« AnteriorContinuar »
been successfully done, is often of more value than a theoretical showing of what might be done.
About twelve years ago, on account of failure of health, scarcity of help and other causes, I found my land very much impoverished, mostly farmed by tenants, and yielding very little income. Corn was a light crop, wheat could only be grown on specially prepared ground, and timothy meadows were almost entirely run out. Clover seed had been sown almost every year, but seldow produced a crop. · What the hot sun and dry weather after harvest spared, was generally finished by the frosts of winter. I had about as poor a prospect for growing wheat and clover as you can find on any farm around here.
Encouraged by returning health, and the help of two good boys who had fiinished their course in the high school, I gradually dismissed the renters. The tillable land was divided into three nearly equal parts, of about twenty acres each. A short rotation was adopted and peristently followed-corn, wheat, grass-one year to each. Commercial fertilizer was used on the wheat every time-seldom on any other crop. At first we sowed on the wheat a mixture of timothy and clover, but when the chinch bugs came, it was found that they would kill the timothy and not the clover, so after this clover alone was sown, and greatly to our advantage. Manures were spread, as nearly as possible fres from the stables, on either the young clover or on the clover sod which was to be plowed for corn in the spring. Each division was thus handled in succession -corn, wheat, clover, one crop of each.
What is the result? Clover, instead of being counted on as one of the most uncertain crops, is now counted on with as much certainty as the others. The amount of live stock kept on the farm has been largely increased, yet we have not been able to keep all the stock necessary to eat the feed produced, and for several years we have found it necessary to dispose of considerable quantity of clover hay every spring, which our neighbors seem glad to get at good prices. A look into our mows would satisfy you that we do grow clover.
But, some of you may say, what was there in all this to make clover grow better than it did before? First, clover stands the drought and freezing better when grown on the firm soil of the wheat field. It also gets the benefit of the fertilizer put in with the wheat. Second, the clover was sown early, in February or March, so that the freezing and thawing bedded the seed firmly in the soil and gave it an early start. We were careful about drainage. Our land was back-furrowed in strips about two and a half rods wide and the dead furrows kept open. After drilling the wheat, the dead furrows were run out with a light plow and finished with a hoe if necessary. Lastly, we had adopted a rotation and stuck to it. Many of our first crops were very thin, but we did not get discouraged and stop.
What of the other crops? A steady and very gratifying increase. A look into our corn cribs, and wheat bins, or a comparison of our crops with those of our neighbors, or with the yield when we first began our rotation, would give abundant proof that our ground is increasing in fertility, although our crops are far from perfect, or what we yet expect them to be.
Why not try the same plan on your own land ? Few, if any, have a more unpromising prospect than I had. You will succeed if you will stick to it. If your farm' is small, or you are afraid to venture, try it on a smaller scale. If you can set aside only fifteen acres, you can have five acres of corn, five acres of wheat, and five acres of clover each year. If you can put 30 acres into the rotation so much the better; this will give you ten acres of each crop each year and your land will grow better. You will have some failures, but with
perseverance you will find that you can grow clover with profit, and at the same time increase the productiveness of your farm.
How does the growing of clover improve land?- First, in common with all grasses by improving the mechanical conditon of the soil, making it more easily worked, enabling it to hold and retain more moisture for the growing plant, and by the growth and decay of rootlets adding the much needed humus to the soil. The roots of clover also penetrate deeper than most grasses, bringing up fertility from lower depths. But the chief advantage is in the ability of clover to draw nitrogen from the atmosphere and fix it in the soil as available plant food. It is becoming generally known among farmers that plants cannot grow, unless the plant food, or the material out of which plants are made is in the soil, and in a shape to be available. When you buy commercial fertilizer it is to add to the soil either nitrogen, phosphoric acid or potash for the use of the plant and without which the process of growth cannot go on. You generally buy nitrogen under the name of ammonia as that is a compound containing nitrogen. It is the most expensive ingredient of fertilizers, and is generally deficient in all worn soils, but there are inexhaustible supplies of it in the air which we breathe. Clover has the power to draw this nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil in a form available as plant food. Only clovers and the plants of the class to which they belong have this power. It is an interesting discovery of the last few years, that they do this by the help of certain bacteria, or minute parasites, which live within the plants, and whose nests or breeding places are on the roots forming small tubercles or enlargements. If these bacteria are absent or deficient, but little, if any, nitrogen will be added by growing clover. Just now the United States Department of Agriculture is conducting some interesting experiments in inoculating soils with this nitrogen-gathering bacteria. Any of you who wish to test it may do so by making proper application to the Department.
What substitutes are there for clover? As I have before stated, all that class of plants to which clover belongs-called legumes-clover, alfalfa, beans, peas, and vetches—have the power of gathering nitrogen from the air. Owing to the difficulty so often experienced in growing clover, of late years, the growing of these substitutes has been very much advocated, but I have yet to find any upland farmer who has made any very decided success with either. Alfalfa is not adapted to all kinds of soils, it is a perennial and cannot be used in any ordinary rotation. Great hopes have been raised in regard to soy beans and cow peas, yet in this latitude they have not yielded satisfactory returns. The principal difficulties I have found are, that they require cultivation to keep them free from weeds and to promote growth. The ground has to be broken, the same as for other crops and a whole year lost in growing them. They are also difficult to harvest. Then, the roots do not penetrate and fill the ground as do the roots of clover.
With clover grown in the rotation I have described there is no extra breaking of the ground, no cultivation, or loss of time, no extra work, only sowing the seed, cutting and harvesting with ordinary harvesting machinery, and the results to the soil are more satisfactory. If you can grow clover, you certainly cannot afford to spend a whole year's time and much hard labor also, in growing cow peas or soy beans.
ALFALFA A BOON TO THE FARMERS.
BY WILL. H. PALMER, THURSTON, OHIO.
[Read at the Independent Farmers' Institute held at Jersey, Licking County,
January 12 and 13, 1905.]
Although we may as yet consider alfalfa in the experimental stage in Ohio, it is one of the oldest of our forage plants. It is a native of the central districts of western Asia, having been found in an apparently wild state in the region to the south of the Caucasus and in several parts of Beluchistan and Afghanistan. In 470 B. C. it was introduced into Greece and it was in especial favor in that region as a forage plant in the first and second centuries and has been maintained in Italy down to the present time. From Italy it was introduced into France and Spain and at the time of the Spanish invasion was brought to Mexico. From Mexico it was introduced into South America and in 1854 it found its way into California from Chili. From here it has spread slowly eastward until at present it has been grown with more or less success in every state and territory from Maine to Washington and from Florida to California. The first introduction into the United States was in 1820 in New York, but the dissemination from this source has been practically insignificant.
Alfalfa, or lucern, is a perennial legume growing from one to three feet high. Its leaves are in three parts, each leaflet being broadest above the middle, narrowly oblong in outline and slightly toothed toward the apex. The purple, pea-like flowers instead of being in a head as in red clover are in a loose cluster or raceme. These racemes are scattered all over the plant instead of being borne, as in red clover, on the upper branches. The seed is about onehalf large than red clover seed.
Alfalfa is a very deep feeder. The root system varies greatly, due to the soil in which it grows. Wherever the sub-soil is loose and permeable the tap root descends to great depth (eighteen to twenty feet and even fifty and sixty-six feet having been reported), but in those soils where the subsoil is less permeable it is comparatively shallow rooted. The young plant consists of a number of low branches springing from a simple basal stalk at the crown of the root. These branches ascend directly above ground and form a compact tuft. On the old plant, however, certain of the more robust stems elongate under ground and become new branch-producing stalks. In this way the simple stalk or rhizome, becomes two or many headed. When the stems are cut or grazed off the stalk dies down to the base and new buds spring up on the upper part or crown of the root and grow, forming new stems. If alfalfa is closely grazed and if every young stem is eaten off as rapidly as it appears the vitality of the roots will be impaired and the plant may die, because the growth comes directly from the root itself and not from the base of the old stem.
Alfalfa starts early in the spring and continues to grow until quite late in the fall. It grows very rapidly and once being established thrives for several years. Once established it should not be plowed up for at least six or eight years as it yields better the second year than the first, better the third than the second and so on until it is from six to ten years old. Report has it that alfalfa has been grown in some of the western states continuously in one field for from twenty to forty years, yielding good crops each year.
What are the conditions for the best growth and development of this plant? It grows best in light and sandy rich loam underlaid by a loose and permeable subsoil. The best conditions seem to be attained in the arid regions of the west where there is a light rainfall and the supply of water can be artificially controlled. Good drainage is one of the prime essentials to successful growing of alfalfa as the plants are quickly killed by an excess of water in or on the soil; especially is this true if it occurs in the winter time. Water must not be allowed to stand on a field of alfalfa more than twenty-four to forty-eight hours at a time as it will cause the plants to die and the roots to decay. The water table should not be too near the surface of the ground so as to interfere with the development of the root system, neither should it be too far below.
Alfalfa thrives in a variety of soils, but in this section it reaches its greatest perfection on the deep alluvial loams of the river and creek valleys where it usually finds the light warm soils in which it seems to delight. While it roots deeply it is not essential that the soil be of very great depth providing it contains plenty of plant food to maintain the young plant until it has become firmly established. The subsoil must be permeable and comparatively deep and moist. Mr. Wing, in a recent issue of the National Stockman and Farmer, says: “For alfalfa a clay soil, rather heavy, with a coating or two of barnyard manure will give splendid results if allowed to stand until the plants have become well rooted, say four years." A Kansas farmer having two hundred and eighty acres in alfalfa says: “It will grow on the poorest clay soil if the land is given a good coating of barnyard manure.”
From these remarks it would seem that all that is necessary for growing a good crop of alfalfa is a liberal application of barnyard manure. If this were all, those who desire to grow this valuable plant would find it very easy, but there are several other factors that must be taken into account. One of these, acidity of the soil, is responsible for the greater number of the failures. Alfalfa like the other legumes will not grow in an acid soil. The acidity in the soil can be easily overcome by the liberal application of rock lime or, better, ground limestone which being alkali neutralizes the acid. For the best development of the plant the soil must not only be free from acid, but there must be present in the soil certain micro-organisms. These bacteria have the power to gather the free nitrogen from the air and are known as nitrifying bacteria. They are very essential to the growth of the plant and unless present in the soil should be supplied, as the plant will not thrive long without them unless the soil is exceptionally fertile. Without these bacteria the plant is as dependent upon the nitrogen in the soil as any other of our forage plants. How to supply these bacteria has been the question. In sections where the common sweet clover grows and thrives successfully there is no need of soil inoculation as the bacteria found on the roots of this plant have been proven to be identical with those on alfalfa roots. Although there may be a sufficient number of these bacteria upon the seed to effectively inoculate the soil and although we may supply the inoculation by the direct application of infected soil, the cheapest and most efficient agency is supplied by the government. At a cost of not to exceed four cents one may receive from the department at Washington a small cake containing millions of these bacteria. With each consignment full and explicit directions are given for the proper preparation of, and the best method of applying them to the soil.
In preparing to sow the farmer should not hesitate in thoroughly preparing the ground. He should plow the ground deep and save neither time nor money to get it in the very best condition possible. The first cost may
seem very great, but when we stop to consider that we are planting something that remains for several years it seems not so much.
In this section of the United States alfalfa should be sown in the spring after all danger from frost has passed, say from the first of April to the fifteenth of May or even later. It is recommended to sow from fifteen to twenty or twenty-five pounds per acre. If it is for permanent pasture sow more than for meadow as the plants should be sufficiently close together so that the stems will be small and not woody. The most even stand is secured by sowing broadcast, covering the seed lightly with a light harrow or brush or, better, by the use of the roller. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that on light sandy loams alfalfa be sown without a nurse crop while on clayey, cloddy soils a light crop of oats or barley is desirable. The latter is considered best as it is not quite as leafy and can be allowed to mature. One of the greatest enemies to the young alfalfa plant is the weeds which may come up in such numbers as to choke out the plant and it is for the purpose of keeping the weeds down that a nurse crop is used. If, therefore, we should allow the nurse crop to remain too long we have defeated its purpose and it in turn may be worse than the weeds which might have come up. If a nurse crop is used it should be cut early enough so as not to interfere with the growth of the young alfalfa plant. The alfalfa is sometimes cut for hay the first season, but its fitness depends greatly upon the rapidity of the growth during the first part of the season. It is essential that if weeds be present the field be mown frequently and raked off in order that the weeds may not get sufficient start to choke out the young plants which have not the power to hustle for themselves in such an unequal race. As a result of this frequent cutting the plant will develop a good root system and be better fitted for good growth the next year. The field should not be clipped too closely late in the fall as the plant will withstand the rigors of the winter better when of some size.
In regions where alfalfa will grow there is no better plant for hay. It yields more than any other of our crops, permitting of two, three and even four cuttings, each yielding from four to six tons per acre. It should be harvested as soon as the blossoms appear as it is at this stage that the protein content is the highest, the percentage of crude fibre is the lowest in and the quantity of leaves, the most valuable part of the plant, is the greatest. Experience and good judgment are required to make good alfalfa hay as it is very difficult to cure successfully owing to the nature of the plant. The loss of leaves during curing, due to careless handling, sometimes amounts to more than one half the weight of the entire crop. After cutting it should be allowed to lie until well wilted when it should be raked up and placed into cocks where the principal part of the curing is done. The cocks should not be so large as to interfere with the free circulation of the air which should be permitted to get to all parts. When properly cured it does not must or mold in the mow or rick. The making of alfalfa hay is an art which must be learned by practice rather than by following directions. Much depends upon the weather as to the time required for curing. The value of the hay depends upon its being cured when in the fullest leaf. The hay is easily injured by moisture as a rain on it when in swath or cock often depreciates the value one-half.
Only passing mention need be made as to the cutting for seed as the production of seed will never play an important part in the industry of Ohio. When desiring to cut for seed the second cutting should be used as it ripens more uninformly and the yield is greater. Alfalfa yields from five to ten bushels per acre and good cleaned seed will bring on the market from three dollars to nine dollars and sixty cents per bushel.