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.
We have not in many a year read an Address of this kind with so much interest as we have this. The main points are:
Economy of Means;
Necessity and Importance of Science;
Draining, Deep Plowing, and Irrigation;
What the Sister Arts Teach as to Agriculture.
These topics are all discussed in such a manner as to show that Mr. Greeley is well informed respecting the condition of American agriculture, and his illustrations are so fresh and forcible that they can not fail to awaken an impulse toward improvement in every one who has heard or read them. If our space permitted we should gladly transfer the entire paper to our pages, but we must content ourselves with a few extracts, which are no less applicable to agriculture than to horticulture.
"Deep Plowing, Draining, and Irrigation, - The three main features of agricultural advancement among the Anglo-Saxon race are: 1. Deep Plowing, or Subsoiling; 2. Draining; 3. Irrigation-I am quite aware that draining should take precedence in the order of time, yet I believe, in point of fact, deep plowing has led to draining by demonstrating its necessity, and not draining to deep plowing. "We suffer immensely from drouth in this country. Probably the aggregate annual loss from drouth alone throughout the Union decidedly exceeds, taking one year with another, the entire cost of our Federal Government Yet we know that the roots of most plants will descend to moisture, no matter how dry the surface, if the earth beneath them is porous, mellow, and inviting. Hence we realize the immense importance of deep plowing; and after doubling our teams and sinking our deepest plows to the beam, we summon to our aid the subsoil implement, and go down a depth beyond that of any single furrow. But we soon find that the pulverization of the subsoil, thus attained, has no permanent effect; that the water that leaches down to it settles it into a compact, solid mass, which the roots can not perforate and all our subsoiling needs to be done over again.
The remedy that readily suggests itself is the freeing of the subsoil from water by drains sunk below it - say three to six rods apart - and filled half way up with pebbles, with flat stones forming a sort of culvert, or, still better, laid with draining tile or hollow brick, placed end to end, and forming a continuous channel from the highest part of any slope or grade to the brook which drains it. And now the subsoil, supposing the drains well made and the drainageway sufficient, is readily freed from any water settling into it, and long retains the porous and permeable character communicated to it by deep plowing.
Of course, this does not exhaust the good effects of draining. The subsoil, thus loosened and freed from excessive moisture, becomes a source of food as well as drink to plants growing above it; for that it is capable of feeding plants, no one, who has observed the rank vegetation growing out of the earth thrown up by draining or digging, can doubt Instead of being like a slough in wet weather, and like a brick in dry, the subsoil retains sufficient moisture to cheer the plants, but too little to indurate itself. And the mean temperature of the soil, hitherto lowered by the constant evaporation of the water contained in the subsoil, is raised several degrees by the sun's rays, no longer counteracted by the evaporating process - at leasts, not to any such extent as before - so that the plants grow more luxuriantly, mature more rapidly, and to are earlier out of danger from frost And beside this, the constant passage of currents of air through that portion of the drain not occupied by water - and each drain should have an opening at its head as well as at its mouth - is an additional source of fertility through the chemical combination it insures.
It would be difficult to overstate the value, the importance, the profit of draining.
"Many are accustomed to say, 'This land needs no draining,' meaning that it is not habitually too wet But draining proves as useful, if not as imperatively necessary, on dry soil as on wet On dry lands it is required that the subsoil, once broken up and pulverised, shall not, by the settling of moisture therein during the wet season, be hardened and rendered impervious again; these lands need to be rendered porous and penetrable by roots to a greater depth because of their dryness; they need to be shielded from the pernicious effects of constant evaporation in cooling the soil, and thus retarding the growth of its plants. There is very much land not worth tilling; but there is none that will justify tillage which would not reward draining.
"Of irrigation we in this country know but very little by experience; but we are destined soon to know more, and to be profited by our knowledge. True, there are lands that may be readily drained and subsoiled that can not so readily be irrigated, owing to their elevation and a deficient supply of water. I apprehend, however, that these lands are not to be found in Indiana, nor in any other Prairie State, whose first peculiarities that strike a stranger are a superabundance of water in the rainy season, and a scarcity thereof in the dry. The time is at hand when you will here require extensive and powerful pumping apparatus, if only to raise water for your heavy stocks of cattle, and convey it to the pastures wherein they will be confined; and why not raise enough of the grateful fluid to refresh pastures and cattle alike?
"But even though this assured and ample resource were non-existent, I maintain that water enough falls on your fields every year to keep them fresh and luxuriant through the summer, if it were saved and not wasted. But most of it falls during the seasons when least is wanted, and is suffered to run off to the rivers and the ocean, carrying very much of the best juices of the soil along with it, when it should be retained in ponds and reservoirs to be pumped into barnyards or drawn off to irrigate the field during the fervid heats of summer. The apparent difficulty of doing this would vanish, and the presumed expense be materially lessened on careful consideration.
"I know not that I have traversed any country with more lively interest than beautiful, bountiful, picturesque Lombardy. The dark pall of Austrian despotism enveloping it did not suffice to dim its natural loveliness and luxuriance, so greatly improved by the labor and genius of man. It seems to have grown into this system of almost universal irrigation by imperceptible and unmarked degrees, and to be now producing double harvests annually as the result of some fortuitous impulse, rather than of foresight and deliberate calculation. The magnificent plain of Upper Italy, which has for so many centuries been the field of combat where Goth and Latin, Frank and Hun, Gaul and German, have struggled for the mastery of Europe, dopes almost imperceptibly from the Alps to the Po, and the impetuous torrents which tear the rocky sides of the snow-crowned precipices are arrested and chastened in the blue lakes which lie at the foot of the mountains, smiling serenely out upon the plain. Thence the waters proceed with a more gentle and measured cadence to the great river, and are drawn off and stayed from point to point to fill the irrigating canals, and ensure a rich reward to the husbandman's labors.
Let any stream from heavy rains become a raging, foaming, milky torrent, and its waters have a value which the pure element could not command, and are drawn off on every side, until the canals and reservoirs are filled, and all danger of inundation precluded Thus the waters are most valuable for irrigation just when they are most easily and abundantly obtainable for that purpose. The water which has irrigated one fertile garden or field, far from being exhausted, has been rendered more nourishing thereby, and may now be drawn off to fertilize the next field lying an inch or so lower, and thence to the next, and so on to the river, enriching and gladdening all it touches on its way. Irrigation is the life-blood of Lombardy; shall it be nothing, teach nothing to us!
If there be a country on earth which one would suppose irrigation unsuited to, Great Britain is that country. - Her exceedingly moist, cool climate, coupled with' her compact, clay subsoil (not universal, but very extensive), would seem to render a deficiency of moisture one of the very last evils to be apprehended or guarded against in her agriculture. And yet her best farmers are now embarking rapidly and extensively in irrigation, finding it practicable and immensely profitable. Not here as in Lombardy is the natural flow of the streams, in their descent from the hills to the rivers, relied on; but great pumps are employed, raising water by steam or other power from rivers, brooks, and ponds, to a height whence it is carried by gravitation through metalic and gutta-percha pipes to every point where it is needed. Mr. Mechi, the ex-London merchant, who retired from trade with a competency to earn another by scientific farming; takes the lead in this application, and his estimates of the increased productiveness of lands by reason of irrigation and the profits thus secured would seem wild to any audience, unfamiliar with the subject I may state, however, that he fixes the expense of conveying his manures in a liquid form from his yard to every portion of his estate as equivalent to one penny sterling, or two cents per cart load - that is to say, the fertilizing properties which were contained in a ton of muck or compost are now conveyed to the soil that requires them at the cost of one penny.
That loading, teaming; unloading; and spreading in the old way must have cost far more than this, you can not doubt; and beside, the fertilizing liquid, being entirely free from seeds or weedy germs of any kind, and in a condition to be readily and totally absorbed by plants, must be worth twice as much as if applied in the old way. Now consider that this load of manure has been conveyed through and applied with many tuns of water, just when the soil is most thirsty, and the plants most needy, and you can readily judge that the tun of manure dissolved in water and applied through irrigating pipes at the cost of a penny, must be worth at least thrice as much as the same tun applied in the crude, solid state, at a cost not less than thrice that sum. But I must not dwell on details. You have the general idea, and can follow it out at your leisure into all its necessary results.