Page data
Part of Three Acres and Liberty
Type Book
Keywords agriculture, public domain, land, fruit, trees
Authors Steve Solomon
Charles Aldarondo
Published 2021
License [ Public Domain]
Ported from
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Clearing the land[edit | edit source]

It is pretty good fun to hack at bushes and to chop trees down and then to chop them up. If there is only a small part of the land to be cleared, a man can easily learn skill with the ax and do it at odd times, but he was a wise old man of whom his little girl said,"When grandpa wants anything, that moment he wants it." It is now that we need the land; but even if it is covered with trees, there is no cause for discouragement. Lumber is so high that the local or portable sawmill men will buy the timber by the acre. They will cut the trees and haul the logs.

If you decide to cut a tree yourself, a little inquiry will show for what purpose it will bring the highest price. Locust sticks, for example, four to six inches thick, will bring in New York ten or fifteen cents a running foot for insulator pinions. If a maple proves to be either "curly" or "bird'seye" (this depending not on the variety, but on the accidental undulations of the fiber), it will be in demand for the manufacture of furniture.

Sugar maples ten or fifteen feet high can be transplanted or sold.

Nut and fruit trees will nearly always be worth keeping.

Cedar sticks fourteen feet long will bring twenty cents in most places for hop and bean poles. See what can be sold instead of burned, and don't cut down recklessly; an unsalable tree may be valuable as a windbreak or as shade for your house. The wrong tree for shade is the dense foliaged, low-branched tree which forms a solid dome from the ground up. The right tree, in the opinion of Henry Hicks (in _Country Life in America), _is the American elm,which ought to be called the umbrella tree. Pliny speaks of the plane tree, our sycamore or buttonwood, as excellent, because of the horizontal branches which, like window blinds, allow free passage of the breezes while intercepting the heat of the sun.

The ideal shade tree is a canopy like a parasol over the house, with high, leafy branches that do not shut off light and air from the windows. This cools a house by keeping the sun off and cools the air by the rapid evaporation from its leaves, and will make it ten to fifteen degrees cooler in summer. It will be cheaper and more effective than a combination of awnings, piazza, and eaves. Woodman,spare that tree.

Stumps may be burned out To get a good draught, bore a hole in a slanting direction far down among the roots. The smoke goes through the hole first and then the flame, boring the body to the roots deep enough to plow. Land can also be cleared by dynamite. We condense from Edith Loring Fullerton in _Farming, _on what has been done.

To go into the desolate, uncultivated, burned over "waste lands" near a great city and put ten acres under cultivation in the shortest possible space of time was our problem. We undertook it at short notice in an uncertain season--the autumn--with the determination to get at least a portion of the land seeded down to winter rye before cold weather prohibited further work.

United to this problem was that of working a small farm to its utmost capacity rather than half cultivation of a large one, which is difficult to handle from lack of time and labor and an unwise proposition for the East under the most favorable circumstances.

Ten acres of scraggy-looking woodland was purchased, sixty-eight miles from New York City on the north shore of Long Island. The plot had a few second and third growth oak and chestnut trees and "sprouts" along the borders. All else had been burned, and the center of the acreage exhibited the mangled and blackened remains of a once thrifty woodland.

We proceeded to choose as our helpers native Long Islanders whom we were desirous of allowing to work. We succeeded by strenuous efforts in getting together a "gang" of both colored and white men to the stupendous number of eight. They fell to work with a right good will, at first cutting down here and trimming up there as directed.

However, after giving them a fair trial, we decided that they must be replaced by Italians. The question of housing the eighteen Italians soon came up. Tents might be adopted or even the unsanitary "dugout" be allowed to mar the landscape. A shanty was entirely too ugly to suit our tastes, and also expensive, and useless when the men were through with it. Tents were too airy, as we knew the work would continue until freezing weather, and perhaps well into the winter. We "passed" on the "dugout." The ideal was something that would be of use after the work of clearing was completed, and for that purpose we decided upon "condemned freight cars." They cost but ten dollars each, the railroad being glad to get rid of them. We bought two, ultimately using one for a chicken house and the other as a barn. In the meantime it was decided to remove the stumps by dynamite, as trying to yank them out by stump pullers or by mattock and plow was both slow and brutal. The ordinary custom of allowing nature to work six years at the stumps and gradually eliminate them by decay was not to be thought of.

Dynamiter Kissam, a Long Island expert, arrived and set to work,using fuses for small stumps up to two feet in diameter.

With the advent of the Italians work began in earnest; they cleared out every useless tree, cutting cord wood where any could be obtained and burning the branches and charred trees as they went.

They also cleared out all underbrush thoroughly.

The dynamiter with his helper followed them up. This is the most exciting and interesting part of clearing land by modern methods.

The dynamite is put up in half-pound sticks. They are a little larger than an ordinary candle and are wrapped in heavy yellow paraffined paper. One folded end of this paper is opened up and a hole made by a wooden skewer into the dynamite stick, which is plastic and resembles graham bread in color and consistency.

For magneto-battery work where several charges are required, a copper cap in which is a minute quantity of fulminate of mercury,and which is exploded by a spark, is attached to fine electric wires and sealed by sulphur. This cap is placed in holes in the sticks of dynamite, and then securely tied by drawing string tightly around the paper which is raised to admit the cap.

In preparing a charge for fuse ignition, the cap is crimped to the end of a piece of mining fuse and this is inserted in the dynamite stick and securely fastened as previously described.

These prepared charges are placed in a basket and carried very tenderly to the stumps which have been prepared by the dynamiter's assistant. All the work is handled very carefully, for while there is not much danger of an accident unless fire is placed near the explosive, nevertheless extreme caution is used at all times. It requires a nature serene, calm, and deliberate.

Deep oblique holes were then made with a round crowbar under the stump singled out for execution. This hole should be as nearly horizontal as possible and directly under the stump so that all the explosive force may be expended on the wood and not on the earth between the dynamite and the stump. The earth acts as a cushion and the natural tendency of dynamite to exert force downward is counteracted.

As soon as a small strip was blown, the Italians, gathering up all the stumps, roots, and fragments, removing any pieces that were loosened but not completely torn out, and piling them at intervals,immediately burned them. This cannot be done when stumps are removed by any other method, for by the digging process the earth must be picked and scraped from them and ultimately the stump hacked in pieces before it will burn.

By our method the stump is burned and the finest kind of unleached wood ashes--containing lime to "sweeten" and potash and phosphoric acid to furnish plant food--are spread upon the ground a few hours after the stumps are blown out. These ashes would under other circumstances have to be purchased at a cost of perhaps two dollars a barrel, and as five barrels at least to the acre are required for good fertilization, these ashes gave us the first credit upon the books.

Following the burners came the manure spreaders; five carloads of manure had been purchased and was delivered before it was needed.

When the manure was spread upon the land (one half carload to the acre), the plow started its work smoothly and with none of the strain and jerk on man and beast usual in new land. The soil was turned over with the greatest ease, for the explosions had shivered and torn out even the smallest roots, so the plow ran through the ground much more easily than in sod land.

Our friable, sandy loam, with a light admixture of clay, pulverized and aerated by the explosions, was in market garden condition at once and without the year's loss of crops assured by old methods.

A tooth harrow was next run over the plowed section, and gleaners followed the harrow, picking up the fine roots as they were brought to the surface. As piles of these fine roots grew, they were burned and the ashes immediately spread upon the land. The tooth harrow was run again across the rows, the disk harrow following chopped and pulverized the earth into the finest possible condition. Thirty five and one half working days after Larry and his gang arrived, rye was drilled into three and one half acres.

The condemned freight cars were placed upon skids and drawn to the desired position over soaped planks. They were raised from the ground to give good under ventilation. The north and east sides are filled or banked up with sand which came out of the well. This keeps out the cold winds, and, in the case of the chicken-house car,allows the fowls a shaded shelter on hot summer days.

The chicken-house car was placed facing the southeast. The western end has a large glazed sash placed on it, and two in the southern side. One half the car was partitioned off for roosting quarters,while the other half serves as a laying and scratching house. This farm keeps only a few chickens for family use.

The artesian well was started in October. The well was, naturally, a necessity, but there was much to be considered in regard to the method of pumping. Under ordinary circumstances a windmill would do,and is generally a good auxiliary; a ten-foot iron tower and a ten-foot fan wheel cost about fifty dollars, but our farm is not to be allowed to be a failure for lack of water in a dry season. In case of drought (and every summer brings one of greater or less duration) water must be on hand, and as a drought usually is accompanied by windless weather, the windmill could not be depended upon. An engine was obviously necessary. Both gasoline and kerosene engines were closely investigated, with the result that a kerosene oil engine was decided upon. (The new style of heavy oil engine is better and cheaper to run. Ed.) An advantage of the engine over a windmill is that it will furnish power for cutting wood, grinding grain, or lighting the buildings, a two and one half horsepower engine running twenty-five 16 c.p. lights easily.

The rye was turned under green in the spring to furnish humus, the greatest and only vital need of this particular spot of virgin soil.

Since that was written an excellent and cheap stump puller has been introduced, but the account of work is still typical. Dynamiting is still the modern way to clear land as well as to break up a stiff subsoil or hardpan, so as to loosen the earth to let deep roots like trees or alfalfa go down and to secure drainage.

Primitive American man regarded trees as "lumber" instead of as timber and still destroys countless millions in valuable wood as he "clears the ground."

After it is cleared, it is vital to keep it cleared of weeds, which worse garroters of crops than trees. To do that we don't need to bow to the Earth, nor to hammer her with a hand hoe.

"The Man with the Hoe" began to be a back number when Arkwright invented the ark or the mule or whatever he did invent. The man with the wheel hoe is the man that is "It." A wheel hoe costs from $6 to $12, and will do the work of several men without breaking the heart or even the back of one of them. It has as many attachments as a summer girl and is equally versatile. It must be run between the rows as soon as the ground is dry after every rain, so as to slay the weeds before they are born. If you don't they will slay your profits, if not yourself.

Crops grown on that experimental farm are: Asparagus, berries,beans, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, carrots, cucumbers,corn, eggplant, endive, fruit trees, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, limes,melons, martynias, onions, okra, parsley, parsnips, peas, potatoes (sweet and white), pumpkins, radishes, rhubarb, salsify, squash,tomatoes, etc. Marketed strictly choice radishes May 18, peas June 10, lettuce June 21, beans June 29, beets July 8, carrots July 10,cabbage July 11. Surely a rapid result.

Hemp is hardly worth your growing for itself under ordinary circumstances; the returns per acre are not sufficient. But Charles Richard Dodge, in one of the United States Yearbooks of the Department of Agriculture, says that as a weed killer it has practically no equal.

In proof of this, a North River farmer stated that thistles heretofore had mastered him in a certain field, but after sowing it with hemp not a thistle survived; and while ridding the land of this pest, the hemp yielded him nearly sixty dollars an acre, where previously nothing valuable could be produced.

As it grows from Minnesota to the Mississippi Delta, its value for this purpose is considerable.

But there is a way easier and cheaper of clearing land than by blasting, if we can afford to wait a little; and Mr. George Fayette Thompson, in Bulletin No. 27, Bureau of Animal Industry, tells us how, giving some interesting facts about Angora goats, of which the following is a condensation:

To people taking up raw land, particularly where there is a heavy undergrowth to be cleared away, goats of some kind are an invaluable aid. In its browsing qualities the common goat is as good as any,but, aside from the clearing of the land, the profit in his keep is very little, though some demand is growing up for goat's milk for infants and for some fancy cheeses. A much better animal from the standpoint of profit, while in use as a scavenger, is the Angora goat. Their long, silky hair has been used for centuries in making blankets, lap robes, rugs, carpets, and particularly the "cashmere" shawls, formerly a great luxury in this country. Much of the camel's hair dress goods is in reality made from the hair of the Angora goat, or mohair, as it is called. Angora goats thrive best in high altitudes with dry climates. They exist in greatest number in the United States in California, New Mexico, and Texas. They have been used successfully in the Willamette Valley of Oregon to eat the underbrush off the land, doing for nothing that for which the farmers pay Chinese laborers twenty-five to forty dollars per acre.

The cost of Angora goats is about ten to thirty dollars each for does, with bucks at fifty to two hundred dollars, so that even with a small area of land to clear it would pay to buy a little flock for that purpose. Dr. Shandley, of Iowa, says that two to three goats to the acre is sufficient for cleaning up land, and that in two years the goats will eat all of the underbrush from woodland, such as briers, thistles, scrub oak, sumac, and, in fact, any shrub undergrowth. They need no other food than what they can secure from the woods themselves. Consequently, the income from the sale of mohair is nearly net.

The more nearly thoroughbred the goats are, the better the mohair and the higher the price. The meat of the Angora goat is superior to mutton, although if sold in the market under the name of goat meat,it commands only half the price of mutton.

As an example of the Angora's utility in cleaning up land, the Country Gentleman says: "Mr. Landrum exhibited ten head at the Oregon State Fair. In order to demonstrate their effectiveness as substitutes for grubbing, he left them on three acres of brush. At the end of the second year the land was mellow and ready for the plow."

It might be possible to build up a business in clearing lands for others by means of a herd of Angoras.