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A Lesson Of To-day
About Tree-planting
Accounts In Farming
Agricultural Exhibitions
Alkalis Salt Ashes Lime
Bones Phosphates Guano
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Co-operation In Farming
Commercial Fertilizers Gypsum
Draining Generally

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What I Know Of Farming




A Lesson Of To-day








The current season is quite commonly characterized as the coldest, the
hottest, the wettest, or the dryest, that was ever known. Men
undoubtingly assert that they never knew a Summer so hot, or a Winter so
cold, when in fact several such have occurred within the cycle of their
experience. Hardly anything else is so easily or so speedily forgotten
as extremes of temperature or inclemencies of weather, after they have
passed away. I presume there have been six to ten Summers, since the
beginning of this century, as hot and as dry as that of 1870; yet the
fact remains that, throughout the Eastern section of our country, to say
nothing of the rest, the heat and drouth of the current Summer have been
quite remarkable. For two months past, counting from the 10th of June,
nearly every day has been a hot one, with blazing sunshine throughout,
rarely interrupted and slightly modified by infrequent and inadequate
showers; and, as a general result of this tropical fervor, the earth is
parched and baked from ten to forty inches from the surface; streams
and ponds are dried up or shrunk to their lowest dimensions; forests are
often ravaged and desolated by fires; our pastures are dry and brown;
while crops of Hay, Oats, Potatoes, Buckwheat, etc., either have proved,
or certainly must prove, a disappointment to the hopes of the growers. I
estimate the average product for 1870 of the farms of New-England,
eastern New-York and New-Jersey, as not more than two-thirds of a full
harvest; while the earth remains at this moment so baked and incrusted
that several days' rain is needed to fit it for Fall plowing and the
sowing of Winter grain.

Such seasons must not be regarded as extraordinary. The Summer of 1854
was nearly or quite as dry as this; and I presume one or two such have
intervened since that time. The heat of 1870 is remarkable for its
persistence rather than its intensity. Every Summer has its heated term;
that of 1870 has been longer in this region than any before it that I
can remember, though doubtless the recollection of others might supply
its perfect counterpart. Nearly every Summer has its drouth; the present
is peculiar rather for its early commencement than its extreme duration.
As our country is more and more denuded of its primitive forests,
drouths longer and severer even than this may naturally be expected.
What our farmers have to do is, to prepare for and provide against them.

Such seasons are disastrous to those only who farm as if none such were
to be expected. Those who plow deeply, fertilize bountifully, and
cultivate thoroughly, need not fear them, as fields of Hay and Oats
already harvested, and of Corn and Potatoes now hastening to maturity in
almost every township of the suffering region, abundantly attest. I
doubt that more luxuriant crops of Corn, Tobacco, or Onions, were ever
grown on the bottom-lands of the Connecticut Valley than may be seen
there to-day, with failures all about them, and under drouth so fierce
that Blackberries and Whortleberries are withered when half grown; even
the bushes in some cases perishing for lack of moisture.

My last trip took me along the banks of the upper Hudson, through the
rugged county of Warren, N. Y. The narrow, irregular intervale of this
mountain stream appear to have been cultivated for the last fifty or
sixty years by a hardy race, who look mainly to the timber of the wild
region north of them for a subsistence. In such a district, whatever
ministers to the sustenance of man or beast bears a high price; and
Corn, Rye, Oats, Buckwheat, Apples and Grass, are grown wherever the
soil is not too rugged or too sterile for culture. I presume half a crop
of Hay has been secured throughout this valley, with perhaps a full crop
of Rye where Rye was sown; but of Oats the yield will be considerably
less than that, while of Corn and Buckwheat it will range from ten
bushels per acre down to nothing. When I, last Summer, passed through
spacious field after field of Corn in Virginia that would not mature a
single ear, I spoke of it as something unknown at the North; but there
are fields planted to Corn, in the upper valley of the Hudson, that will
not produce a single sound ear, nor one bushel even of the shortest and
poorest "nubbins;" and alongside of these are acres of Buckwheat,
blossoming at an average hight of four inches, and not likely to get two
inches higher.

Now, if this land were so poor or so rocky that good crops could not be
extracted from it, far be it from me to disparage the agriculture
whereof the results are so meagre; but I am speaking of a river
intervale of considerable natural fertility, from which deep and
thorough cultivation would insure ample harvests, subject only to the
contingency of early frosts in Autumn. Were these lands fertilized and
cultivated as they might be, and as mine are, they would yield 30
bushels of Rye or 60 of Indian Corn per acre, and would richly repay the
husbandman's outlay and efforts. Now, I venture to say that all the
grain I saw growing in the valley of the Hudson through Warren County
will not return the farmer 75 cents for each day's labor expended
thereon, allowing nothing for the use of the land.

"But how shall we obtain fertilizers?" I am often asked. "We are poor;
we can afford to keep but few cattle; Guano, Phosphate, Bones, Lime,
etc., are beyond our means. Even if we could pay for them, the cost of
transportation to our out-of-the-way nooks would be heavy. We cannot
deal with our lands so bountifully as you do, but must be content to do
as we can."

To all which I make answer: No man ever lacked fertilizers who kept his
eyes wide open and devoted two months of each Fall and Winter to
collecting and preparing them. Wherever swamp muck may be had, wherever
bogs exist or flags or rushes grow, there are materials which, carted
into the barn-yard in Autumn or Winter, may be drawn out fertilizers in
season for Corn-planting next Spring. Wherever a pond or slough dries up
in Summer or Autumn, there is material that may be profitably
transformed into next year's grass or grain. In the absence of all
these--and they are seldom very far from one who knows how to look for
them--rank weeds of all sorts, if cut while green and tender, or forest
leaves, gathered in the Fall, used for litter in the stable, and thence
thrown into the yard, will serve an excellent purpose. Nay, more: I am
confident that the farmer who lacks these, but has access to a bed or
bank of simple clay, may cart 200 loads of it in November into an
ordinary farm-yard, have it trampled into and mixed with his manure in
the Winter, and draw it out in the Spring, excellently fitted to enrich
his sandy or gravelly land, and insure him, in connection with deep and
thorough culture, a generous yield of Corn, even in such a season as the
present. Dr. George B. Loring, the most successful farmer in
Massachusetts, uses naked beach sand in abundance as litter for his 80
cows, mixes it with his manure throughout the Winter, and draws out the
compound to fertilize his clay meadows in the Spring, with most
satisfactory results. Depend on it, no man need lack fertilizers who
begins in season and is willing to work for them.

And yet once more:

From the hills which inclose this valley of the upper Hudson (and from
ever so many other valleys as well), brooks and rivulets, copious in
Spring, when their waters are surcharged and discolored by the richest
juices of the uplands, pour down in frequent cascades and dance across
the intervale to be lost in the river. There is scarcely an acre of that
intervale which might not be irrigated from these streams at a very
moderate outlay of work at the season when work is least pressing: the
water thus held back by dams being allowed to flow thence gently and
equably across the intervale, conveying not moisture only, but fertility
also, to every plant growing thereon. I am confident that I passed many
places on the upper Hudson, as well as on the Connecticut and
Ammonoosuc, where 100 faithful days' work providing for irrigation would
have given 100 bushels of grain, or 10 tuns of hay additional this year,
and as much per annum henceforth, at a cost of not more than two days'
work in each year hereafter.

Farmers, but above all farmers' sons, think of these things.





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Previous: The Farmer's Calling



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