James G. (James George) Needham.

The natural history of the farm; a guide to the practical study of the sources of our living in wild nature online

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Online LibraryJames G. (James George) NeedhamThe natural history of the farm; a guide to the practical study of the sources of our living in wild nature → online text (page 1 of 22)
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This BOOK may be kept out TWO WEEKS
ONLY, and is subject to a fine of FIVE
CENTS a day thereafter. It is due on the
day indicated below:

t is due on t







The Natural History
of the Farm

A Guide to the Practical Study of the Sources
of Our Living in Wild Nature.






19 16


Spirit of th' raw and gravid earth
Whenceforth all things have breed and birth,
From palaces and cities great
From pomp and pageantry and state

Back I come with empty hands

Back imto your naked lands.

— L. 11. Bailey.






This is a book on the sources of agriculture. Some there
may be who, deeply immersed in the technicalities of modern
agricultural theory and practice, have forgotten what the
sources are; but they are very plain. Food and shelter and
clothing are obtained now, in the main, as in the days of the
patriarchs. Few materials of livelihood have been either
added or eliminated. The same great groups of animals
furnish us flesh and milk and wool ; the same plant groups
furnish us cereals, fruits and roots, cordage and fibres and
staves. The beasts browsed and bred and played, the
plants sprang up and flowered and fruited, then as now. We
have destroyed many to make room for a chosen few. We
have selected the best of these, and by tillage and care of them
we have enlarged their product and greatly increased our
sustenance, but we have not changed the nature or the
sources of it. To see, as well as we may, what these things
were like as they came to us from the hand of nature is the
chief object of this cotirse.

A series of studies for the entire year is offered in the
following pages. Each deals with a different phase of the
life of the farm. In order to make each one pedagogically
practical, a definite program of work is outlined. In order
to insure that tlie student shall have something to show for
his time, a definite form of record is suggested for each
practical exercise. In order to encom-age spontaneity, a
ntmiber of individual exercises are included which the student
may pursue independently. The studies heie offered are
those that have proved most useful, or that are most tv]^ ical,
or that best illustrate field-work methods. ^^^^^ ^^
enough work in some of them for more than sJ^^/^^^np :


many of thcin will bear rc'itclilion with new materials, or in
new situations. li^aeh one includes a brief introductory
sUitcment to be read, and an outline of work to be i)CTf<)nned.
In all of them, it is the doing of the work outlined- not the
mere readin.i^ of the text— that will \-ield satisfactor\' educa-
tional results.

The work of this course is not new. Mucli work of this
.sort has been done, and well done, as nature-stud>', in\arious
institutions at home and abroad. But here is an attempt to
intcj^atc it all, and to show its relation to the sources of our
livinj,'. So it is the natural history, not of the whole range of
things curious and interesting in the world, but of those things
that humankind has elected to deal with as a means of liveli-
hcx^d and of personal satisfaction in all ages.

These are the tilings we have to live with: they are the
things we ha\'e to li\e b\-. They feed us and shelter us and
clothe us and wann us. They equip us with implements for
manifold tasks. They endow us with a thousand delicacies
aiul wholesome comforts. They unfold before us the cease-
less drama of the e\'cr-changing seasons — the informing
drama of life, of which we arc a part. And when, in our rude
fanning o])erations, we scar the face of nature to make fields
and houses and stock pens, they oiler us the means whereby,
though changed, to make it green and golden again— a fit
enviromnent wherein to dwell at peace.

In the belief that an acquaintance with these things would
contribute to greater contentment in and enjoN'ment of the
farm surroundings and to a better rural life, this course was
yircpared. The original suggestion of it came from Director
L. H. Bailey of the New York State College of Agriculture.
It was first given in that college by me in cooperation with
Mrs. J. II. Comstock. To both these good naturalists, and
to all thos.' who ha\'e hel] ed me as assistants, I am greatly
indebted for valuable .suggestions.

J.\.\Ii:S Ci. XliEDHAM.


Preface .

page 5
. " 7


1. Mother Earth page 9 with Study i on page 15

2. The wild fruits of the farm ^^ 16 ^^ ^^ 2 ^^ ^^

3. The wild nuts of the farm ^^ 24 ^^ ^^ 3 „ ^"

4. The farm stream ^^ 32 ^^ ^^ 4 ,, 4

5. The fishes of the farm stream .,46^^ ^^ 5 ^^ 4°

6. Pastureplants - f « " " 7 " 62

7. The wild roots of the farm ^^ g ^, ,^ 7 „ ^;f

8. The November seed-crop ,. ,< « « ^a

9. The deciduous trees in winter ^^ 71 ,, „ 9 ,, /o

10. The farm wood lot ^^ 77 ,, ,, ^^ „ 79

11. The fuel woods of the farm ^^ «i ^^ ,, Ji „ °"

12. Winter verdure of the farm ^^ 90 ^, ,. ^^ ^^ y^

13. The wild mammals of the farm ... ^^ 96 ^^ ^, i3 ^, J""

14. The domesticated mammals ^^105 ^^ ^^ 14 „ ^^

15. The fowls of the farm ^/I3 ^, ,, J5 ,, J^V

16. Farm landscapes 121 10 ^

Individual exercises for the Fall Term (Optionals)

1. A student's record of farm operations page 126

2. Noteworthy views of the farm ^^ 128

3. Noteworthy trees of the farm ,^ 125

4. Autumnal coloration and leaf fall ^, 132

5. A calendar of seed dispersal ^^ 33


17. The lay of the land : page 137. with study i7onpage 141

18. The deciduous shrubs of the farm ]] 143 ,^ i» H7

1 9 . Winter activities of wild animals . . ^ ^ 150 ^ ^

20. Fiber products of the farm || I55 ^^

21. A coating of ice \^ 164 ^^

22. Maple sap and sugar .•••., ^^ ,<

23. Nature's soil conserving operations ^^ I75 ^^

24. The passing of the trees ^^ 180 ^^

25. The fence row ^, 186 ^^

26. A spring brook ^9^

19 154

20 " 162

21 " 166

22 " 172

23 " 179

24 " 148

25 " 190

26 - 193



i. 195 wi til



paK^e 202

' 205 "


" 207

' 208 "


" 212

•213 "


" 216

' 219 "


" 221

* -^23 "


" 226


97. Nature's offerings for spring f)lanting p

28. A cut-over wocxl-l.ind thicket ....

29. Wilt! spring fltiwcrs of tlie fanii . . .

30. What goes on in the ai^ple lilos.snnis

31. The song birds of the fann

32. The early .summer landscape ....

Individual Exercises for the Spring Term (Optionals)

6. A c.ilendar of bird return page 228

7. A calendar of spring growth " 229

8. A calendar of spring flowers " 229

9. .\«)teworthy wild flower beds of the farm " 230

10. Noteworthy flowering shrubs of the farm " 230

June October.

33. The progress of the sea.son page 233, with Study 33 on page 236

34. The clovers "237 " " 34 " 241

35. Wild aromatic herbs of the fann. . . " 243 " " 35 " 250

36. The trees in summer " 252 " "36 " 254

37. Weeds of the field " 257 " " 37 " 263

38. Summer wild flowers " 264 " " 38 " 267

39. Some insects at work on farm crops "268 " " 39 " 272

40. Insects molesting farm animals .. "274 " " 40 " 279

41. Out in the rain " 281 " " 41 " 283

42. The vines of the farm " 285 " "42 " 290

43. The swale "291 " " 43 " 295

44. The brambles of the farm "296 " " 44 " 300

45. The population of an old apple tree " 302 " " 45 " 306

46. The little brook gone dry "307 " " 46 " 311

47. Swimming holes "312 " " 47 " 315

48. Winding roads "316 " " 48 " 319

Individual Exercises for the Summer Term (Optionals)

1 1. A grass calendar page 32 1

12. A calendar of summer wild flowers, " 322

13. A calendar of bird nesting " 323

14. Best crops of the farm " 324

15. A corn record " 325

Outdoor Equipment page 326

i"^^'^ ::.:.;::;::;: 333


"Brother, listen to what we say. There vjas a time when our forefathers
oivned this greit land. Their seits extended from the rising to the setting
sun. The Great Spirit had made it for the use of the Indians. He had
created the buffalo and the deer and other animals for food. He had made
the hear and the be iver. Their skins served us for clothing. He had
scattered them over the country and had taught us how to take them. He
had caused the earth to produce corn for bread. All this he had done for
his red children because he loved them.''

— "P* om the g'-e-it oration of "Red Jacket," the Seneca Indian, on The Religion of
the White Man and the Red.

If you ever read the letters of the pioneers who first settled
in your locality when it was all a wilderness (and how recent
was the time!), you will find them filled with discussion of the
possibilities of getting a living and estabhshing a home there.
Were there springs of good water there ? Was there native
pasturage for the animals? Was there fruit? Was there
fish? Was there game? Was there timber of good quality
for building ? Was the soil fertile ? Was the climate health-
ful? Was the outlook good? Has it ever occurred to you
how, in absence of real-estate and immigration agencies, they
found out about all these things ?

They sought this information at its source. They followed
up the streams. They foraged: they fished: they hunted.
They measured the boles of the trees with eyes experienced in
woodcraft. They judged of what nature would do with their
sowings by what they saw her doing with her own native
crops. And having found a sheltered place with a pleasant
outlook and with springs and grass and forage near at hand,
they built a dwelling and planted a garden. Thus, a new era
of agriculture was ushered in.

Your ancestors were white men who came from another
continent and brought with them tools and products and
traditions of another civilization. Their tools, though
simple, were efficient. Their axes and spades and needles


H. C, State CoUeg©


and shears were of steel. Their chief dependence for food
was placed in cereals and vegetables whose seeds they brought
\nth them from across the seas. Their social habits were
those of a peoj^le that had long known the arts of tillage and
husbandry: their ci\-iIizalion was based on settled homes.
But they brought with them into the wilderness only a few
wea|X)ns, a few tools, a few seeds and a few animals, and for
the balance and continuance of their living they relied upon
the bounty of the woods, the waters and the soil.

A little earlier there lived in your locality a race of red men
whose cruder tools and weapons were made of flint, of bone
and of copper; who planted native seeds (among them the
maize, the squash, and the potato), and whose traditions were
mainly of war and of the chase. These w^re indeed children
( -f natiu*c, dependent upon their own hands for obtaining from
mother earth all their sustenance. There was little division
of labor among them. Each must know (at least, each family
must know) how to gather and how to prepare as well as how
to use.

Today you live largely on the products of the labors of
others. You get your food, not with sickle and flail and
spear, but with a can-opener, and you eat it without even an
inkling of where it grew. So many hands ha\-e intervened
between the getting and the using of all things needful, that
some factory is thought of as the source of them instead of
mother earth. Suppose that iii order to realize how you have
lost connection, you step out into the wildwood empty-
handed, and look about }'OU. Choose and say what }'ou will
have of all you see bcf(ire you for your next meal? Where
will you find your next suit of clothes and what will it be like?
Ah, could you even im^^rovisc a wrap])ing, and a string with
which to tie it, fn^m what wild nature offers you?

These are degenerate days. One h;ul to know things in
order to live in the days of the pioneer and the Inrlian. But


now one may live without knowing anything useful, if he only
possess a few coins of the realm and have access to a depart-
ment store.

"Back to nature" has therefore become the popular cry,
and vacations are devoted to camping out, and to "foraging
off to the country" as a means of restoration. But for-
tunately it is not necessary to go to the mountains or to the
frontier in order to get back to nature ; for nature is ever with
us at home. She raises otir crops with her sunshine and soil
and air and rain, and turns not aside the while from raising
her own. While we are engrossed with "developing" our
clearings and are planting farms and cities and shops, she
goes on serenely raising her ancient products in the bits of
land left over : in swamp and bog, in gulch and dune, on the
rocky hillside, by the stream, and in the fence row. There
she plants and tends her cereals and fruits and roots, and
there she feeds her flocks. Wherever we leave her an opening,
she slips in a few seeds of her own choosing, and when we
abandon a field, she quickly populates it again with wild
things. They begin again the same old lusty struggle for
place and food, and of our feeble and transient interference,
soon there is hardly a sign.

As for the wild things, therefore, — the things that so largely
made up the environment of the pioneer and the red man —
we need but step out to the borders of otu: clearing to find most
of them. If any one would share in the experience of prime-
val times, he must work at these things with his own hands.
To gain an acquaintance he must apply first his senses and
then his wits. He must test them to find out what they are
good for, and try them to find out what they are like : he
must sense the qualities that have made them factors in the
struggle for a place in the world of life. Thus, one may get
back to n_iLurc. Thus, one may re-acquire some of that
ancient fund of real knowledge that was once necessary to

12 N.Vl TRAL HISTORY OF rm> \'-\^<^^

jur race, and that is still fumhuncntal to a
^'<xxl education, and that contributes largely
lo one's enjoNinent of liis ow-n environment.

The Ixst place to begin is near home. Any
large fann will furnish opportunities. It is
'he object of the lessons that follow to
help you fmd the wild things of the farm
that arc most nearly related to your perma-
nent interests, and to get on speaking terms
with them. Vou will be helped by these
studies in proportion as your own eyes see
and >-our own hands handle these wild
things. The records you make will be of
value to you only as you wTitc into them
your own experience: \ATite nothing else.

Suggestions to students : The regular held
work contemplated in this course makes
certain demands with which indoor labora-
tor>' students may be unfamiliar. A few
suggestions may therefore be helpful:

1. As to weather: All weather is good
weather to a naturalist. It is all on nature's
program. Each kind has its use in her
eternal processes, and each kind brings its
own peculiar opportunities for learning
her ways. Nothing is more futile than
complaint of the weather, for it is c\'cr with
us. It were far better, therefore, to enter
into the spirit of it. to make the most of it
and to enjoy it.

2. As to clothes: Wear such as are
strong, ])lain and comortable. There are
thorns in nature's garden that will tear thin
stuffs and reach out after an>-thing detach-
able; and there are burs, that will cling
persistently to loose-woven fabrics. Kid
gloves in cold weather and high heels at all



Fig. 1. Metric and
English linear mL-asure.



times are an utter abomination. Clothing suited to the
weather will have very much to do with your enjoyment of it
and with the eriiciency of your work.

3. As to tools: A pocket lens and a pocket knife you
should own, and have always with you. A rule for linear
measurements is printed herewith (fig. i). Farm tools, fur-
nished for common use, will supply all other needs.

4. As to the use of the
blanks provided : Blanks,
such as a])pear in the studies
outlined on subsequent pages,
are provided for use in this
course. Take rough copies of
them with you for use in the
field, where writing and sketch-
ing in a notebook held in one's
hand is difficult; then make
permanent copies at home.
When out in the rain, write
with soft pencil and not with

5. As to poison ivy (fig. 2) :
Unless you are immune, look
out for it : a vine climbing by
aerial roots on trees and fences,
or creeping over the ground.
Its compound leaves resemble fig. 2. Poison ivy.
those of the woodbine, but

there are five leaflets in the woodbine, and but three in
poison ivy. Lead acetate (sugar of lead) is a specific antidote
for the poison; a saturated solution in 50% alcohol should
be kept available in the laboratory. It is rubbed on the
affected parts — not taken internally, for it also is a poison.
If used as soon as infection is discoverable, little injury
results to the skin of even those most sensitive to ivy poison.
After lesions of the skin have occurred, through neglect to
use it promptly, it is an unsafe and ineffective remedy ; a
physician shoiild then be consulted.

6. As to pockets: Some people don't have any. But
containers of some sort for the lesser things, such as twigs and


seeds, studied in the lielil. will be very desirable. You will
want to take another l<K)k at them after you get baek; so
preiKirc to take them liome, where \-()U can sit at a table and
work with them. A bag or a basket will hold, besides tools, a
lot of stout envelopes, for keeping things a])art. with labels
and necessary data \\Titten on the outside.

7. As to reference books: "Study nature, not books",
said the great naturalist and teacher, Louis Agassiz. By all
means, get the answers to the questions involved in your
reconis of these studies direct from nature and not from books.
Hut while you are in the field, you will meet with many things
about which vou will wish to know. Ask your instructors
freely. Get acquainted, also, with some of the standard
reference lxx)ks, which will help you when instructors fail.
Only a few of the more generally useful can be mentioned

There are three classical manuals for use in the eastern
United States and Canada, that have hcl]:)ed the naturalists
of several generations. These are Gray's Manual of Botany,
Jordan's Manual of the Vertebrates and Comstock's Manual
for the Studv of Insects. There are two great cyclopedias,
both echted bv Professor L. H. Bailey— The American
Cvclopechas of Horticulture and of Agriculture. There arc
manv lxx)ks of nature-study, but most useful of them all is
Mrs.' Comstock's Handbook of Nature-Study. The best
single bird book is Chairman's Handbook of North American
Birds. A new book that will help toward acquaintance
with aquatic plants and animals is Nccdham and Lloyd's
Life of Inland Waters. All these should be accessible on
reference shelves.

"Note — At Cornell University the field tool that is fur-
nished to classes for individual use is a sharj) brick-layer's
hammer weighing about a pound. It is not heavy enough
to be burdensome, and it is ada])table to a great variety of, such as digging roots, cracking nuts, stripping bark,
s]jlitting and s]jlintering kindling, ])lanting seedlings, etc. A
light hatchet will ser\'e man\-, but not all of these uses.


Study 1. A General Survey of the Farm

The program of this study should consist of a trip over the
farm with a good map in hand, showing the streams, the
roads, the buildings and the outlines of all the fields and

The record. The student should record directly on this
map, the sort and condition of crops found in all the fields and
the character of all the larger areas not used as fields. He
should put down the names of all prominent topographic
features, hills, streams, glens, etc., that bear names. The
amount of additional data to be required — dwellings and their
inhabitants, bams and their uses, etc. — ^will be determined
by the area to be covered and the time available. If crops
are few, colors may be used to make their distribution more
graphic. If inhabitants are to be recorded, the dwellings
may be numbered upon the map and the names of their
occupants written down in a correspondingly numbered list.
The object is a preliminary survey of the whole area that is to
be subsequently examined in detail.


"Thr mandrakes jfitr <j smell, and at our f^ates are all manner of pleasant
fruits, nrtc and old. which I h<irr I tid up for thee, O my beloved."

— The Song of J"olomon. 7:13.

The bounty of nature is never more fully ai)i)rcciatc(l than
when \vc sec a tree bearing a load of luscious fruit. A tree
that lias been green, like its fellows, suddenly bursts into a
glow of color, and begins to exhale a new and pleasant fra-
grance as its product rijK^is. The bending boughs disclose
the richness and abundance of its gift to us.

Among nature's delicacies there are none so generally
agreeable and refreshing as her fruits. They possess an
infinite variety of fla\'ors. Before the da}'s of sugar-making,
they were the chief store of sweets. They ever>'where fulfill
an important dictar>' function, both for man and for many of
his animal associates.

All fruits were once wild fruits. Most of them exist today
quite as they came to us from the hand of nature. A few have
been considerably improved by selection and care. But none
of them has been altered in its habits. They grow and bloom
and bear and die as they did in the wildwood.

They have their seasons, the same seasons that the market
obserAxs. First come the strawberries, breaking the fast of
winter's long barrenness. What wonder that our Iroquois
Indians celebrated the ripening of the fragrant wild straw-
berries by a great annual festi\-al ! Then come the currants
and the raspberries and the cherries and the builalo-berries
and the mulberries and the plums and many others in a long
succession, the season ending with the grapes, the a]^])les. the
cranberries and the persin^mons.

The wild fruits ha\'e their requirements also as to climate,
soil, moisture, etc.. and these we must obser^x if wc culti\'ate



them. Cranberries and some blueberries demand bog con-
ditions which strawberries and apples will not endure.

The wild fruits in a state of nature, have their enemies also,
which are ever with them when cultivated. The fruit-fly of
the cherry, the codling moth of the apple, the plum-curculio
and all the other insect pests of the fruit garden, have merely
moved into the garden from the wildwood. And they
flourish equally in the wildwood still. When, for example,
an orchardist has rid his trees of codling moths, a fresh stock
soon arrives from the unnoticed wild apples of the adjacent
woods, and infests his trees again.

So, we must go back to nature to find the sources of our
benefits and of their attendant ills.

The wild fruits of the farm all grow in out-of-the way places
that escape the plow. They grow in the fence-row, by the
brookside, on the stony slope. If in the forest, they grow
only in the openings or in the edges; for fruit trees do not
grow so tall as the trees of the forest cover, and cannot endure
much shading. The bush fruits especially are wont to spring
up in the fence-row, where birds have perched and have
dropped seeds from ripe fruit they have eaten. The}^ are a
lusty lot of berry-bearing shrubs and vines that tend to form
thickets, and when cut down by the tidy farmer, they spring
up again with cheerful promptness from uninjured roots. In
a few years they are in bearing again. The neglected fence-
row is, therefore, one of the best places to search for the lesser
wild fruits.

Of nature's fruits there is endless variety. They grow on
tree, shrub, herb and vine. They are large and small, sweet
and sour, pleasant and bitter, wholesome and poisonous.

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Online LibraryJames G. (James George) NeedhamThe natural history of the farm; a guide to the practical study of the sources of our living in wild nature → online text (page 1 of 22)