Agriculture for Beginners - Revised Edition
by Charles William Burkett
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Since its first publication "Agriculture for Beginners" has found a welcome in thousands of schools and homes. Naturally many suggestions as to changes, additions, and other improvements have reached its authors. Naturally, too, the authors have busied themselves in devising methods to add to the effectiveness of the book. Some additions have been made almost every year since the book was published. To embody all these changes and helpful suggestions into a strictly unified volume; to add some further topics and sections; to bring all farm practices up to the ideals of to-day; to include the most recent teaching of scientific investigators—these were the objects sought in the thorough revision which has just been given the book. The authors hope and think that the remaking of the book has added to its usefulness and attractiveness.

They believe now, as they believed before, that there is no line of separation between the science of agriculture and the practical art of agriculture. They are assured by the success of this book that agriculture is eminently a teachable subject. They see no difference between teaching the child the fundamental principles of farming and teaching the same child the fundamental truths of arithmetic, geography, or grammar. They hold that a youth should be trained for the farm just as carefully as he is trained for any other occupation, and that it is unreasonable to expect him to succeed without training.

If they are right in these views, the training must begin in the public schools. This is true for two reasons:

1. It is universally admitted that aptitudes are developed, tastes acquired, and life habits formed during the years that a child is in the public school. Hence, during these important years every child intended for the farm should be taught to know and love nature, should be led to form habits of observation, and should be required to begin a study of those great laws upon which agriculture is based. A training like this goes far toward making his life-work profitable and delightful.

2. Most boys and girls reared on a farm get no educational training except that given in the public schools. If, then, the truths that unlock the doors of nature are not taught in the public schools, nature and nature's laws will always be hid in night to a majority of our bread-winners. They must still in ignorance and hopeless drudgery tear their bread from a reluctant soil.

The authors return hearty thanks to Professor Thomas F. Hunt, University of California; Professor Augustine D. Selby, Ohio Experiment Station; Professor W. F. Massey, horticulturist and agricultural writer; and Professor Franklin Sherman, Jr., State Entomologist of North Carolina, for aid in proofreading and in the preparation of some of the material.

























































































Teachers sometimes shrink from undertaking the teaching of a simple textbook on agriculture because they are not familiar with all the processes of farming. By the same reasoning they might hesitate to teach arithmetic because they do not know calculus or to teach a primary history of the United States because they are not versed in all history. The art of farming is based on the sciences dealing with the growth of plants and animals. This book presents in a simple way these fundamental scientific truths and suggests some practices drawn from them. Hence, even though many teachers may not have plowed or sowed or harvested, such teachers need not be embarrassed in mastering and heartily instructing a class in nature's primary laws.

If teachers realize how much the efficiency, comfort, and happiness of their pupils will be increased throughout their lives from being taught to cooeperate with nature and to take advantage of her wonderful laws, they will eagerly begin this study. They will find also that their pupils will be actively interested in these studies bearing on their daily lives, and this interest will be carried over to other subjects. Whenever you can, take the pupils into the field, the garden, the orchard, and the dairy. Teach them to make experiments and to learn by the use of their own eyes and brains. They will, if properly led, astonish you by their efforts and growth.

You will find in the practical exercises many suggestions as to experiments that you can make with your class or with individual members. Do not neglect this first-hand teaching. It will be a delight to your pupils. In many cases it will be best to finish the experiments or observational work first, and later turn to the text to amplify the pupil's knowledge.

Although the book is arranged in logical order, the teacher ought to feel free to teach any topic in the season best suited to its study. Omit any chapter or section that does not bear on your crops or does not deal with conditions in your state.

The United States government and the different state experiment stations publish hundreds of bulletins on agricultural subjects. These are sent without cost, on application. It will be very helpful to get such of these bulletins as bear on the different sections of the book. These will be valuable additions to your school library. The authors would like to give a list of these bulletins bearing on each chapter, but it would soon be out of date, for the bulletins get out of print and are supplanted by newer ones. However, the United States Department of Agriculture prints a monthly list of its publications, and each state experiment station keeps a list of its bulletins. A note to the Secretary of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., or to your own state experiment station will promptly bring you these lists, and from them you can select what you need for your school.





The word soil occurs many times in this little book. In agriculture this word is used to describe the thin layer of surface earth that, like some great blanket, is tucked around the wrinkled and age-beaten form of our globe. The harder and colder earth under this surface layer is called the subsoil. It should be noted, however, that in waterless and sun-dried regions there seems little difference between the soil and the subsoil.

Plants, insects, birds, beasts, men,—all alike are fed on what grows in this thin layer of soil. If some wild flood in sudden wrath could sweep into the ocean this earth-wrapping soil, food would soon become as scarce as it was in Samaria when mothers ate their sons. The face of the earth as we now see it, daintily robed in grass, or uplifting waving acres of corn, or even naked, water-scarred, and disfigured by man's neglect, is very different from what it was in its earliest days. How was it then? How was the soil formed?

Learned men think that at first the surface of the earth was solid rock. How was this rock changed into workable soil? Occasionally a curious boy picks up a rotten stone, squeezes it, and finds his hands filled with dirt, or soil. Now, just as the boy crumbled with his fingers this single stone, the great forces of nature with boundless patience crumbled, or, as it is called, disintegrated, the early rock mass. The simple but giant-strong agents that beat the rocks into powder with a clublike force a millionfold more powerful than the club force of Hercules were chiefly (1) heat and cold; (2) water, frost, and ice; (3) a very low form of vegetable life; and (4) tiny animals—if such minute bodies can be called animals. In some cases these forces acted singly; in others, all acted together to rend and crumble the unbroken stretch of rock. Let us glance at some of the methods used by these skilled soil-makers.

Heat and cold are working partners. You already know that most hot bodies shrink, or contract, on cooling. The early rocks were hot. As the outside shell of rock cooled from exposure to air and moisture it contracted. This shrinkage of the rigid rim of course broke many of the rocks, and here and there left cracks, or fissures. In these fissures water collected and froze. As freezing water expands with irresistible power, the expansion still further broke the rocks to pieces. The smaller pieces again, in the same way, were acted on by frost and ice and again crumbled. This process is still a means of soil-formation.

Running water was another giant soil-former. If you would understand its action, observe some usually sparkling stream just after a washing rain. The clear waters are discolored by mud washed in from the surrounding hills. As though disliking their muddy burden, the waters strive to throw it off. Here, as low banks offer chance, they run out into shallows and drop some of it. Here, as they pass a quiet pool, they deposit more. At last they reach the still water at the mouth of the stream, and there they leave behind the last of their mud load, and often form of it little three-sided islands called deltas. In the same way mighty rivers like the Amazon, the Mississippi, and the Hudson, when they are swollen by rain, bear great quantities of soil in their sweep to the seas. Some of the soil they scatter over the lowlands as they whirl seaward; the rest they deposit in deltas at their mouths. It is estimated that the Mississippi carries to the ocean each year enough soil to cover a square mile of surface to a depth of two hundred and sixty-eight feet.

The early brooks and rivers, instead of bearing mud, ran oceanward either bearing ground stone that they themselves had worn from the rocks by ceaseless fretting, or bearing stones that other forces had already dislodged. The large pieces were whirled from side to side and beaten against one another or against bedrock until they were ground into smaller and smaller pieces. The rivers distributed this rock soil just as the later rivers distribute muddy soil. For ages the moving waters ground against the rocks. Vast were the waters; vast the number of years; vast the results.

Glaciers were another soil-producing agent. Glaciers are streams "frozen and moving slowly but irresistibly onwards, down well-defined valleys, grinding and pulverizing the rock masses detached by the force and weight of their attack." Where and how were these glaciers formed?

Once a great part of upper North America was a vast sheet of ice. Whatever moisture fell from the sky fell as snow. No one knows what made this long winter of snow, but we do know that snows piled on snows until mountains of white were built up. The lower snow was by the pressure of that above it packed into ice masses. By and by some change of climate caused the masses of ice to break up somewhat and to move south and west. These moving masses, carrying rock and frozen earth, ground them to powder. King thus describes the stately movement of these snow mountains: "Beneath the bottom of this slowly moving sheet of ice, which with more or less difficulty kept itself conformable with the face of the land over which it was riding, the sharper outstanding points were cut away and the deeper river canons filled in. Desolate and rugged rocky wastes were thrown down and spread over with rich soil."

The joint action of air, moisture, and frost was still another agent of soil-making. This action is called weathering. Whenever you have noticed the outside stones of a spring-house, you have noticed that tiny bits are crumbling from the face of the stones, and adding little by little to the soil. This is a slow way of making additions to the soil. It is estimated that it would take 728,000 years to wear away limestone rock to a depth of thirty-nine inches. But when you recall the countless years through which the weather has striven against the rocks, you can readily understand that its never-wearying activity has added immensely to the soil.

In the rock soil formed in these various ways, and indeed on the rocks themselves, tiny plants that live on food taken from the air began to grow. They grew just as you now see mosses and lichens grow on the surface of rocks. The decay of these plants added some fertility to the newly formed soil. The life and death of each succeeding generation of these lowly plants added to the soil matter accumulating on the rocks. Slowly but unceasingly the soil increased in depth until higher vegetable forms could flourish and add their dead bodies to it. This vegetable addition to the soil is generally known as humus.

In due course of time low forms of animal life came to live on these plants, and in turn by their work and their death to aid in making a soil fit for the plowman.

Thus with a deliberation that fills man with awe, the powerful forces of nature splintered the rocks, crumbled them, filled them with plant food, and turned their flinty grains into a soft, snug home for vegetable life.


A good many years ago a man by the name of Jethro Tull lived in England. He was a farmer and a most successful man in every way. He first taught the English people and the world the value of thorough tillage of the soil. Before and during his time farmers did not till the soil very intelligently. They simply prepared the seed-bed in a careless manner, as a great many farmers do to-day, and when the crops were gathered the yields were not large.

Jethro Tull centered attention on the important fact that careful and thorough tillage increases the available plant food in the soil. He did not know why his crops were better when the ground was frequently and thoroughly tilled, but he knew that such tillage did increase his yield. He explained the fact by saying, "Tillage is manure." We have since learned the reason for the truth that Tull taught, and, while his explanation was incorrect, the practice that he was following was excellent. The stirring of the soil enables the air to circulate through it freely, and permits a breaking down of the compounds that contain the elements necessary to plant growth.

You have seen how the air helps to crumble the stone and brick in old buildings. It does the same with soil if permitted to circulate freely through it. The agent of the air that chiefly performs this work is called carbonic acid gas, and this gas is one of the greatest helpers the farmer has in carrying on his work. We must not forget that in soil preparation the air is just as important as any of the tools and implements used in cultivation.

If the soil is fertile and if deep plowing has always been done, good crops will result, other conditions being favorable. If, however, the tillage is poor, scanty harvests will always result. For most soils a two-horse plow is necessary to break up and pulverize the land.

A shallow soil can always be improved by properly deepening it. The principle of greatest importance in soil-preparation is the gradual deepening of the soil in order that plant-roots may have more comfortable homes. If the farmer has been accustomed to plow but four inches deep, he should adjust the plow so as to turn five inches at the next plowing, then six, and so on until the seed-bed is nine or ten inches deep. This gradual deepening will not injure the soil but will put it quickly in good condition. If to good tillage rotation of crops be added, the soil will become more fertile with each succeeding year.

The plow, harrow, and roller are all necessary to good tillage and to a proper preparation of the seed-bed. The soil must be made compact and clods of all sizes must be crushed. Then the air circulates freely, and paying crops are the rule and not the exception.

Tillage does these things: it increases the plant-food supply, destroys weeds, and influences the moisture content of the soil.


1. What tools are used in tillage?

2. How should a poor and shallow soil be treated?

3. Why should a poor and shallow soil be well compacted before sowing the crop?

4. Explain the value of a circulation of air in the soil.

5. What causes iron to rust?

6. Why is a two-horse turning-plow better than a one-horse plow?

7. Where will clods do the least harm—on top of the soil or below the surface?

8. Do plant roots penetrate clods?

9. Are earthworms a benefit or an injury to the soil?

10. Name three things that tillage does.


Did any one ever explain to you how important water is to the soil, or tell you why it is so important? Often, as you know, crops entirely fail because there is not enough water in the soil for the plants to drink. How necessary is it, then, that the soil be kept in the best possible condition to catch and hold enough water to carry the plant through dry, hot spells! Perhaps you are ready to ask, "How does the mouthless plant drink its stored-up water?"

The plant gets all its water through its roots. You have seen the tiny threadlike roots of a plant spreading all about in fine soil; they are down in the ground taking up plant food and water for the stalk and leaves above. The water, carrying plant food with it, rises in a simple but peculiar way through the roots and stems.

The plants use the food for building new tissue, that is, for growth. The water passes out through the leaves into the air. When the summers are dry and hot and there is but little water in the soil, the leaves shrink up. This is simply a method they have of keeping the water from passing too rapidly off into the air. I am sure you have seen the corn blades all shriveled on very hot days. This shrinkage is nature's way of diminishing the current of water that is steadily passing through the plant.

A thrifty farmer will try to keep his soil in such good condition that it will have a supply of water in it for growing crops when dry and hot weather comes. He can do this by deep plowing, by subsoiling, by adding any kind of decaying vegetable matter to the soil, and by growing crops that can be tilled frequently.

The soil is a great storehouse for moisture. After the clouds have emptied their waters into this storehouse, the water of the soil comes to the surface, where it is evaporated into the air. The water comes to the surface in just the same way that oil rises in a lamp-wick. This rising of the water is called capillarity.

It is necessary to understand what is meant by this big word. If into a pan of water you dip a glass tube, the water inside the tube rises above the level of the water in the pan. The smaller the tube the higher will the water rise. The greater rise inside is perhaps due to the fact that the glass attracts the particles of water more than the particles of water attract one another. Now apply this principle to the soil.

The soil particles have small spaces between them, and the spaces act just as the tube does. When the water at the surface is carried away by drying winds and warmth, the water deeper in the soil rises through the soil spaces. In this way water is brought from its soil storehouse as plants need it.

Of course when the underground water reaches the surface it evaporates. If we want to keep it for our crops, we must prepare a trap to hold it. Nature has shown us how this can be done. Pick up a plank as it lies on the ground. Under the plank the soil is wet, while the soil not covered by the plank is dry. Why? Capillarity brought the water to the surface, and the plank, by keeping away wind and warmth, acted as a trap to hold the moisture. Now of course a farmer cannot set a trap of planks over his fields, but he can make a trap of dry earth, and that will do just as well.

When a crop like corn or cotton or potatoes is cultivated, the fine, loose dirt stirred by the cultivating-plow will make a mulch that serves to keep water in the soil in the same way that the plank kept moisture under it. The mulch also helps to absorb the rains and prevents the water from running off the surface. Frequent cultivation, then, is one of the best possible ways of saving moisture. Hence the farmer who most frequently stirs his soil in the growing season, and especially in seasons of drought, reaps, other things being equal, a more abundant harvest than if tillage were neglected.


1. Why is the soil wet under a board or under straw?

2. Will a soil that is fine and compact produce better crops than one that is loose and cloddy? Why?

3. Since the water which a plant uses comes through the roots, can the morning dew afford any assistance?

4. Why are weeds objectionable in a growing crop?

5. Why does the farmer cultivate growing corn and cotton?


When the hot, dry days of summer come, the soil depends upon the subsoil, or undersoil, for the moisture that it must furnish its growing plants. The water was stored in the soil during the fall, winter, and spring months when there was plenty of rain. If you dig down into the soil when everything is dry and hot, you will soon reach a cool, moist undersoil. The moisture increases as you dig deeper into the soil.

Now the roots of plants go down into the soil for this moisture, because they need the water to carry the plant food up into the stems and leaves.

You can see how the water rises in the soil by performing a simple experiment.


Take a lamp-chimney and fill it with fine, dry dirt. The dirt from a road or a field will do. Tie over the smaller end of the lamp-chimney a piece of cloth or a pocket handkerchief, and place this end in a shallow pan of water. If the soil in the lamp-chimney is clay and well packed, the water will quickly rise to the top.

By filling three or four lamp-chimneys with as many different soils, the pupil will see that the water rises more slowly in some than in others.

Now take the water pan away, and the water in the lamp-chimneys will gradually evaporate. Study for a few days the effect of evaporation on the several soils.


A wise man was once asked, "What is the most valuable improvement ever made in agriculture?" He answered, "Drainage." Often soils unfit for crop-production because they contain too much water are by drainage rendered the most valuable of farming lands.

Drainage benefits land in the following ways:

1. It deepens the subsoil by removing unnecessary water from the spaces between the soil particles. This admits air. Then the oxygen which is in the air, by aiding decay, prepares plant food for vegetation.

2. It makes the surface soil, or topsoil, deeper. It stands to reason that the deeper the soil the more plant food becomes available for plant use.

3. It improves the texture of the soil. Wet soil is sticky. Drainage makes this sticky soil crumble and fall apart.

4. It prevents washing.

5. It increases the porosity of soils and permits roots to go deeper into the soil for food and moisture.

6. It increases the warmth of the soil.

7. It permits earlier working in spring and after rains.

8. It favors the growth of germs which change the unavailable nitrogen of the soil into nitrates; that is, into the form of nitrogen most useful to plants.

9. It enables plants to resist drought better because the roots go into the ground deeper early in the season.

A soil that is hard and wet will not grow good crops. The nitrogen-gathering crops will store the greatest quantity of nitrogen in the soil when the soil is open to the free circulation of the air. These valuable crops cannot do this when the soil is wet and cold.

Sandy soils with sandy subsoils do not often need drainage; such soils are naturally drained. With clay soils it is different. It is very important to remove the stagnant water in them and to let the air in.

When land has been properly drained the other steps in improvement are easily taken. After soil has been dried and mellowed by proper drainage, then commercial fertilizers, barnyard manure, cowpeas, and clover can most readily do their great work of improving the texture of the soil and of making it fitter for plant growth.

Tile Drains. Tile drains are the best and cheapest that can be used. It would not be too strong to say that draining by tiles is the most perfect drainage. Thousands of practical tests in this country have proved the superiority of tile draining for the following reasons:

1. Good tile drains properly laid last for years and do not fill up.

2. They furnish the cheapest possible means of removing too much water from the soil.

3. They are out of reach of all cultivating tools.

4. Surface water in filtering through the tiles leaves its nutritious elements for plant growth.


To show the Effect of Drainage. Take two tomato cans and fill both with the same kind of soil. Punch several holes in the bottom of one to drain the soil above and to admit air circulation. Leave the other unpunctured. Plant seeds of any kind in both cans and keep in a warm place. Add every third day equal quantities of water. Let seeds grow in both cans and observe the difference in growth for two or three weeks.

To show the Effect of Air in Soils. Take two tomato cans; fill one with soil that is loose and warm, and the other with wet clay or muck from a swampy field. Plant a few seeds of the same kind in each and observe how much better the dry, warm, open soil is for growing farm crops.


We hear a great deal about the exhaustion or wearing out of the soil. Many uncomfortable people are always declaring that our lands will no longer produce profitable crops, and hence that farming will no longer pay.

Now it is true, unfortunately, that much land has been robbed of its fertility, and, because this is true, we should be most deeply interested in everything that leads to the improvement of our soils.

When our country was first discovered and trees were growing everywhere, we had virgin soils, or new soils that were rich and productive because they were filled with vegetable matter and plant food. There are not many virgin soils now because the trees have been cut from the best lands, and these lands have been farmed so carelessly that the vegetable matter and available plant food have been largely used up. Now that fresh land is scarce it is very necessary to restore fertility to these exhausted lands. What are some of the ways in which this can be done?

There are several things to be done in trying to reclaim worn-out land. One of the first of these is to till the land well. Many of you may have heard the story of the dying father who called his sons about him and whispered feebly, "There is great treasure hidden in the garden." The sons could hardly wait to bury their dead father before, thud, thud, thud, their picks were going in the garden. Day after day they dug; they dug deep; they dug wide. Not a foot of the crop-worn garden escaped the probing of the pick as the sons feverishly searched for the expected treasure. But no treasure was found. Their work seemed entirely useless.

"Let us not lose every whit of our labor; let us plant this pick-scarred garden," said the eldest. So the garden was planted. In the fall the hitherto neglected garden yielded a harvest so bountiful, so unexpected, that the meaning of their father's words dawned upon them. "Truly," they said, "a treasure was hidden there. Let us seek it in all our fields."

The story applies as well to-day as it did when it was first told. Thorough culture of the soil, frequent and intelligent tillage—these are the foundations of soil-restoration.

Along with good tillage must go crop-rotation and good drainage. A supply of organic matter will prevent heavy rains from washing the soil and carrying away plant food. Drainage will aid good tillage in allowing air to circulate between the soil particles and in arranging plant food so that plants can use it.

But we must add humus, or vegetable matter, to the soil. You remember that the virgin soils contained a great deal of vegetable matter and plant food, but by the continuous growing of crops like wheat, corn, and cotton, and by constant shallow tillage, both humus and plant food have been used up. Consequently much of our cultivated soil to-day is hard and dead.

There are three ways of adding humus and plant food to this lifeless land: the first way is to apply barnyard manure (to adopt this method means that livestock raising must be a part of all farming); the second way is to adopt rotation of crops, and frequently to plow under crops like clover and cowpeas; the third way is to apply commercial fertilizers.

To summarize: if we want to make our soil better year by year, we must cultivate well, drain well, and in the most economical way add humus and plant food.


Select a small area of ground at your home and divide it into four sections, as shown in the following sketch:

On Section A apply barnyard manure; on Section B apply commercial fertilizers; on Section C apply nothing, but till well; on Section D apply nothing, and till very poorly.

A, B, and C should all be thoroughly plowed and harrowed. Then add barnyard manure to A, commercial fertilizers to B, and harrow A, B, and C at least four times until the soil is mellow and fine. D will most likely be cloddy, like many fields that we often see. Now plant on each plat some crop like cotton, corn, or wheat. When the plats are ready to harvest, measure the yield of each and determine whether the increased yield of the best plats has paid for the outlay for tillage and manure. The pupil will be much interested in the results obtained from the first crop.

Now follow a system of crop-rotation on the plats. Clover can follow corn or cotton or wheat; and cowpeas, wheat. Then determine the yield of each plat for the second crop. By following these plats for several years, and increasing the number, the pupils will learn many things of greatest value.


In the early days of our history, when the soil was new and rich, we were not compelled to use large amounts of manures and fertilizers. Yet our histories speak of an Indian named Squanto who came into one of the New England colonies and showed the first settlers how, by putting a fish in each hill of corn, they could obtain larger yields.

If people in those days, with new and fertile soils, could use manures profitably, how much more ought we to use them in our time, when soils have lost their virgin fertility, and when the plant food in the soil has been exhausted by years and years of cropping!

To sell year after year all the produce grown on land is a sure way to ruin it. If, for example, the richest land is planted every year in corn, and no stable or farmyard manure or other fertilizer returned to the soil, the land so treated will of course soon become too poor to grow any crop. If, on the other hand, clover or alfalfa or corn or cotton-seed meal is fed to stock, and the manure from the stock returned to the soil, the land will be kept rich. Hence those farmers who do not sell such raw products as cotton, corn, wheat, oats, and clover, but who market articles made from these raw products, find it easier to keep their land fertile. For illustration: if instead of selling hay, farmers feed it to sheep and sell meat and wool; if instead of selling cotton seed, they feed its meal to cows, and sell milk and butter; if instead of selling stover, they feed it to beef cattle, they get a good price for products and in addition have all the manure needed to keep their land productive and increase its value each year.

If we wish to keep up the fertility of our lands we should not allow anything to be lost from our farms. All the manures, straw, roots, stubble, healthy vines—in fact everything decomposable—should be plowed under or used as a top-dressing. Especial care should be taken in storing manure. It should be watchfully protected from sun and rain. If a farmer has no shed under which to keep his manure, he should scatter it on his fields as fast as it is made.

He should understand also that liquid manure is of more value than solid, because that important plant food, nitrogen, is found almost wholly in the liquid portion. Some of the phosphoric acid and considerable amounts of the potash are also found in the liquid manure. Hence economy requires that none of this escape either by leakage or by fermentation. Sometimes one can detect the smell of ammonia in the stable. This ammonia is formed by the decomposition of the liquid manure, and its loss should be checked by sprinkling some floats, acid phosphate, or muck over the stable floor.

Many farmers find it desirable to buy fertilizers to use with the manure made on the farm. In this case it is helpful to understand the composition, source, and availability of the various substances composing commercial fertilizers. The three most valuable things in commercial fertilizers are nitrogen, potash, and phosphoric acid.

The nitrogen is obtained from (1) nitrate of soda mined in Chile, (2) ammonium sulphate, a by-product of the gas works, (3) dried blood and other by-products of the slaughter-houses, and (4) cotton-seed meal. Nitrate of soda is soluble in water and may therefore be washed away before being used by plants. For this reason it should be applied in small quantities and at intervals of a few weeks.

Potash is obtained in Germany, where it is found in several forms. It is put on the market as muriate of potash, sulphate of potash, kainite, which contains salt as an impurity, and in other impure forms. Potash is found also in unleached wood ashes.

Phosphoric acid is found in various rocks of Tennessee, Florida, and South Carolina, and also to a large extent in bones. The rocks or bones are usually treated with sulphuric acid. This treatment changes the phosphoric acid into a form ready for plant use.

These three kinds of plant food are ordinarily all that we need to supply. In some cases, however, lime has to be added. Besides being a plant food itself, lime helps most soils by improving the structure of the grains; by sweetening the soil, thereby aiding the little living germs called bacteria; by hastening the decay of organic matter; and by setting free the potash that is locked up in the soil.




You have perhaps observed the regularity of arrangement in the twigs and branches of trees. Now pull up the roots of a plant, as, for example, sheep sorrel, Jimson weed, or some other plant. Note the branching of the roots. In these there is no such regularity as is seen in the twig. Trace the rootlets to their finest tips. How small, slender, and delicate they are! Still we do not see the finest of them, for in taking the plant from the ground we tore the most delicate away. In order to see the real construction of a root we must grow one so that we may examine it uninjured. To do this, sprout some oats in a germinator or in any box in which one glass side has been arranged and allow the oats to grow till they are two or more inches high. Now examine the roots and you will see very fine hairs, similar to those shown in the accompanying figure, forming a fuzz over the surface of the roots near the tips. This fuzz is made of small hairs standing so close together that there are often as many as 38,200 on a single square inch. Fig. 17 shows how a root looks when it has been cut crosswise into what is known as a cross section. The figure is much increased in size. You can see how the root-hairs extend from the root in every direction. Fig. 18 shows a single root-hair very greatly enlarged, with particles of sand sticking to it.

These hairs are the feeding-organs of the roots, and they are formed only near the tips of the finest roots. You see that the large, coarse roots that you are familiar with have nothing to do with absorbing plant food from the soil. They serve merely to conduct the sap and nourishment from the root-hairs to the tree.

When you apply manure or other fertilizer to a tree, remember that it is far better to supply the fertilizer to the roots that are at some distance from the trunk, for such roots are the real feeders. The plant food in the manure soaks into the soil and immediately reaches the root-hairs. You can understand this better by studying the distribution of the roots of an orchard tree, shown in Fig. 19. There you can see that the fine tips are found at a long distance from the main trunk.

You can now readily see why it is that plants usually wilt when they are transplanted. The fine, delicate root-hairs are then broken off, and the plant can but poorly keep up its food and water supply until new hairs have been formed. While these are forming, water has been evaporating from the leaves, and consequently the plant does not get enough moisture and therefore droops.

Would you not conclude that it is very poor farming to till deeply any crop after the roots have extended between the rows far enough to be cut by the plow or cultivator? In cultivating between corn rows, for example, if you find that you are disturbing fine roots, you may be sure that you are breaking off millions of root-hairs from each plant and hence are doing harm rather than good. Fig. 20 shows how the roots from one corn row intertangle with those of another. You see at a glance how many of these roots would be destroyed by deep cultivation. Stirring the upper inch of soil when the plants are well grown is sufficient tillage and does no injury to the roots.

A deep soil is much better than a shallow soil, as its depth makes it just so much easier for the roots to seek deep food. Fig. 21 illustrates well how far down into the soil the alfalfa roots go.


Dig up the roots of several cultivated plants and weeds and compare them. Do you find some that are fine or fibrous? some fleshy like the carrot? The dandelion is a good example of a tap-root. Tap-roots are deep feeders. Examine very carefully the roots of a medium-sized corn plant. Sift the dirt away gently so as to loosen as few roots as possible. How do the roots compare in area with the part above the ground? Try to trace a single root of the corn plant from the stalk to its very tip. How long are the roots of mature plants? Are they deep or shallow feeders? Germinate some oats or beans in a glass-sided box, as suggested, and observe the root-hairs.


Plants receive their nourishment from two sources—from the air and from the soil. The soil food, or mineral food, dissolved in water, must reach the plant through the root-hairs with which all plants are provided in great numbers. Each of these hairs may be compared to a finger reaching among the particles of earth for food and water. If we examine the root-hairs ever so closely, we find no holes, or openings, in them. It is evident, then, that no solid particles can enter the root-hairs, but that all food must pass into the root in solution.

An experiment just here will help us to understand how a root feeds.


Secure a narrow glass tube like the one in Fig. 22. If you cannot get a tube, a narrow, straight lamp-chimney will, with a little care, do nearly as well. From a bladder made soft by soaking, cut a piece large enough to cover the end of the tube or chimney and to hang over a little all around. Make the piece of bladder secure to the end of the tube by wrapping tightly with a waxed thread, as at B. Partly fill the tube with molasses (or it may be easier in case you use a narrow tube to fill it before attaching the bladder). Put the tube into a jar or bottle of water so placed that the level of the molasses inside and the water outside will be the same. Fasten the tube in this position and observe it frequently for three or four hours. At the end of the time you should find that the molasses in the tube has risen above the level of the liquid outside. It may even overflow at the top. If you use the lamp-chimney the rise will not be so clearly seen, since a greater volume is required to fill the space in the chimney. This increase in the contents of the tube is due to the entrance of water from the outside. The water has passed through the thin bladder, or membrane, and has come to occupy space in the tube. There is also a passage the other way, but the molasses can pass through the bladder membrane so slowly that the passage is scarcely noticeable. There are no holes, or openings, in the membrane, but still there is a free passage of liquids in both directions, although the more heavily laden solution must move more slowly.

A root-hair acts in much the same way as the tube in our experiment, with the exception that it is so made as to allow certain substances to pass in only one direction, that is, toward the inside. The outside of the root-hair is bathed in solutions rich in nourishment. The nourishment passes from the outside to the inside through the delicate membrane of the root-hair. Thus does food enter the plant-root. From the root-hairs, foods are carried to the inside of the root.

From this you can see how important it is for a plant to have fine, loose soil for its root-hairs; also how necessary is the water in the soil, since the food can be used only when it is dissolved in water.

This passage of liquids from one side of a membrane to another is called osmosis. It has many uses in the plant kingdom. We say a root takes nourishment by osmosis.


Tubercle is a big word, but you ought to know how to pronounce it and what is meant by root-tubercles. We are going to tell you what a root-tubercle is and something about its importance to agriculture. When you have learned this, we are sure you will want to examine some plants for yourself in order that you may see just what tubercles look like on a real root.

Root-tubercles do not form on all kinds of plants that farmers grow. They are formed only on those kinds that botanists call legumes. The clovers, cowpeas, vetches, soy beans, and alfalfa are all legumes. The tubercles are little knotty, wart-like growths on the roots of the plants just named. These tubercles are caused by tiny forms of life called, as you perhaps already know, bacteria, or germs.

Instead of living in nests in trees like birds or in the ground like moles and worms, these tiny germs, less than one twenty-five thousandth of an inch long, make their homes on the roots of legumes. Nestling snugly together, they live, grow, and multiply in their sunless homes. Through their activity the soil is enriched by the addition of much nitrogen from the air. They are the good fairies of the farmer, and no magician's wand ever blessed a land so much as these invisible folk bless the land that they live in.

Just as bees gather honey from the flowers and carry it to the hives, where they prepare it for their own future use and for the use of others, so do these root-tubercles gather nitrogen from the air and fix it in their root homes, where it can be used by other crops.

In the earlier pages of this book you were told something about the food of plants. One of the main elements of plant food, perhaps you remember, is nitrogen. Just as soon as the roots of the leguminous plants begin to push down into the soil, the bacteria, or germs that make the tubercles, begin to build their homes on the roots, and in so doing they add nitrogen to the soil. You now see the importance of growing such crops as peas and clover on your land, for by their tubercles you can constantly add plant food to the soil. Now this much-needed nitrogen is the most costly part of the fertilizers that farmers buy every year. If every farmer, then, would grow these tubercle-bearing crops, he would rapidly add to the richness of his land and at the same time escape the necessity of buying so much expensive fertilizer.


Take a spade or shovel and dig carefully around the roots of a cowpea and a clover plant; loosen the earth thoroughly and then pull the plants up, being careful not to break off any of the roots. Now wash the roots, and after they become dry count the nodules, or tubercles, on them. Observe the difference in size. How are they arranged? Do all leguminous plants have equal numbers of nodules? How do these nodules help the farmer?


Doubtless you know what is meant by rotation, for your teacher has explained to you already how the earth rotates, or turns, on its axis and revolves around the sun. When we speak of crop-rotation we mean not only that the same crop should not be planted on the same land for two successive years but that crops should follow one another in a regular order.

Many farmers do not follow a system of farming that involves a change of crops. In some parts of the country the same fields are planted to corn or wheat or cotton year after year. This is not a good practice and sooner or later will wear out the soil completely, because the soil-elements that furnish the food of that constant crop are soon exhausted and good crop-production is no longer possible.

Why is crop-rotation so necessary? There are different kinds of plant food in the soil. If any one of these is used up, the soil of course loses its power to feed plants properly. Now each crop uses more of some of the different kinds of foods than others do, just as you like some kinds of food better than others. But the crop cannot, as you can, learn to use the kinds of food it does not like; it must use the kind that nature fitted it to use. Not only do different crops feed upon different soil foods, but they use different quantities of these foods.

Now if a farmer plant the same crop in the same field each year, that crop soon uses up all of the available plant food that it likes. Hence the soil can no longer properly nourish the crop that has been year by year robbing it. If that crop is to be successfully grown again on the land, the exhausted element must be restored.

This can be done in two ways: first, by finding out what element has here been exhausted, and then restoring this element by means either of commercial fertilizers or manure; second, by planting on the land crops that feed on different food and that will allow or assist kind Mother Nature "to repair her waste places." An illustration may help you to remember this fact. Nitrogen is, as already explained, one of the commonest plant foods. It may almost be called plant bread. The wheat crop uses up a good deal of nitrogen. Suppose a field were planted in wheat year after year. Most of the available nitrogen would be taken out of the soil after a while, and a new wheat crop, if planted on the field, would not get enough of its proper food to yield a paying harvest. This same land, however, that could not grow wheat could produce other crops that do not require so much nitrogen. For example, it could grow cowpeas. Cowpeas, aided by their root-tubercles, are able to gather from the air a great part of the nitrogen needed for their growth. Thus a good crop of peas can be obtained even if there is little available nitrogen in the soil. On the other hand wheat and corn and cotton cannot use the free nitrogen of the air, and they suffer if there is an insufficient quantity present in the soil; hence the necessity of growing legumes to supply what is lacking.

Let us now see how easily plant food may be saved by the rotation of crops.

If you sow wheat in the autumn it is ready to be harvested in time for planting cowpeas. Plow or disk the wheat stubble, and sow the same field to cowpeas. If the wheat crop has exhausted the greater part of the nitrogen of the soil, it makes no difference to the cowpea; for the cowpea will get its nitrogen from the air and not only provide for its own growth but will leave quantities of nitrogen in the queer nodules of its roots for the crops coming after it in the rotation.

If corn be planted, there should be a rotation in just the same way. The corn plant, a summer grower, of course uses a certain portion of the plant food stored in the soil. In order that the crop following the corn may feed on what the corn did not use, this crop should be one that requires a somewhat different food. Moreover, it should be one that fits in well with corn so as to make a winter crop. We find just such a plant in clover or wheat. Like the cowpea, all the varieties of clover have on their roots tubercles that add the important element, nitrogen, to the soil.

From these facts is it not clear that if you wish to improve your land quickly and keep it always fruitful you must practice crop-rotation?


Here are two systems of crop-rotation as practiced at one or more agricultural experiment stations. Each furnishes an ideal plan for keeping up land.

-+ + -+ + FIRST YEAR SECOND YEAR THIRD YEAR + + -+ + -+ Summer Winter Summer Winter Summer Winter + + -+ + -+ Corn Crimson Cotton Wheat Cowpeas Rye for clover pasture + + -+ + -+


- - Summer Winter Summer Winter Summer Winter - - Corn Wheat Clover Clover Grass Grass for and grass and grass pasture or meadow - - - -

In these rotations the cowpeas and clovers are nitrogen-gathering crops. They not only furnish hay but they enrich the soil. The wheat, corn, and cotton are money crops, but in addition they are cultivated crops; hence they improve the physical condition of the soil and give opportunity to kill weeds. The grasses and clovers are of course used for pasturage and hay. This is only a suggested rotation. Work out one that will meet your home need.


Let the pupils each present a system of rotation that includes the crops raised at home. The system presented should as nearly as possible meet the following requirements:

1. Legumes for gathering nitrogen. 2. Money crops for cash income. 3. Cultivated crops for tillage and weed-destruction. 4. Food crops for feeding live stock.




If you partly burn a match you will see that it becomes black. This black substance into which the match changes is called carbon. Examine a fresh stick of charcoal, which is, as you no doubt know, burnt wood. You see in the charcoal every fiber that you saw in the wood itself. This means that every part of the plant contains carbon. How important, then, is this substance to the plant!

You will be surprised to know that the total amount of carbon in plants comes from the air. All the carbon that a plant gets is taken in by the leaves of the plant; not a particle is gathered by the roots. A large tree, weighing perhaps 11,000 pounds, requires in its growth carbon from 16,000,000 cubic yards of air.

Perhaps, after these statements, you may think there is danger that the carbon of the air may sometime become exhausted. The air of the whole world contains about 1,760,000,000,000 pounds of carbon. Moreover, this is continually being added to by our fires and by the breath of animals. When wood or coal is used for fuel the carbon of the burning substance is returned to the air in the form of gas. Some large factories burn great quantities of coal and thus turn much carbon back to the air. A single factory in Germany is estimated to give back to the air daily about 5,280,000 pounds of carbon. You see, then, that carbon is constantly being put back into the air to replace that which is used by growing plants.

The carbon of the air can be used by none but green plants, and by them only in the sunlight. We may compare the green coloring matter of the leaf to a machine, and the sunlight to the power, or energy, which keeps the machine in motion. By means, then, of sunlight and the green coloring matter of the leaves, the plant secures carbon. The carbon passes into the plant and is there made into two foods very necessary to the plant; namely, starch and sugar.

Sometimes the plant uses the starch and sugar immediately. At other times it stores both away, as it does in the Irish and the sweet potato and in beets, cabbage, peas, and beans. These plants are used as food by man because they contain so much nourishment; that is, starch and sugar which were stored away by the plant for its own future use.


Examine some charcoal. Can you see the rings of growth? Slightly char paper, cloth, meat, sugar, starch, etc. What does the turning black prove? What per cent of these substances do you think is pure carbon?


The root-hairs take nourishment from the soil. The leaves manufacture starch and sugar. These manufactured foods must be carried to all parts of the plant. There are two currents to carry them. One passes from the roots through the young wood to the leaves, and one, a downward current, passes through the bark, carrying needed food to the roots (see Fig. 28).

If you should injure the roots, the water supply to the leaves would be cut off and the leaves would immediately wither. On the other hand, if you remove the bark, that is, girdle the tree, you in no way interfere with the water supply and the leaves do not wither. Girdling does, however, interfere with the downward food current through the bark.

If the tree be girdled the roots sooner or later suffer from lack of food supply from the leaves. Owing to this food stoppage the roots will cease to grow and will soon be unable to take in sufficient water, and then the leaves will begin to droop. This, however, may not happen until several months after the girdling. Sometimes a partly girdled branch grows much in thickness just above the girdle, as is shown in Fig. 29. This extra growth seems to be due to a stoppage of the rich supply of food which was on its way to the roots through the bark. It could go no farther and was therefore used by the tree to make an unnatural growth at this point. You will now understand how and why trees die when they are girdled to clear new ground.

It is, then, the general law of sap-movement that the upward current from the roots passes through the woody portion of the trunk, and that the current bearing the food made by the leaves passes downward through the bark.


Let the teacher see that these and all other experiments are performed by the pupils. Do not allow them to guess, but make them see.

Girdle valueless trees or saplings of several kinds, cutting the bark away in a complete circle around the tree. Do not cut into the wood. How long before the tree shows signs of injury? Girdle a single small limb on a tree. What happens? Explain.


Some people think that the flowers by the wayside are for the purpose of beautifying the world and increasing man's enjoyment. Do you think this is true? Undoubtedly a flower is beautiful, and to be beautiful is one of the uses of many flowers; but it is not the chief use of a flower.

You know that when peach or apple blossoms are nipped by the spring frost the fruit crop is in danger. The fruit of the plant bears the seed, and the flower produces the fruit. That is its chief duty.

Do you know any plant that produces seed without flowers? Some one answers, "The corn, the elm, and the maple all produce seed, but have no flower." No, that is not correct. If you look closely you will find in the spring very small flowers on the elm and on the maple, while the ear and the tassel are really the blossoms of the corn plant. Every plant that produces seed has flowers, although they may sometimes seem very curious flowers.

Let us see what a flower really is. Take, for example, a buttercup, cotton, tobacco, or plum blossom (see Figs. 31 and 32). You will find on the outside a row of green leaves inclosing the flower when it is still a bud. These leaves are the sepals. Next on the inside is a row of colored leaves, or petals. Arranged inside of the petals are some threadlike parts, each with a knob on the end. These are the stamens. Examine one stamen closely (Fig. 33). On the knob at its tip you should find, if the flower is fully open, some fine grains, or powder. In the lily this powder is so abundant that in smelling the flower you often brush a quantity of it off on your nose. This substance is called pollen, and the knob on the end of the stamen, on which the pollen is borne, is the anther.

The pollen is of very great importance to the flower. Without it there could be no seeds. The stamens as pollen-bearers, then, are very important. But there is another part to each flower that is of equal value. This part you will find in the center of the flower, inside the circle of stamens. It is called the pistil (Fig. 32). The swollen tip of the pistil is the stigma. The swollen base of the pistil forms the ovary. If you carefully cut open this ovary you will find in it very small immature seeds.

Some plants bear all these parts in the same flower; that is, each blossom has stamens, pistil, petals, and sepals. The pear blossom and the tomato blossom represent such flowers. Other plants bear their stamens and pistils in separate blossoms. Stamens and pistils may even occur in separate plants, and some blossoms have no sepals or petals at all. Look at the corn plant. Here the tassel is a cluster of many flowers, each of which bears only stamens. The ear is likewise a cluster of many flowers, each of which bears only a pistil. The dust that you see falling from the tassel is the pollen, and the long silky threads of the ear are the stigmas.

Now no plant can bear seeds unless the pollen of the stamen falls on the stigma. Corn cannot therefore form seed unless the dust of the tassel falls upon the silk. Did you ever notice how poorly the cob is filled on a single cornstalk standing alone in a field? Do you see why? It is because when a plant stands alone the wind blows the pollen away from the tassel, and little or none is received on the stigmas below.

In the corn plant the stamens and pistils are separate; that is, they do not occur on the same flower, although they are on the same plant. This is also true of the cucumber (see Fig. 35). In many plants, however, such as the hemp, hop, sassafras, willow, and others, the staminate parts are on one plant and the pistillate parts are on another. This is also true in several other cultivated plants. For example, in some strawberries the stamens are absent or useless; that is, they bear no good pollen. In such cases the grower must see to it that near by are strawberry plants that bear stamens, in order that those plants which do not bear pollen may become pollinated; that is, may have pollen carried to them. After the stigma has been supplied with pollen, a single pollen grain sends a threadlike sprout down through the stigma into the ovary. This process, if successfully completed, is called fertilization.


Examine several flowers and identify the parts named in the last section. Try in the proper season to find the pollen on the maple, willow, alder, and pine, and on wheat, cotton, and the morning-glory.

How fast does the ovary of the apple blossom enlarge? Measure one and watch it closely from day to day. Can you find any plants that have their stamens and ovaries on separate individuals?


Nature has several interesting ways of bringing about pollination. In the corn, willow, and pine the pollen is picked up by the wind and carried away. Much of it is lost, but some reaches the stigmas, or receptive parts, of other corn, willow, or pine flowers. This is a very wasteful method, and all plants using it must provide much pollen.

Many plants employ a much better method. They have learned how to make insects bear their pollen. In plants of this type the parts of the blossom are so shaped and so placed as to deposit pollen from the stamen on the insect and to receive pollen from the insect on the stigmas.

When you see the clumsy bumblebee clambering over and pushing his way into a clover blossom, you may be sure that he is getting well dusted with pollen and that the next blossom which he visits will secure a full share on its stigmas.

When flowers fit themselves to be pollinated by insects they can no longer use the wind and are helpless if insects do not visit them. They therefore cunningly plan two ways to invite the visits of insects. First, they provide a sweet nectar as a repast for the insect visitor. The nectar is a sugary solution found in the bottom of the flower and is used by the visitor as food or to make honey. Second, flowers advertise to let each insect know that they have something for it. The advertising is done either by showy colors or by perfume. Insects have wonderful powers of smell. When you see showy flowers or smell fragrant ones, you will know that such flowers are advertising the presence either of nectar or of pollen (to make beebread) and that such flowers depend on insects for pollination.

A season of heavy, cold rains during blossoming-time may often injure the fruit crop by preventing insects from carrying pollen from flower to flower. You now also understand why plants often fail to produce seeds indoors. Since they are shut in, they cannot receive proper insect visits. Plants such as tomatoes or other garden fruits dependent upon insect pollination must, if raised in the greenhouse where insects cannot visit them, be pollinated by hand.


Exclude insect visitors from some flower or flower cluster, for example, clover, by covering with a paper bag, and see whether the flower can produce seeds that are capable of growing. Compare as to number and vitality the seeds of such a flower with those of an uncovered flower. Observe insects closely. Do you ever find pollen on them? What kinds of insects visit the clover? the cowpea? the sourwood? the flax? Is wheat pollinated by insects or by the wind or by some other means? Do bees fly in rainy weather? How will a long rainy season at blossoming-time affect the apple crop? Why? Should bees be kept in an orchard? Why?


In our study of flowers and their pollination we have seen that the seed is usually the descendant of two parents, or at least of two organs—one the ovary, producing the seed; the other the pollen, which is necessary to fertilize the ovary.

It happens that sometimes the pollen of one blossom fertilizes the ovary of its own flower, but more often the pollen from one plant fertilizes the ovary of another plant. This latter method is called cross-pollination. As a rule cross-pollination makes seed that will produce a better plant than simple pollination would. Cross-pollination by hand is often used by plant-breeders when, for purposes of seed-selection, a specially strong plant is desired. The steps in hand pollination are as follows: (1) remove the anthers before they open, to prevent them from pollinating the stigma (the steps in this process are illustrated in Figs. 37, 38-39); (2) cover the flower thus treated with a paper bag to prevent stray pollen from getting on it (see Fig. 40); (3) when the ovary is sufficiently developed, carry pollen to the stigma by hand from the anthers of another plant which you have selected to furnish it, and rebag to keep out any stray pollen which might accidentally get in; (4) collect the seeds when they are mature and label them properly.

Hand pollination has this advantage—you know both parents of your seed. If pollination occur naturally you know the maternal but have no means of judging the paternal parent. You can readily see, therefore, how hand pollination enables you to secure seed derived from two well-behaved parents.

Sometimes we can breed one kind of plant on another. The result of such cross-breeding is known as a hybrid. In the animal kingdom the mule is a common example of this cross-breeding. Plant hybrids were formerly called mules also, but this suggestive term is almost out of use.

It is only when plants of two distinct kinds are crossed that the result is called a hybrid; for example, a blackjack oak on a white oak, an apple on a pear. If the parent plants are closely related, for example, two kinds of apples, the resulting plant is known simply as a cross.

Hybrids and crosses are valuable in that they usually differ from both parents and yet combine some qualities of each.

They often leave off some of the qualities of the parent plants and at other times have such qualities more markedly than did their parents. Thus they often produce an interesting new kind of plant. Sometimes we are able by hybridization to combine in one plant the good qualities of two other plants and thus make a great advance in agriculture. The new forms brought about by hybridization may be fixed, or made permanent, by such selection as is mentioned in Section XVIII. Hybridization is of great aid in originating new plants.

It often happens that a plant will be more fruitful when pollinated by one variety than by some other variety. This is well illustrated in Fig. 41. A fruit-grower or farmer should know much about these subjects before selecting varieties for his orchard, vineyard, etc.


With the help of your teacher try to cross some plants. Such an experiment will take time, but will be most interesting. You must remember that many crosses must be attempted in order to gain success with even a few.


It is the business of the farmer to make plants grow, or, as it is generally called, to propagate plants. This he does in one of two ways: by buds (that is, by small pieces cut from parent plants), or by seeds. The chief aim in both methods should be to secure in the most convenient manner the best-paying plants.

Many plants are most easily and quickly propagated by buds; for example, the grape, red raspberry, fig, and many others that we cultivate for the flower only, such as the carnation, geranium, rose, and begonia.

In growing plants from cuttings, a piece is taken from the kind of plant that one wishes to grow. The greatest care must be exercised in order to get a healthy cutting. If we take a cutting from a poor plant, what can we expect but to grow a poor plant like the one from which our cutting was taken? On the other hand, if a fine, strong, vigorous, fruitful plant be selected, we shall expect to grow just such a fine, healthy, fruitful plant.

We expect the cutting to make exactly the same variety of plant as the parent stock. We must therefore decide on the variety of berry, grape, fig, carnation, or rose that we wish to propagate, and then look for the strongest and most promising plants of this variety within our reach. The utmost care will not produce a fine plant if we start from poor stock.

What qualities are most desirable in a plant from which cuttings are to be taken? First, it should be productive, hardy, and suited to your climate and your needs; second, it should be healthy. Do not take cuttings from a diseased plant, since the cutting may carry the disease.

Cuttings may be taken from various parts of the plant, sometimes even from parts of the leaf, as in the begonia (Fig. 46). More often, however, they are drawn from parts of the stem (Figs. 43-45). As to the age of the twig from which the cutting is to be taken, Professor Bailey says: "For most plants the proper age or maturity of wood for the making of cuttings may be determined by giving the twig a quick bend; if it snaps and hangs by the bark, it is in proper condition. If it bends without breaking, it is too young and soft or too old. If it splinters, it is too old and woody." Some plants, as the geranium (Fig. 42), succeed best if the cuttings from which they are grown are taken from soft, young parts of the plant; others, for example, the grape or rose, do better when the cutting is made from more mature wood.

Cuttings may vary in size and may include one or more buds. After a hardy, vigorous cutting is made, insert it about one half or one third of its length in soil. A soil free from organic matter is much the best, since in such soil the cuttings are much less liable to disease. A fine, clean sand is commonly used by professional gardeners. When cuttings have rooted well—this may require a month or more—they may be transplanted to larger pots.

Sometimes, instead of cutting off a piece and rooting it, portions of branches are made to root before they are separated from the parent plant. This method is often followed, and is known as layering. It is a simple process. Just bend the tip of a bough down and bury it in the earth (see Fig. 47). The black raspberry forms layers naturally, but gardeners often aid it by burying the over-hanging tips in the earth, so that more tips may easily take root. Strawberries develop runners that root themselves in a similar fashion.

Grafts and buds are really cuttings which, instead of being buried in sand to produce roots of their own, are set on the roots of other plants.

Grafting and budding are practiced when these methods are more convenient than cuttings or when the gardener thinks there is danger of failure to get plants to take root as cuttings. Neither grafting nor budding is, however, necessary for the raspberry or the grape, for these propagate most readily from cuttings.

It is often the case that a budded or grafted plant is more fruitful than a plant on its own roots. In cases of this kind, of course, grafts or buds are used.

The white, or Irish, potato is usually propagated from pieces of the potato itself. Each piece used for planting bears one eye or more. The potato itself is really an underground stem and the eyes are buds. This method of propagation is therefore really a peculiar kind of cutting.

Since the eye is a bud and our potato plant for next year is to develop from this bud, it is of much importance, as we have seen, to know exactly what kind of plant our potato comes from. If the potato is taken from a small plant that had but a few poor potatoes in the hill, we may expect the bud to produce a similar plant and a correspondingly poor crop. We must see to it, then, that our seed potatoes are drawn from vines that were good producers, because new potato plants are like the plants from which they were grown. Of course when our potatoes are in the bin we cannot tell from what kind of plants they came. We must therefore select our seed potatoes in the field. Seed potatoes should always be selected from those hills that produce most bountifully. Be assured that the increased yield will richly repay this care in selecting. It matters not so much whether the seed potato be large or small; it must, however, come from a hill bearing a large yield of fine potatoes.

Sweet-potato plants are produced from shoots, or growing buds, taken from the potato itself, so that in their case too the piece that we use in propagating is a part of the original plant, and will therefore be like it under similar conditions. Just as with the Irish potato, it is important to know how good a yielder you are planting. You should watch during harvest and select for propagation for the next year only such plants as yield best.

We should exercise fully as much care in selecting proper individuals from which to make a cutting or a layer as we do in selecting a proper animal to breed from. Just as we select the finest Jersey in the herd for breeding purposes, so we should choose first the variety of plant we desire and then the finest individual plant of that variety.

If the variety of the potato that we desire to raise be Early Rose, it is not enough to select any Early Rose plants, but the very best Early Rose plants, to furnish our seed.

It is not enough to select large, fine potatoes for cuttings. A large potato may not produce a bountifully yielding plant. It will produce a plant like the one that produced it. It may be that this one large potato was the only one produced by the original plant. If so, the plant that grows from it will tend to be similarly unproductive. Thus you see the importance of selecting in the field a plant that has exactly the qualities desired in the new plant.

One of the main reasons why gardeners raise plants from buds instead of from seeds is that the seed of many plants will not produce plants like the parent. This failure to "come true," as it is called, is sometimes of value, for it occasionally leads to improvement. For example, suppose that a thousand apple or other fruit or flower seeds from plants usually propagated by cuttings be planted; it may be that one out of a thousand or a million will be a very valuable plant. If a valuable plant be so produced, it should be most carefully guarded, multiplied by cuttings or grafts, and introduced far and wide. It is in this way that new varieties of fruits and flowers are produced from time to time.

Sometimes, too, a single bud on a tree will differ from the other buds and will produce a branch different from the other branches. This is known as bud variation. When there is thus developed a branch which happens to be of a superior kind, it should be propagated by cuttings just as you would propagate it if it had originated from a seed.

Mr. Gideon of Minnesota planted many apple seeds, and from them all raised one tree that was very fruitful, finely flavored, and able to withstand the cold Minnesota winter. This tree he multiplied by grafts and named the Wealthy apple. It is said that in giving this one apple to the world he benefited mankind to the value of more than one million dollars. It will be well to watch for any valuable bud or seed variant and never let a promising one be lost. Plants grown in this way from seeds are usually spoken of as seedlings.


The following list gives the names and methods by which our common garden fruits and flowers are propagated:

Figs: use cuttings 8 to 10 inches long or layer. Grapes: use long cuttings, layer, or graft upon old vines.

Apples: graft upon seedlings, usually crab seedlings one year old.

Pears: bud upon pear seedlings.

Cherries: bud upon cherry stock.

Plums: bud upon peach stock.

Peaches: bud upon peach or plum seedlings.

Quinces: use cuttings or layer.

Blackberries: propagate by suckers; cut from parent stem.

Black raspberries: layer; remove old stem.

Red raspberries: propagate by root-cuttings or suckers.

Strawberries: propagate by runners.

Currants and gooseberries: use long cuttings (these plants grow well only in cool climates; if attempted in warm climates, set in cold exposure).

Carnations, geraniums, roses, begonias, etc.: propagate by cuttings rooted in sand and then transplanted to small pots.


Propagate fruits (grape, fig, strawberry) of various kinds; also ornamental plants. How long does it take them to root? Geraniums rooted in the spring will bloom in the fall. Do you know any one who selects seed potatoes properly? Make a careful selection of seed at the next harvest-time.


In propagating by seed, as in reproducing by buds, we select a portion of the parent plant—for a seed is surely a part of the parent plant—and place it in the ground. There is, however, one great difference between a seed and a bud. The bud is really a piece of the parent plant, but a piece of one plant only, while a seed comes from the parts of two plants.

You will understand this fully if you read carefully Sections XIV-XVI. Since the seed is made of two plants, the plant that springs from a seed is much more likely to differ from its mother plant, that is, from the plant that produces the seed, than is a plant produced merely by buds. In some cases plants "come true to seed" very accurately. In others they vary greatly. For example, when we plant the seed of wheat, turnips, rye, onions, tomatoes, tobacco, or cotton, we get plants that are in most respects like the parent plant. On the other hand the seed of a Crawford peach or a Baldwin apple or a Bartlett pear will not produce plants like its parent, but will rather resemble its wild forefathers. These seedlings, thus taking after their ancestors, are always far inferior to our present cultivated forms. In such cases seeding is not practicable, and we must resort to bud propagation of one sort or another.

While in a few plants like those just mentioned the seed does not "come true," most plants, for example, cotton, tobacco, and others, do "come true." When we plant King cotton we may expect to raise King cotton. There will be, however, as every one knows, some or even considerable variation in the field. Some plants, even in exactly the same soil, will be better than the average, and some will be poorer. Now we see this variation in the plants of our field, and we believe that the plant will be in the main like its parent. What should we learn from this? Surely that if we wish to produce sturdy, healthy, productive plants we must go into our fields and pick out just such plants to secure seed from as we wish to produce another year. If we wait until the seed is separated from the plant that produced it before we select our cotton seed, we shall be planting seed from poor as well as from good plants, and must be content with a crop of just such stock as we have planted. By selecting seed from the most productive plants in the field and by repeating the selection each year, you can continually improve the breed of the plant you are raising. In selecting seed for cotton you may follow the plan suggested below for wheat.

The difference that you see between the wild and the cultivated chrysanthemums and between the samples of asparagus shown in Figs. 49 and 50 was brought about by just such continuous seed-selection from the kind of plant wanted.

By the careful selection of seed from the longest flax plants the increase in length shown in the accompanying figure was gained. The selection of seed from those plants bearing the most seed, regardless of the height of the plant, has produced flax like that to the right in the illustration. These two kinds of flax are from the same parent stock, but slight differences have been emphasized by continued seed-selection, until we now have really two varieties of flax, one a heavy seed-bearer, the other producing a long fiber.

You can in a similar way improve your cotton or any other seed crop. Sugar beets have been made by seed-selection to produce about double the percentage of sugar that they did a few years ago. Preparing and tilling land costs too much in money and work to allow the land to be planted with poor seed. When you are trying by seed-selection to increase the yield of cotton, there are two principles that should be borne in mind: first, seed should be chosen only from plants that bear many well-filled bolls of long-staple cotton; second, seed should be taken from no plant that does not by its healthy condition show hardihood in resisting disease and drouth.

The plan of choosing seeds from selected plants may be applied to wheat; but it would of course be too time-consuming to select enough single wheat plants to furnish all of the seed wheat for the next year. In this case adopt the following plan: In Fig. 52 let A represent the total size of your wheat field and let B represent a plat large enough to furnish seed for the whole field. At harvest-time go into section A and select the best plants you can find. Pick the heads of these and thresh them by hand. The seed so obtained must be carefully saved for your next sowing.

In the fall sow these selected seeds in area B. This area should produce the best wheat. At the next harvest cull not from the whole field but from the finest plants of plat B, and again save these as seed for plat B. Use the unculled seed from plat B to sow your crop. By following this plan continuously you will every year have seed from several generations of choice plants, and each year you will improve your seed.

It is of course advisable to move your seed plat B every year or two. For the new plat select land that has recently been planted in legumes. Always give this plat unwearying care.

In the selection of plants from which to get seed, you must know what kind of plants are really the best seed plants. First, you must not regard single heads or grains, but must select seed from the most perfect plant, looking at the plant as a whole and not at any single part of it. A first consideration is yield. Select the plants that yield best and are at the same time resistant to drouth, resistant to rust and to winter, early to ripen, plump of grain, and nonshattering. What a fine thing it would be to find even one plant free from rust in the midst of a rusted field! It would mean a rust-resistant plant. Its offspring also would probably be rust-resistant. If you should ever find such a plant, be sure to save its seed and plant it in a plat by itself. The next year again save seed from those plants least rusted. Possibly you can develop a rust-proof race of wheat! Keep your eyes open.

In England the average yield of wheat is thirty bushels an acre, in the United States it is less than fifteen bushels! In some states the yield is even less than nine bushels an acre. Let us select our seed with care, as the English people do, and then we can increase our yield. By careful seed-selection a plant-breeder in Minnesota increased the yield of his wheat by one fourth. Think what it would mean if twenty-five per cent were added to the world's supply of wheat at comparatively no cost; that is, at the mere cost of careful seed-selection. This would mean an addition to the world's income of about $500,000,000 each year. The United States would get about one fifth of this profit.

It often happens that a single plant in a crop of corn, cotton, or wheat will be far superior to all others in the field. Such a plant deserves special care. Do not use it merely as a seed plant, but carefully plant its seeds apart and tend carefully. The following season select the best of its offspring as favorites again. Repeat this selection and culture for several years until you fix the variety. This is the way new varieties are originated from plants propagated by seed.

In 1862 Mr. Abraham Fultz of Pennsylvania, while passing through a field of bearded wheat, found three heads of beardless, or bald, wheat. These he sowed by themselves that year, and as they turned out specially productive he continued to sow this new variety. Soon he had enough seed to distribute over the country. It became known as the Fultz wheat and is to-day one of the best varieties in the United States and in a number of foreign countries. Think how many bushels of wheat have been added to the world's annual supply by a few moments of intelligent observation and action on the part of this one man! He saw his opportunity and used it. How many similar opportunities do you think are lost? How much does your state or country lose thereby?


Select one hundred seeds from a good, and one hundred from a poor, plant of the same variety. Sow them in two plats far enough apart to avoid cross-pollination, yet try to have soil conditions about the same. Give each the same care and compare the yield. Try this with corn, cotton, and wheat. Select seeds from the best plant in your good plat and from the poorest in your poor plat and repeat the experiment. This will require but a few feet of ground, and the good plat will pay for itself in yield, while the poor plat will more than pay in the lesson that it will teach you.

Write to the Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., and to your state experiment station for bulletins concerning seed-selection and methods of plant-improvement.


If a farmer would raise good crops he must, as already stated, select good seed. Many of the farmer's disappointments in the quantity and quality of his crops—disappointments often thought to come from other causes—are the result of planting poor seed. Seeds not fully ripened, if they grow at all, produce imperfect plants. Good seed, therefore, is the first thing necessary for a good crop. The seed of perfect plants only should be saved.

By wise and persistent selection, made in the field before the crop is fully matured, corn can be improved in size and made to mature earlier. Gather ears only from the most productive plants and save only the largest and best kernels.

You have no doubt seen the common American blackbirds that usually migrate and feed in such large numbers. They all look alike in every way. Now, has it ever occurred to you to ask why all blackbirds are black? The blackbirds are black simply because their parents are black.

Now in the same way that the young blackbirds resemble their parents, corn will resemble its parent stock. How many ears of corn do you find on a stalk? One, two, sometimes three or four. You find two ears of corn on a stalk because it is the nature of that particular stalk to produce two ears. In the same way the nature of some stalks is to produce but one ear, while it is the nature of others sometimes to produce two or more.

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