The Experienced Farmer, Enlarged and Improved (1807)
Richard Parkinson


Burn-baking, with Experiments in that Practice.

BURN-BAKING consists in burning earth of any kind that will burn, to about half the consistency of a brick. Clay seems fittest for this purpose. The operation is very simple, as follows.

Let a fire be made of any combustible you please. Where coals are scarce and dear, wood of any kind will do; but the roots of oaks, or any hard wood, are best. When the fire burns sufficiently strong, clay must be carefully and gradually laid on, taking care not to smother it. When the clay is red-hot, lay on more; and it will continue to burn of itself without any other fuel. A free circulation of air being absolutely necessary, the fire should face the wind; and it must be attended night and day, as the sun or rain would extinguish it.

The expence, at present, of burning fifty cart-loads of clay (which are sufficient for one acre), may be thus estimated:

  . s. d.
A ton of coals 0 15 0
Wages of a man, fourteen days,at 2s. a day 1 8 0
Cartage after it is burnt 1 5 8
Total £. 3 8 8

Where the clay is prepared, women and children, with a man to superintend them, may, be employed to light and keep up the fires. Thus very large quantities might be burnt at a moderate expence.

Most luxuriant crops grow on the spots where the fires have been; therefore the more ground is burnt over, the better. Where anthills and sward are plowed for that purpose, the fires should be kindled in rows; and by cross-plowing, the soil may afterwards be intermixed and made more equal. There are many kinds of land in the kingdom that might be improved by this method: particularly four poor clay soil, such as abounds about Stamford and Grantham in Lincolnshire; which, without being improved by art, will not produce an abundant crop when first plowed up. The process on such land should be undertaken in summer, when the weather is dry. The surface and ant-hills must be plowed, and burnt on the ground, and the allies spread over it. This is a good preparation for wheat or rape to stand for seed, as either of these crops will give sufficient time for the operation.

The following is a profitable rotation of crops after burn-baking: first year, rape; second year, wheat; third year, beans or peas drilled; fourth year, barley or wheat; fifth year, clover; sixth year, wheat; seventh year, fallow and drilled turnips; eighth year, barley arid grass-seeds. The land will now be in a proper state for grass again; the soil having been pulverised, and improved to a greater degree than by any other method yet practiced. The straw and refuse of the first two crops, prepared according to the directions which I shall give in a future section, will furnish a sufficient quantity of manure to be put into the drills with the beans or peas; and the crop of peas or beans and of barley, will give enough to be worked up into a compost to be laid on the clover in autumn, after the barley is reaped. This will ensure a good crop of clover, and of wheat after it; and the manure arising from the clover and wheat, if laid in the drills with the turnips, will promote the growth of them and of the barley. From the barley-straw a compost should be prepared, and laid upon the grass as a top-dressing. This should be done, after feeding it off the first summer with sheep, &c. in the autumn, when the feeds have fallen from the first year's produce. Spread the manure over the land, and bush-harrow it: but put no sheep or cattle upon it till the spring, when the young grass from the feed that fell in autumn has sufficiently taken root; for as clayey land, after it has been plowed, does not easily produce sward again, every possible encouragement must be given to it.

The ashes being spread on the land after burn-baking, the lumps should be pulverised before plowing. The least expensive method of doing this is with a roller, and a bush-harrow; or a heavy gate with thorns interwoven into the bars, which  is drawn over the land after it has been broken with the roller.

If, after rolling and harrowing the first time, the soil is not fine enough, repeat the operation till it is; or great losses may ensue, as little or no vegetation can be sustained by a large lump like a brick.

In burn-baking clay, as in burning sods, the fire should not blaze, but smother slowly; as the ashes thus procured are of a better quality, there being little exhalation from them.

When clay-land has been plowed for some time and impoverished, it is apt to crack and set in dry weather, so as in a great measure to prevent vegetation. By burning such a clay, the soil would be enriched, and its tendency to hold water considerably diminished.

Sand is the only soil that will not burn; this therefore cannot receive any improvement from burn-baking, except by burning clay and carrying it to a sandy field. But I am of opinion that clay in its raw state would be of more lasting benefit to such soil.

Clay where rushes grow may be worked to very great advantage by burn-baking. Where sward or ant-hills are not to be had clay taken from the bottom of ditches or, grips may be used.

Moor-land would raise a very large proportion of ashes; which at an easy expence might be carried to clay-land, and used as manure in drill-crops. But where clay can be procured, it would be of great utility to burn it, and lay it on moor-land as manure for drill-crops; as when such a mode of culture is adopted, abundant crops are raised with so much less of every sort of dressing.

To save the expence of breast-plowing, or paring by, men; the clay, &c. for burning may be turned up with the common plow, as there need be no fear of burning too much of the soil. The expence indeed of burning a very large quantity is greater, but the farmer would be amply repaid by the abundance of the produce. I know a gentleman who plowed a field as deep as the plow usually goes for a crop, and burned the whole; and a most luxuriant crop of barley grew upon it, so much so that on the spots of the fires there was ten times too much.

The sort of plow proper for making land ready for burn-baking, is the Raucliffe plow; used in the low and moory parts of Yorkshire to pare land, instead of breast-paring by, men. It is usual for men to do this with that sort of plow, and find their own horses, at 4s. 6d. an acre; but where ant-hills abound, it would require a stronger team, and therefore cost more money. Oxen would do this work very well; for, by going flow, they give the man an opportunity to plow with greater care. The plows upon rushy hassocky land have wheel-coulters; which steady them much, and in a great measure prevent their going different depths: but the wheel-coulter cannot be applied where large ant-hills or stones are in the land.

Some years ago I tried an experiment on land intended for grass, by burn-baking without plowing it;. but this did not answer, probably from the soil's not being pulverised and mixed.

Land once fertilized by burn-baking may ever after be kept in good condition, by returning upon it the manure arising from the luxuriant crops.

As the practice of burn-baking is new in many, parts, it may not be amiss to make a calculation of the expence and profit from one acre. The following statement was drawn up in the year 1798, from the prices as they stood then: and as they are intended only for the sake of comparison, I shall not now alter them; for they are always changing with the times.

Expense for Eight Years Profit for Eight Years.
First Year, RAPE.        
  . s. d.   . s. d.
Plowing one acre 0 5 0 Half a list of seed 15 0 0
Burning 0 10 0        
Spreading, rolling, &c. 0 3 0        
Plowing and sowing with rape-seed, &c. 0 8 0        
Reaping & thrashing 0 10 0        
Rent and assessments 1 10 0        
. 3 6 0 . 15 0 0
Second Year, WHEAT.        
Leading the straw, and clearing the stubble 0 5 0 Four quarters of wheat at 2l. 8s. 9 12 0
Plowing and harrowing 0 7 6 Straw 1 0 0
Seed wheat, three bushels 0 18 0        
Reaping and thrashing, &c. 0 18 0        
Rent and assessments 1 10 0        
. 3 18 6 . 10 12 0
Third Year, PEAS.        
Mowing stubble, leading, &c. 0 5 0 Four quarters of peas at 2l. 8 0 0
Preparing for peas, as before described 0 10 0 Straw 1 0 0
Four loads of manure; and leading, spreading, &c. 2 0 0        
Peas for seed 1 0 0        
Managing in the drills 0 6 9        
Reaping and thrashing 0 6 0        
Rent and assessments 1 10 0        
. 5 17 9 . 9 0 0
Fourth Year, BARLEY.        
Scarifying, plowing, harrowing, &c. 0 10 0 Four quarters of barley, at 1l. 5s. 5 0 0
Seed barley, four bushels 0 12 6 Straw 1 0 0
Mowing, leading, thrashing, &c. 0 10 0        
Rent and assessments 1 10 0        
Clover-seed, 20lb. 0 13 4        
. 3 15 10 . 6 0 0
Fifth Year, CLOVER.        
Mowing, leading, &c. 0 10 0 Two tons of hay 6 0 0
Rent and assessments 1 10 0 Herbage 0 10 0
. 2 0 0 . 6 10 0
Sixth Year, WHEAT        
Plowing and harrowing 0 7 6 Four quarters of wheat, at 2l. 8s. 9 12 0
Three bushels of wheat, for seed 0 18 0 Straw 1 0 0
Rent and assessments 1 10 0        
Harvesting, thrashing, &c. 0 18 0        
. 3 13 6 . 10 12 0
Seventh Year, TURNIPS.        
Mowing stubble, leading, &c. 0 5 0 Turnips 3 10 0
Preparing for turnips in drills 0 17 6        
Six loads of manure; leading, and putting into the drills 3 0 0        
Rent and assessments 1 10 0        
Cleaning the turnips, hoeing, &c. 0 6 9        
. 5 19 3 . 3 10 0
Eighth Year, BARLEY        
Plowing, &c. 0 7 6 Four quarters of barley, at 1l. 5s. per quarter 5 0 0
Seed, four bushels 0 12 6 Straw 1 0 0
Reaping, &c. 0 10 0        
Rend and assessments 1 10 0        
Seeds; one sack of rye-grass, ten lb. of trefoil, ten lb. of white clover 1 7 6        
. 4 7 6 . 6 0 0
. 24 5 8        
BALANCE 24 5 8        
. 67 4 0 . 67 4 0

In the above calculation I have charged 1l. 10s. for rent and assessment. This is more than the cold clay soil about Grantham could at present pay: it is used to breed sheep upon; and cannot keep above a ewe an acre, with a lamb in summer The whole profit arises from the lamb and wool, and does not exceed 1l. an acre; with an addition of half-a-crown an acre for the pasturing of a young beast in the summer.