Spring 1998

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The Cultivator


Robert V. Anderson

Recently when rummaging through cartons of stored papers I came upon a box of books that I had bought at a sale, when, and, at what site, I have long ago forgotten. Among the books in that box I discovered six issues of The Cultivator for the months July through December of the 1853.

"Covering Agriculture, Horticulture and Domestic Economy", The Cultivator published information to help farmers improve their husbandry, and rural families to enjoy better living. Its publisher, Luther Tucker, aimed his articles, on all phases of plant and livestock production, toward independent farmers and estate owners.

Volume I, Issues 7 - 12, July through December, 1853, covered a wide range of rural subjects. Livestock information occupied a good deal of space. There was considerable attention given to Merino sheep. One ram, a French Merino named "Ten Thousand" was to be exhibited at the New York City World Fair. On page 254 appeared a drawing of a Spanish Merino ram; ewes were shown on page 288. Evidently there was a rising interest in this breed.

A number of pigs were shown, an improved Essex was on page 287. On page 359 there was a picture of a sausage with legs, a Suffolk boar named Prince who had been imported from the stock of Prince Albert. He sold for $100. There were many advertisements for all kinds of animals, often progeny of recently imported livestock. Morgan horses were featured, an exception to the usual promotion of British and Continental breeds.

In addition to its coverage of livestock, The Cultivator had many advertisements for farming implements. A thistle eradicating cultivator made by E. Boughton of Pittsford, N. Y. , was shown on page 271. Three horses were said to be sufficient to draw the four-foot wide sweep a few inches below the surface of mellow soil to slice off thistles and other herbage.

The depth of the blade was set by turning cranks to raise or lower the wheels. It sold for $30.

On page 295 John A. Pitts of Buffalo advertised his patented grain separator, improved double-pinion horse power, and his corn-and-cob mill:

The Separator has been enlarged, improved, and rendered more permanent and durable in all its parts-while the Horse Power, for strength, ease, durability and cheapness of repair, is not surpassed by any in the United States. This Power is warranted to stand the full strength of eight horses, also to give as much effective or useful power when driven by one or two horses as any other Horse Power, whether constructed on the endless chain or lever principle.

It was put on trial at the great exhibition of Horse Powers and Threshing Machines at Geneva in July last, 1852, where it received the New-York State Agricultural Society's first premium 'for the best Horse Power for general purposes. '

The Separator at the same trial, also received the society's first premium. My machines will thresh and clean from three to five hundred bushels of wheat per day, and other grain in proportion.

On page 219 was a large illustration of a hand-operated pump to water gardens or to force water two-stories high to extinguish fires. The pump with tank was manufactured by Cowing & Co. of Seneca Falls, N. Y.

Experimentation was a constant theme in The Cultivator. One article reported successful experiences from adding powdered charcoal to soils, improving drought resistance and increasing the yield of forages and grains and even diminishing potato blight. Other accounts recommended fertilizing with manure, and one note rated the comparative value of animal wastes on potatoes, "with hog manure giving the best results, the manure of fowls next, compost next, then common unfermented manure. "

From a short article about the successful farming practises of Linus Cone of Oakland County, Michigan, is this paragraph:

Manure—Good farmers are not apt to improve largely in one direction and neglect others, and hence we find that this energetic manager saves everything in the shape of manure. A tank is sunk a short distance from the kitchen, and a wooden duct conveys all the soap-suds, wash, &c. , into a bed of muck, turf, or rich earth, here deposited with all animal refuse. This forms manure of extraordinary richness. A box containing several bushels of charcoal receives all the urine, and when saturated is emptied into this tank.

There was an advertisement offering imported Peruvian guano for $45 a ton. Apparently the material was stored in a State Agricultural Warehouse-I am surprised that the State New York would have then participated in such an enterprise.

The "Letters on British Agriculture" section approved of their practice of leaving trees in pastures to shelter livestock, but thought field hedges took too much land.

There were essays on tillage, crop rotation, grazing and making hay, fencing, and on management. In addition to general farming items The Cultivator covered horticultural developments for gardeners and specialists, and surveyed domestic economy interests for women managing households or engaged in sideline ventures.

The Horticulture Department in The Cultivator reported on new varieties of cherries: Champagne, Great Bigarreau, August Duke, and Robert's Red Heart. There was special concern for hardiness. Black Knot Disease in plums, and the diseases of peaches and grapes were discussed on page 248. There was even an article on Window Gardening. Another article estimated that 100 kinds of plants could be raised in a 20' x 30' plot. Chicory, Endive, Salsify and Jerusalem Artichokes were suggested for home gardens.

Other Horticulture Department features included a sketch of a suburban garden, planting American Arbor Vitae for an evergreen hedge, and a recommendation for Houghton's Seedling Gooseberry.

There were recipes for wine and for soap. The procedure for making white soap required a barrel in which to place soda crystals and quick lime for leaching with warm water. When the liquid solution reached a specific gravity reading of 1. 040 on a hydrometer it was sufficiently strong enough to saponify 11 pounds of melted suet or white tallow. After combining the lye water slowly into the fat, the mixture should be kept boiling for four hours, then a handful of salt added and the creamy substance poured into wooden frames to cool. The Scientific American was credited as the source of the recipe. In another place India-rubber gloves were recommended to keep hands smooth; they would have been good to wear when working with lye.

Various insect controls were given. Shaking insects from plants onto spread out sheets, then destroying them was one method. From the Boston Cultivator came the suggestion of planting several Damask Rose bushes in the center of the garden to attract rose bugs from other plants, then jarring the congregated bugs from the blooming roses into a broad pan filled with hot water. Killing black ants by pouring boiling water on them, and planting tomatoes near insect susceptible plants to drive away the pests were other methods. This last ploy came from a European journal. One letter asked when tomatoes had been brought to this country, and then recommended tomato pie.

A letter asked: "Can you inform me where I can get plants of the true Bell Cranberry? Is it superior to the kind commonly cultivated? Will it flourish on upland? By answering the above, you will confer a favor upon E. Beckwith. Norfolk, Ct. , June 30. " The reply: "Plants of the above Cranberry can be had of F. Trowbridge, New-Haven, Conn. We leave the other questions for correspondents to answer."

The Cultivator relied upon its subscribers and patrons for comment and experience. There were many citings of opinions by outstanding agriculturalists, although there was a certain distrust of experts and a strong reliance on practicality and common sense. The editor emphasized yield and profitability, but he published an article describing the pleasant advantages of a greenhouse attached to a dwelling; an illustration and the plan of the stone entrance lodge to the Derby Arboretum in England suggesting such a building for a toll-house; and a page-long article urging parishioners to build simple and beautiful country churches with shrubbery and trees surrounding, expressing a welcoming rather than the forbiding aspect of bleakness.

The Cultivator sold for 50 a year, and included articles from Country Gentleman a new weekly also published by Luther Tucker of Albany, New York. Subscribers in a city received their copies by a carrier for a price of $2. 50. Mr. Tucker described Country Gentleman as "A weekly Journal for the Farm, the Garden, and the Fireside." The long life of the Country Gentleman did indicate that it had an appeal to many. When I was a child, we took it although we lived in a city. To me at that time it seemed to be a publication from a dream world; its content amplified by stories my father told of his boyhood on the family farm. My grandmother still kept chickens, and had grapes and a general garden. Because she exhibited her grapes at the Chemung County Fair, I gained free admittance to the fair grounds with her when she took me along.

In December, 1853, The Cultivator carried a full-page advertisement for the Saturday Evening Post featuring Mrs. Emma D. E. N. Southworth's "Miriam the Avenger: Or the Fatal Vow," Emerson Bennett's "The Bride of the Wilderness," and Mrs. Mary Denison's "The Stepmother."

Another publication advertised in The Cultivator was The Peoples Journal which offered assistance in filling out applications for patents in this country and in England, France, and other countries as well. There must have been a great wave of invention in the 19th Century and a great interest in patenting and marketing new and improved devices. Often machines advertised for sale bore the word patent in their name: Beebe's Patent Grain Drill, and Corn Planter, Pitts' Patent Separator. John A. Pitts of Buffalo warned in his advertisement:

I further notify all persons, who are purchasing Horse Powers and Separators to be used in California or Oregon, that I will hold them accountable for any infringement of the rights secured to me by letters patent in the above machines, as I am manufacturing a Horse Power and Separator expressly designed for that section.

The pages of The Cultivator were filled with illustrations of apple parers. Well, my wife still likes her peeler, and she still refuses to let me operate it, on the specious excuse that I might cut myself—the same refusal my mother gave when as a child I requested to use hers. My grandfather held a patent for a bicycle brake, but I remain at the basic hand tool level.

I was introduced to hoes, rakes and shovels at a young age, and can remember going with my father when I was about 10 years old to a shop in Hammondsport and watching the blacksmith finish forming a grape hoe which my father then bought. It had an axe-like handle fixed to a spring-steel blade that was sharpened on one edge and had two prongs for grubbing work projecting from the opposite side. It was designed for side-hill work between close-spaced grape rows. I still have it, but the blade socket has rusted and I haven't found a way to fix it. One blacksmith told me his charge would be at a $40 an hour rate. Maybe he was just getting rid of me. I have a couple of substitutes, both small hand tools. One is an army fox-hole digger; the other, given to me recently by my daughter, resembles a grape hoe.

We may be having a revived interest in hand tools, but the farmers of the 1850s were ready for implements to save labor and speed farm work. They were interested in horse-drawn mowing machines to cut their hay stands, and self-raking reapers to harvest and bunch for bundling and shocking their wheat and oat crops. And they wanted grain separating machines to supplant threshing floors and flails.

My copies of The Cultivator had belonged to a reader who thought so highly of the publication that he wrote his name, Jabcob [sic] Marshal in each copy he owned. Perhaps he loaned copies to friends and wanted them returned, or he was proud to associate his identity with such an esteemed publication.

© 1998, Robert V. Anderson
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