The Monthly Genesee Farmer 30(9): 129 (Sept. 1838)


In whatever part of our country one travels, he is continually reminded that the practice of draining land is little understood, and less followed, by our farmers. The advantages of thorough draining soils are so numerous, that we feel justified in a frequent recurrence to the topic, an one of great practical interest to almost every owner or tiller of land. While lands are liable to be submerged, and axe not furnished with suitable means to convey off the surplus water, every one know, that attempts at cultivation axe made to little profit. But the effect of a constant saturation of soil by water, stagnant and lying a few inches below the surface, is worse if possible than occasional overflowings. Plants will bear large quantities of water for a considerable period of time, if the water is in motion, but water lying motionless and stagnant has an effect on the roots of plants like that of poison on the animal system. There may in many cases be little or so appearance of water on the surface, when all is moisture but a few inches below; and causes wide of the mark are frequently assigned for the unfertility of soils, when an examination, or an understanding of the effect of too mach water, would have revealed the true reason at once.

When springs of water exist in our arable fields, the effect is obvious and in confining their waters to the narrowest limits, or leading them off in open or covered drains, we correct the evil at once; but when the water that falls in rains, or is left by the meltings of the snow, disappears from the surface, only to be retained by the impervious layers of earth below, until carried off by the tedious process of evaporation, incalculable mischief is effected.

While hidden stagnant water remains in the soil, manures are entirely inoperative, and whether caustic or putrescent, are in effect thrown away on such lands. Every farmer knows that where water exists constantly within a short distance of the surface, gypsum or lime is inefficient, and barnyard manures impart no fertility. If in meadow, the grass grown afford. comparatively but little nutriment; in spite of all efforts of the farmer the better and finer kinds of grasses speedily disappear or run out, and avow aquatic grasses, worthless for hay or grazing, usurp the surface. If very wet, mosses occupy the ground that should be covered with turf, and cattle fed on such lands, owing to the inferior qualities of the grass, are rarely found in a good condition. We sometimes find orchards of fruit trees planted on such soils, and the hard stiffened bark, crooked and mossy branches, and miserable fruit, show clearly the deleterious nature of such places on fruit trees; and the diminutive tree, of native forest growth on subsoils of this nature, are farther proofs that no vegetable can become acclimated, or flourish when exposed to such causes of degradation. Trees of all kinds that are planted or grown on such soils are more exposed to injury from insects and parasites, than when growing on drained lands and in a state of health and vigor.

It is impossible, where the subsoil is saturated with water, to put the surface in a fit state for the reception of crops, or for crops to flourish, even should the seeds vegetate. No matter how workmanlike the manner may be, in which the plough, harrow or roller are applied, such lands cannot be pulverized and made of the proper degree of fineness. The subsoil moisture will effect the surface, and make it heavy and adhesive; the heat will be carried off by the evaporating process, and the soil be cold and unproductive. If the water rises to the surface during the showers of summer, the heat converts such pools into receptacles and breeding places of the gnat, musquito, and gadfly, to torment and render poor and restless the animals that graze in the vicinity.

But it is to the wheat grower that a wet subsoil is the most productive of mischief, and the most fatal to the crop cultivated. In such retentive soils, wheat will be frozen out, and neither manure or lime in such cases can afford more than a partial remedy. The evil lies deeper, and thorough draining lathe cheapest, not to say the only effectual cure. Wheat on such soils is destroyed in the spring. While the earth at a little distance in depth is saturated with water, spongy, and unfrozen, the surface at night radiates heat rapidly, sinks below the freezing point, and the frozen earth, acting by mechanical power lifts the roots from the soft earth below. The sun dispels the frost, the lifted earth settles again, but the roots of the wheat plant are not replaced; and a few repetitions of the same process, which are most sure to occur, leaves the plant with its roots drawn from the earth, and death inevitably follows. Farmers from this single cause, and sometimes in a single year, suffers greater loss, than would have sufficed to drain their fields thoroughly, and place them beyond the reach of such an evil for a long time, if not forever.

The effect produced by thorough draining of land, has been such as to surprise those who have adopted the system the most completely. Its effect in breaking down the soil; in increasing the depth to which it can be ploughed, and of course the depth of soil penetrable by the roots of plants; in rendering the whole friable and easily worked; and in causing it to feel the beneficial effects of manures, has made draining of land one of the most indispensable accompaniments of good farming.