Memoirs of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, 2: 200-205 (1811)

On Soiling Cattle: mixed cultivation of Corn and Potatoes.
By John Lorain
Read July 10th, 1810.

Tackoney, 21st May 1810.


I received yours of the 14th instant, and consider myself highly honoured by your board, but am obliged to decline an attendance on your meetings, as my family who are very lonely situated, would not feel easy were I absent at night.

I regret exceedingly that my peculiar situation, prevents an intercourse with gentlemen who have added reading, reflection, and experiment to long practical information. Books and the practice of common farmers have heretofore been my only resource, the latter are too generally in hostility, with every thing that increases labour or expence, and it is extremely difficult to glean what will best suit the soil and climate of my farm, from the former.

I shall go on to make the most attentive use of such information as I can obtain, and should any thing worthy of record occur in my practice, it shall be communicated to you.

I am now trying to fat 27 young healthy steers, rising up from about five to eight or nine hundred pounds, also seven three year old runts and a cow, by soiling them in yards where they have shelter from sun and rain, and good spring water at will: fresh grass is also given them twice a day under my own inspection. For two years past I have not succeeded owing as I suppose to deficiency of speargrass, they improved as fast as expected until the second cut of clover, which caused a frothing from the mouth and they would scarcely eat sufficient to keep them alive. The economy of feeding in this way, has not been exaggerated by reputable European writers, in this I think I cannot be mistaken, as correct accounts are kept for every field, and transaction of my farm.

One man and a boy of twelve years old feeds the above, together with six horses and three milch cows, one bull and a large ox that has grain, and where the grass is good the work is not hard; the manure is worth more than their labour, and although Dr. Anderson's mode of making hay under cover, may be rather visionary on an extensive scale, here it may be beneficially practised, and not a fork-full lost by over feeding.

Last spring I planted ten acres of Indian corn, the rows eight feet three inches distant, hills or rather clusters at eighteen inches on the rows; and but three plants suffered to grow in each. Between the corn, two rows of potatoes implanted two feet three inches a part; eight acres were dunged on the sod mostly clover, the other two spread with tolerable rich mould; produce 430 3-4 bushels corn, and 848 bushels of potatoes. This product though not contemptable was far below my expectation, and can be accounted; for, the plan was novel to my ploughman, and I could be but little with him, a great deal of the corn was removed after up, to make room for the plough, much left standing with too little room, to the great injury of both crops, and either from the backwardness of the season or some other cause a considerable quantity replanted, and the last ploughing of three acres being too deep, while the ground was wet, it baked and turned yellow in a few days, this produced short corn and nubbins generally, except the ridges hereafter explained, they stood the test of this ordeal and although one of them planted too close to the potatoes, had but little soil left on one side, yet it flourished and produced plentifully: many rows were planted in the water furrows made when the potatoes were put in, and yielded nubbins only, the replanted and removed gave fodder. I do not regret the loss sustained, by the clearing out furrows, as it led to valuable information, they naturally introduced ridges, in other parts of the fields, and here a double quantity of soil and dung was concentered under the corn, and it was luxuriant; one of those rows was cut and carefully set up by itself in my lawn, husked and measured in December, and yielded at the rate of 66 bushels per acre, and of one ton six hundred and thirteen weight of fodder, viz. blades, husks and tops, and one ton and seven hundred weight of stalks, excellent litter for the yard.—This was a beautiful shaded summer fallow; eight acres arc now in wheat, seeded with sixteen bushels, and at least equal to any I have seen this season; the other two ploughed in the fall in one-bout ridges, and seeded in spring with six bushels barley, is really handsome except about one quarter of an acre of cold retentive clay, which has suffered by the drought.

*I have frequently planted Indian corn in single rows eight feet asunder, and dropped single corns, two feet distant from each other in the rows; so as to stand in single plants. This mode was suggested to me by General Washington, who told me he had great success in it. When the corn was ridged, potatoes were planted in the cleaning out furrows; which were filled with rotted dung; and closed by two furrows backed over the potatoes by the plough. I have had repeatedly 40 to 50 bushels of shelled corn, and 100 to 150 bushels of potatoes, to the acre. The roots of the corn ran into the dung, and received every benefit. I never had a nubbin; as the stalks in general had each no less than three, and the most four, perfect and large ears. In weight the crop always exceeded the best corn cultivated in the common way; whatever number of bushels there might be. The culture must be clean, and the stirrings frequent.

I have planted this spring 13 acres in corn and potatoes, the former on five and a half feet ridges, two rows on each ridge, 12 inches a part along the rows and the same distance triangular across, two plants to be left in each cluster. Between the corn ridges are planted on beds five and a half feet wide, two double rows of potatoes, vacancy between them two feet two inches, the double rows eight inches a part, straight and triangular like the corn; this leaves ten feet lour inches between the double rows of corn for sun and air. I have never known a very large crop of corn without a great many plants, and if those can be better arranged with valuable crops of other kinds growing on the same ground, it will be an object, and it is strikingly obvious that the outside plants of a field are much the best, when not incommoded by fencing &c. Those grounds were ploughed in one-bout ridges in the fall, twice ploughed and well harrowed in the spring, manured at the rate of 64 loads* of farm yard dung per acre, each load 32 cubical feet measured in the field, after being settled by the driving one half applied to the corn, the other half to potatoes; to avoid poaching the potatoe rows, the dung assigned them was hauled and dropped on the corn rows, and from thence spread on the potatoes, which were regularly placed in holes sunk by an indenting roller, one and three quarter inches below the surface, and covered by the plough securing a depth of loose soil underneath as well as the light covering of dung and soil above; after this the corn rows were well pulverized with a hoe harrow, when the dung was hauled and spread, they were ridged up and the sides of the ridges harrowed, and the tops flattened with a harrow without tines the holes made with an indenting roller two and a half inches deep, in which the corn was planted and covered with hand hoes; the potatoes are generally up with a rich broad leaf and strong stem, most of them harrowed with a folding harrow, an excellent tool, cleaning and pulverising the soil quite up to the stems of the plants; the plough will immediately follow to earth them up,—the corn is just peeping out of the ground it being designed that the potatoes should take the lead.

And am with respect, yours &c,

John Lorain.

I wait the result of such bold and heavy dunging on wheat. It is far beyond any thing I have known. I never could get wheat to stand till it came to the sickle, or with heads filled, or clear from smut or other diseases, after half the quantity of dung mentioned by Mr. Lorain was applied. But as my manure (dung) is always moderately fermented and putrefied, I cannot calculate what is the proportion of strength, or quantity, compared to Mr. Lorain's muck; as I suppose it to be.

If ever fresh dung, applied in any thing like such quantities, succeeds, with a wheat crop; it must be after summer crops have subdued its bad qualities, and effects.—Richard Peters, President.

Memoirs of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, 2: 330-337 (1811)

Farther Remarks on Mixed Crops of Corn and Potatoes.
By John Lorain

Read January, 1811.

Tackoney, 13th December, 1810.


I resume the detail of my mixed crop of corn and potatoes, commencing where I left off the 21st May last.—The corn was earthed up once with the plough, and hand hoes immediately followed after it; in this state it continued until it again became necessary to subdue the weeds, at which time the ridges were hand hoed barely deep enough to effect that purpose; it was suckered three times, twice would have been sufficient, had not re-planting occasioned great irregularity in the growth; the re-planted part was dressed with gypsum soon after it was up, hoping this would assist it to contend with the roots and shade of that which had taken the lead; but it produced no perceptible advantage, oppressed by its powerful neighbours, it became feeble, useless, and actually injurious (except in places where the first planting had altogether failed) in a space sufficient to prevent injury from its roots and shade, and the extensive failure in the original planting required one fourth as much seed as was planted at first, from which I infer an immense loss in the crop. When the corn was from 5 to 7 feet high, a tremendous storm levelled it to the ground; had it been left in the hands of nature, the injury would have been inconsiderable, but all the hands I could get were employed in setting it up; some of them being awkward, broke the plants, and sadly mangled the roots, and it was not until about seven acres had been set up, that I observed the active power of vegetation was performing the operation infinitely better than the most expert workman in the field. After this two other storms blew down a considerable quantity, when the ears were too heavy for it to rise, and although part of this lay flat on the ground, it was not observed that the filling of the ears were injured, but it became necessary previously to ploughing up the potatoes to remove those plants out of the way, which it was found had rooted from their joints fast to the ground; with a sharp hoe those roots were easily cut, and the plants readily laid aside with but little injury, while I was present; but other business demanded my attention, and the crop sustained very considerable damage from the carelessness of the person who did this work: these disasters, together with calculating the roller from its round instead of the round of the extremities of the indentures, reduced the fruitful plants in the field to one half the number originally designed. They were ascertained by measuring a rod in various parts of the field, when the ears of the re-planted were well formed, and estimating the average of fruitful plants within those distances, and from that moment I clearly perceived my high expectations were blasted: but the disasters of this ill-fated experiment did not stop here; early in August, it was discovered that proper grasses for soiling the cattle would soon be very deficient, and on the 20th of that month one row of corn was topped, to ascertain how it would bear early cutting, and it was thought that it had received no injury, and on the 31st of the same month commenced feeding the cattle with the tops, cut daily as wanted, except the re-planted, which was considered too young: these lasted them 'till the 18th September, when the blades were stripped, commencing where the topping began, and these fed the cattle until the 5th of October.

In the progress of topping and blading, one row was left entire along side of the row topped the 20th August; both those rows, and also another row along side of the row first mentioned, were all cut off by the roots on the 2d of October, and hauled in and set up separate, under my own inspection. They were husked and measured on the 8th of November.

Produce of the row neither topped or stripped 9 5-8 bushels of corn in the ear.

Produce of that topped the 20th August and bladed 20th September, 7 6-8 bushels of corn in the ear.

And the produce of the one topped the 2d September and bladed the 20th of same month 7 3-8 bushels of corn in the ear.

This experiment strongly indicates that if all the crop had been topped as late as the 2d of September, and bladed on the 20th of the same month, that the loss on the whole field from those operations would have been more than 230 bushels, but as those rows stood near where topping and blading commenced, it must have been less, yet certainly very considerable, for throughout the whole field the husks were generally dry and open, except on the row which had not been topped or stripped: on this they still retained a greenish hue, and were close set to the ear: indeed the difference was so manifest at the time this row was cut off, that it alone convinced me, that necessity had urged a measure extensively detrimental to the crop, and this in direct opposition to former practice founded on attentive observation, that fodder was better saved with one half the expense by cutting off than by topping and stripping the corn, while the ears appeared to derive considerable advantage from the plants remaining entire.

The potatoes were once earthed up with the plough, after which the weeds likely to out top them were removed by the hand, and they would have been luxuriant had it been sufficiently considered that nature designed them to grow under the ground, for the high planting and dry weather while they were fruiting reduced their usual size considerably.

The ground where these crops grew measured 13 acres, 24 3-4 perches exactly: one half appropriated to the corn and the other half to the potatoes.

Produce 817 bushels of shelled corn, and 1730 bushels of potatoes.

This forms an average of 263 bushels of potatoes, and 124 bushels of shelled corn per acre, if I may be permitted to assign to each the ground they occupied.

It may appear strange that after growing such a crop of corn, the details of the injuries it sustained should be so lengthy, but it should be remembered that it was an experiment projected on an opinion, that close planting on well manured ridges, sufficiently distant from each other to give full scope for sun and air, would produce as much corn on each acre and save half the land for other crops, as could be produced if the whole ground had been occupied by corn planted in the usual way, but of this the experiment has fallen short nearly one half, for 118 bushels of shelled corn has been grown per acre; this was a wager crop, perhaps too highly manured for wheat to follow, yet from my observations on the ridged rows of corn last year. I did not expect to be far behind that very superior crop. The ears of my present crop have been generally larger than any I have grown heretofore, two of the largest size which have been laying four or five weeks on a shelf close by a stove and are perfectly dry, have been shelled, and measure full a quart, or a pint each, but it is impossible to determine whether the ears of this crop would have been diminished in size, or if so, to what extent, had the re-planted been able to contend for their share of nutriment, and had the number of clusters originally designed been planted, this remains to be determined hereafter: but the result of this crop clearly determines, that this mode of planting will produce large crops of corn, while it reserves one half the ground for other valuable purposes, provided the quantity of plants do not exceed the number of fruitful plants in this field, to wit, about 33 within the length of every perch on each ridge; and also, if topping and blading be omitted, and the plants are not cut off until the grain has nearly arrived to perfection, and the effect of storms are left with nature to repair; and although re-planting is frequently beneficial to crops planted in the usual way, in the case under consideration it proves injurious, and every possible precaution should be used to render it unnecessary. I once succeeded by planting eight grains where only three were designed to stand, and a boy of eleven years old, with a little instruction and a trivial expense, thinned them to my entire satisfaction, as soon as they were out of the way of grubs and crows: and I expected to escape re-planting this year by dropping six grains where only two were designed to stand, and keeping a boy in the field to drive off crows: the seed ears were selected and a little shelled off each end of the cob, reserving the remainder for planting. I have since been informed by an observing farmer that the hearts of two or three grains from each ear designed for planting should be examined with a sharp knife, and if they are found to adhere closely to the flint on each side, and are otherwise sound and healthy, the ear from which they were taken may be relied on: perhaps this precaution in addition to an unusual quantity of seed might go far toward ensuring a sufficiency of plants if crows are kept off.

Potatoes cannot be grown extensively except for cattle, and it has been asserted by many who are well informed, that they will not pay for cultivating, if expended in this way; they are also a troublesome and perishable crop, and come off too late for the corn to derive any advantage from turning the ground they occupied to it, consequently the space left between corn grown in this way, cannot be so extensively useful until plants are selected for this purpose, that will combine the destruction of weeds, an early harvest, with a capability of withstanding a sufficient manuring for wheat, and grass seeds to follow, and that are not perishable, and do not require huckstering to get them off; and there are plants which it is believed will answer all those purposes, but I do not learn that they have been grown in this way, and perhaps some of those would better accord with planting the corn one foot wider asunder without diminishing the number of plants per acre, as much larger scope will be provided for their roots with the advantage of more sun and air.

The corn and potatoe grounds are now in wheat, sown with rather more than two bushels per acre, after one ploughing commenced in the middle of the potatoe rows (rendered flat by the cleaning harrow) and ending in the middle of the com ridges on each side, forming beds of eleven feet each from the middle of the water furrows. The execution was easy, and when finished, equal in appearance to any field I have ever seen; it will be sown with grass seeds in the spring, to be mown five years: one exhausting crop immediately following another of the same kind, seems to require an apology or explanation, and not knowing which would suit best, what is offered will be applicable to either; manuring well for corn has so far secured me a good crop and left the ground clean and rich enough for wheat or barley, of which I have had superior crops free from weeds, and consequently easier and safer harvested, and the land left not too much exhausted for grass seeds. This short round I conceive produces more grain than a longer one would do on a larger breadth of ploughed ground, and leaves more land for grass, which, while it is adding to the revenue of the farm, is daily accumulating riches for future grain crops.

Yours, &c.

John Lorain.

N. B. Perhaps it will not be known to all who may wish to plant potatoes among corn, that the vines of the latter die nearly as soon in the shade of the rows as the early sorts. I have tried a variety, and find none answer near so well as a kind which are said to have came originally from Rhode Island; they are not as soon fit for the table as the earliest variety, but by harvest are as large, and soon attain perfection; only few grow at the root, and those mostly large and closely set to the stem, and will produce large crops if planted very close in the row; if planted among corn, they should be first put in, that they may get as forward as possible before the shade of the rows becomes injurious.