|CHAPTER XV. |
The high esteem they had of its use appears by the extraordinary pains they bestowed on its culture.
Its leaves resemble those of trefoil ; it bears a blue blossom very like to double violets, leaving a pod like a screw, which contains the seeds about the bigness of broad clover, though longer and more of the kidney shape.
The stalks grow more perpendicular than any of the other artificial grasses that I know, slender, full of knots and leaves ; it is of very near an equal bigness from bottom to top. When cut, if vigorous, the stalks will spring out again from the stubs, immediately below where the scythe parted them, which makes them the sooner ready for another mowing ; and advantage which no other grass has.
It has a tap-root, that penetrates deeper into the bowels of the earth than any other vegetable she produces.
Though one Lucerne root be much more taper than another towards the upper part of it, it is sometimes seen that a single hoed plant of it has many of these perpendicular roots, some of them springing out from the very branches of its crown.
Its roots are abundantly longer than the roots of St.-Foin ; I have one that measures very near two inches diameter ; those which are higher than the ground have a bark like a tree. Upon this account, and by its stalks springing again just below the place where cut off, and by the woody hardness of its stalks, when they stand too long
without cutting, it seems that Lucerne is of a nature nearly approaching to that of a shrub.
Lucerne is the only hay in the world that can pretend to excel or equal St.-Foin. I have known instances of the pinguifying virtue of this medica hay, hat came up to the highest encomiums given it by he Romans ; which being to the vulgar incredible, I forbear to relate, but leave to be confirmed by the experience of others, when it becomes frequent in England.
Lucerne in grass is much sweeter than St.-Foin, or any other artificial or natural grass. This when hoed may be given to cattle, cut green, for six months ; but then care must be taken to prevent their swelling by its lusciousness, and not to give them too much at once, until they be accustomed to it.
The swelling of cattle, by eating too much green Lucerne, clover, or turnip-leaves, happens only to such as chew the cud, because they swallow more in less time than other cattle do ; and a large quantity of such luscious greens being swallowed by a beast, fermenting to a great degree, heats and rarefies the internal air, which by its spring becoming too strong for that column of the atmosphere that enters at the trachea, it presses the lungs against the thorax so closely, that the weight of the external column is not of force to open their vesicles, and then the circulation of the blood is stopped, and the best is strangled.
Most farmers know how to prevent the swelling, so that now-a-days it seldom happens ; but when it does, there is an effectual way of curing it, if taken in time. They cut a hole into to maw near the back, in a proper manner, whereat the rarefied air rushes out, and the lungs again perform their action of respiration.
But that any sort of good dry hay, whether made of Lucerne or any other grass, would cause this misfortune of swelling, I never heard was said by any body except Equivocus ; and he appearing to be a
person of no veracity, I have no reason to believe it from his assertion.
The quantities of Lucerne-seed annually imported, and sown without success, not discouraging people from continuing its importation, shows there is more need of a successful way of planting, than recommending it in England.
I wonder how any one should attempt to plant it here, who has seen in Columella and other authors, the description of the manner the old Romans planted it in. They chose out the very best land, that was both pinguis and putirs ; they dunged and tilled it to the greatest perfection, and laid it out in beds, as we do for onions or asparagus ; they sowed it very thick, for that miserable reason of enabling it by its thickness the better to kill the grass. The beds being harrowed very fine before sowing, which was in the end of April, the seed required to be speedily covered, lest the sun's heat should spoil it. But with what instrument must it be covered ? For after sowing, the place must not be touched with iron. at medica obruitur non aratro, sed ligneis rastellis. Medica seed is covered, not with the plough, but with little (or rather light) wooden harrows. Two days' work (of a team) were spent on this harrowing of one acre. Some time after it came up, they scratched it again and again with the same wooden instruments, this was called sarrition ; then by runcation they weeded it over and over, Ne alterius generis herba invalidam medicam perimat. Lest other grass should kill it whilst it was weak. The first crop they let stand till some of the seed shattered, to fill the ground yet fuller of plants ; after that they might cut it as young as they pleased ; but must be sure to water it
often after cutting. Thenafter a few days when it began to spring, they repeated their runcation, and so continuing to weed out all manner of grass for the first two or three years, it used to bring four or six crops a year, and last ten years.
English gardeners make forty pounds of an acre of asparagus, or cabbage-plants, with half the labour and expense that was bestowed on an acre of Roman medica.
We know not the price hay and grass were at in Italy, whilst the Roman empire was in its glory, and Rome then the metropolis of the world, drew the richest of all parts thither ; its price must be then very high.
And the Romans had not only servants, but plenty of slaves, for whom they had scarce sufficient employment ; this might lessen the expense of this tedious method of planting, and ordering the medica. But when the Romans were brought down to the level of other nations, and in danger of being slaves, instead of having them ; and the lands of Italy came to be cultivated by Italian hands only, they found something else more necessary to employ them in, than the sarritions, runcations, and rigations of the medica. Their labour being bestowed in getting bread for themselves, they substituted other artificial grasses of more easy culture, in the room of medica, for the food of their cattle. They were so bigoted to all the superstitions of their ancestors, that they were content to lose the use of that most beneficial plant, rather than attempt to cultivate it by a new, though more rational, method, when they were become unable any longer to continue it by the old.
Thus, as I take it, superstition has chased medica from the Roman territories, and so little of it is planted there, that beyond the Alps I could not find one whole acre of it.
Lucerne makes a great improvement in the South of France ; there, when their low sandy land is well prepared, and very clean, they sow it alone, in March and Michaelmas, as we do clover. Their
sowing it at those seasons is of a double advantaged. First, it saves the labour of watering it, which would be impracticable for so many thousand acres as are there planted. Secondly, those seasons being much moister than that wherein the Romans sowed it, the grub has opportunity of eating more of it at its first coming up ; and often the frost kills some of it. By these advantages the ground is less overstocked.
The summers there are much drier than in Italy, so that the sun scorches up the natural grass, and suffers it not to come to a turf until after some years ; and therefore has less need of weeding.
But as that natural grass increases, the crops of Lucerne are proportionably diminished ; and though Lucerne is said to last ten or twelve years, yet it is in perfection only for a very few years. Whilst it is at best, on their richest land,and in a kind summer, they have, at seven crops, ten tuns to an acre, as I have computed them from the relation of some of the inhabitants of Pezenas. This was extraordinary, for I observed that most of their common crops made a very thin swarth.
When the ground begins to be turfy and hard, many of the Lucerne plants die, and the rest send up very few stalks ; the people know this is the destruction of it, and therefore I have seen some of them in that case, half plough it, thinking thereby to destroy the turf : this does for a time much strengthen the Lucerne plants, but it so much strengthens the grass also, that the turf grows the stronger, and then there is no remedy but to plough it up, make the ground clean, and replant it.
In more northern climates, were it rains oftener, the ground sooner becomes hard ; and in the land otherwise most proper for Lucerne, the grass grows infinitely faster, and will be as strong a turf in two years, as in the hot countries in ten. Upon this account, about Paris, even near the walls, they plough up Lucerne, and sow St.-
Foin in its room ; because that endures grass and hard ground better, though it brings but one crop a-year, or two at the most.
And in many places in Franche ComptÚ, and Switzerland, I have seen Lucerne in the corners of the vineyards, not above two or three perches together, which they will at any expense have, to cure their horses when sick ; since they cannot obtain by their culture quantities sufficient to maintain them as their ordinary food, there being too much rain, and too little of the sun's violent heat, to prevent the speedy increase of grass amongst it.
How then can we expect success in sowing it in England, where rains are yet more frequent, and the sun is weaker ? It is not one year in ten that the natural grass is here scorched up. In our rich land the grass comes to a turf very soon, and poor land will not by the common sowing bring Lucerne to any perfection, though no grass should annoy it.
I have here seen part of a meadow breast-ploughed, and when the turf was dead, dug up and planted as a garden ; after it had been drilled with carrots, hoed, and made in all appearance perfectly clean, it was sown with Lucerne, which come up and flourished very well the first year, and indifferently the second ; but after that, the grass came and the Lucerne grew faint, and in three or four years' time there was no more left, but just to show by here and there a single poor stalk, that there had been Lucerne sown, except one plant of it, which was cleansed of grass the third year ; and this recovered and sent up abundance of stalks for two years after it ; and then the grass returning, that plant dwindled again.
I have often tried it in the richest part of my garden, and constantly find, that however vigorously it grows at the first, yet it soon declines when the grass appears amongst it, which is always the sooner, by how much the soil (in England) is richer, unless the spade or hoe prevent it.
Here have been also many fields of a poorer, whitish soil sown with it, which are not very subject to be overrun with grass, as the rich land is ; and though these were so well tilled as scarce any grass appeared, during the many years the Lucerne lived therein, yet it never grew to any perfection here neither ; nor was there any one crop worth much more than the cutting, it was always so poor, thin, and short. And by what intelligence I can get, all experience proves, that every soil in this island is too rich, too poor, or too cold for the Lucerne improvement by the common husbandry.
A multitude of such hoed plants have I known, and are now to be seen in both poor and rich lands ; therefore it seems possible that thousands of English acres may be capable by the hoeing culture, to produce crops of Lucerne every year for an age. For as the greater moisture and less intense heat of this climate are, upon the accounts mentioned, injurious to Lucerne, yet this is only to such as is sown and cultivated in the common manner, because our climate upon the very same accounts is very advantageous to hoed Lucerne.
In hot countries, when the summer is drier than ordinary, the sun so scorches it, that they have fewer and much poorer crops than in moister summers, viz., only four or five instead of six or seven ; but in the driest summer I ever knew in England, hoed Lucerne yielded the most crops.
Our summer days are longer, have more of the sun's warmth, and less of his fiery heat ; he cherishes but never burns Lucerne, or any other hoed, long, tap-rooted plant in England.
The well-hoed earth being open, receives and retains the dews ; the benign solar influence is sufficient to put them in motion, but not to exhale them from thence. The hoe prevents the turf, which would otherwise by its blades or roots intercept and return back the dews into the atmosphere, with the assistance of a moderate heat. So that this husbandry secures Lucerne from the injury of a wet summer, and also causes the rain water to sink down more speedily, and disperse its riches all the way of its passage, otherwise the water would be more apt to stand on the surface, chill the earth, and keep off the sun and air from drying it ; for when the surface is dry and open, Lucerne will bear a very great degree of heat, or grow with a mean one : I have seen this hoed Lucerne, in a sheltry place of my garden, so much grown in a mild winter, as to be measured fourteen inches and a half high at Christmas ; and a very large single plant of it, which had not been hoed for two years before, was laid bare by digging out the earth all round it a foot deep, to observe the manner of its tap-root, and then the earth was thrown in again, and the hole filled up. This was on the 27th of September. Upon this mellowing of the soil about it, it sent out more stalks in October than it had done in the whole summer before ; they grew very vigorously, until a great snow fell in December, which also preserved the verdure of them, until that was melted away, and a black frost came after it, and killed those stalks. It is probable this plant sent out immediately new fibrous horizontal roots, which did grow apace to extract the nourishment from this new-made pasture, in proportion to the quick growth of the stalks, which in summer have been measured, and found to grow in height three inches and a half in a night and day ; this being almost one inch in six hours.
And it has been my observation, that this plant in hot and cold countries thrives both with a much greater or less degree of heat and moisture when it is hoed ; for if it has plenty of nourishment, which hoeing always gives it, a very little heat above, and the moisture alone (which is never wanting to the deep tap-root) suffice, and that plenty of foot enables it the better to endure the extremes of either heat or cold.
We need not much apprehend the danger of English winters, for Lucerne will endure those which are more rigorous. In the principality of Neufchatel the winters are so severe, as to kill all the rosemary left abroad, yet Lucerne survives them there ; this proves it more hardy than rosemary, which is planted for hedges in England, and here is scarce twice in an age a frost able to kill it.
But this happens to be fortunately situate, where it is not altogether destitute of the benefit of hoeing. It is in an angle, where, every time the field is tilled, the plough goes over it in turning from the furrows of one land and one head-land, but it is after the plough is lifted out of the ground and turned up on one side, so that the share only breaks the turf very small all round it, without ploughing up the plant ; yet it has escaped it so narrowly, that the fin of the ploughshare has split it into four parts, three of which remain and grow never the worse, but the fourth is torn off, and the wound healed up.
By the extreme hard winter that happened about the year 1708 or 1709, some of the Lucerne in Languedoc was killed ; yet this was no argument of its tenderness, but rather the contrary ; because then
all the olive-trees and walnut-trees were there killed, though the greatest part of the Lucerne escaped unhurt ; and I did not hear one walnut-tree was killed that winter in England. Perhaps those in France, having been accustomed to much hotter summers, were unable to endure the rigour of the same winter, that could do no harm to the same species in England, where our winters do not seem to exceed some of theirs in cold, so much as their summers do ours in heat. And since the extremes are not sofar asunder here, the same degree of cold may to our plants seem tepid, which to those in Languedoc must seem rigorous, differing in a more remote degree from the opposite extremity of heat in summer.
And besides the difference of heat and cold in different climates, there is another more necessary to be observed, and that is the difference of the hardiness in different individuals of the same species ; the same frost that kills a faint languishing plant of Lucerne, will be despised by a robust one, which being well fed by the hoe, becomes a giant clothed and fenced with a thick bark, that renders it impregnable against all weather ; its rind is to it a coat of mail or buff impenetrable by frost ; but the unhoed is generally small and weak, its thin, tender bark exposes it almost naked to the frost, it being for want of a sufficient pasture starved and half dead already, it is the more easily killed by the cold.
I formerly lived some years in Languedoc, where are many hundred acres of Lucerne ; and I never could find a very large plant amongst it, unless in such pieces as had been ploughed up, tilled and sown with corn ; here indeed those plants that remained (as always some would do) grew to an extraordinary bulk ; and one of those single tilled plants did seem to produce a greater quantity of stalks than twenty of such as had not been ploughed up ; and as there were no large plants amongst the unploughed, so there were no small amongst the ploughed ones. The same thing has been observed in all other places where Lucerne has been ploughed. This
ploughing is a hoeing to the Lucerne.
And in Wiltshire several grounds of it stood some years without ever coming to a substance to be of any value, though the land was whitish, and scarce any grass appeared amongst the Lucerne ; and therefore its poorness was thought to proceed from the soil being improper ;but when it had been broke up, and sown several years with corn, and afterwards lain down with St.-Foin, all the Lucerne plants which remained (and they were many) grew large and strong, shooting up a yard in height soon after the St.-Foin was cut ; and if there had been a competent number of them undestroyed by the plough, they would have yielded crops of extraordinary value, where before ploughing it grew but few inches above the ground.
It seems that in this sort of land the earth grows stale, ere the Lucerne arrives at a tenth part of its stature ; but this is most remarkable, that tillage transforms those Lucerne-plants from dwarfs to giants ; and then they are able to contend with, if not conquer so strong plants as St.Foin are, though before ploughing they were unable to resist the depredations of a few hairy spires of grass.
Since tillage can thus recover Lucerne, after it has long languished in the lowest ebb of life, and restore it to health, youth, and vigour, and augment its stature even after it has passed the age of its full growth, to what bulk would it arrive regularly planted, and hoed from its infancy to maturity, without any check to stunt
We can never know how poor a soil will bear this plant, unless it be tried by the hoeing culture.
For it is wondrous how so great a man as Dr. Woodward should imagine, that difference of soil should be the reason why apples in Herefordshire, and cherries in Kent, succeed better than in other places, when in truth they are seen to prosper as well almost all over England, where planted, cultivated, and preserved.
This I suppose the Doctor took from Virgil's quid quŠque ferat regio, et quid quŠque recuset. For when the Roman soldiers had, as a reward of their rebellion, obtained the lands of their country from their lawful owners, their product would have disappointed all expectations of profit, if those lands should have been planted with ivory or frankincense. Sure the Doctor did not consider, how different the soil of these mentioned countries is, to that of those climates from whence apples and cherries were originally brought ; it must be greater than between that of any two counties in England. The reason why no more of these large plantatons are made, is probably for want of sufficient laws to secure their fruit to the owners.
I believe plants are more altered as to their growth, by being cultivated or not, than by change of climates differing in very many degrees of latitude. I say in their growth, not always in their fruit ; for though a peach-tree well cultivated in a standard, will grow here vigorously, and be very beautiful, yet its fruit will be of little value, unless it be planted against a good wall ; so Lucerne, unless cultivated upon a well exposed gravel, will yield little seed in England.
The soil to plant it on is either a hot gravel, a very rich, dry sand, or some other rich, warm land, that has not an under stratum of clay, nor is too near the springs of water ; for if the earth below be of a cold nature, which I take to be occasioned by its holding of water, the Lucerne will not long prosper therein, of whatever sort the upper stratum of earth may be : this may be guessed at by the vegetables a soil naturally produces, as fern and the like, which Mr. Evelyn observes to indicate a soil subject to extremities of heat and cold, and condemns such a soil as accursed. I agree to that sentence as relates to cold, but I am not satisfied of its abounding with heat, and I am sure I know some land very subject to fern, which is very far from being barren, when well cultivated and well
with vegetables ; but, from among these, Lucerne must be excluded.
Lucerne in hot countries grows best near rivers, where its roots reach the water, which helps to mitigate the excessive heat of the climate ; but here the heats are so moderate, that if Lucerne roots are in water (for it is that makes the earth cold) it diminishes too much the just proportion of heat which Lucerne requires.
The natural poorness of a hot gravel may be compensated by dung, more heat, and the benefit of the hoe.
The natural richness of the other sorts of land being increased by hoeing and cleansing it from grass, Lucerne will thrive therein with the less heat ; for what the soil wants of one of these two qualities, must be made up with the other ; and it has grown high in hoed, rich ground at Christmas, when that in land of a hotter nature, but poorer, has not been able to peep out, for want of more nourishment ; so if rich land be clayey, very wet and cold, though very rich, it requires much heat, for as high a growth of Lucerne at Midsummer.
The best season of planting it in England I take to be early in spring ; for then there is always moisture to make it grow, and not heat enough to dry its tender root, so as to kill it by malting it.
If they should take so early a season for the common way of sowing it, the ground would become hard or stale, before the sun were high enough to bring it forward ; but there is no danger of this inconvenience to that where the hoe is to come, and open the ground as often as there shall be occasion.
I have planted it at the end of February, and though there followed a very hard frost in March, which killed some part of it, yet what remained was of sufficient thickness, and I believe the quantity of seed planted might be after the rate of betwixt one and two pounds to an acre. The depth it was planted at was half an inch, which upon trials I found best for most sorts of fine seeds. I do
not suited approve of planting it late in the autumn, because our long winter might kill too much of it, and weaken the rest in its tender infancy.
The hoed plants of Lucerne having larger roots, and yielding more crops than those of St.-Foin, reason seems to require that the number of the former be less.
But on the other hand, if we consider that as the Lucerne roots exceed the St.-Foin in bigness, so they also do in length, by as great a proportion, being generally less taper, and as they go deeper, they have more earth to nourish them. They also require a better soil, and more frequent aids from the hoe ; and by their extraordinary quick growth, receive a speedier relief from it than the roots of St.-Foin do.
Thus, if by reaching deeper in a better soil, and being more hoed, Lucerne receives, from a square perch of ground, nourishment in a proportion double to that whereby its roots exceed those of the St.-Foin in bigness, then I do not see why we should not leave the number of Lucerne-plants double to the number of those we leave in St.-Foin.
But if the excess of nourishment were no more than the excess of bigness of roots, I think an equal number of plants should be left in Lucerne and in St.-Foin ; yet, since the hot or cold constitution of a plant, and also the quantity it can produce ought to be considered as well as its bulk, in relation to the nourishment it requires, more trials are necessary for determining the exact number of Lucerne-plants proper to be placed on a square perch, than have been hitherto made.
Perhaps it will be thought heterodox to maintain any arguments that to err in falling somewhat short of the just number, is not of worse consequence than exceeding it.
Where they stand at four or five inches asunder in the rows, it is
observed that though the intervals betwixt the rows be wide, yet the plants are much the larger, and produce more, that stand in the outside rows (the ground without being clean), and especially those at each end of the outside rows, that is, the corner plants are largest of all. I need not say, that had all the other plants as much room and tillage as the corner ones have, they would be as large, and produce each as much hay ; for those which stand perfectly single, in places by themselves, are seen to be larger, and produce more than those corner ones ; and of the larger and longer roots our stock doth consist, the more nourishment are they capable of taking, as has been shown.
And it must be likewise observed, that the crop will be produced in proportion to the nourishment it receives ; for if the most gigantic Lucerne-plant, which, when pampered by the hoe, has made a produce more like a tree than an herb, remains a few years without that or some equivalent culture, it will by little and little cease to produce more than a few poor sickly stalks, just to show its species, and then, if this culture be repeated, it will recover its pristine strength, and yield as great a crop as ever, but if that be longer omitted will die ; the vastness of its roots avails nothing, unless it has food in proportion to it.
Hence it appears, that the most fatal disease incident to Lucerne is starving, and that rarely suffers any of its plants to arrive at the full period of their growth or age ; it prevents their fertility even in the prime of their youth, and kills them even before they have lived out half, or perhaps the tenth part of their days ; how long its life might otherwise be, nobody knows, unless a plant could be found to die when well fed ; for when it is, it is so tenacious of life, that I am told beheading will not despatch it*.
* But I have cut off the heads of some myself to try, and could not find that any one would sprout again, though St.-Foin will ; perhaps I tried at a wrong season.
It is therefore necessary that our rows be placed at such a distance, as that their intervals may be wide enough for the hoe-plough to raise an artificial pasture, sufficient to sustain the number of plants in them.
Whoever shall make trials of this husbandry (for that is all I propose to others) I would advice them to begin with rows that have intervals of thirty inches ; for if they begin with much narrower distances, they may be by that means disappointed of success ; but though they should afterwards find a way to hoe them at somewhat nearer distances, yet the loss of a few perches of ground would not be much, neither can they be wholly lost, since the roots of these plants may be proved to extend much farther horizontally, than from row to row at that distance. And the wider the intervals are, the more earth will be tilled in a perch of ground ; because six rows, which will be therein at thirty-three inches distance, will admit the hoe-plough to till more earth than nine rows at twenty-two inches distance from each other : and besides, it is not proper that every time of hoeing, the plough should come very near to the plants, unless when grass comes amongst them ; and then they may in thirty or thirty-three-inch spaces be perfectly cleansed in this manner, viz., plough a good furrow from each side of every row, and then with harrows or other instruments proper for that purpose, going across them, you will pull out both earth and grass from betwixt the plants ; then, after a convenient time, plough these furrows back again to the rows, this will in a manner transplant the upper part of the roots, and bury the grass though it be not dead, by lying open to be dried by the sun. Then harrow the ground to break it more and to level it, and go once over it with a very light roller, to the end that the hay my be raked up the cleaner.
Hence, I suppose, it is that Equivocus pretends to question whether my drill-ploughs will plant the rows of Lucerne any nearer together than thirty inches ; but in truth it is as easy to plant them
at three inches and a half asunderby a double drill-plough that may be made to plant thirteen rows or moe at once ; but I think such a distnace much too little for any sort of seed, except flax-seed.
I am aware of the common prejudice, which is, that people when they have never seen a plantation of these plants in perfection, are apt to form to themselves the idea of such small ones as they have been used to see ; and thence imagine it impossible that this (though a double) number should be sufficient to make a crop. But they might with equal reason imagine the same of apple-trees at a year's growth, which are less than these at the same age, and so plant a thousand trees in the room proper for one. The ancients direct the planting of seventeen cythisus-plants in a perch of ground ; and I not believe that ever those seventeen could yield a crop equal to two hundred twenty-four Lucerne-plants ; for as many ounces of hay as each of these yields, so many ton of hay will one crop of an acre produce ; thus by weighing the product of one plant (supposing them all equal) the quantity of the crop may be determined, and proved greater than fancy from their number represents.
This I am certain of, that the least competent number of plants will bring the greatest number of crops ; since I see the stalks of a sing-hoed plant grow higher in fifteen days, than one amongst near neighbours does in thirty days.
The greatest difference between the culture of this and St.-Foin is, that Lucerne rows should be more grown, before the plants be made single in them by the hand-hoe, lest the fly should destroy some afterwards, and then they might become too thin. For Lucerne is sometimes eaten by the fly, as turnips are, though St.-Foin be never liable to that misfortune, if sown in a proper season. Lucerne must also be more frequently hoed* in some proportion to the more frequent crops it produces.
* The hoe-plough is the instrument to bring it to perfection ; but then I doubt it must lie still some years, lest the ploughed earth injure the hay that is made upon it ; (but you may leave every third or fourth interval unhoed for making the hay on, which will yet be more beneficial, if the swarths in mowing should fall thereon. This unhoed interval may be ploughed when there is occasion, and another left in its stead ;) and when it is come to a turf, and the Lucerne wants renewing, the four-coultered plough is the only instrument that can prepare the turf to be killed, and cure the Lucerne ; which plough must be used in the following manner ; Turn its furrows towards one row, and from the next ; that is, plough round one row, and that will finish two intervals, and so on ; and the next ploughing must be towards those rows, from whence they were turned the first time : take care the first furrows do not lie long enough on the rows to kill the plants, which will be much longer in winter than in summer.
I shall not go about to compute the difference of expense bestowed in the Roman culture, and in this ; yet it will appear theirs was incomparably more chargeable, and that that excess of charge was occasioned by their error in the theory of husbandry.
They sowed it so thick that the plants must needs be very small, and when ten of them were no bigger than one good single-hoed plant would have been, in the same space of the earth's surface, they could have but a ninth part of the earth's depth, which the one would have had. The defect of depth must be therefore made up in some measure by the extraordinary richness of the surface, upon this account few lands were capable of bearing medica. their sowing it so late made the first waterings necessary, and the shortness of the roots required the repeated rigations, after the crops were cut ; for Columella saith in Lib. ii. cap. 11. Cum secueris autem, sŠpius eam rigto. But had it been cultivated by the hoeing method, the tap-roots would have descended as deep as a well, and from the springs below have sent up water to the plants, besides what the hoe would have caused the horizontal roots to receive from dews at the surface above. At how much cheaper rate water is supplied by these means, than by carrying it perhaps a great way, and then sprinkling it by hand over the beds, which were made ten feet wide between path and path for that purpose, let any one judge. As also what a laborious task it was to pick out the grass with fingers from amongst it, in the hard dry ground in the summer, after mowing the crop, as Columella directs in his forementioned chapter, which the horse-hoe would have done with ease at a twentieth part of that expense. However, since they saw the medica was as impatient of grass as the vineyards were, it is a wonder they did not give it the same culture with the bidens, which would have been much better and cheaper, than to cleanse the medica with fingers. Indeed, fingers were made before the bidens ; but surely the effect of its
use in raising juices to the vine had inspired the Romans with more judicious speculations, than to give that for a reason why they hoed the medica with the fingers, rather than with the bidens.
Oh ! but this was made with iron, and medica had in those times an antipathy to iron ; and after it was sown the place must not be touched by that metal ; therefore the seed must not be covered with a plough, nor with iron harrows. But if they had made trials enough, to know that half an inch was the proper depth to cover this seed at, these virtuosi would have been convinced, that it had to less antipathy to these instruments, of what matter soever they were made, if they buried it five or six inches deep, which the plough must do, and the weight of iron harrows in such fine ground, not much less. Had the plough been all of wood, the furrow would have lain never the lighter upon the seed ; and if the wooden harrows had been loaded with a weight capable of pressing it down as deep, it would have been no more able to rise, than if it had been buried with iron harrows. This Columella seems to be sensible of when he says, Rastellis Ligneis, viz., that it was not sufficient for them to be made of wood, unless they were diminutive, for then they were light ones. It is probable the plough suffered none to come up, and the heavy harrows very few, though perhaps plants enough, had they calculated what number were sufficient ; but, unless the ground were cultivated with them at first, it seems they had not patience to wait til the plants grew large enough to fill it with a bare competent number ; and though it not worth while to weed and water what they fancied to be an insufficient number. It was expected that the thickness of the plants sould help to kill the grass ; yet upon due observation it was found that, when their excessive numbers have brought a famine amongst them, they are forced to prey upon one another ; and though the stronger survive,
yet even those are so weakened by hunger that they become the less able to contend with grass whose good fortune it was that superstition would not permit the Romans to interpose, by attacking it with iron weapons.
I hope these hints may be improved for the abolition of old errors, and for the discovery of new truths ; to the end that Lucerne may be planted in a more reasonable method than has been commonly practised : and when the theory is true, it is impossible the practice should be false, if rightly applied ; but if it fail of success, the event will be a proof either of a misapplication, or that the theory is false.
Lucerne should be ordered for hay in the same manner as is directed for St.-Foin in the foregoing Chapter : but it must be observed, that Lucerne is more worsted by being suffered to survive its virginity before cutting ; and therefore the richest and most nourishing hay is cut whilst the stalks are single, without any collateral branches shooting out of them ; and when they are so, neither blossoms nor even their buds appear. But of that sown in the old fashion, the last crops for want of a new supply of nourishment grow so slowly, that , ere it is high enough to be cut, the blossoms are blown out, and the stalks, though very small, are become woody, hard, and dry, and make the hay nothing near so nourishing as that of the first crops.
But in that which is hoed, the last crops will, by virtue of the greater quantity of nourishment it receives, grow faster, and be of a height fit to cut before blossoming, and thence being as young and vigorous, make as good hay as the first crops ; so that hoeing does not only procure more and larger crops, but also better hay.
This is most certain, that unless we can keep our Lucerne pretty clean from natural grass, we cannot expect it to succeed let the soil be ever so proper.
I have not one field that is either warm enough or rich enough for me to expect success in planting Lucerne on it.