Domestic Encyclopædia (1802)/Arable Lands

ARABLE LANDS, in general, are those naturally fit for tillage, or which may, by proper means, be prepared for the production of grain.

The just proportion between arable and pasture lands, has in this country, of late years, been much exceeded in favour of the latter. It is asserted by competent judges, that though the prevailing rage for breeding cattle of the finest quality, and to the greatest extent, has doubtless benefited the grazier, and the lord of the manor, yet this practice must certainly be attended with disadvantages to the community at large. We cannot, in this place, enter into a minute discussion of this important subject; but it clearly appears, from the present prices of corn, when compared with those of animal food, that they bear no just proportion to each other.

With respect to the general methods of improving arable land, we are induced to avail ourselves of the excellent remarks of M. Duhamel, who maintains that it is much more profitable to increase the fertility of land by tillage, than manure: 1. Because only a certain quantity of dung can be had; the produce of twenty acres being scarcely sufficient to dung one; whereas the particles of the earth may be pulverized and divided at pleasure: 2. Plants reared in dung, do not possess the fine flavour of those produced by a natural soil: 3. The plough not only separates the particles in a manner exactly similar to the fermentation occasioned by dung, but also changes their situation, by turning up the earth, and thus exposing the whole, at different times, to the influence of the sun, air, and dews; all which greatly conduce to render it fertile: 4. Dung breeds and harbours insects, which afterwards feed upon and spoil the plants. To remedy this inconvenience, he recommends the following expedient: "Let a reservoir of quick-lime be kept in a very dry place. When you begin to make your dunghill, sprinkle each layer of dung with quick-lime, till the whole is finished. This lime kills most insects, perhaps enriches the manure, and renders it more serviceable. It will likewise destroy the seeds of weeds, which are generally in dung, and hurt the wheat when they shoot up."

Various methods of improving poor arable land, have been suggested by different writers. But as we consider old Duhamel's plan of ploughing, and then pulverizing the soil properly by the harrow, the most effectual, where sufficient manure cannot be procured, we shall only relate two suggestions which deserve notice, chiefly on account of their originality. John Mordant, in his "Complete Steward," published in 1761, advises a method of improving poor, worn-out land, as he terms it; which, not being an expensive one, may well deserve a trial: "A pound of turnip-seed sown, after harvest, upon an acre of light, sandy, or gravelly land, that is poor or worn out by over-ploughing, and where manure is wanting (the crop of which being ploughed in, when grown high), will, in two months' time, die away and rot, and enrich the land, so as to prove as good a manuring as twenty loads of dung, or more, upon an acre."—P. 457.

Another, and equally eccentric, manner of recruiting worn-out land, is that proposed by Mr. Randall, in his "Semi-Virgilian Husbandry," which appeared in 1764. We likewise communicate it in the author's own words: "The loam, immediately after harvest, is to be turned up; and as we shall suppose it will allow the ploughman to go very deep, this is a point to be obtained at any rate, for a worn-out soil. In order to effect this, one plough is to go the usual depth, another plough to follow at the same depth, and in the same furrow, which will throw the mould over it, and bury the stubble. In this case, the field will lie under the advantage of being turned upside-down, as if it were double spitted, more than a foot deep, and the stubble will be sooner rotted. When this is done, the harrows must make the ground as fine as the bad condition of it, or the season, will permit."—P. 12.

We shall conclude this article with an useful hint, given by Mr. R. Price, of Knelworth, Herts, to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce; respecting the damage done to arable land, by carrying off the small stones and flints from the surface, for the purpose of making turnpike-roads. This practice is highly detrimental to almost every kind of ploughed land, but particularly to what are called thin-stapled, or light soils. Mr. Price justly observes, that "stones are of surprizing and manifold uses: for instance, they greatly assist the plough in working the land; they also prevent land of a binding quality from running together, and hardening, like mortar in a wall; they screen the tender blade from blasts and blights; they not only prevent the crop, where the staple is thin, from being scorched up in summer, but also the exudations of the earth from evaporating; and by that means greatly promote vegetation."

It is almost superfluous to add, that this reasoning is equally applicable to fields and gardens.—See also the articles Husbandry, Lands, Soil, and Tillage.