Notes of Experiments in the Culture of Wheat, Barley, and Oats—green Crops of Fodder recommended—Suggestions for the Improvement of the Pasture Lands—Evil Effects of Feeding a Population—Comparison of Exports from the Farms in 1789 and 1809.—Plans suggested for improving the Island.[1]

EXPERIMENTS at Plantation-house Farm, and at Long Wood, have not merely decided the practicability of raising all kinds of corn at St. Helena ; but have proved that the introduction of agriculture would be highly advantageous to the land-holders. Their wheat and barley would be in constant demand for baking and brewing ; their oats for feeding horses, poultry, &c. ; and whilst their lands are producing these necessary supplies, the large quantities of straw from the first crops, as well as from after-cuttings, would be an acceptable and nutritious fodder for cattle, especially at those times when the grass is low—or when a disappointment in rain has happened. It is therefore evident that the idea which has been long entertained by many persons “that agriculture in St. Helena would diminish the sustenance for cattle,” is very erroneous. So far from decreasing, it will be found that it would be the very best means of augmenting that sustenance—and, consequently, this island might be made to support a much greater number of cattle than has ever been upon it—for experiments have proved, that a single acre of wheat, barley, or oats, throughout the year, if used as a green fodder, yields as much sustenance as any ten or twelve acres of the best of the grass lands ; and at the time the grass is low, an acre of green corn is worth at least fifty acres of such grass.

The following experiments will illustrate these observations.

Barley Experiment, 1808-9.

September 13th, 1808—Sown.

November 22d—Ears appearing.

January 19th, 1809—First cutting yielded 55 bushels per acrethe grain full and better than the English seed ; for on the 14th March, when perfectly dried, 100 St. Helena barley­corns weighed 71½ grains, Apothecary's weight ; and a hundred of the English seed barley-corns weighed no more than 62 grains.

March 1st—Again in ear.

March 13th—Second cutting, green in ear for fodder.

May 8th—A third time in ear.

May 9th—Third cutting, green in ear for fodder.

Hence, one crop of corn, and three crops of straw or fodder, were produced from the same seed, and roots, in less than eight months from the day on which the seed was sown. It may therefore be inferred, that one crop of corn, and three or four crops of fodder (which I understand have been obtained) may be produced from the same seed in twelve months.[2]

Barley Experiments, 1810.

March 15th, 1810—Sowed an acre with a bushel and half of Cape barley.

March 20th—Already come up, 1½ to 2 inches long.

May 16th—The crop is very luxuriant, a good many ears appeared.

July 19th—A good deal is now ripe: a few fine days would ripen the whole.

August 14th—Ripe part (on the poorest land,) cut; yielded, when well dried, at the rate of 90cwt. 1qr. 131b. per acre of straw and ears.

August 15—The remainder of the acre cut down. It was in a mixed state, of ripe and unripe corn : at this rainy and unfa­vourable season of the year, there could be no hope of ripening.

September 1st—That part of the crop which was ripe, consisting of 52 sheaves) was this day threshed. It was the produce of 5286 square links, weighed 162 pounds of clean corn : this is at the rate of 63¾ bushels (of 48 pounds) per acre.

The straw, after threshing, weighed 278 pounds ; or at the rate of 5259 pounds; but as a good deal was wasted in carrying it several times from the field under cover, on account of the rains, the produce may be very fairly taken at 65 bushels, and the straw at 2½ tons per acre. The land was good ; but the above experiments are wholly without manure.

Wheat Experiment, 1810.

March 15th—Sown.

March 20th—Already come up, 1½ to 2 inches long.

May 31st—Although not yet in ear, the crop has a very luxuriant appearance.

June 14th—A few ears appear—remarkably promising crop.

July 19th—Still green.—Ears long, but not filled.

August 14th—Cut two square rods as green fodder ; produce weighed 294 pounds, say 300, including gleanings, would be 24,000 pounds, or more than 10 tons per acre.

This wheat and the preceding barley experiment were sown at the most unfavourable season of the year : for there could be little hope of its arriving at maturity ; but in making experiments with a view of acquiring knowledge, all seasons should be tried. The proper season, however, for sowing is about July or the middle of August, as the crop would arrive at maturity in December, when the weather is usually dry and warm ; but if intended to be cut as a green fodder, to meet the low state of the grass lands in the month of March, I should prefer sowing about the beginning of November, and cutting it whilst green, which would secure the after crops ; because if cut in the dry season of the year, when in a perfect state of ripeness, the sap in the stems, being wholly evaporated, it would require a considerable deal of rain to carry on the process of further vegetation.

The following extract from my journal was written at the moment I was under this impression ; it relates to another experiment.

February 28th, 1810—“The wheat sown on the 9th of November is now in full ear, both in the seed-bed and in the adjoining plot, to which some had been transplanted on the 20th of December. This experiment is very satisfactory ; it proves how very advantageous, at this dry season, it would be to have green crops of wheat, barley, and oats, with a view of averting the fatal consequences of a dry season. The grass at present is much burnt up ; and the cattle begin to feel the effect of the drought. Fodder of wheat, barley, or oats, would be very serviceable ; and might be had in succession, by sowing the seed during the months of October and November.”

In the course of my observations upon the opinions of the land­holders respecting the extermination of the goats, as well as in a minute, and some notes published in the Laws and Ordinances, I have given such hints for the improvement of the island as I can with confidence recommend, because they are the result of more than two years experience in the culture of corn of all sorts, of esculents, and a variety of trees, shrubs, &c. &c.

It is indeed not to he wondered at if some of my notions upon improvements, may he by some considered as chimerical, parti­cularly by persons who have never in their lives seen a field of corn, and who have not even had the curiosity to look at the luxuriant crops which have been already raised on the Plantation-house and Long Wood farms. Such persons assert that the best modes of cultivation must he those which their own experience and that of their forefathers have taught them ; and they add, that what may do well in England, cannot succeed in this island, on account of dry seasons, a want of labouring population, and such like excuses, for adhering to a system of management, which has been, and ever will he, if continued, most ruinous, both to themselves and to the Honourable Company.

If what I have recorded in the above-mentioned papers had been merely matter of opinion and judgment, there might have then been some plea. for opposing new plans. Is it wise, or reasonable, pertinaciously to persist in their old modes of husbandry, when it has been incontestibly proved, from facts, that an entire change of system would not only he of the most important benefit to this place, but would also save the planters, in future, such losses in cattle, as they have hitherto sustained in seasons of drought, as well, as at those times when the rains have only in a partial degree failed.

Being extremely anxious to impress on the minds of the planters, the infinite advantage which would proceed from a spirit of exertion and industry being once excited, I have already taken a general view of the effects that might he expected to result, in pages 30, 31, and 32 of the Laws and Ordinances. I shall, therefore, confine my present observations to a subject which they themselves have always considered equally important to their own interests, as it is to the original intention of maintaining this establishment.

At the present moment the summer heats have burnt up all the pastures to the eastward of the island.[3] I went yesterday and inspected those at Long Wood, and was astonished to find them so exhausted and bare. It is, however, by no means difficult to explain the causes ; for those grasses are as old as the island ; where they are eaten down there is no appearance, at present, of reproduction ; and where cattle have for many months been excluded, the old wire-grass is become tufted, and as dry as thatch, with naked intervals between ; moreover many places are mossy ; and the whole extent of the pastures is hide-bound.

In some part of what is called the Gut[4] (where the ground had been loosened and stirred) even, at this dry time of the year, are most luxuriant patches of fine, young and tender grass.—The same may be seen at Plantation-house. Thus nature points out a very simple process for improving any of the pasture lands in this island.

The best writers on agriculture have most clearly demonstrated the fertilizing effect which is produced by the atmosphere, upon lands prepared to admit its influence. The earth in its natural and compact state can receive no benefit of this kind ; for if the rains are copious, particularly on the declining surfaces of St. Helena, they run off as fast as they fall, and if not, the compactness of the surface prevents their sinking more than an inch deep; so that they are exhaled by the first hot sun—and consequently they can leave little or no improvement. If, however, the soil were loosened to the depth of nine or ten inches by the plough, it is evident that the rains, or moisture, from the atmosphere, would generally penetrate beyond the reach of the powerful heats. Thus a sufficiency of moisture would be secured for the purposes of vegetation ; and when young grass, or any other crop, shall have covered this surface of the soil, it would be a further security and protection in retaining the moisture.

It is evident therefore, that ploughing the old pastures, and raking out the old roots, or tufted grass, and burning them, and then harrowing the lands, will be a vast improvement, particularly in those parts of the island which are the soonest affected by the absence of rains.

This mode of improvement, which could not be costly, after a little practice in ploughing, would evidently be the best means of securing good crops of grass, and thereby averting the effects of seasons of drought.

In confirmation of what I have already stated, in pages 24 to 28 of the Laws and Ordinances, upon the advantages of raising green corn crops for feeding cattle, I will here relate the complete success which has attended Colonel Broughton's experiment at Long Wood.

About ten acres of oats were sown on the 1st of August, 1810 , and although there has been very little rain since that time, the crop is green and beautiful ; whilst all the pastures have been severely afflicted by the heats. The corn is now about three or four feet high, very thick and just coming into ear. Colonel Broughton, Mr. Porteous, and myself, had yesterday in our presence cut down a square rod (that is, a square 16½ feet). This produce of exceeding fine fodder weighed 227 pounds, which multiplied by 160 (the number of square rods in an acre), gives 36,320 pounds, or 16 tons and a quarter per acre. The whole of the crop in its present green state, is immediately to be cut down, bayed and stacked, and given to the cattle ; and I have every reason to believe, from several experiments I have made, that in six or eight weeks there may he a second crop, not much inferior to the first : but supposing it to be a half, this would be, in six months from the day the seed was sown, not less than twenty-four tons of fodder from one acre ! and let any planter compare this with the produce of his grass lands, and duly consider all I have already stated on this important subject, and he cannot fail to admit, if he will allow his reason to operate, that eminent and great advantages would infallibly result from the introduction of agriculture on this island. It is the unanimous opinion of Colonel Broughton, Mr. Porteous, and myself, that an acre of this green fodder will yield in nourishment for cattle, more than any hundred acres of the Long Wood pastures in their present condition.

It must be evident, from the foregoing experiments and obser­vations, that agriculture at St. Helena would be eminently successful. Its importance was early foreseen by the Court of Directors ; but the obstacles which long opposed its general introduction (I mean the want of proper enclosures and the per­petual trespasses of goats and sheep) have been suffered to remain, and no extensive encouragement has ever yet been held out to the cultivators. They were told to feed themselves and not to depend upon England for provisions ; and, whilst they were strongly urged upon these points, their efforts soon relaxed in proportion as they were afforded an easy means of purchasing every necessary of life from the Company's stores, at prices much under those at which they could raise them.

The Planters are not aware that a want of industry, and this mode of supply are the very causes that exhaust their substance ; and that the import of any sorts of provisions, however low in price, which can be raised on the farms, is an evil which operates against their best interests. The labour of their slaves and servants is never fully exerted : much of their time is squandered between the farms and James's Valley, where they acquire habits of vice and idleness ; and the attention of the master has been, from the causes above stated, unwarily withdrawn from those pursuits which could alone improve his condition: and particularly in a place where there is neither commerce nor manufacture.

The extent of cultivation has hitherto been barely sufficient for a scanty supply of refreshments to the shipping ; and this has been far less than in former times. In 1789, the quantity of fresh provisions and vegetables furnished to the shipping, was about three times more than in 1809, because the prices were moderate, and not more than about one-third of those of the present time.[5] The total value of exported produce to the shipping, in 1789, was £6569..1..11 and in 1809, £6346..10..6. Hence it is proved that the Planters receive less than they did twenty years ago ; whilst the rest of the community and the shipping are exposed to great inconvenience and expence, proceeding from this limited scale of cultivation, and from the decline of industry at the farms

It is not in the nature of things, that if the value of the annual produce of the farms be less than that of provisions purchased by the planters, that there can be any balance at the end of the year in favour of the farms. That this must be the fact, appears from a view of the annual purchase of provisions from the stores. In 1809, £3540. was paid for beef and pork ; about £5000. for flour; and £3000. for rice and paddy ; in all, £11,540. (exclusive of spirits and other articles.) I have before stated that the exported produce of the lands was only £6346.

Now, if the above sum of £11,540. could be diverted into the hands of the planters, (and that it is possible, by means of com­mon industry, cannot be questioned) what an improvement would it make in their condition, as well as that of other individuals on this island ? But even much more than this might be done, by favouring and encouraging agriculture. Every one admits that the soil in many places, is excellent ; and the climate is such, that the powers of vegetation seem never at rest. What then is wanting to make the lands productive but industry and a skilful direction of the labour of the island ? One hundred and twenty acres would furnish the island breweries with about 700 quarters of malt, which, according to an estimate in my posses­sion from one of the brewers, would cost, if imported from England , about 6 or £7000. One hundred and thirty acres of wheat, rating the produce at 35 bushels per acre, would yield 4550 bushels, equivalent to 204,750 pounds of flower, and 68,250 pounds of pollards. The value of these at the English prices of what are sent here, may be fairly rated at £4000. ; and, supposing that no more than 120,000 pounds of fresh pork were to be annually supplied to the garrison from the farms, this, at one shilling a pound for the dead weight, would be £6000. and the whole of these sums would create an addition of £28,040. to the present exported produce ; making a total of about £34,000. a year, for products that might be in constant demand from the farms of St. Helena whenever they shall be able to supply the articles above enumerated.

Moreover, the quantity of straw produced from 230 acres of corn may be rated at 500 tons, which would not only be a valuable acquisition of fodder, but would also at ford large quantities of manure for the improvement of the lands. For both these pur­poses it would be extremely valuable, where the price of hay has been from £10. to £12. a ton.

Here, I have supposed no more than 230 acres annually in the cultivation of corn. This is only one acre in twenty-four of the 6000 acres of free and lease lands, and could be no very arduous task to cultivate, if a proper spirit of industry were once excited amongst the Planters, and if the labour of their slaves and servants were properly directed.

If lucerne, Guinea grass, silla, mangel wurzel, were added to the above supplies of corn, together with a more extensive culture of yams and potatoes, it must be evident that the greatest improve­ment might be expected, and that the whole together would soon render St. Helena abundantly productive of those necessaries of life for which the inhabitants have been, during the last 60 or 70 years, almost wholly dependant on other countries, a dependence which has cost the Honourable Company many hundred thousand pounds ; whilst the planters, so far from having derived the smallest benefit, have lost sight of their real interests ; and by relying upon the certainty of provision, they naturally became less industrious, because the necessity of labour no longer existed.

20th November, 1810.

  1. This paper was printed for the information of the landholders, in the month of November 1810.
  2. This was two-headed barley.—The hexagonal barley does not reproduce in the same manner.
  3. November 29, 1810.
  4. The low ground which formed the lower garden at Long Wood.
  5. Comparative Prices of the following Articles, sold from the Farms in 1789, and 1811.
      1789.   1811.
      L. s. d.   L. s. d.   L. s. d.   L. s. d.
    Beef, per lb. 0   0   6       0   1   2    
    Pork, per lb. 0   0   6       0   1   3    
    Sheep, each 1   1   0       2   0   0 to 3   0   0
    Turkies, each 0   5   0 to 0   8   0   1 12   0 to 2   2   0
    Geese, each 0   6   0       1   1   0 to 1   5   0
    Ducks and fowls, each 0   1   6 to 0   2   0   0   7   6 to 0 12   0

 Section XIV