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What I Know Of Farming

Insects Birds

If I were to estimate the average absolute loss of the farmers of this
country from Insects at $100,000,000 per annum, I should doubtless be
far below the mark. The loss of fruit alone by the devastations of
insects, within a radius of fifty miles from this City, must amount in
value to Millions. In my neighborhood, the Peach once flourished, but
flourishes no more, and Cherries have been all but annihilated. Apples
were till lately our most profitable and perhaps our most important
product; but the worms take half our average crop and sadly damage what
they do not utterly destroy. Plums we have ceased to grow or expect; our
Pears are generally stung and often blighted; even the Currant has at
last its fruit-destroying worm. We must fight our paltry adversaries
more efficiently, or allow them to drive us wholly from the field.

Now, I have no doubt that our best allies in this inglorious warfare are
the Birds. They would save us, if we did not destroy them. The British
plowman, turning his sod with a myriad of crows, blackbirds, etc.,
chasing his steps and all but getting under his feet in their eager
quest of grubs, bugs, etc., is a spectacle to be devoutly thankful for.
Whenever clouds of birds shall habitually darken our fields in May and
(less notably) throughout the Summer months, we may reasonably hope to
grow fair crops of our favorite Fruits from year to year, and realize
that we owe them to the constant, and zealous, though not quite
disinterested, efforts of our friends, the Birds.

But I do not regard the ravages of Insects as entirely due to the
reckless destruction and consequent scarcity of our Birds. I hold that
their multiplication and their devastations are largely incited by the
degeneracy of our plants caused by the badness of our culture. On this
point, consider a statement made to me, some fifteen or twenty years
ago, by the late Gov. William F. Packer, of Pennsylvania:

"I know (said Gov. P.) the narrow valley of a stream that runs into the
west branch of the Susquehanna, which was cleared of the primitive
forest some forty or fifty years since, and has ever since been
alternately in tillage and grass. A road ran through the middle of it,
dividing it into two narrow fields. A few years ago, this road was
abandoned, and the whole of this little valley, including the road-way,
thrown into a single field, which was thereupon sown to Wheat. At
harvest-time, this remarkable phenomenon was presented: A good crop of
sound grain on the strip four or fire rods wide formerly covered by the
road; while nearly every berry on either side of it was destroyed by the
weevil or midge."

Now I do not infer from this fact that insect ravages are wholly due
to our abuse and exhaustion of the soil. I presume that Wheat and other
crops would be devastated by insects if there were no slovenly, niggard,
exhausting tillage. But I do firmly hold that at least half our losses
by insects would be precluded if our fields were habitually kept in
better heart by deep culture, liberal fertilizing, and a judicious
rotation of crops. I heard little of insect ravages in the wheat-fields
of Western New-York throughout the first thirty years of this century;
but, when crop after crop of Wheat had been taken from the same fields
until they had been well nigh exhausted of their Wheat-forming elements,
we began to hear of the desolation wrought by insects; and those ravages
increased in magnitude until Wheat-culture had to be abandoned for
years. I believe that we should have heard little of insects had Wheat
been grown on those fields but one year in three since their redemption
from the primal forest.

But, whatever might once have been, the Philistines are upon us. We are
doomed, for at least a generation, to wage a relentless war against
insects multiplied beyond reason by the neglect and short-comings of our
predecessors. We are in like condition with the inhabitants of the
British isles a thousand years ago, whose forefathers had so long
endured and so unskillfully resisted invasion and spoliation by the
Northmen that they had come to be regarded as the sea-kings' natural
prey. For generations, it has been customary hereabout to slaughter
without remorse the birds, and let caterpillars, worms, grasshoppers,
etc., multiply and ravage unresisted. We must pay for past errors by
present loss and years of extra effort. And, precisely because the task
is so arduous, we ought to lose no time in addressing ourselves to its

The first step to be taken is very simple. Let every farmer who realizes
the importance and beneficence of Birds teach his own children and
hirelings that, except the Hawk, they are to be spared, protected,
kindly treated, and (when necessary) fed. They are to be valued and
cherished as the voluntary police of our fields and gardens, constantly
employed in fighting our battles against our ruthless foes. The boy who
robs a bird's nest is robbing the farmer of a part of his crops. He who
traverses a farm shooting and mangling its feathered sentinels
diminishes its future product of Grain and nearly destroys that of
Fruit. The farmer might as well consent that any strolling ruffian
should shoot his Horses or Cattle as his Birds. Begin at home to make
this truth felt and respected, and it will be the easier to impress it
also on your neighbors.

Next, there should be neighborhood or township associations for the
protection of insect-eating birds. We must not merely agree to let them
live--we must cherish and protect them. I believe that very simple cups
or bowls of cast-iron, having each a hole in its centre of suitable
size, that need not cost sixpence each, and could be fastened to the
side of a tree with one nail lightly driven, would in time be adopted by
many birds as nesting strongholds, whence they might laugh to scorn
their predacious enemies. If every harmless bird could build its nest
among us in a place where its eggs would be safe from hawks, crows,
cats, boys, and other robbers, the number of such birds would quickly be
doubled and quadrupled.

And we must summon the law to our aid. Though law can do little or
nothing against stealthy, skulking nest-plunderers, it can help us
materially in our warfare with the cowardly vagabonds who traverse our
fields with musket or rifle, blazing away at every unsuspecting robin or
thrush that they can discover. Make it trespass, punishable with fine
and imprisonment, to shoot on another's land without his express
permission, and the cowardly massacre of the farmers' humble allies
would be checked at once, and, when public sentiment had been properly
enlightened, might, in civilized regions, be arrested altogether.

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