1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Seeds of Agricultural Crops

(Part 76)


Seeds of Agricultural Crops

In the case of seed-corn it is customary for farmers either to select from the best of their own growth, to exchange with or purchase from neighbours, or, if they wish a change from a different locality, to employ a commission-agent to buy for them. In all districts there are careful farmers who, by occupying land that produces grain of good appearance, and being at pains to have good and pure sorts, are stated sellers of seed-corn, and manage in this way to get a few shillings more per quarter for a part of their produce. It is therefore only in the case of new and rare varieties that professional seedsmen ordinarily deal in clovers, grasses, turnip, mangold, carrots, winter vetches, &c., the seeds of which, to a large extent, pass through the hands of seedsmen, and the growing of which is restricted to particular districts, and is in the hands of a limited number of farmers. These seed crops are sometimes very remunerative to the grower; but are hazardous ones for farmers to attempt at their own risk. The only safe course is to grow them at a stipulated price, to the order of some thoroughly respectable seedsman, and to hold to the production of the particular kind or kinds which he requires. This applies in a less degree to the clovers, and to the more commonly cultivated grasses, than to the other seeds just referred to. Such an arrangement is beneficial to all concerned.

We have already described (chap. Xiii. Sec. 13) the mode of saving the seeds of Italian or common ryegrass; and as other grasses are managed in the same way, it is unnecessary to say more regarding them.

It is only in the southern parts of England that clover is grown for the sake of its seeds. When it is meant to take a crop of seed, the clover is fed off with sheep, or mown early in the season, and then allowed to produce its flowers and ripen its seeds. This preliminary eating or cutting over causes the plants to throw up a greater number of seed-stems, and to yield a fuller and more equally ripening crop. The crop is mown when the seeds are seen to be matured. In the case of white clover the cutting takes place while the dew is upon the crop, as working amongst it when dry would cause a loss of seed. After mowing and turning the cop, the ground is raked with close-toothed iron rakes, to catch up loose heads. The thrashing is a twofold process_first the separation of the heads or cobs from the stem, called "cobbing," and then of the seeds from the husks, called "drawing." This was formerly accomplished by a laborious and tedious process of thrashing with flails, but it is now done by machinery. In favourable seasons the yield is about 5 or 6 bushels (of 70 lb each) per acre.

Turnip seed is the next most important crop of this kind. From the strong tendency in the best varieties of turnips and Swedes to degenerate, and the readiness with which they hybridise with each other, or with any member of the family Brassica, no small skill and pains are needed to raise seed that can be depended upon to yield roots of the best quality. Turnip seed is saved either from selected and transplanted roots, or from such as have been sown for the express purpose, and allowed to stand as they grow. The first plan, if the selection is made by a competent judge, is undoubtedly that by which seed of the purest quality is obtained. But it is an expensive way, not only from the labour required in carrying it out, but from the yield of seed being generally much less than from plants that have not been disturbed. Professional seed-growers usually resort to a compromise by which the benefit of both plans is secured, viz., by selecting with great care and transplanting a limited number of bulbs, and saving the seed obtained from them to raise the plants which are to stand for their main seed crop. The latter are carefully examined when they come into bloom, and all plants destroyed the colour of whose flower varies from the proper shade. Turnips that are to bear seed are purposely sown much later in the season than when intended to produce cattle food, as it is found that bulbs about 1 lb weight are less liable to be injured by frost or to rot before the seed is matured, than those of larger size. The management of a turnip-seed crop, both as regards culture and harvesting, is identical with that of rape for its seeds, which has already been described.

Mustard.-- Both the white and brown mustard is cultivated to some extent in various parts of England. The former is to be found in every garden as a salad plant; but it has of late been coming into increasing favour as a forage crop for sheep, and as a green manure, for which purpose it is ploughed down when about to come into flower. The brown mustard is grown solely for its seeds, which yield the well-known condiment. When white mustard is cultivated for its herbage, it is sown usually in July or August, after some early crop has been removed. The land being brought into a fine tilth, the seed, at the rate of 12 lb per acre, is sown broadcast, and covered in the way recommended for clover seeds. In about six weeks it is ready either for feeding off by sheep or for ploughing down as a preparative for wheat or barley. White mustard is not fastidious in regard to soil. When grown for a seed crop it is treated in the way about to be described for the other variety. For this purpose either kind requires a fertile soil, as it is an exhausting crop. The seed is sown in April, is once hoed in May, and requires no further culture. As soon as the pods have assumed a brown colour the crop is reaped and laid down in handfuls, which lie until dry enough for thrashing or stacking. In removing it from the ground it must be handled with great care, and carried to the thrashing-floor or stack on cloths, to avoid thee loss of seed. The price depends much on its being saved in dry weather, as the quality suffer much from wet. The yield varies from 20 to 30 bushels per acre, and the price from 10s. to 20s. per bushels. It is chiefly grown on rich alluvial soils in the south-eastern counties of England. This great evil attends its growth, that the seeds which are unavoidably shed in harvesting the crop remain in the soil, and stock it permanently with what proves a pestilent weed amongst future crops.

Market Gardening.-- I Essex and Kent no inconsiderable extent of land is annually occupied in growing the seeds of the staple crops of our kitchen and flower gardens. Wholesale seedsmen contract with farmers to grow these seeds for them at a stipulated price.

The growth of fruits and of culinary vegetables is in various parts of Great Britain an important department of farming- for the scale on which it is conducted allies it quite as much to agriculture as to horticulture. In the counties contiguous to London thousands of acres are occupied in growing vegetables and in producing fruit. Very large numbers of persons find employment in these market gardens. The system of cultivation pursued in them is admirable. The soil is trenched two spits deep for nearly every crop; it is heavily manured and kept scrupulously clean by incessant hoeing. Whenever a crop is removed, some other suited to the season is instantly put in its place, and not an inch of ground is suffered to be unproductive. A young farmer, bent on knowing his business thoroughly, could not occupy a few months to better purpose than by placing himself under one of these clever market gardeners.

Kent has long been peculiarly celebrated for its orchards. The best of them are on the borders of the greensand formation, or ragstone as it is provincially called. Apples, pears, plums, cherries, and nuts are produced in immense quantities. The filbert plantations alone are said to occupy 5000 acres. An abundant and cheap supply of fruit and vegetables for the inhabitants of our towns is undoubtedly an important object, and is likely to occupy increased attention wherever a suitable soil and exposure, with facility of carriage by railway, are combined. In Cornwall and in the Channel Islands the cultivation of broccoli and early potatoes is an important and growing industry.

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