1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Oats. Rye.

(Part 52)


Oats. Rye.


Over a large portion of England oats are grown only as provender for horses, for which purpose they are fully ascertained to be superior to all other grains. Except, therefore, on fen-lands and recently-reclaimed muiry soils, the cultivation of oats inn South Britain bears a small proportion to the other cereals. It is in Scotland, "the land o’ cakes," that this grain is most esteemed and most extensively cultivated. Considerably more than half of the annual grain crops of Scotland consists, in fact, of oats. The important item which oatmeal porridge forms in the diet of her peasantry, and of the children of her other classes, has something to do with this extensive culture of the oat; but it arises mainly from its peculiar adaptation to her humid climate. As with the other cereals, there are very numerous varieties of the oat in cultivation. In Messrs Lawson’s Synopsis of the Vegetable Products of Scotland, it is said (Div. i. p. 80), "Our collection comprises nearly sixty varieties, about thirty of which are grown in Scotland; but of these not more than twelve are in general cultivation. These twelve varieties, enumerated in the order of their general cultivation, are, the Potato, Hopetoun, Sandy, Early-Angus, Late-Angus, Grey-Angus, Blainslie, Berlie, Dun, Friesland, Black Tartarian, and Barbachlaw." The first four kinds in this list are those chiefly cultivated on the best class of soils. It is to the produce of these that the highest market prices usually have reference. The weight per bushel of these sorts usually runs from 42 lb to 46 lb. From 50 to 60 bushels per acre is a usual yield of oats. The two last named kinds are chiefly esteemed for their large produce, and adaptation to inferior soils; but being of coarse quality, they are chiefly used for provender. A variety which stands the winter is now frequently grown in England, for the double purpose of first yielding a seasonable supply of green food to ewes and lambs in early spring, and afterwards producing a crop of grain. It has already been stated that in Scotland wheat does not prosper when sown after clover or pasture; but with the oat it is quite the reverse, as it never grows better than on land newly broken up from grass. It is, accordingly, almost invariably sown at this stage of the rotation. The land is ploughed in December or January, beginning with the strongest soil, or that which has lain longest in grass, that it may have the longest exposure to the mellowing influences of wintry weather. In March or April the oats are sown broadcast on this first ploughing, and in by repeated harrowings. These are given lengthwise until the furrows are well broken down, for if the harrows are worked across the ridges before this is effected, they catch hold of the edges of the slices, and, partially lifting them, perit the seed-corn to fall to the bottom, where it is lost altogether. As it is only when a free tilth is obtained that the crop can be expected to prosper, care must be taken to plough early and somewhat deeply, laying the furrows over with a rectangular shoulder, to sow when the land is in that state of dryness that admits of its crumbling readily when trode upon, and then to use the harrows until they move smoothly and freely in the loose soil, two or three inches deep. The Norwegian harrow is an important auxiliary to the common ones in obtaining this result. When wild mustard and other annual weeds abound, it is advisable to drill the crop and to use the horse-hoe. When the land is clean, the general belief in Scotland is that the largest crops are obtained by sowing broadcast. When the latter plan of sowing is adopted, from 4 to 6 bushels per acre is the quantity of seed used. The latter quantity is required in the case of the Hopetoun and other large-grained varieties. The condition of the soil as to richness and friability must also be taken into account in determining the quantity of seed to be used. When it is in high heart and likely to harrow kindly, a less quantity will suffice than under opposite conditions. In breaking up a tough old sward, even 6 bushels per acre may be too little to sow. The following very interesting experiment bearing on this point was made in the county of Fife:- "Mr Gulland, Wemyss, offered a sweepstakes in 1850, that 4 bushels of oats, sown per Scotch acre, in poor land, would yield a better produce than 8 bushels sown under similar conditions. The late Mr Hill, maintaining the contrary, accepted the sweepstakes, and a number of others took up the same. Experiments were made by Mr Dingwall, Ramornie, and Mr Buist, Hattonhill….:-

In Mr Buist’s experiments,

"4 bush. sown yielded 28 bush. per acre, 34 lb per bush.
8 bush. sown yielded 36 bush. per acre, 34 1/4 lb per bush.

"In Mr Dingwall’s experiments,

"4 bush. sown yielded 45 bush. per acre, 38 1/2 lb per bush.
8 bush. sown yielded 49 bush. per acre, 39 lb per bush." [Footnote 360-1]

The advocates for thin seeding will of course regard even the least of these quantities as foolishly redundant. It is quite true, that if the land is in good heart, the crop will ultimately stand close on the ground from a very small seeding; but it will take two or three weeks longer to do this than if the land had been fully stocked with plants from the first, by giving it seed enough. In our precarious climate, where a late harvest and bad crops usually go together, it is of the utmost importance to secure early, uniform, and perfect ripening; and as liberal seeding tends directly to promote such a result, practical will do well to take care how they omit such a simple means of attaining so important an end. We believe that it is on the principle now indicated that the superior result, both as respects quantity and quality of produce, in the double-seeded lots in the experiments now cited, is to be explained.

As with the wheat, the vigour and productiveness of the oat is much enhanced by frequent change of seed. Our agricultural authorities usually assert that the change should, if possible, always be from an earlier climate and better soil. This is undoubledly true as regards high-lying districts; but with a good soil and climate we have always seen the best results with seed from a later district. A homely old couplet tersely expresses the experience of our ancestors in this matter of the changing of seed-corn by directing us to procure.

"Oats from the hills, bere from the sea,
Gude wheat and pease wherever they be."

On poor hard soils it is usually remunerative to apply a cwt. of guano per acre to the oat crop, sowing it broadcast, and harrowing it in along with the seed. As much additional produce is thus ordinarily obtained as more than pays for the manure, and the land is, in all respects, left in better condition for the succeeding green crop. In the case both of very light and strong clay soils, we have obtained excellent results by applying a liberal dressing of farm yard dung in autumn to grass-land about to be broken up for oats. By using in this way the dung produced during the summer months, we have obtained abundant crops of oats from portions of land which, but for this, would have yielded poorly; and, at the same time, by applying the bulky manure at this stage of the rotation, instead of directly for the succeeding green crop, an important saving of time and labour has been effected as we shall have occasion to notice when treating of turnip-culture.

When the young oat plants have pushed their second leaf, it is always beneficial to use the roller, as it helps to protect the crop from the evil effects of drought, and facilitates the reaping of it. The oat frequently suffers much from a disease called "segging" or "tulip root," which appears to be caused by the presence of a maggot in the pith of the stems close to he ground. On land which is subject to this disease it is advisable not to sow early. A dressing of lime is also believed to be serviceable as a preventative. On muiry soils this crop is also not unfrequently lost by what is called "slaying." This seems to result from the occurrence of frosty nights late in spring, when the crop is in its young stage, which, when grown on such soils, it cannot withstand. The application of large dressings of lime to light muiry soils greatly aggravates this tendency to slaying in the oat crop. The only effectual remedy is to improve the texture of the soil by a good coating of clay. Oats yield about 1 ton of grain and 1 _ ton of straw per acre.


The extensive cultivation of this grain in any country being alike indicative of a low state of agriculture, and of a poor style of living among its peasantry, it must be regarded as a happy circumstance that it has become nearly obsolete in Great Britain. It is still occasionally met with in some of our poorest sandy soils, and patches are occasionally grown elsewhere for the sake of the straw, which is in estimation for thatching, for making bee-hives, and for stuffing horse-collars. Its cultivation as a catch crop, to furnish early food for sheep in spring, is on the increase.


360-1 Agricultural Gazette, 2th November 1852.

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