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Draining Generally

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What I Know Of Farming

Draining Generally

Having narrated my own experience in draining with entire unreserve, I
here submit the general conclusions to which it has led me:

I. While I doubt that there is any land above water that would not be
improved by a good system of underdrains, I am sure that there is a
great deal that could not at present be drained to profit. Forests,
hill-side pastures, and most dry gravelly or sandy tracts, I place in
this category. Perhaps one-third of New-England, half of the Middle
States, and three-fourths of the Mississippi Valley, may ultimately be
drained with profit.

II. All swamp lands without exception, nearly all clay soils, and a
majority of the flat or gently rolling lands of this country, must
eventually be drained, if they are to be tilled with the best results. I
doubt that there is a garden on earth that would not be (unless it
already had been) improved by thorough underdraining.

III. The uses of underdrains are many and diverse. To carry off surplus
water, though the most obvious, stands by no means alone. 1.
Underdrained land may be plowed and sowed considerably earlier in Spring
than undrained soil of like quality. 2. Drained fields lose far less
than others of their fertility by washing. 3. They are not so liable to
be gullied by sudden thaws or flooding rains. 4. Where a field has been
deeply subsoiled, I am confident that it will remain mellow and
permeable by roots longer than if undrained. 5. Less water being
evaporated from drained than from undrained land, the soil will be
warmer throughout the growing season; hence, the crop will be heavier,
and will mature earlier. 6. Being more porous and less compact, I think
the soil of a drained field retains more moisture in a season of drouth,
and its growing plants suffer less therefrom, than if it were undrained.
In short, I thoroughly believe in underdraining.

IV. Yet I advise no man to run into debt for draining, as I can imagine
a mortgage on a farm so heavy and pressing as to be even a greater
nuisance than stagnant water in its soil. Labor and tile are dear with
us; I do not expect that either will ever be so cheap here as in England
or Belgium. What I would have each farmer in moderate circumstances do
is to drain his wettest field next Fall--that is, after finishing his
haying and before cutting up his corn--taking care to secure abundant
fall to carry off the water in time of flood, and doing his work
thoroughly. Having done this, let him subsoil deeply, fertilize amply,
till carefully, and watch the result. I think it will soon satisfy him
that such draining pays.

V. I do not insist on tile as making the only good drain; but I have had
no success with any other. The use of stone, in my opinion, is only
justified where the field to be drained abounds in them and no other use
can be made of them. To make a good drain with ordinary boulders or
cobble-stones requires twice the excavation and involves twice the labor
necessarily expended on tile-draining; and it is neither so effective
nor so durable. Earth will be carried by water into a stone drain; rats
and other vermin will burrow in it and dig (or enlarge) holes thence to
the surface; in short, it is not the thing. Better drain with stone
where they are a nuisance than not at all; but I predict that you will
dig them up after giving them a fair trial and replace them with tile.
In a wooded country, where tile were scarce and dear, I should try
draining with slabs or cheap boards dressed to a uniform width of six or
eight inches, and laid in a ditch dug with banks inclined or sloped to
the bottom, so as to form a sort of V; the lower edge of the two
side-slabs coming together at the bottom, and a third being laid widely
across their upper edges, so as to form a perfect cap or cover. In firm,
hard soil, this would prove an efficient drain, and, if well made, would
last twenty years. Uniformity of temperature and of moisture would keep
the slabs tolerably sound for at least so long; and, if the top of this
drain were two feet below the surface, no plowing or trampling over it
would harm it.

VI. As to draining by what is called a Mole Plow, which simply makes a
waterway through the subsoil at a depth of three feet or thereabout, I
have no acquaintance with it but by hearsay. It seems to me morally
impossible that drains so made should not be lower at some points than
at others, so as to retain their fill of water instead of carrying it
rapidly off; and I am sure that plowing, or even carting heavy loads
over them, must gradually choke and destroy them. Yet this kind of
draining is comparatively so cheap, and may, with a strong team, be
effected so rapidly, that I can account for its popularity, especially
in prairie regions. Where the subsoil is rocky, it is impracticable;
where it is hard-pan, it must be very difficult; where it is loose sand,
it cannot endure; but in clays or heavy loams, it may, for a few years,
render excellent service. I wish the heavy clays of Vermont, more
especially of the Champlain basin, were well furrowed or pierced by even
such drains; for I am confident that they would temporarily improve both
soil and crop; and, if they soon gave out, they would probably be
replaced by others more durable.

--I shall not attempt to give instructions in drain-making; but I urge
every novice in the art to procure Waring's or some other work on the
subject and study it carefully: then, if he can obtain at a fair price
the services of an experienced drainer, hire him to supervise the work.
One point only do I insist on--that is, draining into a main rather than
an open ditch or brook; for it is difficult in this or any harsher
climate to prevent the crumbling of your outlet tile by frost. Below the
Potomac or the Arkansas, this may not be apprehended; and there it may
be best to have your drains separately discharge from a road-side bank
or into an open ditch, as they will thus inhale more air, and so help
(in Summer) to warm and moisten the soil above them; but in our climate
I believe it better to let your drains discharge into a covered main or
mains as aforesaid, than into an open ditch or brook.

Tile and labor are dear with us; I presume labor will remain so. But, in
our old States, there are often laborers lacking employment in November
and the Winter months; and it is the wisest and truest charity to
proffer them pay for work. Some will reject it unless the price be
exorbitant; but there are scores of the deserving poor in almost every
rural county, who would rather earn a dollar per day than hang around
the grog-shops waiting for Spring. Get your tiles when you can, or do
not get them at all, but let it be widely known that you have work for
those who will do it for the wages you can afford, and you will soon
have somebody to earn your money. Having staked out your drains, set
these to work at digging them, even though you should not be able to
tile them for a year. Cut your outlet deep, and your land will profit by
a year of open drains.

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