XIX. IMPROVEMENT OF WASTELANDS (cont.)
Reclaiming of Bogs
The reclamation of extensive bogs, or deposits of peat is a more arduous undertaking, requiring a considerable expenditure of capital and longer time before a return is obtained from it. The extent of land of this description in Great Britain and Ireland is very great. Very exaggerated statements of the profits to be derived from it improvement have often been published, and not a few persons have incurred serious loss by rashly undertaking this kind of work. On the other hand, when bogs are favourably situated with reference to a command of marl or other calcareous, and of manure of enrich them, their reclamation has proved a very profitable speculation. The well-known instance of Chat Moss in Lancashire affords so interesting an example of this that we shall here quote a description of it.
"Chat Mess, well known as that black barren swamp between Liverpool and Manhester, contains 6000 acres, one-half of which is in the township of Barton, and the remainder in the townships of Bedford, Asley, and Worsley.
"The principal part of this moss, which lies in Barton township, belongs to the Trafford family, and is entailed, but the ancestor of the present Sir Thomas de Trafford appears to have obtained, at the latter end of the last century, an Act of Parliament to grant a ninety-nine years lease of 2500 acres to a Mr. Wakefield, who about the year 1805 disposed of his interest in it to the late William Roscoe, of literary celebrity, who spent a large sum of a fruitless endeavor to improve it, failing in which , the lease was sold in 1821 to other parties. J.A. Brown, Esq., of Woolden Hall, bought 1300 acres; the late Edward Baines, M.P. for Leeds, purchased the remaining 1200 acres. The most extensive and successful efforts at improving this moss have been made on a part of the 1200 acres bought by Mr. Baines, who, besides occupying the part operated upon by Mr. Roscoe, improved a considerable breath himself, and let several portions to other parties, who have made considerable progress in improving small portions. The most extensive operations, however, upon the whole, have been carried out by a company to whom Mr. Baines, in 1828, granted a lease of 550 acres for 68 years, the remainder of the original term, at a nominal rent for the first year, increasing gradually till at the end of five years the rent attained, which was formed at the time the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was in progress of being made on the property, consisted, amongst other, of some practical farmers, and originated with William Reed, who for the three first years was the manager, and resided on this farm, which they called Barton Moss farm. During that period I had the pleasure of paying my friend Reed a visit, and of witnessing the skill and success attending his enterprise and various experiments.
"The first operation, that of draining, has been effected by opening side drains at intervals of fifty yards, into which were laid covered ones six yards apart, at right angles with and emptying into the open side drains.
"The moss being in a semi-fluid state, it was necessary to proceed slowly with draining, taking out only one graft or depth at a time, allowing it to remain a week or a month, according to the state of the weather, before taking out the second graft; this admitted of the sides becoming consolidated, and of the second graft being taken out without the moss closing in. It was again allowed to remain as before till sufficiently dry to admit of the third being removed.
"The open drains were made 3 feet wide and 3 feet 6 inches deep, and the covered drains 16 inches wide and 3 feet deep; the last graft of the latter being only about 6 inches wide at the top, tapering to 4 inches at the bottom, and being taken out to the middle of the cut, left a shoulder on each side. The sod or graft first taken out had by this time become tough and dry, and was placed, with the heath side downwards, in the shoulder, thus leaving the narrow spit at the bottom open for a depth of about 14 inches; the other square sod being put on the top, completed the drain."
"The cost of this mode of draining, including the side drains, was about 38s per acres. The drains first put in required to be renewed in a few years, in consequence of the moss becoming so much consolidated and reduced in height that the plough, as well as the horses feet, broke through the roof, although the horses were shod with pattens,, or boards of about 10 inches square, with the angles taken off. The second draining, however, was more permanent, and would probably not have required renewing, for many years but for the moles, which has been very troublesome in working down to the drains, and filling them up in various places; so that the operation of draining has required to be partially renewed in every field, and in many of them entirely so; and thus these little animals have been the cause of a very considerable increase in the cost of labor. It has subsequently been found advisable to put the under drains in at 4 yards, instead of 6 yards asunder, and the advantage in one crop has been quite sufficient to pay the extra cost. A two-horse engine was erected, which drives the thrashing machine, straw-cutter, and crushing-mill; and the escape-steam from it steams the horses food.
"The buildings were erected principally of timber, covered with asphalted felt.
"After draining, making road, and burning off the heath plant, the land was scarified lengthwise of the fields by an implement with knives shaped like coulter, reversed, sharp on the convex side, fixed in two bars, and drawn by three horses yoked abreast.
"The tough surface was by this means cut at every four inches; the land was then ploughed across the scarifying; and roller, surrounded with knives, was next passed across the plough; after this the land was well harrowed till sufficiently reduced.
"From 60 to 100 cubic yards of marl were put on an acre, and in the following summer the land was manured, also by means of the movable railway, at the rate of fifty tons of black Manchester manure per acre, and planted with potatoes, which were followed by wheat, sown with red clover and ryegrass, for mowing for one or two years; then wheat in particular looked bright and beautiful. The potatoes were sold for £25 and £30 per acre, which more than paid the whole cost of improvement. Mr. John Bell, resident bailiff, has made many valuable experiments relative to the improvement of raw moss, one of which has resulted in a discovery likely to be of considerable importance, which is, that a mixture of lime and slat, applied a while before seeding, with the addition of a good dressing of guano, in the proportion of four tons of lime and five cwt. of salt per acre, qualifies it to four tons a crop of potatoes or oats equal to that after the application of 60 yards of marl per acre. It is essential that the mixture should be spread while it is hot. Mr. Evens (one of the proprietors) is convinced that the peat on the surface ought never to be burned; he has always found that, when the heath sod is turned down to decay, much better crops have been obtained than when it has been burnt off, or than when the top has been taken away either for fuel or other purposes. What are termed moss-fallows, ---that is, parts which have had the moss taken off for fuel, --- will never bear so good crops as the upper surface, however deep the moss may be underneath." ---(Notes on the Agriculture of Lancashire, with Suggestions for its Improvement, by Jonathan Binns.)
About a century ago, Lord Kames, on becoming proprietor of the estate of Blair-Drummond, in the country of Perth, began the improvement of a large tract of worthless moss by a totally different process from that now detailed. Instead, therefore, of attempts being made to improve the moss itself, it was floated off piecemeal into the neighboring Firth of Forth. The supply of water required for this purpose was obtained from the river Teith, from which it was raised to the requisite height by a powerful water-wheel. Being conveyed through the moss in channels, successive layers of peat were dug and thrown into these channels, which were shifted as occasion required, until the whole inert mass was removed. A thin stratum next the clay was burnt, and the ashes used as manure. An immerse extent of moss has thus been got rid of on that estate and on others in the neighborhood, and "an extensive tract of country, where formerly only a few snipes and muir-fowl, could find subsistence, has been converted, as if by magic, into a rich and fertile carse of alluvial soil, worth from £3 to £5 per acre."
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