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A Lesson Of To-day

The current season is quite commonly characterized as the coldest, the

hottest, the wettest, or the dryest, that was ever known. Men

undoubtingly assert that they never knew a Summer so hot, or a Winter so

cold, when in fact several such have occurred within the cycle of their

experience. Hardly anything else is so easily or so speedily forgotten

as extremes of temperature or inclemencies of weather, after they have

sed away. I presume there have been six to ten Summers, since the

beginning of this century, as hot and as dry as that of 1870; yet the

fact remains that, throughout the Eastern section of our country, to say

nothing of the rest, the heat and drouth of the current Summer have been

quite remarkable. For two months past, counting from the 10th of June,

nearly every day has been a hot one, with blazing sunshine throughout,

rarely interrupted and slightly modified by infrequent and inadequate

showers; and, as a general result of this tropical fervor, the earth is

parched and baked from ten to forty inches from the surface; streams

and ponds are dried up or shrunk to their lowest dimensions; forests are

often ravaged and desolated by fires; our pastures are dry and brown;

while crops of Hay, Oats, Potatoes, Buckwheat, etc., either have proved,

or certainly must prove, a disappointment to the hopes of the growers. I

estimate the average product for 1870 of the farms of New-England,

eastern New-York and New-Jersey, as not more than two-thirds of a full

harvest; while the earth remains at this moment so baked and incrusted

that several days' rain is needed to fit it for Fall plowing and the

sowing of Winter grain.

Such seasons must not be regarded as extraordinary. The Summer of 1854

was nearly or quite as dry as this; and I presume one or two such have

intervened since that time. The heat of 1870 is remarkable for its

persistence rather than its intensity. Every Summer has its heated term;

that of 1870 has been longer in this region than any before it that I

can remember, though doubtless the recollection of others might supply

its perfect counterpart. Nearly every Summer has its drouth; the present

is peculiar rather for its early commencement than its extreme duration.

As our country is more and more denuded of its primitive forests,

drouths longer and severer even than this may naturally be expected.

What our farmers have to do is, to prepare for and provide against them.

Such seasons are disastrous to those only who farm as if none such were

to be expected. Those who plow deeply, fertilize bountifully, and

cultivate thoroughly, need not fear them, as fields of Hay and Oats

already harvested, and of Corn and Potatoes now hastening to maturity in

almost every township of the suffering region, abundantly attest. I

doubt that more luxuriant crops of Corn, Tobacco, or Onions, were ever

grown on the bottom-lands of the Connecticut Valley than may be seen

there to-day, with failures all about them, and under drouth so fierce

that Blackberries and Whortleberries are withered when half grown; even

the bushes in some cases perishing for lack of moisture.

My last trip took me along the banks of the upper Hudson, through the

rugged county of Warren, N. Y. The narrow, irregular intervale of this

mountain stream appear to have been cultivated for the last fifty or

sixty years by a hardy race, who look mainly to the timber of the wild

region north of them for a subsistence. In such a district, whatever

ministers to the sustenance of man or beast bears a high price; and

Corn, Rye, Oats, Buckwheat, Apples and Grass, are grown wherever the

soil is not too rugged or too sterile for culture. I presume half a crop

of Hay has been secured throughout this valley, with perhaps a full crop

of Rye where Rye was sown; but of Oats the yield will be considerably

less than that, while of Corn and Buckwheat it will range from ten

bushels per acre down to nothing. When I, last Summer, passed through

spacious field after field of Corn in Virginia that would not mature a

single ear, I spoke of it as something unknown at the North; but there

are fields planted to Corn, in the upper valley of the Hudson, that will

not produce a single sound ear, nor one bushel even of the shortest and

poorest "nubbins;" and alongside of these are acres of Buckwheat,

blossoming at an average hight of four inches, and not likely to get two

inches higher.

Now, if this land were so poor or so rocky that good crops could not be

extracted from it, far be it from me to disparage the agriculture

whereof the results are so meagre; but I am speaking of a river

intervale of considerable natural fertility, from which deep and

thorough cultivation would insure ample harvests, subject only to the

contingency of early frosts in Autumn. Were these lands fertilized and

cultivated as they might be, and as mine are, they would yield 30

bushels of Rye or 60 of Indian Corn per acre, and would richly repay the

husbandman's outlay and efforts. Now, I venture to say that all the

grain I saw growing in the valley of the Hudson through Warren County

will not return the farmer 75 cents for each day's labor expended

thereon, allowing nothing for the use of the land.

"But how shall we obtain fertilizers?" I am often asked. "We are poor;

we can afford to keep but few cattle; Guano, Phosphate, Bones, Lime,

etc., are beyond our means. Even if we could pay for them, the cost of

transportation to our out-of-the-way nooks would be heavy. We cannot

deal with our lands so bountifully as you do, but must be content to do

as we can."

To all which I make answer: No man ever lacked fertilizers who kept his

eyes wide open and devoted two months of each Fall and Winter to

collecting and preparing them. Wherever swamp muck may be had, wherever

bogs exist or flags or rushes grow, there are materials which, carted

into the barn-yard in Autumn or Winter, may be drawn out fertilizers in

season for Corn-planting next Spring. Wherever a pond or slough dries up

in Summer or Autumn, there is material that may be profitably

transformed into next year's grass or grain. In the absence of all

these--and they are seldom very far from one who knows how to look for

them--rank weeds of all sorts, if cut while green and tender, or forest

leaves, gathered in the Fall, used for litter in the stable, and thence

thrown into the yard, will serve an excellent purpose. Nay, more: I am

confident that the farmer who lacks these, but has access to a bed or

bank of simple clay, may cart 200 loads of it in November into an

ordinary farm-yard, have it trampled into and mixed with his manure in

the Winter, and draw it out in the Spring, excellently fitted to enrich

his sandy or gravelly land, and insure him, in connection with deep and

thorough culture, a generous yield of Corn, even in such a season as the

present. Dr. George B. Loring, the most successful farmer in

Massachusetts, uses naked beach sand in abundance as litter for his 80

cows, mixes it with his manure throughout the Winter, and draws out the

compound to fertilize his clay meadows in the Spring, with most

satisfactory results. Depend on it, no man need lack fertilizers who

begins in season and is willing to work for them.

And yet once more:

From the hills which inclose this valley of the upper Hudson (and from

ever so many other valleys as well), brooks and rivulets, copious in

Spring, when their waters are surcharged and discolored by the richest

juices of the uplands, pour down in frequent cascades and dance across

the intervale to be lost in the river. There is scarcely an acre of that

intervale which might not be irrigated from these streams at a very

moderate outlay of work at the season when work is least pressing: the

water thus held back by dams being allowed to flow thence gently and

equably across the intervale, conveying not moisture only, but fertility

also, to every plant growing thereon. I am confident that I passed many

places on the upper Hudson, as well as on the Connecticut and

Ammonoosuc, where 100 faithful days' work providing for irrigation would

have given 100 bushels of grain, or 10 tuns of hay additional this year,

and as much per annum henceforth, at a cost of not more than two days'

work in each year hereafter.

Farmers, but above all farmers' sons, think of these things.