This statement, it is said, the Club considered a very fair estimate.
Now, here is a farm costing $10,595, the receipts from which, saying nothing about interest, are less than the expenses. And if you add two cents per pound more to the price of the cheese, the profit would still be only about $50 per year. The trouble is not so much in the low price of cheese, as in the low product per acre. I know some grain-growing farmers who have done no better than this for a few years past.
Mr. Shull places the annual depreciation and interest on stock at $180, equal to nearly one-seventh of the total receipts of the farm. It would pay the wages and board of another man for six months. Can not it be avoided? Good beef is relatively much higher in this State than good cheese. Some of the dairy authorities tell us that cheese is the cheapest animal food in the world, while beef is the dearest. Why, then, should our dairymen confine their attention to the production of the cheapest of farm products, and neglect almost entirely the production of the dearest? If beef is high and cheese low, why not raise more beef? On low-priced land it may be profitable to raise and keep cows solely for the production of cheese, and when the cows are no longer profitable for this purpose, to sacrifice them—to throw them aside as we do a worn-out machine. And in similar circumstances we may be able to keep sheep solely for their wool, but on high-priced land we can not afford to keep sheep merely for their wool. We must adopt a higher system of farming and feeding, and keep sheep that will give us wool, lambs, and mutton. In parts of South America, where land costs nothing, cattle can be kept for their bones, tallow, and hides, but where food is costly we must make better use of it. A cow is a machine for converting vegetable food into veal, butter, cheese, and beef. The first cost of the machine, if a good one, is considerable—say $100. This machine has to be kept running night and day, summer and winter, week days and Sundays. If we were running a steam-flouring mill that could never be allowed to stop, we should be careful to lay in a good supply of coal and also have plenty of grain on hand to grind, so that the mill would never have to run empty. No sensible man would keep up steam merely to run the mill. He would want to grind all the time, and as much as possible; and yet coal is a much cheaper source of power than the hay and corn with which we run our milk-producing machine. How often is the latter allowed to run empty? The machine is running night and day—must run, but is it always running to advantage? Do we furnish fuel enough to enable it to do full work, or only little more than enough to run the machinery?
"What has all this to do with making manure on dairy farms?" asked the Deacon; "you are wandering from the point."
"I hope not; I am trying to show that good feeding will pay better than poor feeding—and better food means better manure."
I estimate that it takes from 15 to 18 lbs. of ordinary hay per day to run this cow-machine, which we have been talking about, even when kept warm and comfortable; and if exposed to cold storms, probably not less than 20 lbs. of hay a day, or its equivalent, and this merely to keep the machine running, without doing any work. It requires this to keep the cow alive, and to prevent her losing flesh. If not supplied with the requisite amount of food for this purpose, she will take enough fat and flesh from her own body to make up the deficiency; and if she cannot get it, the machine will stop—in other words, the cow will die.
We have, then, a machine that costs say $100; that will last on an average eight years; that requires careful management; that must have constant watching, or it will be liable to get out of order, and that requires, merely to keep it running, say 20 lbs. of hay per day. Now, what do we get in return? If we furnish only 20 lbs. of hay per day we get—nothing except manure. If we furnish 25 lbs. of hay per day, or its equivalent, we get, say half a pound of cheese per day. If we furnish 30 lbs. we get one pound of cheese per day, or 365 lbs. a year. We may not get the one pound of cheese every day in the year; sometimes the cow, instead of giving milk, is furnishing food for her embryo calf, or storing up fat and flesh; and this fat and flesh will be used by and by to produce milk. But it all comes from the food eaten by the cow; and is equal to one pound of cheese per day for 30 lbs. of hay or its equivalent consumed; 20 lbs. of hay gives us nothing; 25 lbs. of hay gives us half a pound of cheese, or 40 lbs. of cheese from one ton of hay; 30 lbs. gives us one pound, or 66-2/3 lbs. of cheese from one ton of hay; 35 lbs. gives us 1-1/2 lbs., or 85 5/7 lbs. of cheese to one ton of hay; 40 lbs. gives us 2 lbs. of cheese, or 100 lbs. of cheese from one ton of hay; 45 lbs. gives us 2-1/3 lbs. of cheese, or 111 lbs. of cheese from one ton of hay; 50 lbs. gives us 3 lbs. of cheese, or 120 lbs. of cheese from one ton of hay.
On this basis, one ton of hay, in excess of the amount required to keep up the animal heat and sustain the vital functions, gives us 200 lbs. of cheese. The point I wish to illustrate by these figures, which are of course hypothetical, is, that it is exceedingly desirable to get animals that will eat, digest, and assimilate a large amount of food, over and above that required to keep up the heat of the body and sustain the vital functions. When a cow eats only 25 lbs. of hay a day, it requires one ton of hay to produce 40 lbs. of cheese. But if we could induce her to eat, digest, and assimilate 50 lbs. a day, one ton would produce 120 lbs. of cheese. If a cow eats 33 lbs. of hay per day, or its equivalent in grass, it will require four acres of land, with a productive capacity equal to 1-1/2 tons of hay per acre, to keep her a year. Such a cow, according to the figures given above, will produce 401-1/2 lbs. of cheese a year, or its equivalent in growth. A farm of 80 acres, on this basis, would support 20 cows, yielding, say 8,000 lbs. of cheese. Increase the productive power of the farm one half, (I hope the Deacon has not gone to sleep), and keep 20 cows that will eat half as much again food, and we should then get 21,600 lbs. of cheese. If cheese is worth 15 cents per lb., a farm of 80 acres, producing 1-1/2 tons of hay, or its equivalent, per acre, and supporting 20 cows, would give us a gross return of $1,204.50. The same farm so improved as to produce 2-1/4 tons of hay or its equivalent, per acre—fed to 20 cows capable of eating, digesting, and assimilating it—would give a gross return of $3,240.
In presenting these figures, I hope you will not think me a visionary. I do not think it is possible to get a cow to produce 3 lbs. of cheese a day throughout the whole year. But I do think it quite possible to so breed and feed a cow that she will produce 3 lbs. of cheese per day, or its equivalent in veal, flesh, or fat. We frequently have cows that produce 3 lbs. of cheese a day for several weeks; and a cow can be so fed that she will produce 3 lbs. of cheese a day without losing weight. And if she can extract this amount of matter out of the food for a part of the year, why can not she do so for the whole year? Are the powers of digestion weaker in the fall and winter than in spring and summer? If not, we unquestionably sustain great loss by allowing this digestive power to run to waste. This digestive power costs us 20 lbs. of hay a day. We can ill afford to let it lie dormant. But the Deacon will tell me that the cows are allowed all the food they will eat, winter and summer. Then we must, if they have digestive power to spare, endeavor to persuade them to eat more. If they eat as much hay or grass as their stomachs are capable of holding, we must endeavor to give them richer hay or grass. Not one farmer in a thousand seems to appreciate the advantage of having hay or grass containing a high percentage of nutriment. I have endeavored to show that a cow eating six tons of hay, or its equivalent, in a year, would produce 400 lbs. of cheese, worth $60. While a cow capable of eating, digesting, and turning to good account, nine tons of hay, or its equivalent, would produce 1,090 lbs. of cheese, or its equivalent in other products, worth $162.
"I am sorry to interrupt the gentleman," said the Deacon with mock gravity.
"Then pray don't," said I; "I will not detain you long, and the subject is one which ought to interest you and every other farmer who keeps his cows on poor grass in summer, and corn-stalks and straw in winter."
I was going to say, when the Deacon interrupted me, that the stomach of a cow may not allow her to eat nine tons of hay a year, but it will allow her to eat six tons; and if these six tons contain as much nutriment as the nine tons, what is the real difference in its value? Ordinarily we should probably estimate the one at $10 per ton, and the other at $15. But according to the above figures, one is worth $10 per ton and the other $27. To get rich grass, therefore, should be the aim of the American dairyman. I hope the Deacon begins to see what connection this has with a large pile of rich manure.
I do not mean merely a heavy growth of grass, but grass containing a high percentage of nutriment. Our long winters and heavy snows are a great advantage to us in this respect. Our grass in the spring, after its long rest, ought to start up like asparagus, and, under the organizing influence of our clear skies, and powerful sun, ought to be exceedingly nutritious. Comparatively few farmers, however, live up to their privileges in this respect. Our climate is better than our farming, the sun richer than our neglected soil. England may be able to produce more grass per acre in a year than we can, but we ought to produce richer grass, and, consequently, more cheese to a cow. And I believe, in fact, that such is often the case. The English dairyman has the advantage of a longer season of growth. We have a shorter season but a brighter sun, and if we do not have richer grass it is due to the want of draining, clean culture, and manuring. The object of American dairymen should be, not only to obtain more grass per acre, but to increase its nutriment in a given bulk. If we could increase it one-half, making six tons equal to nine tons, we have shown that it is nearly three times as valuable. Whether this can be done, I have not now time to consider; but at any rate if your land produces as many weeds as do some fields on my farm, not to say the Deacon's, and if the plant-food that these weeds absorb, could be organized by nutritious grasses, this alone would do a good deal towards accomplishing the object. Whether this can be done or not, we want cows that can eat and turn to good account as much food per annum as is contained in nine tons of ordinary meadow-hay; and we want this nutriment in a bulk not exceeding six tons of hay. If possible, we should get this amount of nutriment in grass or hay. But if we can not do this, we must feed enough concentrated food to bring it up to the desired standard.
"But will it pay?" asked the Deacon; "I have not much faith in buying feed. A farmer ought to raise everything he feeds out."
"As a rule, this may be true," I replied, "but there are many exceptions. I am trying to show that it will often pay a dairyman well to buy feed rich in nitrogen and phosphates, so as to make rich manure, and give him a start. After he gets his land rich, there is little difficulty in keeping up its productiveness.
"Now, I have said—and the figures, if anything, are too low—that if a cow, eating six tons of hay, or its equivalent, a year, produces 400 lbs. of cheese, a cow capable of eating, digesting, and turning to good account nine tons of hay, or its equivalent, a year, would produce 1,090 lbs. of cheese, or its equivalent in other products."
I would like to say much more on this subject, but I hope enough has been said to show that there is great advantage in feeding rich food, even so far as the production of milk or beef is concerned; and if this is the case, then there is no difficulty in making rich manure on a dairy farm.
And I am delighted to know that many farmers in the dairy districts are purchasing more and more bran and meal every year. Taking milk, and beef, and manure all into the account, I feel sure that it will be found highly profitable; but you must have good cows—cows that can turn their extra food to good account.
This is not the place to discuss the merits of the different breeds of cows. All I wish to show is, that to make better manure, we must use richer food; and to feed this to advantage, we must have animals that can turn a large amount of food, over and above the amount required to sustain the vital functions, into milk, flesh, etc.
"You do not think," said the Deacon, "that a well-bred cow makes any richer manure than a common cow?"
Of course not; but to make rich manure, we must feed well; and we can not afford to feed well unless we have good animals.
HOW TO SAVE AND APPLY MANURE ON A DAIRY-FARM.
We can not go into details on this subject. The truth is, there are several good methods of saving manure, and which is best depends entirely on circumstances. The real point is to save the urine, and keep the cow-stable clean and sweet. There are three prominent methods adopted:
1st. To throw all the liquid and solid excrements into a manure-cellar underneath the cow-stable. In this cellar, dry swamp-muck, dry earth, or other absorbent material, is mixed with the manure in sufficient quantity to keep down offensive odors. A little dry earth or muck is also used in the stable, scattering it twice a day in the gutters and under the hind legs of the cows. Where this is carried out, it has many and decided advantages.
2d. To wheel or throw out the solid parts of the manure, and to have a drain for carrying the liquid into a tank, where it can be pumped on to the heap of manure in the yard. Where many horses or sheep are kept, and only a few cows, this plan can often be used to advantage, as the heap of manure in the yard, consisting of horse-manure, sheep-manure, and a small portion of cow-dung, will be able to absorb all the urine of the cows.
3d. To use sufficient bedding to absorb all the urine in the stable. In my own case, as I have said before, we usually chaff all our straw and stalks. The orts are used for bedding, and we also use a little dry earth—or, to be more exact, I use it when I attend to the matter myself, but have always found more or less trouble in getting the work done properly, unless I give it personal attention. To use "dirt" to keep the stable clean, is not a popular plan in this neighborhood. Where there is an abundance of straw, and especially if cut into chaff, the easiest way to keep the stable clean, and the cows comfortable, is to use enough of this chaffed straw to absorb all the liquid. Clean out the stable twice a day, and wheel the manure directly to the heap, and spread it.
In regard to the application of manure on a dairy-farm, we have seen what Harris Lewis does with his. I also wrote to T. L. Harison, Esq., of St. Lawrence Co., N.Y.; and knowing that he is not only a very intelligent farmer and breeder, but also one of our best agricultural writers, I asked him if he had written anything on the subject of manures.
"St. Lawrence Co.," said the Deacon, "produces capital grass, oats, and barley, but is, I should think, too far north for winter wheat; but what did Mr Harison say?" —Here is his letter:
"I never wrote anything about manure. Catch me at it! Nor do I know anything about the management of barn-yard manure worth telling. My own practice is dictated quite as much by convenience as by considerations of economy."
"Good," said the Deacon; "he writes like a sensible man."
"My rotation," he continues, "is such that the bulk of the manure made is applied to one crop; that is, to my hoed crops, corn, potatoes, and roots, in the second year.
"The manure from the stables is thrown or wheeled out under the sheds adjoining, and as fast as it becomes so large a quantity as to be in the way, or whenever there is an opportunity, it is hauled out to the field, where it is to be used, and put in large piles. It is turned once, if possible, in the spring, and then spread.
"The quantity applied, is, as near as may be, 25 loads per acre; but as we use a great deal of straw, we haul out 30 loads, and estimate that in the spring it will be about 25 loads.
"If we have any more (and occasionally we have 100 loads over), we pile it near the barn, and turn it once or twice during the summer, and use it as seems most profitable—sometimes to top-dress an old grass-field, that for some reason we prefer not to break for another year. Sometimes it goes on a piece of fall wheat, and sometimes is kept over for a barley field the following spring, and harrowed in just before sowing.
"I should spread the manure as it comes from the sheds, instead of piling it, but the great quantity of snow we usually have, has always seemed to be an insuperable obstacle. It is an advantage to pile it, and to give it one turning, but, on the other hand, the piles made in cold weather freeze through, and they take a provokingly long time to thaw out in the spring. I never found manure piled out of doors to get too much water from rain.
"I have given up using gypsum, except a little in the stables, because the clover grows too strong without it, and so long as this is the case, I do not need gypsum. But I sometimes have a piece of oats or barley that stands still, and looks sick, and a dose of gypsum helps it very much."
"That is a fact worth remembering," said the Deacon.
"I use some superphosphate," continues Mr. Harison, "and some ground bones on my turnips. We also use superphosphate on oats, barley, and wheat (about 200 lbs. per acre), and find it pays. Last year, our estimate was, on 10 acres of oats, comparing with a strip in the middle, left for the purpose, that the 200 lbs. of superphosphate increased the crop 15 bushels per acre, and gave a gain in quality. It was the "Manhattan," which has about three per cent ammonia, and seven to eight per cent soluble phosphoric acid.
"My rotation, which I stick to as close as I can, is: 1, oats; 2, corn, and potatoes, and roots; 3, barley or spring wheat; 4, 5, and 6, grass (clover or timothy, with a little mixture occasionally).
"I am trying to get to 4, fall wheat, but it is mighty risky."
"That is a very sensible letter," said the Deacon; "but it is evident that he raises more grain than I supposed was generally the case in the dairy districts; and the fact that his clover is so heavy that he does not need plaster, indicates that his land is rich."
It merely confirms what I have said all along, and that is, that the dairymen, if they will feed their animals liberally, and cultivate their soil thoroughly, can soon have productive farms. There are very few of us in this section who can make manure enough to give all our corn, potatoes, and roots, 25 loads of rotted manure per acre, and have some to spare.
In the spring of 1877, Mr. Harison wrote: "I have been hauling out manure all winter as fast as made, and putting it on the land. At first we spread it; but when deep snows came, we put it in small heaps. The field looks as if there had been a grain crop on it left uncut."
"That last remark," said the Doctor, "indicates that the manure looks more like straw than well-rotted dung, and is an argument in favor of your plan of piling the manure in the yard or field, instead of spreading it on the land, or putting it in small heaps."
MANAGEMENT OF MANURES ON GRAIN-FARMS.
"I am surprised to find," said the Deacon, "that Mr. Harison, living as he does in the great grass and dairy district of this State, should raise so much grain. He has nearly as large a proportion of his land under the plow as some of the best wheat-growers of Western New York."
This remark of the Deacon is right to the point. The truth is, that some of our best wheat-growers are plowing less land, and are raising more grass, and keeping more stock; and some of the dairymen, though not keeping less stock, are plowing more land. The better farmers of both sections are approaching each other.
At all events, it is certain that the wheat growers will keep more stock. I wrote to the Hon. Geo. Geddes, of Onondaga Co., N.Y., well known as a large wheat-grower, and as a life-long advocate of keeping up the fertility of our farms by growing clover. He replies as follows:
"I regret that I have not time to give your letter the consideration it deserves. The subject you have undertaken is truly a difficult one. The circumstances of a grain-raiser and a dairyman are so unlike, that their views in regard to the treatment of the manure produced on the farm would vary as greatly as the lines of farming they follow.
"The grain-grower has straw in excess; he tries hard to get it into such form that he can draw it to his fields, and get it at work, at the least cost in labor. So he covers his barn-yards deep with straw, after each snow-storm, and gets his cattle, sheep, and horses, to trample it under foot; and he makes his pigs convert all he can into such form that it will do to apply it to his pastures, etc., in winter or early spring.
"A load of such manure is large, perhaps, but of no very great value, as compared with well-rotted stable-manure from grain-fed horses; but it is as good as much that I have seen drawn from city stables, and carried far, to restore the worn-out hay-fields on the shores of the North River—in fact, quite like it.
"The dairyman, generally, has but little straw, and his manure is mostly dung of cows, worth much more, per cord, than the straw-litter of the grain-growers.
"The grain-grower will want no sheds for keeping off the rain, but, rather, he will desire more water than will fall on an open yard. The milkman will wish to protect his cow-dung from all rains, or even snows; so he is a great advocate of manure-sheds. These two classes of farmers will adopt quite unlike methods of applying their manure to crops.
"I have cited these two classes of farmers, simply to show the difficulty of making any universal laws in regard to the treatment and use of barn-yard manure. * * *
"I think you and I are fully agreed in regard to the farm being the true source of the manure that is to make the land grow better with use, and still produce crops—perhaps you will go with me so far as to say, the greater the crops, the more manure they will make—and the more manure, the larger the crops.
"Now, I object to any special farming, when applied to a whole great division of country, such as merely raising grain, or devoted entirely to dairying.
"I saw at Rome, N.Y., these two leading branches of New York farming united on the Huntington tract of 1,300 acres. Three or four farms (I forget which) had separate and distinct management, conducted by different families, but each had a dairy combined with the raising of large crops of grain, such as wheat, corn, oats, etc. These grain-crops, with suitable areas of meadow and pasture, sustained the dairy, and the cows converted much of the grain, and all of the forage, into manure. Thus was combined, to mutual advantage, these two important branches of New York farming. Wheat and cheese to sell, and constant improvement in crops.
"In our own case, sheep have been combined with grain-raising. So we have sold wool, wheat, and barley, and, in all my life, not five tons of hay. Clover, you know, has been our great forage-crop. We have wintered our sheep mostly on clover-hay, having some timothy mixed with it, that was necessarily cut (to make into hay with the medium, or early clover,) when it was but grass. We have fed such hay to our cows and horses, and have usually worked into manure the corn-stalks of about 20 acres of good corn, each winter, and we have worked all the straw into shape to apply as manure that we could, spreading it thickly on pastures and such other fields as were convenient. Some straw we have sold, mostly to paper-makers."
"That," said the Deacon, "is good, old-fashioned farming. Plenty of straw for bedding, and good clover and timothy-hay for feed, with wool, wheat, and barley to sell. No talk about oil-cake, malt-combs, and mangels; nothing about superphosphate, guano, or swamp-muck."
Mr. Geddes and Mr. Johnston are both representative farmers; both are large wheat-growers; both keep their land clean and thoroughly cultivated; both use gypsum freely; both raise large crops of clover and timothy; both keep sheep, and yet they represent two entirely different systems of farming. One is the great advocate of clover; the other is the great advocate of manure.
I once wrote to Mr. Geddes, asking his opinion as to the best time to plow under clover for wheat. He replied as follows:
"Plow under the clover when it is at full growth. But your question can much better be answered at the end of a long, free talk, which can best be had here. I have many times asked you to come here, not to see fine farming, for we have none to show, but to see land that has been used to test the effects of clover for nearly 70 years. On the ground, I could talk to a willing auditor long, if not wisely. I am getting tired of being misunderstood, and of having my statements doubted when I talk about clover as the great renovator of land. You preach agricultural truth, and the facts you would gather in this neighborhood are worth your knowing, and worth giving to the world. So come here and gather some facts about clover. All that I shall try to prove to you is, that the fact that clover and plaster are by far the cheapest manures that can be had for our lands, has been demonstrated by many farmers beyond a doubt—so much cheaper than barn-yard manure that the mere loading of and spreading costs more than the plaster and clover. Do not quote me as saying this, but come and see the farms hereabouts, and talk with our farmers."
Of course I went, and had a capital time. Mr. Geddes has a magnificent farm of about 400 acres, some four miles from Syracuse. It is in high condition, and is continually improving, and this is due to growing large and frequent crops of clover, and to good, deep plowing, and clean and thorough culture.
We drove round among the farmers. "Here is a man," said Mr. G., "who run in debt $45 per acre for his farm. He has educated his family, paid off his debt, and reports his net profits at from $2,000 to $2,500 a year on a farm of 90 acres; and this is due to clover. You see he is building a new barn, and that does not look as though his land was running down under the system." The next farmer we came to was also putting up a new barn, and another farmer was enlarging an old one. "Now, these farmers have never paid a dollar for manure of any kind except plaster, and their lands certainly do not deteriorate."
From Syracuse, I went to Geneva, to see our old friend John Johnston. "Why did you not tell me you were coming?" he said. "I would have met you at the cars. But I am right glad to see you. I want to show you my wheat, where I put on 250 lbs. of guano per acre last fall. People here don't know that I used it, and you must not mention it. It is grand."
I do not know that I ever saw a finer piece of wheat. It was the Diehl variety, sown 14th September, at the rate of 1-1/4 bushels per acre. It was quite thick enough. One breadth of the drill was sown at the rate of two bushels per acre. This is earlier. "But," said Mr. J., "the other will have larger heads, and will yield more." After examining the wheat, we went to look at the piles of muck and manure in the barn-yard, and from these to a splendid crop of timothy. "It will go 2-1/2 tons of hay per acre," said Mr. J., "and now look at this adjoining field. It is just as good land naturally, and there is merely a fence between, and yet the grass and clover are so poor as hardly to be worth cutting."
"What makes the difference?" I asked.
Mr. Johnston, emphatically, "Manure."
The poor field did not belong to him!
Mr. Johnston's farm was originally a cold, wet, clayey soil. Mr. Geddes' land did not need draining, or very little. Of course, land that needs draining, is richer after it is drained, than land that is naturally drained. And though Mr. Johnston was always a good farmer, yet he says he "never made money until he commenced to drain." The accumulated fertility in the land could then be made available by good tillage, and from that day to this, his land has been growing richer and richer. And, in fact, the same is true of Mr. Geddes' farm. It is richer land to-day than when first plowed, while there is one field that for seventy years has had no manure applied to it, except plaster. How is this to be explained? Mr. Geddes would say it was due to clover and plaster. But this does not fully satisfy those who claim, (and truly), that "always taking out of the meal-tub and never putting in, soon comes to the bottom." The clover can add nothing to the land, that it did not get from the soil, except organic matter obtained from the atmosphere, and the plaster furnishes little or nothing except lime and sulphuric acid. There are all the other ingredients of plant-food to be accounted for—phosphoric acid, potash, soda, magnesia, etc. A crop of clover, or corn, or wheat, or barley, or oats, will not come to perfection unless every one of these elements is present in the soil in an available condition. Mr. Geddes has not furnished a single ounce of any one of them.
"Where do they come from?"
I answer, from the soil itself. There is probably enough of these elements in the soil to last ten thousand years; and if we return to the soil all the straw, chaff, and bran, and sell nothing but fine flour, meat, butter, etc., there is probably enough to last a million years, and you and I need not trouble ourselves with speculations as to what will happen after that time. Nearly all our soils are practically inexhaustible. But of course these elements are not in an available condition. If they were, the rains would wash them all into the ocean. They are rendered available by a kind of fermentation. A manure-heap packed as hard and solid as a rock would not decay; but break it up, make it fine, turn it occasionally so as to expose it to the atmosphere, and with the proper degree of moisture and heat it will ferment rapidly, and all its elements will soon become available food for plants. Nothing has been created by the process. It was all there. We have simply made it available. So it is with the soil. Break it up, make it fine, turn it occasionally, expose it to the atmosphere, and the elements it contains become available.
I do not think that Mr. Geddes' land is any better, naturally, than yours or mine. We can all raise fair crops by cultivating the land thoroughly, and by never allowing a weed to grow. On Mr. Lawes' experimental wheat-field, the plot that has never received a particle of manure, produces every year an average of about 15 bushels per acre. And the whole crop is removed—grain, straw, and chaff. Nothing is returned. And that the land is not remarkably rich, is evident from the fact that some of the farms in the neighborhood, produce, under the ordinary system of management, but little more wheat, once in four or five years than is raised every year on this experimental plot without any manure.
Why? Because these farmers do not half work their land, and the manure they make is little better than rotten straw. Mr. Lawes' wheat-field is plowed twice every year, and when I was there, the crop was hand-hoed two or three times in the spring. Not a weed is suffered to grow. And this is all there is to it.
Now, of course, instead of raising 15 bushels of wheat every year, it is a good deal better to raise a crop of 30 bushels every other year, and still better to raise 45 bushels every third year. And it is here that clover comes to our aid. It will enable us to do this very thing, and the land runs no greater risk of exhaustion than Mr. Lawes' unmanured wheat crop.
Mr. Geddes and I do not differ as much as you suppose. In fact, I do not believe that we differ at all. He has for years been an earnest advocate for growing clover as a renovating crop. He thinks it by far the cheapest manure that can be obtained in this section. I agree with him most fully in all these particulars. He formed his opinion from experience and observation. I derived mine from the Rothamsted experiments. And the more I see of practical farming, the more am I satisfied of their truth. Clover is, unquestionably, the great renovating crop of American agriculture. A crop of clover, equal to two tons of hay, when plowed under, will furnish more ammonia to the soil than twenty tons of straw-made manure, drawn out fresh and wet in the spring, or than twelve tons of our ordinary barn-yard manure. No wonder Mr. Geddes and other intelligent farmers recommend plowing under clover as manure. I differ from them in no respect except this: that it is not absolutely essential to plow clover under in the green state in order to get its fertilizing effect; but, if made into hay, and this hay is fed to animals, and all the manure carefully saved, and returned to the land, there need be comparatively little loss. The animals will seldom take out more than from five to ten per cent of all the nitrogen furnished in the food—and less still of mineral matter. I advocate growing all the clover you possibly can—so does Mr. Geddes. He says, plow it under for manure. So say I—unless you can make more from feeding out the clover-hay, than will pay you for waiting a year, and for cutting and curing the clover and drawing back the manure. If you plow it under, you are sure of it. There is no loss. In feeding it out, you may lose more or less from leaching, and injurious fermentation. But, of course, you need not lose anything, except the little that is retained in the flesh, or wool, or milk, of the animals. As things are on many farms, it is perhaps best to plow under the clover for manure at once. As things ought to be, it is a most wasteful practice. If you know how to feed out the hay to advantage, and take pains to save the manure (and to add to its value by feeding oil-cake, bran, etc., with it), it is far better to mow your clover, once for hay, and once for seed, than to plow it under. Buy oil-cake and bran with the money got from the seed, and growing clover-seed will not injure the land.
I am glad to hear that Mr. Geddes occasionally sells straw. I once sold 15 tons of straw to the paper-makers for $150, they drawing it themselves, and some of my neighbors criticised me severely for doing so. It is not considered an orthodox practice. I do not advocate selling straw as a rule; but, if you have more than you can use to advantage, and it is bringing a good price, sell part of the straw and buy bran, oil-cake, etc., with the money. To feed nothing but straw to stock is poor economy; and to rot it down for manure is no better. Straw itself is not worth $3.00 a ton for manure; and as one ton of straw, spread in an open yard to rot, will make, in spring, about four tons of so-called manure, and if it costs 50 cents a ton to draw out and spread it, the straw, even at this comparatively high estimate of its value, nets you, when fed out alone, or rotted down, only $1.00 a ton.
I had about 30 tons of straw. Fed out alone or rotted down it would make 120 tons of manure. After deducting the expense of hauling, and spreading, it nets me on the land, $30. Now sell half the straw for $150, and buy three tons of oil-cake to feed out with the other half, and you would have about seventy tons of manure. The manure from the fifteen tons of straw is worth, say $45, and from the three tons of oil-cake, $60, or $105. It will cost $35 to draw and spread it, and will thus net on the land, $70. So far as the manure question is concerned, therefore, it is far better to sell half your straw, and buy oil-cake with the money, than to feed it out alone—and I think it is also far better for the stock. Of course, it would be better for the farm, not to sell any of the straw, and to buy six tons of oil-cake to feed out with it; but those of us who are short of capital, must be content to bring up our land by slow degrees.
"I am at a loss to understand," wrote Mr. Geddes, "what you mean, when you say that a ton of straw will make, in the spring of the year, four tons of so-called manure. If you had said that four tons of straw would make one ton of manure, I should have thought nothing of it. But how you can turn one ton of straw into four tons of anything that anybody will call manure, I do not see. In a conversation I had with Hon. Lewis F. Allen, of Black Rock, more than a year ago, he told me that he had enquired of the man who furnished hay for feeding cattle at the Central Yards, in Buffalo, as to the loads of manure he sold, and though I can not now say the exact quantity to a ton of hay, I remember that it was very little—far less than I had before supposed. Please explain this straw-manure matter."
Boussingault, the great French chemist-farmer, repeatedly analyzed the manure from his barn-yard. "The animals which had produced this dung, were 30 horses, 30 oxen, and from 10 to 20 pigs. The absolute quantity of moisture was ascertained, by first drying in the air a considerable weight of dung, and after pounding, continuing and completing, the drying of a given quantity." No one can doubt the accuracy of the results. The dung made in the
Winter of 1837-8, contained 79.6 per cent of water. " " 1838-9, " 77.8 " " " " Autumn " 1839, " 80.4 " " " "
Fresh solid cow-dung contains, according to the same authority, 90 per cent of water.
I have frequently seen manure drawn out in the spring, that had not been decomposed at all, and with more or less snow among it, and with water dripping from the wagon, while it was being loaded. It was, in fact, straw saturated with water, and discolored by the droppings of animals. Now, how much of such manure would a ton of dry straw make? If we should take 20 lbs. of straw, trample it down, and from time to time sprinkle it with water and snow, until we had got on 80 lbs., and then put on 20 lbs. more straw, and 80 lbs. more water, and keep on until we had used up a ton of straw, how much "so-called manure," should we have to draw out?
2,000 lbs. of straw, and 8,000 lbs. water = 10,000 lbs. so-called manure.
In other words, we get five tons of such manure from one ton of straw. This is, perhaps, an extreme case, but there can be little doubt, that a ton of straw, trampled down by cattle, and sheep, in an open barn-yard, exposed to snow and rain, would weigh four tons when drawn out wet in the spring.
Yes, it is quite an argument in favor of manure cellars. I have always had a prejudice against them—probably, because the first one I saw was badly managed. There is, however, no necessity, even in an ordinary open barn-yard, with more or less sheds and stables, of having so much water in the manure when drawn out. The real point of my remarks, which so surprised Mr. Geddes, was this: We have to draw out so much water with our manure, under any circumstances, that we should try to have it as rich as possible. It is certainly true, that, if the manure from a ton of straw is worth $3, that from a ton of clover-hay, is worth $10. And it costs no more to draw out and spread the one than the other. I have never yet found a farmer who would believe that a ton of clover-hay, rotted down in the barn-yard, would make three or four tons of manure; but he would readily assent to the proposition, that it took four or five tons of green clover to make a ton of hay; and that if these four or five tons of green-clover were rotted in the yard, it would make three or four tons of manure. And yet, the only difference between the green-clover and the hay, is, that the latter has lost some 60 or 70 per cent of water in curing. Add that amount of water to the hay, and it will make as much manure as the green-clover from which the hay was made.
GYPSUM AND CLOVER AS MANURE.
A good farmer came in while we were talking. "Nothing like plaster and clover," he said, "for keeping up a wheat-farm." And you will find this the general opinion of nearly all American wheat-growers. It must be accepted as a fact. But the deductions drawn from the fact are as various as they are numerous.
Let us look first at the fact. And, if you like, we will take my own farm as an example. About 60 years ago, it was covered with the primeval forest. The trees, on the higher and drier land, were first cut down, and many of them burnt on the land. Wheat was sown among the stumps. The crop varied in different years, from 10 to 30 bushels per acre. When 30 bushels were grown, the fact was remembered. When 10 bushels only were grown, little was said about it in after years, until now there is a general impression that our wheat crops were formerly much larger per acre than now. I doubt it; but we will not discuss the point. One thing is certain, the land would produce good crops of clover; and when this clover was plowed under for manure, we got better crops of wheat afterwards. This was the rule. Later, we commenced to use gypsum as a top-dressing on clover. The effect was often wonderful. Farmers will tell you that they sowed 200 lbs. of plaster per acre, on their young clover, in the spring, and it doubled the crop. This statement expresses an agricultural, and not an arithmetical fact. We do not know that the crop on the plastered portion was twice as heavy as on the unplastered. We know that it was larger, and more luxuriant. There was a greater, and more vigorous growth. And this extra growth was caused by the small top-dressing of powdered gypsum rock. It was a great fact in agriculture. I will call it fact, No. 1.
Then, when the clover was turned under, we usually got good wheat. This is fact, No. 2. On these two facts, hang many of our agricultural theories. We may state these facts in many ways. Still, it all comes to this: Clover is good for wheat; plaster is good for clover.
There is another fact, which is a matter of general observation and remark. You rarely find a good farmer who does not pay special attention to his clover-crop. When I was riding with Mr. Geddes, among the farmers of Onondaga County, on passing a farm where everything looked thrifty—good fences, good buildings, good garden, good stock, and the land clean and in good condition—I would ask who lived there, or some other question. No matter what. The answer was always the same. "Oh! he is another of our clover men." We will call this fact, No. 3.
And when, a year afterwards, Mr. Geddes returned my visit, and I drove him around among the farmers of Monroe County, he found precisely the same state of facts. All our good farmers were clover men. Among the good wheat-growers in Michigan, you will find the same state of things.
These are the facts. Let us not quarrel over them.
THE CHEAPEST MANURE A FARMER CAN USE.
I do not know who first said, "The cheapest manure a farmer can use is—clover-seed," but the saying has become part of our agricultural literature, and deserves a passing remark.
I have heard good farmers in Western New York say, that if they had a field sown with wheat that they were going to plow the spring after the crop was harvested, they would sow 10 lbs. of clover-seed on the wheat in the spring. They thought that the growth of the clover in the fall, after the wheat was cut, and the growth the next spring, before the land was plowed, would afford manure worth much more than the cost of the clover-seed.
"I do not doubt it," said the Deacon; "but would it not be better to let the crop grow a few months longer, and then plow it under?"
"But that is not the point," I remarked; "we sometimes adopt a rotation when Indian-corn follows a crop of wheat. In such a case, good farmers sometimes plow the land in the fall, and again the next spring, and then plant corn. This is one method. But I have known, as I said before, good farmers to seed down the wheat with clover; and the following spring, say the third week in May, plow under the young clover, and plant immediately on the furrow. If the land is warm, and in good condition, you will frequently get clover, by this time, a foot high, and will have two or three tons of succulent vegetation to turn under; and the farmer who first recommended the practice to me, said that the cut-worms were so fond of this green-clover that they did not molest the young corn-plants. I once tried the plan myself, and found it to work well; but since then, I have kept so many pigs and sheep, that clover has been too useful to plow under. But we will not discuss this point at present.
"What I wanted to say is this: Here we have a field in wheat. Half of it (A) we seed down with 12 lbs. of clover-seed per acre; the other half (B) not. The clover-seed and sowing on A, cost, say, $2 per acre. We plow B in the fall; this will cost us about as much as the clover seed sown on A. In the spring, A and B are both plowed and planted to corn. Now, which half of the field will be in the cleanest and best condition, and which will produce the best corn, and the best barley, or oats, afterwards?"
"I vote for A," said the Deacon.
"I vote for A," said the Doctor.
"I vote for A," said the Squire.
"I should think," modestly suggested Charley, "that it would depend somewhat on the soil," and Charley is right. On a clean, moderately rich piece of light, sandy soil, I should certainly expect much better corn, and better barley or oats, on A, where the clover was grown, than on B. But if the field was a strong loam, that needed thorough cultivation to get it mellow enough for corn, I am inclined to think that B would come out ahead. At any rate, I am sure that on my own farm, moderately stiff land, if I was going to plant corn after wheat, I should not seed it down with clover. I would plow the wheat stubble immediately after harvest, and harrow and cultivate it to kill the weeds, and then, six weeks or two months later, I would plow it again. I would draw out manure in the winter, pile it up in the field to ferment, and the next spring spread it, and plow it under, and then—
"And then what?" asked the Deacon. —"Why the truth is," said I, "then I would not plant corn at all. I should either sow the field to barley, or drill in mangel-wurzel or Swede-turnips. But if I did plant corn, I should expect better corn than if I had sown clover with the wheat; and the land, if the corn was well cultivated, would be remarkably clean, and in fine condition; and the next time the land was seeded down with clover, we could reasonably expect a great crop."
The truth is, that clover-seed is sometimes a very cheap manure, and farmers are in no danger of sowing too much of it. I do not mean sowing too much seed per acre, but they are in no danger of sowing too many acres with clover. On this point, there is no difference of opinion. It is only when we come to explain the action of clover—when we draw deductions from the facts of the case—that we enter a field bristling all over with controversy.
"You have just finished threshing," said the Deacon, "and for my part, I would rather hear how your wheat turned out, than to listen to any of your chemical talk about nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash."
"The wheat," said I, "turned out full as well as I expected. Fourteen acres of it was after wheat, and eight acres of it after oats. Both these fields were seeded down with clover last year, but the clover failed, and there was nothing to be done but to risk them again with wheat. The remainder was after barley. In all, there was not quite 40 acres, and we had 954 bushels of Diehl wheat. This is not bad in the circumstances; but I shall not be content until I can average, taking one year with another, 35 to 40 bushels per acre. If the land had been rich enough, there would unquestionably have been 40 bushels per acre this year. That is to say, the season was quite capable of producing this amount; and I think the mechanical condition of the land was also equal to it; all that was needed was sufficient available plant-food in the soil."
"I can see no reason," said the Doctor, "why you may not average 40 bushels of wheat per acre in a good season."
"The field of 14 acres," said I, "where wheat followed wheat, yielded 23 bushels per acre. Last year it yielded 22 bushels per acre; and so we got in the two years 45 bushels per acre."
This field has had no manure of any kind for years. In fact, since the land was cleared, 40 or 50 years ago, I presume that all the manure that has been applied would not, in the aggregate, be equal to more than a good crop of clover-hay. The available plant-food required to produce these two crops of wheat came from the soil itself, and from the rain, dews, and atmosphere. The land is now seeded down with clover, and with the aid of a bushel or two of plaster per acre, next spring, it is not improbable that, if mown twice for hay next year, it will yield in the two crops three tons of hay per acre.
Now, three tons of clover-hay contain about 33 lbs. of phosphoric acid, 90 lbs. of potash, and 150 lbs. of nitrogen.
The last crop of wheat, of 22 bushels per acre, and say 1,500 lbs. of straw, would contain:
In the grain. In the straw. In total crop. Phosphoric acid 11-1/2 lbs. 3-3/4 lbs. 15-1/4 lbs. Potash 6-3/4 " 9-3/4 " 16-1/2 " Nitrogen 23 " 9-1/2 " 32-1/2 "
It seems very unkind in the wheat-plants not to give me more than 22 bushels per acre, when the clover-plants coming after will find phosphoric acid enough for 40 bushels of wheat, and potash and nitrogen enough for nearly 100 bushels of wheat per acre. And these are the three important constituents of plant-food.
Why, then, did I get only 22 bushels of wheat per acre? I got 23 bushels on the same land the year previous, and it is not improbable that if I had sown the same land to wheat again this fall, I should get 12 or 15 bushels per acre again next year. But the clover will find plant-food enough for 40 bushels of wheat.
"There is not much doubt," said the Deacon, "that you will get a good crop of clover, if you will keep the sheep off of the land this fall. But I do not see what you mean by the clover-plants finding food enough for 40 bushels of wheat, while in point of fact, if you had sown the field again to wheat this fall, you would not, as you say, probably get more than 12 or 15 bushels of wheat."
"He means this," said the Doctor. "If he had sown the land to wheat this fall, without manure, he would probably not get over 15 bushels of wheat per acre, and yet you both agree that the land will, in all probability, produce next year, if mown twice, three tons of clover-hay per acre, without any manure.
"Now, if we admit that the clover gets no more nitrogen from the rain and dews, and from the atmosphere, than the wheat will get, then it follows that this soil, which will only produce 15 bushels of wheat per acre, does, in point of fact, contain plant-food enough for 40 bushels of wheat, and the usual proportion of straw.
"The two crops take up from the soil as follows:
Phosphoric acid. Potash. Nitrogen. 15 bushels wheat and straw 10-1/4 lbs. 11-1/4 lbs. 22 lbs. 3 tons clover-hay 33 " 90 " 150 "
"These facts and figures," continued the Doctor, "are worth looking at and thinking about. Why can not the wheat get as much phosphoric acid out of the soil as the clover?"
"Because," said the Deacon, "the roots of the clover go down deeper into the subsoil than the roots of wheat."
"That is a very good reason, so far as it goes," said I, "but does not include all the facts. I have no sort of doubt, that if I had sown this land to wheat, and put on 75 lbs. of nitrogen per acre, I should have got a wheat-crop containing, in grain and straw, 30 lbs. of phosphoric acid. And so the reason I got 15 bushels of wheat per acre, instead of 40 bushels, is not because the roots of wheat do not go deep enough to find sufficient soluble phosphoric acid."
"Possibly," said the Doctor, "the nitrogen you apply may render the phosphoric acid in the soil more soluble."
"That is true," said I; "and this was the answer Liebig gave to Mr. Lawes. Of which more at some future time. But this answer, like the Deacon's, does not cover all the facts of the case; for a supply of soluble phosphoric acid would not, in all probability, give me a large crop of wheat. I will give you some facts presently bearing on this point.
"What we want to find out is, why the clover can get so much more phosphoric acid, potash, and nitrogen, than the wheat, from the same soil?"
MORE ABOUT CLOVER.
The Deacon seemed to think the Doctor was going to give a scientific answer to the question. "If the clover can get more nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash, from the same soil than wheat," said he, "why not accept the fact, and act accordingly? You scientific gentlemen want to explain everything, and sometimes make confusion worse confounded. We know that a sheep will grow fat in a pasture where a cow would starve."
"True," said the Doctor, "and that is because the cow gathers food with her tongue, and must have the grass long enough for her to get hold of it; while a sheep picks up the grass with her teeth and gums, and, consequently, the sheep can eat the grass down into the very ground."
"Very well," said the Deacon; "and how do you know but that the roots of the clover gather up their food sheep-fashion, while the wheat-roots eat like a cow?"
"That is not a very scientific way of putting it," said the Doctor; "but I am inclined to think the Deacon has the right idea."
"Perhaps, then," said I, "we had better let it go at that until we get more light on the subject. We must conclude that the wheat can not get food enough from the soil to yield a maximum crop, not because there is not food enough in the field, but the roots of the wheat are so constituted that they can not gather it up; while clover-roots, foraging in the same soil, can find all they want."
"Clover," said the Deacon, "is the scavenger of the farm; like a pig, it gathers up what would otherwise be wasted."
"Of course, these illustrations," said the Doctor, "do not give us any clear idea of how the clover-plants take up food. We must recollect that the roots of plants take up their food in solution; and it has just occurred to me that, possibly, Mr. Lawes' experiments on the amount of water given off by plants during their growth, may throw some light on the subject we are discussing."
"Mr. Lawes found," continued the Doctor, "that a wheat-plant, from March 19 to June 28, or 101 days, evaporated through its leaves, etc., 45,713 grains of water; while a clover-plant, standing alongside, and in precisely similar condition, evaporated 55,093 grains. The clover was cut June 28, when in full bloom. The wheat-plant was allowed to grow until ripe, Sept. 7. From June 28 to Sept. 7, or 72 days, the wheat-plant evaporated 67,814 grains."
"One moment," said the Deacon; "as I understand, the clover-plant evaporated more water than the wheat-plant, until the 28th of June, but that during the next 71 days, the wheat-plant evaporated more water than it had during the previous 101 days."
"Yes," said I, "and if these facts prove nothing else, they at least show that there is a great difference between wheat and clover. I was at Rothamsted when these experiments were made. During the first nine days of the experiment, the clover-plant evaporated 399.6 grains of water; while the wheat-plant, standing alongside, evaporated only 128.7 grains. In other words, the clover-plant evaporated three times as much water as the wheat-plant. During the next 31 days, the wheat-plant evaporated 1,267.8 grains, and the clover-plant 1,643.0 grains; but during the next 27 days, from April 28 to May 25, the wheat-plant evaporated 162.4 grains of water per day, while the clover-plant only evaporated 109.2 grains per day. During the next 34 days, from May 25 to June 28, the wheat-plant evaporated 1,177.4 grains per day, and the clover-plant 1,473.5 grains per day."
"In June," said the Deacon, "the clover evaporates ten times as much water per day as it did in May. How much water would an acre of clover evaporate?"
"Let Charley figure it out," said the Doctor. "Suppose each plant occupies 10 square inches of land; there are 6,272,640 square inches in an acre, and, consequently, there would be 627,264 clover-plants on an acre. Each plant evaporated 1,473.5 grains per day, and there are 7,000 grains in a pound."
Charley made the calculation, and found that an acre of clover, from May 25 to June 28, evaporated 528,598 lbs. of water, or 15,547 lbs. per day.
A much more accurate way of ascertaining how much water an acre of clover evaporates is afforded us by these experiments. After the plants were cut, they were weighed and analyzed; and it being known exactly how much water each plant had given off during its growth, we have all the facts necessary to tell us just how much a crop of a given weight would evaporate. In brief, it was found that for each pound of dry substance in the wheat-plant, 247.4 lbs. of water had been evaporated; and for each pound in the clover-plant, 269.1 lbs.
An acre of wheat of 15 bushels per acre of grain, and an equal weight of straw, would exhale during the spring and summer 177-3/4 tons of water, or calculated on 172 days, the duration of the experiment, 2,055 lbs. per day.
An acre of clover that would make two tons of hay, would pass off through its leaves, in 101 days, 430 tons of water, or 8,600 lbs. per day—more than four times as much as the wheat.
These figures show that, from an agricultural point of view, there is a great difference between, wheat and clover; and yet I think the figures do not show the whole of the difference. The clover was cut just at the time when the wheat-plant was entering on its period of most rapid growth and exhalation, and, consequently, the figures given above probably exaggerate the amount of water given off by the wheat during the early part of the season. It is, at any rate, quite clear, and this is all I want to show, that an acre of good clover exhales a much larger amount of water from spring to hay-harvest than an acre of wheat.
"And what," said the Deacon, who was evidently getting tired of the figures, "does all this prove?"
The figures prove that clover can drink a much greater quantity of water during March, April, May, and June, than wheat; and, consequently, to get the same amount of food, it is not necessary that the clover should have as much nitrogen, phosphoric acid, potash, etc., in the water as the wheat-plant requires. I do not know that I make myself understood.
"You want to show," said the Deacon, "that the wheat-plant requires richer food than clover."
Yes, I want to show that, though clover requires more food per day than wheat, yet the clover can drink such a large amount of water, that it is not necessary to make the "sap of the soil" so rich in nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash, for clover, as it is for wheat. I think this tells the whole story.
Clover is, or may be, the grandest renovating and enriching crop commonly grown on our farms. It owes its great value, not to any power it may or may not possess of getting nitrogen from the atmosphere, or phosphoric acid and potash from the subsoil, but principally, if not entirely, to the fact that the roots can drink up such a large amount of water, and live and thrive on very weak food.
HOW TO MAKE A FARM RICH BY GROWING CLOVER.
Not by growing the clover, and selling it. Nothing would exhaust the land so rapidly as such a practice. We must either plow under the clover, let it rot on the surface, or pasture it, or use it for soiling, or make it into hay, feed it out to stock, and return the manure to the land. If clover got its nitrogen from the atmosphere, we might sell the clover, and depend on the roots left in the ground, to enrich the soil for the next crop. But if, as I have endeavored to show, clover gets its nitrogen from a weak solution in the soil, it is clear, that though for a year or two we might raise good crops from the plant-food left in the clover-roots, yet we should soon find that growing a crop of clover, and leaving only the roots in the soil, is no way to permanently enrich land.
I do not say that such a practice will "exhaust" the land. Fortunately, while it is an easy matter to impoverish land, we should have to call in the aid of the most advanced agricultural science, before we could "exhaust" land of its plant-food. The free use of Nitrate of Soda, or Sulphate of Ammonia, might enable us to do something in the way of exhausting our farms, but it would reduce our balance at a bank, or send us to the poor-house, before we had fully robbed the land of its plant-food.
To exhaust land, by growing and selling clover, is an agricultural impossibility, for the simple reason that, long before the soil is exhausted, the clover would produce such a poverty-stricken crop, that we should give up the attempt.
We can make our land poor, by growing clover, and selling it; or, we can make our land rich, by growing clover, and feeding it out on the farm. Or, rather, we can make our land rich, by draining it where needed, cultivating it thoroughly, so as to develope the latent plant-food existing in the soil, and then by growing clover to take up and organize this plant-food. This is how to make land rich by growing clover. It is not, in one sense, the clover that makes the land rich; it is the draining and cultivation, that furnishes the food for the clover. The clover takes up this food and concentrates it. The clover does not create the plant-food; it merely saves it. It is the thorough cultivation that enriches the land, not the clover.
"I wish," writes a distinguished New York gentleman, who has a farm of barren sand, "you would tell us whether it is best to let clover ripen and rot on the surface, or plow it under when in blossom? I have heard that it gave more nitrogen to the land to let it ripen and rot on it, but as I am no chemist, I do not know."
If, instead of plowing under the clover—say the last of June, it was left to grow a month longer, it is quite possible that the clover-roots and seed would contain more nitrogen than they did a month earlier. It was formerly thought that there was a loss of nitrogen during the ripening process, but the evidence is not altogether conclusive on the point. Still, if I had a piece of sandy land that I wished to enrich by clover, I do not think I should plow it under in June, on the one hand, or let it grow until maturity, and rot down, on the other. I should rather prefer to mow the crop just as it commenced to blossom, and let the clover lie, spread out on the land, as left by the machine. There would, I think, be no loss of fertilizing elements by evaporation, while the clover-hay would act as a mulch, and the second growth of clover would be encouraged by it. Mow this second crop again, about the first week in August. Then, unless it was desirable to continue the process another year, the land might be plowed up in two or three weeks, turning under the two previous crops of clover that are on the surface, together with the green-clover still growing. I believe this would be better than to let the clover exhaust itself by running to seed.
DR. VOELCKER'S EXPERIMENTS ON CLOVER.
In the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, for 1868, Dr. Voelcker, the able chemist of the Society, and formerly Professor of Agricultural Chemistry, at the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester, England, has given us a paper "On the Causes of the Benefits of Clover, as a preparatory Crop for Wheat." The paper has been repeatedly and extensively quoted in this country, but has not been as critically studied as the importance of the subject demands.
"Never mind all that," said the Deacon, "tell us what Dr. Voelcker says."
"Here is the paper," said I, "and Charley will read it to us." Charley read as follows:
"Agricultural chemists inform us, that in order to maintain the productive powers of the land unimpaired, we must restore to it the phosphoric acid, potash, nitrogen, and other substances, which enter into the composition of our farm crops; the constant removal of organic and inorganic soil constituents, by the crops usually sold off the farm, leading, as is well known, to more or less rapid deterioration and gradual exhaustion of the land. Even the best wheat soils of this and other countries, become more and more impoverished, and sustain a loss of wheat-yielding power, when corn-crops are grown in too rapid succession without manure. Hence, the universal practice of manuring, and that also of consuming oil-cake, corn, and similar purchased food on land naturally poor, or partially exhausted by previous cropping.
"Whilst, however, it holds good as a general rule, that no soil can be cropped for any length of time, without gradually becoming more and more infertile, if no manure be applied to it, or if the fertilizing elements removed by the crops grown thereon, be not by some means or other restored, it is, nevertheless, a fact, that after a heavy crop of clover carried off as hay, the land, far from being less fertile than before, is peculiarly well adapted, even without the addition of manure, to bear a good crop of wheat in the following year, provided the season be favorable to its growth. This fact, indeed, is so well known, that many farmers justly regard the growth of clover as one of the best preparatory operations which the land can undergo, in order to its producing an abundant crop of wheat in the following year. It has further been noticed, that clover mown twice, leaves the land in a better condition, as regards its wheat-producing capabilities, than when mown once only for hay, and the second crop fed off on the land by sheep; for, notwithstanding that in the latter instance the fertilizing elements in the clover-crop are in part restored in the sheep excrements, yet, contrary to expectation, this partial restoration of the elements of fertility to the land has not the effect of producing more or better wheat in the following year, than is reaped on land from off which the whole clover-crop has been carried, and to which no manure whatever has been applied.
"Again, in the opinion of several good, practical agriculturists, with whom I have conversed on the subject, land whereon clover has been grown for seed in the preceding year, yields a better crop of wheat than it does when the clover is mown twice for hay, or even only once, and afterwards fed off by sheep."
"I do not think," said the Deacon, "that this agrees with our experience here. A good crop of clover-seed is profitable, but it is thought to be rather hard on land."
"Such," said I, "is the opinion of John Johnston. He thinks allowing clover to go to seed, impoverishes the soil."
Charley, continued to read:
"Whatever may be the true explanation of the apparent anomalies connected with the growth and chemical history of the clover-plant, the facts just mentioned, having been noticed, not once or twice only, or by a solitary observer, but repeatedly, and by numbers of intelligent farmers, are certainly entitled to credit; and little wisdom, as it strikes me, is displayed by calling them into question, because they happen to contradict the prevailing theory, according to which a soil is said to become more or less impoverished, in proportion to the large or small amount of organic and mineral soil constituents carried off in the produce."
"That is well said," I remarked, "and very truly; but I will not interrupt the reading."
"In the course of a long residence," continues Dr. Voelcker, "in a purely agricultural district, I have often been struck with the remarkably healthy appearance and good yield of wheat, on land from which a heavy crop of clover-hay was obtained in the preceding year. I have likewise had frequent opportunities of observing, that, as a rule, wheat grown on part of a field whereon clover has been twice mown for hay, is better than the produce of that on the part of the same field on which the clover has been mown only once for hay, and afterwards fed off by sheep. These observations, extending over a number of years, led me to inquire into the reasons why clover is specially well fitted to prepare land for wheat; and in this paper, I shall endeavor, as the result of my experiments on the subject, to give an intelligible explanation of the fact, that clover is so excellent a preparatory crop for wheat, as it is practically known to be.
"By those taking a superficial view of the subject, it may be suggested that any injury likely to be caused by the removal of a certain amount of fertilizing matter, is altogether insignificant, and more than compensated for, by the benefit which results from the abundant growth of clover-roots, and the physical improvement in the soil, which takes place in their decomposition. Looking, however, more closely into the matter, it will be found that in a good crop of clover-hay, a very considerable amount of both mineral and organic substances is carried off the land, and that, if the total amount of such constituents in a crop had to be regarded exclusively as a measure for determining the relative degrees in which different farm crops exhaust the soil, clover would have to be described as about the most exhausting crop in the entire rotation.
"Clover-hay, on an average, and in round numbers, contains in 100 parts:
Water 17.0 Nitrogenous substances, (flesh-forming matters)[A] 15.6 Non-nitrogenous compounds 59.9 Mineral matter, (ash) 7.5 ——- 100.0 ===== [A] Containing nitrogen 2.5
"The mineral portion, or ash, in 100 parts of clover-hay, consists of:
Phosphoric acid 7.5 Sulphuric acid 4.3 Carbonic acid 18.0 Silica 3.0 Lime 30.0 Magnesia 8.5 Potash 20.0 Soda, chloride of sodium, oxide of iron, sand, loss, etc. 8.7 ——- 100.0 =====
"Let us suppose the land to have yielded four tons of clover-hay per acre. According to the preceding data, we find that such a crop includes 224 lbs. of nitrogen, equal to 272 lbs. of ammonia, and 672 lbs. of mineral matter or ash constituents.
"In 672 lbs. of clover-ash, we find:
Phosphoric acid 51-1/2 lbs. Sulphuric acid 29 " Carbonic acid 121 " Silica 20 " Lime 201 " Magnesia 57 " Potash 134-1/2 " Soda, chloride of sodium, oxide of iron, sand, etc. 58 " —————— 672 lbs. ============
"Four tons of clover-hay, the produce of one acre, thus contain a large amount of nitrogen, and remove from the soil an enormous quantity of mineral matters, abounding in lime and potash, and containing also a good deal of phosphoric acid.
"Leaving for a moment the question untouched, whether the nitrogen contained in the clover, is derived from the soil, or from the atmosphere, or partly from the one, and partly from the other, no question can arise as to the original source from which the mineral matters in the clover produce are derived. In relation, therefore, to the ash-constituents, clover must be regarded as one of the most exhausting crops usually cultivated in this country. This appears strikingly to be the case, when we compare the preceding figures with the quantity of mineral matters which an average crop of wheat removes from an acre of land.
"The grain and straw of wheat contain, in round numbers, in 100 parts:
Grains of Wheat. Straw.
Water 15.0 16.0 Nitrogenous substances, (flesh-forming matter)[A] 11.1 4.0 Non-nitrogenous substances 72.2 74.9 Mineral matter, (ash) 1.7 5.1 ——- ——— 100.0 100.0 ===== ====== [A] Containing nitrogen 1.78 .64
"The ash of wheat contains, in 100 parts:
Grain. Straw. Phosphoric acid 50.0 5.0 Sulphuric acid 0.5 2.7 Carbonic acid Silica 2.5 67.0 Lime 3.5 5.5 Magnesia 11.5 2.9 Potash 30.0 13.0 Soda, chloride of sodium, oxide of iron, sand, etc. 2.0 4.8 ——- ——- Total 100.0 100.0 ===== =====
"The mean produce of wheat, per acre, may be estimated at 25 bushels, which, at 60 lbs. per bushel, gives 1,500 lbs.; and as the weight of the straw is generally twice that of the grain, its produce will be 3,000 lbs. According, therefore, to the preceding data, there will be carried away from the soil:
In 1,500 lbs. of the grain 25 lbs. of mineral food, (in round numbers). In 3,000 lbs. of the straw 150 lbs. of mineral food, (in round numbers). —- Total 175 lbs.
"On the average of the analyses, it will be found that the composition of these 175 lbs. is as follows:
- -+ In the In the grain. straw. Total. + - - Phosphoric acid 12.5 lbs. 7.5 lbs. 20.0 lbs. Sulphuric acid 0.1 " 4.0 " 4.1 " Carbonic acid Silica 0.6 " 100.5 " 101.1 " Lime 0.9 " 8.2 " 9.1 " Magnesia 2.9 " 3.0 " 5.9 " Potash 7.5 " 19.5 " 27.0 " Soda, chloride of sodium, oxide of iron, sand, etc. 0.5 " 7.3 " 7.8 " - - 25. lbs. 150. lbs. 175. lbs. - -
"The total quantity of ash constituents carried off the land, in an average crop of wheat, thus amounts to only 175 lbs. per acre, whilst a good crop of clover removes as much as 672 lbs.
"Nearly two-thirds of the total amount of mineral in the grain and straw of one acre of wheat, consists of silica, of which there is an ample supply in almost every soil. The restoration of silica, therefore, need not trouble us in any way, especially as there is not a single instance on record, proving that silica, even in a soluble condition, has ever been applied to land, with the slightest advantage to corn, or grass-crops, which are rich in silica, and which, for this reason, may be assumed to be particularly grateful for it in a soluble state. Silica, indeed, if at all capable of producing a beneficial effect, ought to be useful to these crops, either by strengthening the straw, or stems of graminaceous plants, or otherwise benefiting them; but, after deducting the amount of silica from the total amount of mineral matters in the wheat produced from one acre, only a trifling quantity of other and more valuable fertilizing ash constituents of plants will be left. On comparing the relative amounts of phosphoric acid, and potash, in an average crop of wheat, and a good crop of clover-hay, it will be seen that one acre of clover-hay contains as much phosphoric acid, as two and one-half acres of wheat, and as much potash as the produce from five acres of the same crop. Clover thus unquestionably removes from the land very much more mineral matter than does wheat; wheat, notwithstanding, succeeds remarkably well after clover.
"Four tons of clover-hay, or the produce of an acre, contains, as already stated, 224 lbs. of nitrogen, or calculated as ammonia, 272 lbs.
"Assuming the grain of wheat to furnish 1.78 per cent of nitrogen, and wheat-straw, .64 per cent, and assuming also that 1,500 lbs. of corn, and 3,000 lbs. of straw, represent the average produce per acre, there will be in the grain of wheat, per acre, 26.7 lbs. of nitrogen, and in the straw, 19.2 lbs., or in both together, 46 lbs. of nitrogen; in round numbers, equal to about 55 lbs. of ammonia, which is only about one-fifth the quantity of nitrogen in the produce of an acre of clover. Wheat, it is well known, is specially benefited by the application of nitrogenous manures, and as clover carries off so large a quantity of nitrogen, it is natural to expect the yield of wheat, after clover, to fall short of what the land might be presumed to produce without manure, before a crop of clover was taken from it. Experience, however, has proved the fallacy of this presumption, for the result is exactly the opposite, inasmuch as a better and heavier crop of wheat is produced than without the intercalation of clover. What, it may be asked, is the explanation of this apparent anomaly?
"In taking up this inquiry, I was led to pass in review the celebrated and highly important experiments, undertaken by Mr. Lawes and Dr. Gilbert, on the continued growth of wheat on the same soil, for a long succession of years, and to examine, likewise carefully, many points, to which attention is drawn, by the same authors in their memoirs on the growth of red clover by different manures, and on the Lois Weedon plan of growing wheat. Abundant and most convincing evidence is supplied by these indefatigable experimenters, that the wheat-producing powers of a soil are not increased in any sensible degree by the liberal supply of all the mineral matters, which enter into the composition of the ash of wheat, and that the abstraction of these mineral matters from the soil, in any much larger proportions than can possibly take place under ordinary cultivation, in no wise affects the yield of wheat, provided there be at the same time a liberal supply of available nitrogen within the soil itself. The amount of the latter, therefore, is regarded by Messrs. Lawes and Gilbert, as the measure of the increased produce of grain which a soil furnishes.
"In conformity with these views, the farmer, when he wishes to increase the yield of his wheat, finds it to his advantage to have recourse to ammoniacal, or other nitrogenous manures, and depends more or less entirely upon the soil, for the supply of the necessary mineral or ash-constituents of wheat, having found such a supply to be amply sufficient for his requirements. As far, therefore, as the removal from the soil of a large amount of mineral soil-constituents, by the clover-crop, is concerned, the fact viewed in the light of the Rothamsted experiments, becomes at once intelligible; for, notwithstanding the abstraction of over 600 lbs. of mineral matter by a crop of clover, the succeeding wheat-crop does not suffer. Inasmuch, however, as we have seen, that not only much mineral matter is carried off the land in a crop of clover, but also much nitrogen, we might, in the absence of direct evidence to the contrary, be led to suspect that wheat, after clover, would not be a good crop; whereas, the fact is exactly the reverse.
"It is worthy of notice, that nitrogenous manures, which have such a marked and beneficial effect upon wheat, do no good, but in certain combinations, in some seasons, do positive harm to clover. Thus, Messrs. Lawes and Gilbert, in a series of experiments on the growth of red-clover, by different manures, obtained 14 tons of fresh green produce, equal to about three and three-fourths tons of clover hay, from the unmanured portion of the experimental field; and where sulphates of potash, soda, and magnesia, or sulphate of potash and superphosphate of lime were employed, 17 to 18 tons, (equal to from about four and one-half to nearly five tons of hay), were obtained. When salts of ammonia were added to the mineral manures, the produce of clover-hay was, upon the whole, less than where the mineral manures were used alone. The wheat, grown after the clover, on the unmanured plot, gave, however, 29-1/2 bushels of corn, whilst in the adjoining field, where wheat was grown after wheat, without manure, only 15-1/2 bushels of corn per acre were obtained. Messrs. Lawes and Gilbert notice especially, that in the clover-crop of the preceding year, very much larger quantities, both of mineral matters and of nitrogen, were taken from the land, than were removed in the unmanured wheat-crop in the same year, in the adjoining field. Notwithstanding this, the soil from which the clover had been taken, was in a condition to yield 14 bushels more wheat, per acre, than that upon which wheat had been previously grown; the yield of wheat, after clover, in these experiments, being fully equal to that in another field, where large quantities of manure were used.
"Taking all these circumstances into account, is there not presumptive evidence, that, notwithstanding the removal of a large amount of nitrogen in the clover-hay, an abundant store of available nitrogen is left in the soil, and also that in its relations towards nitrogen in the soil, clover differs essentially from wheat? The results of our experience in the growth of the two crops, appear to indicate that, whereas the growth of the wheat rapidly exhausts the land of its available nitrogen, that of clover, on the contrary, tends somehow or other to accumulate nitrogen within the soil itself. If this can be shown to be the case, an intelligible explanation of the fact that clover is so useful as a preparatory crop for wheat, will be found in the circumstance, that, during the growth of clover, nitrogenous food, for which wheat is particularly grateful, is either stored up or rendered available in the soil.
"An explanation, however plausible, can hardly be accepted as correct, if based mainly on data, which, although highly probable, are not proved to be based on fact. In chemical inquiries, especially, nothing must be taken for granted, that has not been proved by direct experiment. The following questions naturally suggest themselves in reference to this subject: What is the amount of nitrogen in soils of different characters? What is the amount more particularly after a good, and after an indifferent crop of clover? Why is the amount of nitrogen in soils, larger after clover, than after wheat and other crops? Is the nitrogen present in a condition in which it is available and useful to wheat? And lastly, are there any other circumstances, apart from the supply of nitrogenous matter in the soil, which help to account for the beneficial effects of clover as a preparatory crop for wheat?
"In order to throw some light on these questions, and, if possible, to give distinct answers to at least some of them, I, years ago, when residing at Cirencester, began a series of experiments; and more recently, I have been fortunate enough to obtain the co-operation of Mr. Robert Valentine, of Leighton Buzzard, who kindly undertook to supply me with materials for my analysis.
"My first experiments were made on a thin, calcareous, clay soil, resting on oolitic limestone, and producing generally a fair crop of red-clover. The clover-field formed the slope of a rather steep hillock, and varied much in depth. At the top of the hill, the soil became very stony at a depth of four inches, so that it could only with difficulty be excavated to a depth of six inches, when the bare limestone-rock made its appearance. At the bottom of the field the soil was much deeper, and the clover stronger, than at the upper part. On the brow of the hill, where the clover appeared to be strong, a square yard was measured out; and at a little distance off, where the clover was very bad, a second square yard was measured; in both plots, the soil being taken up to a depth of six inches. The soil, where the clover was good, may be distinguished from the other, by being marked as No. 1, and that where it was bad, as No. 2.
CLOVER-SOIL NO. 1. (GOOD CLOVER).
"The roots having first been shaken out to free them as much as possible from the soil, were then washed once or twice with cold distilled water, and, after having been dried for a little while in the sun, were weighed, when the square yard produced 1 lb. 10-1/2 oz. of cleaned clover-roots, in an air-dry state; an acre of land, or 4,840 square yards, accordingly yielded, in a depth of six inches, 3.44 tons, or 3-1/2 tons in round numbers, of clover-roots.
"Fully dried in a water-bath, the roots were found to contain altogether 44.67 per cent of water, and on being burnt in a platinum capsule, yielded 6.089 of ash. A portion of the dried, finely powdered and well mixed roots, was burned with soda lime, in a combustion tube, and the nitrogen contained in the roots otherwise determined in the usual way. Accordingly, the following is the general composition of the roots from the soil No. 1:
Water 44.675 Organic matter[A] 49.236 Mineral matter 6.089 ———- 100.000 ======= [A] Containing nitrogen 1.297 Equal to ammonia 1.575
"Assuming the whole field to have produced 3-1/2 tons of clover-roots, per acre, there will be 99.636 lbs., or in round numbers, 100 lbs. of nitrogen in the clover-roots from one acre; or, about twice as much nitrogen as is present in the average produce of an acre of wheat."