Sep 20, 2010

So much of this has been known for so long.

On a recent trip to Virginia, we visited Mount Vernon.  I was awed at what I learned about our first president, but more so by the forward thinking and truly innovative applications he used on his farms. He learned these techniques from European books by naturalistic designers and his own experimentation. The farm he inherited was about 100 years old and thriving under his care, but in poor condition when he returned from political life. Then in his 60's, he redesigned the gardens and restored the soil. Below is an excerpt form the website of Mount Vernon.
Washington On Farming


Photo by L. Toshio Kishiyama
George Washington's personal papers, over 135,000 letters and documents, make up one of the largest collections of manuscripts of any founding father. When completed, the definitive edition of the Papers of George Washington will require over 90 volumes to contain the letters written by and to Washington and his personal diaries, spanning from his teenage years to the day before he died. One of the presiding themes of Washington's writings is agriculture. This is a selection of Washington's thoughts on farming. "It will not be doubted, that with reference either to individual, or National Welfare, Agriculture is of primary importance. In proportions as Nations advance in population, and other circumstances of maturity, this truth becomes more apparent; and renders the cultivation of the soil more and more, an object of public patronage. "
George Washington
(Eighth Annual Address to Congress, December 7, 1796)


Mules

"I have a prospect of introducing into this Country a very excellent race of animals also, by means of the liberality of the King of Spain. One of the Jacks which he was pleased to present to me (the other perished at sea) is about 15 hands high, his body and Limbs very large in proportion to his height; and the Mules which I have had from him appear to be extremely well formed for Service. I have likewise a Jack and two Jennets from Malta, of a very good size, which the Marquis de la Fayette sent to me. The Spanish Jack seems calculated to breed for heavy, slow draught; and the other for the Saddle or lighter carriages. From these, altogether, I hope to secure a race of extraordinary goodness, which will stock the Country. Their longevity and cheap keeping will be circumstances much in their favor. I am convinced, from the little experiments I have made with ordinary Mules, (which perform as much labor, with vastly less feeding than horses) that those of a superior quality will be of the best cattle we can employ for the harness. And indeed, in a few years, I intend to drive no other in my carriage: having appropriated for the sole purpose of breeding them, upwards of 20 of my best Mares"
George Washington
(Letter to Arthur Young, December 4, 1788)


Hogs

"...Of hogs many, but as these run pretty much at large in the Woodland (which is all under fence) the number is uncertain... "
George Washington
(Letter to Arthur Young, December 12, 1793)


Oxen

"to tell a farmer... that his Cattle & ca. Ought to be regularly penned in summer and secured from bad weather in winter, and the utmost attention paid to the making of manure for the improvement of his fields at both seasons; that his oxen should be well attended to, and kept in good and fit condition, thereby enabling them to perform the labour which they must undergo; to remind him of these things would, I say, be only observing what every Farmer must be thoroughly sensible of his duty enjoins..."
George Washington
(Letter to William Pearce, September 23, 1793)



Cattle

"I think it would be no unsatisfactory experiment to fat one bullock altogether with Potatoes; another, altogether with Indian meal; and third with a mixture of both: keeping an exact account of the time they are fatting, and what is eaten of each, and of hay, by the different steers; that a judgement may be formed of the best and least expensive mode of stall feeding beef for market, or for my own use"
George Washington
(Letter to William Pearce, December 7, 1794)



Sheep

"I had paid much attention of my sheep, and was proud in being able to produce perhaps the largest mutton and the greatest quantity of wool from my sheep that could then be produced... I have ever been satisfied in my own mind, that by a proper attention to our sheep (particularly in Maryland and Virginia, where the climate and other circumstances seem to be peculiarly favorable to the object) they might be made not only a most profitable subject to the farmer, but tendered highly important in a public view, by encouraging extensive establishments of woolen manufactories from the abundance of wool which they could furnish..."

George Washington
(Letter to Henry Gough, February 4, 1792)


Tobacco to Wheat

"Having discontinued the growth of Tob.[tobacco] Myself, except at a plantation or two upon York river, I make no more of that Article than barely serves to furnish me with Goods."
George Washington
(Letter to Capel and Osgood Handbury, May 5, 1768)


The Hessian Fly

"No wheat that has ever yet fallen under my observation, exceeds the White which some years ago I cultivated extensively; but which, from inattention during my absence from home of almost nine years has got mixed or degenerated as scarcely to retain any of its original characteristic properties. But if the march of the Hessian Fly, Southerly, cannot be arrested...this White Wheat must yield the palm to the yellow bearded, which alone, it seems, is able to resist the depredations of that destructive insect. This makes your present of it to me more valuable. It shall be cultivated with care. "
George Washington
(Letter to John Beale Bordley, August 17, 1788)


Tools: Harrow

"Finished Harrowing the Clover Field, and began reharrowing of it. Got a new harrow made of smaller, and closer Tinings for Harrowing in Grain - the other being more proper for preparing the Ground for sowing."
George Washington
(Diary entry, April 14, 1760)


New Husbandry

"Every improvement in husbandry should be gratefully received and peculiarly fostered in this Country, not only as promoting the interests and lessening the labour of the farmer, but as advancing our respectability in a national point of view; for in the present State of America, our welfare and prosperity depend upon the cultivation of our lands and turning the produce of them to the best advantage. "
George Washington
(Letter to Samuel Chamberlain, April 3, 1788)


Fertilizers: Fish Heads

"Began to plant Corn in the common way at the Ferry on Monday last few fish heads and guts & ca. Ordered to be put into some of the Corn hills, to try the effect of them as manure."
George Washington
(Diary entry, May 9, 1787)


Fertilizers: Manure

"If buckwheat is not plowed in while it is green and in a succulent state, to have it on the ground will prove an injury rather than a benefit because it is from the juices that the putrefaction and fermentation proceeds, and causes it to become manure."
George Washington
(Letter to William Pearce, July 13, 1794)
"My object is to recover the fields from the exhausted state into which they have fallen, by oppressive crops and to restore them (if possible by any means in my power) to health and vigour. But two ways will enable me to accomplish this. This first is to cover them with as much manure as possible (winter and summer). The 2d a judicious succession of crops. "
George Washington
(Letter to William Pearce, December 18, 1793)



Tools: Barrel Seeder

"Rid a little after Sun rise to Muddy (hole), to try my drill plow again which, with the alteration of the harrow yesterday, I find will fully answer my expectations, and that it drops the grains thicker, or thinner in proportion to the quantity of seed in the Barrel. The less there is in it the faster it issues from the holes. The weight of a quantity in the barrel, occasions (I presume) a pressure on the Seed through them, whereas a small quantity (sufficient to all times to cover the bottom of the barrel) is, in a manner sifted through them by the revolution of the Barrel. "
George Washington
(Diary entry, April 8, 1786)


The Farms

"No estate in United America is more pleasantly situated than this. It lyes in a high, dry and healthy Country 300 miles by water from the Sea...on one of the finest Rivers in the world. "
George Washington
(to Arthur Young, British agriculturist, December 12, 1793)


Crop Rotation

"My favorite objects as I have often repeated to you, are to recover my land from the gullied and exhausted state into which it has been unfortunately thrown for some years back. "
George Washington
(Letter to William Pearce, July 13, 1794)
"Consequently two things must be engrafted into our plan: 1st, Crops which are useful on our farms, or saleable in our markets, and 2d, the intermixing these crops by such relations and with such dressing as will improve, instead of exhausting our lands. To effect these is the great desiderata of Farming, and ought to be the pursuit of every farmer. On this ground every experiment is a treasure, and the authors of them valuable members of Society. "
George Washington
(Letter to Charles Carter, January 20, 1788)


Crops

"Nothing in my opinion would contribute more to the welfare of these States, than the proper management of our lands; and nothing, in this State particularly, seems to be less understood. The present mode of cropping practiced among us, is destructive to landed property; and must, if persisted in much longer ultimately ruin the holders of it. "
George Washington
(Letter to William Drayton, March 25, 1786)


Crops: Wheat

"I hope, some day or another, we shall become a storehouse and granary for the world. "
George Washington
(Letter to Marquis de Lafayette, June 19, 1788)


Buckwheat

"It has always appeared to me that there were two modes in which Buck wheat might be used advantageously as a manure. One, to sow early; and as soon as a sufficiency of seed ripened to stock the ground a second time, to turn that in also before the seed begins to ripen: and when the fermentation and putrification cease, to sow the ground in that state, & plough in the wheat. "
George Washington
(Letter to Thomas Jefferson, October 4, 1795)


Potatoes

"But of all the improving and ameliorating crops, none, in my opinion, is equal to Potatoes on stiff, & hard land such as mine. From a variety of instances I am satisfied that on such land, a crop of Potatoes is equal to an ordinary dressing. In no instance have I failed of good Wheat, Oats, or clover that followed Potatoes. And I conceid they give the soil a darker hue..."
George Washington
(Letter to Thomas Jefferson, October 4, 1795)


Corn

"The reasons, however, which induced me to give my Corn rows the wide distance of ten feet, was not because I thought it essential to the growth of the plant, but because I introduced other plants between them... As all my Corn will be thus drilled, so between all, I mean to put in, drills also, Potatoes, Carrots (as far as my seed will go) and Turnips alternately; that not one sort, more than another may have the advantage of Soil. "
George Washington
(Letter to Alexander Spotswood, February 13, 1788)


The 16-Sided Barn

"I am resolved to build a Barn and treading floor at Dogue Run Plantation, and to do it as soon as other more pressing work will permit; Now I give you a general Bill and plan of the building. "
George Washington
(Letter to Anthony Whiting, Farm Manager, October, 1792)


Fertilizers

"When I speak of a knowing farmer, I mean one who understands the best course of crops; how to plough, to sow, to mow, to hedge, to Ditch and above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first transmutation towards Gold; in a word one who can bring worn out and gullied lands into good tilth in the shortest time."
George Washington
(Letter to George William Fairfax, June 30, 1785)

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