Cyril G. Hopkins.

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

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the best we could pick out. I began a system of rotation, after we
got the land ready for it, of clover, potatoes, and wheat. My idea
was to have the clover gather fertility to grow potatoes and wheat.
I was going to make use of the tillage to help out all I could, and
sold the potatoes and wheat, and then had clover again, and so on
around the circle. Everybody said, of course I would fail. I didn't
know but I would. It was the only chance and I had to take it.

"Of course it took quite a while to get this thing going. The first
three or four years didn't amount to much. After six or eight years
we were surprised at the result. We were getting more than we hoped
for. In a dozen years the whole country was surprised. I remember
when a reporter was sent from Albany, New York, to see what we were
doing, and reported in the "Country Gentlemen." We had visitors by
the score from various states, it made such a stir. They couldn't
believe it was possible for a man to take land as poor as that, and
make it produce so well. We had some they could see that had not
been touched. As I told you, in eleven years we were out of debt.
After about ten or eleven years we were laying up a thousand dollars
a year, above all living and running expenses, from this land,
raising potatoes and wheat. It doesn't seem possible to you, large
farmers, but you can't get around the facts. In 1883 we laid up
$1,700 from the land. But this was a little extra.

"We wanted to build a new house. We had lived in the old shell long
enough. We had the money to pay cash down for the new house and to
pay for the furniture that went into it. We paid $3,500 cash down,
that fall, for the house and furniture, and every dollar taken out
of the land. Only two or three years before that we paid the last of
our debt. I had not done any talking or writing to speak of, at that
time. I did not begin until 1882 I never went to an institute, and
never wrote an article for a paper, except when called upon to do
it. I never sought such a job and prefer to stay at home on my farm.
It was only because I was called to do this work that I got into it.
For twenty-one years I was never at home one week during the winter
season. Farmers called for me and I didn't feel that I could refuse
to go.

"Now, how did we do it? I told some of the things. Let us go down to
the science of the matter little, now. I didn't know anything about
the science at the time. That came later. Practice came first. We
know now - of course, you all know - that clover has the ability,
through the little nodules that grow on the roots, to take the free
nitrogen out of the air to grow itself. You know about four-fifths
of the air you are breathing is nitrogen in the form of gas, and
clover has the ability to feed on that and make use of it. The other
plants have not. I might illustrate it in this way: You can't eat
grass; at least, you wouldn't do very well on it. But the steer eats
grass and you eat the steer, so you get the grass, don't you? Your
corn, wheat, oats, timothy, potatoes, so far as we know, can't touch
free nitrogen in the air, but clover can and then feed it to those
other crops.

"Let us look into how we got the phosphorus. On land that would not
grow over six to eight bushels of wheat per acre we have succeeded
once in growing forty-seven and three-fourths bushels to the acre,
on all the land sowed, of wheat that sold away above the market
price and weighed sixty-four pounds to the measured bushel, and
never put on a pound of phosphorus. We got it from that tillage we
told you about. Our land in northeastern Ohio is not very good
naturally. It is nothing like what you have in this state. Most of
you know that is the poorest land we have in the state in general,
but we have a fair share of clay and sand in ours. That has helped
us wonderfully. We have clay enough so that with our tillage we can
make so far all the plant food available we want.

"Now, a little more about the tillage. I told you how we worked the
surface of that ground and made it fine and nice. After five or six
years, perhaps, of this kind of work, I got to thinking if I had
some tool that would stir that ground to the bottom of the plowed
furrow and mix it very deeply and thoroughly, I might get still
better results out of the tillage. I happened to be in town one
morning in the fall, when we had some wheat land (clover sod) plowed
and prepared for wheat. I had harrowed and rolled it and made it as
nice as I could. - It was what the neighbors would call all ready for
sowing and more than ready. In town I saw a man trying to sell a
two-horse cultivator. I think it was made in this State. It was the
first one I ever saw - you can judge how long ago. It was a big,
heavy, cumbersome thing, - a horse-killer. I thought, if I only had
that, I knew I could increase the fertility of our soil still more.
I hadn't any money. We hadn't got far enough that there was a dollar
to spare. What did I do? I gave my note for $50 and took that
cultivator home with me. I could have bought it for $35 in money,
but I didn't have it. My wife didn't say a word when I got home. I
have heard since that she did a lot of crying to think I would go in
debt $50 more, and all for that thing.

"I got home about eleven o'clock and you can well suspect that I
couldn't eat any dinner that day. I hitched up and went right to
work, and told my wife I couldn't stop for any dinner. I rode that
cultivator that day and tore up that field in a way land was never
torn up in our section before. There was nothing to do it with. The
soil would roll up and tumble over. After going lengthwise I went
crosswise. A thousand hogs couldn't have made it rougher. The
neighbors looked on and said that 'Terry would do 'most anything if
you would only let him ride.' The worst of it was, I really didn't
know but what they were right, and all he would get out of it was
the riding. It was a serious thing. I had to wait until the harvest
time before I could know.

"What was the result? I got ten bushels of wheat more per acre than
had ever grown on the land before, without any manure or fertilizer
having been applied since it grew the previous crop in the rotation.
Clover had been grown. It was a clover sod. I didn't know how much
came from the clover and how much from the tillage. I didn't care,
they went together to get that result. I asked some of the old
settlers how much had been grown there per acre during their
recollection. They said twenty-three bushels was the most they had
known. I got thirty-three. The neighbors said, 'It happened so, you
can't do it again.' You know how they talk, to make out nothing can
be done with an old farm. I was interested in doing it again. I paid
that note and had a large margin of profit left, you see, out of the
extra wheat. It all came right.

"The next year I took the next field in rotation and worked it in
the same way, probably more. I got thirteen bushels more wheat per
acre than ever grew before. Thirty-six bushels of wheat! Such a
thing was never heard of in our section before; land that would not
grow anything a dozen years ago. Do you wonder I have been an
enthusiast on tillage since then? Why, they call me a crank
sometimes. It is a good crank, as it has turned out prosperity for

"After a time I began to think, can't we carry this matter a little
further? People generally don't cultivate their crops more than two
or three times in a season. Can I cultivate more to advantage? I
began to try it, six or eight times, eight or ten. I think there
have been dry years when I have cultivated our potatoes as many as
fifteen times. I don't believe we ever went through them when it
didn't pay.

"I remember one fall, when it was a wet season. When the tops began
to die and got to the point where I could see the space between the
rows, I started the cultivators again. I had money then to hire men
and I hired plenty of them. I started to cultivate between the rows.
People said, ' What is the idiot doing now?' I said, 'He is going
to raise five bushels more by doing that work, that it what he is

"Now, remember, more hay to the acre, better hay, increased
fertility by growing clover, increased fertility by working this
land over and over in the different ways I have told you of. They
used to send for me to talk on this subject, before I knew anything
about it, except that I had done it. In Wisconsin, some twenty years
ago, I helped at the first institute held in the state. They sent
for me to come up. I told them what I was doing and how I thought it
came about, what I thought clover was doing for me. When I was
through I asked Professor Henry, who was in the audience, to tell
me, honestly, what he thought about my talk. He said, 'As a farmer I
believe you are right, but as a scientific man I dare not say so in

"Professor Roberts came to my place one time, to investigate a
little. I knew what he came for. I showed him around, and showed him
the land we had not touched, not to this day. He was a surprised
man. I remember the second crop of clover was at its best. It was
above his knees. He says, 'This will make two tons of hay to the
acre, and it is the second crop.' He didn't say but very little. I
couldn't get him to talk much. He went home and began that system of
experiments at Ithaca that has practically revolutionized the
agriculture of the east - experiments in tillage. Pretty soon we had
his book on the fertility of the soil. I think he got his
inspiration from what he saw. He said to himself, seems to me,
'Terry has something that scientific men do not know.' He got
samples of soil all over the state. They analyzed the soil and found
what the average soil of New York contained. They found about four
thousand five hundred pounds of nitrogen, six thousand three hundred
pounds of phosphoric acid, and twenty-four thousand pounds of potash
in an average acre eight inches deep; and they had been buying
potash largely. (Laughter.)

"The farm we moved onto was the old Sanford homestead. Old Mr.
Sanford lived there and brought up a large family. I think five of
them boys. Every one of these boys left the farm just as soon as
they could get away. There wasn't anything in farming for them.
After we had been at work a dozen years or more and got things going
nicely, they came back (one of them lives in Connecticut) and
visited the old homestead. I remember Lorenzo said, 'It seems like a
miracle. I don't know how you did it. We worked from daylight to
dark, from one year's end to another, and never had anything. We
boys used to be promised a holiday on the Fourth of July if the corn
was all hoed. That was all we got. How on earth have you done these

"Friends, there were three farms we bought. Old Mr. Sanford didn't
know anything about but one. There was the air and the soil and
there was the subsoil. He had been working only the soil, plowing it
three or four inches deep, scratching it over, taking what came, and
every year less and less came. The land had run down until the
surface had quit producing. We took the same soil, put in clover and
took the fertility out of the upper farm, the air, and out of the
lower one, the subsoil, and put it into the second one. We plowed
the surface soil a little deeper and deeper until we got it eight or
nine inches deep instead of four. We worked it more and more,
setting more and more of the available plant food in the soil free.
That is how we did it.

"I say 'we' advisedly, because, friends, if I hadn't had a wife
fully able and willing to do her part, and more, I would not have
this story to tell."



"THE chores are all done," said Mrs. Johnston, as Percy began to
take down his heavy work-coat about nine o'clock that evening.

"You ought not to have done them," he chided as he slipped his arm
around her and drew her to the sofa.

"Tell me about the Institute," she said, stroking the hair from his

He told her of the professors who were there from the University and
briefly reported the addresses he had heard.

"And I verily believe," he added, "that if Terry were to wake up
some morning and find himself located on the "Barrens" of the
Highland Rim of Tennessee, he would start out with the firm
conviction that all he would need to do to become a successful
farmer there would be to sow clover and then 'work the land for all
that's in it.' But, after all, it is not so strange, perhaps, that
one who has himself discovered and then utilized the power of clover
and tillage to restore and increase the productive power of land
rich in limestone, phosphorus and all other essential mineral plant
food, should jump to the fixed and final conclusion that the same
system of treatment is all that is needed to make any and all land
productive. The fact that Terry's land (if equal to the nearby New
York land) contained two thousand three hundred pounds of phosphorus
in the plowed soil of an acre when he began to work it out, while
the soil of the Tennessee "Barrens" contains only about one
hundred pounds, does not disturb him or modify his opinion so long
as his personal experience is limited to his own land.

"Terry's problem was easier than Mr. West's on his Virginia farm,
where the soil is acid and hence limestone must be used liberally in
order that clover and other legumes may be grown successfully. Even
the supply of phosphorus and other mineral elements is probably
greater in Terry's farm in northeastern Ohio than in the soil of

"Our problem is even more difficult, because we must not only
increase the supply of active organic matter, although we have a
reserve of old humus far above that contained in the Terry or West
farms; but in addition we need more limestone than Mr. West and then
we must add the phosphorus. Of course the surface washing is a
serious factor on Westover, but perhaps our tight clay subsoil is

"But I learned at least two things that I shall try to profit by.
One of these was from Governor Hoard's lecture on 'Cows Versus Cows,
and the man behind the cow'; and the other is that we must do more
work on the land."

"Oh, Percy, I am so sorry you went. How can you possibly do more
work than you have been doing?"

"I may need to hire more," he replied; "and, of course, that will
further increase our expenses, but, it will surely pay to do well
what we try to do."

"When does my boy expect to get married?" she asked, softly, as
she gently stroked his hair.

"I am married," he replied.

She looked at him in wonder.

"Mother mine, I thought that you knew I was married."

"Your face is blank sincerity, as usual," she said smiling, "but you
never deceive me with your voice. Your voice reveals every attempt
at deception. Tell me what you mean."

His voice was sincere now. "I am married to a farm and laboring
together with God. After hearing Terry's talk, I am more than ever
determined to continue to do my part, working in the light as He
gives me the power to see the light."

"Percy, dear," she asked, "did you know the bride whose wedding
cards you received yesterday?"

"Don't you remember what I told you of Adelaide West, Mr. West's
daughter?" he queried.

"I thought so," said the mother. She stepped to Percy's home-made
desk, and from one of the pigeon holes, drew out a bunch of letters,
and selected the top and bottom letters from the pile.

"Here are the first and last letters you have received from Mr.
West. Did you ever see this?" She drew out a crumpled piece of
paper and placed it in his hand.

_"Her Grandma had not consented,"_ he read. "What does that mean?"

"I do not know and I did not know when I read it three years ago. It
came in your first letter from Mr. West. I thought you had not found
it in the envelope, but you gave me the letter to read and I found
it. I left it in the letter, but never till to-day did I feel that I
ought to mention it to you. Yesterday you received a letter with two
cards; but you read only one of them to me."

"But I saw the other was only the wedding announcement, and I left
them both in the letter for you to read."

"And I read them both," she said. "Read this."

Percy took the card and slowly read:

_Mr. and Mrs. Clarance Voit

Announce the marriage of their daughter

Ameila Louise


Professor Paul Strongworth Barstow_

She watched his face but saw no sign. She kissed his forehead and
then pointed to the writing, _"With Grandma's Compliments,"_ saying,
"I do not know what this means, but I thought my boy might be
getting too careless, when he fails to read even the wedding
announcement of college professors, sent to him by such a good
friend as Grandma West may intend to be."

Percy looked into his mother's face as if to read her thoughts.

"I think I understand what you have in mind," he said. "Mr. West has
mentioned once or twice that Adelaide was teaching school, but I
supposed that she was trying to earn enough to buy her own wedding

"Perhaps that is true," replied the mother, "and perhaps she is
already married or soon to be married; but I thought you ought to
know that she had not married Professor Barstow, lest you might
allude to it in your letters to Mr. West."



"WELL, I reckon the cowboy's gone back to 'tend to his cows," remarked
the grandmother to Adelaide, as she returned from taking Percy to
Blue Mound and found the old lady sitting on the lawn bench
apparently enjoying the mild late November weather. "Did you leave
him at the station or see him off?"

"Neither," Adelaide replied, sitting down beside her. "The train was
late, and he insisted on coming back with me to the first turn, and
then stood and watched till I came within sight of home at the next
turn. I doubt if he is back to the station yet."

"He reminds me, Pet, of the Latin definition you gave for _sincere,"
_remarked the grandmother. "Pure honey without wax, wasn't it?"

"Oh, no, Grandma. Not pure honey. It says nothing about honey. Sine
is the Latin for _without, _and _cera _means _wax; _so that our word
_sincere, _taken literally from the Latin, means _without wax."_

"Oh, yes, I see now; but let me tell you, Adelaide, I think that
professor of yours is right smart wax."

"Why, Grandma! I never heard you say such a thing. You know papa and
mamma like Professor Barstow and I think I like him too, and, - and
he has papa's consent, and mamma's consent."

"Well, you never heard me say such a thing before and you won't ever
hear it again, but he hasn't got my consent. I think he's some wax,
but I reckon you think he's some honey, and I know he thinks he's
some punk'ns. Of course, your father would like an English or
Scottish nobleman for a son-in-law, or at least a college professor
with a string of ancestry reaching across the water; but the Henry's
prefer to make their own reputations as they go along, and I doubt
if Patrick ever saw England or Scotland. I tell you, Adelaide, a
pound of gumption will make a better husband than a shipload of
ancestry, and I just hope you will more than like your husband,
that's all."

With that the old lady arose and walked to the house.




March 14, 1907.

Mr. Percy Johnston,

Heart-of-Egypt, Ill.

MY DEAR Friend: - We were delighted to receive your interesting
letter of March 2, describing the Farmer's Institute. I have been to
two such meetings in Virginia, but they are devoted to fruit and
truck and dairying, and no one seems to know much about our soils. I
appreciate more and more every year the absolute knowledge you
helped me to secure concerning Westover, where we had been working
in the dark for two centuries. I am sure you will succeed on
Poorland Farm, - just as confident as any one can be in advance of
actual achievement; and I expect to see the time when Richland Farm
will be a more appropriate name.

I only wish you could see my alfalfa. I have been seeding more every
year and now have sixty acres. It has come through winter in fine
condition and it will be a fine sight by Easter. Here's a standing
invitation to take Easter dinner with us, or any other dinner, for
that matter, if you ever come East.

I am planning to sow about forty acres more alfalfa this year. A
writer for the _Breeder's Gazette _visited us last summer, and he
said some of our alfalfa was as good as any he had ever seen in
California. He said ground limestone was plainly what we need for
alfalfa at Westover, but he thought some phosphorus would also help
on the less rolling areas, where the alfalfa is not so good as where
you found more phosphorus.

Lime and raw rock phosphate make the difference between clover and
no clover.

I can get ground limestone for $2.90 a ton now, delivered at Blue
Mound in bulk in carload lots. We are hoping to get it still lower,
and I think we will, for some of the big lime manufacturers, such as
the company at Riverton, are making plans to furnish ground
limestone; and the railroad companies are likely to make better
rates, or the State will do so for them.

It is truly a lamentable situation, when our hills and mountains are
full of all sorts of limestone, and our exhausted lands are crying
for that more than anything else. We understand, even better than
you, that everybody is poor in a country where the land is poor; and
it should be to the greatest interest of the railroad companies as
well as to all other industries, to unite in an effort to make it
possible for every landowner to apply large amounts of limestone to
his land, - the more the better, - and no one should expect any large
profit from the business; but wait till the benefit is produced on
the land, - wait till the farmer has his increased crops, and some
money from the sale of those crops. Then the railroads can make
profit hauling those crops to market and hauling back the necessary
supplies, and even the luxuries, which the farmer's money will
enable him to buy and pay for. Then the factory wheels will turn;
for, as you told us, the Secretary of Agriculture reports that
eighty-six per cent. of all the manufactured products are made from
agricultural raw materials.

There is no danger but what the railroads and manufacturers and
commercial people will get their share out of the produce from the
farms; but it is absolutely sure that, when the farms fail to
produce, then there is no profit for any of them, and the last man
to starve out will be the farmer himself, for he can live on what he
raises even though he has nothing left to sell.

We are all well. My son Charles is still bookkeeping for a Richmond
firm, but he is becoming greatly interested in my alfalfa, and says
he sometimes wishes he had taken an agricultural course instead of
the literary at college. His grandmother says she reckons the
agricultural college could give him about all the literature he
needs keeping books for a hides and tallow wholesale company; and I
am coming to believe that she is about right. I still remember that
the dative of indirect object is used with most Latin verbs
compounded with _ad, ante, con, in, inter, ob, post, pre, pro, sub,
_and _super, _and sometimes _circum; _but it would have been just as
easy for me to have learned forty years ago that the essential
elements of plant food are carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen; nitrogen,
phosphorus, and potassium; magnesium, calcium, iron and sulfur; and
possibly chlorin; and I am sure that the culture of Greek roots and
a knowledge of Latin compounds have been of less value to me during
the forty years than the culture of alfalfa roots and even a meager
knowledge of plant-food compounds have been during the last three

Adelaide is teaching; Frank is in the academy; and the younger
children are all in school.

We shall always be glad to hear from you.

Very respectfully yours,


"That is an exceptionally good letter," said Mrs. Johnson, as Percy
finished reading.

"Not for Mr. West," he replied. "His letters are always good, always
helpful and encouraging, almost an inspiration to me. Mr. West is in
many ways a very exceptional man. If he had not been tied down all
his life to a so-called worn-out farm of a thousand acres, he might
just as well have been the Governor of the State. Even in spite of
himself he has been practically forced to accept some very
responsible public offices, but the financial sacrifice was too
great to permit his retaining them very long. I never realized until

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Online LibraryCyril G. HopkinsThe Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, → online text (page 20 of 23)