Friday, August 29, 2008

Farmers of Forty Centuries Orientals Crowd Both Time And Space


Time is a function of every life process, as it is of every physical, chemical and mental reaction, and the husbandman is compelled to shape his operations so as to conform with the time requirements of his crops. The oriental farmer is a time economizer beyond any other. He utilizes the first and last minute and all that are between. The foreigner accuses the Chinaman of being always "long on time", never in a fret, never in a hurry. And why should he be when he leads time by the forelock, and uses all there is?
The customs and practices of these Farthest East people regarding their manufacture of fertilizers in the form of earth composts for their fields, and their use of altered subsoils which have served in their kangs, village walls and dwellings, are all instances where they profoundly shorten the time required in the field to affect the necessary chemical, physical and biological reactions which produce from them plant food substances. Not only do they thus increase their time assets, but they add, in effect, to their land area by producing these changes outside their fields, at the same time giving their crops the immediately active soil products.
Their compost practices have been of the greatest consequence to them, both in their extremely wet, rice-culture methods, and in their "dry-farming" practices, where the soil moisture is too scanty during long periods to permit rapid fermentation under field conditions. Western agriculturalists have not sufficiently appreciated the fact that the most rapid growth of plant food substances in the soil cannot occur at the same time and place with the most rapid crop increase, because both processes draw upon the available soil moisture, soil air and soluble potassium, calcium, phosphorus and nitrogen compounds. Whether this fundamental principle of practical agriculture is written in their literature or not it is most indelibly fixed in their practice. If we and they can perpetuate the essentials of this practice at a large saving of human effort, or perpetually secure the final result in some more expeditious and less laborious way, most important progress will have been made.
When we went north to the Shantung province the Kiangsu and Chekiang farmers were engaged in another of their time saving practices, also involving a large amount of human labor. This was the planting of cotton in wheat fields before the wheat was quite ready to harvest. In the sections of these two provinces which we visited most of the wheat and barley were sowed broadcast on narrow raised lands, some five feet wide, with furrows between, after the manner seen in Fig. 140, showing a reservoir in the immediate foreground, on whose bank is installed one of the four-man foot-power irrigation pumps in use to flood the nursery rice bed close by on the right. The narrow lands of broadcasted wheat extend back from the reservoir toward the farmsteads which dot the landscape, and on the left stands one of the pump shelters near the canal bank.
To save time, or lengthen the growing season of the cotton which was to follow, this seed was sown broadcast among the grain on the surface, some ten to fifteen days before the wheat would be harvested. To cover the seed the soil in the furrows between the beds had been spaded loose to a depth of four or five inches, finely pulverized, and then with a spade was evenly scattered over the bed, letting it sift down among the grain, covering the seed. This loose earth, so applied, acts as a mulch to conserve the capillary moisture, permitting the soil to become sufficiently damp to germinate the seed before the wheat is harvested. The next illustration, Fig. 141, is a closer view with our interpreter standing in another field of wheat in which cotton was being sowed April 22nd in the manner described, and yet the stand of grain was very close and shoulder high, making it not an easy task either to sow the seed or to scatter sufficient soil to cover it.
When we had returned from Shantung this piece of grain had been harvested, giving a yield of 95.6 bushels of wheat and 3.5 tons of straw per acre, computed from the statement of the owner that 400 catty of grain and 500 catty of straw had been taken from the beds measuring 4050 square feet. On the morning of May 29th the photograph for Fig. 142 was taken, showing the same area after the wheat had been harvested and the cotton was up, the young plants showing slightly through the short stubble. These beds had already been once treated with liquid fertilizer. A little later the plants would be hoed and thinned to a stand of about one plant per each square foot of surface. There were thirty-seven days between the taking of the two photographs, and certainly thirty days had been added to the cotton crop by this method of planting, over what would have been available if the grain had been first harvested and the field fitted before planting, It will be observed that the cotton follows the wheat without plowing, but the soil was deep, naturally open, and a layer of nearly two inches of loose earth had been placed over the seed at the time of planting. Besides, the ground would be deeply worked with the two or four tined hoe, at the time of thinning.
Starting cotton in the wheat in the manner described is but a special case of a general practice widely in vogue. The growing of multiple crops is the rule throughout these countries wherever the climate permits. Sometimes as many as three crops occupy the same field in recurrent rows, but of different dates of planting and in different stages of maturity. Reference has been made to the overlapping and alternation of cucumbers with greens. The general practice of planting nearly all crops in rows lends itself readily to systems of multiple cropping, and these to the fullest possible utilization of every minute of the growing season and of the time of the family in caring for the crops. In the field, Fig. 143, a crop of winter wheat was nearing maturity, a crop of windsor beans was about two-thirds grown, and cotton had just been planted, April 22nd. This field had been thrown into ridges some five feet wide with a twelve inch furrow between them. Two rows of wheat eight inches wide, planted two feet between centers occupied the crest of the ridge, leaving a strip sixteen inches wide, seen in the upper section, for tillage, then fertilization and finally the row of cotton planted just before the wheat was harvested. Against the furrow on each side was a row of windsor beans, seen in the lower view, hiding the furrow, which was matured some time after the wheat was harvested and before the cotton was very large. A late fall crop sometimes follows the windsor beans after a period of tillage and fertilization, making four in one year. With such a succession fertilization for each crop, and an abundance of soil moisture are required to give the largest returns from the soil.
In another plan winter wheat or barley may grow side by side with a green crop, such as the "Chinese clover" for soil fertilizer, as was the case in Fig. 144, to be turned under and fertilize for a crop of cotton planted in rows on either side of a crop of barley. After the barley had been harvested the ground it occupied would be tilled and further fertilized, and when the cotton was nearing maturity a crop of rape might be grown, from which "salted cabbage" would be prepared for winter use.
Multiple crops are grown as far north in Chihli as Tientsin and Peking, these being oftenest wheat, maize, large and small millet and soy beans, and this, too, where the soil is less fertile and where the annual rainfall is only about twenty-five inches, the rainy season beginning in late June or early July, and Fig. 145 shows one of these fields as it appeared June 14th, where two rows of wheat and two of large millet were planted in alternating pairs, the rows being about twenty-eight inches apart. The wheat was ready to harvest but the straw was unusually short because growing on a light sandy loam in a season of exceptional drought, but little more than two inches of rain having fallen after January 1st of that year.
The piles of pulverized dry-earth compost seen between the rows had been brought for use on the ground occupied by the wheat when that was removed. The wheat would be pulled, tied in bundles, taken to the village and the roots cut off, for making compost, as in Fig. 146, which shows the family engaged in cutting the roots from the small bundles of wheat, using a long straight knife blade, fixed at one end, and thrust downward upon the bundle with lever pressure. These roots, if not used as fuel, would be transferred to the compost pit in the enclosure seen in Fig. 147, whose walls were built of earth brick. Here, with any other waste litter, manure or ashes, they would be permitted to decay under water until the fiber had been destroyed, thus permitting it to be incorporated with soil and applied to the fields, rich in soluble plant food and in a condition which would not interfere with the capillary movement of soil moisture, the work going on outside the field where the changes could occur unimpeded and without interfering with the growth of crops on the ground.
In this system of combined intertillage and multiple cropping the oriental farmer thus takes advantage of whatever good may result from rotation or succession of crops, whether these be physical, vito-chemical or biological. If plants are mutually helpful through close association of their root systems in the soil, as some believe may be the case, this growing of different species in close juxtaposition would seem to provide the opportunity, but the other advantages which have been pointed out are so evident and so important that they, rather than this, have doubtless led to the practice of growing different crops in close recurrent rows.

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