Museum Rusticum et Commerciale, 2: 45-48 (1764)

A Letter to the Editors, in Defence of Denshiring or Burn-baiting Land.

Gentlemen,

‡It is, in many parts of England, the generally-received opinion, that this practice may be of service to stiff heavy lands; but, for the most part, is a great injury to those of a lighter quality. O.

IF I mistake not, you have frequently expressed a disapprobation of denshiring, or paring and burning land. Give me leave, from some experience of my own, and more of my neighbours, to say a word or two for it‡.

I will freely allow, that a great quantity of particles (of what kind I will not determine) are carried off the land in the smoke; but certainly the greatest bulk of the sods remains in the ashes; and in these ashes are contained all or most of the salts, whose weight will not allow them to fly off: these are returned to the land again in a much better state than while fixed to the sods, where they were of very little, or no use.

*Denshiring is not a new practice in England, but has been, for some centuries, more or less used; therefore, was it possessed of ail the qualities ascribed to it by our correspondent, particularly that of always insuring good crops to the farmer, it would certainly, before this time, have been more universally adopted, and have become, perhaps, the universal system. O.

I cannot find that the soil is any thinner after pared land is hid down with seeds; and if not thinner, there are so many advantages from this management, as manuring the ground, destroying the seeds of, weeds, opening the soil by the heat of the fire, and, above all, insuring good crops to the farmer, and (if properly managed) preparing the ground for seeds, that I will boldly pronounce in favour of it, and have no doubt but it will, in time, be the universal system*.

I said, if properly managed; for if a farmer, after paring and burning his land, shall sow crop after crop, till he finds it will bear no more corn, and then leaves it to take its chance, there can be no doubt but that it will be in a very bad state, almost ruined; but this is not owing to the denshiring, but to his own covetousness.

†By this passage, we apprehend, our correspondent means the Lincolnshire graziers: if we are wrong, we mould be obliged to him to set us right. O.
‡As this gentleman observes, that the turneps do not require hoeing, in this way, we should have been glad had he informed us what quantity of seed it is most usual to sow on an acre. O.
*As it is very unusual in most countries to sow two successive crops of turneps, we should be obliged to our correspondent, if be would inform us what is the nature of the soil where this prastice is adopted; perhaps it may be fen land. O.

The system I should advise, and which most of our † intelligent graziers follow, is, when the ashes are spread, to plow it, and sow turneps at Midsummer, on the first tilth: they cannot easily be hoed, nor do they require it, standing generally thin enough, and growing very large‡

Suppose, then, turneps eaten off by March or April, following: then let the ground be plowed well three or four times, and harrowed after each plowing: at Midsummer sow a second crop of turneps*: this will be much better than the first, and must be eaten off with sheep, in the same manner as the first crop. The ground will now be extremely fine; it must be plowed twice or thrice, and sown with barley: after the barley is taken off the ground, plow it once, and sow wheat at Michaelmas.

These are the four first crops, the first year turneps, the second year turneps, the third year barley, fourth year wheat. These crops will be all very good, as the land will be in heart, and the farmer will be very well paid for his trouble and expence.

When the wheat is off, the farmer should fallow his land immediately, and the summer following give it a dressing of manure: at Midsummer (having, as I said, manured it and plowed it well) let him again sow turneps, and the spring following, barley and seeds.

Of all the land I have seen managed in this way, I do not know any that has not succeeded, and been infinitely better than it was before the denshiring.

†This passage, of the farmer's being tied up from plowing any part of his farm, induces us to think that the soil, on which our correspondent so strongly recommends denshiring, is fen land, which is a moory rich black earth in general. It will not be amiss, on this occasion, to refer our readers to a very sensible piece from a practical fen farmer, inserted in our First Volume. It is marked Number XCVII. page 418. and treats of the culture of coleseed in the fen countries: here our readers may find described the method in which land is there pared and burned. O.

To instance a farm of two hundred pounds a year, which was let by my father to a very good industrious intelligent farmer, but who was tied up by covenant from plowing any part of it†.

About twelve years ago, on my father's death, this tenant, having had a considerable loss in his cattle, desired to plow some land up, in the method I have mentioned: though prejudiced as much as my father was against denshiring, yet, willing to see the experiment, I consented, and approving his first trials, allowed him yearly to pare and burn some acres ever since.

He now assures me, that he can, and does keep one third more sheep than he could before, and, I dare say, is some hundreds richer for it. The consequence I would draw is, that if the farm will keep one third more stock, the land is certainly not the worse for it.

*The sooner we hear again from this gentleman, the more agreeable it will be to us; and we could wish he had permitted us to make see of his name, as it would have done us so much honour. When gentlemen of such fortune and consequence undertake the improvement of agriculture, it cannot certainly be long before it must be in a flourishing state. O.

I have not now time to shew the difference betwixt this management and that of plowing and sowing the land without denshiring, which, with some more observations, I must defer to another opportunity*.

I should say a few words on Mr. Comber's logical defence of his slovenly neighbours, (no one ever recommended the farmers of the East riding of Yorkshire for a pattern) but do not think it fair, as he has set his name to his letter, whilst I shall remain, Gentlemen,

Your very humble servant,
RUSTICUS.