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What I Know Of Farming

Farm Implements

A good workman, it is said, does not quarrel with his tools--which, if
true, I judge is due to the fact that he generally manages to have good
ones. To work hard throughout a long day under a burning sun, is
sufficiently trying, without rendering the labor doubly repugnant by the
use of ill-contrived, imperfect, inefficient implements.

The half-century which nearly bounds my recollection has witnessed great
improvements in this respect. The Plow, mainly of wood, wherewith my
father broke up his stony, hide-bound acres of New-Hampshire pebbles and
gravel, in my early boyhood, would now be spurned if offered as a gift
to the poorest and most thriftless farmer among us; and the Hoes which
were allotted to us boys in those days, after the newer and better had
been assigned to the men, would be rejected with disdain by the
stupidest negro in Virginia. Though there is still room for improvement,
we use far better implements than our grandfathers did, with a
corresponding increase in the efficiency of our labor; but the
cultivators of Spain, Portugal, and the greater part of Europe, still
linger in the dark ages in this respect. Their plows are little better
than the forked sticks which served their barbarian ancestors, and their
implements generally are beneath contempt. With such implements, deep
and thorough culture is simply impossible, unless by the use of the
spade; and he must be a hard worker who produces a peck of Wheat or half
a bushel of Indian Corn per day by the exclusive use of this tool. The
soil of France is so cut up and subdivided into little strips of two or
three roods up to as many acres each--each strip forming the entire
patrimony of a family--that agricultural advancement or efficiency is,
with the great mass of French cultivators, out of the question. Hence, I
judge that, outside of Great Britain and Australia, there is no country
wherein an average year's work produces half so much grain as in our
own, in spite of our slovenly tillage, our neglect and waste of
fertilizers, and the frequent failures of our harvests. Belgium,
Holland, and northern France, can teach us neatness and thoroughness of
cultivation; the British isles may fairly boast of larger and surer
crops of Wheat, Oats, Potatoes, and Grass, than we are accustomed to
secure; but, in the selection of implements, and in the average
efficiency of labor, our best farmers are ahead of then all.

Bear with me, then, while I interpose a timid plea for our inventors and
patentees of implements, whose solicitations that a trial, or at least
an inspection, be accorded to their several contrivances, are too often
repelled with churlish rudeness. I realize that our thriving farmers
are generally absorbed in their own plans and efforts, and that the
agent or salesman who insists on an examination of his new harrow, or
pitchfork, or potato-digger, is often extravagant in his assumptions,
and sometimes a bore. Still, when I recollect how tedious and how
back-breaking were the methods of mowing Grass and reaping Grain with
the Scythe and Sickle, which held unchallenged sway in my early boyhood,
I entreat the farmer who is petitioned to accord ten or fifteen minutes
to the setting forth, by some errant stranger, of the merits of his new
horse-hoe or tedder, to give the time, if he can; and that without sour
looks or a mien of stolid incredulity. The Biblical monition that, in
evincing a generous hospitality, we may sometimes entertain angels
unawares, seems to me in point. A new implement may be defective and
worthless, and yet contain the germ or suggest the form of a thoroughly
good one. Give the inventor or his representative a courteous hearing if
you can, even though this should constrain you to make up the time so
lost after the day's work would otherwise have ended.

I suspect that the average farmer of our completely rural districts
would be surprised, if not instructed, by a day's careful scrutiny of
the contents of one of our great implement warehouses. So many and such
various and ingenious devices for pulverizing the earth applying
fertilizers to the soil, planting or sowing rapidly, eradicating weeds,
economizing labor in harvesting, etc., will probably transcend not
merely his experience, but his imagination; and every one of these
myriad implements is useful in its place, though no single farmer can
afford to buy all or half of them. It will yet, I think, be found
necessary by the farmers of a school-district, if not of a township, to
meet and agree among themselves that one will buy this implement,
another that, and so on, until twenty or thirty such devices as a Stump
or Rock-Puller, a Clod-Crusher, Thrashing-Machine, Fanning-Mill, etc.,
shall be owned in the neighborhood--each by a separate farmer, willing
to live and let live--with an understanding that each shall be used in
turn by him who needs it; and so every one shall be nearly as well
accommodated as though he owned them all.

For the number and variety of useful implements increase so rapidly,
while their usefulness is so palpable, that, though it is difficult to
farm efficiently without many if not most of them, it is impossible that
the young farmer of moderate means should buy and keep them all. True,
he might hire when he needed, if what he wanted were always at hand; but
this can only be assured by some such arrangement as I have suggested,
wherein each undertakes to provide and keep that which he will most
need; agreeing to lend it whenever it can be spared to any other member
of the combination, who undertakes to minister in like manner to his
need in return.

I think few will doubt that the inventions in aid of Agriculture during
the last forty years will be far surpassed by those of the forty years
just before us. The magnificent fortunes which, it is currently
understood, have rewarded the inventors of the more popular Mowers,
Reapers, etc., of our day, are sure to stimulate alike the ingenuity and
the avarice of clever men throughout the coming years, and to call into
existence ten thousand patents, whereof a hundred will be valuable, and
ten or twelve eminently useful. Plowing land free from stumps and stones
cannot long be the tedious, patience-trying process we have known it.
The machinery which will at once pulverize the soil to a depth of two
feet, fertilize and seed it, not requiring it to be trampled by the
hoofs of animals employed in subsoiling and harrowing, will soon be in
general use, especially on the spacious, deep, inviting prairies of the
Great West.--But I must defer what I have to say of Steam and its uses
in Agriculture to another chapter.

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Previous: Science In Agriculture

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