American Agriculturist 2(9): 284-285 (November 1843)

Great Division of Wheat by its Roots

THE GARDENERS' CHRONICLE.—Great Division of Wheat by its Roots.—The newspapers have lately contained an incomplete account of an interesting experiment on the propagation of wheat by division of its roots, from which it appears that a field may be cropped with wheat without employing more than the 2,400th of the usual quantity of seed-wheat. By the kindness of Mr. Archdale Palmer we are now enabled to state the exact facts, which are explained in the following letter from that gentleman:

"As my friend Mr. Pownall has anticipated my intention to make the following experiment public, which I have no doubt has attracted your attention, I can not longer delay transmitting it to you for the benefit of the Gardeners' Chronicle, agreeably to my original view, as soon as I had ascertained the actual result, and that could not be before the wheat was thrashed, which has been done this week.

"1842:—July. One grain of wheat sown in a pot—August. The same divided into 4 plants, which three weeks after were again separated and made 12 plants —September. The same 12 plants were again separated, and made 32 plants—November.—The same 32 plants were again separated into 48 plants, which were then planted in the open ground, not particularly prepared for them, 18 inches from each other, occupying a space of 11 yards by 1 yard, being the 440th part of an acre; consequently, 440 grains would be found sufficient for one acre, which I find weigh 3/4 of an ounce.

"1843:—August. Ten of the 48 plants died, and the remaining 38 plants were cut down, unfortunately, before the wheat was ripe, as the birds had already taken one fourth away. 1,972 stems were counted. It was thrashed this week, and the weight is 2 1/2 lbs., which, according to the preceding calculation, consists of 22,000 grains. The wheat sown is known by the name of Eclipse. I have thus stated the simple facts; but there are many observations which will naturally arise in an inquiring mind, when it is known that the cultivators of the soil in this country do not reap, upon the average, above 30 bushels for 3 bushels sown. I am aware that a remark will be made of the trouble and some little expense for the garden-pots, which were 48s, if the experiment is carried on to a larger extent. But let every person interested in this account try themselves; they will, as well as myself, be astonished at the result."

It appears from this experiment, that by a new application of manual labor, three quarters of an ounce of seed-wheat will plant an acre of land. The quantity now used may be averaged at two bushels and a half, weighing about a hundred and fifty pounds. Sixty shillings a quarter will not be too high a price to take as the average value of seed-wheat, and therefore the saving in it will be about eighteen and sixpence per acre.

Of course the practical question is, whether this eighteen and sixpence will cover the cost of manual labor required for the operation of setting wheat instead of sowing it. If it does cover the expense, it would be an enormous gain to the country, because it would immediately afford a large amount of employment to those laborers, who not being able-bodied, are most in want of it. We doubt whether eighteen and sixpence an acre could be possibly expended in the operation, if judiciously conducted on a large scale; but that is a question which any intelligent farmer can answer better than we can.

We would only observe that if, as we are told, 3,800,000 acres are annually planted in wheat in England and Wales, the application of so large a sum as £3,500,000—which would be the amount of saving by Mr. Palmer's operation at the prices above assumed to the relief of the poor, is something which demands a very different notice from that of a passing comment in a newspaper.