Renewable Farming

In agriculture, there are few new ideas… just new agricultural editors

In 1875, nearly 60% of America’s 38 million citizens worked on farms. Wounds from the Civil War were still fresh as the nation planned its first Centennial celebration.

America’s premier farm publication — The Country Gentleman — was growing circulation rapidly and covered everything from global politics to recipes for molasses pie. And they did it in 8 point type on pages a whopping 15 x 11 inches. Most pages were 90 percent text, read by citizens with an average eighth grade education. The “Gent” later merged with Farm Journal.

One U.S. dollar in 1875 was worth $21 in today’s paper money. A year’s subscription to 12 issues of the “Gent” was $2.50, or $52.50 in today’s paper currency. Corn in Eastern markets was about 90 cents a bushel, equal to $19 per bushel today. Wheat was $1.42, worth $30 per bushel today.

Jan. 21, 2017   By Jill Carlson — Here’s a scan of a few items found in the first three monthly issues of 1875:

In the bitter cold of January, Country Gentleman urged farmers to greater heights: “fewer in number, characterized by energy, enterprise and sound judgment, they are always ready to improve on old practices. A superficial knowledge, in any business, is insufficient for its successful prosecution.” February repeats the theme: “Long since, and before agricultural books or periodicals were published, or agricultural chemistry studied, a numerous class of honest, unlettered, but judicious and observant men, formed by pure observation and experiment a rotation in crops.”

Still, one farmer kept his field in corn for 16 years with “a yield of 140 bushels per acre.”

More than superficial knowledge was employed by one hungry farmer who noted that “wild turkeys have great sagacity, and use it often…they are slow to make friends, and never forget them.” So he figured a way to entice them into the barn where he would dispatch them one at a time, as needed, for the family dinner. “And so, from first to last, our wild turkeys were made to believe that their place of safety is as near the home as they can get.”

One progenitor of today’s bio-fuels took time to compute the weight of America’s weeds, declaring, “The U.S. produces annually enough weeds to load a compact train of wagons, a ton each, sufficient to span the globe, or eight million tons. If good hay or even more valuable crops were raised instead, it would be worth eighty million dollars or more.”

Sadly, one farm family took many months to study their child’s illness, coming late to the realization that arsenic in the wallpaper was making her sick. They took her out of the room, left it empty for a year and repeated the tragedy when they housed a little boy in the same space. Arsenic, it seems, brings brilliance to the color green. It must also have addled the brain.

One enterprising farmer took a hint from a British entrepreneur and installed hot air baths for his ailing livestock. The heat producing engine forced hot air into the room where cows and horses enjoyed their spa. The owner states: “dogs, which have once been confined in this bath room, will scratch at the door for admittance whenever anything ails them. Horses and cattle seem to enter the room with pleasure.”

Modern mousetraps can’t hold multiple mice, but one reader’s maze design can. (Reprint of article nearby) It’s a two-foot square box containing nine smaller boxes, covered with a hinged lid. The mice (33 in one of his catches) enter from east or west, find their way to the center box with bait, and forget how they came in. To terminate the mice, take the trap to a clear open space and release the mice to “boys with a dog.” 

Care of pasture is forefront: Permanent pasture, often taking 40 years to become “fattening land” takes precedence over “artificial pasture”. In another report: “Whey is more valuable as a fertilizer than as hog feed.” As for timothy, “It is injurious to fertility when mowed for several years” and, “a green manure cover crop of clover is preferable.” Farm kids must have loved this excuse to spend Saturday fishing: “Those wanting a manure, strong in nitrogen, will find in fish scrap a very cheap article….Apply it in layers of peat or loam and let it ferment on the ground.”

State news was sprinkled throughout each issue:

Ohio: compulsory education has been defeated in the state Assembly

Florida: Results of elections were undecided so “members have been brought to the statehouse by force” to vote.

Alabama: The House expelled one of its members “for offering to sell his influence.”

What’s in a horse’s mouth? Note the precise aging signs from years one through nine. At five, stallions’ and geldings’ “tusks are up.”


Spuds were in trouble. The Prussian government “has determined to prohibit the importation of American potatoes.” But Peru raked in the cash from its export to American farmers of “authentic Peruvian guano.” 

How much water can a cow drink in one day? Ice-locked Midwest farmers weren’t sure, but their livestock drank the full 10 gallons daily hand-carried to their barn after barn pipes froze and the icy pasture made it too risky to lead cows and horses to the creek.

Ads in Country Gentleman covered a full spectrum of chickens, fruit seedlings, corsets, seed catalogues, phosphatic blood guano, high-priced champion studs, proven medicaments, lawn mowers and “reliable bone manures.”

In recipes, butter was compared to the sizes of eggs or hickory nuts. Popular were instructions for “children’s cookies,” most batches yielding at least six dozen. Flour, sugar and butter went into those cookies by the pound or pint. Butter was 30 cents a pound at the country store — six dollars in today’s money.

When your day’s work is done (and the farm wife’s never is) Country Gentleman tells you how to spot a white-bellied nuthatch. And don’t worry about those “depredatory” insects — “beneficial insects keep them in check and destroy them,” something the reader wants entomologists to study.

And just before you bed down for the night, make sure your scalp is tingly fresh with a solution of ammonia in water and alcohol: “One 1 tsp. spirits of hartshorn in half basin of tepid water cleanses more thoroughly than any innocuous substance.”

Here’s the top of the cover page from an early issue: