This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V25", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
It is rather surprising that while you may find a hundred men who will write and talk that " something should be done" to increase our forest area, scarcely one looks at the matter practically, to see what can be done, and endeavor to aid those who are actually trying to do something. Such men as Sargent, Warder and Douglas, deserve much more respect from their countrymen than they have hitherto received. They look closely into the actual details of American forestry, and spread the information necessary to set people practically to work to remedy what may in the future be a short timber supply. One may talk till he is hoarse about the patriotism which should plant trees because in a couple of centuries the land will be a desert if they be not planted, when he could get a thousand-acre plot started by a ten-minute talk with one who could see some immediate interest therein. He may write a learned essay elucidating what European governments are doing in the way of planting forests, and yet not take five minutes to remember what is best to be done in a country where every man is, or desires to be, a king.
To our mind there is little more needed in our country, than practical knowledge, in order to encourage forest planting. Sargent has made it plain to us just where the forests are. There is yet a good stock in some places, provided we can get railroads profitably to the locations before they rot away. Warder has indicated what trees will grow rapidly, and make profitable timber in less than a very short lifetime, but beyond all Douglas has demonstrated what it will actually cost to plant forests, and is willing to go to any part of the United States, and for stipulated figures, to either plant and stop, or to engage to care for the plantation for several years. In order that we might write this paragraph understandingly, we asked Mr. Douglas to give us some facts. The letter he sends us is a private one, but in the interest of forestry culture we believe he will not object to our giving the following extract:
"We plant this section for the railroad company. They pay the actual cost of breaking and cross-plowing the prairie, which costs $4 an acre. We prepare the land, furnish the trees, plant them four by four feet, and grow them till they are four to six feet high, and shade the ground till they require a further care or cultivation, and are to deliver 2,000 trees four to six feet high on each acre, for which we receive $30 per acre. In taking contracts for the future we will charge $5 per acre for breaking and cross-plowing the land, as the cost of getting the teams together, seeing that it is properly done, measuring for the different plowmen, paying them, etc., costs considerable and actually stands us about $5 per acre.
"Then labor has advanced since three years ago, so that we shall add $5 per acre, thus making, including breaking the raw prairie and everything till the trees are delivered over, $40 per acre, getting the $5 per acre at the time of breaking, $20 per acre when the trees are planted, and $15 per acre when they are delivered over.
"When the trees are delivered over they are to be four to six feet, but most of them are much taller, and two to two and a half inches in diameter at the butt, perfectly free from weeds, and not the least particle of danger from fires, as the catalpa leaves are very much like pumpkin leaves, and rot down. They need no pruning as 100,000, four years planted, ten to fifteen feet high, are now shedding their under branches, or at least they are dead and will soon shed off.
"I was to select land for another plantation when I was out last month, but the land that could have been bought three years ago at $2.80 per acre, is now worth $12 to $15 per acre, and on this account he concluded not to purchase. This would not make so much difference as it appears to, as the land will keep on increasing in value.
"We think this a reasonable price, taking all the risks and care ourselves, and if any railroad companies or forest planting associations should undertake it, it would certainly cost more. Of course we would take the contract to plant without the further care - that is, $20 an acre for the trees and planting, or $25 if the prairie is unbroken."
Now, one thing is clear from an effort like this of Mr. Douglas, that he cannot continue to do, as he is doing, unless some one sees that he has a continuous succession of contracts. To get the trees and to prepare the machinery for planting some thousands of acres a year, and then have two or three years of idleness - his young trees go to the bonfire, and his whole machinery disorganized, will not do at all for cheap forestry planting. He must charge more than it is worth for what he does to cover the risk, or abandon the business. It ought to be the business of local or state agricultural associations, or forestry conventions, to look up railroad or mining companies, ship-building or large lumber interests of whatever class they may be, show them that there is a way out of their soon-to-be embarrassments, by profitably planting more, and that a man like Douglas is ready to do the job for them. If any legislation is needed to encourage forestry planting, it is that men like Douglas, who prepare millions of trees, and men to plant them, should be reimbursed by a bounty for the seasons when they fail to get any contracts for their work, and have to let the trees spoil and the labor machine rust for want of use.
It is in these directions, at any rate, it seems to us practical encouragement of forestry should take shape.