One Thousand Questions in California Agriculture Answered
Part 5 out of 9
of gypsum at this time of the year would not be necessary. It may be
desirable to top-dress with gypsum near the end of the rainy season to
stimulate the growth of the plant. Gypsum, however, has no effect upon
white alkali. So far as alkali goes, gypsum merely changes black alkali
into white, thus making it less corrosive.
There would be no objection to pasturing lightly this fall. Be careful,
however, to keep off the stock while the land is wet and not to
overstock so as to injure root crowns by tramping. The manure can be
used as a top dressing during the rainy season, unless you think it
better to save it for the growth of other crops. Alfalfa is so deep
rooting where conditions are favorable that it does not require
fertilization usually on land which has been used for a long time for
grain or other shallow-rooting plants.
Alfalfa Sowing with Gypsum.
I intend sowing alfalfa this fall on land that has some very compact
hard spots. I aim to doctor these spots with gypsum at the rate of about
1000 pounds per acre and cultivate the gypsum in thoroughly two or three
weeks before sowing the alfalfa seed. Would this be all right? Is there
danger of injury to seed by coming in contact with gypsum?
Gypsum will not hurt the alfalfa seed. It is not corrosive like an
alkali. Whether it will have time enough to ameliorate the soil in the
spots in the period you mention depends upon there being moisture enough
present at the time.
Red Clover for Shallow Land.
What can you say of red clover on shallow soils in the Sacramento valley
under irrigation? How many crops, etc.?
Red clover is fine under the conditions you describe. We could never
understand why people do not grow more of it on shallow land over
hardpan which is free from alkali and not irrigated too much at a time.
It is good on shallow land over water, where alfalfa roots decay, etc.
Though we have no exact figures, we should expect to get about
two-thirds as much weight from it as from an equally good stand of
Clovers for High Ground-Water.
Where, in California, is alfalfa being raised successfully above a
water-table of, say, 4 feet or less, and are any unusual means used to
Over a high water-table, the alfalfa plant will be shorter lived
according to the shallowness of soil above water. One could get very
good results at from 4 to 6 feet, whereas at 2 or 3 feet the stand of
alfalfa would soon become scant through decay of its fleshy root. Where
the water comes very near the surface, a more shallow and fibrous
rooting plant, like the Eastern red clover, should be substituted for
alfalfa in California. It is a very vigorous grower and will yield a
number of crops in succession although the water might be very near the
surface, as in the case of the reclaimed islands in the Stockton and
Sacramento regions and in shallow irrigated soils over bedrock in the
foothills or over hardpan on the valley plains. In this statement,
freedom from alkali is presumed.
Vetches in San joaquin.
In Michigan I was familiar with the use of the sand vetch as a forage
plant, for hay, for green manure, and as a nitrogen producer. In western
Michigan, on the loose sandy soil, I sowed in September or October 20
pounds per acre for a seed crop and 40 pounds per acre for pasture, hay,
or green manure. Can I expect good results in Fresno and Tulare counties
without irrigation? Will fall seeding the same as wheat produce a seed
crop? Will sand vetch grow on soil having one-half of one per cent
Most of the vetches grow well in the California valleys during the rainy
season; the common vetch, Vicia sativa, and the hairy vetch, Vicia
hirsuta, are giving best results. The proper time to plant is at the
beginning of the rainy season. They will stand some alkali, especially
during the rainy season, when it is likely to be distributed by the
downward movement of water, but it is very easy to find land which has
too much alkali for them. These plants seed well in some parts of the
valley, but a local trial must be made to give you definite information.
Growing Vetch for Hay.
How many pounds of vetch seed should be sown to the acre? How many tons
per acre in the crop? As I desire to change my crop, having to some
extent exhausted the soil with oats, how advisable will it be to sow
wheat with the vetch to give it something to climb on? If so, and wheat
is not desirable under the circumstances, what? In using vetch for horse
fodder, how much barley should be fed with it per day for a driving
horse? For a draught horse? Is vetch sown and harvested at about the
same time as other crops?
Except in very frosty places, vetch can be sown after the rain begins at
about 40 to 60 pounds of seed to the acre. The yield will depend upon
the land and on the moisture supply, and cannot be prophesied. One
grower reports three tons of hay per acre near Napa. If the land usually
yields a good hay crop, it should yield a greater weight of vetch. In
mowing for hay purposes it is desirable to raise the vetch off the
ground to facilitate the action of the mower. Oats would be better than
wheat, because rather quicker in winter growth. If the vetch is to be
fed green, rye is a good grain, but not good for hay purposes because of
the hardness of the stem. There is no particular difference in the
plant-food requirements of the different grains, so that there is
nothing gained in that way in the choice of wheat. In feeding a combined
vetch and barley hay, the ration is balanced; the feeding of grain would
not be necessary, except in case of hard work under the same conditions
grain is usually fed to horses and in about the same amounts. Vetch
requires a longer season than ordinary oat or barley hay crop to make a
larger growth, consequently an early sowing is desirable.
Cover Crop in Hop Yard.
Will you please give information concerning cow peas or the most
suitable crop to sow in a hop field for winter growth, to be plowed
under as a fertilizer in the spring? Also, would it injure the vines to
be cut down before they die, so as to sow the mulch crop soon as
possible after the hops are gathered?
Cow peas would not do for the use which you propose, because they would
be speedily killed by frost on low lands, usually chosen for hops, and
would give you no growth during the frosty season. Probably there is
nothing better than burr clover for such a winter growth. Hop vines
should be allowed to grow as long as they maintain the thrifty green
color, because the growth of the leaves strengthens the root. But when
they begin to become weakened and yellow they can be removed without
injury. It is not necessary to wait for them to become fully dead.
What is the best variety of cow peas for a forage crap? I want a variety
which with irrigation will come up after it has been cut, so as to keep
growing and not be like some which I tried last year. They grew up like
ordinary garden peas and were just a waste of ground.
Possibly you did not get cowpeas; they do not look like garden peas at
all: they look more like running beans, which they are. The crop is not
counted satisfactory except on low, moist land, for on uplands, even
with irrigation, it does not seem to behave right. We do not know that a
second growth can be expected, for in the Southern States it is grown as
a single crop, and resowing is done if a succession is desired, the
point being made at the South that the plant is adapted to this method
of culture because it grows so rapidly that it can be twice sown and
harvested during the frost-free period.
Cowpeas in the San Joaquin.
How late in the season will it be profitable to plant cowpeas? What is
the best manner of planting? Are there several varieties? If so, which
one is best adapted to plant after oats? The land can be irrigated until
about August 10. Will it be advisable to plow up a poor stand of alfalfa
about July 1 and plant to cow peas?
You can plant cowpeas all summer on land which is moist enough by
natural moisture or irrigation to promote growth. What you will get by
late planting depends upon moisture and absence of an early fall frost.
If your alfalfa stand is bad enough to need re-sowing anyway, you may
get a good catch crop of cowpeas by doing as you propose. If, however,
you plow under much coarse stuff in putting in the peas the growth may
be irregular. It can, of course, be improved by free irrigation. On
clear land moderately retentive much more is being done in summer growth
of cowpeas without irrigation than expected. There are several good
varieties. One of these is the Whippoorwill. Cowpeas can be sown in
furrows three feet apart and cultivated, using about 40 pounds of seed
to the acre, or they may be broadcasted, which takes about twice as much
Cowpeas and Canadian Peas.
Would Canadian field peas and cow peas be valuable as a forage crop for
cows and hogs; also as fertilizer? Please tell us also when to plant,
how to plant, etc.
These plants are of high forage value as cow feed; also as a soil
restorative when the whole crop is plowed under green or when the roots
and manure from feeding add to the soil. But for either purpose the
result depends upon how much growth you can get, and that should be told
by local trial before any great outlay is undertaken. Canadian peas are
hardy against frost and can be broadcasted and covered with shallow
plowing as soon as the land is moist enough from fall rains - except in
very frosty parts of the State. They can also be sown in drills to
advantage. Cow peas are beans, and cannot be planted until frost danger
is over in the spring. They are only available for summer feeding, and
whether they will be worth while or not depends upon how much moisture
can be held in the soil for summer growth. They should be sown in drills
and cultivation continued for moisture conservation until the plants
cover the ground too much to get the cultivator through.
Canadian or Niles Peas.
I send a sample of peas which I bought for Canada field peas, and they
were so labeled. I would like to know what they are.
The peas are, apparently, one kind of Canada peas. There is some
variation in Canada peas, but these are peas of that class. Some of the
Canada pea are hardly distinguishable from the so-called Niles pea of
California growth, and it does not matter much, anyway, for one is about
as good as the other.
Sunflowers and Soy Beans.
I would like information concerning cultivation, method of feeding and
food value of soy beans. Also sunflowers.
Soy beans are grown like other beans, in rows which, for convenience in
field culture, should be about 2 1/2 feet apart and cultivated up to
blooming time at least. They should be sown after frost danger is over
and the weather is settled warm, for they enjoy heat. For feeding they
can be made into hay before maturity, or the beans can be matured and
prepared for feeding by grinding. As with other beans, small amounts
should be used in connection with other feeds. They are a rich food and
somewhat heavy on the digestion. The same is true of sunflowers, except
that the seed is richer in oil than in protein, as beans are. Sunflowers
in field culture are planted and cultivated like beans. The seed is
flailed out of the heads after they lie for a time to dry.
Please inform me how to plant Jersey or cow kale.
Jersey kale can be planted by thin scattering of seeds in rows 2 1/2
feet apart so as to admit of cultivation, or the plants can be grown
just as cabbage plants are and set out 2 1/2 or 3 feet apart, the
squares to admit of cultivation both ways. The plant needs a good deal
more space than an ordinary cabbage, for it makes a tall free growth,
and space must be had for the growth of the plant and for going into the
patch for stripping off leaves and cultivation. The plant can be started
in the rainy season whenever the land comes into good condition. It is a
winter grower in California valleys.
Rape and Milo.
Would rape be a good pasture crop sown broadcast? If so, at what time
should it be planted? Will Milo maize grow profitable in Sonoma county?
Rape can be sown as soon as the land gets moist enough from early rains
to start the seed and hold the growth. It is a wintergrowing plant in
this State. We believe, however, you will get better results with common
vetch, which is also a winter grower and more nutritious. If you desire
one of the cabbage family, kale will probably serve you better than
rape. Milo is one of the sorghums and will only grow during the
frostless period, like Kafir, Egyptian corn and other sorghums. It will
do well with you, but probably make less growth than in the interior
Sweet Clover Not an Alfalfa.
I send you a sample of alfalfa which grows very vigorous here on my
place spontaneously and would like you to give me all the information
about it you will, as a feed for cows and hogs. The stock seem to eat it
The plant is not alfalfa at all. It is white sweet clover (melilotus
alba), and it is usually considered a great pest in alfalfa fields,
because although it grows vigorously as you describe, it is not
generally accepted by stock, unless once in awhile some one considers it
a good thing, perhaps because he keeps stock hungry enough to enjoy it
in spite of its rank taste and smell, but, usually when they can get
alfalfa they will not pay much attention to this plant. It is good for
bee pasturage, however, and is grown to some extent for that purpose.
You probably had the seed of it in your alfalfa seed. It is a biennial
and not a perennial like alfalfa. It will disappear if you can keep it
from going to seed.
Sweet Clover as a Cover Crop.
How about melilotus as a cover crop? Last year in certain sections it
proved very successful, while in others it did not give satisfaction.
Melilotus, by virtue of its hardiness in growing at low temperatures,
its depth of root penetration, the availability of the seed, the
smallness of the seed so that the weight required for the acre is not
large, is to be favored for a cover crop. The objections are two: The
fact that it does not seem to grow well under some conditions; second,
that when a growth is made it is coarse and rangey, and the amount of
green stuff to the acre is much less than its appearance would indicate.
We know of cases where what seemed to be a good stand of melilotus
yielded only about ten tons of green stuff to the acre, and what
appeared to be a less growth of vetches or peas yielded from fifteen to
twenty tons to the acre. And yet we believe that in some places it will
be found extremely desirable for a cover crop in harmony with what was
reported some time ago as the result of experiments by the Arizona
There seems to be two distinct kinds of cactus: One for forage, the
other for fruit. It is claimed by some people that the spineless cactus
is more valuable as a forage plant than alfalfa. What is your opinion?
There are many varieties of smooth cacti. Some of them bear higher
quality fruit than others, and some are freer growers and bear a greater
amount of leaf substance for forage purposes; therefore, varieties are
being developed which are superior for fruit or for forage, as the case
may be. Spineless cactus is in no way comparable with alfalfa, either in
nutritive content or in value of crop, providing you have land and water
which will produce a good product of alfalfa. Cactus is for lands which
are in an entirely different class and which are not capable of alfalfa
Probably Not Broom-Corn.
I have a side-hill ranch on which I would very much like to raise broom
corn. The soil produces good grapes, fruit, corn, oats, peas, etc., and
I wish to know if there are possibilities of broom-straw.
All the broom-corn which has been successfully produced in California
has been produced on moist, riverside land. The plant is a sorghum -
consequently subject to frost injury, and can only be grown during the
frostless season as Indian corn is. This makes it impossible to get the
advantage of rainfall on winter upland and necessitates the use of
lowlands, which carry moisture enough to secure a free growth of the
brush, for poor broom-corn is worthless practically, being too low
priced to be profitable for brooms and too fibrous to be of value for
feeding purposes. Even in a place where the plant grows well its product
is worthless unless properly treated, and that requires full knowledge
and a good deal of work.
The Outlook for Broom Corn.
Broom corn is way up in price, but that is an indication that everyone
who has ever grown broom corn is likely to plant it this year. What is
the outlook in California?
Nothing but a local experiment will determine whether you can get a
satisfactory brush under the conditions prevailing in your vicinity.
Undoubtedly, the high price of broom corn will stimulate production, but
under quite sharp limitations in California, because a good,
satisfactory brush cannot be grown on dry plains, although a good
product is made in the river bottoms not far away. But there are so few
people in California who understand how to handle broom corn to produce
a good commercial article, and there are such rigid requirements in the
size, quality, etc., that those who break into the business without
proper knowledge cannot command even profitable prices. Therefore, if
your enterprise is conducted with a full knowledge and with proper local
conditions it would not encounter such a local disadvantage in the great
increase of the product as one might think at first.
The various plantings of Egyptian corn on the ranch have turned smutty,
very much after the manner of wheat and barley. Is there any unusual
reason for this, or could irrigation have caused it, and what is the
best method of preventing it?
Sorghum is affected by a smut similar to that of other grains. It is due
to the introduction of the germ of the disease which comes with the use
of smutty seed. Possibly the growth of the smut may have been promoted
by moisture arising from soil rendered very wet by irrigation, and for
this plant free irrigation should not be used, because it will do more
with less water than any other plant we are growing, and is likely to be
more thrifty in a drier atmosphere. Get seed for next year from an
absolutely clean field; get as much growth as you can without
irrigation, and then use water in moderate quantities as may be
necessary, followed by a cultivation for the drying of the surface.
How late can Egyptian corn be planted on good sediment soil capable of
growing 40 to 50 socks of barley per acre in good years with ordinary
rain? The field was cut this year for hay on account of rank growth of
wild oats, after irrigating; land is still moist. Can I put in Egyptian
corn with on assurance of crop, or is it too late? How much seed should
be planted to the acre, also should seed be drilled in or broad-casted?
There is no difficulty in getting a start of Egyptian corn during the
dry season providing the soil contains moisture enough to germinate the
seed. Afterward the growth will be more or less according to the
moisture present and will be available for forage purposes. Whether a
seed crop can be had by late sowing depends upon the frost occurrence in
the particular locality, for it only takes a light frost to destroy the
plant. To get the best results, particularly with late sowing, the seeds
should be drilled in rows far enough apart for horse cultivation; about
forty pounds of seed to the acre. What you get in this way will depend
upon the amount of moisture in the soil and the duration of the
Kaffir and Egyptian Corn.
Does Kaffir corn yield as well here as Egyptian corn? The fodder is good
feed and the heads stand erect and at a more even height from the
ground, which makes three advantages over Egyptian. Irrigation in either
case is the some.
The reasons you mention have no doubt had much to do with the present
popularity of an upright plant like Kafir over a gooseneck like the old
dhoura or Egyptian, which was the type first introduced in California.
For years there has been more gooseneck sorghum in the Sacramento valley
than in any other part of the State. It may have superior local
adaptions or the people may be more conservative. The way to determine
which is better is to try it out, and, unless the Egyptian does better
in grain and forage than the upright growers, take to the grain which
holds its head up.
Sorghums for Seed.
Which sorghum is the most profitable to plant for the seed only White
Egyptian, Brawn Egyptian or Yellow Mila?
Which sorghum is best is apparently a local question and governed by
local conditions to a certain extent. Egyptian corn (with the goose-neck
stem) has held more popularity in your part of the Sacramento than
elsewhere, while Kaffir corn (holding its head upright, as do many other
sorghums) has been for years very popular in the San Joaquin. In the
Imperial valley Dwarf Milo is chiefly grown for a seed crop shattering
and bird invasion are very important. G. W. Dairs of the San Joaquin
valley, says there is a very great difference in the different varieties
regarding waste from the blackbird. The ordinary white Egyptian corn is
very easily shelled, and the birds waste many times more of the grain
than they eat, after it has become thoroughly ripe. The Milo maize, or
red Egyptian corn, does not shell nearly so easily as the white corn,
and the grain is considerably harder and less attractive to the
blackbirds. In fact, blackbirds will not work in a field of this variety
of corn if there is any white corn in the vicinity to be had. The dwarf
Milo maize yields much more crop than the white Egyptian corn, or any
other variety. Blackbirds do not damage the white Kaffir corn to the
extent they do the ordinary white Egyptian corn.
What is the best time to sow Egyptian corn; also how much per acre to
All the sorghums, of which Egyptian corn is one, must be sown after
frost danger is over - the time widely known as suitable for Indian
corn, squashes and other tender plants. Sow thinly in shallow furrows or
"marks," 3 1/2 or 4 feet apart and cultivate as long as you can easily
get through the rows with a horse. About 8 pounds of seed is used per
acre. If grown for green fodder, sow more thickly and make the rows
closer, say 2 1/2 feet apart.
Two or three farmers in this locality desire to plant buckwheat. Not
having done so heretofore they are in doubt as to the soil and other
conditions that go to make a successful crop.
The growing of buckwheat in California is an exceedingly small affair.
The local market is very limited, as most California hot cakes are made
of wheat flour. There is no chance for outward shipment, and the crop
itself, being capable of growing only during the frostless season, has
to be planted on moist lands where there is not only abundant summer
moisture but an air somewhat humid. Irrigated uplands, even in the
frostless season, are hardly suitable for the common buckwheat, although
they may give the growth of Japanese buckwheat for beekeepers who use
dark honey for bee feeding. The Japanese buckwheat is well suited for
this because it keeps blooming and produces a scattered crop of seed,
but this characteristic makes it less suitable for a grain crop, and it
has therefore never become very popular in this State. We consider
buckwheat as not worthy of much consideration by California farmers.
Variation in Russian Sunflowers.
In an acre of mammoth Russian sunflowers there seems to be three
varieties, some of the plants bear but one large flower; others bear a
flower at the top with many other smaller ones circling it, while others
have long stalks just above the leaf stems from the ground level all the
way up to the largest flower, which appears at the very top. Are all
these varieties true mammoth Russian sunflowers? What explanation is
there for these variations? Will the seed from the variety carrying but
one natural head produce seed that will reproduce true to the parent?
Your sunflowers are probably only playing the pranks their grandfathers
enjoyed. If seed is gathered indiscriminately from all the heads which
appear in the crop, succeeding generations will keep reverting until
they return to the wild type, or something near it. If there is a clear
idea of what is the best type (one great head or several heads, placed
in a certain way) and seed is continually taken from such plants only
for planting, more and more plants will be of this kind until the type
becomes fixed and reversions will only rarely appear. No seed should be
kept for planting without selecting it from what you consider the best
type of plant; no field should be grown for commercial seed without
rogue-ing out the plants which show reversions or bad variations. If you
find sunflowers profitable as a crop in your locality, rigid selection
of seed should be practiced by all growers, after careful comparison of
views and a decision as to the best characters to select for.
My attention has been brought to a plant called Sacaline by an Eastern
plant dealer. He states that this plant will grow in any kind of soil
and needs practically no water.
The plant Sacaline (Polygonum saghalience) was introduced to California
as a dry-land forage plant about 1893, and has never demonstrated any
particular forage value. It is a browsing shrub, making woody stem, and
cattle will eat it readily when not provided with better food. It has
possible value on waste land, but probably is in no sense superior to
the native shrubs of California which serve that purpose. It is a
handsome ornamental plant for gardens or parks.
What will destroy patches of moss which are spreading over our lawns and
apparently destroying the grass?
More sunlight would have a tendency to discourage the growth of moss on
a lawn. If this is not feasible, irrigation less frequently but a more
thorough soaking each time will give the surface a better chance to dry
off, and moss will not grow on a dry surface. The frequent spraying of a
lawn with just enough water to keep the surface moist and not enough
water to penetrate deeply will tend to the growing of moss and to less
vigor in the growth of the grass, A good soaking of the soil once a week
is better than daily sprinkling, but, of course, very much more water
must be used when you only sprinkle at long intervals. The drying of the
surface may be assisted by sprinkling with air-slaked lime and this will
discourage the growth of moss, but of course lime must not be used in
excess or it will also injure the grass.
Scattering Grass Seeds.
We live on the west side of Sonoma valley, and want to seed some of our
fields with a good wild grass. We want to carry bags of it in our
pockets to scatter when we ride. Timothy we should like, but this is not
its habitat, is it? Can you suggest a grass or grasses that would do
There are really wild grasses worthy of multiplication, but no one makes
a business of collecting the seed for sale, so that such seeds are not
available for such purpose as you describe. Of the introduced grasses,
those which are most likely to catch from early scattered seed are
Australian and Italian rye grasses, orchard grass, wild oat grass and
red top. You can get seed of all these from dealers in any quantity
which you desire at from 15 to 30 cents a pound, according to the
variety, and make a mixture of equal parts of each grass, which you can
carry and scatter as you propose. Some of them will catch somewhere,
particularly in spots where the shade modifies the summer heat and where
seepage moisture reduces soil drought. You are right about timothy; it
is good farther up the coast and in the mountain valleys, but not in
I have light sandy loam on which I desire to grow forage for chickens.
It lies too high for irrigation.
You could probably grow alfalfa to advantage if the soil still deep and
loose, getting less, of course, than by irrigation, but still an amount
that would be very helpful in your chicken business. Otherwise, as the
land lies higher and perhaps out of sharp frosts, you could grow winter
crops of vetches and peas and thus improve the land while furnishing you
additional poultry pasture. The latter purpose could also be served by
growing beets, cabbage or other hardy vegetables during the rainy
season. This is prescribed because of the apprehension that the soil may
not contain moisture enough for summer cropping without irrigation.
No Grain Elevators in California.
Is California wheat shipped in bulk or in bags at the present time?
There are no elevators in this State, owing to the fact that hitherto
grain cargoes have been acceptable to ship only as sacked grain, because
of claimed danger of shifting cargo and disaster during the long voyage
around the Horn. A novel by Frank Norris, entitled the "Octopus,"
describes a man being killed by smothering in a grain elevator at Port
Costa, but there never was an elevator at that point, and consequently
there never was a man killed by getting under the spout thereof.
Answering specifically your question, California grain is shipped in
bags and not in bulk. It is handled in sacks from the separator to
roadside or riverside storage, to the loading point into the ships and
out of the ships on the other side - still in bags.
New Zealand Flax.
Give information about Phormiun tenax (New Zealand flax), which I see is
imported to San Francisco in large quantities yearly for making cordage
and binder twine, and is said also to be the best of bee pasture. Can I
get the plants on the coast, and is California soil and climate adapted
to the culture?
New Zealand flax grows admirably in the coast region of California. You
will find it in nearly all the public parks and in private gardens, for
it is a very ornamental perennial. Plants can be had in any quantity
from the California nurserymen and florists. It produces plenty of
leaves, but we should doubt whether it is floriferous enough for bee
pasturage except where it occurs wild over a large acreage. You could
get vastly more honey from other plants grown for that purpose.
No Home-made Beet Sugar.
Is there any simple process of making sugar from beets so that I could
make my own sugar at home from my own beets while sugar is so very
expensive to buy?
There is no simple way of making beet sugar. It can only be economically
done in factories costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Don't Get Crazy About Special Crops.
I want information about flax as a crop. I have been having some land
graded for alfalfa and I have had to wait so long I am now doubting the
advisability of seeding it all under these conditions until fall, as hot
weather will soon come. I want some good crop to plant in the checks and
give two good irrigations. What would you think about rye for straw for
horse collars? I do not wish to consider corn, as the stalks would be
troublesome. Potatoes would necessitate disarranging the land too much
and would require more attention than I am in shape to give just flow.
Everybody grows wheat, barley and oats. I want something that I can get
a special market for.
To succeed with flax, the seed ought to be sown in the fall, or early
winter, in California, and the plant will make satisfactory growth under
about the same conditions that suit barley or wheat. Spring sowing would
not give you anything worth while except on moist bottom land. Rye is
also a winter-growing grain. To grow rye straw for horse collars would
be unprofitable unless you could find some local saddler who could use a
little, and it is probable you could not get a summer growth of rye
which would give good straw, even if you had a market for it. You could
get a growth of stock beets, field squashes, or pumpkins for stock
feeding. In fact, the latter would give you most satisfaction if you
have stock to which they can be fed to advantage. Sorghum is our chief
dry-season crop, but that makes stalks like corn and would, therefore,
be open to the same objections. Has it never occurred to you that people
grow the common crops, not because they are stupid, but because those
are the things for which there is a constant demand and the best chance
for profitable sale? Efforts to supply special markets are worth
thinking of, but seldom worth making unless you know just who is going
to buy the product and at what price.
California Insect Powder.
What part of the plant is used in making insect powder and how is it
prepared? Is the plant a perennial? What soil suits it best?
The plant is Pyrethrum cinerariaefolium and has a white blossom
resembling the common marguerite. The powder is made of the petals and
the seed capsules or heads are thoroughly dried in the sun and ground
with a run of stone such as was formerly used for making flour. The
powder must be finely ground, and only good powder can be made in a mill
suitably equipped for that purpose. The plant is a perennial, beginning
to bloom the second year from seed. It will grow in any good soil with
ordinary cultivation. Twenty-five years ago it was thought that a great
California industry might be established on that basis, but there is at
the present time but one establishment, which grows about all the
material it can use on its own ranch in Merced county, on a fine, deep
loam which the plant seems to enjoy.
Rotations for California.
I wish to work out a practical system of crop rotation suitable to the
climate and conditions obtaining in southern California. Would you
recommend different systems for grain lands and irrigated lands?
General schemes of rotation are hard to work out in California. They
must be locally revised according to the local temperature conditions
and the local market also. We should endeavor to find out what has been
successfully grown on similar lands to those which you have in mind and
arrange the rotation on that basis, from what we knew of the relation of
the different plants to soil fertility, etc. You cannot make out a
satisfactory local scheme for the seven counties in southern California,
because of the widely different behavior of the separate plants in the
different parts of the district. You can hardly work on the basis of
soil character: moisture supply and temperatures are more determinative.
Surely you should make a scheme for irrigated land different from that
for dry land, and it could not only be a longer rotation, but many more
plants would be available for its service.
Berseem has been introduced into this country from Egypt, and would like
to know if it has been used in California, and if it has came up to
Berseem is an annual clover supposed to grow only during the summer
time. It has been tried widely in California, but practically abandoned
because it will not grow during the rainy season. It is in no way
comparable to alfalfa, which is a deep rooted perennial plant, nor would
it be comparable with burr clover as a winter grower on lands which have
a moderate amount of water.
Heating and Fermentation.
Please explain why dampness will cause anything like hay, Egyptian corn
or other like products to heat.
Heating is due to fermentation, which means the action upon the
vegetable substance of germs which begin to grow and multiply after
their kind whenever conditions favor them. The earlier stages of this
action is called "sweating," and it is beneficial as in the case of hay,
tobacco, dried fruits, etc., as is commonly recognized - resulting in
what is known as curing - and it is the art of the handler of such
products not to allow the action to go beyond what may be called the
normal "sweating." If not checked by proper handling, which involves
drying, cooling, etc., fermentation will continue, and other germs will
find conditions suitable for them to take up their work of destruction,
and this new action produces higher temperature still, and if not
checked by cooling or drying or otherwise making the substance
inhospitable to them, "heating" will result, and thence onward rapidly
to decay, if they have everything their own way.
What influence, if any, has the moon on plant growth? Are there any
reliable data of experiments available?
Very prolonged investigation by the Weather Bureau determined that no
difference was found in planting in different phases of the moon. If we
paid any attention to it, we should plant in the dark of the moon, so as
to get the plants up so that they could use the little more light which
the moon gives. It is, however, more important to have the soil right
than the moon.
Part IV. Soils, Fertilizers and Irrigation
What is Intensive Cultivation?
From whom can I receive instruction or information regarding intensive
Intensive cultivation has, so far as we know, not been made the subject
of any treatise or publication. Intensive cultivation means the use of a
maximum amount of labor, fertilizers and water for products of high
market value. There is no better example of intensive cultivation in the
world than is afforded by the practice of the best market gardeners and
producers of small fruit. Next to them, on larger areas, would be the
policies and methods of the fruit growers of California. Intensive
culture, then, is not a particular method or system, but consists in
doing the best thing for maximum production of any product which is
valuable enough to spend the large outlay which is required. Just how
this cultivation should be done depends upon the nature of the product
and the conditions of soil and climate in whatever locality intensive
cultivation may be undertaken.
Can a Man Farm?
Is it possible for a man with a few acres well cared for and carefully
tilled to make a living and pay out on a purchase of land at $123 per
acre? Could a good carpenter make wages and take care of a small tract
for a year or so until well under way?
We consider $125 per acre for good land with a good water right a fair
price. Financing a farming operation depends more upon the man than upon
the good land. There are men who would, by intensive cultivation of
salable stuff and right use of water, pay off the full value of the land
from its produce in a couple of years. Others will never pay off. Of
course, the nearer you can come to paying for the land at the beginning,
and the more money you have for improvements, the more satisfactory your
situation should be in every respect. There is a good chance for
carpenter work in colony development, and considerable self-help could
be secured in that way. You do not say whether you know anything about
farming. Farming is a very complicated business and a basic knowledge
derived from experience is a proper foundation to build upon in the
light of the fuller application of scientific principles.
Soil Depth for Citrus Trees.
I have a top soil of rich loam containing small rocks and pebbles.
Underneath it is washed gravel, rocks, boulders, yellow sand, etc. What
is the limit as to thinness before trees will not grow, or thrive?
Orange trees are growing quite successfully on shallow soil overlying
clay where the use of water and fertilizers was carefully adjusted so as
to keep the trees supplied with just the right amount. Under such
conditions a good growth may be expected so long as this treatment is
maintained. There should be, however, not less than three feet of good
soil to make the large expenditure necessary to establish an orange
orchard permanently productive, and all the depth you can get beyond
three feet is desirable. We question the desirability of planting orange
trees even on a good soil overlying gravel, rocks or sand. Roots will
penetrate such material only a short distance usually. It is almost
impossible with such a leachy foundation to keep the surface soil
properly moistened and enriched; You are apt to lose both water and
fertilizer into the too rapid drainage.
Soils and Oranges.
I find this entire district underlaid with hardpan at various depths,
from 1 to 6 feet down, and of various thicknesses. This hardpan is more
or less porous and seeps up water to some extent, but is too hard for
roots to penetrate. It is represented to me that if this hard pan is
down from 4 to 5 feet it does not interfere with the growth of the
orange tree or its producing. Is 4 or 5 feet of the loam enough?
Four or five feet of good soil over a hardpan, which was somewhat
porous, is likely to be satisfactory for orange planting. There has been
trouble from hardpan too near the surface and from the occurrence of a
hardpan too rich in lime, which has resulted in yellow leaf and other
manifestations of unthrift in the tree. Discussion of this subject is
given on page 434 of the fifth edition of our book on "California
Fruits," where we especially commend a good depth of "strong, free
loam." This does not mean necessarily deep. The orange likes rather a
heavier soil, while a deep sandy loam is preferred by some other fruits.
If you keep the moisture supply regular and right and feed the plant
with fertilizers, as may be required, the soil you mention is of
sufficient depth - if it is otherwise satisfactory.
Oranges Over High Ground Water.
Does California experience show that citrus trees can be grown upon land
successfully where the water-level is 6 feet from the surface; that is,
where water is found at that level at all seasons and does not appear to
rise higher during the rainy season?
We do not know of citrus trees in California with ground-water
permanently at six feet below the surface. If the soil should be a free
loam and the capillarity therefore somewhat reduced, orange trees would
probably be permanently productive. If the soil were very heavy,
capillary rise might be too energetic and saturate the soil for some
distance above the water-level. In a free soil without this danger the
roots could approach the water as they find it desirable and be
permanently supplied. Orange trees are largely dependent upon a shallow
root system, the chief roots generally occupying the first four feet
below the surface. From this fact we conclude that deep rooting is not
necessary to the orange, although unquestionably deep rooting and deep
penetration for water are desirable as allowing the tree to draw upon a
much greater soil mass and therefore be less dependent upon frequent
irrigations and fertilizations.
Depth of Ground-Water.
Is there probable harm from water standing 12 feet from the surface in
an orchard? Also probable age of trees before any effect of said water
would be felt by them? The soil is almost entirely chocolate dry bog. -
W. E. Wahtoke.
Water at twelve feet from the surface is desirable, and water at that
point will be indefinitely desirable for the growing of fruit trees. Of
course, conditions would change rapidly as standing water might approach
more nearly to the surface, a condition which has to be carefully
guarded against in irrigation. But it can come nearer than twelve feet
Summer Fallow and Summer Cropping.
I own some hill land which has been run down by continuous hay cropping.
I am told that a portion must be summer-fallowed each year, but I wish
to grow some summer crop on this fallow ground that will both enrich the
soil and at the same time furnish good milk-producing feed for cows -
thoroughly cultivating it between the rows. What crop would be best? I
am told the common Kaffir or Egyptian corn are both soil enriching and
If you grow a summer crop on the summer-fallowed upland, you lose the
chief advantage of summer fallowing, which is the storing of moisture
for the following year's crop. A cultivated crop would waste less
moisture than a broadcast crop, surely, but on uplands without
irrigation it would take out all the moisture available and not act in
the line of a summer fallow.
Kaffir corn is not soil enriching. It has no such character. It probably
depletes the soil just as much as an ordinary corn or hay crop. It is a
good food to continue a milking period into the dry season, but you must
be careful not to allow your cattle to get too much green sorghum, for
it sometimes produces fatal results. We do not know anything which you
can grow during the summer without irrigation which would contribute to
the fertility of your land. If you had water and could grow clover or
some legume during the summer season, the desired effect on the soil
would be secured.
Soils and Crop Changes.
Peas and sweet peas do not grow well continuously in the same ground. I
know this practically in my experience, but in no book have I ever found
why they do not grow.
There are two very good reasons why some classes of plants cannot be
well grown continuously in the same piece of ground. One is the
depletion of available plant food, the other the formation of injurious
compounds by the plants, or the gradual increase of fungoid, bacterial
or animate pests in the soil, which finally become abundant enough to
seriously hinder growth. Different plants take the plant foods, as
nitrogen, lime, potash, phosphates, etc., in different proportion. More
important, perhaps, is the fact that the root acids that extract these
foods are of different types and strength. Thus before many seasons it
may happen that most of the plant food of one or more kinds may be
nearly exhausted as far as that kind of plant is concerned that has
grown there continually, while there would be plenty of easily available
food for plants with a different kind of root system and different root
acids, etc. This is one reason why rotation of crops is so good; it
gives a combination of root acids and root systems to the soil during a
term of years, and it also frees the soil from one certain kind of
organism because it cannot survive the absence of the particular plants
on which it thrives.
Summer-Fallow Before Fruit Planting.
I recently bought a ranch at Sheridan, Placer county, and was intending
to put 10 acres to peaches and 50 acres to wheat or barley, but the
residents tell me that the land must be summer-fallowed before I can do
anything. The soil is a red loam and has not been plowed for six years.
Your local advisers are probably right as to the necessity for
summer-fallowing in order to conserve moisture from a previous year's
rainfall and to get the land otherwise into good condition. There might
be such a generous rainfall that an excellent crop might come without
summer-fallowing, and the results will depend upon the rainfall. If it
should be small in amount, you might not recover your seed. By the same
sign you might not get much growth on your fruit trees, but you could
help them by constant cultivation and by using the water-wagon if the
season should be very dry. Therefore, you are likely to do better with
trees than with grain without summer-fallowing, although even for trees
it is a decided advantage to have more moisture stored in the subsoil
and the surface soil pulverized by more tillage.
Defects in Soil Moisture.
I have apricot trees that appear to be almost dead; all but a very few
small green leaves are gone, and they look bad, still I think they might
be saved if I only knew what to do.
Presumably your apricot tree is suffering from too much standing water
during the dormant season, or from a lack of water during the dry
season. The remedy would be to correct moisture conditions, either by
underdrainage for winter excess or by irrigation for summer deficiency.
When a tree gets into a position such as you describe, it should be cut
back freely and irrigation supplied, if the soil is dry, in the house
that the roots may be able to restore themselves and promote a new
growth in the top.
Dry Plowing for Soil and Weed Growth.
Is there any scientific reason to support the belief that it is
injurious to the soil to dry-plow it for seeding to grain this fall and
winter? Will dry-plowing now cause a worse growth of filth after the
rains than the customary fallowing in the spring? Should the stubble be
burned, or plowed under!
The points against dry-plowing to which you allude may arise from two
claims or beliefs: first, that turning up land to the sun has a tendency
to "burn out the humus"; second, that dry-plowing may leave the land so
rough and cloddy that a small rainfall is currently lost by evaporation
and leaves less moisture available for a crop than if it is plowed in
the usual way after the rains. The first claim is probably largely
fanciful, so far as an upturning in the reduced sunshine of the autumn
goes. Whatever there may be in it would occur in vastly increased degree
in a properly worked summer-fallow, and even that is negligible, because
of the greater advantage which the summer-fallow yields. There may be
cases in which one will get less growth on dry-plowing than on winter
plowing, if the land is rough and the rain scant, and yet dry-plowing
before the rains is a foundation for moisture reception and retention -
if the land is not only plowed, but is also harrowed or otherwise worked
down out of its large cloddy condition. When that is done, dry-plowing
may be a great help toward early sowing and large growth afterward. As
for weeds, dry-plowing may help their starting, but that is an advantage
and not otherwise, because they can be destroyed by cultivation before
sowing. If the land is full of weed seed, the best thing to do is to
start it and kill it. The trouble with dry-plowing probably arises, not
from the plowing, but from lack of work enough between the plowing and
the sowing. Stubble should often be burned: it depends upon the soil and
the rainfall. On a heavy soil with a good rainfall, plowing-in stubble
is an addition to the humus of the soil, because conditions favor its
reduction to that form, and there is moisture enough to accomplish that
and promote also a satisfactory growth of the new crop.
Treatment of Dry-Plowed Land.
We are plowing a piece of light sandy mesa land, dry, which has
considerable tarweed and other weeds growing before plowing. Which would
be best, to leave the land as it is until the rains come and then
harrow, or harrow now? Would the land left without harrowing gather any
elements from the air before rain comes! The above land is for oat hay
and beans next season.
Roll down the 'tar-weed, if it is tall and likely to be troublesome, and
plow in at once so that decay may begin as soon as the land gets
moisture from the rain. It would be well to allow the land to lie in
that shape, and disc in the seed without disturbing the weeds which have
been plowed under. If all this is done early, with plenty of rain coming
there is likely to be water enough to settle the soil, decay the weeds,
and grow the hay crop. Of course, such practice could not be commenced
much later in the season. The land gains practically nothing from the
atmosphere by lying in its present condition. If there is any
appreciable gain, it would be larger after breaking up as proposed. In
dry farming, harrowing or disking should be done immediately after
plowing, not to produce a fine surface as for a seed bed, but to settle
the soil enough to prevent too free movement of dry air. If your
rainfall is ample, the land may be left looser for water-settling.
For a Refractory Soil.
What can I do to soil that dries out and crusts over so hard that it
won't permit vegetable growth? A liberal amount of stable manure has
been applied, and the land deeply plowed, harrowed and cultivated, but
as soon as water gets on it, it forms a deep crust on evaporation. Will
guano help, or is sodium nitrate or potash the thing?
None of the things you mention are of any particular use for the
specific purpose you describe. Keep on working in stable manure or
rotten straw, or any other coarse vegetable matter, when the soil is
moist enough for its decay. Plow under all the weeds you can grow, or
green barley or rye, and later grow a crop of peas or vetches to plow in
green. Keep at this till the pesky stuff gets mellow. If you think the
soil is alkaline, use gypsum freely; if not, dose it with lime to the
limit of your purse and patience, and put in all the tillage you can
whenever the soil breaks well.
More Manure, Water and Cultivation Required.
I have a small place on a hillside, with brown soil about one to two
feet deep to hardpan and I am getting rather discouraged, as so many
things fail to come up and others grow so very slowly after they are up.
A neighbor planted some dahlia roots the same time I did. Only one of
mine came up and it is not in bloom yet, while several of his have been
blooming for some weeks and are ten times as large in mass of foliage as
mine with its lone stalk and one little bud on the top. Peas came up and
kept dying at the bottom with blossoms at the top tilt they were four or
five feet high, but I never could get enough peas for a mess. Can you
help me get this thing right?
Use of stable manure and water freely. Your trouble probably lies either
in the lack of plant food or of moisture in the soil. This, of course,
is supposing that you cultivate well so that the moisture you use shall
not be evaporated and the ground hardened by the process. During the
summer a good surface application of stable manure to which water can be
applied would be better than to work manure into the soil, which should
be done at the beginning of the rainy season. As your soil is so shallow
it will be well for you to stand along the side of the plant much of the
time with a bucket of water in one hand and a shovel of manure in the
Planting Trees in Alkali Soil.
My land contains a considerable quantity of both the black and white
alkalies, the upper two feet being a rather heavy, sticky clay, the next
three feet below being fine sand, containing more or less alkali, while
immediately underneath this sand is a dense black muck in which, summer
and winter, is found the ground-water. Do you think the following method
of setting trees would be advantageous. Excavate for each tree a hole
three feet in diameter and three feet deep. Fill in a layer of three or
four inches of coarse hay, forming a lining for the excavation. Then
fill the hole with sandy loam in which the tree is to be set. The sandy
loam would give the young tree a good start, while the lining of hay
would break up the capillary attraction between the filled-in sand and
the ground-water in the surrounding alkali-charged soil.
The fresh soil which you put in would before long be impregnated through
the surface evaporation of the rising moisture, which your straw lining
would not long exclude. The trees would not be permanently satisfactory
under such conditions as you describe, though they might grow well at
first. It would be interesting, of course, to make a small-scale
experiment to demonstrate what would actually occur and it would,
perhaps, give you a chance to sell out to a tenderfoot.
Planting in Mud.
Why does ground lose its vitality or its growing qualities when it is
plowed or stirred when wet, and does this act in all kinds of soil in
the same way? We are planting a fig and olive orchard at the present
time, but some were planted when the ground was extremely wet. The holes
were dug before the rain and after a heavy rain they started to plant.
After placing the trees in the holes they filled them half full with wet
dirt, in fact so wet that it was actually slush. What would you advise
under the circumstances and what can be done to counteract this? We have
not finished filling in the holes since the planting was done, which was
about a week ago.
The soil loses its vitality after working when too wet, because it is
thrown into bad mechanical (or physical) condition and therefore becomes
difficult of root extension and of movement of moisture and air. How
easily soil may be thrown into bad mechanical condition depends upon its
character. A light sandy loam could be plowed and trees planted as you
describe without serious injury perhaps, while such a treatment of a
clay would bring a plant into the midst of a soil brick which would
cause it to spindle and perhaps to fail outright. The best treatment
would consist in keeping the soil around the roots continually moist,
yet not too wet. The upper part of the holes should be filled loosely
and the ground kept from surface compacting. The maintenance of such a
condition during the coming summer will probably allow the trees to
overcome the mistake made at their planting, unless the soil should be a
tough adobe or other soil which has a disposition to act like cement.
Kindly tell me of any one who is working upon the application of
electricity to stimulating agricultural growth-especially here on the
Coast. A friend who has done some work in this line seeks to interest
me. I have seen notices of this work, and have read of Professor
Arrhenius stimulating the mental activity of children, etc., but I
desire more definite information, if possible. Does the idea seem to you
to be feasible?
So far as we know, there has been no local trial of the effect of
electric light in stimulating plant growth. Much has been done with it
in Europe and in this country. There is much about it in European
scientific literature. It is perfectly rational that increased growth
should be attained by continuous light in the same way, though in less
degree than occurs in the extreme north during the period of the
midnight sun. It is known that moonlight, to the extent of its
illumination, increases plant growth, and it has been amply demonstrated
that light is light, just as heat is heat, irrespective of the source
thereof. Of course, the commercial advantage must be sought in the
relative amount of increased growth and the selling value of whatever is
gained in point of time.
High Hardpan and Low Water.
What detriment is hardpan if 14 inches below the surface and in some
places 12 inches? I have been plowing so I could set peach trees, but I
have been told that they will not grow. I would like your opinion about
it. I intended to blast holes for the trees, and the water is 30 feet
from surface. The top soil is red sandy and clay mixed, but it works
You cannot expect much from trees on such a shallow soil
over hardpan without breaking it up, because the soil mass available to
the trees is small; also because the shallow surface layer over hardpan
will soon dry out in spite of the best cultivation, because there is no
moisture supply from below. If such a soil should be selected for fruit
trees at all, the breaking through the hardpan by dynamite or otherwise
is desirable, and irrigation will be, probably, indispensable.
Depth of Cultivation.
I would be glad to know whether in cultivating an orchard a light-draft
harrow could profitably be used, which cultivates three and a half
inches deep? I have used another cultivator, and try to have it go at
least seven inches.
A depth of 3 1-2 inches is not satisfactory in orchard cultivation,
although there may be some condition under which greater depth would be
difficult to obtain because of root injury to trees, which have been
encouraged to root near the surface. Both experience and actual
determinations of moisture in this State show that cultivation to a
depth of 5 inches conserves twice as much moisture in the lower soil as
can be saved by a 3-inch depth of cultivation under similar soil
conditions and water supply. It is all the better to go 7 inches if
young trees have been treated that way from the beginning.
Alfalfa Over Hardpan.
I have land graded for alfalfa and some of the checks are low and water
will stand on the low checks in the winter. There is on an average from
two to three feet of soil on top of hardpan and hardpan is about two
feet thick. Will water drain off the low checks if the hardpan is
dynamited, and will this land grow alfalfa with profit?
Yes; much of the hardpan in your district is thin enough and underlaid
by permeable strata so that drainage is readily secured by breaking up
the hardpan. Standing water on dormant alfalfa is not injurious.
Trees Over High-Water.
Which are the best fruit trees to plant on black adobe soil with water
table between 3 and 4 feet from surface? The soil is very rich and
productive. The land is leveled for alfalfa also; will the alfalfa
disturb the growth of trees?
We would not plant such land to fruit at all, except a family orchard.
The fruits most likely to succeed are pears and pecans. On such land
alfalfa should not hurt trees unless it is allowed to actually strangle
them. The alfalfa may help the trees by pumping out some of the surplus
Soil Suitable for Fruits.
I am sending samples of soil in which there are apricots and prunes
growing, and ask you to examine it with reference to its suitability for
other fruits. Will lemons thrive in this soil?
It is not necessary to have analysis of the soil. If you find by
experience that apricot and prune trees are doing well, it is a
demonstration of its suitability for the orange, so far as soil is
concerned. The same would also be a demonstration for soil suitability
for the lemon because the lemon is always grown on orange root. The
thing to be determined is whether the temperature conditions suit the
lemon and whether you have an irrigation supply available, because
citrus fruits, being evergreen, require about fifty per cent more
moisture than deciduous fruits, and they are not grown successfully
anywhere in this State without irrigation, except, possibly, on land
with underflow. The matter to determine then is the surety of suitable
temperatures and water supply.
For Blowing Soils.
I am going to dry-sow rye late this fall. I want some leguminous plant
to seed with the rye for a wind-break crop, not to plow under. The land
varies from heavy loam to blow-sand. I have under consideration sweet
clover, burr clover, vetches. I see occasional stray plants of sweet
clover (the white-blossomed) growing in the alfalfa on both hard and
sandy soil. I read in an Eastern bee journal that sweet clover can be
sowed on hard uncultivated land with success. Could I grow it on the
hard vacant spots that occur in the alfalfa fields?
You can sow these leguminous plants all along during the earlier part of
the rainy season (September to December) except that they will not make
a good start in cold ground which does not seem to bother rye much. But
on sand you are not likely to get cold, waterlogged soil, so you can put
in there whenever you like - the earlier the better, however, if you
have moisture enough in the soil to sustain the growth as well as start
it. We should sow rye and common vetch. Sweet clover will grow anywhere,
from a river sandbar to an uncovered upland hardpan, but it will not do
much if your vacant spots are caused by alkali.
More Than Dynamite Needed.
I have some peculiar land. People here call it cement. It does not take
irrigation water readily, and water will pass over it for a long time
and not wet down more than an inch or so. When really wet it can be
dipped up with a spoon. Hardpan is down about 24 to 36 inches. I have
tried blowing up between the vines with dynamite, and see little
difference. Can you suggest anything to loosen up the soil?
You could not reasonably expect dynamite to transform the character of
the surface soil except as its rebelliousness might in some cases be
wholly due to lack of drainage - in that case blasting the hardpan might
work wonders. But you have another problem, viz: to change the physical
condition of the surface soil to prevent the particles from running
together and cementing. This is to be accomplished by the introduction
of coarse particles, preferably of a fibrous character. To do this the
free use of rotten straw or stable manure, deeply worked into the soil,
and the growth of green crops for plowing under, is a practical
suggestion. Such treatment would render your soil mellow, and, in
connection with blasting of the hardpan to prevent accumulation of
surplus water over it, would accomplish the transformation which you
desire. The cost and profit of such a course you can figure out for
Is Dynamite Needed?
I have an old prune orchard on river bottom lands; soil about 15 or 16
feet deep. Quite a number of trees have died, I presume from old age. I
desire to remove them and to replace them with prune trees. I have been
advised to use dynamite in preparing the soil for the planting of the
Whether you need dynamite or not depends upon the condition of the
sub-soil. If you are on river flats with an alluvial soil, rather loose
to a considerable depth, dynamiting is not necessary. If, by digging,
you encounter hardpan, or clay, dynamiting may be very profitable. This
matter must be looked into, because the failure of trees on river lands
is more often due to their planting over gravel streaks, which too
rapidly draw off water and cause the tree to fail for lack of moisture.
In such cases dynamite would only aggravate the trouble. Dynamiting
should be done in the fall and not in the spring. The land should have a
chance to settle and readjust itself by the action of the winter rains;
otherwise, your trees may dry out too much next summer.
Improving Heavy Soils.
What is adobe? What kind of plants will grow best in adobe? In this
Redwood City I find clay-like soil which looks very dark and heavy. What
kind of plants will grow best in this soil?
The term adobe does not mean any particular kind of soil. It is applied
locally to clay and clay-loam soils indiscriminately. It generally
signifies the heaviest, stickiest, crackingest soil in the vicinity.
Most plants will grow well on heavy soils if they are kept from getting
too dry and too full of water. This is done by using plenty of stable
manure and other coarse stuff to make the soil more friable, which
favors aeration, drainage, root extension and plant thrift. Friability
is also promoted by the use of lime and by good tillage. The particular
soil to which you refer is a black clay loam which can be improved in
all the ways stated. It is a good soil for most flowers and vegetables
if handled as suggested. You can get hints of what does best by studying
your neighbors' earlier plantings.
For a Reclaimed Swamp.
I have land, formerly a pond which dried up in the summer months. It has
been thoroughly drained now for several years. The land surrounding it
is good fertile soil and produces good crops. On this piece, however,
crops come up and look fairly well until about two inches high when they
turn yellow and die. Mesquite grass and strawberries seem to be the only
crops that will live, and they do not do at all well. Sorrel grows
abundantly in the natural state.
Apparently the reclaimed land which you speak of needs liming to
overcome the acidity in the soil. Common builders' lime applied at the
rate of 1000 pounds to the acre at the beginning of the rainy season
ought to make the land much more productive and the soil, at the same
time, more friable. Deep plowing with aeration will also help the land,
and this treatment can begin at once if the soil is workable. Other
additions of lime can be made later as they may be required to make the
Improving Uncovered Subsoil.
What is the best treatment for spots that have been scraped in leveling
The land can be improved by plowing deeply and turning in stable manure
or green alfalfa or any other vegetable matter which may decay,
rendering the soil rich in humus and more friable. Of course, it will
take some time to accomplish this improvement, and it is necessary that
there be moisture enough present to cause the material to decay in order
that the improvement may be secured.
Sand for Clay Soils.
Will beach sand do adobe or clay soil any good? It gets hard at times
and I thought that if I was to put beach sand in the ground the salt in
the sand would do the ground harm.
It is certainly desirable to mix sand with heavy soil for the purpose of
making it lighter - that is, better drained and more friable and
therefore improving it for the growth of plants. Sometimes beach sand
contains a good deal of salt, which, however, is readily removed by
fresh water, and sand hauled and exposed to the rains rapidly loses any
excess of salt it may contain. Probably with such an amount of sand as
you are likely to use to mix with your adobe, there is no danger at all
from salt. Even if such sand should contain considerable salt, if
applied at the beginning of the rainy season it would be so quickly
distributed as to not constitute a menace to the growth of plants. The
worst adobe can be transformed into a most beautiful garden soil by the
application of sand and stable manure.
Plowing from or Towards.
Which is the proper way to plow an orchard? First to plow to the trees
and then to plow from them, or to plow from the trees and then to them,
and your reasons? I have had many arguments with my neighbor farmers.
There is difference of opinion everywhere as to whether the first
plowing should be toward or away from the trees. In places where the
soil is pretty heavy and the rainfall is apt to be quite large, plowing
toward the trees and opening a dead furrow near the center seems to
promote rapid distribution of surplus water. If the rainfall is less and
arrangements for deep penetration are more necessary, the plowing can
well be away from the trees, so as to direct the water toward the row.
It is, of course, exceedingly important in this case, that the land
should be worked back before it has a chance to dry out by exposure and
this is one of the chief objections to the practice, because one is apt
to let the land lie away from the trees, hoping for a late rain which
may not come. Whatever theoretical advantages there may be in either of
these methods, they can only be secured by the greatest care to avoid
the dangers which attend them. This uncertainty is the reason why people
so generally disagree as to which is the best practice, and they are
right in disagreeing.
Dry Plowing and Sowing.
I dry-plowed my grain field to a depth averaging seven inches; it turned
up very rough. I then disked and harrowed it, but it is still very
rough. I intended to drill the seed, wait for sufficient rain, and
harrow to a satisfactory condition, but have been advised to put no
implement on after the drill, as a harrow would spoil the work done by
the drill, and a slab or roller would cause the ground to bake. If I
wait for rain to work the soil before drilling, it will bring the
seeding too late.
You have probably done a pretty good job of dry work. If the land is
still too rough for the drill, we should broadcast and harrow again. It
is not desirable to harrow after the drill, and to roll or rub is likely
to smooth too much, because the land would bake or crust after the heavy
rains. This would cause loss of moisture and it is therefore better to
leave the surface a little rough. You can roll lightly after the grain
is up, if the surface seems to need closing a little.
I have a large tract of adobe soil, a black clay top soil. For about
five months in the year there is not sufficient water on the place. I
have sunk wells in different parts, but with very poor results, the
further we went down the drier and harder the soil got. What little
water we did obtain was unfit for domestic use. Can you give me an idea
as to what might be the result of an artesian well in such soil?
Artesian water has nothing to do with the soils. It is a deeper
proposition than that. Artesian water comes from gravel strata overlaid
with impervious layers of rock or clay in such a way that water in the
gravel is under pressure because the gravel leads up and away to some
point where water is poured into it by rain falling or snow melting on
mountain or high plateau. As the water cannot get out of this gravel
until you punch a hole in its lid, its effort will be to shoot up to
something less than the elevation at which it gained entrance to this
gravel - as soon as your puncture gives it a chance. Geologists who know
the locality may be able to tell you that you have little or no chance,
but no one can tell you whether you have a good chance or not until he
has tested the matter by boring. The quality of the artesian water is
determined by its distant source and the bad water you have found is
therefore no indication of the quality of what may be below it. No one
should enter an artesian undertaking, except to tap a stratum of known
depth, without a long purse. Probably one in a thousand of the bores
made into the crust of the earth yields as many gallons of artesian
water as gallons of various liquids used in boring it - and yet some of
them are good wells to pump from because they pierce other strata
carrying water, but not under pressure causing it to rise.
Treatment of Alkali.
I am advised that in some cases alkali may be drained and that in others
it is treated with gypsum.
Gypsum is not a cure for alkali, but simply a means of transforming
black alkali into white, which is less corrosive and therefore less
destructive to plants, but there may be easily too much white alkali
present - so much that the land would be made sterile by it. You cannot
remove alkali by flooding unless two conditions can be assured: first,
that the water itself is free from alkali before application to the
land; second, that you underdrain the land at a depth of from three to
four feet with tile, so that the fresh water on the surface can flow
through the soil into the drains, carrying away from the land the
alkali, which it dissolves in its course. To flood land even with fresh
water without making arrangements for carrying off the alkali water
below, is to increase the alkali on the surface as the water evaporates,
and such treatment does land injury rather than benefit. We cannot give
you any estimate as to the cost of washing out. It depends altogether
upon local conditions: whether you use hand work or machinery for the
ditching, and what your water will cost.
Alkali, Gypsum and Shade Trees.
Kindly advise how to apply gypsum, and how much, to heavy, sticky soil,
the worst sort of adobe and heavily saturated with alkali. We want to
plant shade trees. Eucalyptus and peppers succeed fairly well after once
started. Gypsum seems to help, but I don't know how much to use.
The amount of gypsum required to neutralize black alkali depends upon
how much black alkali there is to be neutralized, and no definite
amount, therefore, can be prescribed beforehand as sufficient without a
determination of the amount of alkali. In some experiments gypsum to the
amount of thirty tons to the acre or more has been used just for the
purpose of seeing how much the land would take, and a fine growth of
grain has been secured after using that much gypsum, but that, of
course, would be out of the question because the outlay would be more
than the land or the crop would be worth.
In the planting of trees at some distance apart, the tree can be
protected from destruction and enabled to make a stand in the soil by
using gypsum on the spot rather than the treatment of the whole surface.
In this way five or ten pounds of gypsum could be used by mixing with
the soil to fill a good-sized hole.
Distribution of Alkali.
I am told by all the ranchers on the east and south sides of the valley
that their wells are excellent. But they all say that on the west side -
they are bringing up alkali. One also said that the water level was
rising throughout all the valley. Is it safe to depend on this in part,
or will the alkali spread over all the valley and the foothills?
It is not unusual to find people who predict the rise of alkali almost
anywhere except on their own premises. No one can exactly tell where
alkali will go, because no one has complete knowledge of the water
movement in underlying strata. Wherever the ground water rises on lower
levels because of irrigation on higher levels there is danger of the
rising of the alkali, for which the only cure is underdrainage with tile
so that this rising water is carried to an outflow and not allowed to
approach within three or four feet of the surface. If you have such an
outflow and desire to undertake the expense of tiling, you can insure
yourself against a serious rise of alkali indefinitely. We do not see,
however, how alkali can rise to the higher lands of the valley. Its
first effect would be to make lakes or ponds in the lowest parts of the
valley, and even then the surrounding mesa lands would not be injured.
Plants Will Tell About Alkali.
Please give information as to the application of gypsum to my soil which
is somewhat alkaline. I do not care to have an analysis made of my soil,
and believe that you can advise me without it.
If your soil is too alkaline for the growth of plants you can
demonstrate that fact by experiment, or if it is capable of being used
by the application of gypsum, that also can be determined by experiment
and noting the behavior of the same plants afterwards. It is rather a
slow process but it is sure enough.
Litmus and Alkali.
Is there any simple soil test for alkali that can be made without a
You can ascertain the presence of alkali by using red litmus paper,
which will be turned blue by the alkali in the soil, if the soil is
moist enough. This does not determine the amount of alkali, but the
quickness of the turning to the blue color and the depth of the color
are both attained when the alkali is very strong. When there is less
alkali, the reaction is slower and weaker. This test, however, gives you
only a rough idea whether the soil is suitable for growing plants. You
can tell that better by the appearance of the plants which you find. Any
druggist can furnish the litmus paper, and give you a demonstration of
how it acts on contact with alkali.
Using Gypsum for Alkali.
Is it better, to kill the black alkali in the soil with gypsum, just to
scatter it over an alkalied spot or to plow the soil first and then use
the gypsum? I am going to sow alfalfa.
Use the gypsum after plowing, for it will wet down more quickly, and the
gypsum has to be dissolved to act freely. The best way to cure your spot
is to run an underdrain into it, if possible, so the rain-water can run
through the soil freely and take the alkali with it.
Blasting or Tiling.
In planting trees where hardpan is four feet from the surface is it
necessary to blast the hardpan, or is there no benefit derived by the
If there should be a good available soil under a shallow layer of
hardpan, which you say is four feet from the surface, it might be of
considerable advantage to bore into the hardpan and explode a dynamite
cartridge in it. But if your good soil is really only four feet deep and
hardpan continuous below, the blast might cause fissures which would
prevent standing water in the upper stratum. If you are sure of four
feet of good soil above the hardpan you will have no difficulty in
growing good trees, if you get the moisture just right and the hardpan
slopes in such a way that surplus moisture will move away. If, however,
you have hardpan at different depths on the tract, so that it may really
make basins which will hold water, you are likely to have trouble from
accumulations of water which will not only prevent the roots extending
to the full depths of the soil, but will also cause some trees to die.
Such a danger could be removed by draining the soil to a depth of three
and a half or four feet with tile, in order to prevent accumulations at
any point. This would be expensive perhaps, but you would be sure that
you had rendered your four feet of soil safe and available. If you trust
to blasting you will have to wait several years for the trees to tell
you whether you helped them or not.
Effects of Blasting.
I have land which is underlaid with hardpan two or three feet deep and
this in turn is underlaid with sand or sandpan. What I would like
to know is whether blasting the holes before setting trees would allow
more moisture coming from this sandpan, or, rather, what effect it would
have as to moisture.
We do not know. It might make the soil better for the trees by allowing
escape for surplus water through previous layers. It might allow the
tree to root more deeply for moisture in those strata. It might allow
water to rise from such strata if they have water under pressure. It
might do other things good or bad, according to conditions prevailing
under the hardpan. If you are to irrigate the land the effects would
probably be good.
The Sub-soil Plow.
I am contemplating using a sub-soil plow for the purpose of breaking
plow-sole on grain land. This is about 4 1/2 inches below the surface
and is about 5 inches thick. This soil is comparatively loose and seems
to be of good quality. Do you think that the sub-soil plow run low
enough to break this plow-sole will benefit the land?
There can be no question about the benefit of breaking up this tight
stratum, provided you use a long-tooth harrow or a subsoil packer
afterward to reduce the land so that it will not be too open to loss of
moisture by too free circulation of air. The best way to treat such a
soil would be to use a tractor and plow to a full foot of depth, for
this, followed by good harrowing, would disintegrate the hard stuff and
commingle it with the loose surface soil and make it somewhat more
retentive - doing this when the moisture is just right for
disintegration and mixing. If you are not ready to go to this expense, a
subsoiler, following the plow with another team, would put your land in
better shape for dry farming or for irrigation than it is now. Starting
late, however, might give you less crop the first year on such deep
working than by shallow plowing if the year's rainfall should be scant.
It would, however, be a good start for summer-fallowing and a big crop
the next year.
What is "sour" soil? Is that the name by which it is commonly known, and
what is the treatment for it?
Sour soil is soil in which an acid is developed by plant decay and
exclusion of air. The proper treatment is the application of lime, and
aeration by open tillage and underdrainage.
Old Plaster for Sour Land.
Can house plaster be used in reclaiming sour ground and how much per
acre? The ground produces some sour grass - not a great deal. The
plaster is from an old building that is being torn down.
House plaster is desirable as an application to land which is sour. It
also adds to the mellowness of land which is hard, because of the sand
contained in it. It has always been considered a good dressing for
garden land. So far as the correction of sourness goes, it is much less
active than fresh lime, but it acts in the same way to a limited extent.
It is certainly worth using, providing it does not cost too much for
delivery, and can be freely used if the land is heavy and needs
Application of Manure Ashes.
Having recently got a lot of manure plentifully supplied with redwood
shavings that had been used with the bedding, and being afraid to use
the same in that shape, as it takes such a long time for the wood to
rot, I reduced the pile to a heap of ashes. How can it be best applied
to ornamental trees and shrubbery in a light gravelly soil?
You have done unwisely in burning the manure. We would have taken the
risk of a single use of shavings for the sake of the manurial matter
associated with them, and this risk of too much lightening of a gravelly
soil would be especially small in connection with deep rooting plants
like ornamental trees and shrubbery. You have left merely the skeleton
of the manure, and much of that of doubtful solubility, if the
temperature ran very high by burning in a mass. You need not be fearful
about using these ashes. Scatter or spread them over the ground just as
you would have spread the manure, let the rains dissolve and carry down
what they can and go on with your usual methods of cultivation.
The Best Fertilizer for Sand.
How can I best fertilize soil that is pure sand?
The best fertilizer for pure sand is well-rotted stable manure, because
it not only supplies all kinds of plant food, but increases the humus in
the soil, which is exceedingly important in making the sand more
retentive of moisture as well as more productive.
Fertilizers in Tree Holes.
Would it be harmful to add 2 or 3 pounds of steamed bone meal to the
hole of a young tree just before planting?
There would be no injury, providing you mix it with a considerable
amount of soil by digging over the bottom of the hole, but our
conviction is that on lands which are good enough for the commercial
planting of fruit trees, it is not necessary to stimulate a young tree
in this way, but that it is better to postpone the use of fertilizers
until the trees come into bearing and show the desirability of more
liberal feeding. Of course, if young trees do not make satisfactory
growth, they may be stimulated either with some kind of a fertilizer or
with a freer use of water, and it is generally the latter that they are
chiefly in need of.
Wood Ashes and Tomatoes.
Is there any harm to vegetable growing to dig sufficient of wood ashes
in for mellowing heavy soil? My tomato plants grew splendidly this year,
but the fruits were all rough and wrinkled. I gave them plenty of horse
and poultry manure at planting and plenty of wood ashes and falling
leaves of cypress later.
Wood ashes do not mellow a heavy soil. The effect of the potash is to
overcome the granular structure and increase compactness. Coal ashes,
because they are coarser in particles and devoid of potash, do promote
mellowness, and are valuable mechanically on a heavy soil although they
do not contain appreciable amounts of plant food. You are overfeeding
your tomato plants, probably. The chances are that you had poor seed.
There is no best tomato, because you ought to grow early and late kinds:
there is also some difference in the behavior of varieties in different
Was It the Potash or the Water?
Last year the lye from the prune dipper was turned on the ground near
two almond trees which seemed to be dying, and to my surprise they have
taken a new lease of life. Hence my conclusion that potash was good for
Your experience seems to justify the application of potash, surely, but
the question still remains, how much good the potash did the trees, and
how much they needed the extra water which the waste dips supplied. It
would be desirable for you to make another experiment with other trees,
applying wood ashes, if you have them, or about four pounds per tree of
the potash which you use for dipping, scattering well and working it
into the soil after it is moistened by the rains, and not using any more
water than the trees ordinarily received from rainfall. After this trial
you will be in a position to know whether your trees need potash or
irrigation - by comparing with other trees adjacent. Besides are you
sure that your lye dip was caustic potash and not caustic soda? The
latter has no fertilizing value.
Prunings as Fertilizer.
Is orchard and vineyard brush worth enough as a fertilizer to pay for
cutting or breaking and putting back on the land?
We should say not. It takes too much labor to put it in any form to
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