sufficient amounts to
make the soil a suitable home for clover.

Second, that we shall apply fine-ground rock phosphate in such
amounts as to positively enrich our soil in that very deficient

Third, that we shall reserve a three-rod strip across every
forty-acre field as an untreated check strip to which neither
limestone nor phosphate shall ever be applied, and that we shall
reserve another three-rod strip to which limestone is applied
without phosphate, while the remaining thirty-seven acres are to
receive both limestone and phosphate.

Thus we shall always have the satisfaction of seeing whatever
clearly apparent effects are produced by this fundamental treatment,
even though we may not be able to bother with harvesting these check
strips separate from the rest of the field.

We have based our decision regarding the use of ground limestone
very largely upon the long-continued work of the Pennsylvania
Agricultural Experiment Station as to the comparative effects of
ground limestone and burned lime, which is supported, to be sure, by
all comparative tests so far as our Illinois soil investigators have

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Online LibraryCyril G. HopkinsThe Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, → online text (page 17 of 23)