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Growing Timber Tree-planting

In my judgment, the proportion of a small farm that should be constantly

devoted to trees (other than fruit) is not less than one-fourth; while,

of farms exceeding one hundred acres in area, that proportion should be

not less than one-third, and may often be profitably increased to

one-half. I am thinking of such as are in good part superficially rugged

and rocky, or sandy and sterile, such as New-England, eastern New-York,
r /> northern New-Jersey, with both slopes of the Alleghenies, as well as the

western third of our continent, abound in. It may be that it is

advisable to be content with a smaller proportion of timber in the

Prairie States and the broad, fertile intervales which embosom most of

our great rivers for at least a part of their course; but I doubt it.

And there is scarcely a farm in the whole country, outside of the great

primitive forests in which openings have but recently been made, in

which some tree-planting is not urgently required.

"Too much land," you will hear assigned on every side as a reason for

poor farming and meager crops. Ask an average farmer in New-England, in

Virginia, in Kentucky, or in Alabama, why the crops of his section are

in the average no better, and the answer, three times in four, will be,

"Our farmers have too much land"--that is, not too much absolutely, but

too much relatively to their capital, stock, and general ability to till

effectively. The habitual grower of poor crops will proffer this

explanation quite as freely and frequently as his more thrifty neighbor.

And what every one asserts must have a basis of truth.

Now, I do not mean to quarrel with the instinct which prompts my

countrymen to buy and hold too much land. They feel, as I do, that land

is still cheap almost anywhere in this country--cheap, if not in view of

the income now derived from it, certainly in contemplation of the price

it must soon command and the income it might, under better management,

be made to yield. Under this conviction--or, if you please,

impression--every one is intent on holding on to more land than he can

profitably till, if not more than he can promptly pay for.

What I do object to is simply this--that thousands, who have more land

than they have capital to work profitably, will persist in half-tilling

many acres, instead of thoroughly farming one-half or one third so many,

and getting the rest into wood so fast as may be. I am confident that

two-thirds of all our farmers would improve their circumstances and

increase their incomes by concentrating their efforts, their means,

their fertilizers, upon half to two-thirds of the area they now skim and

skin, and giving the residue back to timber-growing.

In my own hilly, rocky, often boggy, Westchester--probably within six of

being the oldest Agricultural County in the Union--I am confident that

ten thousand acres might to-morrow be given back to forest with profit

to the owners and advantage to all its inhabitants. It is a

fruit-growing, milk-producing, truck-farming county, closely adjoining

the greatest city of the New World; hence, one wherein land can be

cultivated as profitably as almost anywhere else--yet I am satisfied

that half its surface may be more advantageously devoted to timber than

to grass or tillage. Nay; I doubt that one acre in a hundred of rocky

land--that is, land ribbed or dotted with rocks that the bar or the

rock-hook cannot lift from their beds, and which it will not as yet pay

to blast--is now tilled to profit, or ever will be until it shall be

found advisable to clear them utterly of stone breaking through or

rising within two feet of the surface. The time will doubtless arrive in

which many fields will pay for clearing of stone that would not to-day;

these, I urge, should be given up to wood now, and kept wooded until the

hour shall have struck for ridding them of every impediment to the

steady progress of both the surface and the subsoil plow.

Were all the rocky crests and rugged acclivities of this County

bounteously wooded once more, and kept so for a generation, our floods

would be less injurious, our springs unfailing, and our streams more

constant and equable; our blasts would be less bitter, and our gales

less destructive to fruit; we should have vastly more birds to delight

us by their melody and aid us in our not very successful war with

devouring insects; we should grow peaches, cherries, and other delicate

fruits, which the violent caprices of our seasons, the remorseless

devastations of our visible and invisible insect enemies, have all but

annihilated; and we should keep more cows and make more milk on

two-thirds of the land now devoted to grass than we actually do from the

whole of it. And what is true of Westchester is measurably true of every

rural county in the Union.

I have said that I believe in cutting trees as well as in growing them;

I have not said, and do not mean to say, that I believe in cutting

everything clean as you go. That was once proper in Westchester; it is

still advisable in forest-covered regions, where the sun must be let in

before crops can be grown; but, in nine cases out of ten, timber should

be thinned or culled out rather than cut off; and, for every tree taken

away, at least two should be planted or set out.

We have pretty well outgrown the folly of letting every apple-tree bear

such fruit as it will; though in the orchard of my father's little farm

in Amherst, N. H., whereon I was born, no tree had ever been grafted

when I bade adieu to it in 1820; and I presume none has been to this

day. By this time, almost every farmer realizes that he can't afford

to grow little, gnarly, villainously sour or detestably bitter-sweet

apples, when, by duly setting a graft at a cost of two dimes, he may

make that identical tree yield Greenings or Pippins at least as

bounteously. I presume the cumulative experience of fifty or sixty

generations of apple-growers has ripened this conclusion. Why do they

not infer readily and generally that growing indifferent timber where

the best and most valued would grow as rapidly, is a stupid, costly

blunder? It seems to me that whoever has attained the conviction that

apple-trees should be grafted ought to know that it is wasteful to grow

Red Oak, Beech, White Maple, and Alder, where White Oak, Hickory,

Locust, and White Pine, might be grown with equal facility, in equal

luxuriance, provided the right seeds were planted, and a little pains

taken to keep down, for a year or two, the shoots spontaneously sent up

by the wrong ones.

North of the Potomac, and east of the Ohio, and (I presume) in limited

districts elsewhere, rocky, sterile woodlands, costing $2 to $50 per

acre according to location, etc., are to-day the cheapest property to be

bought in the United States. Even though nothing were done with them but

keep out fire and cattle, and let the young trees grow as they will,

money can be more profitably and safely invested in lands covered by

young timber than in anything else. The parent, who would invest a few

thousands for the benefit of children or grandchildren still young, may

buy woodlands which will be worth twenty times their present cost within

the next twenty years. But better even than this would it be to buy up

rocky, craggy, naked hill-sides and eminences which have been pastured

to death, and, shutting out cattle inflexibly, scratch these over with

plow, mattock, hoe, or pick, as circumstances shall dictate, plant them

thickly with Chestnut, Walnut, Hickory, White Oak, and the seeds of

Locust and White Pine. I say Locust, though not yet certain that this

tree must not be started in garden or nursery-beds and transplanted when

two or three years old, so puny and feeble is it at the outset, and so

likely to be smothered under leaves or killed out by its more favored

neighbors. I have experiments in progress not yet matured, which may

shed light on this point before I finish these essays.

Plant thickly, and of diverse kinds, so as to cover the ground

promptly and choke out weeds and shrubs, with full purpose to thin and

prune as circumstances shall dictate.

Many farmers are averse to planting timber, because (they think) nothing

can be realized therefrom for the next twenty or thirty years, which is

as long as they expect to live. But this is a grave miscalculation. Let

us suppose a rocky, hilly pasture-lot of ten or twenty acres rudely

scratched over as I have suggested, and thickly seeded with hickory nuts

and white oak acorns only: within five years, it will yield abundantly

of hoop poles, though the better, more promising half be left to

mature, as they should be; two years later, another and larger crop of

hoop-poles may be cut, still sparing the best; and thenceforth a

valuable crop of timber may be taken from that land; for, if cut at the

proper season, at least two thrifty sprouts will start from every stump;

and so that wood will yield a clear income each year while its best

trees are steadily growing and maturing. I do not advise restriction to

those two species of timber; but I insist that a young plantation of

forest-trees may and should yield a clear income in every year after its


As to the Far West--the Plains, the Parks, and the Great Basin--there is

more money to be made by dotting them with groves of choice timber than

by working the richest veins of the adjacent mountains. Whoever will

promptly start, near a present or prospective railroad, forty acres of

choice trees--Hickory, White Oak, Locust, Chestnut, and White

Pine--within a circuit of three hundred miles from Denver, on land which

he has made or is making provision to irrigate--may begin to sell trees

therefrom two years hence, and persist in selling annually henceforth

for a century--at first, for transplanting; very soon, for a variety of

uses in addition to that.

* * * * *

--But this paper grows too long, and I must postpone to the next my more

especial suggestions to young farmers with regard to tree-planting.