|CHAPTER XII. |
I take it to be caused by cold wet summers, and I was confirmed in this, by several plants of wheat, taken up when they were in grass in the spring, and placed in troughs in my chamber window, with some of the roots in water, in exactly the same manner as the mints, marked HH, in chapter of Roots. These wheat-plants sent up several ears each ; but at harvest, every grain was smutty ; and I observed, none of the ears ever sent out any blossom ; this smuttiness could not be from any moisture than descended upon it, but from the earth, which was always kept very most, as in the aforesaid mint experiment. The wheat-plants in the field, from whence these were taken, brought very few smutty grains, but brought much larger ears than these.
Whatsoever the cause* be, there are but two remedies proposed ; and those are brining and change of seeds.
* The larger grained, plump, fat wheat, is more liable to smuttiness than small grained, thin wheat.
Brining of wheat, to cure or prevent smuttiness (as I have been credibly informed) was accidentally discovered about seventy years ago, in the following manner ; viz., a shipload of wheat was sunk near Bristol in autumn, and afterwards at ebbs all taken up, after it had been soaked in sea-water ; but it being unfit for making of bread, a farmer sowed some of it in a field, and when it was found to grow very well, the whole cargo was bought at a low price by many farmers, and all of it sown in different places. At the following harvest, all the wheat in England happened to be smutty, except the produce of this brined seed, and that was all clean from smuttiness. This accident has been sufficient to justify the practice of brining ever since, in all the adjacent parts, and in most places in England.
I knew two farmers, whose farms lay intermixed ; they bought the same seed together, from a very good change of land, and parted every load between them in the field. The oldest farmer believed brining to be but a fancy, and sowed his seed unbrined ; the other brined all his part of seed, and hand not a smutty ear in his crop ; but the old farmer's crop was very sumutty.
Wheat for drilling must have no other brine than what is made of pure salt ; for if there be any brine of meat amongst it, the grease will not suffer the wheat to be dry enough to be drilled.
Urine also makes the wheat so greasy, that it will not be dry in time enough to be drilled.
If seed-wheat be soaked in urine, it will not grow ; or if only sprinkled with it, it will most of it die, unless planted presently.
The most expeditious way of brining wheat for the drill is, to make a very strong brine ; and when the wheat is laid on a heap, sprinkle or lave it therewith ; then turn it with a shovel, and lave on more brine, turn it again with a shovel, until by many repetitions of
this, the wheat be all equally wet. Next sift on quicklime through a sieve, turn the wheat with a shovel, and sift on more lime, repeat this sifting and turning many times, which will make it dry enough to be drilled immediately ; and this has been found sufficient to preserve uninfected wheat from the smut in a bad year, the seed being changed.
To dry it, we use quicklime, (that is, unslaked,) which beaten to powder, and sifted thereon, confines the brine to the surfaces of the grains, and suffers none of it to be exhaled by the air. But when lime has been long slake, and is grown weak, it is unfit for this purpose.
But if this does not afford powder enough, the pieces must be slaked immediately before using ; for if the lime lie long after it is slaked, (especially that made of chalk,) it will become weak and lose most of its drying quality.
Some farmers used only to boil the strongest quicklime in water, with which instead of brine they sprinkled their wheat, affirming it to be as effectual as that for preventing the smut ; but this not being within the compass of my own experience, I am doubtful of it ; yet I wish it may be found effectual, because it would save trouble to the sower, and more to the driller.
Smutty seed-wheat though brined, will produce a smutty crop, unless the year prove very favourable.
For it is to be known, that favourable years will cure the smut, as unkind ones will cause it : else before brining was used, and the bad years had caused all the wheat in England to be smutty, they must have brought their seed from foreign countries, or never have had any clean wheat ; therefore it is certain, that kind years will cure the smut. It is therefore to prevent the injury of a bad year, that we plant clean seed and well brined.
But of the two remedies against smuttiness, a proper change of seed some think the most certain.
A very worthy gentleman assures me, that since he has found out a place that affords a change of seed proper to his land, which is for these then years past, he never had a smutty ear in any of this crops, (and he never brines nor limes it) though all other wheat have often smutty throughout his neighbourhood every wet year, though brined and limed ; he says the person who furnishes him with this seed, is very curious in changing his seed also every year.
This gives a suspicion, that our drowned wheat at Bristol might possibly be foreign, and then might not have been smutty the next year, though it had not been soaked in the sea-water.
The wheat sown by the two farmers afore-mentioned might be from a good change of land, but the seed not changed the precedent year, and then it might be no more infected, than what the brine and lime did cure.
To know what changes are best to prevent smuttiness of wheat, we must consult the most experienced ; and they tell us, that the strong clay land is best to be sent to for seed wheat, whatever sort of land it be to be sowed upon ; a white clay is a good change for a red clay, and a red for a white. That from any strong land is better than from a light land, and the old rhyme is, that sand is a change for no land. But from whatever land the seed be taken, if it was not changed the preceding year, it may possibly be infected, and then there may be danger, though we have it immediately from never so proper a soil.
The strongest objection that has been yet made against constant annual crops of wheat is, that those grains of the precedent crop which happen to shed, and grow in the following crop, will be in danger of smuttiness, for want of changing those individual seeds.
All I can say in answer is, that during these five years which is all the time I have had these annual crops, this objected inconvenience never has happened to me, even when a precedent crop has been smutty.
The reason I take to be, that a crop very early planted is not so apt to be smutty ; and if it be not planted early, the grains that are shed grow, and are killed before, or at the time of planting the next crop. This saves a crop following a smutty one, (which is always occasioned by bad seed, or bad ordering,) and when the former crop was planted with good seed well ordered, the shattered grains of that may produce clean wheat the second year ; and it is very unlikely, that any breed of these grains should remain to grow in the crop the third year.