Improving The Soil
We hear a great deal about the exhaustion or wearing out of the soil.
Many uncomfortable people are always declaring that our lands will no
longer produce profitable crops, and hence that farming will no longer
Now it is true, unfortunately, that much land has been robbed of its
fertility, and, because this is true, we should be most deeply
interested in everything that leads to the improvement of our soils.
When our country was first discovered and trees were growing everywhere,
we had virgin soils, or new soils that were rich and productive because
they were filled with vegetable matter and plant food. There are not
many virgin soils now because the trees have been cut from the best
lands, and these lands have been farmed so carelessly that the vegetable
matter and available plant food have been largely used up. Now that
fresh land is scarce it is very necessary to restore fertility to these
exhausted lands. What are some of the ways in which this can be done?
There are several things to be done in trying to reclaim worn-out land.
One of the first of these is to till the land well. Many of you may have
heard the story of the dying father who called his sons about him and
whispered feebly, "There is great treasure hidden in the garden." The
sons could hardly wait to bury their dead father before, thud, thud,
thud, their picks were going in the garden. Day after day they dug; they
dug deep; they dug wide. Not a foot of the crop-worn garden escaped the
probing of the pick as the sons feverishly searched for the expected
treasure. But no treasure was found. Their work seemed entirely useless.
Second crop of cowpeas on old, abandoned land]
"Let us not lose every whit of our labor; let us plant this pick-scarred
garden," said the eldest. So the garden was planted. In the fall the
hitherto neglected garden yielded a harvest so bountiful, so unexpected,
that the meaning of their father's words dawned upon them. "Truly," they
said, "a treasure was hidden there. Let us seek it in all our fields."
The story applies as well to-day as it did when it was first told.
Thorough culture of the soil, frequent and intelligent tillage--these
are the foundations of soil-restoration.
Along with good tillage must go crop-rotation and good drainage. A
supply of organic matter will prevent heavy rains from washing the soil
and carrying away plant food. Drainage will aid good tillage in allowing
air to circulate between the soil particles and in arranging plant food
so that plants can use it.
But we must add humus, or vegetable matter, to the soil. You remember
that the virgin soils contained a great deal of vegetable matter and
plant food, but by the continuous growing of crops like wheat, corn, and
cotton, and by constant shallow tillage, both humus and plant food have
been used up. Consequently much of our cultivated soil to-day is hard
There are three ways of adding humus and plant food to this lifeless
land: the first way is to apply barnyard manure (to adopt this method
means that livestock raising must be a part of all farming); the second
way is to adopt rotation of crops, and frequently to plow under crops
like clover and cowpeas; the third way is to apply commercial
To summarize: if we want to make our soil better year by year, we must
cultivate well, drain well, and in the most economical way add humus and
Select a small area of ground at your home and divide it into four
sections, as shown in the following sketch:
On Section _A_ apply barnyard manure; on Section _B_ apply
commercial fertilizers; on Section _C_ apply nothing, but till
well; on Section _D_ apply nothing, and till very poorly.
_A_, _B_, and _C_ should all be thoroughly plowed and harrowed.
Then add barnyard manure to _A_, commercial fertilizers to _B_, and
harrow _A_, _B_, and _C_ at least four times until the soil is
mellow and fine. _D_ will most likely be cloddy, like many fields
that we often see. Now plant on each plat some crop like cotton,
corn, or wheat. When the plats are ready to harvest, measure the
yield of each and determine whether the increased yield of the best
plats has paid for the outlay for tillage and manure. The pupil
will be much interested in the results obtained from the first
Now follow a system of crop-rotation on the plats. Clover can
follow corn or cotton or wheat; and cowpeas, wheat. Then determine
the yield of each plat for the second crop. By following these
plats for several years, and increasing the number, the pupils will
learn many things of greatest value.
Next: Manuring The Soil
Previous: Draining The Soil