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When perennial grasses are fed or cropped very close in autumn, they do not rise with such a vigorous growth in spring, owing to the removal of that part of the stalk which would have afforded sap for the first nourishment of the grass ; and even in spring, when the first shoots are fed very close, the grass does not again grow so vigorously, and is found to yield a considerably less produce during the season, than when it is allowed to attain a good growth before it is eaten, and then is not eaten too close.
IMPROVEMENT OF COLD GRASS LAND. There is a large quantity of cold poor land in England and Scotland, and still more in Ireland, which at a moderate outlay might be brought under a profitable process of husbandry, either for arable or for grazing purposes, but more especially for the latter. Already much has been done in this respect, and with the best results; but much yet remains to be done, before the whole of such land will be brought into the state of productiveness of which it is capable. Lands of this description generally lie in bleak elevated situations, exposed to cold cutting winds. When situated above a certain elevation, land cannot be cultivated with advantage, the air at such heights being too thin, and destitute of the properties requisite for supporting vegetation with the necessary degree of vigour; and the finest soil, at such heights, is therefore unfitted for the purposes of tillage.
In the British islands, land may be said to be reclaimable for the purpose of cultivation, to the height of 800 or 1000 feet above the level of the sea; and for the improvement of land at this height, the first requisite is shelter, and the next is drainage. The land should be sheltered by fences and belts of plantation, and means should be provided for carrying off the rainwater, and any superabundant moisture which there may be in the soil. Both these preliminaries are absolutely essential, and unless these are attended to, such lands will be comparatively valueless, either for pasture or tillage.
- Without a shelter for the animals which feed on the scanty herbage on elevated moorland tracts, the most hardy breeds can alone exist; but after fences and plantations have been formed, the severity of the exposure becomes tempered, and the cold of the naked hills is exchanged for comparative warmth and comfort. Plantations and enclosures have thus the effect of reducing, as it were, the elevation of a high and cold country; and whilst the animals are benefited, vegetation shoots forth more freely, and the herbage is rendered more nutritious.
The experience of every grazier confirms the fact, that sheep and cattle thrive better on sheltered lands, than on lands which are unenclosed, although the quality of both may be the same.
In the formation of belts of plantation, an occasional curvature will be found better than a long straight line: it affords more shelter; its outer front has less exposure to the wind; and it has, moreover, a more picturesque appearance. It is a great error in the formation of plantings for shelter, to make the belts very narrow: from sixty to a hundred yards wide will be found better than those of smaller dimensions.
The hedge-row enclosures of England have been sometimes condemned, as being too small for grain culture: this may be true in many cases, but their smallness is beneficial for grazing. The English graziers have found that five enclosures of ten acres each, will feed as many cattle as sixty acres within one fence.
After cold high-lying grass lands have been improved by planting and draining, the operations on the soil are next to be attended to. In general, the best application is a top-dressing of lime, which has a remarkable effect in destroying the coarse herbage, and raising in its place a sward of white clover, and other sweet grasses. But this is not the only benefit to be gained from top-dressing with lime. The thick matting of tenacious roots, which often keeps the soil in a state of sterility, is acted upon and decomposed by the lime, and formed into a fine vegetable mould, capable of supporting vegetation. Indeed, on all soils containing acids or ferruginous salts, lime is absolutely necessary to bring them into a state of fertility. Marl acts in a similar way, but it is less effective for the purpose than lime, and the same may be said of chalk, which, although very useful, is less effective than marl.
If lime, marl, or other calcareous substance is laid on the surface of cold grass land, the moss and other coarse plants will disappear, and a rich sward of clover, daisies, and meadow-grass will rise spontaneously; and from the results of numerous experiments, in many different situations, it is satisfactorily proved, that the owners of such lands, if within reach of lime, have only themselves to blame if the ground continues unprofitable.
In the application of lime to cold and newly-reclaimed land, which is generally surcharged with coarse vegetable matter, it should be a rule always to give abundance, and in a newly-slaked condition, in order that the lime may have its full effect. If slaked a considerable time before it is applied, it does not act so powerfully in reducing the noxious vegetable matter, or neutralizing the acids, as when applied in a hot state. On very thin moorish soils, however, lime by itself will not always improve the herbage. These soils require a nourishing, as well as a stimulating application; and a top-dressing of earth and lime, or even of good earth alone, will be found to have nearly the same beneficial effect that lime always produces on a stronger and deeper soil.
Top-dressing with clay, or sand, or a compost formed of each, will be advantageous in elevated moorish tracts, where lime or marl cannot be obtained. These materials are very effective in improving the pasturage, and destroying the growth of moss; and if applied in sufficient quantity, to the depth of an inch or so, they will generate a sweet herbage, and render the ground capable of being benefited by the droppings of the animals which it will then be able to support.
There are extensive ranges of elevated pasture land, producing in their natural state wholesome herbage, which are perhaps considered so good as not to require improvement; but no grounds will yield a better return than these for what is expended upon them, in top-dressing and drainage, by which the grass will be rendered sweeter, more nourishing, and more abundant. Surface-dressings of lime, marl, lime and earth, or lime and peat, will always be found extremely beneficial to the pasturage of these grounds. When good peatmould can be procured, and properly mixed with lime, mar), or sea-sand, it will form a valuable top-dressing. A preparation of lime and peat is very conducive to the growth of clover, and the short sweet kinds of pasture-grasses; and by using it, the soil will acquire a tendency to promote the growth of such grasses, instead of rank, coarse, or sour herbage.
New peat-mould, if put into a heap by itself, will, in a short time, be reduced to a crumbling state, well adapted for top-dressing on thin cold or clay soils, especially if it has been saturated with urine from the cattle, or compounded with dung, marl, sand, or lime. Rushes, heath, bent, and other weeds entirely disappear, when a surface application of lime is given, or a compound of lime, marl, earth, or peat, provided that the soil is first properly drained.
IMPROVEMENT OF CHALK LAND.
There is a considerable extent of chalk land in the southern counties of England, now producing a very meagre scanty herbage for sheep, which might be made, under proper management, capable of yielding good crops. The precise mode of effecting the requisite improvement of such land, must of course in great measure depend upon the state of the surface, and on the depth and quality of the soil above the chalk; but the following directions will apply generally, and they may be modified at discretion according to circumstances in each case.
If the surface is old pasture, never tilled, or not tilled for a great number of years, the best mode of bringing it into tillage is to pare the turf as thin as possible in the autumn, and then to plough the land and expose it to the winter's frost, for the purpose of killing the insects and their ova, and so leaving it until the weeds have sprung into life in the spring, when it is to be folded with sheep. In May or June, according to the state of the weather, prepare the land for turnips, to be fed off the land at the usual time, and then in the following spring sow oats and seeds, and on the seeds lay a thick dressing of chalk after the oats are cut, in October and November. Feed off the seeds the year following, folding them with sheep, and then you may take a crop of wheat. On the wheat-stubble fold the sheep again, and then plough it up.
The thin-pared turf, having been placed in a compost heap, and mixed with whatever other manure could be collected, will by this time be fit to use with the ensuing crop of turnips; and the land will then be in a fair condition, and only require regular treatment.
In selecting chalk for manure, the pit should of course be opened as near to the land to which the chalk is to be applied as possible, and it may be either carted on, or carried from the pit on ponies or donkeys in panniers, having a bottom hung on a hinge to open for discharging the chalk; but care must be taken that the quality of the chalk is good. This may be ascertained by its effervescing briskly in vinegar, and melting or softening entirely therein. If it does not effervesce, or if it continues hard, or leaves much hard residuum, it is not fit for your purpose, and other chalk must be sought for.
If the surface-soil is of a tenacious clayey kind, no crop can be expected until the land has been well manured with good chalk. If the soil is thin and flinty, the application of chalk alone will not be sufficient, but as much farm-yard manure as can be spared must be given to it. If the land produces good crops after the second course is completed, it may be subsoiled with good effect.
If the surface is covered with furze, fern, or brushwood, and not with turf, the work of improvement must begin with digging (not trenching) the land, and