Nature and Reason Harmonized in the Practice of Husbandry (1825)
The exhausting properties of maize compared with those of turnips and potatoes. The five original corns commonly used for field planting described; also the mixed varieties formed by them. Observations on the Canadian and other corns still smaller; also on the red, blue and purple corns. The advantages to be derived from mixed varieties of maize explained; also the best way to effect this purpose. Improvement in plants is more readily effected than the same is done in animals. Climate alters mixed varieties of corn greatly and very generally without its being observed by the cultivator. Those who live in inhospitable climates, should select their seeds from climates which are most like those in which they reside. The advantages to be derived from early sowing and planting in cold backward climates. Local causes alter climates so much, that neither latitude, nor height, nor the influence of surrounding seas can determine the proper time for sowing or planting. No reliance can be placed on the Indian rule for sowing and planting. Observations on the frosts which sometimes take place in high latitudes in August; also, on the means to be taken to avoid any very serious injury from them. Maize is well calculated to withstand drought, and to contend with an impoverished soil. It gathers much of the nutriment by which its fruit is perfected from the atmosphere. Remarks on the diseases to which the corn plant is subject. Observations on the untimely frosts, &c. which happened in 1816. [The Year Without a Summer]
As there is no fallow crop as highly interesting to American husbandry as maize, I consider it best to refute the prevailing error, that it is peculiarly exhausting, before I describe the proper cultivation of the fallow crops generally grown by us. To do this effectually, it seems necessary to describe the economy of this invaluable plant; although it is said to be a native, still its properties do not appear to be well understood.
It certainly requires considerable nutriment, for it is capable of producing much more food for man, and domesticated animals, on any soil, be it rich or poor, than any other plant known to us; but notwithstanding this apparently exhausting property of maize, all the grain may be sold, and the fertility of the soil increased, if the fodder and stalks of the plant be properly applied.
The fodder from the tops, blades, and husks of a luxuriant acre of corn, is equal to the first crop of an averaged acre of grass, for feeding cattle. The stalks may be considered equal, if not superior to the straw from an averaged acre of wheat, for littering the cattle yard.
I have weighed the dry fodder of maize grown in a mixed crop with potatoes, which yielded at the rate of sixty-six bushels of shelled corn to the acre. It amounted to one ton, six hundred and thirteen pounds gross, viz. blades, husks, and tops. The stalks weighed one ton, seven hundred, also gross; and no question but an acre occupied by corn alone would produce more.
Mr. Watson, near Philadelphia, has for several years grown very large potatoes without manure, on thin pasture grounds fed bare. He informed me the intervals were eighteen inches; the sets twelve inches apart in the rows; that the plants were thinned early, suffering but one to grow from each set; that they were earthed up but once, and after this kept free from weeds by the hand. The produce he estimated at one hundred and fifty bushels to the acre; and said they were followed by rye, as the grounds were too thin for wheat.
This seems to be severe cropping; however, it shows the great value of grass lays; also the advantage which may be derived from arranging plants so that sufficient room be preserved, both in the intervals and along the rows, for their roots and tops: likewise from thinning them to such numbers as the soil is capable of perfecting.
The very ingenious J. Tull grew large turnips on thin soils without manure by drilling them. He left wide intervals between the rows, and thinned the plants so that they did not incommode each other. The grounds were well pulverised and kept free from weeds. His crops, if I recollect right, were by no means inconsiderable, when it is considered that he grew them without manure.
As too few farmers read books on agriculture, there are not many of them who know, that turnips and potatoes will produce crops worth gathering, without manure, unless on fresh or very rich soils. They of course cheerfully apply it for these plants; and finding that small grain grows very luxuriantly after them, they are believed to possess superior ameliorating properties. While corn, which they well know will grow on very poor soils, if it be planted wide enough apart, also properly thinned and suckered, they too often grow on such grounds, until the soil is ruined by this powerful contender with poverty. When these cultivators observe the destruction occasioned by their own folly, they transfer the blame to the corn plant, which has been faithfully administering to their comfort and wants, while it was possible to contend with an impoverished soil.
We might, however, with equal propriety condemn a general for surrendering a fortress, which he had defended with the utmost gallantry, until himself and his brave troops, reduced by hunger and weakness, were incapable of making further resistance.
The exhausting properties of dissimilar crops are not readily determined. I have planted corn in double rows, on ridges eleven feet asunder, from centre to centre of the double rows. Double rows of potatoes were planted between the rows of corn, so as to give to each of those plants half the soil. As both were cultivated by the savage practice of ridging up the plants, the communication between the roots of the corn and those of the potatoes, seemed to be cut off.
After those crops were removed, the grounds were sown the same fall, with wheat, on one ploughing, executed in the same direction; the rows of corn and potatoes were planted, and a clearing out furrow formed through the middle of each corn ridge. This seemed to give the potato grounds every advantage. Yet no difference was observed in the wheat or the grasses following it, either where the potatoes and the corn had been grown, although no manure was applied either for the wheat or the grasses following it. It would seem that both the potato and the corn plant, are well calculated to gather much nutritious and fertilizing matter from the atmosphere.
There are five original corns in use for field planting, in the middle and southern states, to wit: the big white and yellow, the little white and yellow, and the white Virginia gourdseed. The cobs of the two first mentioned are thick and long, the grains are much wider than deep, and where the rows of grains meet and unite with each other, their sides fall off almost to nothing. This gives the outside ends of the grain a circular form; and communicates to the ear an appearance somewhat like a fluted column. This formation greatly diminishes the size of the ends and sides of the grains; and is the cause of the hard flinty corns being less productive in proportion to the length and thickness of their cobs, than the gourdseed corn. As the little white and the little yellow are formed much in the same way, and the cobs considerably smaller, they are still less productive than the big white and yellow, but ripen earlier.
The grain of those four flinty corns are very firm, and without indenture in their outside ends. The two smaller kinds seem to be still more hard and solid than the larger; and the colour of the little yellow deeper than that of the big.
The ears of the Virginia gourdseed are not very long, neither is the cob so thick as that of the big white and yellow. But the formation of the grain makes the ear very thick. They frequently produce from thirty to thirty-two, and sometimes thirty-six rows of very long narrow grains of a soft open texture. These grains are almost flat, at their outside ends, are also compactly united from the cob to the surface of the ear, without any of that fluted appearance between the rows of grain, which causes the flinty corns to be much less productive in proportion to the size of the ears.
The gourdseed corn ripens later than any other, but is by far the most productive. It is invariably white, unless it has been mixed with the yellow flinty corns. Then it is called the yellow gourdseed, and too many farmers consider it and most other mixtures original corns. I have often heard of original yellow gourdseed corn, but after taking much trouble to investigate the fact, could never find anything more than a mixture. If there be an original yellow gourdseed corn, it has eluded my very attentive inquiry from the Atlantic to our most remote western settlements.
The general texture and colour of this mixture prove its origin. Especially as it may be readily grown white, if care be taken to select seed annually from ears approaching in form, texture, and colour nearest to the original gourdseed corn.
The corn which commonly passes for the white gourdseed, is nothing more than a mixture of it with white flinty corn. Therefore those who wish to cultivate the original, will have to grow out the other varieties.
So prevalent are mixtures, that I have never examined a field of corn, (where great care had not been taken to select the seed,) which did not exhibit evident traces of all the corns in general use for field planting, with many others that are not used for this purpose.
None can be longer or more readily traced than the gourdseed. If the smallest perfectly natural indenture appear in the grain of the hardest corns, those grains, with their descendants, may be grown, until a perfectly white gourdseed is obtained, be their colour what it may.
In the northerly divisions of the United States, they frequently plant the small Canadian corns.
These are solid and very early, but have been generally thought too small to be very productive, and are seldom planted in fields, where the larger corns ripen.
These corns and others which are still much smaller and earlier, are grown by many for early boiling or roasting while green. The Canadian corn plant is considerably smaller than the corns in general use for field planting, it is also productive in ears. Therefore the intervals, as well as the clusters in the row, might be closer together. If the soil were as well manured for this kind of corn as is done for the larger corns, (when the farmer is well informed and able to do it,) very valuable crops might be obtained from it: particularly if it were only slightly mixed with the gourdseed corn. There are also red, blue, and purple corns, but none of these are used for field planting; still having been introduced they too often appear in our fields, either in their native colours or in variegated or enameled grains. The leaves of the plant are also sometimes variegated from the same cause. It is said that a good purple dye is formed by using the purple corns for this purpose; and the stalks and leaves of this plant are purple, or a shade between that colour and green. I have also seen corn with red stalks and leaves, but mixed with more or less green.
As novelty and other causes have introduced such a great variety into our fields, they will continue to appear in them until farmers generally give more attention to the economy of maize, and see the necessity of growing out inferior kinds, so far as it maybe practicable. Although they may be divided almost ad infinitum, they cannot be entirely eradicated. They may, however, be readily reduced and kept under, so as not to do any material injury to the crops, provided the cultivator very carefully and annually selects his seed. It may be from the latent remains of these mixed varieties that nature, from combining causes, sometimes produces plants and animals, more perfect than the class from which they sprang.
This variety as it regards corn proceeds from the farina fecundans, a light minute substance of a mouldy colour, seen on the clothes of those working among the plants, when it is disengaged from the tassels. This is wafted far by high winds, and is the cause of distant and unthought of mixtures. However, in general it is lightly and plentifully diffused through the field, and lodges in sufficient quantities on the silky fibres which project from the ears. A single fibre proceeds from each grain. This has been so constructed as to convey the principle of life contained in the farina fecundans to the grain from which the fibre springs, even to the further end of the cob. This is done with so much certainty that we rarely see abortive grains, when the plants have been rendered healthy and vigorous by a sufficiency of nutriment and good cultivation. The change produced by this mysterious cause is generally gradual. We first see scattering whitish looking grains on the ears of the yellow corn growing among the white, and the reverse on the ears of the latter, when grown near to the yellow corns.
The foregoing facts have induced me to make experiments. The result seems to determine, that if nature be judiciously directed by art, such mixtures as are best suited for the purpose of farmers, in every climate in this country where corn is grown, may be introduced. Also, that an annual selection of the seed, with care and time, will render them subject to very little injurious change; provided the desirable properties of any of the various corns be properly blended together. They do not mix minutely, like wine and water. On the contrary, like mixed breeds of animals, a large portion of the valuable properties of any one of them, or of the whole five original corns commonly used for field planting, may be communicated to one plant; while the inferior properties of one, or the whole, may be nearly grown out.
In doing this, it would seem that the colour of this mixture may be either the purest white, or a yellow, nearly, or perhaps quite, as deep and bright as the colour of the flinty yellow corns: also, that the economy of the plant formed by these mixtures may be rendered sufficiently early to ripen in any climate that is not very unfriendly to the later corns, either from powerful local causes, or from being very far north. For climates which are more favourable, a mixed variety may be formed which will be much more productive than the corns which are at this time commonly grown in them.
We may frequently see ears that ripen early, possess more of the valuable properties of the late and larger corns, than others in the same field, and grown from the same kind of seed that ripens later. We may also observe some ears with long yellow grains growing on them, and other ears growing on the same field, which produce pale, yellow, short grains, although grown from the same mixture of seed. Notwithstanding the gourdseed grows and ears higher than any other variety, still we sometimes see, when it is mixed with the flinty corns, that some plants will grow, and also ear, much lower than others.
Almost every desirable property in domesticated animals has been lately obtained by judicious breeders of live stock. It would seem that corn which would admit of an annual improvement, offers a better prospect of success in this way than animals.
When this object is obtained, and we become acquainted with the proper arrangement of the plants in our fields, so as to promote the utmost product, the crops of maize will by far exceed any estimate which would at this time be considered probable by those who have not carefully examined the economy of this plant.
It should, however, never be forgotten that a sufficiency of nutriment and good cultivation are quite as necessary to increase and perpetuate the size of grain, as plentiful and nutritious food, and proper care and management, are to accomplish the same in animals.
My ears of maize are now at least one-third larger, on an average, than were the ears procured three years ago from Huntingdon for seed. The same may be also said of some white, flinty corn, procured by my neighbour, Mr. H. Philips, from near Erie, for seed. The grain of the spring wheat, which has been sown in the better grounds here, and well cultivated, is vastly larger than was the seed first procured, or is the same grain grown here on impoverished or badly cultivated soils. It is not locality, but bad cultivation, a poor soil, and slovenly farmers, that degenerate seeds.
They are invariably improved in the hands of an attentive cultivator, who carefully grows, or picks out such mixtures as he does not approve. Still some gentlemen, who ought to know better, advocate change. However, in general, a much better and speedier change in the properties of animals and seeds may be effected by the introduction of foreign aid, through the medium of mixture. Consequently, the theory of breeding in and in has been carried too far. This error may have proceeded from the cattle jockies, who, while they were slyly making speedy alterations, both in the size and form of animals, by foreign aid, were picking the pockets of the inconsiderate gentleman farmer by amusing him with ideas which are certainly inconsistent with actual practice. But to return to the economy of maize.
The quantity of the gourdseed corn mixed with the flinty yellow corns, may be determined, so as to answer the farmer's purpose. When the proportion of the former greatly predominates, the grains are pale, very long and narrow, and the outside ends of them are so flat that but little of the indenture is seen. As the portion of gourdseed decreases in the mixture, the grains shorten, become wider, and their outside ends grow thicker. The indentures, also, become larger and rounder, until the harder corns get the ascendancy. After this, the outside ends of the grains become thicker and more circular. They also grow wider, and the fluted appearance between the rows increases. The indentures also decrease in size until they disappear, and the yellow, flinty variety is formed. But, as I believe, not so fully but that the latent remains of mixture will forever subject it to more or less change.
It is more difficult to determine the quantity of big and little yellow corns, which may happen to be mixed with the gourdseed; and at the same time with each other. However, by attention, a tolerably correct opinion of this may be formed. The grain of the big yellow is much wider, and nothing like so deep as that of the gourdseed; and although the grain of the little yellow is not so wide and deep as that of the big, still it is wider than the gourdseed; and its colour is deeper than that of the big yellow, and its cobs are much slimmer, as well as shorter.
When a mixture with the big yellow and gourdseed is desirable, care should be taken, in growing out the little yellow, to preserve as much as possible of the deep yellow tinge and solidity communicated to the grain by this variety, and also of its property to ripen early.
The soft, open texture of the gourdseed renders it unfit for exportation, unless it be kiln dried. This has given rise to an unfounded prejudice among the shippers of this grain, in favour of the yellow corns, although they are not more solid than the white flinty varieties. However, while this prejudice continues, it is best for those who depend on selling it for shipping, to mix the gourdseed with the yellow flints, and for those who consume the produce on their own farms, or can readily sell the white corns, to form mixtures with them and the gourdseed. It is thought that the white corns are the most productive, and ripen earlier than the yellow; but of this I know nothing certain, having generally grown the yellow. There can, however, be no question but that the white furnishes much handsomer meal for culinary purposes. It is also free from that strong taste so readily distinguished by those who have been accustomed to use the white; but as most of the Pennsylvania farmers, and cultivators still further north, have been used to eat the yellow, and habit causes most kinds of food to become agreeable, they seem generally to prefer the strong taste of this variety to the much milder and pleasanter taste of the white. However, in the countries where neither is grown, and to which it is often exported, there can be but little doubt that the white would find a readier market, and that the demand for this very nutritious grain would greatly increase, if none but the white were exported: especially, if laws were passed prohibiting the exportation of maize until after it had been kiln dried.
I believe there is no grain that will keep longer or safer than corn, if it be kept on the cob in open dry cribs, and the climate also be dry, unless the weevil be introduced by not carefully cleaning the cribs of every vestige of the old grain and vegetable matters introduced with it.
Flinty corns, after they have been well dried in such cribs, may be shipped in tight, dry vessels, with tolerable safety, to the West Indies: but longer voyages subject this grain to greater injuries, although it may arrive at port in tolerable safety; a little damp communicates a musty taste to maize, and if this does not happen, it is often spoiled by lying in bulk after it arrives, and will be considered much less valuable on this account.
Either the big yellow or white should be mixed with the gourdseed, for planting in every climate where this mixture will certainly ripen. Their cobs being very long, and the grain so much wider and deeper than those of the little yellow or white, the mixture with them will be much more productive. It is also thought, that the length of the ear communicated by the big yellow or white, will fully compensate for the shortening the grains of the gourdseed: therefore, if the mixture be properly formed, its product may even exceed that of the original gourdseed corn; I have measured the product from ears of this mixture, which, when shelled, yielded a full pint of corn, after they had lain twelve months in a very dry place, although the mixture had not been well improved.
The little yellow and white, being earlier than the big, they should form mixtures with the gourdseed corn for being grown in climates more unfavourable for maize. But whoever may form either of those mixtures, will find, that he must grow out either the big or little flinty corns, with many others, as they are more or less mixed.
The speediest and best way to form either of those mixtures, is to select one ear that may possess most of the desirable properties united in it, and to plant the seed where the farina fecundans from the general crop cannot readily obtain access. If it happen to the cultivators, as it has done with me, he will certainly find from the growth of this seed many ears in his patch, very much like the ear that grew the seed, and many very unlike it; however, it may be that he will find some ears approaching nearer to the variety which he wishes to form than the original ear; if so, he will of course select the best, and go on in the same way, until he has full enough for planting his general crop. After this, he should aim at an increased improvement, by carefully selecting his seed annually for the ensuing crop.
It is too commonly believed, that corn growing on slim cobs, is more productive than that grown on thick ones; nothing can be more repugnant to common sense and observation; for on the same principle they might believe, that a small surface of soil would produce more than a larger one; yet if the ears of the slim cobs are much longer, or the grains considerably deeper than the corns producing thicker cobs, the product from the slim ones may be more to the acre. I have, however, never seen either of these causes produce this effect, except in the gourdseed corn, for its cob though not so small as that of several other corns, is smaller in proportion to the length of the grain than any of them.
Doctor Logan, and Mr. Joseph Cooper, both farm in the vicinity of Philadelphia; the corn grown by them, has been planted here, and did not ripen; this failure puzzled me exceedingly at first; as corns partaking quite as much, or perhaps more of the gourdseed, became ripe, though planted at the same time, and in the same soil.
I have, however, since seen the cause; farmers every where generally plant too late; even in the neighbourhood of Philadelphia, corn is sometimes ruined by frost, from this cause alone.
In colder climates or situations rendered cold by local causes, it is very frequently destroyed, or greatly injured; although in these situations, the little yellow or white is commonly planted; when in many of them the larger corns would prosper, if proper management prevailed.
The injury from frosts falls heaviest on the plants that ripen the latest. When the farmer selects his seed, he naturally rejects the injured ears, and the largest ears only of that variety, which may be preferred by him, are laid by for that purpose. As early ripening is not in every instance confined to the smaller or less productive ears, when the seed is composed of varieties, mixed, or blended together, either by art or accident, the farmer, without knowing any thing of the cause which produces the effect, gradually alters the economy of the plants to suit the climate. As this selection is commonly made annually, especially if the farmer suspects that frost has injured the vegetative powers of a part of his crop, he is sure to obtain the largest sound ears, and at the same time an earlier variety, than that part of his crop which had been injured by frost.
It would also seem, that this accidental mode of selecting seed in more northerly climates, diminished the height of the plants: also, the height of their earing, if grown from mixed varieties. As high growing plants are the most disposed to grow later ears, the injury from frost falls heaviest on them, and they are diminished, and although low growing plants are far less disposed to furnish large ears, still this sometimes happens, and when it occurs, they generally ripen early, and are not injured by frost.
The corns had from Doctor Logan, and Mr. Cooper, as well as from Ohio, and various other places, where the grounds lay much lower than they do here, have invariably, so far as my observation extends, grown and eared much higher than corn growing beside them, which had been accommodated to our climate, although the latter seemed to partake quite as much, or perhaps more, of the useful properties of the gourdseed corn.
The foregoing facts should teach those residing in the colder climates, to procure their seeds, when practicable, from climates not warmer than their own. When the best kinds cannot be got in this way, they should sow and plant their general crops with seed known to prosper, and use the better seeds had from warmer situations sparingly and carefully, until they become accommodated to the climate, or until it is found that they will not prosper in it.
This practice may be also very useful to those who live in, or are about to remove to an inhospitable climate, where but little valuable vegetation grows.
If seeds be selected from a country, the nearest approaching to the one they now mean to inhabit, or in which they already reside, it is more than probable they would succeed. Notwithstanding they might not be equal to the same plants grown in better climates, still they would be invaluable where no better could be had; and time might enable the cultivator or his posterity to grow much better. For after the better plants had been, either from design, or accident, gradually and frequently removed still further north, though climates opposed to their natural habits, they might in the course of time be habituated to withstand even the severe cold of very high latitudes.
It should, however, be remembered, that where the seasons are short, planting and sowing as early as frost will permit, is of the utmost consequence. The contrary practice has completely excluded many valuable plants which would have produced abundantly, if farmers had not considered it necessary to postpone planting and sowing, until the grounds were, agreeably to their opinions, sufficiently warm. This is a fatal error, especially as the ground is frequently warmer, and the soil better calculated to promote vegetation, in the more early part of spring, than it is at the remote periods they fix on for planting and sowing. After the plants have taken root, many kinds which are now considered very tender, are nothing like so susceptible of serious injury from frost as farmers and gardeners too generally suppose. If they should happen to be destroyed, they may often be resown or replanted, in time to stand on an equal footing with those planted or sown at the usual time. But this labour and expense may be generally avoided, by observing what degree of frost the plants will bear without material injury, and the time in the spring, when, in the common course of events, such frosts are not to be expected.
It is thought that the spring opens ten or fifteen days later here, than in the vicinity of Philadelphia, where I resided several years previously to my removal to this place early in June, 1812. Still I plant corn here, much earlier than it is planted there, to wit, from the 23d of April to the 1st of May, as the season may happen to suit. From the 10th to the 15th of May, was the common time of planting in the neighbourhood from which I removed, but some planted much later even than this, as it too often happened that cold rains or other causes, determined them to wait until the ground was warmed.
When I planted my corn on the 1st day of May, 1814, a few clusters had been planted by a neighbour in his garden, on the 9th of April. These plants were in general cut off two or three times by frost, yet they maintained a superiority over the corn planted by me on the 1st of May, until the growth of the peas and beans planted quite too close to the maize, greatly injured it. As there had been a hog pen in one end of my patch, it was very clearly seen that superiority of soil was not the cause of this marked difference.
When corn is planted very early, it is commonly severely affected by frost; so much so, that many of the plants are cut off by the ground. This is unquestionably an injury to which no judicious farmer would expose the plant, if the advantages obtained by very early planting, could be had by planting later. Still if the roots remain unhurt, they are of consequence established, and very soon repair the injury done above the soil, after the frost ceases to act on the plants. Of course they take the lead, and will maintain their superiority over later planted corn. The ears also fill and ripen much better in northerly climates from this practice.
The shooting and filling of them take place when the heat of the sun is much greater; and when less cloudy, cold, dripping weather prevails, and the crop is nothing like so liable to be injured by frost. The grounds are also sooner ready for crops sown in the fall. This mode of management will often enable the cultivator to grow the large and more productive corns, in climates where they have been abandoned, from observing that they did not ripen when planted at the usual time.
When I introduced the large yellow gourdseed corn, from seed procured from Huntingdon county, every farmer here ridiculed the idea of attempting to grow corn of this description. They considered the soil and climate hostile to the growth even of the smaller corns, and but little was planted. As they waited until the earth was warmed before they planted, the crops were frequently either destroyed, or greatly injured by frost.
I had, however, seen the effects of early planting, and knew that these men had been more or less conversant with it ever since they had been old enough to assist in the labour done on a farm. They were ignorant of the properties of maize, merely from not having sufficiently considered that a farmer ought to endeavour to become acquainted with the economy of the plants cultivated by him.
If they had thought of this, they might have seen that the corn planted by them, and every body else, for growing early roasting and boiling ears, was generally put into the ground much sooner than that planted in fields. Also, that the corn planted for early use always succeeded, unless the roots were materially injured by frost; and that this seldom happened: as actual and long continued practice in their gardens had taught them, that it was unsafe to plant for this purpose until material danger from frost had passed by. For although gentlemen who keep gardeners, and those who grow early corn for market, plant the very early varieties for green corn, farmers very often plant the same kind which is grown in their fields.
As it seldom occurs that the whole of the ears are pulled off when green, practice, in his garden, might long since have taught the farmer, that early planted corn, in cold, backward climates, eared and filled much better than corn planted at the usual time: also, that the causes of this were more sun, less cold, cloudy, falling weather, and frost, during the shooting and filling of the ears, and the hardening of the grain. The natural conclusions drawn from those facts, if they had been duly considered, must have been that the same good effects would occur in their fields if the same practice were pursued: also, that by early planting they would avoid that destruction of their crops which so often occurs in high latitudes, merely from planting quite too late.
Notwithstanding these very interesting facts have been as obvious ever since corn has been planted by Europeans and their descendants in this country, I do not recollect ever to have heard anything said, or to have seen any thing written, on this subject.
Local causes alter climates so much, that the only sure criterion by which we may determine how soon corn or other seeds may be planted in many neighbourhoods, is to observe when, in the general course of events, this may be done without risk of any material injury from frost. The ridge of quite a low mountain, or, indeed, the ridge of a high hill, will make a difference of several days in the proper time of planting or sowing in the valleys on the opposite sides of them; although these valleys be not more than two or three miles apart. Other causes, also, produce similar effects.
This shows the very great advantages which would be derived if intelligent farmers, in every neighbourhood, would take notes on the weather, and its effects on vegetation.
Neither latitude, nor height, nor the influence of surrounding seas, can determine this subject sufficiently correct for agricultural purposes.
No kind of dependance can be placed on the Indian rule for planting or sowing. It may be of some use to them, whose observation is limited greatly by savage ignorance, but of none to us. We sometimes see the same vegetation which usually takes place in May, about the time corn is commonly planted, occur in February, or the fore part of March; when no rational cultivator would plant corn in any part of Pennsylvania where I have been.
The corn plant is easily destroyed by frost in the fall, being then debilitated by age, or exerting all its powers to perfect its fruit. But when young, it is much hardier than is generally supposed. I have observed it for several days together coming up through the heat of the day, although the surface of the soil had been slightly frozen in the morning.
The spring after I removed to this place, Dr. Dewees, with Mr. Philips and myself, planted the yellow gourdseed corn on the 30th of April and the 1st of May. The season continued sufficiently mild to establish the roots of the plants, although many of their tops were severely affected by frost, and some of them cut off nearly level with the ground. The weather, after we had planted, was not quite so favourable, and continued to be such as farmers too generally consider unfit for planting maize.
Forty or fifty miles around us, (except two fields in this neighbourhood, which the cultivators planted earlier than usual,) but little corn was made: a great many fields were of so little worth that scarcely any grain was gathered from them, although the two first mentioned crops were considered excellent by all who saw them.
Farmers attributed this failure in their corn crops, to a continuation of wet, cool weather, through the spring and fore part of the summer, joined with a severe drought in the latter part of the season. But as the two luxuriant fields mentioned above were subjected to the same events, I can see no cause for this marked failure in the crops generally, except procrastinating planting until the earth was thought to be sufficiently warmed; which did not happen until it was too late to grow even the smaller corns with tolerable advantage, unless the latter part of the season had been very favourable.
No rain fell on my field from the 30th of July to the 1st of September; during which time moisture is particularly required in this climate, to fill the ears: yet I had never grown better ears before.
If the farmers had planted as early as I did, and cultivated their fields well, no question the same would have occurred in their corn crops; for the economy of this invaluable plant is well calculated to withstand the severest drought.
My field of corn, planted last spring, (1815,) with the same kind of seed, on the 24th and 25th of April, was doomed to withstand much severer frost than that just mentioned.
On the 15th and 16th of May the ground was frozen so hard that I peeled off the soil in cakes, to nearly, if not quite, three-quarters of an inch thick, and observed loose particles of congealed moisture still deeper than this.
Many of the plants were cut off by the ground, and yet I have never grown so large a crop of maize. It was still more remarkable, that some of the plants which were growing from seed, that by inattention was scarcely covered with soil, were not destroyed. It would appear that the earth screened the roots from the too powerful effects of the sun, and that a gradual thaw preserved them from injury.
Beside the early and later frosts, high latitudes are subject to a frost that sometimes takes place from the 20th to the latter end of August. This, when it happens to be severe, injures buckwheat and maize exceedingly, and sometimes entirely, destroys those crops, when planted in low bottoms.
Their severity at this season of the year seems to arise from the preceding heats, by which the air is so much rarified that it would appear the consequence is a gust from the northward. This introduces torrents of cold air so suddenly that its temperature can be but little altered by passing through milder regions than those from which it proceeded; and the effects are sometimes as fatal as they are sudden.
When the atmosphere has had its temperature reduced by those, or milder means, there appears to be but little danger from severe frosts Not only so far as my limited observation extends, but also from what I can learn from those who have lived here more than twenty years. They calculate on a moderate fall if the August court, (which commences in the latter part of that month,) passes by without injury from frost. As in that case frost seems to be gradually introduced, as in warmer climates, by the seasons advancing.
I expect the effects of this frost would be generally fatal in very level valleys, surrounded by hills. In a country where gentle hills and dales prevail, it is not so much to be dreaded, if the farmer manages properly.
I have seen corn and buckwheat on but moderate elevations, so little affected, that it required scrutiny to observe the traces of frost among the crops, while other crops of the same description growing in bottoms, and but a little distance from them, were either ruined, or sadly injured.
Cold, heavy air, like water, rushes down from the heights and inundates the bottoms; still, if considerable creeks or rivers run through, or pass by the bottoms, the crops are often preserved by the warm exhalations arising from the water; this with the fogs that are generally caused by the moisture, warms the air, and prevents frost. When these causes are not sufficient to prevent it, the fog frequently obstructs the rays of the sun, until the frozen plants are gradually thawed; by which means they are often saved from serious injury.
The most severe and injurious frost of this kind which I have seen, or that has been known by the oldest settler here, to have happened, was ushered in by a gust in the evening, on the 21st of August, when the ground was quite dry, with but a sprinkle of rain, and the sun shone clearly the next day.
|*This opinion seems to have been in some measure confirmed from what has since happened. On the 25th of August, 1817, considerable rain fell, accompanied by a gust from the northward, which introduced torrents of cold air. On the ensuing morning I observed ice formed in some milk crocks standing on a very low shed in my back yard; also, that ice had been formed on, and greatly stiffened some of the leaves of the corn growing in my garden; likewise, that the fog arising from the exhalations from the earth had condensed on the fence rails, and the roofs of the houses, in sufficient quantities to cause them to look as white as they would have done if a slight snow had fallen. The sun dispersed the fog at a very early hour, but not before the most of the frozen plants were thawed, consequently no serious injury was done.|
This induced me to believe, that if considerable rain had accompanied the gust, the warmth of the earth at this season of the year would have produced sufficient vapour to have greatly reduced, or perhaps entirely prevented the injury sustained in the bottoms by this frost.*
The mixed crop of maize, and kidney bunch beans, which will be hereafter described, was at this time growing on a flat of ground, with a hill and flat above them. They sustained no injury, except the drooping of the points of some few of the leaves of the corn; while buckwheat growing on a bottom directly opposite, and not more than twenty perches distant from the corn and beans, was nearly destroyed.
No maize was injured by this frost, except one field of yellow gourdseed corn, planted rather too late, and in a low bottom; this was much hurt, still there were some fine ears which escaped without injury. This goes far toward establishing the theory, that frost greatly assists the farmer in cold climates, in the selection of such seed as suits his purpose best.
I am induced to believe, from what happened in consequence of this frost, together with the same partial damage done by the same frost in Penn's Valley, and other places not further distant from this neighbourhood, that corn may be readily preserved from any very serious injury from the frosts which may happen in August, if the larger varieties be planted on the higher grounds, and the smaller corns that ripen very early in the bottoms: particularly, as I have seen here an accidental mixture of the gourdseed, with a very early small white flinty corn, which seems to be productive. One of my neighbours brought me an ear of it on the 29th of August, which was hard; it would seem that a variety might be formed from this corn, which would ripen sufficiently early to escape any very material injury from the frost, that sometimes happens in August, if grown in this neighbourhood on the lower grounds. It should, however, be recollected, that this is not to be expected, unless the cultivator plants as early as the season will permit; but perhaps not quite as soon on the lower grounds, as on the ridges, for frost is severer in the spring, as well as in the fall on the bottoms.
The roots and stem of maize spring from the heart of the grain; the former grows from one to two or more inches long, before the latter appears, and progresses so very rapidly, that if pulled up from a loose soil, they will measure about twelve inches long, when the stem is only about three inches high, although their finer fibres must be left in the ground by this rude operation.
The stem protrudes itself through the soil in the form of a bodkin, and is composed of leaves rolled very compactly together; the first two leaves expand soon after the plant penetrates the soil; and other rolled leaves continue to unfold in succession from the crown of the plant, until the tassel appears wrapped up in its own leaves: these also gradually spread themselves, until the plant is fully formed.
The leaves increase in width and length from the ground, up to where the most perfect ear is formed; after this, they decrease in length and width, more rapidly than they increased below, and this decrease is regularly maintained even to the uppermost leaf, which forms itself a little below the tassel.
One leaf grows from every joint in the stalk, but in such a way as to alternate sides; the first formed leaf, and after this, every leaf in regular succession, clasps the stalk closely, until it approaches near to the under side of the leaf above; after this, it grows out from the stalk, and a beautiful fanlike appearance is at length produced, which is not equalled by any other annual plant cultivated for the value of its fruit: especially, when the large luxuriant ears display at their points, elegant tufts of silky fibres, which vary in colour when mixtures form the seed.
The height of this plant differs much. The smallest variety that has been noticed by me, did not seem to exceed three feet in height. The largest plants which I have seen, measured but thirteen feet. I have, however, heard of some which attained the height of seventeen feet. These must have been grown on a very rich as well as a very deep and open, free soil.
The lateral roots of maize soon spread through the whole soil. The finger roots, as they are sometimes called, dip much deeper. I have seen them traced two feet below the surface of the soil, by a grubbing hoe, in the hands of a rugged workman. How much further their finer fibres might have gone, was not ascertained by me, but this convinced me, that the roots of maize were capable of drawing very much moisture, and some nutriment, from a much greater depth than most of the plants cultivated by us. Also, that these manures and smaller roots, were better calculated to effect this very interesting purpose, than they would have been if nature had formed the whole of them into one single taproot, which extended no deeper. This is one cause among many others, why maize is capable of contending so powerfully with poverty, and withstanding severe and continued drought, better than most other cultivated plants. This should convince us that a plant capable of drawing such important supplies from beyond the range of plants in general, will not prove peculiarly exhausting if it be treated fairly, by having as much manure, or as good a soil appropriated for it, as is commonly used for those plants which farmers in general have not learned to grow on poor soils without manure.
The prop roots of maize appear about, or a little before, the tassels may be seen. They proceed from the joint at or near the surface of the soil. They are numerous, and form a circle round the plant. That portion of them which grows outside of the ground, is hard and woody, similar to the substance which forms the outside of the stalk; but so soon as they penetrate the soil, they become softer, and spread through it in search of nutriment: this is just at the time the plant requires most of it. The tassel and the top of the plants have after this to attain their full size, and the farina fecundans, which impregnates the grain, is to be formed. The ears now begin to shoot, and they are also to be filled and perfected.
The prop roots are exactly calculated to support the weight of the tassels and ears, during high winds, and when the grounds are softened by rain. But farmers too generally thwart this simple but wise arrangement of nature, by hilling, or ridging up the plants. These inconsiderate operations not only cut and rend the roots, but also compel the plants to grow new sets of prop roots, from the joints above. Those seldom get sufficiently established in time to support the weight and height of the tassels and ears; and many of the plants are of consequence blown down, or fall by their own weight alone, when the grounds have been previously much softened by rain.
Maize, from its woody texture, and commanding size, might (without straining the point very far,) be called an annual bread tree, producing the best of all corns, and at the same time crops, which in magnitude far exceed that of any other grain. Also tops, husks and leaves, which can be readily gathered; and furnish abundant fodder for cattle, equal to the best hay; and independent of this, the stalks supply much valuable litter for the cattle yard.
|*The highly important and extensive usefulness of the moisture thus gathered into these receptacles, has been explained in my book on Vegetation and Manures, see from page 55 to page 57.|
That part of the leaf which surrounds the stalk, and adheres so closely that it does not permit a particle of moisture to escape, is very interesting. The peculiar insertion of the leaf, together with the formation of that part of the stalk covered by it, forms a cavity for the reception of the rich moisture, which is gathered into it from the atmosphere by the leaves, and for which they are most admirably formed.*
The shoots, which form the ear, commence at the joint in contact with the ground. If the soil be rich or highly manured, they issue from every joint up to where the uppermost ear is formed at the footstalk of the tassel. This last or highest up ear, is almost invariably the largest, and ripens soonest. It seldom occurs that more than two ears are perfected on one stalk, unless the clusters of plants are very distant from each other, and but few plants stand in each cluster. If the plants stand thick on the ground, but one ear is commonly perfected by each of them. The abortive ear shoots are called suckers. These are commonly removed, so far as the farmer considers conducive to the welfare of his crop. This should be done so soon as they are large enough to be pulled off effectually. No part of them should be left adhering to the stalk, or they will grow again from the stub left behind.
If this operation be not early commenced and frequently repeated, they become so numerous and large in fields highly manured, especially if the plants stand thin on the ground, that they are greatly injured. Not only from the loss of nutriment, but also from the many and large wounds inflicted by the removal of them.
After careful experiment in the removal of suckers, I now pull none above the joint in contact with the ground; and would not remove these, if they did not take root in the soil, and by this means become powerful exhausters. Although it commonly happens that several ear shoots above this point prove abortive, no sucker can be removed without injuring the leaf which binds it to the stalk; and so much that it is commonly rendered altogether incapable of conducting moisture. If it be not so extensively injured, the receptacle formed by it is so much deranged by this operation that it cannot retain the slight portion which may happen to be conducted by the leaf into it.
I am still further encouraged to let so many of these abortive ears stand, as I have observed that so soon as nature has determined the number of ears, which existing circumstances may enable her to fill, all her efforts are directed to them; and the abortive ones immediately dwindle, and finally wither: and, for aught we know to the contrary, nature may cause them to part with the rich matters they had previously gathered, and apply this nutriment to assist in maturing her favourites.
I trust it will appear from what has been advanced, that in place of abusing this invaluable plant, as an exhauster of the soil, we should consider it the pride and boast of American husbandry, as mathematical demonstration cannot well afford stronger proof than has been produced, that maize gathers a large portion of the nutriment necessary to perfect its fruit from the atmosphere.
Still, it should be remembered that sufficient nutriment, provided in the soil, is absolutely necessary to enable it to do this very extensively. Therefore, "let not what God has joined together, by man be put asunder," by vain philosophical theories and sophistical reasonings. Such as, that the chief use of the soil is merely to support the plants in their proper place, or that cultivation will supercede the necessity of keeping the soil well stored with animal and vegetable matter.
The middle path is certainly the path of reason and experience, and should be carefully and diligently pursued by the practical farmer, leaving those ideal speculations for the amusement of the learned.
There is no corn crop grown by us which is so certain as maize. Its diseases are few, and most, if not all of them, proceed from an inconsiderate cultivation. I do not recollect ever to have seen them so extensive in any field as to do any very material injury to the crop.
It withstands drought and contends with poverty better than most other plants cultivated by us, either for the value of their grain or roots. It may be advantageously grown in any soil fit for cultivation; not excepting blowing sands, or retentive clay.
Still, this crop fails nearly as often as any other; especially in the higher latitudes, or situations rendered cold from local causes. It cannot withstand grass or weeds, and is too generally planted by far too late. The seed is also covered too deep, as well as oppressed with clods, stones, or any other rubbish near at hand, which prevents the plant from coming up. Too little seed is planted to secure a sufficiency of plants, after birds and quadrupeds have taken that portion which even proper vigilance cannot prevent.
When the field has been planted, in place of being guarded, so soon as the first plants make their appearance above the soil, it is commonly left a prey to birds and quadrupeds; although it is well known that some of these intruders will continue to scratch up the plants while a vestige of the seed remains at the roots.
If the corn escape these depredations, birds and quadrupeds attack the ears so soon as the grain begins to harden. In place of defending the crop until it be gathered, too many leave it unprotected, to be devoured by them, for weeks, and, indeed, sometimes for months after it should have been gathered.
In all the fields of maize which have been examined by me, some plants entirely barren have been seen without any apparent cause.
The fungus appears to be principally occasioned by wounds inflicted during cultivation. The plants commonly bleed from these wounds, and a fungus is formed. This, when in contact with the ear, is certain destruction to it, unless the fungus be soon seen and removed. When it is formed on other parts of the plant, it frequently corrodes them so much that they are incapable of perfecting their fruit. The only remedy known to me is speedy removal, and repeating the operation if the fungus should reappear: which generally occurs. But even this tedious remedy is too often found insufficient. It is, therefore, far better not to create this disease, by mangling the plants, either by the savage practice of harrowing over them, or by covering them with clods, stones, or sods, as is too often done by the inconsiderate mode of hilling or ridging them up. Although many of the plants wounded by these injudicious practices survive, and appear to flourish, even when the fungus is not removed, still, numbers of them become too debilitated to perfect their fruit.
A reddish kind of rust sometimes appears on the leaves, but seldom does much apparent injury to the ears, unless it becomes extensive. However, the same rust sometimes fixes upon the stalks and causes them to decay.
When this is near the ear, or the decay is extensive, the plant produces little or no grain; but I have never seen very extensive injury done by this disease. The cause of it is unknown to me. It may, however, proceed from the bruises and wounds inflicted by an inconsiderate cultivation; especially as the tassel, wrapped in its own leaves, may be seen formed in the plant when it is quite young. Too many farmers think the health and vigour of the plants are greatly promoted by harrowing over them, and mangling their tops while they are young. Also, by cutting and rending the roots of them, provided this be not done after the tassels and ear shoots appear; than which nothing can appear more preposterous.
The foregoing essay on the economy of maize was written before the untimely frosts of 1816 appeared.
The spring, summer, and fore part of autumn in that year, were much colder, and accompanied with more frequent and untimely frosts than had happened since this country was first settled by Europeans. This has caused much speculation, but seems to have terminated in nothing more than it is probable, from the records kept in Europe of similar events, that every part of the globe is subjected to temporary and distressing alterations in climate, from causes which do not seem to be understood. It also seems probable that some such occurrence enabled Julius Caesar to cross the Tiber on the ice, although this circumstance is quoted to prove that the climate of Italy has been greatly altered.
Some of the old men in this country confidently assert that great changes have taken place in the climate since they were young. However, it would appear that such alterations as they speak of could not have been effected in so short a time by the causes quoted by them, even if these causes were calculated to produce the effect attributed to them; which, saying the least that can be said of them, seems doubtful.
Still, so prevalent is this theory, that some of the older settlers in this place tell us the climate has been altered since they came here. Although no alteration in the face of the country can justly lead to any idea of this kind, except that in some few places, where the grounds have been more extensively cleaned than has commonly happened, the removal of the shelter which the surrounding forest afforded the crops, has caused them to be more frequently affected by frost.
I do not question, but time has greatly altered the constitution, &c. of most of these old men, who speak of alterations in our climate; as I find it has produced similar effects on myself. But I have seen nothing of those alterations in the climate of which too many of them speak; therefore, cannot credit this ideal opinion.
The winters have been frequently very different, so have been the springs, summers and falls. Still on the whole, they seem to be the same as they were, ever since I was capable of making observations on them; with the exception of the year 1816. In that year my corn was planted the 23d of April. The weather proved favourable until the 8th and 9th of May, when it was cut off by frost. It was also, cut off twice after this in May, and once more on the 9th of June.
|*The non-conductors here alluded to are either wooden troughs or tubs, or crocks standing on a board, or any other substance calculated to prevent the heat arising from the earth from communicating with the water exposed in these vessels to the open air.|
I will now copy from my diary, the notes taken of the frosts which happened after this, and their effects on my corn, until it was destroyed by them; as I believe these notes and the observations, I shall make on them, will be interesting to those who wish to become well acquainted with the economy of maize. On the 16th of June, it is observed, "the corn is full as high as it was when last cut off by the frost." On the 29th of June, "Ice this morning, formed in a dish on the top of the shed, but there was a fog, and no apparent injury done." "June 30th, cold, and the corn turned sallow." "July 5th, some white frost, but not enough to do serious injury." "July 7th, considerable white frost, but no apparent injury done to vegetation." "July 9th, considerable white frost, but no perceptible injury done." "July 10th, white frost, but not so severe as yesterday." "July 18th, frost in the bottoms." "July 27th, warm; a gust, with hail as large as walnuts." "July 29th, slight white frost." "August 21st, considerable white frost, but no injury expected from it." "August 22d, considerable white frost and ice in non-conductors."*
|*My field was vastly more favourably situated than the corn in Philipsburg.|
"August 28th, corn blades in Philipsburg frozen quite stiff; considerable ice on them; ice in non-conductors, one-eighth of an inch thick; corn at Philipsburg greatly damaged, perhaps ruined." "August 29th, more white frost and ice than yesterday, the leaves of Mr. Philips's corn nearly all killed, and many of the leaves of my corn badly singed, and partly killed, especially in the lower part of the field."* "September 17th, slight white frost." " September 18th, slight white frost." "September 26th, foggy in the morning, with some white frost." "September 27th, our water tub covered with ice as thick as window glass, the earth in the garden a little frozen." "September 28th, much hoar frost, the ground frozen about half an inch deep."
Of consequence, the corn plant was entirely killed, and not a single ear in my field got hard. However, it was pulled and fed to the working cattle, milch cows and hogs, but seemed to afford but little nutriment, and to do but little good. The fodder was set up in heaps, as the effect of the frost kept the stalks soft; the cattle eat nearly the whole of them, with the husks and frosted blades. They appeared to do as well on this food, as they did, after it was consumed, on first crop hay. I would, therefore, advise the cultivator to take good care of his fodder when killed by an untimely frost, especially the stalks and husks.
It is worthy of remark, that as the roots of the corn plant, had become established in the soil, even that debility which must have been occasioned by the tops being so frequently cut off, had not prevented it from regaining, by the 16th of June, the full height which it had lost but seven days before, by being cut off by frost. Also, that notwithstanding the many frosts encountered by it, and the greatly increased severity of that on the 28th and 29th of August, the plant and the ears have generally attained their full size, and the latter were in common well filled with grain, when the plants were destroyed by the severe frost, which happened on the 27th and 28th of September.
There can be little doubt, notwithstanding the unprecedented hostility of the season, that if in place of the large yellow gourdseed corn, an early variety had been planted by me, that it would not only generally have filled well, but also hardened in time to escape destruction. Also, that if the farmers had planted as early as I did, their crops grown on the higher grounds would have escaped the wide waste of ruin to which they were subjected, for they commonly plant the smaller and earlier corns.
They, however, waited until they believed the ground would be warmed; but, as it very often happens, it was then found, on the whole, not so well calculated to promote the vegetation of the seed, or to establish the roots of the plant in the soil, as it was when, and for some time after, my corn was planted. The natural consequence was a general failure of the corn crop; except near to rivers or wide creeks, or where the field was uncommonly well sheltered by the surrounding woodlands; and even in such situations, the corn crops are generally of but little worth.
Local causes render Philipsburg, and the cleared grounds adjoining it, much more subject to frost than any other part of the neighbourhood where the ground has been cleared.
A wide bottom commences opposite the town, and runs between four and five miles beyond it, in a north-westerly direction. This bottom was formerly inhabited by beavers. The damming up the water killed the trees; since the dams were cut, the grounds have grown up in grass, bushes, shrubs and low trees. The timber growing on the hills on each side of this bottom, is very lofty. This forms a wide and very deep hollow, which conveys the heavy cold air into the opening on which the town stands. This caused the leaves of the corn grown by Mr. Philips, to be almost all killed by the frost which happened on the 28th and 29th of August; and also destroyed the leaves of his pompions and some few of the vines.
After this happened, it was debated, whether it would be best to cut off the plants for fodder, or to let them stand; the last idea prevailed. It was evidently seen after this, that the silk grew, and believed, that the ears increased in size. Also thought, that if the frosts of the 27th and 28th of September had not killed the plants, and the fall had been favourable after this, that half a crop of grain would have been obtained, notwithstanding untoward causes had procrastinated the planting, until the 8th and 10th of May, and the variety of seed used was not so early as some other corns. It had been accidentally formed, by mixing the big and the little yellow, with a slight portion of the gourdseed corn.
New leaves put out from the pompion vines, and attained nearly, if not quite, their full size, after the first leaves had been destroyed by the frost of the 28th and 29th of August. It was thought that several of the pompions which were growing at that time on the vines had, after this, increased in size; however, those plants were also killed by the frost of the 27th and 28th September.
From these circumstances, and many others, which it would be tedious to relate, I believe the corn plant is not effectually killed, unless it be debilitated by age, or is near the point of perfecting its fruit, until the ground is frozen, and the roots, as well as the lop, are more or less affected by frost. Therefore, I would advise the cultivator, not to cut off the corn plant, unless this happens, or he considers the ears ripe enough for the grain to become dry and hard, after the plants are set up into heaps.
Notwithstanding the inclement seasons of 1816, farmers, at least here, do not seem to have had much cause to complain. The winter wheat was better than usual, so were oats; spring wheat, at least equal to any grown here, before or since; there was but one small patch of barley grown in the settlement, and this certainly bore no marks of being injured by the seasons. Flax was better than common. Buckwheat was considerably injured in some situations, but on the whole yielded at least half a crop. Potatoes, especially late planted, were considerably curtailed in size, except in situations where they were well sheltered by the woodlands; there would, however, have been no serious lack of them, were it not that farmers, notwithstanding they have been too often seriously admonished by great loss, still continue covering the heaps in which they are commonly kept through the winter, entirely too shallow to exclude frost.
This error is not confined to climates where the winters are uncommonly cold; as the same evil has too frequently happened in every climate where I have resided. On grounds which had not been injudiciously too much exhausted to grow profitable crops of the grasses for hay, there was no cause for complaint. On thin soils it was otherwise, and so it ever will be, unless the seasons greatly favour the inconsiderate cultivator of them. Still too many farmers do not appear to see, that when the soil is not exhausted, and the cultivation is good, the farmer, be his crops what they may, seems generally to control the seasons, and often makes them subservient to him. He has not only very generally a plenty to sell, but when the bad farmer has but little, or perhaps must either buy or starve, he obtains a high price, because the article is scarce; but this is not all, he becomes wealthy, while the inconsiderate farmer has to struggle with poverty as long as he may happen to live; and entails misery on his posterity, by leaving them an impoverished, and most likely a mortgaged soil; also, with what is still much worse than either, habits opposed to the improvement of the grounds.
After the 9th of October, the weather in the fall of 1816 was as moderate, or perhaps more so than usual; December was uncommonly mild, so much so, that my cattle and horses, except when working, were kept in pasture until the 9th of that month. As the grass of the second crop had been reserved, until it attained nearly its full growth, they might have been generally kept in pasture until some time after Christmas, for the snows were very light, and soon melted away. However, as a light fall of snow had induced me to put them to dry fodder on the 9th of December, and the pasture lay near two miles distant from where they were housed, and the weather at this season of the year is very uncertain, it was thought best not to turn them into pasture again. The weather continued to be very moderate until the 9th of January, when it became very cold, and it continued generally so, throughout the remaining part of the winter of 1817.
We are, however, told of winters still more severe in Europe. "In the great frost in 1683, oaks, and ashes, and walnut trees were cleft in two, and frequently with a terrible noise, and not only their bodies, but their branches and roots also. In 1708, the frost was almost through all Europe, except Scotland and Ireland. All the orange trees and olives in Italy, Provence, and many other countries perished, and all the walnut trees in France, with an infinity of other trees. In England, most of the bay trees, hollies, rosemary, and even furze, perished. The sap also of wall trees stagnated in the branches, and produced disorders resembling chilblains; and the very buds of the finer trees were quite killed, and turned into a kind of mealy substance.
In 1728, toward the end of November, the wind blew exceedingly cold, followed by so heavy a snow, as in one night broke off large arms of many evergreen trees. At this time, also, there was a great number of large trees disbarked. Two West India plane trees, in particular, in the Physic-garden at Chelsea, which were near forty feet high, and a fathom in circumference, were disbarked almost from the bottom to the top, on the west side of the trees; and it was observable, that whatever trees were disbarked, it was on the west or south-west side.
|*See Wesley's Phil, vol. i. p. 425|
On the 14th December, 1759, there was at Petersburg the most excessively cold weather that ever was known, even to 205 degrees of De Lisle's thermometer.[-34°F]*
When a country is generally covered with timber, much of the heat is accumulated during the warm spells which take place in the winter, and confined in the open space which exists between the bodies and branches of the larger as well as of the smaller trees and shrubs which grow on the grounds. This is not, however, so perceptibly felt by us on our first entering the forest, where the timber, shrubs, &c. which happen to prevail, are of the deciduous kinds.
Here the timber and shrubs are generally evergreen. The clearings are small in size, and the number of them inconsiderable. When I have left the clearing in which the town stands, soon after a change from heat to cold had taken place in the winter, and entered the adjacent forest, through which I often daily passed on my way to my farm, I have frequently felt just the same as I have often done after leaving the cold air and entering into a cellar.. After a warm spell has greatly mod crated the air in the cleared grounds in the winter, the contrary effect has been as perceptibly felt on entering the forest.
Now, we all know that cold and hot air mix and form an equilibrium as soon as this can be conveniently done. Of course, whenever the air is either colder or warmer in the forest, it will be continually rushing into the different air existing in the clearing, until an equilibrium is obtained. It would, therefore, seem, that where forests abound, the air can never be either so hot or so cold in the clearings, as it will be when those extensive forests are removed. Consequently, it would seem, that in place of our winters becoming more mild when the forests are cleared, they will be more severe, especially in our maritime country, on the east side of the Allegheny, as there the cold north-west and north-east winds generally prevail through the winter and early parts of the spring; and, it would appear, will become more severe in consequence of the removal of the forests, which now oppose a considerable proportion of their force. To illustrate this, I beg the reader to refer to where I have explained how a trivial local cause greatly increases the severity of the frosts in Philipsburg, and causes them to act vastly more powerfully than they do in any of the other clearings which have been made in this neighbourhood.
It is, however, readily acknowledged, that the question respecting the changes which may be produced by a general clearing of the country is a difficult one. It can only be determined by time, and by consulting the most authentic records that may have been kept, of the annual state of the weather since the country was first settled by Europeans, and extending (when it may be done) the same mode of inquiry for ages yet to come.
Therefore, my principal aim in discussing this subject prematurely, is to rescue it from the hands of the very many old men and old women, who confidently assert that great alterations have taken place in the climate within the very contracted span of their limited observation, although, if the usual allowance be made for untoward seasons, they might have seen that our seed time and harvests have not been altered.
Before implicit confidence, however, be placed in those ideal changes, it should be recollected that old men and old women commonly claim all the superior merit which is so very justly due to a long life spent in the judicious observation of men and things, whether their time has or has not been thus usefully employed.
Hence it is, that we commonly hear old people passing extravagant encomiums on the virtue, modesty, and good behaviour of the youth among which they were brought up, and as extravagantly railing against the fashions and propensities of the present age. Now, if the testimony of these very sagacious old people were to be admitted, from the time the practice of finding fault with the present generation, and praising the past first commenced, it really would seem that the folly and wickedness of man must have increased so fast that nothing but vice and immorality could have long since existed in the world. We, however, find, at least in this country, that in consequence of education being more generally diffused among all the different ranks of our citizens, and with it the precepts of the Gospel, vice hides its deformed head, sculks in corners, and shuns the light more than it formerly did.
My subject, however, puts me in mind of my uncle. He seemed firmly to believe that nothing was as good as when he was young. He even went so far as to declare the peaches were nothing like so good as they were when he was a boy. It, however, so happened, that my uncle was not so much older than myself, but that I very well knew if the same kind of peaches which pleased him so well when be was a boy, were growing in his orchard among the more highly improved trees, from which he could gather none that pleased him, his hogs would not have eaten one of them until after the whole of the fruit from the more highly improved trees had been consumed.
It would, however, appear, that my uncle, in the heyday of youth, found enjoyment in every thing from which pleasure could be gleaned. But as he grew older, he became (as too commonly happens) much harder to please, until at length he met with nothing that gave him pleasure, and that he vented his spleen by complaining of the great alterations which had taken place since he was young.
In fact, it would appear that these supposed alterations in climate have been too often referred to by agriculturists as a convenient covering, to hide from the eyes of their too credulous readers the real cause which had induced them to abandon practices in which, they had obstinately persisted long after it clearly appeared that they were wrong.
It would, therefore, seem, that notwithstanding it would cost more time and paper than the subject was worth to expose many of those palpable attempts to saddle the climate with the errors and mistakes of individuals, still to place one of those attempts on a proper footing, may be very useful; and it will naturally lead the farmer to investigate cause and effect more closely than it would seem has yet been done, before he admits that an alteration in the climate is the real cause of the changes in practice which have been attributed to it.
|*This brings to my recollection an occurrence that
happened several years ago. There lived about three miles from my former
residence a German farmer noted for doing every thing well, especially for
saving his hay in untoward seasons. This induced me to call and ask him by what
kind of observations he made himself so well acquainted with the weather. He
told me that he generally bought three or four different Dutch almanacs; that
when he wished to become well acquainted with the weather, he spread them out
before him, and with much attention considered the report of each. These he
commonly found very different; but by due attention to what was stated in them,
and by also comparing the prospects of the weather with them, he seldom failed
to get in his hay without wet. It required but little penetration to see that
my neighbour was indebted to his own very superior judgment, and not as he
appeared firmly to believe to his three or four Dutch almanacs. As I however
thought that any hints of this sort might aggravate but could not convince him
of his error, I took my leave without seeming to doubt the value of his
**See vol. iii. Mem. Phil. Agr. Soc. p. 23, 24.
†Idem. page 27, 28.
This is the more important, for if the change rests merely on an alteration in the seasons, it would appear, that every alteration in practice, made in consequence of an alteration in the climate, should be regulated by the previous knowledge of this alteration, and how long it would continue. Consequently, that no fixed general principles could be established, unless those very ingenious men, who make our large Dutch almanacs, could be prevailed upon to supply this deficiency, by a very long addition to this highly important calendar.* But to proceed. Judge Peters tells us, under date of the 10th of August, 1811, that "I was formerly of opinion, and succeeded under it, that thin sowing was, in clean and fertile ground, the best. But I am now convinced that, by some shift of circumstances and change of seasons, our fields, in whatever state of either fertility or poverty, require more seed than we have heretofore been accustomed to sow. I shall increase my quantity hereafter, never having sown more than a bushel per acre. I will also make some particular comparative experiments, as to quantities, on different acres. Cold and unfavourable springs have, for several years past, retarded the early shooting of the plants, and in such case they do not stool as formerly."**
On the 15th of July, 1812, this gentleman tells us, that "in consequence of the opinion as to a quantity of seed I mentioned in a foregoing letter, I have tried various quantities on different acres. All are good; but I think the grain from one bushel and a half of seed, has the largest heads, and will yield the greatest number of bushels." "I was, in my youth, an advocate for three pecks per acre. I now think five, (or six at the utmost,) pecks sufficient."†
Here I proceed from Mr. Peters's own testimony to prove that when he came to the determination, (to wit, in 1811,) to try the experiment of sowing more seed, there had previously existed no alteration in the seasons "for many years past," more than had usually happened.
|‡Idem, page 26.
§Idem, vol. iii.
He tells us, under the date of the 15th of July, 1812, that "the Smyrna wheat is now ripe, and fit for the sickle. It is a promising crop, and has withstood the storms and unfavourable season far beyond any other grain. The harvest is later, at least ten days, than it has been for many years past."‡ Here is ample testimony "the harvest of 1812 was ten days later than it had been for many years," and yet we find the Smyrna wheat was "ripe and fit for the sickle" on the 15th of July. Now, if we deduct ten days from those fifteen it leaves five, and if from the five we deduct as many more days as we suppose ought to be done, in consequence of this gentleman's saying in the preceding year, that the Smyrna wheat "ripens somewhat late, and I almost dread the mildew, blight, or rust,"§ we shall find that the harvests, previously to 1812, were as early, "for many years past," as they had generally been since the memory of man, in the vicinity of Philadelphia. Why then complain of what could not, agreeably to his own statements, have existed "for many years" previously to 1812? The spring of that year certainly abounded in cold. The winds generally hung to the northward and north-east. As it happened to be the year on which I removed to this place, I very well remember that I left the farm, on which I had been previously living, about the 23d of May, that the wheat, grasses, &c. were very backward, that I staid a day or two in Philadelphia; that during my stay there it snowed nearly all one day, and that enough fell to have covered the ground several inches deep, if it had not melted away nearly as fast as it fell, and that it continued cold throughout the whole of the month. It puts me in mind of what happened about forty-five years ago. I was then living with my father-in-law, on his farm on the eastern shore of Maryland. It was so very uncommonly cold that we had to kindle fires, and sat by them after the wheat was in head.
In fact, it has ever been the case since my recollection, that when the winds generally hung to the northward and north-east until late in the spring, in our maritime country, the springs were always cold, and vegetation greatly retarded. On the west side of the Allegheny, warm winds commonly prevail in the spring, and in some of the valleys there, vegetation is in the same line of latitude, about three degrees forwarder than in the valleys on the eastern side of the mountain.
Volney, after labouring hard to substantiate this imaginary change in our climate, says, "Dr. Rush, indeed, seems to hesitate in his belief, after noticing the severity of several late winters, and thinks some errors may nave arisen for want of thermometers." Now, this candid acknowledgement of Dr. R. who had previously written to substantiate the supposed change in our climate, does honour to his head and heart, and ought to have its full weight with those who wish to investigate the subject.
Mr. Volney, after this, observes, "I cannot, however, believe with Mr. Williams, that the colds have been much diminished in degree in the course of the last century. The cold of 1653 was, according to him, greater than that of 1782; was attended with similar circumstances, and was the greatest ever known; but this estimate is merely conjectural, and his reasonings cannot supply the want of thermometrical observations, at the former of these periods. Thermometers, indeed, were unknown in America until about the year 1740. This conjecture is the less plausible, if we admit, what I think I have proved, that the north-west wind is the great source of cold in North America, since the wind has undergone no alteration in its properties. The experiments of Dr. Ramsay afford analogies that will justify us in dissenting from this theory. This writer, on comparing the observations of Dr. Chalmers, made between 1750 and 1760, with his own, made from 1790 to 1794, found a difference of only half a degree in the heat; a difference so small that it may reasonably be ascribed to a difference in the instruments; but if the heat has not increased, we are obliged to infer that the cold has not diminished. What appears to be demonstrated on this head, is that winter is shorter, the summer longer, and the autumn later, than they formerly were, but that the cold, as the last ten years sufficiently evince, is as violent as ever.
|*See Volney's View, pages 216, 220, 221.|
"Mr. Mackenzie, who admits these changes, supposes the cause to be inherent in the globe itself, because he has witnessed them in places where the ground remains in its primitive state. But if these places, which he does not mention, be in Canada, they tend only to confirm my suspicion, since the removal of the forests in certain mountains and slopes of Genesee and Kentucky, would unavoidably introduce streams of mild air into Upper and Lower Canada from the south-west."*
Now it would appear that Mr. Volney, in order to substantiate his theory, has first to suppose that the traveller, Mr. Mackenzie, was in Canada, when he made these observations; secondly, that the removal of the forests in certain mountains and slopes of Genesee and Kentucky, would unavoidably introduce considerable streams of mild air into Upper and Lower Canada from the southwest. It would, however, be a difficult job to determine where Mr. Mackenzie made these observations; but still vastly more difficult to suppose that the settlers, when Mr. Volney wrote, had abandoned the fertile plains of these two states, to clear and cultivate the rough and unfertile grounds on the mountains.
Enough, I trust, has been said to convince the plain practical farmer, that no alteration has happened in our climate which should induce him to alter any practice that time and observation has determined to be good.
There is, however, another cause, which only exists in the imagination of some cultivators, and to which some of them also attribute the changes made in their practice and opinions: to wit; the absurd idea that locality alone is sufficient to destroy the good properties of the best of seeds, and most highly improved breeds of animals. I could readily mention very pointed, as well as laughable cases, which would clearly determine that locality had nothing to do with the changes which some have attributed to it. But if I were to do this, it might look as if I took a delight in goading the feelings, and exposing the follies, of others.
The alteration, however, in the quantity of wheat to be sown to the acre, is a very important one, as will more clearly appear when I shall fully explain that subject: therefore, it ought to be noticed by me in a way that seemed the most likely to impress the subject on the minds of my readers. It is believed, however, that the President may yet discover that two bushels, sown as early as the depredations committed by the Hessian fly will admit it to be safely done, will be far better than one and a half. For though it is readily admitted that the heads of thinner sown wheat will be always larger than that which is thicker sown, be the quantity sown what it may, still, it should be recollected, that it is not the size of the heads which determines whether the quantity best calculated to yield the greatest product to the acre, has been sown. This can only be determined accurately by measuring the produce. It, therefore, seems to follow of course, that Mr. Peters will be far better prepared to determine the proper quantity of wheat that should be sown to the acre, after he has employed more years than one, in a practice which he acknowledges is new to him.