Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
A Year's Residence in the United States of America: Vol 2
Return to the Previous Chapter
TRANSPLANTING INDIAN CORN.
213. I WAS always of opinion, that this would be the best mode, under certain circumstances, of dealing with this crop. The spring, in this part of America, and further to the North, is but short. It is nearly winter 'till it is summer. The labours of the year are, at this season, very much crowded. To plant the grains of the Indian Corn over a whole field requires previous ploughing, harrowing, marking, and manuring. The consequence is, that, as there are so many other things to do, some thing is but too often badly done.
214. Now, if this work of Corn planting could be postponed to the 25th of June (for this Island) instead of being performed on, or about the 15th of May, how well the ground might be prepared by the 25th of June! This can be done only by transplanting the plants of the Corn. I was resolved to try this and so confident was I that it would succeed, that I had made some part of my preparations for six acres.
215. I sowed the seed at about three inches apart, in beds, on the 20th of May. The plants stood in the beds (about 15 perches of ground) till the first of July. They were now two feet and a half high; and I was ready to begin planting out. The weather had been dry in the extreme. Not a drop of rain for nearly a month. My land was poor, but clean; and I ought to have proceeded to do the job at once. My principal man had heard so much in ridicule of the project, that he was constantly begging and praying me not to persevere. "Every body said it was impossible for the Corn to live!" However, I began. I ploughed a part of the field into four-feet ridges, and, one evening, set on, thus: I put a good quantity of earth-ashes in the deep furrow between the ridges, then turned back the earth over them, and then planted the Corn on the ridge, at a foot apart. We pulled up the plants with out ceremony, cut off their roots to half an inch long, cut off their leaves about eight inches down from their points, and, with a long setting stick, stuck them about seven inches into the ground down amongst the fresh mould and ashes.
216. This was on the first of July in the evening; and, not willing to be laughed at too much, I thought I would pause two or three days; for, really, the sun seemed as if it would burn up the very earth. At the close of the second day, news was brought me, that the Corn was all dead. I went out and looked at it, and though I saw that it was not dead, I suffered the everlasting gloomy peal that my people rang in my ears to extort from me my consent to the pulling up of the rest of the plants and throwing them away; consent which was acted upon with such joy, alacrity, and zeal, that the whole lot were lying under the garden fence in a few minutes. My man intended to give them to the oxen, from the charitable desire, I suppose, of annihilating this proof of his master's folly. He would have pulled up the two rows which we had transplanted; but I would not consent to that; for, I was resolved, that they should have a weeks trial. At the end of the week I went out and looked at them. I slipped out at a time when no one was likely to see me! At a hundred yards distance the plants looked like so many little Corn stalks in November; but, at twenty yards, I saw that all was right, and I began to reproach myself for having suffered my mind to be thwarted in its purpose by opinions opposed to principles. I saw, that the plants were all alive, and had begun to shoot in the heart. I did not stop a minute. I hastened back to the garden to see whether any of the plants, which lay in heaps, were yet alive.
217. Now, mind, the plants were put out on the first of July; the 15 succeeding days were not only dry, but the very hottest of this gloriously hot summer. The plants that had been flung away were, indeed, nearly all dead; but, some, which lay at the bottoms of the heaps, were not only alive, but had shot their roots into the ground. I resolved to plant out two rows of these, even these. While I was at it Mr. JUDGE MITCHELL called upon me. He laughed at us very heartily. This was on the 8th of July. I challenged him to take him three to one my two rows against any two rows of his corn of equal length; and he is an excellent farmer on excellent land. "Then," said I, "if you are afraid to back your opinion, I do not mind your laugh."
218. On the 27th of August Mr. JUDGE MITCHELL and his brother the justly celebrated DOCTOR MITCHELL did me the honour to call here. I was gone to the mill; but they saw the Corn. The next day I had the pleasure to meet Doctor Mitchell, for the first time, at his brother's; and a very great pleasure it was; for a man more full of knowledge and apparently less conscious of it, I never saw in my life. But, the Corn: "What do you think of my Corn now?" I asked Mr. MITCHELL whether he did not think I should have won the wager. "Why, I do not know, indeed," said he, "as to the two first planted rows."
219. On the 10th of September, Mr. JUDGE LAWRENCE, in company with a young gentle man, saw the Corn. He examined the ears, said that they were well-filled, and the grains large. He made some calculations as to the amount of the crop. I think he agreed with me, that it would be at the rate of about forty bushels to the acre. All that now remained was to harvest the Corn, in a few weeks' time, to shell, to weigh it; and to obtain a couple of rows of equal length of every neighbour surrounding me; and then, make the comparison, the triumphant result of which I anticipated with so much certainty, that my impatience for the harvest exceeded in degree the heat of the weather, though that continued broiling hot. That very night! the night following the day when Mr. JUDGE LAWRENCE saw the Corn, eight or nine steers and heifers leaped, or broke, into my pasture from the road, kindly poked down the fence of the field to take with them four oxen of my own which had their heads tied down, and in they all went just upon the transplanted Corn, of which they left neither ear nor stem, except about two bushels of ears which they had, in their haste, trampled under foot! What a mortification! Half an acre of fine cabbages nearly destroyed by the biting a hole in the hearts of a great part of them; turnips torn up and trampled about; a scene of destruction and waste, which, at another time, would have made me stamp and rave (if not swear) like a mad-man, seemed now nothing at all. The Corn was such a blow, that nothing else was felt. I was, too, both hand-tied and tongue-tied. I had nothing to wreak my vengeance on. In the case of the Boroughmongers I can repay blow with blow, and, as they have already felt, with interest and compound interest. But, there was no human being that I could blame; and, as to the depredators themselves, though in this in stance, their conduct did seem worthy of another being, whom priests have chosen to furnish with horns as well as tail, what was I to do against them? In short, I had, for once in my life, to submit peaceably and quietly, and to content myself with a firm resolution never to plant, or sow, again without the protection of a fence, which an ox cannot get over and which a pig cannot go under.
220. This Corn had every disadvantage to contend with: poor land; no manure but earth ashes burnt out of that same land; planted in dry earth; planted in dry and hot weather; no rain to enter two inches, until the 8th of August, nine and thirty days after the transplanting; and yet, every plant had one good perfect ear, and, besides, a small ear to each plant; and some of the plants had three ears, two perfect and one imperfect. Even the two last-planted rows, though they were not so good, were not bad. My opinion is, that their produce would have been at the rate of 25 bushels to the acre; and this is not a bad crop of Corn.
221. For my part, if I should cultivate Corn again, I shall transplant it to a certainty. Ten days earlier, perhaps; but I shall certainly transplant what I grow. I know, that the labour will be less, and I believe that the crop will be far greater. No dropping the seed; no hand-hoeing; no patching after the cut-worm, or brown grub; no suckers; no grass and weeds; no stifling; every plant has its proper space; all is clean; and one good deep ploughing, or two at most, leaves the ground as clean as a garden; that is to say, as a garden ought to be. The sowing of the seed in beds is one day's work (for ten acres) for one man. hoing the young plants, another day. Transplanting, four dollars an acre to the very outside. "But where are the hands to come from to do the transplanting?" One would think, that, to hear this question so often repeated, the people in America were like the Rhodian Militia, described in the beautiful poem of Dryden, "mouths without hands." Far, however, is this from being the case; or else, where would the hands come from to do the marking; the dropping and covering of the Corn; the hand-hoing of it, sometimes twice; the patching after the grubs; the suckering when that work is done, as it always ought to be? Put the plague and expences of all these operations together, and you will, I believe, find them to exceed four or even six, dollars an acre, if they be all well done, and the Corn kept perfectly clean.
222. The transplanting of ten acres of Corn cannot be done all in one day by two or three men; nor is it at all necessary that it should. It may be done within the space of twelve or fourteen days. Little boys and girls, very small, will carry the plants, and if the farmer will but try, he will stick in an acre a day himself; for, observe, nothing is so easily done. There is no fear of dearth. The plants, in soft ground, might almost be poked down like so many sticks. I did not try it; but, I am pretty sure, that the roots might be cut all off close, so that the stump were left entire. For, mind, a fibre, of a stout thing, never grows again after removal. New ones must come out of new roots too, or the plant, whether corn or tree, will die. When some people plant trees, they are so careful not to cut off the little hairy fibres; for these, they think, will catch hold of the ground immediately. If, when they have planted in the fall, they were to open the ground in June the next year, what would be their surprise to find all the hairy fibres in a mouldy state, and the new small roots shot out of the big roots of the tree, and no new fibres at all yet? for, these come out of the new small roots! It is the same with every sort of plant, except of a very small size and very quickly moved from earth to earth.
223. If any one choose to try this method of cultivating Corn, let him bear in mind, that the plants ought to be strong, and nearly two feet high. The leaves should be shortened by all means; for, they must perish at the tops before the new flow of sap can reach them. I have heard people say, that they have tried transplanting Corn very often, but have never found it to answer. But how have they tried it? Why, when the grub has destroyed a hill, they have taken from other hills the superabundant plants and filled up the vacancy. In the first place, they have done this when the plants were small: that is not my plan. Then they have put the plants in stale hard ground: that is not my plan. Then they have put them into ground where prosperous neighbours had the start of them; that is not my plan. I am not at all surprized, that they have not found their plan to answer; but, that is no reason that mine should not answer. The best way will be to try three rows in any field, and see which method requires the least labour and produces the largest crop.
224. At any rate, the facts, which I have stated upon this subject are curious in them selves; they are useful, as they shew what we may venture to do in the removing of plants; and they shew most clearly how unfounded are the fears of those, who imagine, that Corn is injured by ploughing between it and breaking its roots. My plants owed their vigour and their fruit to their removal into fresh pasture; and, the oftener the land is ploughed between growing crops of any sort (allowing the roots to shoot between the ploughings) the better it is. I remember that LORD RANELAH showed me in 1806, in his garden at Fulham, a peach tree, which he had removed in full bloom, and that must have been in March, and which bore a great crop of fine fruit the same year. If a tree can be thus dealt with, why need we fear to transplant such things as Indian Corn?