On Transplanting Wheat—further Remarks on Grubs—and on Barley Wheat.
ON the 7th of July 1812, two acres at Plantation-house were sown broad cast with nine pecks of barley wheat, which were ploughed in, but not harrowed. Although this is the sixth crop from this land, since it was broken up, without using any manure, the barley wheat became so extremely thick, in seven weeks after sowing, that it was apprehended, the crop might be lost unless it were thinned. Mr. Breame, an experienced farmer from Norfolk, and indeed every other person who has viewed it, declares he never beheld so exuberant a specimen of corn. All agree it ought to be thinned—and various modes have been proposed.
That which I have preferred is one I can pursue with confidence, as it is the same I adopted in the year 1809, with some wheat that became too thick and exuberant in the spot where it was sown. As the process which was then used, differs, I believe, in some respects from the practice in Europe, and particularly in the age and size of the transplanted corn, I shall here transcribe the notices I have retained of the crop alluded to.
1809, Nov. 9.—Sowed a small parcel of wheat received from Van Dieman's land.
1809, Dec. 20.—At this time it was grown 12 to 18 inches high, and so extremely thick and exuberant, that it becomes necessary to thin it. Two beds were this day prepared, each measuring two rods in length, and half a rod in breadth. In No. 1, whole tufts, the produce of one grain, as drawn from the seed bed, were dibbled: the rows one foot asunder; the plants 9 inches distant in the rows. In the same manner half tufts were dibbled in No. 2. The leaves of the plants of both were cut off 3 or 4 inches above the roots, previously to their being dibbled in the beds.
1810, January 12th.—The half tufts in No. 2 have withered and died. The whole tufts in No. 1, as well as those in the seed bed, are in a most flourishing condition.
January 25th.—In the seed bed a good many ears appear—the transplanted wheat a little backward, but very strong, notwithstanding a long absence of rain.
February 5th.—Some of the transplanted wheat is now in ear—i. e. 89 days from the seed.
February 11th.—In the seed bed all in ear—There are two sorts, one is short-headed, without beard, 33 inches high—the other sort with long ears, measures 44 inches high. In No. 1, only half a dozen ears have as yet appeared.
February 28th.—The wheat in the transplanted bed and seed bed, is all in ear—this is 112 days from sowing the seed.
March 6th.—The ears of both beds are now well filled. Transplanted corn rather more backward than the seed bed.
March 21st.—The transplanted bed still greenish. The corn in the seed bed was cut down two days ago, fully ripe : ears well filled: it has been 4 months and 10 days in the soil.
April 1st.—Examined the transplanted bed. The short headed wheat without beard is the most exuberant. Taking 4 plants of this sort indiscriminately, the number of ears produced from each seed were these :
|No. 1||-||-||24 ears.|
April 11th.—Gathered some fine specimens from the transplanted wheat, and sent them to England. Their growth was 5 months and 2 days from the seed.
I regret having omitted to notice the average number of grains produced from a single grain. I intended the transplanted bed should have determined the produce per acre—but having suffered a good deal from Canary birds, this was prevented. I shall therefore only add, that the transplanted specimen, before it was attacked by birds, had as fine an appearance as any crop of wheat I ever beheld. This success, although upon a small scale, most unequivocally proves that St. Helena is capable of producing wheat of excellent quality. In several other printed papers I have also shewn, that the culture of wheat, as well as of other corn, may be extended even to more than the present population can possibly consume.
A paper I have seen on the subject of transplanting wheat, by Mr. John Ainsworth, of Glen, recommends the practice as one of the best means of providing against a scarcity of this necessary of life. The saving of seed is undoubtedly a considerable advantage, since it is stated that half a peck sown in a seed bed, would furnish plants for an acre. Besides this saving of seed, there are in England some other advantages pointed out : but as they do not apply to the more temperate climate of St. Helena, it is unnecessary to notice them. Upon the whole, however, it seems that this excellent mode of culture is deserving more attention in England, than has hitherto been paid to it.
In India and China, transplanting is the common practice. Seed beds of rice are thickly sown for the purpose of furnishing plants for the lands. The young plants are deemed sufficiently strong for transplanting in 30 days : even until 60 days they continue fit to be removed. It will be seen by the foregoing wheat experiment, that the plants removed from the seed bed, had been 24 days in the ground—they were strong, and from 12 to 18 inches high. This mode possesses several very material advantages, which appear to have escaped the observation of those who have treated on the subject.
By sowing the seed-bed at the proper season, which may be from a month to seven weeks before the period of transplanting, a farmer may crop many acres of land that otherwise be might not have had leisure to prepare before the season for sowing had passed. His transplanted crop would not be more than three weeks behind that which was sown. In new land too, where the grub might be destructive to young and tender plants, whose sweet milky matter is their favourite food, a first crop of transplanted corn might be put in, without much risk ; because these older plants having larger stems and roots, and harsher juices, are, I conceive, far less nourishing to the young grub ; and are also less liable to the depredations of those of larger size. At all events, the labour of those insects, in destroying, a crop well advanced, would evidently be many fold greater than for one that is attacked at the time the corn begins to sprout.
These are matters that will soon be decided ; for I have at present, a crop of young barley wheat (now five inches high) adjoining some that has been transplanted. If the former should suffer, and the latter escape injury from the grub, it would establish a very important point in farming : for by the transplanting mode, a first crop of barley wheat (or other corn) might be taken from newly broken up land, which, if dibbled close, would give a large quantity of green fodder, or even of corn, whilst its, shading the land from the sun's beat might prevent the hatching of eggs that may remain in the soil.
The barley wheat, sown on the 7th of July, was begun to be transplanted on the 25th of August : that is 49 days after sowing. The whole of the two acres was, at this time, so extremely thick, that plants for many acres might have been well spared ; whilst the thinning of this large seed bed will, no doubt, make it move productive of corn. Alleys, in breadth about 15 inches, have been opened in parallel lines six feet asunder. These alleys admit air through the crop, and furnish numerous plants ; they also form the paths for the men to enter, and thin the intermediate beds ; which is thus done without trampling the corn.
About four acres have been already transplanted. The plants are remarkably fine, measuring 18 to 24 inches high, exclusive of the root : each plant is the produce of one seed. Some were cut at 6 inches above the root ; and others at 9 inches ; that is, just beyond the spindle ; according to their size. I conceive that presenting in this manner open tubes to the atmospheric air and moisture and dews, will be advantageous, by admitting these internally to the roots, which might be prevented in some measure, if the entire plants were set. These, at the extremities, are apt to wither and dry, and consequently become less fit for imbibing moisture ; which, at any rate, could only be received externally on the leaves. The best of these two modes will also be soon ascertained, as several hundred plants have been set out in the state they were drawn from the seed bed : this will afford a comparative experiment.
Another mode of cultivating corn has been suggested by the exuberance of my present crop of barley wheat. It seems to me, that it is possible, at St. Helena, to raise a double crop on the same field ; that is, one of green fodder, the other of corn. This may be accomplished by reaping (at six or seven weeks growth) the green crop in parallel alleys. If these alleys are two feet wide, and six feet apart, and are crossed by others at right angles 18 feet asunder, they would form beds, 6 feet by 18 ; or of 108 square feet. Thus a current of air would be admitted all around and through these beds, by which the growth of the corn might be promoted sufficiently without thinning. The effect of this mode is to be ascertained by the barley wheat sown on the 7th of July last.
That barley wheat is a crop of great importance in St. Helena, I have clearly demonstrated in several of the St. Helena Registers ; and that it might be of infinite utility in the United Kingdoms, by keeping down the high price of bread, appears to me very possible. It is as easy to grind and make it into meal as wheat itself ; and if this meal were mixed with one half, or a third of wheaten flour, it is likely it would make a pleasant and wholesome bread.
When, to these circumstances are added, that 60 bushels can be obtained front one bushel sown on an acre ; that it will grow on lands (without manure) of very inferior fertility to those required for wheat crops ; and also that it yields the finest sort of malt, it seems truly surprising that a grain so valuable, in many respects, should have been hitherto so very little noticed in England.
The only accounts I have as yet read of it, are by Warren Hastings, Esq. ; by Mr. C. W. Paget ; and by R. Flower, of Marsden, Herts. All these agree in pointing it out as a corn most worthy of attention. I shall postpone offering any further observations until the experiments now in process are completed. These regard the different modes of culture : the making the meal into cakes, and loaves, and the sort of bread it may produce, when mixed with certain proportions of wheaten flour.
14th September, 1812.