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Part of Three Acres and Liberty
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Keywords agriculture, public domain, farming, food
Authors Steve Solomon
Charles Aldarondo
Published 2021
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The advantages from capital[edit | edit source]

We have seen what a worker with very little money can do and how he can succeed. A small capital, however, can be used to increase the returns to as great advantage on a small farm as large capital can be used on a large farm and with much less risk.

Stable manure is still the favorite article with the masses of gardeners. One ton of ordinary stable manure contains about 1275 pounds of organic matter, carrying eight pounds of nitrogen, ten pounds of potash, and four pounds of phosphoric acid.

When thoroughly rotted, the manure acquires a still larger percentage of plant food; it is more valuable, not only for that reason, but also on account of its immediate availability. Further,the mechanical effect of this manure in opening and loosening the soil, allowing air and warmth to enter more freely, adds greatly to its value.

It is easily gotten and often goes wholly or in part to waste. On the outskirts of some towns may be seen a collection of manure piles that have been hauled out and dumped in waste places. The plant food in each ton of this manure is worth at least two dollars--that is the least Eastern farmers pay for similar material, and they make money doing it. Yet almost every liveryman has to pay some one for hauling the manure away. This is simply because farmers living near these towns are missing a chance to secure something for nothing--because, perhaps, the profit is not directly in sight. But from most soils there is a handsome profit possible from a very small application of stable manure.

While writing this, I saw a man in New Rochelle, N. Y.; dumping a load of street sweepings into a hole in a vacant lot. It would have been less wasteful to have dumped a bushel of potatoes into the hole.

Commercial fertilizers are coming more and more in use by market gardeners, and with reason. If we examine a good fertilizer,analyzing five per cent available nitrogen, six per cent phosphoric acid, and 8 per cent potash, we shall find that one ton of it contains, besides less valuable ingredients: 100 lb. nitrogen, 120 lb. phosphoric acid, 160 lb. potash.

Such fertilizers probably retail at forty to sixty dollars per ton,and are fully worth it. All this plant food, and perhaps one half more, can be drawn in a single load, while it will take ten such loads of stable manure to supply the same amount of plant food.

There is no reason to be afraid of too much fertilizer, provided it is evenly distributed and thoroughly mixed through properly prepared soil. Stinginess in this item is poor economy.

Nitrogen is the most essential food for plant growth. It is an important element of plant food in manure. In ordinary manure most of the value is due to the nitrogen, although phosphoric acid and potash are also present. It is found in the most available form in nitrate of soda. Nitrate of soda will benefit all crops, but it does not follow that it will pay to use it on all crops. Its cost makes it unprofitable to use on cheap crops; but on those that yield a large return nitrate of soda is a very profitable investment.

"It is shown in the experiments conducted with nitrate of soda on different crops that in the case of grain and forage crops, which utilized the nitrate quite as completely as the market garden crops,the increased value of crops due to nitrate does not in any case exceed $14 per acre, or a money return at the rate of $8.50 per 100 pounds of nitrate used, while in the case of the market-garden crops the value of the increased yield reaches, in the case of one crop,the high figure of over $263 per acre, or at the rate of about $66 per 100 pounds of nitrate." (New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Stations, page 8, No. 172.)

Professor Voorhees, of the same station, experimented with tomatoes,with these results:

Manure and Fertilizer Used Cost Per Acre Value of Crop

No manure $271.88 30 tons barnyard manure $30.00 291.75 8 tons manure and 400 lb. fertilizer 15.00 317.63 160 pounds nitrate of soda alone 4.00 361.13

Such common crops as tomatoes, cabbage, turnips, beets, etc., in order to be highly profitable, must be grown and harvested early;any one can grow them in their regular season; their growth must be promoted or forced as much as possible, at the time when the natural agencies are not active in the change of soil nitrogen into available forms, and the plants must, therefore, be supplied artificially with the active forms of nitrogen, if a rapid and continuous growth is to be maintained.

It is quite possible to have a return of $50 per acre from the use of $5 worth of nitrate of soda on crops of high value, as, for example, early tomatoes, beets, cabbage, etc. This is an extraordinary return for the money and labor invested; still, if the increased value of the crop were but $10, or even $8, it would be a profitable investment, since no more land and but little additional capital was required in order to obtain the extra $5 or $8 per acre.

The results of all the experiments conducted in different parts of the country and in different seasons, show an average gain in yield of early tomatoes of about fifty per cent, with an average increased value of crop of about $100 per acre. The rest of the report shows similar results with other crops. (New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin 172.)

Joseph Harris says, "Some years ego we used nitrate of soda cautiously as a top dressing on the celery plants. The effect was astonishing. The next year, having more confidence, we spread the nitrate at the time we sowed the seed, and again after the plant came up, and twice afterward during a rain.

"Instead of finding it difficult to get the plants early enough for the celery growers who set them out, they were ready three weeks before tile usual time of transplanting.

"At the four applications, we probably used 1600 lb. of nitrate of soda per acre, and this would probably furnish more nitric acid to the plants than they could get from five hundred tons of manure per acre, provided it had been possible to have worked such a quantity into the soil. Never were finer plants grown. As compared with the increased value of the plants, the cost of the nitrate is not worth taking into consideration."

As a means of fertilization without the use of artificial fertilizer, soil inoculation has come. It has grown out of the discovery of the dependence of leguminous plants on bacteria which live on their roots. The discovery is one of the most important of those made in modern agriculture.

It has received its greatest impetus in America, under the experiments of Professor Moore of the United States Agricultural Department.

The Department supplied free to farmers the bacteria for inoculation. Now they supply it only for experimental purposes. A laboratory has been fitted up for the work. The method is to propagate bacteria for each of the various leguminous plants such as clover, alfalfa, soy beans, cow peas, tares, and velvet beans. All of these plants are of incalculable value in different sections of the country as forage for farm animals. In the West, alfalfa is the main reliance for stockraisers. The farmers of the East are trying to establish it, but meet with difficulty chiefly for want of the special bacteria which should be found on the roots.

The function of these bacteria is to gather the nitrogen of the air and supply it as plant food. Without the bacteria the plant can get only the nitrogen which is supplied from the soil in fertilizers.

With the aid of the bacteria the growing plant can derive the greater part of its food from the air.

Here is one of the results of the use of inoculated seed as reported by the United States Agricultural Bulletin No. 214.

G. L. Thomas, experimenting with field peas on his farm near Auburn,Me., made a special test with fertilized and unfertilized strips,and stated that "inoculated seed did as much without fertilizers of any kind, as uninoculated seed supplied with fertilizer (phosphate) at the rate of 800 pounds and a ton of barnyard manure per acre."

This seems to be only in its infancy. The Department warns us that nitrogen inoculation is useless where the soil already has enough nitrogen and where other plant foods are absent.

The experiments are most important, and we are probably on the eve of as great advances in agriculture as in electricity, but the human race has a great love for "inoculation," and indeed for all unnatural processes.

You remember the story of the wonderful coon that Chandler Harris tells? No? They were constantly seeing this enormous coon, but always just as they almost got their hands on him, he disappeared.

One night the boys came running in to say that the wonderful coon was up in a persimmon tree in the middle of a ten-acre lot; so they got the dogs and the lanterns and guns and ran out, and sure enough they saw the wonderful big coon up in a fork of the tree. It was a bright moonlight night, but to make doubly sure they cut down the tree and the dogs ran in--the coon wasn't there.

"Well, but, Uncle Remus," said the little boy, "I thought you said you saw the coon there."

" So we did, Honey," said the old man, "so we did; but it's very easy to see what ain't there when you're looking for it."

Another method of increasing fertility at increased expense deserves notice. The vacant public lands are for the most part desert-like,and their utilization can come about only through irrigation.

This land can be made to produce the finest crops in the world; and the tremendous volumes of water that flow from the mountains to the sea, once harnessed and piped or ditched to this land, will transform it into beautiful gardens and farms.

With the work being done by the United States Government, and that of the various states, we may look forward in the not distant future to this land being made habitable to man.

It is well known that with the dry, even climate and with an abundance of water applied as vegetation needs, this now arid waste is far more productive than the Eastern states, where the crops are at the mercy of the elements, sometimes having too much moisture and at other times not having enough.

"Irrigation offers control of conditions such as is found nowhere except in greenhouse culture. The farmer in the humid country cannot control the amount of starch in potatoes, sugar in beets, protein in corn, gluten in wheat, except by planting varieties which are especially adapted to the production of the desired quality. The irrigation farmer, on the other hand, can produce this or that desirable quality by the control of the moisture supply to the plant. He can hasten or retard maturity of the plant, produce early truck or late truck on the same soil, grow wheat or grow rice as he deems advisable."

"On the irrigated fields of the Vosges, Vaucluse, etc., in France,six tons of dry hay becomes the rule, even upon ungrateful soil; and this means considerably more than the annual food of one milch cow (which can be taken as a little less than five tons) grown on each acre."

"The irrigated meadows round Milan are another well known example.

Nearly 22,000 acres are irrigated there with water derived from the sewers of the city, and they yield crops of from eight to ten tons of hay as a rule; occasionally some separate meadows will yield the fabulous amount--fabulous to-day but no longer fabulous to-morrow--of eighteen tons of hay per acre; that is, the food of nearly four cows to the acre, and nine times the yield of good meadows in this country." ("Fields, Factories, and Workshops," pages 116-117.)

" If irrigation pays "--and no one now questions that--"the whole Western country of rich soil, which asks but a drink now and then,will be turned into a Garden of Eden." _(Maxwell's Talisman.)_

Agriculture may be revolutionized with the advent of irrigation.

A new method of disposing of sewage and at the same time irrigating the soil, has come into use recently, and will be found valuable to those who are situated so that they can make use of it.

The sewage from buildings is drained into a large tank where the heavier matter can settle to the bottom. When the water rises nearly to the top of the tank it is siphoned into another tank, and from there it is piped about the field.

The piping is very simple--ordinary drain tile conveys the water.

Beginning at the highest point of the field to be irrigated, a six-inch (or larger) line of tile should be laid along the highest ground with a fall of not over one inch to each ten feet. From this main trunk should be branch lines of "laterals," laid from eight to twelve feet apart, as they would be laid for draining a field. These branch lines may be laid at an angle to the main trunk as may be most convenient; all the joints must be covered so as to keep out the flirt. The whole system should be laid deep enough in the ground to be secure from frost; but to be most effective it should not be over fourteen to sixteen inches below the surface, hence sub-irrigation cannot be used very successfully in the Northern states. In a sandy loam soil with a clay subsoil it works best at sixteen to twenty-four inches.

This is substantially Colonel Waring's method of sewage disposal. To get the best use of it for plants, the water should be assembled and kept in the sun for ten to twelve days, then turned into the pipes until the ground is well soaked, and then shut off and not allowed in the pipes again for ten to fifteen days, according to the weather and condition of moisture in the soil. The crop should be cultivated between each watering.

However, as Bailey says, "Evidently in all regions in which crops will yield abundantly without irrigation, as in the East, the main reliance is to be placed on good tillage."

"Most vegetable gardeners in the East do not find it profitable to irrigate. Now and then a man who has push and the ability to handle a fine crop to advantage, finds it a very profitable undertaking." ("Principles of Vegetable Gardening," page 174.) Bailey, however,was not thinking of "overhead irrigation."

The late J. M. Smith, Green Bay, Wisconsin, was one of the expert market gardeners of his region. "The longer I live," wrote Mr.

Smith, then in the midst of a serious drought, "the more firmly am I convinced that plenty of manure and then the most complete system of cultivation make an almost complete protection against ordinary droughts." (Same, page 330.)

If the soil is cultivated carefully and intensively, it will hold water within itself and carry a storage reservoir underneath the growing crop. Finely pulverizing and packing the seed bed, makes it retain the greatest possible percentage of the moisture that falls,just as a tumbler full of fine sponge or of birdshot will retain many times the amount of water that a tumbler full of buckshot will.

The atmosphere quickly drinks up the moisture from the soil unless we Prevent it. This we do by means of a soil "blanket," called a "mulch" This finely pulverized surface largely prevents the moisture below from evaporating, and at the same time keeps the surface in such condition that it readily absorbs the dew and the showers. Water moves in the soil as it does in a lamp wick, by capillary attraction; the more deeply and densely the soil is saturated with moisture, the more easily the water moves upward,just as oil "climbs up" a wet wick faster than it does a dry one.

One can illustrate the effect of this fine soil "mulch" in preventing evaporation by placing some powdered sugar on a lump of loaf sugar and putting the lump sugar in water. The powdered sugar will remain dry even when the lump has become so thoroughly saturated that it crumbles to pieces.

"We have no useless American acres," said Secretary Wilson. "We shall make them all productive. We have agricultural explorers in every far corner of the world; and they are finding crops which have become so acclimated to dry conditions, similar to our own West,that we shall in time have plants thriving upon our so-called arid lands. We shall cover this arid area with plants of various sorts which will yield hundreds of millions of tons of additional forage and grains for Western flocks and herds. Our farmers will grow these upon land now considered practically worthless."

In this way it has been estimated that in the neighborhood of one hundred million acres of the American desert can be reclaimed to the most intensive agriculture. (See a study of the possible additions to available land in Prof. W. S. Thompson's "Population, a Study of Malthusianism": Col. U, 1915.) Frederick V. Coville, the chief botanist of the Department of Agriculture, does not hesitate to say that in the strictly arid regions there are many millions of acres,now considered worthless for agriculture, which are as certain to be settled in small farms as were the lands of Illinois.

Land that was thought to be absolute desert has been made to yield heavy crops of grain and forage by this method without irrigation.

Macaroni wheat will grow with ten inches of rainfall, and yield fifteen bushels to the acre. This however is less than the average wheat yield in the United States.

Much can be done by dry farming; that is, by plowing the soil very deep and cultivating six or eight times a season, thus retaining all the moisture for the crops and reducing evaporation to a minimum.

There are thousands of acres in different sections of Montana that grow good crops without irrigation. In Fergus County, for instance,the wonderful yield of 45 bushels of wheat per acre is grown without irrigation. Heavy crops of grain and vegetables are grown in the vicinity of Great Falls by the dry farming system.

The money and time spent in spraying is also well invested. The New York Agricultural Experiment Station began a ten-year experiment in potato-spraying to determine how much the yield can be increased by spraying with Pyrox or with Bordeaux mixture.

In 1904 the gain due to spraying was larger than ever before. Five sprayings with Bordeaux increased the yield 233 bushels per acre,while three sprayings increased it 191 bushels. The gain was due chiefly to the prolongation of growth through the prevention of late blight. The sprayed potatoes contained one ninth more starch and were of better quality.

The average increase of profit per acre from spraying potatoes was figured to be about $22 on each acre. The result was arrived at from experiment, two thirds of which was by independent farmers.

(Particulars will be found In Bulletin No. 264, issued by the Department.)

In fourteen farmers' business experiments, including 18 acres of potatoes, the average gain due to spraying was 62-1/2 bushels per acre, the average total cost of spraying 93 cents per acre; and the average net profit, based on the market price of potatoes at digging time, $24.86 per acre.

"One class of gardeners," Burnet Landreth explains, "may be termed experimental farmers, men tired of the humdrum rotation of farm processes and small profits, men looking for a paying diversification of their agricultural interests. Their expenses for appliances are not great, as they have already on hand the usual stock of farm tools, requiring only one or two seed drills, a small addition to their cultivating implements, and a few tons of fertilizers. Their laborers and teams are always on hand for the working of moderate areas. In addition to the usual expense of the farm, they would not need to have a cash capital of beyond 20 to 25 dollars per acre for the area in truck."

"Other men, purchasing or renting land, especially for market gardening, taking only improved land of suitable aspect, soil, and situation, and counting in cost of building, appliances, and labor,would require a capital of $80 to $100 per acre. For example, a beginner in market gardening in South Jersey, on a five-acre patch,would need $500 to set up the business, and run it until his shipments began to return him money. With the purpose of securing information on this interesting point, the writer asked for estimates from market gardeners in different localities, and the result has been that from Florida the reports of the necessary capital per acre, in land or its rental (not of labor), fertilizers,tools, implements, seed and all the appliances, average $95, from Texas $45, from Illinois $70, from the Norfolk district of Virginia the reports vary from $75 to $125, according to location, and from Long Island, New York, the average of estimates at the east end is $75, and at the west end $150."

I have before me now one of the roseate advertisements, which we so often see in the newspapers, telling how fortunes can be made by investing a few dollars in a tropical plantation in Mexico.

It gives what are supposed to be startling yields per acre, and yet the returns, which must necessarily be taken with considerable allowance, are only from $580 to $1087 per acre on various plantations.

There are market gardeners and nurserymen near New York City who are making their acres produce better returns than this. It is not necessary to go off into the tropical wilderness seeking a fortune which is usually a gold brick that some fellow is trying to sell you, when as good results can be secured right at home.

Market gardeners in and near Philadelphia pay $25 to $50 an acre and upwards rent for land, and work from five to forty acres. This is as much as similar land in many parts of the country could be bought for. But it is not a high rent when they are right at the market--one man makes the round trip in two and one half hours--manure costs them nothing--for years they have been using the excavations from the old style privy wells, which has been hauled to their farm and deposited where they wished it, free. They have modern facilities, such as trolley and telephone, and are as much city men as any clerk in an office. They clear far higher profits from an acre than the average farmer, raising never less than two,and often three crops in a season. They employ several men to the acre, and at certain times many more, working the men in gangs. Only the difficulty of getting good help at their prices prevents them from using twice the number.

However, the possibilities of putting capital into land at a profit are still infinite.

What chiefly attracts the gardener to the great cities is stable manure; this is not wanted so much for increasing the richness of the soil--one ninth part of the manure used by the French gardeners would do for that purpose--but for keeping the soil at a certain temperature. Early vegetables pay best, and in order to obtain early produce, not only the air, but the soil as well, must be warmed;that is done by putting great quantities of properly mixed manure into the soil; its fermentation heats it. But with the present development of industrial skill, heating the soil could be done more economically and more easily by hot-water pipes. Consequently, the French gardeners begin more and more to make use of portable pipes,or thermosiphons, provisionally established in the cool frames.

Competition that stands in with the railroads can be met only by being near the market or having water transportation. Indeed, the erect of water transportation in getting manure, and in delivering the produce from the railroads, appears in the early history of trucking. The railroads often crush out boat competition by absorbing docks and standing in with the commission men. This could be met by such cooperative selling agencies as the flower growers already have.

"One of the earliest centers for the development of truck farming in its present sense was along the shores of Chesapeake Bay, where fast sailing oyster boats were employed for sending the produce to the neighboring markets of Baltimore and Philadelphia. In a similar way the gardeners about New York early began pushing out along Long Island, using the waters of the Sound for transporting their produce. The trucking region on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan is another sample of the effect of convenient water transportation in causing an early development of this industry. The building of the Illinois Central railroad opened up a region in southern Illinois that was supposed to be particularly adapted to fruit growing." (" Development of the Trucking Interests," by F. S. Earle,page 439.)

If one goes into the trucking business on so large a scale as to be able to make deals with the railroads, such as The Standard Oil Company has made, of course additional prices could be gotten, owing to the possibility of putting competitors at a disadvantage. That business is a large one.

In doing business on this scale, much will depend on your ability as a merchant.

"It is useless to grow good crops unless they can be sold at a profit; yet it is safe to say that ten men grow good truck crops for one who markets them to the best advantage."

Three Acres and Liberty: Ch. XI-XV