Richard Lamb Allen.

A Brief compend of American agriculture online

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quence to the rapid and luxuriant growth and full develop-
ment of vegetable life.

Another essential benefit derivable from drained lands,
consists in the advantageous use which can be made of the
subsoil plow. If there be no escape for the moisture which
may have settled below the surface, the subsoil plow has
been found to be injurious rather than beneficial. By loosen-
ing the earth it admits a larger deposit of water, which
require.? a longer time for evaporation and insensible drainage
to discharge. When the water escapes freely, the use of the
subsoil plow is attended with the best results. The broken
earth thus pulverized to a much greater depth and incorpora-
ted with the descending particles of vegetable sustenance
affords an enlarged range for the roots of plants, and in pro-
portion to its extent, furnishes thorn with additional means of
growth. The farmer thus has a means of augmenting his
soil and its capacity for production wholly independent of
increasing his superficial acres; for with many crops it mat-



76 AMERICAN AGR1CULTUKE.

ters not in the quantity of their production, whether he owns
and cultivates 100 acres of soil, one foot deep, or 200 acres
of soil, half a foot in depth. With the latter however, he
has to provide twice the capital in the first purchase, is at
twice the cost in fencing, planting and tillage, and pays
twice the taxes. The underdrained and subsoiled fields have
the further advantage of security and steady development
in seasons of drought, as they derive their moisture from
greater depths which are frequently unaffected hy the parch-
ing heat. This secures to them a large yield while all
around is parched and withered.*

A more enlarged and general, or what may justly be
termed a philanthropic view of this system, will readily detect
considerations of great moment, in the general healthfulness
of climate which would result from the drainage of large
areas, which are now saturated, or in many instances covered
with stagnant waters, and which are suffered to pollute the
atmosphere by their pestilent exhalations.

SPRING AND SWAMP DRAINING.

Springs are sometimes discovered not by a free or open
discharge of their water, but in extensive plats of wet, boggy
lands, which are of no farther use than to mire the cattle and
bear u small quantity of inferior bog hay. These springs
should be sought at the highest point where the ground
appears moistened and led away to a ravine or rivulet, by a
drain sufficiently deep to prevent the escape of any of the
water into the adjacent soil ; unless as it sometimes happens,
the position and quality of water are suited to irrigation,
when it may be conducted over the field for that purpose,

Kwamps and Peat beds occur frequently in a hilly country.
These are low level, wet lands, whose constant saturation
with water prevents their cultivation with any useful plants.
'The first object in effecting their improvement, is to find an
outlet for the escape of the water to a depth of 3 to 5 feet
below the surface, according to tin- area to be reclaimed:
lluj greatest depth ;ibovr specified being frequently necessary
to the effectual drainage at all times, of an extended surface.
If the water in the swamp lias its origin in numerous springs
from the adjoining hills, a ditch should he dug around the
entire outer edge of it where it meets the ascending land. If

*The experienced reader will sometimes notice the suite ideas repeated undeo
different heads. He must. l-ar in mind that this work is intended for Icarm /> ;:
and that it is of more consequence thoroughly to impress their minds with impor-
tant principles, than to study brevity in communicating them.



MECHANICAL DIVISION OP SOILS. 77

the water be derived from u rivulet, a broad ditch should bo
made as direct as possible from its entrance to its outlet, and
deep enough to lead off all the water. If these are found
insufficient, additional ones may be made wherever required.



CHAPTER V.



MECHANICAL DIVISION OF SOILS.
SPADING.

After selecting a proper soil, and placing it in a suita-
ble condition, as to manuring, draining &c. the next most
important consideration is the further preparation of the land
for the reception of the seed. In small patches of highly
cultivated land, spading is resorted to for breaking up and
pulverizing the ground more effectually than can be done
with the plow. This is the case with many of the market
gardens in the neighborhood of our large cities, and with
large portions of Holland, Flanders and other countries of
Europe. It is even contended by many highly intelligent
and practical farmers in Great Britain, where labor is about
half and land and agricultural products nearly twice the
the average price with u?, that spade husbandry can be
adopted for general tillage crops with decided advantage to
the farmer. However this may be abroad, it is certain it
cannot be practised in this country to any extent until some
very remote period.

PLOWING.

This is the most important of the mechanical operations of
the farm. The time, the depth and the manner of plowing
must depend on the crops to be raised, the fertility and char-
acter of the soil and other circumstances.

PLOWING CLAY LATSDS. Whenever practicable these
should be plowed in the fall for planting and sowing the
ensuing spring. The tenacity of the soil may thus be tem-
porarily broken up by the winter frosts, its particles more
thoroughly separated, and the whole mass reduced to a finer
tilth than can possibly be effected in any other manner.



78 AMERICAN AGRTCtTLTimF.

There is a still further and important advantage from this
practice which ensues from the attraction existing between
the clay and those gases that are furnished from the atmos-
phere, snow, rains and dews. In consequence of being thus
thrown up and coming in contact with them, it seizes upon
the ammonia and carbonic and nitric acids which are in the
air, and holds them for the future use of the crops; while
their great affinity for manures effectually prevents the waste
of such as are in it.

The furrows of clay soils should be turned over so as to lap
on the preceding and lie at an angle of 45 ; and for this
purpose the depth of the furrow slice should be about two
thirds its width. Thus a furrow 6 inches deep should be
about 9 inches wide, or if 8 inches deep, it should be 12
inches wide. This will allow of the furrows lying regularly
and evenly, and in the proper position for the drainage of
the soil, the free circulation of air, and the most efficient ac-
tion of frosts which in this way have access to every side of
them. Land thus thrown up is found to be finely pulverized
after the frosts leave it, and it is comparatively dry and
ready for use some time earlier than such as is not plowed
till spring. For sowing, land plowed in this manner requires
no additional plowing, but it is better fitted for the reception
of seed than it can be by any further operation, unless by a
slight harrowing if too rough. The different kinds of grain
or peas may be dibbled in or sown directly upon the surface
and covered by the harrow ; and if sown very early, the
grass and clover seeds require no covering, but find their best
position in the slight depressions which are every where
made by the frost, and which the subsequent rains and winds
fill up and cover sufficiently to secure a certain growth.
When a field -is intended for planting and is thus plowed in
the preceeding autumn, in some instances, and especially
when the soil is full of vegetable manures, as from a rich
green sward, a single furrow where the seed is to be drop-
p"l, is all that is necessary to be plowed in the spring.

If the land has been previously cultivated, (not in sward,)
and is designed for planting, a stiff clay is sometimes ridged
up by turning a double furrow, one on each side and so close
as partially to lap upon a narrow and unbroken surface, thus
leaving the greatest elevations and depressions which can^
conveniently be made with the plow. The frost and air by
this means, have a greater surface to act upon than is affor-
ded by thorough plowing, unless it 'be in a firm sod, which



MECHANICAL DIVISION OF BOILS. 79

maintains its position without crumbling. The advantage of
a dry surface and early working are equally secured by this
latter method ; and to prepare for planting, the furrows need
only to be split by running a plow through their centre,
when they are ready for the reception of the seed.

PLOWING SANDY OR DRY SOILS. These require flat plow,
ing, which may be done when they are either quite wet or
dry, but never till wanted for use. By exposure to heat,
rains and atmospheric influences the light soluble manures
are exhaled or washed out, and they receive little compensa-
tion for this waste in any corresponding fertility they derive
from the atmosphere in return. To insure flat plowing on
an old sward, the depth of the furrow should be about one-
half its width, and the land or ridges as wide as can conve-
niently be made, so as to preserve as much uniformity of
surface over the whole field as possible.

DEPTH OF PLOWING. All cultivated plants are benefitted
by a deep permeable soil, through which their roots can
penetrate in search of food ; and a though depth of soil is not
fully equivalent to its superficial extension, it is evident that
there must be a great increase of product from this cause.
For general tillage crops the depth of soil may be gradually
augmented to about 12 inches, with decided advantage.
Such as are appropriated to gardens and horticultural pur-
poses may be deepened to 15 and even 18 inches to the
manifest profit of their occupants. But whatever is the
depth of the soil, the plow ought to turn up the entire mass,
if within its reach, and what is beyond it should be thor-
oughly broken up by the subsoil plow, and some of it occa-
sionally incorporated with that upon the surface. The sub-
soil ought not to be brought out of its bed except in small
quantities to be exposed to the atmosphere during the fall,
winter and spring, or in a summer fallow ; nor even then,
but with the application of such fertilizers as are necessary
to put it at once into a productive condition. The depth of
the soil can alone determine the depth of ploughing ; and
when that is too shallow, the gradual deepening of it should
be sought by the use of proper materials for improvement
till the object is fully attained. Two indifferent soils of
opposite characters, as of a stiff clay and sliding sand,
sometimes occupy the relation of surface and subsoil towards
each other ; and when intimately mixed and subjected to
the meliorating influence of cultivation, they will frequently
produce a soil of great value.



80 AMERICAN AGRICULTURE.

CROSS PLOWING is seldom necessary except to break up
tough sward or tenacious soils ; and the former is more ef-
fectually subdued by one thorough plowing in which the
sod is so placed that decomposition will rapidly ensue ; and
the latter is more certainly pulverized by incorporating with
it such vegetables, and long or unfermented manures and the
like, as will take the place of the decaying sod. The pres-
ence of these in the soil, lessens the labor of cultivation and
greatly increases the products.

SUBSOIL PLOWING. This is a practic of comparatively
recent introduction, and it has been attended with signal be-
nefit from the increase and certainty of the crop. It is per-
formed by subsoil plows made exclusively for this purpose-
The objects to be accomplished are to loosen the hard earth
below the reach of the ordinary plow and permit the ready
escape of the water which falls upon the surface ; the circu-
lation of air; and a more extended range for the roots of the
plants, by which they procure additional nourishment, and
secure the crop against drought, by penetrating into the re-
gions of perpetual moisture. When all the circumstances
are favorable to the use of the subsoil plow, an increase in
the crop of 20, 30, and sometimes even 50 per cent, has been
attributed to its operations. Its maximum influence on stiff
soils is reached, only where underdraining has been tho-
roughly carried out. Its benefits have been more than doubt-
ed when used in an impervious clay subsoil, where it makes
further room for storing up stagnant water ; and it is evident
they can only aggravate the faults of such subsoils as are na-
turally too loose and leachy.



PLOWS AND OTHER FARM IMPLEMENTS.

There are plows for almost every situation and soil, in addi-
tion to several varieties which are exclusively used for the sub-
soil. Some are for heavy lands and some for light ; some
for stony soils, others for such as are full of roots ; while still
another class are expressly made for breaking up the hither-
to untilled prairies of the west. Some are adapted to deep
and some to shallow plowing ; and some are for plowing
around a hill and throwing the furrows either up or down, or
both ways alternately ; others again throw the soil on both
sides, and are used for plowing between the rows of corn or
roots. Every farm should be supplied with such plows as
are entirely adapted to the different operations required.



MECHANICAL DIVISION OP SOILS. 81

The farmer will find in the best agricultural ware-houses,
all the implements necessary to his operations, with such de-
scriptions as will enable him to judge of their merits. Great
attention has been bestowed on this subject for several years
by skilful and intelligent persons, and great success has fol-
lowed their efforts. The United States may safely challenge
the world to exhibit better specimens of farming tools than
she now furnishes, and her course is still one of improve-
ment. There are numerous competitors for public favor in
every description of farm implements ; and an intelligent
farmer cannot fail to select such as are best suited to his own
situation and purposes.

Tlie best only sliould be used. There has been a " penny
wise and pound foolish" policy adopted by many farmers in
their neglect or refusal to supply themselves with good tools
to work with. They thus save a few shillings in the first
outlay, but frequently lose ten times as much by the use of
indifferent ones in the waste of labor and the inefficiency of
their operations. A farmer should estimate the value of his
own and his laborer's time as well as that of his teams, by
dollars and cents ; and if it requires one third, one tenth or
even one hundredth more of either to accomplish a given ob-
ject with one instrument than with another, he should before
buying one of inferior quality, carefully compute the amount
his false economy in the purchase will cost him before he has
done with it. Poor men or those who wish to thrive, can ill
afford the extravagance of buying inferior tools at however
low a price. The best are always the cheapest ; not those
of high or extravagant finish, or in any respect unnecessarily
costly ; but such as are plain and substantial, made on the
best principles and of the most durable materials. To no
tools do these remarks apply with so much force as to plows.
The improvements in these have been greater than in any
other instruments, the best saving fully one half the labor for-
merly bestowed in accomplishing the same work.

HARROWING.

The object of the harrow is three fold ; to pulverise the
land, to cover the seed, and to extirpate weeds. Unless the
land be very light and sandy, the operation should never be
performed for either object, except when sufficiently dry to
allow of the crumbling down into a fine mellow surface un-
der the action of the harrow. There are several varieties of
harrows in use ; the tri angular and the square, both some-



82 AMERICAN AGRICULTURE.

times hinged and sometimes double ; with long teeth and
with short onus, some thickly set together, and some far
apart. For pulverising firmly sodded or stiff clay lands, a
heavy, compact harrow is required, with strong teeth suffi-
ciently spread ; and for lighter lands, or for covering seed,
the more expanded harrow, with numerous, small and thick-
ly set teeth. To pulverise soil, the harrow should move as
quickly as possible, so as to strike the lumps forcibly, and
knock them to pieces ; and for this purpose an active team is
required. When the land sinks much under the pressure of
the horses feet, light animals as mules or ponies are prefera-
ble.

THE ROLLER

Is an important implement for many fields. It is always
useful for pulverizing the soil, which it does by breaking
down such clods and lumps as escape the harrow, and thus
renders the field smooth for the scythe or cradle $ and it is
equally so on meadows which have become uneven from
the influence of frost, ant-hills, or other causes. It is ser-
viceable in covering seed by pressing the earth firmly
around it ; which thus secures moisture enough for germi-
nation. But its greatest benefit is with such sandy soils
as are not sufficiently compact to hold the roots of
plants firmly and retain a suitable moisture. With these it
is invaluable, and the proper use of the roller has in some
instances doubled the product. Its effect is similar to that
produced by the frequent treading in a foot-path ; and the
observing farmer will not have failed to notice the single
thread of thick green-sward which marks its course over an
otherwise almost barren field of sand or loose gravel. The
thickly woven emerald net-work that indicates the sheep-
walks, on similar soils, is principally due to the same
cause.

Rollers are variously constructed. The simplest form is
a single woodon shaft with gudgeons at each end, which rest
i.i a square frame made by fastening four joists together, a
tongue for drawing it being placed in one of its sides. A
box may be attached to this frame for the purpose of hold-
ing stones and weeds picked up in the field, and for weight-
ing the roller according to the work required. When a
roller exceeds 8 or 10 feet in length, it should be divided ifc
the middle and have an iron axle pass through each part,
upon which they revolve, taking care to diminish the fric-



.MECHANICAL DIVISION OF SOILS. 8ft

lion at the ends by a thick washer. The larger the r oiler
the greater surface is brought into contact with the ground
the more level it leaves it, besides giying a much easier
draught to the team. To accomplish this without too much
increase of weight, they are frequently constructed with
heads at the ends and closely covered like a drum. For
dividing compact clay lumps or for scarifying meadows,
they are sometimes made with large numbers of short, stout
angular teeth, which penetrate and crush the clods, and tear
up and loosen the old turf and rnoss of meadows.

THE CULTIVATOR

Has a light frame in the form of a triangular or wedge-
harrow with handles behind like those of a plow, and with
several small iron teeth in the frame, somewhat resembling
a double share plow. They are of various sizes, slightly
differing in construction, and are of great utility in stirring
the surface of the ground and destroying weeds.

T H E DRILL BARROW

Is useful for dibbling in seeds, and when the surface is
mellow it will open the furrows for the reception of the
seed, and drop, cover and roll the earth firmly over it. The
smaller ones are trundled along like a wheelbarrow, by hand;
and the larger for field planting, having several fixtures for
drilling, are drawn by a horse. They are suited to the
smaller seeds, and some have been made to plant corn,
beans and peas successfully.

SURFACE OR SHOVEL PLOWS.
These are a cheap, light instrument, much used in Eng-
land, and to some extent in this country, for paring the
stubble and grass roots on the surfaces of old meadows.
These are raked together into heaps, and with whatever
addition there may be of earth or clay are burnt, and the
ashes and roasted earth scattered over the soil. There is
an apparent objection to this practice in the expulsion of
the carbon and nitrogen stored up in the plants and in the
waste of the coarse material of the decaying vegetables
which is so useful in effecting the salutary mechanical divi-
sions of clay soils. But by a reference to what has been
said on the efficiency of burnt clay or broken brick, their
great utility as fertilizers will be seen. This and the ash
of the plants remain, and both are useful in quickening the



84 AMERICAN AGRICULTURE.

action of soils and accelerating those changes so beneficial
to vegetation ; and even the re-absorption of the atmosphe-
ric gases, it is probable will more than compensate for their
equivalents expelled in burning. The effect is further
salutary in destroying grubs, insects and their larvae, and
the seeds of noxious weeds.



CHAPTER VI.



THE GRASSES, CLOVERS, MEADOWS AND PASTURES.

The order designated by naturalists as Gra?nin<z, is one
of the largest and most universally diffused in the vegetable
kingdom. It is also the most important lo man and to all
the different tribes of graminiverous animals. Tt includes not
only what are usually cultivated as grasses, but also rice,
millet, wheat, rye, barley, oats, maize, sugar cane, broom
corn, the wild cane and the bamboos sometimes reaching 60
feet in height. They ar universally characterized as hav-
ing a cylindrical stem ; hollow or sometimes as in the sugar
cane and bamboos, filled with a pith-like substance, with
solid joints and alternate leaves originating at each joint,
surrounding the stem at their base and forming a sheath
upwards of greater or less extent; and the flowers and seed are
protected with a firm straw-like covering, which is the chaff
in the grains and grass seeds, and the husk in Indian corn.
They yield large proportions of sugar, starch and fatty mat-
ler, besides those peculiarly animal products, albumen and
fibrine, not only in the seeds, but also and especially before
the latter are fully matured, in the stems, joints and leaves.
These qualities give to them the great value which they
possess in agriculture.

Of the grasses cultivated for the use of animals in England,
there are said to be no less than 200 varieties ; while in the
occupied portion of this country, embracing an indefinitely



THE GRASSES, MEADOWS, E'L ( . 85

greater variety of latitude, climate and situation, we hardly
cultivate twenty. The number and excellence of our natu-
ral grosses are probably unsurpassed in any quarter of the
globe, fora similar extent of country: but this is a depart-
ment of our natural history hitherto but partially explored,
and we are left mostly to conjecture as to their numbers and
comparative quality. From the health and thrift of the
wild animals, the buffalo, deer, &c., as well as the rapid
growth and fine condition of our domestic animals when
permitted to range over the prairies, or through the natural
marshes and woods in every season of the year, even during
the severe and protracted winters in latitude 44 north,* the
superior richness and enduringness of our natural grasses,
may be inferred. We shall limit ourselves mostly to those
which have been introduced, and successfully cultivated in
this country.

TIMOTHY, CAT'S TAIL OR HERD'S GRASS (Phleum pra-
tense.) We are inclined to place the Timothy first in the
list of the grasses. It is indigenous to this country and
flourishes in all soils except such as are wet, too light, dry
or sandy, and is found in perfection on the rich clays and
clay loams which lie between 40 and 44 north latitude. Tt
is a perennial, easy of cultivation, hardy and of luxuriant
growth, and on its favorite soil, yields from 1 1 to 2 tons of hay
per acre at one cutting. Sinclair estimates its value for hay
when in seed to be double that cut in flower. From its
increased value when ripe it is cut late, and in consequence
of the exhaustion from maturing its seed, it produces but
little aftermath or rowen. It vegetates early in the spring,
and when pastured, yields abundantly throughout the season.
Both the grass and hay are highly relished by cattle, sheep
and horses ; and its nutritive quality, in the opinion of prac-
tical men, stands decidedly before any other. It is also a
valuable crop for seed, an acre of prime grass yielding from

*' The writer had seen large droves of the French and Indian ponies come into
the settlements about Green Bay and the Fox river in Wisconsin, in the spring, in
;;ood working condition, after wintering on the natural grasses of that region. The
pony grass may perhaps be mentioned as one of the principal of the winter grasses



Online LibraryRichard Lamb AllenA Brief compend of American agriculture → online text (page 8 of 44)