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The soil of the openings covered with scattered trees of the forest, and these mostly oak, though not as good as that of the prairies, will yet yield as fine a crop without any manure, as can be obtained in the Eastern States with the aid of manure.
But it should be added that the character of the soil differs in the different sections of the State. The substratum is clay, (this is iorariably the case in Central Illinois), which precludes the idea that the fertility of the soil ever could be lost. By injudicious tillage the lands may, after years, tire, but can never be worn out. large water-courses, and in the extreme north and south, the soil is sandy, and the substratum sand and gravel, with some clay. In Central Illinois the soil is without sand; on the undulating, or rolling prairies, the soil is of a mulatto, or yellow cast; on the level lands it is black; but no difference can be discovered in the fertility of these two-thirds of soil, both producing equally well all kinds of grain and grasses. The depth of the black soil is from twenty to thirty inches; the yellow from fifteen to twenty-four inches. It is the prevailing opinion that the level or table-lands stand a drought better than the rolling. The soil in Central Illinois partakes largely of limestone, without the appearance of the stone itself, therefore rendering it the more valuable, and easy of cultivation, and causing it to stand a long and continued drought, with less injury to growing crops than those portions of the country where rock is interspersed through the cultivated lands.
BREAKING THE SOIL. It is difficult to place a man in any situation where he feels more like an honest conqueror than he does when turning over the verdant turf of the prairies. His plough must have a keen edge, and cut from twenty-two to thirty-six inches wide. A thin sod of two or three inches thick is cut smooth and turned completely upside down. The bottom of the furrow and top of the reversed sod are as smooth as if sliced with a keen knife. Every green thing is turned out of sight, and nothing is visible but the fresh soil. When the prairie is broken, and the sod has time to decompose, the land is thoroughly subdued, and in a good condition for any crop-not a stump or a stone in the way, over a whole quarter section ; free from weeds, rich, fresh, and mellow; it is the fault of the farmer if it is not kept so.
Some farmers are accustomed to cross-plough the land, about two months after it has been broken, but others say cross-ploughing is not necessary; however, it will do no harm to the land if cross-ploughed, but increase its fertility.
The cost of breaking prairie is from two to threé dollars per acre; and it is principally done by men who keep teams for the purpose, and do their work by the job. A three-horse team will break two acres per day, and a heavy ox-team with a 36 inch plough, will break three acres per day.
The breaking of prairie is done in the different sections of the country at different times; say from the 1st of May till the 20th of July, monthly from the 10th of May till the 20th of June.
After the farmer has broken his land, his next care must be to enclose it with a fence in order to secure his crops against the cattle. You may
find in Illinois all sorts of fences, from the clumsy zig-zag fence, to the hardly visible, cheap, and wood-saving wire fence; that fence, however, which is the most conformable to the purpose, the cheapest, and at the same time the most embellishing, is the living, to wit: the Maclura hedge, which, with every new year, may be seen planted and growing more and more.
Referring to the special chapter, wherein the culture of the Maclura hedge is more particularly described, we shall here call the attention of our readers to the fact, that every farmer commencing his business here, should at once proceed to plant this hedge, which affords most ample security against all kinds of animals, provided his means permit him to do so. Although it is true, that such a hedge will first afford security four years after its being finished, so that during that time another fence must be erected outside of the Maclura hedge, the money expended on it is not lost, but amply compensated for, since the live hedge affording perfect protection at the end of this time, the other fence may either be sold, or its wood used for some other purpose.
The two best kinds of wood fences are the zig-zag, and the board fence. He who is about erecting the first, and owns no wooded tract of land, should purchase a couple of acres, and have the rails split under his immediate supervision. The hewing and splitting is usually paid for at the rate of one dollar for every bundred, the wood costing about as much, so that the expenses of fencing must be computed not higher than three dollars for every hundred rails. To diminish the cost, it would be advisable for friends to purchase contiguous lots, so that for the tracts owned by them, only one external fence would be required at first. Twenty acres will require 4704; forty acres, 6720; one hundred and sixty acres, 13,440; and a full section, or six hundred and forty acres, 28,880 cross-beams.
In building board fences, iron posts and pine boards are made use of, and constructed in such a manner that two posts and three boards constitute a panel. The cost would be for boards and hauling $1 15 per rod; the boards for 320 rods of fencing, the amount for 40 acres, would cost $368. About 700 posts, at eleven cents each, would cost $77; for putting up the fence the cost would be-for digging post holes and setting posts, $28; for nails, $19; for nailing, $14; making the whole cost of fencing 40 acres, $506. For enclosing 640 acres in one field, the cost is four times as much, viz., $2,024.
DIVISION OF FARMS, ROTATION OF CROPS, AND MANURING. The division of a farm after the various species of corn and other products, of course depends on the northern or southern exposure of the farm. We may, however, regard it as a division conformable to the purpose, if one-half of the entire tract of land destined for the culture of grains and vegetables is planted with Indian corn, while threefourths of the residue are sown equally with wheat and oats. The culture of barley, rye, and potatoes, depends upon the character of the respective farms, and their comparative distance from the markets.
Heretofore but little has been said concerning the rotation of crops in Illinois; the exuberant soil yields whatever is required from it, and most farmers deeming it unnecessary to pay any regard to the land, are under the impression of best guarding their interests by exclusively cultivating that which commands the highest price at the time. While one cultivates Indian corn and wheat for a succession of ten or fifteen years, or more, another will plant Indian corn for a few years, next oats, and then wheat in the stubble of the oats, repeating this for several times, after which he plants again Indian corn. A third
will first plant Indian corn for a couple of years, then winter-barley, after which oats. Thus, without caring much about a fixed order of crops, a majority of the farmers will husband and grow rich within a short time, without considering, however, that a proper succession of crops would considerably increase and enhance their wealth.
Little as on most farms a fixed succession of crops, that would necessitate a division of the entire farming lands into certain fields, is observed, a manuring of the soil is never thought of. It is true, as we have already mentioned, that the rich soil of Illinois produces without any manure at all; yet how much larger would its produce be, were that which by annual cultivation is withdrawn from the soil, restored to it by manuring the same.
The average produce of an acre of Indian corn has been stated by us at 56 bushels; we now cite an instance to show how enormously this amount may be swelled by cultivation and by manure.
Two years ago, three men in Ogle County vied with each other to see who would raise the best acre of corn, and obtain the premium to be awarded at the County Fair. Each manured his land slightly, and cultivated it well with the boe; and the result was that they obtained respectively 127, 131, and 134 bushels from the acre.
But if such results can be attained, would it not amply compensate a farmer for his trouble in directing his undivided attention to this subject, the more since, by being manured, the land would not become exhausted, but on the contrary be rendered more valuable and productive ?
We cannot abstain from quoting, what in regard of the succession of crops, and general cultivation of farms, is said in his letter to Browman Murray, by Mr. Jas. N. Brown, of Island Grove, the former President of the Illinois State Agricultural Society; in which letter, after stating the productiveness of an acre at from 20 to 25 bushels of wheat, 60 to 80 of oats, and 40 to 50 of Indian corn, he proceeds as follows:
“Such poor results should not be, except from an imperfect system of tillage. When the farmer breaks his land from three to four or five inches deep, the plough cutting ten or twelve inches, and covering five or six more, (thus leaving one-third of the ground untouched), covers the corn with a horse, ploughs the crop three times, and twice out of the three times ploughs with two furrows in the row, and this completes the tillage: it is surprising that he raises any crop at all. And yet the fertility of our soil is such that it yields abundance to such poor cultivation as this, whilst in other parts of our country such results are not obtained except by judicious culture and rotation of crops. Such culture and rotation I warmly recommend. After turning over the prairie sod, cultivate three or four years in corn, then oats or rye, which should be pastured and turned under, then corn again; and then clover and timothy for four or five years. Be careful not to burn any manure that may be on the land, such as corn stalks for stubble, as is the custom of many of our best farmers, who seem to forget that it is as important to feed their land as to feed their stock, and that no labor pays so great a return as the labor expended in manuring their lands intended for the plow. Haul your manure, and feed stock on lands intended for corn, during the autumn and winter; being careful to keep the stock from stubble land, when soft and rainy; the treading of sod in soft weather in winter will not injure the land intended for corn or grass the next year. Our yield by adopting this or a similar system, (with four workings, the first with a two-horse harrow, and thinning and suckering the corn when about knee high), would be from eighty to one hundred bushels per acre.
“In confirmation the foregoing views I give the following experiment:Last April I broke thirty-five acres of old pasture land; the first portion has been in grass eighteen years, the second portion fourteen, the third part ten or twelve years. The portion that had been in grass eighteen years I partially manured with dung from the horse and cow yards, and turned under immediately after spreading it. The whole field was prepared in the same manner with the exception of the manure. It was all planted the same week in May, and received the same tillage, to wit: one harrowing and three ploughings, with suckering and thinning out to three and four stalks in a hill. The distance of the rows apart was four feet by three, and the yield was as follows: _That portion that had been in grass eighteen years, and was partially manured, contained nine and a half acres, yielded a hundred bushels to the acre; the second piece, fourteen years in grass, and manured six or seven years since, produced one hundred and twenty-three bushels per acre-number of acres, five and two-thirds; the third lot, ten years in grass, twenty acres, yielded eighty bushels per acre. It will be seen from the above experiment, that by an imperfect system of rotation in crops, and rather poor farming; I have increased my yield of corn over the common yield of our virgin soil, from twenty to one hundred per cent. My land, after nineteen years' cultivation, affords a larger yield of corn and grass than it did when fresh, and is consequently more valuable.”
From the preceding it will appear, that by manuring, a proper cultivation, and succession of crops, a much higher product will be attained, than the soil by itself is able to bring forth. On the other hand we shall not omit to point out the fact, that the very largely prevalent opinion that the soil of Illinois is totally inexhaustible, and of indestructible fertility, rests on a slight error. Even the deepest well can at last be emptied, and the most fertile soil, whose productive powers are used without being restored again, must, at last, either