Often land which was once thought excellent is left to grow up in weeds.
The owner says that the land is worn out, and that it will not pay to
plant it. What does "worn out" mean? Simply that constant cropping has
used up the plant food in the land. Therefore, plants on worn-out land
are too nearly starved to yield bountifully. Such wearing out is so
easily prevented that no owner ought ever to allow his land to become
poverty-stricken. But in case this misfortune has happened, how can the
land be again made fertile?
On page 24 you learned that phosphoric acid, potash, and nitrogen are
the foods most needed by plants. "Worn out," then, to put it in
another way, usually means that a soil has been robbed of one of these
plant necessities, or of two or of all three. To make the land once more
fruitful it is necessary to restore the missing food or foods. How can
this be done? Two of these plant foods, namely, phosphoric acid and
potash, are minerals. If either of these is lacking, it can be supplied
only by putting on the land some fertilizer containing the missing food.
Fortunately, however, nitrogen, the most costly of the plant foods, can
be readily and cheaply returned to poor land.
As explained on page 32 the leguminous crops have the power of drawing
nitrogen from the air and, by means of their root-tubercles, of storing
it in the soil. Hence by growing these crops on poor land the expensive
nitrogen is quickly restored to the soil, and only the two cheaper plant
foods need be bought. How important it is then to grow these leguminous
plants! Every farmer should so rotate his planting that at least once
every two or three years a crop of legumes may add to the fruitfulness
of his fields.
Moreover these crops help land in another way. They send a multitude of
roots deep into the ground. These roots loosen and pulverize the soil,
and their decay, at the end of the growing season, leaves much humus in
the soil. Land will rarely become worn out if legumes are regularly and
From the fact that they do well in so many different sections and in so
many different climates, the following are the most useful legumes:
alfalfa, clovers, cowpeas, vetches, and soy beans.
=Alfalfa.= Alfalfa is primarily a hay crop. It thrives in the Far West,
in the Middle West, in the North, and in the South. In fact, it will do
well wherever the soil is rich, moist, deep, and underlaid by an open
subsoil. The vast areas given to this valuable crop are yearly
increasing in every section of the United States. Alfalfa, however,
unlike the cowpea, does not take to poor land. For its cultivation,
therefore, good fertile land that is moist but not water-soaked should
Good farmers are partial to alfalfa for three reasons. First, it yields
a heavy crop of forage or hay. Second, being a legume, it improves the
soil. Third, one seeding lasts a long time. This length of life may,
however, be destroyed by pasturing or abusing the alfalfa.
Alfalfa is different from most plants in this respect: the soil in which
it grows must have certain kinds of bacteria in it. These cause the
growth of tubercles on the roots. These bacteria, however, are not
always present in land that has not been planted in alfalfa. Hence if
this plant is to be grown successfully these helpful bacteria must
sometimes be supplied artificially.
There are two very easy ways of supplying the germs. First, fine soil
from an alfalfa field may be scattered broadcast over the fields to be
seeded. Second, a small mass of alfalfa tubercle germs may be put into a
liquid containing proper food to make these germs multiply and grow;
then the seeds to be planted are soaked in this liquid in order that
the germs may fasten on the seeds.
Before the seeds are sowed the soil should be mellowed. Over this
well-prepared land about twenty pounds of seed to the acre should be
scattered. The seed may be scattered by hand or by a seed-sower. Cover
with a light harrow. The time of planting varies somewhat with the
climate. Except where the winters are too severe the seed may be sowed
either in the spring or in the fall. In the South sow only in the fall.
During the first season one mowing, perhaps more, is necessary to insure
a good stand and also to keep down the weeds. When the first blossoms
appear in the early summer, it is time to start the mower. After this
the alfalfa should be cut every two, three, or four weeks. The number of
times depends on the rapidity of growth.
This crop rarely makes a good yield the first year, but if a good stand
be secured, the yield steadily increases. After a good stand has been
secured, a top-dressing of either commercial fertilizer or stable manure
will be very helpful. An occasional cutting-up of the sod with a disk
harrow does much good.
=Clovers.= The different kinds of clovers will sometimes grow on hard or
poor soil, but they do far better if the soil is enriched and properly
prepared before the seed is sowed. In many parts of our country it has
been the practice for generations to sow clover seed with some of the
grain crops. Barley, wheat, oats, and rye are the crops with which
clover is usually planted, but many good farmers now prefer to sow the
seed only with other grass seed. Circumstances must largely determine
the manner of seeding.
Crimson clover, which is a winter legume, usually does best when seeded
alone, although rye or some other grain often seems helpful to it. This
kind of clover is an excellent crop with which to follow cotton or corn.
It is most conveniently sowed at the last cultivation of these crops.
Common red clover, which is the standard clover over most of the
country, is usually seeded with timothy or with orchard grass or with
some other of the grasses. In sowing both crimson and red clover, about
ten to fifteen pounds of seed for each acre are generally used.
To make good pastures, white and Japan clover are favorites. White
clover does well in most parts of America, and Japan clover is
especially valuable in warm Southern climates. Both will do well even
when the soil is partly shaded, but they do best in land fully open to
Careful attention is required to cure clover hay well. The clover should
always be cut before it forms seed. The best time to cut is when the
plants are in full bloom.
Let the mower be started in the morning. Then a few hours later run over
the field with the tedder. This will loosen the hay and let in air and
sunshine. If the weather be fair let the hay lie until the next day, and
then rake it into rows for further drying. After being raked, the hay
may either be left in the rows for final curing or it may be put in
cocks. If the weather be unsettled, it is best to cock the hay. Many
farmers have cloth covers to protect the cocks and these often aid
greatly in saving the hay crop in a rainy season. In case the hay is put
in cocks, it should be opened for a final drying before it is housed.
=Cowpeas.= The cowpea is an excellent soil-enricher. It supplies more
fertilizing material to turn into the soil, in a short time and at small
cost, than any other crop. Moreover, by good tillage and by the use of a
very small amount of fertilizer, the cowpea can be grown on land too
poor to produce any other crop. Its roots go deep into the soil. Hence
they gather plant food and moisture that shallow-rooted plants fail to
reach. These qualities make it an invaluable help in bringing worn-out
lands back to fertility.
The cowpea is a warm-weather legume. In the United States it succeeds
best in the south and southwest. It has, however, in recent years been
grown as far north as Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Michigan, and
Minnesota, but in these cold climates other legumes are more useful.
Cowpeas should never be planted until all danger of frost is past. Some
varieties make their full growth in two months; others need four months.
There are about two hundred varieties of cowpeas. These varieties differ
in form, in the size of seed and of pod, in the color of seed and of
pod, and in the time of ripening. They differ, too, in the manner of
growth. Some grow erect; others sprawl on the ground. In selecting
varieties it is well to choose those that grow straight up, those that
are hardy, those that fruit early and abundantly, and those that hold
their leaves. The variety selected for seed should also suit the land
and the climate.
The cowpea will grow in almost any soil. It thrives best and yields most
bountifully on well-drained sandy loams. The plant also does well on
clay soils. On light, sandy soils a fairly good crop may be made, but on
such soils, wilt and root-knot are dangerous foes. A warm, moist,
well-pulverized seed-bed should always be provided. Few plants equal the
cowpea in repaying careful preparation.
If this crop is grown for hay, the method of seeding and cultivating
will differ somewhat from the method used when a seed crop is desired.
When cowpeas are planted for hay the seeds should be drilled or
broadcasted. If the seeds are small and the land somewhat rich, about
four pecks should be sowed on each acre. If the seeds are comparatively
large and the soil not so fertile, about six pecks should be sowed to
the acre. It is safer to disk in the seeds when they are sowed broadcast
than it is to rely on a harrow to cover them. In sowing merely for a
hay crop, it is a good practice to mix sorghum, corn, soy beans, or
millet with the cowpeas. The mixed hay is more easily harvested and more
easily cured than unmixed cowpea hay. Shortly after seeding, it pays to
run over the land lightly with a harrow or a weeder in order to break
any crust that may form.
Mowing should begin as soon as the stalks and the pods have finished
growing and some of the lower leaves have begun to turn yellow. An
ordinary mower is perhaps the best machine for cutting the vines. If
possible, select only a bright day for mowing and do not start the
machine until the dew on the vines is dried. Allow the vines to remain
as they fell from the mower till they are wilted; then rake them into
windrows. The vines should generally stay in the windrows for two or
three days and be turned on the last day. They should then be put in
small, airy piles or piled around a stake that has crosspieces nailed to
it. The drying vines should never be packed; air must circulate freely
if good hay is to be made. As piling the vines around stakes is somewhat
laborious, some growers watch the curing carefully and succeed in
getting the vines dry enough to haul directly from the windrows to the
barns. Never allow the vines to stay exposed to too much sunshine when
they are first cut. If the sun strikes them too strongly, the leaves
will become brittle and shatter when they are moved.
When cowpeas are grown for their pods to ripen, the seeds should be
planted in rows about a yard apart. From two to three pecks of seeds to
an acre should be sufficient. The growing plants should be cultivated
two or three times with a good cultivator. Cowpeas were formerly
gathered by hand, but such a method is of course slow and expensive.
Pickers are now commonly used.
Some farmers use the cowpea crop only as a soil-enricher. Hence they
neither gather the seeds nor cut the hay, but plow the whole crop into
the soil. There is an average of about forty-seven pounds of nitrogen in
each ton of cowpea vines. Most of this valuable nitrogen is drawn by the
plants from the air. This amount of nitrogen is equal to that contained
in 9500 pounds of stable manure. In addition each ton of cowpea vines
contains ten pounds of phosphoric acid and twenty-nine pounds of potash.
There is danger in plowing into the soil at one time any bountiful green
crop like cowpeas. As already explained on page 10, a process
called capillarity enables moisture to rise in the soil as plants need
it. Now if a heavy cowpea crop or any other similar crop be at one
plowing turned into the soil, the soil particles will be so separated as
to destroy capillarity. Too much vegetation turned under at once may
also, if the weather be warm, cause fermentation to set in and "sour the
land." Both of these troubles may be avoided by cutting up the vines
with a disk harrow or other implement before covering them.
The custom of planting cowpeas between the rows at the last working of
corn is a good one, and wherever the climate permits this custom should
=Vetches.= The vetches have been rapidly growing in favor for some
years. Stock eat vetch hay greedily, and this hay increases the flow of
milk in dairy animals and helps to keep animals fat and sleek. Only two
species of vetch are widely grown. These are the tare, or spring vetch,
and the winter, or hairy, vetch. Spring vetch is grown in comparatively
few sections of our country. It is, however, grown widely in England and
northern continental Europe. What we say here will be confined to hairy
After a soil has been supplied with the germs needed by this plant, the
hairy vetch is productive on many different kinds of soil. The plant is
most vigorous on fertile loams. By good tillage and proper fertilization
it may be forced to grow rather bountifully on poor sandy and clay
loams. Acid or wet soils are not suited to vetch. Lands that are too
poor to produce clovers will frequently yield fair crops of vetch. If
this is borne in mind, many poor soils may be wonderfully improved by
growing on them this valuable legume.
Vetch needs a fine well-compacted seed-bed, but it is often sowed with
good results on stubble lands and between cotton and corn rows, where it
is covered by a cultivator or a weeder.
The seeds of the vetch are costly and are brought chiefly from Germany,
where this crop is much prized. The pods ripen so irregularly that they
have to be picked by hand.
In northern climates early spring sowing is found most satisfactory. In
southern climates the seeding is best done in the late summer or early
fall. As the vetch vines have a tendency to trail on the ground, it is
wisest to plant with the vetch some crop like oats, barley, rye, or
wheat. These plants will support the vetch and keep its vines from being
injured by falling on the ground. Do not use rye with vetch in the
South. It ripens too early to be of much assistance. If sowed with oats
the seeding should be at the rate of about twenty or thirty pounds of
vetch and about one and a half or two bushels of oats to the acre. Vetch
is covered in the same way as wheat and rye.
Few crops enrich soil more rapidly than vetch if the whole plant is
turned in. It of course adds nitrogen to the soil and at the same time
supplies the soil with a large amount of organic matter to decay and
change to humus. As the crop grows during the winter, it makes an
excellent cover to prevent washing. Many orchard-growers of the
Northwest find vetch the best winter crop for the orchards as well as
for the fields.
=Soy, or Soja, Bean.= In China and Japan the soy bean is grown largely
as food for man. In the United States it is used as a forage plant and
as a soil-improver. It bids fair to become one of the most popular of
the legumes. Like the cowpea, this bean is at home only in a warm
climate. Some of the early-ripening varieties have, however, been
planted with fair success in cold climates.
While there are a large number of varieties of the soy bean, only about
a dozen are commonly grown. They differ mainly in the color, size, and
shape of the seeds, and in the time needed for ripening. Some of the
varieties are more hairy than others.
Soy beans may take many places in good crop-rotations, but they are
unusually valuable in short rotations with small grains. The grains can
be cut in time for the beans to follow them, and in turn the beans can
be harvested in the early fall and make way for another grain crop.
It should always be remembered that soy beans will not thrive unless the
land on which they are to grow is already supplied, or is supplied at
the time of sowing, with bean bacteria.
The plant will grow on many different kinds of soil, but it needs a
richer soil than the cowpea does. As the crop can gather most of its own
nitrogen, it generally requires only the addition of phosphoric acid and
potash for its growth on poor land. When the first crop is seeded, apply
to each acre four hundred pounds of a fertilizing mixture which contains
about ten per cent of phosphoric acid, four per cent of potash, and from
one to two per cent of nitrogen.
If the crop is planted for hay or for grazing, mellow the ground well,
and then broadcast or drill in closely about one and a half bushels of
seed to each acre. Cover from one to two inches deep, but never allow a
crust to form over the seed, for the plant cannot break through a crust
well. When the beans are planted for seeds, a half bushel of seed to the
acre is usually sufficient. The plants should stand in the rows from
four to six inches apart, and the rows should be from thirty to forty
inches from one another. Never plant until the sun has thoroughly warmed
the land. The bean may be sowed, however, earlier than cowpeas. A most
convenient time is just after corn is planted. The rows should be
cultivated often enough to keep out weeds and grass and to keep a good
dust mulch, but the cultivation must be shallow.
As soy beans are grown for hay and also for seed, the harvesting will,
as with the other legumes, be controlled by the purpose for which the
crop was planted. In harvesting for a hay crop it is desirable to cut
the beans after the pods are well formed but before they are fully
grown. If the cutting is delayed until the pods are ripe, the fruit will
shatter badly. There is a loss, too, in the food value of the stems if
the cutting is late. The ordinary mowing-machine with a rake attached is
generally the machine used for cutting the stalks. The leaves should be
most carefully preserved, for they contain much nourishment for stock.
Whenever the beans are grown for seeds, harvesting should begin when
three fourths of the leaves have fallen and most of the pods are ripe.
Do not wait, however, until the pods are so dry that they have begun to
split and drop their seeds. A slight amount of dampness on the plants
aids the cutting. The threshing may be done with a flail, with
pea-hullers, or with a grain-threshing machine.
The beans produce more seed to the acre than cowpeas do. Forty bushels
is a high yield. The average yield is between twenty and thirty bushels.
Crop FOOD FOR ANIMALS LIFE REMARKS
Alfalfa Hay Perennial All animals like it; hogs
eat it even when it is dry.
Red clover Hay and pasture Perennial Best of the clovers for hay.
Alsike clover Hay and pasture Perennial Seeds itself for twenty
years. This clover is a
great favorite with bees.
Mammoth clover Hay and pasture Perennial Best for green manure.
White clover Pasture Perennial Excellent for lawns and
Japan clover Pasture Perennial Excellent for forest and
Cowpea Hay and grain Annual Used for hay, green
manure, and pastures.
Soy bean Hay and grain Annual Often put in silo with corn.
Vetches Hay and soiling Annual Pasture for sheep and
swine. With cereals
it makes excellent hay
The progress that a nation is making can with reasonable accuracy be
measured by the kind of live stock it raises. The general rule is, poor
stock, poor people. All the prosperous nations of the globe, especially
the grain-growing nations, get a large share of their wealth from
raising improved stock. The stock bred by these nations is now, however,
very different from the stock raised by the same nations years ago. As
soon as man began to progress in the art of agriculture he became
dissatisfied with inferior stock. He therefore bent his energies to
raise the standard of excellence in domestic animals.
By slow stages of animal improvement the ugly, thin-flanked wild boar of
early times has been transformed into the sleek Berkshire or the
well-rounded Poland-China. In the same manner the wild sheep of the Old
World have been developed into wool and mutton breeds of the finest
excellence. By constant care, attention, and selection the thin,
long-legged wild ox has been bred into the bounteous milk-producing
Jerseys and Holsteins or into the Shorthorn mountains of flesh. From the
small, bony, coarse, and shaggy horse of ancient times have descended
the heavy Norman, or Percheron, draft horse and the fleet Arab courser.
The matter of meat-production is one of vital importance to the human
race, for animal food must always supply a large part of man's ration.
Live stock of various kinds consume the coarser foods, like the grasses,
hays, and grains, which man cannot use. As a result of this consumption
they store in their bodies the exact substances required for building up
the tissues of man's body.
When the animal is used by man for food, one class of foods stored away
in the animal's body produces muscle; another produces fat, heat, and
energy. The food furnished by the slaughter of animals seems necessary
to the full development of man. It is true that the flesh of an animal
will not support human life so long as would the grain that the animal
ate while growing, but it is also true that animal food does not require
so much of man's force to digest it. Hence the use of meat forces a part
of man's life-struggle on the lower animal.
When men feed grain to stock, the animals receive in return power and
food in their most available forms. Men strengthen the animal that they
themselves may be strengthened. One of the great questions, then, for
the stock-grower's consideration is how to make the least amount of food
fed to animals produce the most power and flesh.