AFTER the house-site has been selected and the outlines of the drive and walks have been staked, the next operation should be grading and preparing the ground for planting. When grading or leveling, it is necessary to remember to always keep the good or surface soil at the top and not to bury it as is too often done by contractors.
When the ground is graded and shaped to the lines as planned, it should then be plowed or trenched. Where the grounds are large, use the ordinary plow followed by the subsoil-plow; stir the subsoil, if possible, twenty-four inches deep. After plowing, follow with a heavy harrow, selecting dry weather and only when the soil is reasonably dry and not wet enough to stick to the shoes or clog the harrow-teeth; then cross-plow and reharrow.
Should the ground be too small for plowing, trenching with the spade must be resorted to; and here again it is important to bear in mind to keep the top soil for the upper layer.
Trenching should be done by first removing, at one end of the ground, the top soil, to the depth of one foot, from a strip (three feet wide) across the entire width of the ground, and wheeling that top soil to the opposite end of the ground which is being trenched. Then, with a heavy pick, stir the subsoil to an additional foot in depth, leaving the loosened subsoil in its original place. On top of the loosened subsoil spread a layer of manure about four inches deep. Measure from the line of the first trench, with a yardstick, three feet at each end of the trench (that is, at each side of the ground), and place stakes, to which stakes attach a line, which line will thus run across the ground at a distance of three feet from the line of the first trench. Remove the top soil to the depth of one foot from this strip, and place that top soil to the depth of one foot above the manure in Trench No. 1. Stir subsoil of Trench No. 2, and, on top of that, place a layer of manure, as instructed for Trench No. 1. Then establish the line for Trench No. 3, in the same manner as for Trench No. 2, with the top soil of which (Trench No. 3) Trench No. 2 will be completed, and so on trench after trench all over the ground, the surface soil taken from the first opening, which had been wheeled to the far end of the ground, being found sufficient in quantity for filling on top of the manure of the last trench, thus leaving the ground level or even, and in the same shape as it was before the work of trenching began.
Should the natural soil be composed of stiff clay, a layer of light sandy soil or pure sand, or a heavy application of half-decomposed stable-manure mixed freely with the soil, or, more especially, a compost made of all three will greatly improve it.
Where the soil is of an adhesive nature, or the subsoil within three feet of the surface is of stiff clay, drainage should be resorted to, as, no matter how well the soil may be cultivated or how heavily it may be manured, good results will be impossible if the soil is water-logged. Drains should be put in about fifteen feet apart and three feet deep with a fall of not less than six inches in one hundred feet. Of course where water passes freely through the soil and does not lie stagnant in the subsoil, the putting in of drains will be unnecessary. This may be readily found out by digging a hole with the spade after heavy rains and observing whether the hole holds water any length of time. Should the water percolate freely through the soil, no draining will be required, but should the water remain in the hole for weeks, it would be well to have the ground thoroughly drained as directed. Tile draining is much the best and most lasting method, but, when tiles cannot be had, a foot of rough rock placed in the bottom of the ditch (putting the larger stones in the bottorn and finishing with the smaller ones, covering the whole with sods or long straw to keep the soil from choking the crevices) will answer the purpose very well although not so lasting as the tile.
It may be stated that where there is too much water lying stagnant in the soil, few plants will thrive, for, as soon as the roots of the trees or other plants reach the stagnant saturated soil, they invariably show it by their upper twigs or leaves dying off and by their eventually dying altogether.
Drain ditches should be dug just wide enough for a man to work them out. If the top soil is loose, it should be given enough slope to prevent the soil from crumbling into the drain when the tile is being laid. If the soil is heavy and solid, twenty-four inches wide at the surface of the ground will be ample width, tapering to the size of the tile at the bottom, so that the pipes may bed in the solid ground accurately.
Pipe tiles are made of round shape and should be furnished with collars as these tend to keep the tiles from shifting and also prevent, to a large extent, roots from entering and interrupting the flow of water. After laying them, cover the tiles with fine crushed rock or gravel to keep the soil from entering the drains.
Where the ground is undulating in its character, a main drain should be laid along the lowest portion of the ground, and lateral drains laid obliquely according to the shape of the ground, each entering the main drain by a Y or T shaped fitting, care being taken that each drain has a fall of at least six inches in one hundred feet as formerly recommended.
In digging the ditches for the drains, place the top soil on one side and the bottom soil on the opposite side so that, when filling in the ditches, the subsoil may be replaced and the surface soil saved for the top where it is most needed.