Tools and equipment —Specialized crops[edit | edit source]
To subdue the land with an ax, a plow and a spade is possible;millions of acres have been so subdued. This method, however, is the most expensive of all, as in our times, markets won't wait, and the man who wants to get on must produce as quickly as possible. To do so, he must have the best tools. They will pay for themselves many times over in a single year. For the farm, the following list, in addition to a well-stocked tool chest (hammer, saw, plane, ax, etc.) covers the indispensable:
1 team horses (these may be hired) $200.00 1 walking plow 10.00 1 disk or cutaway harrow 25.00 1 farm wagon 50.00 1 cultivator (two horse) 25.00 1 one-horse cultivator 8.00 Shovels, pick, mattock or grubbing hoe 10.00 Work harness for two horses 25.00
These things you must have to get the land in proper shape for seeds or plants; but special crops require special tools. A scythe is good to keep weeds away from fences. A sickle is handy to keep down grass. To reduce living expenses, a cow for $60, and fifty hens at fifty cents each, say $25, will supply a large family with milk and eggs. Most people make the mistake of buying too many things and these poorly selected. It is better to have too few tools than too many, for tools are often dropped where last used, and so are lost.
Then if money is scarce, you may not be able to make a shelter for your machines and tools, and they will rust through the winter. Many farmers, through neglect, have to replace their tool equipment every four or five years, but with attention and care, the original
equipment, even to the team, ought still to be in use twenty years after their purchase. I know many instances where this is true. The above equipment is the minimum for beginning work. The character of additions to it will depend much upon the crops which you select as the money getters.
For general market gardening and the kitchen garden too, the following tool list, together with the above, will include everything absolutely necessary.
Wheel hoe $6.00 Spade and fork, each $1.00 2.00 Push hoe .65 Watering can .60 Rake and common hoe 1.00 Bulb sprayer .25 Trowel .10
The wheel hoe is a great saver--of backache, especially to the beginner; as Warner says, "at the best you will conclude that for gardening purposes a cast-iron back with a hinge in it is preferable to the ones now in use."
The dibble, an old tool handle, or a bit of broomstick sharpened,and garden lines to get the rows straight, labels, tomato supports,plant protectors and stakes earl all be homemade out of old material. The full outfit would include the following:
Roller $8.00 Wheel-hoe with seeder 8.50 Sprayer 3.75 Wheelbarrow 4.00 Crowbar 1.50 Weeder .35
For such crops as admit of horse cultivation a horse hoe will save a great deal of time.
The weeder is a cousin to the push hoe and has a zigzag blade for cutting off young weeds which are just starting above ground. It is pushed backward and forward and cuts both ways. It is very good for soft ground; on a harder patch use the push hoe.
A market garden is really a big kitchen garden, from which the cultivator supplies not only his own family, but his neighbors, the public. To run a successful market garden for profit, land suitably situated near transportation and markets, a large supply of stable manure, hotbeds for raising plants, crates for shipping, wagons for delivering, and a complete outfit of tools are necessary. You must raise all sorts of vegetables and salad plants in quantities sufficiently large to justify you in giving your whole time to the work. An acre devoted to general market gardening could be attended to by two men with some extra help for marketing.
To get a place fully established on new, rich land requires two or three years. On worn-out land it would take longer to build it up to the high fertility needed for maximum production. Crops like asparagus and rhubarb take two years to establish on a remunerative basis. If bush fruits are raised, three years are required to get maximum results. So in starting, land should be bought outright or leased for ten years.
In market gardening for profit, one acre might be devoted to vegetables, one acre to small fruits; strawberries, raspberries,blackberries, currants, gooseberries, etc. and one acre kept for buildings, poultry, etc. An energetic man could clear one thousand dollars a year besides his living, after he got a start, and be absolutely independent; that is, unless some predatory railroad corporation could confiscate his profits before his product reached the market.
Some persons are just naturally so successful with plants that if they stuck an umbrella in the ground we should expect to see it blossom out into parasols--but they don't know why it does, and they can't teach any one else how to do it.
Any fool can sneer at "book farming" or at anything else, but you can hardly succeed without the best books by practical men. Do not let some experienced ignoramus talk you out of experimenting under their guidance. You will learn little without experience, and unless you have the grower's instinct, you will learn less without books.
Don't be hypnotized by long experience or by success. Hardly anybody knows his own business. You must have noticed that few of the people you buy of or sell to, know any more of their goods than you do.
It is just the same with trades. Hardly a barber knows that he should not shave you against the grain of the skin. Even the cat won't stand being rubbed up the wrong way; but the barber never thought of that.
We lawyers and the doctors are supposed to be thorough in our own field--I said lately to one of the ablest men at the New York Bar,"About one lawyer in a hundred knows his business." He said, "That is a gross overestimate." Shortly after I talked with three Judges,one of the City Court, one of the Supreme Court, and one of the United States Circuit, and they each agreed that my friend's remark was about true, and that in most cases litigants would do as well without lawyers as with them.
If that is true, what chance is there that an uneducated man who has "raised garden sass ever since he was a boy, and seen his father do it before him," can teach you correctly?
Men learn very slowly by experience, because no two experiences are exactly alike, unless they perceive and apply the principles under the experience.
An intelligent man accustomed to investigation can learn more about a specialty in a week's study than an untrained practitioner can believe in a year.
What the untrained teacher can tell us is of little account; what he shows us is another matter.
Therefore get help who know that they don't know anything about a garden and who consequently will do with a will exactly what you tell them to do; such labor is cheap--why should you pay extravagant prices for skill to a man who has succeeded so poorly that he can only earn day's wages? You can get much better knowledge at less cost from a book. Study and put your knowledge into practice yourself, where you see promise of a profit.
Almost every crop can be made a specialty. In proportion as special crops are profitable when conditions are right, so are they sources of loss when things go wrong. If, after your first season in the country, some special crop takes your fancy, give extra space and time to it the second year and see if you are successful in handling an eighth or a quarter acre. If so, you may extend your operations as rapidly as purse and market permit.
Before concentrating upon any crop as the chief source of income, a careful study must be made of all the conditions surrounding its production; a crop is not produced in the broad meaning of that term until it is actually in the hands of the consumer.
Potatoes, for instance, are grown by the hundred acres in sections adapted to their growth, and special machinery costing hundreds of dollars is used in planting, cultivating, and harvesting the crop.
The good shipping and keeping qualities of the potato enable it to be raised far from markets and so brings into competition cheap land worked in large areas, with large capital. In spite of this,however, the small cultivator can usually make money if he can sell his potatoes directly to the consumer.
If your land is so situated that you can put your individuality into the crop and can control all the circumstances, preparation of land,planting, cultivation, harvesting, and marketing, your chances of success are immeasurably increased. As soon as any important part must be trusted to some one beyond your control, danger arises.
Assiduous care in planting, cultivating, and packing will avail nothing if the product falls into the hands of transportation companies or commission merchants indifferent as to what becomes of it. It is therefore better to be quite independent, sell your own crop, and have the whole operation in your own hands from the very beginning.
Generally speaking, seed growing for the market is a highly developed special business which is usually carried on by companies operating with large capital, able to employ the best experts, and to avail themselves of all the advantages of scientific methods in culture, regardless of expense. So uncertain is the business, that even with all these facilities, they rarely guarantee seeds. It is obvious that the amateur has little chance of succeeding in such a difficult business. Nevertheless, he will be able after a few seasons of increasing experience to gather seeds from selected plants and so furnish his own supply. It must be borne in mind,however, that plants can be improved by cross breeding and that by keeping a variety too long on the same ground its quality deteriorates, and the plant tends to revert to the type natural to it before domestication.
When land is cropped every season, the nitrogen, potash, and phosphorus removed from the soil must be replaced in some form,otherwise you have diminishing returns, while the expense for labor is the same. In farming small areas for specialties you cannot easily invoke the principle of rotation by enriching the land with legumes, to be plowed under while green, the bacteria on the roots of which gather nitrogen from the air, but you must get stable manure or buy chemical fertilizers to maintain the fertility.
Special crops divide themselves naturally into two classes: those raised for immediate shipment to market, and those to be hauled to canneries. The first type are generally prepared in a more expensive way, and need more care and attention. Each class requires its own special forms of packing to conform to market peculiarities fixed by the taste of consumers.
For the cultivation of all specialties, many items of preparation are identical. Land must be well drained, it must contain a sufficient amount of humus, or decaying vegetable matter, to make it loose and porous; it must be free from sticks and stones or any foreign matter likely to impede cultivation or obstruct growth. The proper formation of a seed bed is a prime prerequisite to successful cropping. After the land is manured and plowed it should be gone over in all directions with a disk and smoothing harrow, until it is of a dustlike fineness.
In thorough cultivation before the crop is planted, lies the secret of many a success, and in its neglect the cause of many failures.
Intelligent handling of crops is in a large measure knowledge of the influence of wind and rain, sunshine and darkness, on the particular nature of the plant Delicate plants, for example, ought to be grown where buildings or forests break the force of prevailing winds.
Sheltered valleys in irrigated sections have proved the best for intensive cultivation. For thousands of years in China and Japan the conditions of successful intensive cultivation have been well understood, and to-day the most efficient gardeners are the Chinese.
In some parts of Mexico, for the same reasons, intensive cultivation has reached a high development. In our own West we are catching up on vegetables and fruits.