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What I Know Of Farming

Muck How To Utilize It

The time will be, I cannot doubt, when chemists can tell us the exact
positive or relative value of a cord of Muck--how this swamp or that
pond affords a choice article, while the product of another will hardly
pay for digging. There may be chemists whose judgment on these points is
now worth far more than mine, since mine is worth exactly nothing. I
do know, however, that Muck is a valuable fertilizer, and that digging
and composting it does pay. I judge that I have transferred at least
three thousand loads of it from my swamp to my upland; and the effect
had been all that I expected. Let me speak of Muck generally, in the
light, of my own experience.

Wherever rocks in ridges come to the surface of a valley, plain, or
gentle slope, water is apt to be collected or retained by them, forming
ponds or shallower pools, which may or may not dry up in Summer, but
which are seldom dry late in Autumn, when plants are dying and leaves
are falling. The latter, caught in their descent by the harsh winds of
the season, are swept along the bare, dry ground, till they strike the
water, which arrests their progress and soon engulfs them. Thus an acre
of watery surface will often collect, and retain the dead foliage of
five to ten acres of forest; and next Fall will render its kindred
tribute, and the next, and the next, for ever. There cannot be less than
fifty millions of acres of Swamps in our old States (including Maine);
whereof I presume the larger area was covered with water until the slow
contributions of leaves and weeds filled them above the level at which
water is no longer retained on the surface. And still, they are so moist
and boggy, and their rank vegetation is so retentive, that the leaves
swept in from the adjacent hills and glades are firmly retained and aid
to increase the depth of their vegetable mold, which varies from a few
inches to twenty and even thirty feet. In my old County of Westchester,
I roughly estimate that there are at least five thousand acres of bog,
whereof but a very few hundreds have yet been subdued to the uses of

Whoever digs a quantity of Swamp Muck and applies it directly to his
fields or garden, will derive little or no immediate benefit therefrom.
It is green, sour, cold, and more likely to cover his farm thickly and
persistently with Sorrel, Eye-smart, Rag-weed, Parsley, and other
infestations, than to add a bushel per acre to his crop of Grain or
Roots. And thus many have tried Muck, and, on trial, pronounced it a
pestilent humbug.

But let any farmer turn his whole force into a bog or marsh directly
after finishing his Summer harvest (when it is apt to be driest and
warmest), and, having freed it of water to the best of his ability, dig
and draw out one hundred cords of its black, oozy substance, and he will
know better than to unite in that hasty judgment. If the bog be near his
farm-yard, let the Muck be shoveled at once into a cart and drawn
thither; but, if not, let it be simply brought out in wheel-barrows and
deposited, not more than two feet deep, on the most convenient bank that
is well drained and perfectly dry. Here let it dry and drain till after
Fall harvest, and then begin to draw it gradually into the yards, and
especially where it may be worked over by swine and scratched over for
seeds and insects by fowls. Assuming that the farm-yard is lowest in the
centre and allows no liquid to escape save by evaporation, the Muck may
well be dumped on the drier sides; thence, after being worked over and
trampled through and through, to be shoveled into the centre and
replaced by fresh arrivals. A hundred cords may thus be so mixed and
ripened as to be fit to draw out next May and used as a fertilizer for
Grain or Roots, though, if not so treated, it should lie exposed to sun
and wind a full year; being applied in the Fall to crops of Winter grain
or spread upon the fields to be planted or sowed next Spring. All the
manure made during the Winter should be spread over that which lies in
the yard at least monthly; and then new Muck drawn in, to be rooted or
scratched over, trampled into the underlying strata, and overspread in
its turn. Thus treated, I am confident that each hundred cords of Muck
will be equal in value to an equal quantity of manure, though it may not
give up its fertilizing properties so freely to the first crop that
follows its application. I have land that did not yield (in pasture) the
equivalent of half a tun of hay pet annum when I bought it, that now
yields at least three tuns of good hay per annum; and its renovation is
mainly due to a free application of Swamp Muck.

To those who have a good stock of animals, with Muck convenient to their
yards, I would not recommend any other treatment than the foregoing; but
there are many who keep few animals, or whose muck-beds lie at the back
of their farms, two or three hundred rods from their barns; while they
wish to fertilize the fields in this quarter, which have been slighted
in former applications, because of the distance over which manure had to
be hauled. If these possess or can buy good hard-wood, house-made Ashes
at twenty-five cents or less per bushel, I would say, Mix these well, at
the rate of two or three bushels to the card, with your Muck as you dig
it; work it over the next Spring, and apply it the ensuing Fall, so as
to give it a full year to ripen and sweeten, and it will be all right.
But, if you have not and cannot get the Ashes, and can procure dirty,
refuse Salt from some meat-packer or wholesale grocer, apply this as you
would have applied the Ashes, but in rather larger quantity; and, if
you can get neither Ashes nor Salt, use quick Lime, as fresh and hot
from the kiln as you can apply it. The best Lime is that from burned
Oyster-Shells; I consider this, if nowise slaked, nearly equal to refuse
Salt; but Oyster-Shell Lime is too dear at most inland points; and here
the refuse of the kilns--that which is not good enough for
mason-work--must be used. Usually, the lime-burner has a load or more of
this at the clearing out of every kiln, which he will sell quite cheap
if it be taken out of his way at once; and this should be looked for and
secured. Being inferior in quality (often because imperfectly burned),
it should be applied in larger quantity--not less than four bushels to
each cord of Muck.

* * * * *

I will not here describe the process of mixing Salt with Lime commended
by Prof. Mapes, because it is not easy to bring these two ingredients
together so as to mix them with the Muck as it is dug: and, though I
have used them after Prof. Mapes's recipe, and purpose to do so
hereafter, I do not feel certain that any positive advantage results
from their blended application as a Chloride of Lime. If I should gain
further light on this point before completing this series, I shall not
fail to impart it.

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