Richard Lamb Allen.

The American farm book or compend of American agriculture; being a practical treatise on soils, manures, draining, irrigation, grasses, grain, roots, fruits .. online

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Online LibraryRichard Lamb AllenThe American farm book or compend of American agriculture; being a practical treatise on soils, manures, draining, irrigation, grasses, grain, roots, fruits .. → online text (page 2 of 36)
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contained in excess ; yet to sustain a healthy prolific vegeta-


tion, they must hold, and in a form fitted to its support, silex t
alumina, carbonate of lime, sulphate of lime, potash, soda,
magnesia, sulphur, phosphorus, oxide of iron, manganese,
chlorine, and probably iodine. These are called the inor-
ganic or earthy parts of soils* as they are found almost
exclusively in combination witn earths, salts, or minerals.
They however, constitute from less than 0.5 (one half of one)
to over 10 per cent, of all vegetables. In addition to these,
fertile soils must also contain carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and
hydrogen, which are called the organic parts of soils, from
their great preponderance in vegetables and animals, of
which they constitute from about 90, to over 99 per cent,
of their entire substance.

Clay soils are usually denominated cold and wet, from
their strong affinity to water, which they generally hold in
too great excess for rapid or luxuriant vegetation. The
alumina which exists in clay, not only combines with water
forming a chemical compound, but the minute division of
its particles and their consequent compactness, oppose seri-
ous obstacles to the escape of such as comes in contact with it.
Hence, the necessity of placing it in a condition to obviate
these essential defects.

The most effectual method of disposing of the surplus
water in clay soils, is by underdraining. This draws off
rapidly, yet by imperceptible degrees, all the excess of water,
and opens it to the free admission of atmospheric air ; and
this, in its passage through the soil, imparts heat and such of
the gases it contains, as are useful in sustaining vegetation.
When these are not constructed, open drains should be
formed wherever water stands after rains. The slight ele-
vation and depression of the surface made by careful plow-
ing, will probably be sufficient, if they terminate in some
ravine or artificial ditch, and have size and declivity enough
to pass off the water rapidly.

Clay soils are greatly improved by coarse vegetable ma-
nures, strp.w, corn-stalks, chips, &c., which tend to the sepa-
ration of its particles. The addition of sand is very benefi-
cial, but this is too expensive for large fields. Lime is also
a valuable material for a clay soil, as by the chemical combi-
nations which are thereby induced, the extreme tenacity of
the soil is broken up ; while the lime adds an ingredient of
fertility, not before possessed by it, perhaps, to an adequate
extent. Gypsum has the same effect, in a more powerful


degree. Paring and burning, (by which, the surface con-
taining vegetable matter, is collected into heaps and fired,
reducing the mass to a charred heap, which is then spread
over and mixed with the soil,) produce the same result.
This is a practice which has been long in use in different
parts of Europe ; but although attended with immediate and
powerful results, it is too expensive for general introduction
into a country, where labor is high, and land and its products
comparatively cheap.

Wherever frosts and snow abound, the plowing of clay
lands for spring crops, should be done in the autumn if prac-
ticable ; by which their adhesiveness is temporarily destroyed,
the earth is enriched by the snows, and finely pulverized
by the frost, and they are left in the finest condition for early
spring sowing, and without additional working. If plowed
in the spring, it should be done when they are neither too
wet nor dry ; if the former, the earth subsequently bakes, and
for a long time, it is almost impenetrable to the hoe or the
teeth of the harrow ; if too dry, they are so compact as to be
turned over only with great effort, and then in solid lumps.
The action of the atmosphere, will pulverize these masses
of baked earth after a time ; but not sufficiently early in most
of our northern states, for the convenience or advantage of
such crops as are immediately to follow the plowing. For
much of the South, plowing clay lands in the autumn is worse
than useless ; as the loose earth thus thrown up, is soon re-
duced by the heavy winter rains to a compact surface, ap-
parently as unfitted for cultivation, without subsequent plow-
ing, as the incrustations of lava from a volcano.

No soils are so tenacious of the manures which may be
incorporated with them as the clays. They form an inti-
mate combination, both mechanical and chemical,* and hold

* By mechanical, in the sense above used, is understood the external
relation of bodies, which is nearly equivalent in its meaning in this
connection, to artificial. Thus the clay envelopes the manure* and
from its impervious character shields it from escape either by drainage
or evaporation, and almost as effectually, as if it were enclosed in an
earthen vessel.

By chemical is meant, its internal or constitutional character. Thus
clay not only absorbs the gases which are brought into contact with it
from manures, from moisture and from air, as a sponge absorbs water ;
but it also forms new combinations with them, which change the ori-
ginal nature of these elementary principles, and from light evanescent
gases, they become component parts of solid bodies, in which condi-
tion they are retained till exhausted by the growing vegetation.

These terms are important, and should be fully understood. For


them securely against waste from drainage or evaporation
for an indefinite time, till the growing crops demand them 1 .
They also greedily seize upon and hoard up all such fertil-
izing principles as are conveyed to them by the air and
rains. We may mention as an example of their efficiency
in abstracting vegetable nutrition from the atmosphere, that
many of them, when thrown out from a great depth below
the surface, and entirely destitute of organic remains (vege-
table or animal matter), after an exposure for some months
to its meliorating influence, become capable of bearing large
crops, without the aid of manure. This is particularly true
of the clays which rest on the Onondaga limestone, an ex-
tensive group occupying the central and north-western part
of New York.

The clays are admirably adapted to the production of
most of the grains, and the red and white clovers cultivated
in the United States. These they yield in great profusion
and of the best quality ; and so peculiarly suited are they to
permanent meadows and pasturage, that they are styled by
way of eminence, grass lands. They are justly character-
ised as strong and lasting soils ; and when properly managed

the purpose of still more clearly elucidating the subject to the mind
of the young student, we give some further examples. If we take a
piece of crystalized marble, compact uncry stall zed limestone, and
chalk, we shall have three substances exactly alike in their chemical
character ; for they are all chemical combinations of carbonic acid and
lime, associated together in precisely the same proportions. But in
their external arrangements, as they appear in a recent fracture to the
eye and touch, that is, in their mechanical arrangements, they are
totally dissimilar.

Again If we take the pure lime, (quick lime),that is obtained from
each of the foregoing by subjecting them to an intense heat, by w"hich
the carbonic acid is expelled, and pour upon it nearly one third of its
weight of water, great heat is developed, and the lime both mechanical-
Zy absorbs, and chemically combines with it, forming a new compound,
or salt, which is a hydrate of lime.

If sand (mostly silex) be added to the lime with water, and mechan-
ically mixed or stirred together and allowed to remain for a sufficient
time, they will combine chemically, forming silicate of lime, the
common mortar of stone masons.

Sand (silex) stirred in with clay,(an impure alumina), is mechani-
cally mixed ; if then subject to a strong heat as in making brick, they
become chemically united, forming silicate of alumina, inseparable by
any human means short of. the chemists crucible. If we divide or
separate a stick by splitting or cutting, it is a mechanical; and if by
burning or charring, it is a chemical change. Thus every alteration,
either in nature or art, is referable to one of the above conditions or


and put to their appropriate use, they are esteemed as among
the choicest of the farmer's acres.

and treatment of sandy soils, are in almost every particular
the reverse of those of clay. They do not possess the
property of adhesiveness, and they have but little affinity for
water, which escapes from them almost as soon as it falls.
They have- but a slight hold upon the manures which are
diffused through them ; they are loose in their texture, and
may be plowed at any time, but with most advantage when
wet. The sowing or planting should follow immediately.

As clay soils are much benefited by a mixture of sand, so
likewise are sandy soils greatly improved by the addition of
clay, yet in a much higher degree ; for though it would never
pay, as a general rule, to add sand to clay, yet the addition of
a few loads of the stiffest clay to a light sand, would in almost
every instance, much more than compensate for the trouble
and expense. For this purpose, the clay should be thinly
spread in autumn, upon sward land previously plowed, and
the winter's frost will effectually separate the particles. It
should then be harrowed thoroughly and deeply in the spring,
and subsequently plowed if necessary. Such a dressing on
a light crawling sand, is more than equivalent to an equal
quantity of the best manure, and will be permanent in its
effects. Clay and sand are necessary to each other, as they
both contain qualities which are essential to a good soil ; and
that will always be found the best, which has the proper
proportion of each.

Sandy soils are improved by the frequent use of a heavy
roller ; it cannot , be used too often. They require to be
made more compact, and any treatment that secures this
object, will be advantageous.

Lime, by its chemical action on the constituents of soils,
while it separates clay, renders sand more adhesive ; and
when cheaply obtained, it is always a profitable dressing for
sandy soils, to the full amount they may require. Gypsum,
in considerable quantities, has an effect similar to lime, both
on clay and sand ; and when added in smaller portions, pro-
duces a striking increase in the crops of sandy soils. Clay
marls, containing either carbonate, sulphate, or phosphate
of lime, are of great value to sandy soils. Equally bene-
ficial are ashes, leached or unleached, peat, or vegetable
manures of any kind. Some calcareous sands, containing
a large proportion of lime, like those of Egypt and exten-


sive regions in the Barbary States, will produce luxuriantly,
if supplied with a slight addition of manure and an abun-
dance of water. Sandy soils can never be profitably culti-
vated, till they have acquired sufficient compactness and fer-
tility, to sustain a good growth of grass or clover ; and
when once brought to this condition, they are among the
most valuable for tillage, especially for such crops as require
early maturity.

They are, at all times, easily plowed and worked ; they re-
quire no draining ; and though light and dry, are quick and
kindly soils, giving an immediate and full return for the labor
and manure bestowed upon them. When in a condition to
produce grass, sheep are admirably adapted to preserve and
augment their fertility, and by their incessant . migrations
over it, their sharp hoofs pack the surface closely, producing
the same effect as the roller/

GRAVELLY SOILS are in some respects similar to sand, but
much less desirable, being appropriately termed hungry.
Like the latter, they are peculiarly leachy, but in an increased
degree, permitting the rapid escape of manures, both by
evaporation and drainage. ,Such as are calcareous or com-
posed of limestone pebbles, are in a great measure not sub-
ject to these objections; as the disposing affinities of the
lime, (of which enough will be found to exist in the soil in
a finely comminuted or divided state, and in this condition
is enabled to act efficiently,) have a tendency to retain the
vegetable matters, thus compacting the soil, and holding
whatever food of plants may from time to time be given to
it, for the wants of future crops. Unless of this latter de-
scription, gravelly soils should not be subjected to tillage,
but appropriated to pasturage, when sheep will keep them
in the best and most profitable condition of which they are

LOAMY SOILS being intermediate between clay and sand,
possess characteristics, and require a treatment approximating
to one or the other, according to the predominance of either
quality. They are among the most desirable soils for the
various purposes of agriculture.

MARLY AND CALCAREOUS SOILS have always a full supply
of lime, and like the loams, they frequently incline towards a
clay or sand, requiring a management corresponding to their
character. Putrescent and vegetable manures increase their
fertility, and these are held with great tenacity till exhausted
by crops. In durability or lastingness, they cannot be ex-


ceeded ; and few are more profitable for cultivation or

ALLUVIAL SOILS, are such as have been formed from the
washing of streams. They vary in their characteristics,
from a mixed clay to an almost pure sand ; but gene rally, they
combine the components of soils in such proportions as are
designated by loamy soils, or sandy loams. "When thus
formed they are exceedingly fertile ; and if subject to the an-
nual overflow of a stream, having its sources far above them,
they usually receive such an addition to their productiveness,
as enables them to yield large crops perpetually, without
further manuring.

They are for the most part easily worked, and are suited
to the various purposes of tillage and meadows ; but when
exposed to overflowing, it is safer to keep them in grass, as
this crop is less liable to injury by a freshet ; and where sub-
ject to washing from the same cause, a well-matted sod is
the best protection which can be offered against it. Many
of the natural grasses which are found in these meadows,
yield a fodder of the highest value.

PEATY SOILS. These are composed almost wholly of peat,
and are frequently called vegetable soils. They are exten-
sively diffused between the latitudes of 40 and 60 north,
at a level with the ocean, and are frequently found in much
lower latitudes, when the elevation of the surface produces
a corresponding temperature. They generally occupy low
swampy levels, but sometimes exist on slight, northern
declivities, where the water in its descent is arrested by a
succession of basin-shaped cavities.

Their peaty character is acquired, by the growth and par-
tial decay, through successive ages, of various aquatic plants,
the principal being the sphagnums and lichens. In swamps,
many of which were probably small lakes in their origin,
the peat is found of an unknown depth, reaching in some
instances, beyond 30 and 40 feet. On declivities and occa-
sional levels, the peat is sometimes only a few inches in
thickness. It is of a blackish or dark brown color, and exists
in various stages of decay, from the almost perfect state of
fallen stumps and leaves, to an imperfectly defined, ligneous
mass, or even an impalpable powder.

In its natural state, it is totally unfit for any profitable
vegetation, being saturated with water, of an antiseptic na-
ture, which, for an almost indefinite time, resists putrefaction
or decay. When thrown out of its native bed and exposed


to drain for a few months, much of it is fit for fuel ; and it
is always of advantage to the muck heaps, as an absorbent
of the liquid and gaseous portions of animal and other vola-
tile manures ; or it is of great utility when applied alone to
a dry, gravelly or sandy soil.

Cultivation of Peat Soils. When it is desirable to culti-
vate a peaty soil, the first process is to drain it of all the
moisture which has given to it, and sustained its present
character. The drains must be made sufficiently near to
each other, and on every side of the bed ; or they must, at
least, be so located as effectually to intercept and carry off all
the springs or running water which saturates the soil ; and
they should be deep enough to prevent any injurious capil-
lary attraction of the water to the surface. When it has
been thoroughly drained, the hommocs if any, must be cut
up with the mattoc or spade, and thrown into heaps, and
after they are sufficiently dried, they may be burned, and the
ashes scattered over the surface. These afford the best top
dressing it can receive.^ Sand or fine gravel, with a large
quantity of barn-yard manure and effete lime, should then be
added. On some of these, according as their composition
approaches to ordinary soils, good crops of oats, corn, roots,
&c., may be grown ; but they are better suited to meadows,
and when thus prepared, they will yield great burthens of
clover, timothy, red top, and such of the other grasses as are
adapted to moist soils. Subsequent dressings of sand, lime,
manure and wood ashes, or of all combined, may be after-
wards required, when the crops are deficient, or the grasses

Peat contains a large proportion of carbon, and the silicates
in which such soils are deficient, (and which they procure
only in small proportions from the farm-yard manure, but
more largely from the sand or gravel,) are essential to be
added, in order to furnish an adequate coating for corn stalks,
straw and the valuable grasses. As they are exhausted,
they must be again supplied or the crops will fail. Besides
yielding an important' food to the crop, lime is essential to
produce decomposition in the mass of vegetable matter, as
well as to combine with and aid in furnishing to the grow-
ing plants, such of their food as the atmosphere contains.
Ashes are among the best applications, as they possess the
silicates, lime, potash, and other inorganic materials of plants
in great abundance, and in a form readily adapted to vegeta-


ble nutrition. Gypsum is also a valuable manure for peaty


The efficiency of soils in producing good crops, depends
much on the subsoil. If this consists of impervious clay or
hard-pan, which prevents the drainage of the water, it is
evident, the accumulation of heavy rains will materially in-
jure the vegetation above ; for it is certain, that while no- ,
thing is more essential to productiveness than an adequate
supply of moisture for the roots, nothing is more injurious
than their immersion in stagnant water. If this description
of subsoil be deep, the only remedy is thorough underdrain-
ing ; if shallow, the crust may be broken up with the subsoil
plow and gradually mixed with the surface soil, when the
water will readily escape below.

A variety of plows have been constructed for this purpose ;
but unless it be intended to deepen the soil by an admixture
of manures, they must not be used for bringing up the
subsoil too rapidly, to mix with that on the surface. In ad-
dition to the more ready escape of water, thus secured by
breaking it up, the air is also admitted, which enables the
roots to strike deeper, and draw their nourishment from a
much greater depth. The increased distance through
which the roots penetrate, furnishes them with additional
moisture during a season of drought, thereby securing a lux-
uriant crop when it might otherwise be destroyed. This is
frequently a great item in the profit of the farmer ; as, be-
sides the increase of crop which follows a dry, hot season,
when a full supply of moisture is furnished, the product is
usually of better quality ; and the general deficiency of agri-
cultural produce, which ensues from seasons of drought,
makes his own more valuable.

As a result of this practice, there is also a gradual increase
in the depth of the soil ; as the fine and more soluble parti-
cles of the richer materials above, are constantly working
down and enriching the loosened earth below. In time,
this becomes good soil ; and this, in proportion to its depth,
increases the area from which the roots derive their nutri-
ment. So manifest are the advantages which have followed
the use of subsoil plows, that they have been extensively
introduced of late years, among the indispensable tools of
the better class of agriculturists.


- When the subsoil is loose and leachy, (consisting of an
excess of sand or gravel,) thereby allowing the too ready
escape of moisture and the soluble portions of manures, the
subsoil plow is not only unnecessary, but positively injurious.
In this case, the surface soil should be somewhat deepened
by the addition of vegetable matters, so as to afford a greater
depth through which the soluble manures must settle, be-
fore they can get beyond the reach of the roots ; and the
supply of moisture would thereby be much augmented. It
is better, however, to keep lands of this character in wood or
permanent pasture. They are at best, ungrateful soils, and
make a poor return for the labor and manure bestowed upon

If there be a diversity in the character of the surface and
subsoils, one being inclined to sand and gravel, and the
other to marl or clay, a great improyement will be secured,
by allowing the plow to reach so far down as to bring up
and incorporate with the soil, some of the ingredients in
which it is wanting. This admixture is also of remarkable
benefit in old or long-cultivated fields, which have become
deficient in inorganic matters, and in their texture.

The effect of long continued cultivation, besides ex-
hausting what is essential to the earthy part of plants, is to
break down the coarser particles of the soil, by the mechani-
cal action of the plow, harrow, &c. ; and in a much more
rapid degree, by the chemical combinations, which cultiva-
tion and manuring produce. A few years suffice to exhibit
striking examples in the formation and decomposition of
rocks and stones. Stalactites and various specimens of lime-
stone, indurated clays, sandstone and breccias or pudding
stones, are formed, in favorable circumstances, almost under
our eye; while some limestones, shales, sandstones, &c.,
break down in large masses annually, from the combined
effect of moisture, heat, and frost. The same changes, on a
smaller scale, are constantly going forward in the soil, and
much more rapidly while under cultivation. The general
tendency of these surface changes, is towards pulverisation.
The particles forming the soil, from the impalpable mite of
dust to the large pebbles, and even the stones and rocks are
continually broken up by the combined action of the vital
roots, and the manures incorporated with the soil, by which
new elements of vegetable food are developed and become
available, and in a form so minute as to be imbibed by the
epongioles of the roots ; and by the absorbent vessels, they


are afterwards distributed in their appropriate places in the
plant. Where this action has been going on for a long
period, a manifestly beneficial effect has immediately fol-
lowed, from bringing up and mixing with the superficial
earth, portions of the subsoil which have never before been
subject to cultivation.

A subsoil which is permeable by water, is sometimes
imperceptibly beneficial to vegetation, not only by allowing
the latent moisture to ascend and yield a necessary supply
to the plants ; but a moisture frequently charged with lime
and various other salts, which the capillary attraction
brings from remote depths below the surface. It is probably
from this cause, that some soils produce crops far beyond the
yield which might be reasonably looked for, from the fertili-
sing materials actually contained in them. This operation
is rapidly going forward during the heat of summer. The
water thus charged with saline matters, ascends and evapo-
rates at and below the surface, leaving them diffused
throughout the soil. After long continued dry weather, a
thin, whitish coating of these salts, is frequently discernible
on the ground. The enriching effect of these deposites, is
one of the compensating results, seldom discovered or
acknowledged perhaps, yet wisely designed by a beneficent

Online LibraryRichard Lamb AllenThe American farm book or compend of American agriculture; being a practical treatise on soils, manures, draining, irrigation, grasses, grain, roots, fruits .. → online text (page 2 of 36)