This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The art of agriculture by the aid of artificial irrigation, is a very ancient one. The most ancient authors mentioned it in a way that shows it to have been understood and practiced from time immemorial. The ancient Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Chinese constructed extensive and costly systems of ditches and canals for irrigating purposes. Portions of Arabia were made productive by an extensive clam and reservoir built before the days of King Solomon. The Pharaohs constructed an extensive canal for irrigating purposes near if not exactly on the route of the present Suez Ship Canal. The Romans constructed canals and aqueducts for this purpose, the ruins of which are the wonder of the traveller in Italy to-day. The Carthaginians, Phoenicians and Moors employed this means to promote the fertility of their soils. In modern times many of the nations of Europe resort to this method of culture.
On this continent the Spanish invaders found very extensive works for irrigation in Mexico and Peru. This method is extensively resorted to in some of the Western States and Territories at the present time. Some of the finest productions of California are the result of this manner of cultivation. This is also employed in Arizona New Mexico, Colorado and in Utah, where the desert has been made to rejoice and blossom as the rose.
The experience of the past and the present proves that where irrigation is possible it is the most reliable method that can be employed to secure moisture for growing crops. Even where the rainfall is supposed to be sufficient for the wants of growing crops, it is well-known that there will often be times when the crops will suffer, sometimes to the extent of a failure, because at the critical juncture of the crop the rain fails to come. The rainfall of Western Kansas amounts to an average of only about sixteen inches, which is far too small to meet the wants of ordinary crops. It is true that broom corn, rice corn and sugar cane do succeed here fairly without irrigation, but other crops fail, except in some exceptionally wet seasons. This has led to the inauguration of the enterprise of irrigation in that portion of the State that borders on the Arkansas river. This river, fed by the melting snows of the mountains, affords a large amount of water, particularly during that season of the year when the growing crops demand the greatest amount. There is in the three most western counties lying along that river in this State over 100,000 acres of land that are subject to overflow by irrigation without carrying the water out of the immediate river valley.
Several companies have been organized and several ditches are already in operation. The Garden City Irrigating and Power Company has a ditch eight feet wide, two feet deep and twelve miles long, and it will irrigate 12,000 acres. The Kansas Irrigating Company are cutting a canal thirty miles in length, fifteen miles of which is already dug. Tnis is twenty-two feet wide and two feet deep, to be made four feet when the demand for water shall justify it. The Minnehaha Irrigating Company have twenty miles of twenty feet in width and three feet in depth. This ditch will irrigate about 20,000 acres. But the most important enterprise of this kind in this part of the country is that of the Great Eastern Irrigation Company, with Senator Plumb and other capitalists at its head. This is to be a canal thirty feet wide and three feet deep, and will extend some fifty or sixty miles. It will probably be led out into the higher ground, and thus be made to do service in several counties. The fall in the river is so great (seven to eight feet to the mile), that there is no difficulty in conveying the water to the higher grounds.
The usual method by which irrigation is carried on here is to run the main ditch along the upper side of the land to be watered, and led by lateral drains convey the water to the particular place to be irrigated and by shallow furrows extend it to every part of the field. The success that has attended this mode of culture in this section has been very flattering indeed. The crops mostly tried under this system are onions, cabbage and potatoes, though all the common crops have been tried sufficiently to prove they may be raised with success. Thus seventy-five bushels of oats and thirty of wheat have been raised per acre. It is rather too high and the nights too cool for corn to do well, though forty bushels per acre have been raised of other crops. Onions, 400 bushels per acre; cabbage, 4000 heads; Irish potatoes, 400 bushels; sweet potatoes, 600 bushels; melons, 8,000; turnips, 1,000 bushels, and others in like proportion. And this is no more than any one can do who will use skill and industry in the business. There is still Government land near this place (I speak more particularly of Garden City, Sequoyah county), and the railroad company is offering its lands for sale. A large immigration is coming.
It is noted here that irrigation is a grand success in Kansas.