What about Civil War era farmers? Where did they get their knowledge of how to grow the crops that fed their families, villages, towns, cities, and armies?
Why from the American Agriculturist published with the modern farmer in mind from 1845 to today.
Here, found interspersed between melodramatic stories, children’s drawings, and Rebus puzzles, amidst ads for fruit bushes, tulip bulbs, Norman stallions, ewes and rams, school bells, fine imported Peruvian guano, clothes wringers, and India rubber gloves, is poetical, philosophical, and practical advice for farmers. The following excerpts are from the October 1865 issue of the American Agriculturist:
NOTES AND SUGGESTIONS FOR OCTOBER
Grain has ripened and has been gathered by the careful husbandman, seeds of wild plants neglected by man have matured and are being scattered, ready to be covered by the falling leaves, or already hidden in crevices of soil from which new life will awaken at the touch of Spring; insects have taken their winter form; birds are hastening to more genial climates, and everything warns the provident farmer to finish what yet remains under his hand. It is not too late to save much vexatious labor next year, by cleaning up hedge rows and clumps of weeds, which should be burned to destroy the ripened seeds. If crops are all indeed housed, draining now where needed may give a week’s start in the season of plowing.– The present prices of grain may continue, but if gold comes down as it should, and ultimately must, those who have threshed and marketed their grain early, will have the most satisfactory returns. — Thanksgiving is but a few weeks distant, and the best fattened poultry will bring top prices. Let our readers take the hint, and have their turkeys, chickens, geese, and ducks ready.
In fine: “What thy hand findth to do, do it with thy might,” for the chilling storms soon herald the approach of Winter.
And the editors continue with goodly advice from A to T. Here’s a sampling:
Agricultural Reading– The days are now shortening and the nights lengthening. If a farmer is diligent and ambitious, he can find at least a few hours daily, to read.
Animals – Feed fattening animals well this month, as they will fatten much faster before the cold weather comes on. Store animals of all kinds also need particular protection, feed them well and protect them from storms.
Barns – See that no corner, or portion of the foundation rests on the ground, or is exposed to wet that will shortly cause decay. Sometimes a projecting cornerstone will conduct rain inwards against the sill, and rot it in a few years.
Butter – Now is the best time to pack butter for next winter. See that the jars, or tubs, are thoroughly cleaned. A spoonful of clean sugar to every pound of butter put in at the last working will improve the quality of even good butter, and cause it to bring a higher price.
Haystacks – See that every stack turns the rain well. If they need re-topping, procure some long straw, if possible, to cover the top.
Indian Corn – Husk the ears and secure the stalks for fodder as soon as possible after the grain is well cured. Let nothing be wasted.
More on corn during the Civil war in another post…
Well, that is a poetic look at farming! I wonder if the current phrasing of the AF magazine offers similar poetry? It all sounded so communal, helpful, and well, as if there was a sacred attachment to the land and what it would sow for others. Did that attitude change during the Civil War period or was it maintained, like a calm voice in a storm?
This style of writing is common in all publications of the Civil War period. Today we write sharper, but maybe not better. For comparison here is a sample from the current issue of American Agriculturist: Heat units and dry weather have come together to create a nearly perfect harvest scenario – whether you’re talking the good-yielding stuff where the drought missed, or hard-hit areas where desert-like conditions turned corn to tall brown grass – combines are rolling.