1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Grain Crops - Introduction; Wheat.

(Part 50)


Introduction. Wheat.


Pursuing the plan announced at the outset, we have now to speak of field crops, and shall begin with the cereal grasses, or white-corn, as they are usually called by farmers.


It is unnecessary to dwell upon the value of this grain to the farmer and to the community. It constitutes emphatically our bread-corn --- our staff of life. While its increased consumption is, on the one hand, an indication of an improved style of living among the general population, its extended culture points, on the other, to an improving agriculture, as it is only on soils naturally fertile, or that have been made so by good farming, that it can be grown with success. Wheat is sown both in autumn and spring, from which circumstance attempts have been made to classify its varieties by ranging them under these two general heads. This distinction can only serve to mislead; for while it is true there are varieties best adapted for autumn and for spring sowing respectively, it is also true that a majority of the kinds most esteemed in Britain admit of being sown at either season, and in practice are actually so treated. It is not our intention to present a list of the varieties of wheat cultivated in this country. These are very numerous already, and are constantly being augmented by the accidental discovery of new varieties, or by cross impregnation artificially brought about for this purpose. The kinds at present in greatest repute in Scotland are the hardier white wheat’s, among which Hunter’s white still retains the first place. There are many kinds which, in favourable seasons, produce a finer sample; but its hardiness, productiveness, and excellent milling qualities, render it a general favorite both with farmers and millers. Its most marked characteristics is, that in rubbing out a single ear, part of the grain are found to be opaque and white, and others flinty and reddish coloured, as if two kinds of wheat had been mixed together. Selections from Hunter’s wheat have been made from time to time, and have obtained a measure of celebrity under various local names. The most esteemed of these is the Hopeton wheat. On very rich soils both these varieties have the fault of producing too much straw, and of being thereby liable to lodge. Hence, several new kinds with stiffer straw, and consequent lessened liability to this disaster, are now in request in situations where this evil is apprehended. Fenton wheat, possessing this quality in an eminent degree, and being at the same time very productive, and of fair quality, is at present extensively cultivated. It has the peculiarity of producing stems of unequal height from the same root, which gives a crop of it an uncompromising appearance, but has perhaps to do with its productiveness. The red-straw white and Piper’s thick-set have properties similar to the Fenton. Piper’s had the repute of being the shortest and stiffest strawed wheat in cultivation, but after a brief popularity is now never heard of. The red-chaff white is productive, and yields grain of beautiful quality, but it requires good seasons, as it sheds its seeds easily and sprouts quickly in damp weather. The Chiddam, Trump, white Kent, and Talavera, have each their admirers, and are all good sorts in favourable seasons; but, in Scotland at least, their culture is attended with greater risk than the kinds previously named; they require frequent change of seed from a sunnier climate, and are only adapted for dry and fertile soils with a good exposure. A new sort, called square-head, has quite recently been introduced, and is reported to be so exceedingly prolific as to yield from six to eight bushels more per acre than any wheat previously in cultivation. As red wheat’s usually sell at from 2s. to 4s. less per quarter than white wheat of similar quality, they are less grown than heretofore. But being more hardy and less liable to mildew and sprouting than the finer white wheats, a recurrence of unfavourable seasons always leads to an increased cultivation of them. Some of these red wheats are, however, so productive that they are preferred in the best cultivated districts of England. Spalding’s prolific holds a first place among these, being truly prolific and producing grain of good quality. In Scotland it shows a tendency to produce a rough quality of grain. The Northnumberland red and the golden creeping are there in estimation; the former being well adopted for spring sowing, and the latter for poor soils and exposed situations. Several new varieties of wheat have recently been introduced by Mr. Patrick Sheriff of Haddington, formerly of Mungoswells. One is a large-grained red wheat, another somewhat resembles Hunter’s in colour, and the third has grain of a pearly whiteness. They have all the peculiarity of being bearded. They are all true autumn wheats; but they seem also well adapted for spring sowing, as they ripen early. A red bearded variety, usually called April wheat, from its prospering most when sown in that month, and which indeed is a true summer wheat, is sometimes grown with advantage after turnips, when the season is too advanced for other sorts. But except upon poorish clay soils, it seems only doubtfully entitled to a preference over barely in such circumstances. The list now given could easily be extended; but it comprises the best varieties at present in use, and such as are suited t the most diversified soils, seasons, and situations in which wheat can be grown in this country. In regard to all of them it is reckoned advantageous to have recourse to frequent change of seed, and in doing this to give the preference to that which comes from a soil and climate better and earlier than those of the locality in which it is to be sown. Every farmer will find it worth his while to be at pains to find out from whence he can obtain a change of seed that takes well with his own farm, and having done so, to hold to that, and even to induce his correspondent to grow such sorts as he prefers, although he should have to pay him an extra price for doing so. An experienced farmer once remarked to the writer, that by changing his seed he got it for nothing; that is, his crop was more abundant by at least the quantity sown, from the single circumstance of a suitable change of seed. It is proper, however, to state, that this practice of changing the seed is found more upon mere opinion than upon well-ascertained facts, and that in those instances where it has been followed by beneficial results nothing is known of the causes to which such success is due. It is much to be desired that our agricultural societies should address themselves to the thorough investigation of a question of such vital importance. In fixing upon the kind of wheat which he is to sow, the farmer will do well to look rather to productiveness than to fine quality. For however it may gratify his ambition to show the heaviest and prettiest sample in the market, and to obtain the highest price of the day, no excellence of quality can compensate for a deficiency of even a few bushels per acre in the yield. It is of importance, too, to have seed-corn free from the seeds of weeds and from other grains, and to see that it be true of its kind. Farmers who are systematically careful in these respects frequently obtain an extra price for their produce, by selling it for seed-corn to others; and even millers give a preference to such clean samples.

But there are seeds which no amount of care or accuracy in dressing can remove from seed-corn --- viz., those of certain parasitical fungi, which must be got rid of by a different process. The havoc caused to wheat crops by bunt, blackball, or pepper-brand (Uredo caries or Tilletia caries), before the discovery of the mode of preventing it by steeping the see-corn in some acrid or caustic bath, was often ruinous. The plan at first most usually adopted was to immerse the seed-wheat in stale chamber-lie, and afterwards to dry it by mixture with quicklime. This pickle, as it is called, is usually efficacious; but the lime vexes the eyes and excoriates the hands and face of the sower, or clogs the hopper of the sowing-machine, and has therefore been supersede by other substances. Blue vitriol (Sulphate of copper) is as good as anything for this purpose, and is used in the following manner. A solution is prepared by dissolving powdered Sulphate of copper in water, at the rate of two ounces to a pint for each bushel of wheat. The grain is emptied upon a floor; a little of it is shoveled to one side by one person, while another sprinkles the solution over it, and this process is continued until the whole quantity is gone over. The heap is then turned repeatedly by two persons working with shovels opposite to each other. After lying for a few minutes, the grain absorbs the moisture, and is ready for sowing either by hand or machine.

The season for wheat-sowing extends from September to April, but ordinarily that succeeds best which is committed to the ground during October and November. When summer-fallows exist the first sowings are usually made on them. It is desirable that the land neither be wet nor very dry when this takes place, so that the precise time of sowing is determined by the weather; but it is well to proceed as soon after 1st October, as the land is moist enough to insure a regular germination of the seed.

Over a large portion of England wheat is the crop usually sown after clover or one year’s "seeds." In such cases the land is ploughed in the end of September, immediately harrowed, and wheat sown upon it by a drilling machine. On loose soils the land-presser is frequently used to consolidate the soil and to form a channel for the sed, which in such cases comes up in rows, although sown broadcast. It is more usual, however, first to level the pressed furrows by harrowing, and then to use the drill, by means of which various portable manures are frequently deposited along with the seed-corn. The sowing of wheat after clover or "seeds," as now described, is rarely practiced in Scotland, where it so invariably fails as to show that it is unsuited to our northern climate. It is here not unusual, however, to plough up such land in July or August, and to prepare it for wheat-sowing by what is called rag-fallowing. After the first ploughing the land is harrowed lengthwise, so as to break and level the surface of the furrows and close the interstices without tearing up or exposing any green sward. It is then allowed to lie for ten or fourteen days to allow the herbage to die, which it soon does at this season when light is thus excluded from it. A cross ploughing is next given, followed by repeated grubbings, harrowing, and rollings, after which it is treated in all respects as a summer-fallow.

The fallow and clover leas being disposed of, the land from which potatoes, beans, pease, or vetches have been cleared off will next demand attention. When these crops have carefully horse and hand hoed, all that is required is to clear off the haulm to plough and sow. If the land is not clean, recourse must be had to a short fallowing process before sowing wheat. For this purpose the surface is loosened by the broadshare and grubber, the weeds harrowed out and raked off, after which the land is ploughed and sown. On soils well adapted for the growth of beans and wheat, viz, those in which clay predominates, any lengthened process of autumn cultivation is necessarily attended with great hazard of being interrupted by rain, to the loss of seed-time altogether. Every pains should therefore be taken to have the land so cleaned beforehand that these unseasonable efforts may be dispensed with; and to have the sowing and harrowing to follow so closely upon the ploughing as to diminish to the utmost the risk of hindrance from wet weather. As the crops of mangolds, carrots, or turnips arrive at maturity, and are either remove to the store-hip or consumed by sheep where they grow, successive sowing of wheat can be made as the ploughing is accomplished and as the weather permits. It is to be noted, however, that it is only on soils naturally dry, or made so by thorough draining, and which are also clean and in a high state of fertility, that wheat-sowing can be continued with advantage during the months of December and January. If the whole of these conditions do not obtain, it is wiser to refrain until February or March. When these late winter sowings are made, it is of especial importance to sow close up to the ploughs daily, as a very slight fall of rain will, at this season, unfit the land for bearing the harrows. These sowing and harrowing, in detail, is the more easily managed, that in the circumstances cross-harrowing is neither necessary nor expendient. Under the most favourable conditions as to weather and drainage, soils with ever a slight admixture of clay in their composition will at this season plough up somewhat clammy, so that cross-harrowing pulls the farrows too much about, and exposes the seed, instead of covering it more perfectly. Two double turns of the harrows lengthwise is as much as should be attempted at this season.

The sowing of spring-wheat is only expedient on dry and fertile soils with good exposure. Unless the whole conditions are favourable, there is much risk of spring-sown wheat being too late to be properly ripened or well harvested. On the dry and fertile soils in the valley of the Tweed, where the entire fallow-break is sown with turnips, and where consequently it is difficult to get a large breadth cleared in time for sowing wheat in autumn, it is the practice to sow it largely in February and March, and frequently with good success. Many judicious farmers are, however, of opinion that, taking the average of twenty years’ lease, barley is a more remunerative crop than spring-sown wheat, even under circumstances most favourable to the latter. When it is resolved to try it, a very full allowance of seed should be given-not less than three bushels per acre, and 3 _ will often be better. If the plants have room they will tiller; and thus the ripening of the crop is retarded, the risk of mildew increased, and the quality of the grain deteriorated. As much seed should therefore be sown as will yield plants enough to occupy the ground fully from the first, and thus remove the tendency to tillering. By such full seeding a fortnight is frequently gained in the ripening of the crop, and this frequently makes all the difference between a remunerative crop and a losing one.

Much controversy has taken place about the quantities of seed-wheat which should be used per acre. The advocates of thin seeding have been so unguarded and extravagant in their encomiums of their favourite method, some of them insisting that anything more than a few quarts per acre does but waste seed and lessen the produce, that many persons have been induced to depart from their usual practice to their serious cost. It is true that with land in a high state of fertility, and kept scrupulously clean by frequent hoeings, a full crop of wheat may be obtained from half a bushel of seed per acre, provided that it is sown in September, and deposited regularly over the surface. But what beyond a trifling saving of seed is gained by practice? And what cost and hazard is even this secured? It is a mere fallacy to tell us, as the advocates of excessively thin seeding so often do, that they obtain an increase of so many hundred-fold, whereas thick seeders cannot exceed from twelve to twenty fold, when after all the gross produce of the latter may exceed that of the former by more than the quantity of seed saved, with less expense in culture, less risk from accidents and disease, an earlier harvest, and a better quality of grain. Such a crowding of the ground with plants as prevents the proper development of the ear is of course to be avoided; but the most experienced growers of wheat are convinced of the benefit of having the ground fully occupied of the time when active spring growth begins. This is secured by using two bushels per acre for the sowing made early in October, and by increasing this quantity at the rate of half a peck per week until three bushels is reached, which may be held as the maximum. Less than this should not be used from the middle of November to the end of the season. These are the quantities to be used in broad-cast sowing; when drilling or dibbling is resorted to, two-fifths less seed will suffice. In Scotland , at least often repeated trials have shown larger crops are obtained by broad- casting than by drilling. The latter mode is, however, to be preferred wherever the land is infested by annual weeds, which can then be got rid of by hoeing. When clover and grass-seeds are sown with the grain crop, it is believed also that they thrive better from the grain being sown in rows, probably because in this case light and air are less excluded from them. It is believed also that in highly-manured soils of a loose texture, grain deposited somewhat deeply in rows is less liable to lodge than when sown broad-cast and shallower. When drilling and hoeing are resorted to, the latter is effected most cheaply and effectively by using Garret’s horse-hoe. The mere stirring of the soil is considered by many farmers to be so beneficial to the wheat crop that they use the horse-hoe irrespective of the presence of weeds. Others are of opinion that, apart from the destruction of weeds, hoeing is injurious to grain crops, alleging that the cutting of their surface roots weakens the stems and increases their liability to fall over. Carefully conducted experiments are required to settle this point. We have no personal experience bearing upon it beyond this, that we have repeatedly seen a wheat crop much benefit by mere harrowing in spring. It is always useful to roll wheat, and indeed all cereal crops, in order to facilitate the reaping process, although no other benefit should result from it. When the plants have been loosened by severe frosts, or are suffering from the attacks of the wire-worm, the use of Crosskill’s roller is usually of great benefit to the crop.

A plan of growing wheat year after year on the same field without the use of manure was practiced for a number of years by the late Rev. Mr Smith of Lois Weedon, Northamptonshire, and detailed by him in the pages of the Royal Agricultural Society’s Journal, and in a pamphlet which has passed through many editions and had a very extensive circulation. His plan is to a certain extent a revival of that of Jethro Tull, but with this important difference, that whereas Tull occupied his ground with alternate double rows of wheat a foot apart , and vacant spaces, five feet wide, which were carefully cultivated by ploughings and horse-hoeing repeated at intervals from the springing of the wheat until midsummer, Mr Smith introduced two important elements in addition, viz., thorough draining, and trenching the vacant spaces in autumn, so as to bring portions of subsoil to the surface. A field treated on this system consist of alternate strips of wheat and bare fallow, which are made to exchange places year by year, so that each successive crop occupies a different site from its immediate predecessor. It has also the benefit of the fresh soil brought up by the previous autumn’s double-digging, which is subsequently mellowed and pulverized by lengthened exposure to the atmosphere, and by frequent stirrings. The produce obtained by Mr Smith from his acre thus treated was very nearly 34 bushels each year for the first five years; but is his crops steadily improved, his average at the end of fourteen years was fully 36 bushels. Writing in July 1861, he said, "The growing crop for 1861, notwithstanding the frost, looks strong and well, with scarcely a gap. Thus year after year gives growing confidence in the scheme." On steam-power being introduced, Mr Smith became convinced of the practicability of carrying out his system with advantage on an entire farm. At first he restricted himself to the employment of manual labour, but he subsequently invented a set of implements for sowing, covering in, rolling, and hoeing his crops by horse labour. We give in his own words his directions for carrying out this system, what he believed to be the advantages of it, and the cost of thus cultivating an acre:-

"I suppose, at the outset, the land intended for wheat to be wheat land; having besides a fair depth of staple, and a subsoil, as will generally, though not universally be the case, of the same chemical composition with the surface. I suppose it dry, or drained three feet deep at least; well cleaned of weeds; the lands cast; and the whole tolerably level.

"1. First of all, then, plough the whole land, when dry, one inch deeper than the used staple. If it turn up cloddy, bring the clods down with the roller or the crusher. Let this be done, if possible in August. Harrow deep, so as to get five or six inches of loose mould to admit the presser. Before sowing, wait for the rain. After the rain, wait for a fine day or two to dry the surface. With this early commencement a week or two is of no material importance compared with that of ploughing dry and sowing wet.

"As early as possible, however, in September, get in your seed with the presser-drill, or with some implement which forms a firm bedded channel in which to deposit the seed, grain by grain a few inches apart. Cover over with the crusher or rough roller.

"2. When the lines of wheat appear above ground, guard against the rook, the lark, and the slug-a trite suggestion, but ever needful, especially here. And now, and at spring, and all through summer, watch for the weeds, and wage constant warfare against them. The battle may last for a year or two, or in some foul cases even more; but, in the end, the mastery, and its fruits, without fail, will be yours.

"3. The plant being now distinctly visible, dig the intervals two spits deep, increasing the depth, year after year, tell they come to twenty or twenty-four inches. Bring up at first only four , or five, or six inches, according to the nature of the subsoil, whether tenacious, or loamy, or light. To bring up more at the outset would be a wasteful and injurious expense.

"The digging is done thus:- Before proceeding with the work, a few cuts are made within three inches of the wheat, the back of the spade being towards the rows. A few double spits, first of all, at the required depth, are then thrown out on the headland, and there left for the present. After this, as the digging proceeds, the staple is cast to the bottom, and the subsoil thrown gently on the top. This process is carried on throughout the whole interval; at the end of which interval, just so much space is left vacant as was occupied by the soil thrown out at the beginning of it. In commencing the second interval at that finished end, the earth is thrown out as at first not on the headland, however, but into the vacant space of the first interval. And so on all over the acre.

"4. Late in winter, and early in spring, watch your opportunity in dry weather, before the roots of the plant are laid bare, to press them with the crusher.

"5. In the spring and early summer stir the spaces between the rows as often as the surface becomes crusted over; and move the settled intervals four or five inches deep with the common scarifier, set first of all about twenty-eight inches wide, reducing the width till it come by degrees to twenty-four and eighteen inches. Continue the process, if possible, at the last-named width, up to the time of flowering in June.

"These operations are indispensable to full success, and happily can be carried on at little cost; for, while the intervals of each acre can be scarified in fifty minutes, the horse-hoe implement, covering two lands at once, can stir between the rows in twenty-five.

"6. Immediately the crop is carried, clean the intervals, and move them with the scarifier in order to sow, without delay, the shed grains. When these vegetate and come up into plant, move the intervals again five or six inches deep, and so destroy them. After that, level with the harrow implement, and the land is ready for the drill.

"If anything occur to prevent the sowing early in September and to drive you to the end of October, set the drill for a thicker crop. But, if possible, sow early-for this reason. Tillerred what has a bad name. But that has reference only to wheat which has tillered late in the spring. And certainly, in that case, there is the fear of danger to the crop, and danger to the sample. If supposing no mildew to fall on it, even then the plant ripens unevenly; the early stems being ready for the sickle, while the late-grown shoots have scarcely lost their verdure. But if mildew come when the stem is soft, and succulent, and porous, instead of being, as it should be at the time, glazed and case-hardened against its attacks, the enemy enters in and checks the circulating sap; and the ends is, blackened straw, light ears, and shriveled grain. Therefore, sow early. Let the plant tiller before winter. Give every stem an equal start at spring; and then, with a strict adherence to rule, there need be no alarm as to the result, subject only to those visitations from which no wheat, on any system, in the same description of soil, and under the same climate, is secure."

"The advantages of the system of corn-growing which I have described are principally these:-First, while one crop of wheat is growing, the unsown intervals of the acre are being fallowed and prepared for another. This, the farmer well knows to be of infinite moment, meeting, as it does, one of the greatest difficulties he has to contend with. Next, upon this half-portion of the acre, tilled as I describe, there is a yield equal to average crops on a whole acre. Then, for half the portion of an acre, there is, of course, only half the labour and half the expense of an entire acre required for cultivation. And, lastly, the hand-labour required finds constant employment for the poor."

"After harrowing, and cleaning, and leveling the whole, I marked out the channels for the seed with my presser element, which is drawn with one horse, and presses two lands at once. My scheme of implements, to be complete, embraced a drill, which was to act immediately behind the presser-wheels, and to drop seed by seed into the hard channels. The spindle of the presser was to turn the drill-wheels, and the boxes were to be made removable. Being unable to accomplish this in time for this year’s sowing, I had the seed, as heretofore, dropped by hands, and covered over by rollers.

"These rollers form the roller implement in the same frame, and are managed thus: the three-wheeled pressers are removed from their sockets, and in their place two rough rollers, formed of several wheels on the self-cleaning principle, are introduced, and cover over two lands at once.

"The portion of the field thus seeded will lie in this firm but rough state till spring time. Then, when the rollers have been applied again to keep the roots of the plant well in their place, they too will be removed from the frame, and light wheels and hoes will be attached, forming the horse-hoe implement, for hoeing and stirring between he wheat.

"There is yet one other use for the implement frame. The intervals of the wheat having been trenched in autumn, and well and frequently stirred by the common scarifier at spring, are shut out by the wide-spreading wheat-plant in June from all further processes till the crop is cut and carried. They are then to be moved and leveled by the common one-horse scarifier for seed-time. After this will follow the harrow. The hoes will be removed from the frame, and two small harrows will be attached, to cover two lands at once; and with this implement the horse will walk on the stubble-land, between what before were the intervals; and the cycle of operations is now complete.

"In all these operations (excepting in that of scarifying) the sown lands, and lands about to be made ready for sowing, are untouched by the foot of man or horse.

"The time occupied in scarifying the land is about an hour the acre; in heavily pressing the channels for the seed, half an hour; in the other operations about 20 or 25 minutes." (Pp. 25, 26.)

"The presser-drill, spoken of in p. 25, is completed, and I now sow the four acres in 90 minutes, timed by watch; being at the rate of 18 or 20 acres a day of 8 hours, with a horse of average power and speed.

"It has been thought advisable to keep the drill in its own frame,- devoting another frame to the roller-wheels or crusher, the hoes, the scarifiers, and harrows, all of which are made removable, and which, with the exception of the spade, the hand-hoe, and the common scarifier for stirring the intervals, perform the whole cycle of operations for cultivating the land for wheat."- (Pp. 33, 34.)

"I have only to show now, by my fresh balance-sheet, how with suitable implements, on wheat-land, the whole scheme I propose is economical, as well as easy and expeditious.

== TABLE ==

Particular attention was directed to this system of wheat culture by a lecture on Tull’s husbandry, delivered by Professor Way, at a council meeting of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, and by the animated discussion which followed; when several gentlemen who had visited Mr Smith’s farm bore testimony to the continued excellence of his crops, and intimated that they and others had begun to test the system upon their own farms. If such a practice can indeed be pursued on the generality of clay-soils, then the puzzling problem of how to cultivate them with a profit is solved at once. It is not to be thought that practical farmers would regard otherwise than with incredulity a system which so flatly contradicts all existing theory and practice. The facts submitted to them by Mr Smith being beyond challenge, they would naturally imagine there must be some peculiarity in the soil at Lois Weedon which enabled it to sustain such heavy and continued demands on its fertility; and that the issue, there and elsewhere, must eventually be utter sterility. For our own part, believing that we have exceeding much to learn in every department of agriculture, we cannot thus summarily dispose of these facts. We simply accept them as true, and leave the exposition of them to experience, whose verdict we await with much interest.

But Mr Smith is not the only person who has furnished us with information regarding the continuous growth of wheat for a series of years on the same soil. Mr Lawes, at rothamstead, in Herts, so well known by his interesting papers on agricultural chemistry in the Royal Agricultural Society’s Journal, has furnished some facts in connection with the culture of wheat on clay soils to which farmers were little prepared to give credence. Mr Caird, who visited Rothamstead early in 1851, thus refers to the subject in his valuable work:-

"On a soil of heavy loam, on which sheep cannot be fed on turnips, 4, 5, and 6 feet above the chalk, and therefore uninfluenced by it, except in so far as it is thereby naturally drained, ten crops of wheat have been taken in succession, one portion always without any manure whatever, and the rest with a variety of manure, the effects of which have been carefully observed. The seed is of the red cluster variety, drelled uniformly in rows at 8 inches apart, and two bushels to the acre, hand-hoed twice in spring, and kept perfectly free from weeds. When the crop is removed the land is scarified with Bentall’s skimmer, all weeds are removed, it is ploughed once, and the seed for the next crop is then drilled in. During the ten years, the land, in natural state, without manure, has produced a uniform average of 16 bushels of wheat an acre, with 100 lb. of straw per bushel of wheat, the actual quantity varying with the change of seasons between 14 and 20 bushels. The repetition of the crop has made no diminution or change in the uniformity of the average, and the conclusion seems to be established, that if the land is kept clean, and worked at proper seasons, it is impossible to exhaust this soil below the power of producing 16 bushels of wheat every year.

"But this natural produce may be doubled by the application of certain manures. Of these, Mr Lawes’s experiments led him to conclude that ammonia is the essential requisite. His conclusions are almost uniform, that no organic matter affects the produce of wheat, except in so far as it yields ammonia; and that the whole of the organic matter of the corn crop is taken from the atmosphere by the medium of ammonia. There is a constant loss of ammonia going on by expiration, so that a larger quantity must be supplied than is contained in the crop. For practical purposes, 5 lb. of ammonia is found to produce a bushel of wheat, and the cheapest form of ammonia at present being Peruvian guano, 1 cwt. of that substance may be calculated to give 4 bushels of wheat. The natural produce of 16 bushels an acre may therefore be doubled by an application of 4 cwt. of Peruvian guano. To this however, there is a limit-climate. Ammonia gives growth, but it depends on climate whether that produce is straw or corn. In a wet, cold summer a heavy application of ammonia produces an undue development of the circulating condition of the plant, the crop is laid, and the farmer’s hopes are disappointed. Seven of corn ten of straw is usually the most productive crop; five to ten seldom yields well. The prudent farmer will therefore regulate his application of ammonia with a reference to the average character of the climate in which his frm is situated.

"The practical conclusion at which we arrive is this, that in the cultivation of a clay-land farm, of similar quality of soil to that of Mr Lawes, there is no other restriction necessary than to keep the land clean; that while it is very possible to reduce the land by weeds, it is impossible to exhaust it (to a certain point it may be reduced) by cleanly cultivated corn crops; that it is an ascertained fact that wheat may be taken on soils of this description (provided they are manured) year after year, with no other limit than the necessity for cleaning the land, and that may best be accomplished by an occasional green crop-turnip or mangold, as best suits-at great intervals, the straw being brought to the most rotten state, and applied in the greatest possible quantity to insure a good crop, which will clean the land well. If these conclusions are satisfactorily proved, the present mode of cultivating heavy clays may be greatly changed, and the owners and occupiers of such soils be better compensated in heir cultivation than they have of late had reason to anticipate."- (Caird’s English Agriculture, in 1850 and 1851, pp.460-462.) [Footnote 358-1]

It is certainly curious to observe, that the addition of four cwt. of guano brings up the produce of Mr Lawes’s acre from its average annual rate of sixteen bushels, under its reduced normal state, to very nearly the same as Rev. Mr Smith’s acre under his system of alternate strips of corn and summer fallow.

From information carefully gathered, Mr Caird gives it as his opinion, that the average produce of wheat per acre in 26 of the 32 counties of England visited by him is 26 2/3 bushels, or 14 per cent. higher than it was estimated at in the same counties by Arthur Young 80 years before. Were the country generally anything like as well cultivated as particular farms that are to be met with in all parts of it, we should have the present average increased by at least eight bushels per acre. 63 lb. per bushel is a weight indicating a good quality of grain. A good crop of wheat will yield a ton of grain and about two tons of straw per acre.

Besides its uses on the farm, wheat straw, in certain limited districts in the south of England, is an article of some value, as the raw material of a not unimportant native manufacturer, namely, Straw-Plait. The first straws used for this purpose in this country were grown in the neighbourhood of Luton inn Bedfordshire. This town is still the principal seat of the straw trade and straw bonnet manufacture, and the district around still produces the finest quality of straws; but straw-growing is now also carried on in parts of Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, and Berkshire. Light, rich soils are best adapted for this purpose. The kinds of wheat grown with this view are the red Lammas and the Chiddam. A bright, clean, tough straw being equired, it is necessary to begin reaping before the flag of the straw falls. If the straw is exposed to rain, it becomes rusted or spotted; if to very hot and dry weather, it gets sunburnt and brittle. The utmost care and energy must, therefore, be used to get the crop dried, carried, and stacked as quickly as possible. In favourable seasons an acre of wheat will yield (besides the grain) from 15 cwt. to a ton of cut straws, of the value of £6 to £8 per ton, clear of all expenses. The farmer sells his straw to a class of men called straw-factors, who draw and cut the straws in his barn. The drawing and cutting-off of the ears being there performed, the factors remove the straw to their own premises. There it undergoes a farther cutting, is exposed to the fumes of sulphur, assorted into proper lengths, and made up into marketable bunches of various sizes and qualities. These bunches are disposed of to the plaiters at the various markets of the district. About 50,000 females and boys are engaged in plaiting. No plait is made in factories, the work being performed by the wives and children of agricultural labourers in their own cottages, where it is carried on all the year except in harvest. The straw trade, in its various departments, is of considerable importance and is steadily increasing. The gross returns are supposed not to fall short of £1,250,000 per annum.

There is now also a small demand for wheat straw for the manufacture of paper.


358-1 Mr Lawes continues these experiments of growing successive crops of wheat year after year on the same site, with no material change in the results after a trial of thirty years.

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