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Draining Generally

Having narrated my own experience in draining with entire unreserve, I

here submit the general conclusions to which it has led me:

I. While I doubt that there is any land above water that would not be

improved by a good system of underdrains, I am sure that there is a

great deal that could not at present be drained to profit. Forests,

hill-side pastures, and most dry gravelly or sandy tracts, I place in

is category. Perhaps one-third of New-England, half of the Middle

States, and three-fourths of the Mississippi Valley, may ultimately be

drained with profit.

II. All swamp lands without exception, nearly all clay soils, and a

majority of the flat or gently rolling lands of this country, must

eventually be drained, if they are to be tilled with the best results. I

doubt that there is a garden on earth that would not be (unless it

already had been) improved by thorough underdraining.

III. The uses of underdrains are many and diverse. To carry off surplus

water, though the most obvious, stands by no means alone. 1.

Underdrained land may be plowed and sowed considerably earlier in Spring

than undrained soil of like quality. 2. Drained fields lose far less

than others of their fertility by washing. 3. They are not so liable to

be gullied by sudden thaws or flooding rains. 4. Where a field has been

deeply subsoiled, I am confident that it will remain mellow and

permeable by roots longer than if undrained. 5. Less water being

evaporated from drained than from undrained land, the soil will be

warmer throughout the growing season; hence, the crop will be heavier,

and will mature earlier. 6. Being more porous and less compact, I think

the soil of a drained field retains more moisture in a season of drouth,

and its growing plants suffer less therefrom, than if it were undrained.

In short, I thoroughly believe in underdraining.

IV. Yet I advise no man to run into debt for draining, as I can imagine

a mortgage on a farm so heavy and pressing as to be even a greater

nuisance than stagnant water in its soil. Labor and tile are dear with

us; I do not expect that either will ever be so cheap here as in England

or Belgium. What I would have each farmer in moderate circumstances do

is to drain his wettest field next Fall--that is, after finishing his

haying and before cutting up his corn--taking care to secure abundant

fall to carry off the water in time of flood, and doing his work

thoroughly. Having done this, let him subsoil deeply, fertilize amply,

till carefully, and watch the result. I think it will soon satisfy him

that such draining pays.

V. I do not insist on tile as making the only good drain; but I have had

no success with any other. The use of stone, in my opinion, is only

justified where the field to be drained abounds in them and no other use

can be made of them. To make a good drain with ordinary boulders or

cobble-stones requires twice the excavation and involves twice the labor

necessarily expended on tile-draining; and it is neither so effective

nor so durable. Earth will be carried by water into a stone drain; rats

and other vermin will burrow in it and dig (or enlarge) holes thence to

the surface; in short, it is not the thing. Better drain with stone

where they are a nuisance than not at all; but I predict that you will

dig them up after giving them a fair trial and replace them with tile.

In a wooded country, where tile were scarce and dear, I should try

draining with slabs or cheap boards dressed to a uniform width of six or

eight inches, and laid in a ditch dug with banks inclined or sloped to

the bottom, so as to form a sort of V; the lower edge of the two

side-slabs coming together at the bottom, and a third being laid widely

across their upper edges, so as to form a perfect cap or cover. In firm,

hard soil, this would prove an efficient drain, and, if well made, would

last twenty years. Uniformity of temperature and of moisture would keep

the slabs tolerably sound for at least so long; and, if the top of this

drain were two feet below the surface, no plowing or trampling over it

would harm it.

VI. As to draining by what is called a Mole Plow, which simply makes a

waterway through the subsoil at a depth of three feet or thereabout, I

have no acquaintance with it but by hearsay. It seems to me morally

impossible that drains so made should not be lower at some points than

at others, so as to retain their fill of water instead of carrying it

rapidly off; and I am sure that plowing, or even carting heavy loads

over them, must gradually choke and destroy them. Yet this kind of

draining is comparatively so cheap, and may, with a strong team, be

effected so rapidly, that I can account for its popularity, especially

in prairie regions. Where the subsoil is rocky, it is impracticable;

where it is hard-pan, it must be very difficult; where it is loose sand,

it cannot endure; but in clays or heavy loams, it may, for a few years,

render excellent service. I wish the heavy clays of Vermont, more

especially of the Champlain basin, were well furrowed or pierced by even

such drains; for I am confident that they would temporarily improve both

soil and crop; and, if they soon gave out, they would probably be

replaced by others more durable.

--I shall not attempt to give instructions in drain-making; but I urge

every novice in the art to procure Waring's or some other work on the

subject and study it carefully: then, if he can obtain at a fair price

the services of an experienced drainer, hire him to supervise the work.

One point only do I insist on--that is, draining into a main rather than

an open ditch or brook; for it is difficult in this or any harsher

climate to prevent the crumbling of your outlet tile by frost. Below the

Potomac or the Arkansas, this may not be apprehended; and there it may

be best to have your drains separately discharge from a road-side bank

or into an open ditch, as they will thus inhale more air, and so help

(in Summer) to warm and moisten the soil above them; but in our climate

I believe it better to let your drains discharge into a covered main or

mains as aforesaid, than into an open ditch or brook.

Tile and labor are dear with us; I presume labor will remain so. But, in

our old States, there are often laborers lacking employment in November

and the Winter months; and it is the wisest and truest charity to

proffer them pay for work. Some will reject it unless the price be

exorbitant; but there are scores of the deserving poor in almost every

rural county, who would rather earn a dollar per day than hang around

the grog-shops waiting for Spring. Get your tiles when you can, or do

not get them at all, but let it be widely known that you have work for

those who will do it for the wages you can afford, and you will soon

have somebody to earn your money. Having staked out your drains, set

these to work at digging them, even though you should not be able to

tile them for a year. Cut your outlet deep, and your land will profit by

a year of open drains.