THE dearth of employment in Winter for farm laborers is a great and
growing evil. Thousands, being dismissed from work on the farms in
November, drift away to some city, under a vague, mistaken impression
that there must be work at some rate where so much is being done and so
many require service, and squander their means and damage their morals
in fruitless quest of what is not there to be had. When Spring at length
arrives, they sneak back to the rural districts, ragged, penniless,
debauched, often diseased, and every way deteriorated, by their Winter
plunge. For their sakes not only, but for the sakes also of those who
will employ and those who must work with them hereafter, this drifting
to the cities should be stopped.
In its present magnitude, it is a very modern evil. Far within my
recollection, there was timber to cut and haul to the saw-mill, wood to
cut, draw, and prepare for the year's fuel, with forest-land to be
cleared and fitted for future cultivation, even in New-England. Those
who chose to work with ax or team were seldom idle in Winter. Now, there
is little timber to cut, little land to clear, and coal is rapidly
supplanting wood as fuel. So a larger and larger number of farm laborers
is annually turned off when the ground freezes to live as they may for
the next three or four months.
I recognize the right of the farmer, who has given twelve or more hours
per day to the tillage of his acres and the saving of his crops
throughout the genial months, to take the world more easily in Winter.
He should now have leisure to return visits, to post and balance his
books, and to improve his mind by study and reflection. Having worked
hard when he must, he ought to rest and recuperate when he can. But he
gravely errs who supposes that, the ground being frozen, there is no
longer work to be done on the farm until the ground is fit to plow
again. On the contrary, he who realizes that the farmer is a
manufacturer of food and fibrous substances from raw materials of far
inferior value must see that, so soon as one harvest has been secured,
the cultivator should devote his attention to the collection and
utilization of the elements wherefrom a larger crop may be obtained from
the same acres next season.
And first as to Muck. No one who has not valued and sought it is likely
to know how generally abundant and accessible this material is. I have
found it in inexhaustible supply on the land of a pretty good cultivator
who, after working a fair farm ten years, sold it because (as he
supposed) it was destitute of this basis of extensive fertilization.
"Seek, and ye shall find," implies that those who do not seek will
rarely find; and such is the fact. Where rock abounds, Muck is rarely
wanting. It covers many thousand acres of Jersey sands, where rock is
unknown; but show me a region ridged or ribbed with rock, and I shall
confidently expect to find Muck on it, though none has been known or
supposed to exist there. And he who either has or can buy a bed of Muck
within half a mile of his barn, his sty, his hen-house, may dig and draw
from it all Winter with a moral certainty that it will generously reward
his outlay. Begin as soon after haying as you can spare the time, and
cut an outlet so deep that you may thereafter work dryshod; thenceforth,
dig and pile on the nearest accessible spot of dry ground, to be drawn
away to the barn-yard and out-houses as opportunity presents itself.
But, even though you have done nothing till the ground freezes, do not
say it is now too late, but set to work. You can often team in Winter
where you could not at any other season; and, in digging Muck from a
swamp or bog well frozen over, you are not apt to be troubled with
water. Draw all you can; but dig much more; for no money at lawful
interest pays so well as Muck left to dry and cure for months before you
draw it. I think I do not over-estimate the average value of a cubic
yard of Muck, well cured and mixed with warmer fertilizers before
application to the soil, at one dollar; and I think there are few
farmers in the Old Thirteen States who cannot obtain it for less than
Where Muck is not to be had, I believe the tiller of a sandy or gravelly
farm who can get access to a bed or bank of clay may profitably dig and
draw this, to be used as he would use Muck if he had it, and even for
direct application to the soil. I do not think this method the most
advisable; yet I feel sure that clay spread over a sandy or gravelly
field that has been laid down to grass is worth fifty cents per cubic
yard wherever Hay is worth $12 per tun; but I would wish to apply it not
later than December.
He who has fit places of deposit should draw all his Lime, Plaster, and
other commercial fertilizers, in Winter, so as to be ready for use when
required. Mix your Lime while fresh from the kiln with Muck, at the rate
of a bushel of the former to a cubic yard of the latter, and the Muck
will be ready for use far sooner than it otherwise would be. Be careful
not to mix Lime with animal manures in any case, since it expels
Ammonia, whereas the sulphur of Plaster combines with that volatile
element and fixes it. There are some farmers who do, but twenty times as
many who do not, use Plaster enough about their stables and pig-pens.
They ought to realize that a bad smell implies a waste of Ammonia, which
a farmer, unless very rich, can hardly afford.
Fences should all be scrutinized as Winter goes off, and put into
thorough condition for next season's service.
Fruit-trees should be relieved of all dead or dying branches, all
suckers, and cut back where towering to high, or spreading too wide. It
may be better for the trees to do all pruning in May or June; but the
farmer who defers it to that season is very likely to be hurried into
postponing it to another year--and another.
There is scarcely a forest of second or later growth which would not pay
for thinning and trimming, if well done. That which is out may be turned
to good account as bean-poles, pea-brush, Summer fuel, etc., while that
which is left will grow faster, taller, and more shapely, to reward you
doubly for your pains.
--These are but suggestions. Any farmer can add to or improve upon them
if he will give an hour's thought to the subject. The best laborers can
be hired for a full year at a price not very much exceeding that which
will secure their services for eight or nine months. In the interest
alike of good crops and good morals, I urge every one who can to resolve
that he will henceforth hire by the year, or in some way manage to
employ his laborers in Winter as well as in Summer.
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