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A Year's Residence in the United States of America: Vol 2
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194. IN paragraphs 99, 100, and 101, I spoke of a mode of procuring manure by the burning of earth, and I proposed to try it this present year. This I have now done, and I proceed to give an account of the result.
195. I have tried the efficacy of this manure on Cabbages, Swedish Turnips, Indian Corn, and Buckwheat. In the three former cases the Ashes were put into the furrow and the earth was turned over them, in the same way that I have described, in Paragraph 177, with regard to the manure for Savoys. I put at the rate of about twenty tons weight to an acre. In the case of the Buckwheat, the Ashes were spread out of the waggon upon a little strip of land on the out-side of the piece. They were thickly spread; and it might be, that the proportion exceeded even thirty tons to the acre. But, upon the part where the ashes were spread, the Buckwheat was three or four times as good as upon the land adjoining. The land was very poor. It bore Buckwheat last year, without any manure. It had two good ploughings then, and it had two good ploughings again this year, but had no manure, except the part above-mentioned and one other part at a great distance from it. So that the trial was very fair indeed.
196. In every instance the ashes produced great effect; and I am now quite certain, that any crop may be raised with the help of this manure; that is to say, any sort of crop; for, of dung, wood-ashes, and earth-ashes, when all are ready upon the spot, without purchase or carting from a distance, the two former are certainly to be employed in preference to the latter, because a smaller quantity of them will produce the same effect, and, of course, the application of them is less expensive. But, in taking to a farm unprovided with the two former; or under circumstances which make it profitable to add to the land under cultivation, what can be so convenient, what so cheap, as ashes procured in this way?
197. A near neighbour of mine, Mr. DAYREA, sowed a piece of Swedish Turnips, broad-cast, in June, this year. The piece was near a wood, and there was a great quantity of clods of a grassy description. These he burnt into ashes, which ashes he spread over one half of the piece, while he put soaper's ashes over the other part of the piece. I saw the turnips in October; and there was no visible difference in the two parts, whether as to the vigourousness of the plants or the bulk of the turnips. They were sown broad-cast, and stood unevenly upon the ground. They were harvested a month ago (it is now 26 November), which was a month too early. They would have been a third, at least, more in bulk, and much better in quality, if they had remained in the ground until now. The piece was 70 paces long and 7 paces wide; and, the reader will find, that, as the piece produced forty bushels, this was at the rate of four hundred bushels to the acre.
198. What quantity of earth ashes were spread on this piece it is impossible to ascertain with precision; but, I shall suppose the quantity to have been very large indeed in proportion to the surface of the land. Let it be four times the quantity of the soaper's ashes. Still, the one was made upon the spot, at, perhaps, a tenth part of the cost of the other; and, as such ashes can be made upon any farm, there can be no reason for not trying the thing, at any rate, and which trying may be effected upon so small a scale as not to exceed in expence a half of a dollar. I presume, that many farmers will try this method of obtaining manure; and, therefore, I will describe how the burning is effected.
199. There are two ways of producing ashes from earth: the one in heaps upon the ground, and the other within walls of turf, or earth. The first, indeed, is the burning of turf, or peat. But, let us see how it is done.
200. The surface of the land is taken off to a depth of two or three inches, and turned the earth side uppermost to dry. The land, of course, is covered with grass, or heath, or something the roots of which hold it together, and which makes the part taken off take the name of turf. In England, this operation is performed with a turf-cutter, and by hand. The turfs are then taken, or a part of them, at least, and placed on their edges, leaning against each other, like the two sides of the roof of a house. In this state they remain, 'till they are dry enough to burn. Then the burning is begun in this way. A little straw and some dry sticks, or any thing that will make a trifling-fire, is lighted. Some little bits of the turf are put to this. When the turf is on fire, more bits are carefully put round against the openings whence the smoke issues. In the course of a day or two the heap grows large. The burning keeps working on the inside, though there never appears any blaze. Thus the field is studded with heaps. After the first fire is got to be of considerable bulk, no straw is wanted for other heaps, because a good shovel full of fire can be carried to light other heaps; and so, until all the heaps are lighted. Then the workman goes from heap to heap, arid carries the turf to all, by degrees, putting some to each heap every day or two, until all the field be burnt. He takes care to keep in the smoke as much as possible. When all the turf is put on, the field is left; and, in a week or two, whether it rain or not, the heaps are ashes instead of earth. The ashes are afterwards spread upon the ground; the ground is ploughed and sowed; and this is regarded as the very best preparation for a crop of turnips.
201. This is called "paring and burning." It was introduced into England by the Romans, and it is strongly recommended in the First Georgic of Virgil, in, as Mr. TOLL shows, very fine poetry, very bad philosophy, and still worse logic. It gives three or four crops upon even poor land; but, it ruins the land for an age. Hence it is, that tenants, in England, are, in many cases, restrained from paring and burning, especially towards the close of their leases. It is the Roman husbandry, which has always been followed, until within a century, by the French and English, It is implicitly followed in France to this day; as it is by the great mass of common farmers in England. All the foolish country sayings about Friday being an unlucky day to begin any thing fresh upon; about the noise of Geese foreboding bad weather; about the signs of the stars; about the influence of the moon on animals: these, and scores of others, equally ridiculous and equally injurious to true philosophy and religion, came from the Romans, and are inculcated in those books, which pedants call "classical" and which are taught to "young gentlemen" at the universities and in academies. Hence, too, the foolish notions of sailors about Friday, which notions very often retard the operations of commerce. I have known many a farmer, when his wheat was dead ripe, put off the beginning of harvest from Thursday to Saturday, in order to avoid Friday. The stars save hundreds of thousands of lambs and pigs from sexual degradation at so early an age as the operation would otherwise be performed upon them. These heathen notions still prevail even in America as far as relates to this matter. A neighbour of mine in Long Island, who was to operate on some pigs and lambs for me, begged me to put the thing off for a while; for, that the Almanac told him, that the signs were, just then, as unfavourable as possible. I begged him to proceed, for that I set all stars at defiance. He very kindly complied, and had the pleasure to see, that every pig and lamb did well. He was surprized when I told him, that this mysterious matter was not only a bit of priest-craft, but of heathen priest-craft, cherished by priests of a more modern date, because it tended to be wilder the senses and to keep the human mind in subjection. "What a thing it is, Mr. "Wiggins," said I, "that a cheat practised upon the pagans of Italy, two or three thousand years ago, should, by almanac-makers, be practised on a sensible farmer in America!" If priests, instead of preaching so much about mysteries, were to explain to their hearers the origin of cheats like this, one might be ready to allow, that the wages paid to them were not wholly thrown away.
202. I make no apology for this digression; for, if it have a tendency to set the minds of only a few persons on the track of detecting the cheatery of priests, the room which it occupies will have been well bestowed.
203. To return to paring and burning; the reader will see with what ease it might be done in America, where the sun would do more than half the work. Besides the paring might be done with the plough. A sharp shear, going shallow, could do the thing perfectly well. Cutting across would make the sward into turfs.
204. So much for paring and burning. But, what I recommend is, not to burn the land which is to be cultivated, but other earth, for the purpose of getting ashes to be brought on the land. And this operation, I perform thus: I make a circle, or an oblong square. I cut sods and build a wall all round, three feet thick and four feet high. I then light a fire in the middle with straw, dry sticks, boughs, or such like matter. I go on making this fire larger and larger till it extends over the whole of the bottom of the pit, or kiln. I put on roots of trees or any rubbish wood, till there be a good thickness of strong coals. I then put on the driest of the clods that I have ploughed up round about so as to cover all the fire over. The earth thus put in will burn. You will see the smoke coming out at little places here and there. Put more clods wherever the smoke appears. Keep on thus for a day or two. By this time a great mass of fire will be in the inside. And now you may dig out the clay, or earth, any where round the kiln, and fling it on without ceremony, always taking care to keep in the smoke; for, if you suffer that to continue coming out at any one place, a hole will soon be made; the main force of the fire will draw to that hole; a blaze, like that of a volcano will come out, and the fire will be extinguished.
205. A very good way, is, to put your finger into the top of the heap here and there; and if you find the fire very near, throw on more earth. Not too much at a time; for that weighs too heavily on the fire, and keeps it back; and, at first, will put it partially out. You keep on thus augmenting the kiln, till you get to the top of the walls, and then you may, if you like, raise the walls, and still go on. No rain will affect the fire when once it is become strong.
206. The principle is to keep out air, whether at the top or the sides, and this you are sure to do, if you keep in the smoke. I burnt, this last summer, about thirty waggon loads in one round kiln, and never saw the smoke at all after the first four days. I put in my finger to try whether the fire was near the top; and when I found it approaching, I put on more earth. Never was a kiln more completely burnt.
207. Now, this may be done on the skirt of any wood, where the matters are all at hand. This mode is far preferable to the above-ground burning in heaps. Because, in the first place, there the materials must be turf, and dry turf; and, in the next place, the smoke escapes there, which is the finest part of burnt matter. Soot, we know well, is more powerful than ashes; and, soot is composed of the grossest part of the smoke. That which flies out of the chimney is the best part of all.
208. In case of a want of wood wherewith to begin the fire, the fire may be lighted precisely as in the case of paring and burning. If the kiln be large, the oblong square is the best figure. About ten feet wide, because then a man can fling the earth easily over every part. The mode they pursue in England, where there is no wood, is to make a sort of building in the kiln with turfs, and leave air-holes at the corners of the walls, till the fire be well begun. But this is tedious work; and, in this country wholly unnecessary. Care must, however, be taken, that the fire be well lighted. The matter put in at first should be such as is of the lightest description; so that a body of earth on fire may be obtained, before it be too heavily loaded.
209. The burning being completed, having got the quantity you want, let the kiln remain. The fire will continue to work, 'till all is ashes. If you want to use the ashes sooner, open the kiln. They will be cold enough to remove in a week.
210. Some persons have peat, or bog earth. This may be burnt like common earth, in kilns, or dry, as in the paring and burning method. Only, the peat should be cut out in the shape of bricks, as much longer and bigger as you find convenient, and set up to dry, in the same way that bricks are set up to dry previous to the burning. This is the only fuel for houses in some parts of England. I myself was nursed and brought up without ever seeing any other sort of fire. The ashes used, in those times, to be sold for four pence sterling a bushel, and were frequently carried, after the purchase, to a distance of ten miles, or more: At this time, in my own neighbourhood, in Hampshire, peat is burnt in large quantities for the ashes, which are sold, I believe, as high as sixpence sterling a bushel, and carried to a distance even of twenty miles in some cases.
211. Nevertheless it is certain, that these ashes are not equally potent upon every sort of soil. We do not use them much at Botley, though upon the spot. They are carried away to the higher and poorer lands, where they are sown by hand upon clover and sain-foin. An excellent farmer, in this Island, assures me, that he has tried them in various ways, and never found them to have effect. So say the farmers near Botley. But, there is no harm in making a trial. It is done with a mere nothing of expence. A yard square in a garden fe quite sufficient for the experiment.
212. With respect to earth-ashes, burnt in kilns, keeping in the smoke, I have proved their great good effect; but, still, I would recommend trying them upon a small scale. However, let it be borne in mind, that the proportion to the acre ought to be large. Thirty good tons to an acre; and why may it not be such, seeing that the expence is so trifling?