The Genesee Farmer 13(4): 109-110 (April 1852)

The reason for under-draining is found in these two facts: First, That water, however small in quantity, remaining stationary or stagnant about the roots of plants, is extremely injurious; experience demonstrating that no amount of manure will make a plant thrive while the roots are surrounded by stagnant water. Second, That water falling upon and percolating through the soil is not only not injurious, but greatly beneficial to vegetation, furnishing plants with elements which they need, and imparting strength and vigor of growth. On these two propositions the whole theory of draining hangs; and it is simply the most efficacious methods of removing the stagnant water, and rendering the soil as much like a filter as possible, that is matter of discussion. There is much diversity of opinion on this subject which we cannot discuss, but must give the methods generally adopted with the most success.

Stone drains were first used, then horse-shoe tiles, and now 1 1/2-inch to 2-inch pipes pipes are found to be much the cheapest and best for draining purposes. In England this pipe, either round or flat-bottomed, is superceding all others. It was at first supposed that the water would not find its way into the pipes, but experience proves this to be incorrect, the joints affording sufficient avenues for this purpose.

In under-draining, the first thing is to provide an outlet for the water brought by the drains. This it will be always necessary to clean out to prevent obstruction, as a stoppage at the outlet or main drain renders the whole network of pipes useless. A fall of 1 in 700, with well laid pipe, passes off the water freely; but where there is plenty of fall, more should be given. The depth of drains and the distances apart will of course depend a great deal on the kind of soil and whether there are any springs as well as surface water to be removed; from two to five feet deep are the extremes, three feet being in general the best. The distance apart ranges from 16 to 100 feet on soils which need draining at all; and there are very few but what imperiously demand it.

The cost of draining depends a great deal on the price of pipes and on the skill of the digger. Drains can be cut, the pipes laid and covered up again, all complete, for twenty-five cents per rod. The price of tiles would vary according to facilities for making and obtaining them. Probably 1 1/2-inch to 2-inch pipe would cost from six to eight dollars per thousand.

In cutting the drains, it is usual to throw out two furrows in opposite directions as deep as possible. It is then cleaned out about fourteen inches deep with a common spade; the next foot is thrown out with a narrower spade; and the remainder with a spade about six inches wide at the top, and gradually tapering so as to leave the bottom of the drain just wide enough for a man's foot. The loose soil at the bottom is cleaned out with a narrow scoop, the handle being sufficiently long and so shaped that a man can clean the drains from the top.

In laying the pipes, all that is necessary is to place them end to end as closely as possible. If convenient, it is best to put a piece of turf with the grass downwards over the pipes; though this may be dispensed with if the soil is moist and care is taken not to disturb the pipes in covering them with it. After the drains have been laid and covered a few days, the water comes through as clear as crystal, and there is little danger of stoppage from any deposit of sediment, and few if any of the fertilizing elements of the soil are washed out.

There has been much discussion between theoretical and practical men, as to whether the drains should be laid across the natural slope of the land or lengthwise of it, practical farmers for a long time adopting the former and the scientific farmers advocating the latter. There are few at the present time but what think the scientific men are right, and the drains are laid the same way as the land slopes and empty into a main drain, laid with larger tiles, running across the fall. This main drain discharges the water into an open ditch, which should always be kept clean, so that the water can run off freely.

The economy of under-draining at a cost of from 20 to $30 per acre, has been much questioned in this country where lands are so abundant and cheap; but all those who have given it a fair trial, have no doubt of its great benefit and of its paying great interest on the capital invested. They say the soil works much easier, is ready to plow much earlier in the spring, and yields greatly increased crops with less manure and less labor. We have no hesitation in asserting that there is but little land on which all agricultural crops would not be increased half as much again by thorough under-draining. It is a fact which, though it appears paradoxical, is nevertheless clearly established by experience, that land well under-drained is much dryer in wet weather, and much more moist in dry hot weather, than that undrained. We believe that the general adoption of thorough draining will do much to remove the innumerable insects, blights, and rusts, which now make such fearful devastation on our crops. An old English farmer informs us that he can remember when under-draining was scarcely known in England the crops were more liable to be injured by insects, &c, than they are here at present; but now they are unknown there, and the crops have doubled, which he thinks is owing more to under-draining than any other cause.

The Genesee Farmer 13(9): 267-269 (September 1852)

In the April number, page 109, will be found an article on underdraining, in which we detailed the best means to be adopted for removing stagnant and spring water from land, and also our opinion of the reason for and necessity of under-draining—making the soil a filter, in which the rain water, as it percolates through to the drains, shall leave its ammonia, the most important and beneficial of fertilizers, for the wheat and corn crops—thinking that a thorough system of under-draining would do more to remove the innumerable insects, blights, and rusts, which now make such fearful devastation on our crops, than all other modern improvements combined. We believe, also, that on most wheat soils — those even which are usually considered sufficiently dry already—under-draining would, for a few years at least, add one half to the present crops of wheat, clover, &c, and the land would ever afterward be permanently improved, the beneficial action of manure more apparent, and the soil be in that condition best suited to attract fertilizing gases from the atmosphere. There is no question but what underdraining has been the great means by which the agriculture of Great Britain has been so much improved during the last half century, and that its adoption would be equally beneficial on this continent.

Will it pay? is, therefore, the great question; for, if it will, there will be found no lack of energy and enterprise among our land-owning farmers, to push it forward with vigor. All that is necessary for its general adoption, is to show that it can be so done as to yield good profits. Where land is worth but $15 or $20 per acre, it may not pay to expend $25 to $30 per acre in underdraining it; but where undrained land is worth from $60 to $100 per acre, there can be no doubt that an additional $30 per acre, judiciously expended in underdraining, would be a first rate investment. There is in most of our soils an abundance of organic and inorganic food of plants, which they can not obtain on account of stagnant water excluding the air, without which no healthy decomposition can take place, or plants thrive, and which underdraining would render in a fit state for assimilation.

In the Transactions of the N. Y. State Ag. Society for 1852, is given an account of experiments on draining, by Mr. JOHN JOHNSTON, of Seneca county, N. Y., and by the Hon. THERON G. YEOMANS, of Walworth, Wayne county, N. Y., to whom the Society has awarded premiums. The statements of these gentlemen are exceedingly interesting and instructive, and did the limits of our paper permit, we should like to lay the whole of them before our readers, but must be content to give extracts only. Mr. JOHNSTON'S farm is near Geneva, situated on the rich clay ridge which extends from the Seneca river southerly to Tompkins county a ridge of land devoted chiefly to the cultivation of wheat. He has been making efforts for more perfect drainage since 1835, when he imported from Scotland some patterns of draining tile, and caused them to be made by hand in his neighborhood. The beneficial effects were such as to induce the Hon. JOHN DELAFIELD, Esq., to import in 1848 a machine for making tile in Seneca county, since which time the price of tile has been greatly reduced, and "no excuse exists for wet fields, or grain being destroyed by freezing out."

"The question as to the depth of drains has always been one of interest, and some uncertainty. On this point I deem it absurd to propose any fixed rules, as the depth must depend upon the formation of the land and the nature of the soil. The rule adopted by me, is first to select a good outlet for the water, then to dig a ditch so deep as to find a hard bottom, on which to lay the tile; yet I have laid many tiles on clay, and they have done well. On my farm this depth is generally found at two and a half to three feet The distance between the drains is regulated by the character of the soil: if it is open or porous, drains three or four rods apart may thoroughly drain it; while on more tenacious soils, two rods apart may be needed. In most cases, where my fields lay nearly level, it has been found necessary to construct the drains nearer to each other, adopting as a rule, that the drains should always reach the point of the field where water is indicated to rise, and that is always at or near the highest part of the field, although that may only be observed when there is much water in the earth and the springs full, or when the field is in wheat or clover. At such elevations I put my drains deeper and near each other, to make sure to keep the water all under ground, using smaller tile leading to the main or submain drains. This rule has been important; for when opening ditches on the low grounds, the water has flowed with such force as to induce most people to believe that it was derived from springs close by, when possibly the spring may be some sixty or eighty rods distant, at or near the most elevated part of the held, which, when reached, may save much expense in draining the lower lands. This shows the necessity of thoroughly examining in the wettest season the land to be drained. The main drains occupy the valleys or lowest grounds, receiving the lateral drains and collected water. They are constructed of larger tiles, and discretion and care are very necessary to proportion the main drains to the quantity of water to be discharged. In several instances I have found it necessary to lay a double row of four inch tile in main drains, to carry off the quantity of water collected by the smaller tile. I have generally used the half round, or horse shoe tile, as they are called. The four inch tile are in most cases large enough for main drains, and they will discharge a body of water far greater than most persons would believe, unless they witnessed their action. There may be places where larger tiles are needed. In one instance I found it necessary to use six inch tiles for sixty rods, and laid them in double rows. This would only be necessary where the thaws of early spring or heavy summer rains are apt to collect large quantities of water on the surface. To prevent a wash of the surface in such places, I have at regular distances filled the ditch directly over the tiles with small stones for a length of from twelve to eighteen inches, the stones to rise a little above the surface to prevent their being covered by the plow. Through these stones the surface water will pass rapidly down into the tiles, and be carried off at once. When the tiles are laid in the ditches with regularity and care, the earth is thrown in by a plow having a doubletree nine and a half feet long, to enable a horse to go on each side of the ditch, which is a rapid and economical way of filling them. In regard to cost, I find that drains constructed with two inch tiles can be finished complete for thirty cents per rod; yet something must depend on the digging, whether the earth be hard or soft, and the distance to draw the tiles. Mine have all been drawn five miles, and I find that two inch tiles are large enough except for main and submain drains."

"About six years ago I began to drain a field on the boundary line between Mr. DELAFIELD and myself. The field contains about twenty acres, of which six were then subject to drainage. The six acres had seldom given a remunerating crop, even of grass. After draining the six acres, the whole field was plowed and prepared for corn, two acres being reserved for potatoes. The usual care was given to the cultivation of the whole crop, which during its growth showed a marked difference between the drained and undrained portions of the field. The yield of this field proved to be the largest ever raised, as I believe, in the county, the product being eighty-three bushels and over, per acre. When the corn was husked and housed, it was weighed and measured in the ear, and allowing seventy-five pounds to the bushel for corn and cob, as has been customary in this region, the product was as above stated. This field attracted much attention from my neighbors and other gentlemen from more distant places. It was examined at the time of draining, and after plowing, both the first and second season, permitting the parties to walk on the drained parts without any undue moisture, while all other undrained land in the neighborhood was muddy; and, as before stated, the corn was found to be far more vigorous in the plant and abundant in the grain. In the following season after the corn I cropped it with barley, and found that the drained land produced altogether the finest plant and the best yield of grain. When the barley was harvested, I prepared the field and cropped it with wheat. The difference again was so striking and distinct in favor of the drained land, that I felt the propriety of thoroughly draining the whole field, which was completed without loss of time, at a cost of twenty-two dollars per acre. I then plowed and sowed with barley and seeded with clover. Of the latter I cut a very large crop last summer, and not one square foot of the clover froze out; and now I can rely on a good crop of anything I may sow or plant"

Mr. Johnston has made sixteen miles of tile drains on his farm, and is so far satisfied with the results that he drained six acres last fall, and intends to do so till there is not a wet spot on the farm. He finds it difficult to state in figures the increased value of the drained land; but on such land as he has, if he gets two crops of wheat from the drained land, the excess of yield is sufficient to cover all expenses of draining, and sometimes the increase of one crop on the drained over the undrained land, more than pays for the cost of draining. Mr. YEOMANS, after detailing his mode of laying tile, which is very similar to Mr. JOHNSTON'S, concludes thus:

"Some of the advantages derived from draining are, that the ground becomes about as dry in two or three days after the frost comes out in the spring, or after a heavy rain, as it would do in as many weeks before draining; enabling the farmer to work his land at almost any time he may desire to do so. It also dries it uniformly all over the field, so that in plowing he does not find spots of wet and dry, but is all in good condition at once. It causes the lowest places, which are generally too wet in seed time, and consequently produced but little if any crop, to produce the best of any part of the field, being generally the richest soil, from having had the wash of the surface of the land about it for many years.

"Some of the land I first drained had been planted with young orchard trees; and in the wettest places, some trees died the first winter and a greater number the second, and some young nursery trees on the same ground were nearly thrown out of the ground by the frost After draining it, I replaced the orchard trees, and all have grown well, and the first crop of nursery trees, which I was compelled to remove to save them, before draining, have been replaced by others since draining, and they have succeeded perfectly; so that I may now well say, that if we desire to deprive Jack Frost of his power to do us harm, we should keep everything as dry as possible which is within his reach and liable to injury. And I am from my own experience fully convinced that, for whatever crop, and especially any crop liable to be injured by frost in winter, such as wheat, clover, &c., whether the season be wet or dry, if the soil retains its moisture too long at any season of the year, (and most soils do,) it will be materially benefitted by draining; and in fact I am well convinced that most of the winter-killed young fruit trees in many places, especially the peach, as well as the winter-killing of many valuable shrubs, vines, and evergreens, which survive the winter in some places in this latitude and are destroyed in others, is more to be attributed to excessive moisture in the soil during cold weather, than to all other causes combined.

"I will only estimate the increased value of the land by saying that I have the past year made over 1,200 rods on twenty acres, at a cost of about $25 per acre, and that I should not permit such land to remain without such draining even were the expense doubled. Most of the lands so drained have been purchased by me immediately preceding the construction of the drains, and their very recent construction precludes the possibility of giving the specific and comparative productive capacity before and after draining, though on much of it very light crops have been grown for many years past, and no good crop of wheat has been raised on it for a long time; but the reason has not heretofore, to my knowledge, been ascribed to an excess of water, which I believe to have been the principal cause of the non-productiveness of the land. From the experience of two seasons on the small quantity first drained, I am of the opinion that the increased value of the land is much greater than the cost of constructing the drains, but more time is needed to fully test with accuracy the benefits to result therefrom."