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Old Time Customs
Memories and Traditions and Other Essays
Culture and Agriculture


FARMERS often discredit their calling by assuming that their success is mainly dependent on muscular effort. In fact, it has been contended that the learning of the schools rather disqualifies a boy for farm life, making him dissatisfied with its conditions. A claim has arisen, too, for re-adjustment of the school curriculum, so as to bring it into direct line with the work and interests of the farmer. In this contention important considerations are liable to be overlooked. The public school is not designed to prepare for the pursuit of agriculture alone, or for any one calling. Hence, a proper common school curriculum must be based on such broad lines as shall meet the demands of the whole circle of human life, with all its varied interests, industrial, social and moral. Nor would it be wise or practicable at an early stage in a boy's life to determine in arbitrary fashion what his life's work shall be or ought to be. It may be urged, also, that whatever tends to the awakening of observation and thought is in direct line with the education suited to the farmer. Without intelligence one will follow routine, pursue one beaten track, do things just as his father did, or imitate his neighbors. In emergency he is without expedient. Whereas the well disciplined mind is resourceful, ever on the alert for the discovery of shorter, easier and more effective methods of doing things.

Further, it should be remembered that the life of the farmer touches broader interests than those appertaining to agriculture. He is a man and a citizen as well as a farmer. The man is higher than his calling, and he cannot lightly ignore the claims of the great brotherhood to which he belongs. True education does not aim simply to make a man a better machine. It gives him higher ideals of worth, develops a "reach that exceeds the grasp," and measurably enriches the abundant life with a nutriment more satisfying than bread alone.

No calling demands more intelligence or finds within its sphere more fruitful and varied sources of knowledge than does this pursuit of agriculture. The farm is a natural science school, affording unbounded facilities for the study of many subjects. Among these subjects which appeal persistently and with the force of practical interest to the farmer are geology, mineralogy, chemistry, meteorology, botany, zoology, entomology, bacteriology, civics and others that might be named. Even a superficial knowledge of these subjects is often a source of power, and deeper research results in greater interest and higher reward.

We admire the ingenuity and skill displayed in the construction of machinery by the operation of which raw material is deftly fashioned into a thing of usefulness and of beauty in the finished product. How much more marvellous is the working of the great factory of nature which the farmer sets in motion and guides to such definite and inexplicable results!

The seed is cast into the ground, and in due time, while the husbandman, by turns, toils and sleeps, comes the harvest, he knows not how, in some thirty fold, in some sixty and in others a hundred. How strange the transformation! Earth, air, sunshine and shower at one end of the machine; at the other end, grain, vegetables, fruits, and flowers!

I was once planting carrot seeds in my garden. A little girl of some four or five summers' experience in this world of wonderful things stood watching me. "What are you doing?" she finally asked. "I am planting carrot seeds," was the reply. "What for?" "So that we may have carrots. These carrot seeds will grow and make carrots for our dinner some day." "Oh," said she, "how can these little things make yellow carrots?" Well, this was beyond my power to explain, and to stop my questioner, I was driven to subterfuge which silenced her, but by no means satisfied myself.

The little seed contains within itself a still smaller part, the germ, in which is hidden the mysterious thing called life, in the meantime lying dormant, but capable under certain conditions of becoming active and of drawing, within the sphere of its working outside dead matter and of building it up into the forms of its own organic structure. But what is this potent thing or force which distinguishes the living from the dead? The eye cannot see it, nor can any other sense perceive it. The physicist with his magnifying microscope fails to detect it, nor with nicely poised balance can he discover its presence or its absence. The chemist, who claims the power to determine the ultimate composition of matter, is compelled to acknowledge that, in this quest, all his arts are without avail.

Again, mark how true is each kind of life to itself; for all life is not the same life. There is one life of the apple, another of the maple; there is one life of the wheat, and another of the thistle. Since that day when God made the herb of the field and the tree of the forest, each bearing seed after its kind, the law that men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles has remained unchanged and unchangeable. How marvellously accurate, too, is the selecting and combining power by which each kind of life is distinguished. Under the same conditions of soil and climate, sunshine and shower, growing side by side are the maple and the hemlock, the strawberry and the fox-glove. The druggist may give you corrosive sublimate for calomel, or arsenic for quinine; but Nature makes no such blunders. We eat our wheaten loaf without fear or suspicion that, through some awkward and fatal mistake, she has put the deadly poisonous strychnine in the grain in place of good wholesome starch.

Among the interesting biological phenomena that invite the attention of the farmer are the chemical changes which take place in the plant during the processes of germination, growth and ripening of seed. Several compound vegetable substances, as starch, dextrin, sugar and wood fibre, very different in their properties, but made up of the same elementary substances and in nearly the same proportions, are at different stages of the plant's development changed from one of these to another. The greater part of a kernel of wheat, for example, is starch. This substance, insoluble in water, is placed around the germ in the seed, serving for its protection. But later, during germination and early growth, before the infant plant has sent out its fingers in search of food from the soil and atmosphere, this starch, under the influence of heat and moisture, is changed into dextrin or sugar which readily dissolves and ministers to the needs of the plantlet. Again, later in the process of the plant's development, this sugar, acted on by light and atmospheric influence, is changed to wood fiber and other finished products in the economy of vegetable life. All these changes are of course guided and controlled by that mysterious principle we call life which is at first lodged in the germ, and later is diffused throughout the whole plant.

The question has arisen as to how much or how Iittle of the living plant should be regarded as an individual unit. For example, is the whole apple tree to be taken as a unit, or is not the tree rather an assemblage of individuals—a community? The fact that every bud on the tree has the potentiality of a separate living entity seems to favor the latter conclusion. That the bud possesses this power may be shown in the process of horticulture known as budding, in which a bud is transferred to a new stem which becoming a kind of foster mother supplies the bud with needed nutriment and thus bridges over a period of helplessness. Grafting is a similar way of securing the same result.

In some plants, as the currant bush and the willow tree, a small branch or twig, when placed in moist ground, has within itself sufficient resources for the development of root, stem and leaf as well as for other functions of normal life. The begonia and some other succulent plants have the power to produce a complete plant from the fragment of a leaf kept moist and at proper temperature. Indeed, Herbert Spencer states that the fragment of this leaf needed is so small that one hundred plants may be thus obtained from a single leaf. Again, there seem to be some portions of the living organism which have ceased to perform the functions of life and are practically dead matter. I remember my first experience in grafting. It was a scrub seedling four or five years old. I sawed it off near the ground, split the stump down the middle, and placed the scion exactly in the center. I watched it day after day, wondering and grieving that it did not grow. I have since learned that the functions of life in exogenous stems, like the apple tree, are carried on at the outside, and that the heart wood has ceased to live and may be decomposed, leaving a hollow trunk. This condition is often shown in large birch trees.

Cross fertilization and other processes in the line of variation open another department in our school for observation and thought. The results thus secured have been of great value in practical husbandry, as well as of promise for the future. According to the reading of the evolutionist Nature's law of progress is "the survival of the fittest." The husbandman wisely follows her example in selecting as forebears of his plants and animals those that come nearest to his ideal, or such as most fully minister to his purpose. Permanent modification of species, both in the vegetable and the animal kingdom, brought about by artificial conditions, are among the achievements that command our wonder and admiration. A certain writer, in speaking of what breeders have done for the improvement of sheep, remarks, "It would seem that they have chalked upon a wall a form perfect in itself, and then given it existence." The same may be said in regard to fruit and vegetables. The gardener forms a conception or mental picture of what he desires as to form, color, flavor or other quality, and then sets himself to work out the realization of his ideal. Darwin states that variation from type is more rare among wild plants than among those under cultivation. The tendency of cultivation is to modify the original character and at the same time to establish a habit leading to further variation. The equilibrium of vital forces, being disturbed through new conditions—as from scanty to abundant supply of nourishment—variation is more readily repeated.

It is scarcely necessary to tell the intelligent reader that this writing is superficial —mere scratching here and there on the surface of a wide field replete with hidden treasure. We have at least seen, however, that the possibilities of the farmer are full of promise both of mental and material gain. As in his progress of discovery he reads God's thoughts after Him, his experience is one of added knowledge and power and of unmixed delight. Phenomena that he once thought commonplace are found to be fraught with deepest significance and of untold wonder. Delving deeper and catching glimpses of Nature's secret workings, he sees darkly, as through a mystic drapery, mysteries which at the same time baffle his comprehension and stimulate him to further enquiry. And beyond "the lowest deep" there comes a vision of a lower deep, an inner shrine, a Holy of Holies, across whose threshold no human foot may pass. Yet, as he looks backward at "impossibilities"—once so considered — that have been overcome, he is emboldened by the achievement of the past to the thought that no definite boundary marks the limit of lawful enquiry, and that there is no certain criterion for determining how much of the unknown is unknowable, or how much of the purely abstract may not yield lessons for practical life.


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