This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
In Agriculture and Horticulture, as in all other sciences, nothing is so well calculated to reward the practical man with a remunerating profit for his labor, as is thorough examination of the subject of cultivation, which, for the time, engages his attention. This observation will appear, possibly to many, to involve such a self-evident truism, as to be needless. It is nevertheless not so: for although it is quite true that every one engaged in the culture of land intends to give full thought and proper consideration to his subject, and supposes that he not only intends but actually does it, yet frequently this is far from being, in point of fact, the case.
In this rich country we possess thousands of acres of land, which require but little care to return us crops with which the grower is satisfied, as he gets a fair profit. And with this he is content. But this should not be all. The question is, does he get from his land all that, with the time, labor and capital employed, it is capable of giving him?
Whether, in feet, he has judiciously expended these upon the object to be attained. The answer to this question may be in the negative, without necessarily involving in it, any impeachment of the judgment of the agriculturist. For he may have exercised his calling in the matter, with all the judgment, and in the full exercise of all the knowledge he possesses. Wherefore, then, it may be asked, is it that the time, labor and capital has not been judiciously employed? The answer is, it has not been judiciously employed, if, upon a more extended knowledge of the subject, it shall turn out, that if the same amount of time, labor and capital had been differently applied, it would have yielded a larger return. The idea that the beaten track is the only one that can be followed, is no less in horticultural and agricultural pursuits, than in others, the enemy to progress. For, of what utility is the advance of science, and the discoveries of the chemist, unless they can be practically applied. The genius of a Fulton, or a Watt, would not have been less worthy of admiration, if prejudice or indolence had refused to apply steam to the uses of the manufacturer; nor would the ingenuity of a Stephenson have shown with less brilliancy if, in order (as some one once gravely proposed) to " keep up the breed of horses," we had refused to be conveyed from New Orleans to Boston by a locomotive engine.
But had such follies been committed, the fact could not have been justified to the sound judgment of mankind, by a statement that the manufacturer, without his steam engine, got a remunerating profit, or that the journey from one end of the country to the other was performed as speedily as horses could do it. These principles are equally applicable to the horticulturist and to the farmer; and when applied to him, it will be perceived that the natural consequence resulting from them is, that he is lagging behind the manufacturer in intelligence, as well as in solid judgment, unless he takes care to appropriate to his practical use the discoveries made from year to year in the sciences allied to his calling, and varies his course according to their advance in the age in which he lives.
I have been led into these reflections by the perusal of a paper I met with in turning over the pages of the volume of the Transactions of the American Institute of the city of New York for 1851, which has just been issued, upon the cultivation of Indian corn, by Mr. Jacob P. Giraud, Jr., of Bergen, N. J. In this communication I found that gentleman made, at the commencement of his observations, the remark that " a portion of the land employed " by him, " has, for the last four years, been under cultivation for this exhausting crop." This sentence, added to the intelligence indicated in the writer, by the general character of the paper, induced me to go to the Fair of the Institute, which was at the time open at New-York, to see whether any specimens of corn of the same person's growth were exhibited by him this year. I was gratified that I did so; for I found there a large collection of his, consisting of forty or fifty different varieties of corn, the production, as I was informed, of this very same land that had grown the four preceding crops mentioned in the Transactions referred to.
I examined the corn carefully, and I found that the grains were swelled out and full to the end of the cob, showing that there had been no lack of food for the plants; and the ears were very large (in some varieties that I measured they were 18 or 20 inches long) and well ripened. Altogether the collection was the most complete and interesting of its nature, that I have ever seen.
These circumstances induced me to give the matter further consideration, and on turning again to Mr. Giraud's communication in the Transactions of the Institute, I found a reference in it to a paper in the Transactions of a previous year, containing the detail of the system of culture under which these successive crops have been year after year obtained. In that account I find the statement, that the corn was grown on "clayey loam, and manured in the hill with guano and charcoal, in the proportion of one part of the former to four of the latter, and the bulk of six table-spoonsful applied, (to each hill I presume) which is covered with from one to two inches of soil before planting. The seed is dropped about six inches apart at right angles, forming a square, with an additional seed in the centre, which, in case all germinate, is removed; more than four plants never being allowed to stand in one hill. The furrows are deeply drawn four feet apart." It is further stated that the ground is cross-plowed and hoed three times. At the second hoeing a handful of unleached wood ashes is distributed round each hill, and if the season should be wet an additional quantity may be advantageously used.
At the second hoeing the ground is left level, but at the third a moderate hill is formed, so graduated that the elevation is only slightly perceptible. Mr. Giraud further states, "It is my custom, as soon as the corn is glazed, to top the plants at the first joint above the ears, and strip off all the leaves below them, which, when cured at this stage, I am of opinion, contain as much nutriment, as the entire stalk at the period it is usually cut, when topping is not practiced. The husking is performed on the field, and the cows turned in to eat the husks; thus leaving nothing but the naked stalks, which, as soon as the active farming operations are over are cut down, separating them at every joint, (when in large quantity a cutting machine may be used) and covering the field with them, they constitute what I consider a tolerable coating of manure; thus returning to the soil a portion of what it had produced; and if answering no other purpose than that of assisting to keep the ground loose, it is the best disposition that can be made of this, the coarsest and least valuable part of this important plant. If the ground will permit, they are immediately plowed in; they offer no obstacle to succeeding cultivation.
As regards quality, perhaps the best I can say of it, that all I could spare was purchased by seedmen at six shillings per bushel of ears".
Such is the account given of this experiment in cultivation, and I have thought it both interesting and profitable to bring it before the readers of the Horticulturist; in the first place, as presenting a mode of culture well worthy carrying out, and in the second, as showing the benefit to be derived from theoretical scientific knowledge, when combined with practical experiments, in the tillage of the earth.
My purpose is not at present to state at greater length than I have above done, the details of the system pursued; they will be found in the volumes alluded to; but rather to call attention to the great importance of the increased study of the true principles of real economy in cultivation, namely, how to get the greatest return for the time, labor and capital employed.
The experiment which I have detailed is only one of very many made of late years, both here and in Europe, all of which point as evidently and as truly to a similar result; although they have not been exemplified in a subject with which we are all so familiar as we are with the present. And I have not the least doubt of the correctness of the conclusion arrived at by the above scientific gentleman in his paper on the subject, that "the important rank occupied by this grain (Indian corn) in the agricultural products of our country, its great capabilities for sustaining animal life, and its being (as I believe is now conceded) indigenous to our soil, it justly claims the attention of every tiller of the land, and notwithstanding the great improvement made by cultivation, we may still suppose that it is far from its zenith, and its capabilities for production not yet fully known. Of a grain so important too much cannot be known, and whilst testing the capabilities of a large number of varieties grown under circumstances equal, some good results may be obtained; or at least it is worthy of the effort".
There is good sense in these observations. The time has gone by when experience alone is to be the fitting guide of the farmer or of the gardener. The sciences of vegetable physiology and of horticultural chemistry, have of late years added largely to our knowledge of the natural laws by which the productions of the earth are brought forth; and nothing short of wilful ignorance, arising from unjustifiable indolence, can be urged by any man in these days of cheap books and extended education, as an excuse for his want of knowledge on these subjects.
But if the principles on which the above experiments were made have been correctly acted upon in the culture of one crop, they can equally be used as guides to improvements in others. All good cultivators now know that the constituent properties of land required for the production of cereal and of root crops are different. And I would instance the above experiments as inducements to horticulturists, and the agriculturist also, to follow up with other crops the line of inquiry suggested by them. That much may and will be done is undoubted; and it is only a question who is first to reap the benefit, and claim the honor that every man so eminently merits, who like Mr. Geraud, seeks to add to the prosperity of his country by a description of knowledge so intimately connected with the great source of her wealth, as her native products. B. M.
New-York, October, 2852.