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What I Know Of Farming

Plowing Good And Bad

There are so many wrong ways to do a thing to but one right one that
there is no reason in the impatience too often evinced with those who
contrive to swallow the truth wrong end foremost, and thereupon insist
that it won't do. For instance: A farmer hears something said of deep
plowing, and, without any clear understanding of or firm faith in it,
resolves to give it a trial. So he buys a great plow, makes up a strong
team, and proceeds to turn up a field hitherto plowed but six inches to
a depth of a foot: in other words, to bury its soil under six inches of
cold, sterile clay, sand, or gravel. On this, he plants or sows grain,
and is lucky indeed if he realizes half a crop. Hereupon, he reports to
his neighbors that Deep Plowing is a humbug, as he suspected all along;
but now he knows, for he has tried it. There are several other wrong
ways, which I will hurry over, in order to set forth that which I regard
as the right one.

Here is a middling farmer of the old school, who walks carefully in the
footsteps of his respected grandfather, but with inferior success,
because sixty annual harvests, though not particularly luxuriant, have
partially exhausted the productive capacity of the acres he inherited.
He now garners from fifteen to thirty bushels per acre of Corn, from ten
to twenty of Wheat, from fifteen to twenty of Rye, from twenty to thirty
of Oats, and from a tun to a tun and a half of Hay, as the season proves
more or less propitious, and just contrives to draw from his sixty to
one hundred acres a decent subsistence for his family; plowing, as his
father and grandfather did, to a depth of five to seven inches: What can
Deep Plowing do for him?

I answer--By itself, nothing whatever. If in every other respect he is
to persist in doing just as his father and his grandfather did, I doubt
the expediency of doubling the depth of his furrows. True, the worst
effects of the change would be realized at the outset, and I feel
confident that his six inches of subsoil, having been made to change
places with that which formerly rested upon it, must gradually be
wrought upon by air, and rain, and frost, until converted into a
tolerably productive soil, through which the roots of most plants would
easily and speedily make their way down to the richer stratum which,
originally surface, has been transposed into subsoil. But this exchange
of positions between the original surface and subsoil is not what I mean
by Deep Plowing, nor anything like it. What I do mean is this:

Having thoroughly underdrained a field, so that water will not stand
upon any part of its surface, no matter how much may there be deposited,
the next step in order is to increase the depth of the soil. To this
end, procure a regular sub-soil plow of the most approved pattern,
attach to it a strong team, and let it follow the breaking-plow in its
furrow, lifting and pulverizing the sub-soil to a depth of not less than
six inches, but leaving it in position exactly where it was. The
surface-plow turns the next furrow upon this loosened sub-soil, and so
on till the whole field is thus pulverized to a depth of not less than
twelve inches, or, better still, fifteen. Now, please remember that you
have twice as much soil per acre to fertilize as there was before;
hence, that it consequently requires twice as much manure, and you will
have laid a good foundation for increased crops. I do not say that all
the additional outlay will be returned to you in the increase of your
next crop, for I do not believe anything of the sort; but I do believe
that this crop will be considerably larger for this generous treatment,
especially if the season prove remarkably dry or uncommonly wet; and
that you will have insured better crops in the years to come, including
heavier grass, after that field shall once more be laid down; and that,
in case of the planting of that field to fruit or other trees, they will
grow faster, resist disease better, and thrive longer, than if the soil
were still plowed as of old. (I shall insist hereafter on the advantage
and importance of subsoiling orchards.)

Take another aspect--that of subsoiling hill-sides to prevent their
abrasion by water:

I have two bits of warm, gravelly hill-side, which bountifully yield
Corn, Wheat and Oats, but which are addicted to washing. I presume one
of these bits, at the south-east corner of my farm, has been plowed and
planted not less than one hundred times, and that at least half the
fertilizers applied to it have been washed into the brook, and hence
into the Hudson. To say that $1,000 have thus been squandered on that
patch of ground, would be to keep far within the truth. And, along with
the fertilizers, a large portion of the finer and better elements of the
original soil have thus been swept into the brook, and so lavished upon
the waters of our bay. But, since I had those lots thoroughly subsoiled,
all the water that falls upon them when in tillage sinks into the soil,
and remains there until drained away by filtration or evaporation; and I
never saw a particle of soil washed from either save once, when a thaw
of one or two inches on the surface, leaving the ground solidly frozen
beneath, being quickly followed by a pouring rain, washed away a few
bushels of the loosened and sodden surface, proving that the law by
virtue of which these fields were formerly denuded while in cultivation
is still active, and that Deep Plowing is an effective and all but
unfailing antidote for the evil it tends to incite.

We plow too many acres annually, and do not plow them so thoroughly as
we ought. In the good time coming, when Steam shall have been so
harnessed to a gang of six to twelve plows that, with one man guiding
and firing, it will move as fast as a man ought to walk, steaming on and
thoroughly pulverizing from twelve to twenty-five acres per day, I
believe we shall plow at least two feet deep, and plow not less than
twice before putting in any crop whatever. Then we may lay down a field
in the confident trust that it will yield from two and a half to three
tuns of good hay per annum for the next ten or twelve years; while, by
the help of irrigation and occasional top-dressing, it may be made to
average at least three tuns for a life-time, if not forever.

When my Grass-land requires breaking up--as it sometimes does--I
understand that it was not properly laid down, or has not been well
treated since. A good grazing farmer once insisted in my hearing that
grass-land should never be plowed--that the vegetable mold forming the
surface, when the timber was first cut off; should remain on the surface
forever. Considering how uneven the stumps and roots and cradle-knolls
of a primitive forest are apt to leave the ground, I judge that this is
an extreme statement. But land once thoroughly plowed and subsoiled
ought thereafter to be kept in grass by liberal applications of Gypsum,
well-cured Muck, and barn-yard Manure to its surface, without needing to
be plowed again and reseeded. Put back in Manure what is taken of in
Hay, and the Grass should hold its own.

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