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Twelve years after the landing of the Pilgrims, the farmers about Boston had no plows. The first ones used by French settlers in Illinois were of wood with a small point of iron tied on with straps of rawhide. The oxen were yoked to them by the horns. This method of hitching was rivaled only in Saxony and Ireland, where the horses were fastened to the plow with their tails. An attempt was made to abolish this practice in Ireland by act of Parliament in 1634. Arthur Young (1741-1820) mentioned it in his time, however, and Gibbons maintained that it was still to be found in remote parts of Ireland as late as 1896.
In England, from one to eight oxen were used in the eleventh century, while four horses or oxen were usual in the seventeenth century. The first plow in California (about 1835) was a crooked branch with an iron toe. On the whole, the American form before 1767 was practically the same as that used by the Romans before the Christian era, and this type was still found in Europe in 1867. It was the only agricultural implement of France in the eleventh century, and of Sicily in 1863. In southern Greece many plows similar to those of the age of Pericles (450 B. C.) are still being used. Many of those in Russia are equally primitive, while the Spanish, South French and Italian forms resemble the Roman type.
There was little improvement in the plow during the middle ages, perhaps largely on account of legislative restraint. Many popular prejudices also existed. In England, for example, after the farmers hrd experimented with iron plows of good construction, they concluded that the iron made the weeds grow; and in America iron plows were supposed to poison the soil and to prevent the growth of crops. It was not until the end of the seventeenth century that plows began to be improved. The moldboard was then made of iron and steel and given its proper form. While the plow was always essentially a wedgeshaped instrument forced through the soil to loosen it, these improvements perfected it so that the draft was reduced by one-third and the implement was also much more complete in its operation on the topsoil, which it gradually loosened, raised and completely turned over to one side. Coulters were known in England at least as early as the eleventh century. Fitzherbert writes of different kinds of plows for different soils in 3534. The date of the first English patent on this implement is 1720. The cast iron plow was first patented in the United States in 1797. A patent on an adjustable cast iron point in 1818 marks the introduction of the most useful economy in plow manufacture, the interchangeability of parts.
Modern Plows are practically the same in principle as those described above. The only improvements which have been made are in minor details. The draft and friction have been reduced to a minimum, and forms have been invented which are best suited for different types of soil and for the application of different kinds of motor power. The common hand plow is undoubtedly most widely used, and the small farm rarely ever has any other. It is drawn by two horses. Another widely used form is the sulky plow, having two wheels to carry the beams, and a seat for the driver. Two or three horses are required. The acreage covered depends on the condition of the soil, and varies from one to two acres per day. These are the common forms used by all the large wheat raising countries. Another common type used on large farms is the gang plow, drawn by horses or steam. This is merely a number of common plows combined in one frame. A usual plow in the Red river valley is a gang cutting 16 inches in two furrows, drawn by five horses and turning 250 acres in from four to six weeks. Steam is not used, as mud was found to cut out the plow bearings when it was wet, and the expense of keeping horses is necessitated by other farming operations. In some parts of California, plows are set in gangs of as many as 14. They are drawn by eight mules, and plow three inches deep at the rate of 10 or 15 acres per day. A traction engine with large gangs of plows or discs is often used on the larger farms, accomplishing an enormous amount of work in a little time.
Special forms of plows adapted to the use of a stationary engine have been evolved in Europe. The Fowler plow is perhaps the best known and most effective of these. It consists practically of eight turnover plows yoked together, and is capable of plowing 40 acres of land a day and accommodating itself to the mcst uneven ground. The electric plow of Austria is also worthy of mention.
Time of Plowing.—In general, it may be said that in the spring wheat area of the United States, fall plowing slightly
increases the yield, is most destructive to weeds and insects, and is the most economical in farm management. For winter wheat, the ground is plowed as soon after harvest as is practicable. This destroys the weeds before they ripen their seed and gives time for a compact seedbed. The pulverized surface soil more readily retains and absorbs moisture, upon which, in the absence of vegetation, no demands are made by growth. The depth of plowing should vary with the climate and with the nature of the soil and the subsoil. The limits of the variations usually found advantageous are between four and eight inches in depth.
Subsoiling.—As the common plow is in effect a wedge passing through the soil on a horizontal plane, the uppermost layer of the subsoil is compacted at each plowing. This renders the subsoil more impervious to water and roots. Subsoiling consists in breaking up the subsoil, and does not necessarily involve changing the relative positions of subsoil and topsoil. Judged by experiment station results, it does not seem to be an economical operation.
The Seed Bed.—Soil, on account of its fine texture or wet condition, may be lumpy after plowing. The spaces in it are then very irregular in size, and the soil is in a poor condition to draw up water from below, or to furnish uniform germinating conditions for the seed. In such cases it is customary and advisable to work the soil with a harrow, roll, or other implement until the larger lumps are broken and the surface becomes smooth and even. The seed bed is then ready for the sowing. Thorough preparation conserves the moisture, diminishes winterkilling, and increases the yield. In both the spring and winter wheat districts of the Mississippi valley, it is a general practice to sow without plowing on land that has produced corn the preceding year. In the case of winter wheat, the grain may simply be drilled between the rows of corn, with a five-hoe drill, or the seedbed may first be prepared with a disc or tooth harrow. Corn ground for spring wheat also is often prepared by using an implement of the disc harrow type.
Sowing.—There are three methods of sowing wheat: Broadcasting, which scatters the seed evenly over the ground; drilling, which places it in rows; and dibbling, in which a certain number of grains are dropped in each hill by means of a dibbling iron. Diverse means have been employed in each method. Dibbling, once quite extensively practiced in England, is never found now, unless it is with the experimenter. Nature's method, broadcasting, was also the first method of artificial seeding. The seed was simply scattered by hand. Of the three ways, drilling is now recognized as the most advantageous. The conclusion from station experiments is that the increase in yield will amply pay for any extra cost involved in drilling.1 Less seed is required, for the wheat is more uniformly distributed and covered. If it is sown at an even depth in moist soil, quick germination results. This places weeds at a disadvantage, especially in spring wheat. Drilling also decreases the danger from drought, winterkilling, and the blowing of soil by the winds. The snow lodged in the furrows left by the drill affords protection and moisture.
Seeders.—After hand sowing came the seeder, which accomplished the same results mechanically. Such machines are by no means modern, though in England and Germany they can be traced only to the beginning of the seventeenth century. The ancient Chinese, Persians, Hindoos and Romans used them, as well as the drill, which was doubtless the next seeding machine to be invented. Ardrey maintains that the first historical knowledge of a seeder pertains to an Assyrian drill used many centuries before Christ. The Egyptians of 3000 B. C. sowed by hand, the method still widely followed all over the world where the farms are very small, or where the standard of farming is not high, as, for example, among the lower classes of Russian peasantry. In early England the wheat was sown into the plow furrow, often by a mere child, who carried a bag or wooden hopper (known as a seedlip or seedcod) full of grain in front of the horses or oxen drawing the plow. The same practice prevails in east central India, a woman taking the place of the child. By another method in India, the seed is thrown through a tube attached to the plow handles.
Jethro Tull introduced the drill in England in 1730. His first machine sowed three rows of wheat at a time. In 1851 1 Hunt. Cereals in Amer (1904). p. 84.