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The Finer Points of Muck Farming

January 16, 1986|MIV SCHAAF

"Muck Crops" and "Dairy Farming"--these two small books are at my left hand on the shelf. No matter how much I weed out our library (but I often think it's a little highfalutin to call our miscellaneous collection of books a library--doesn't that word indicate a studious, purposeful selection?), no matter how many books are given away or cast off (I have inaugurated a policy of adding one or two of my giveaways to the pile I take back to the library each week--the real library with stone steps), no matter what number of boxes are filled with books to be sold or somehow disposed of, "Muck Crops" and "Dairy Farming" stay.

Why? Good question. I do not intend to--well, it is quite improbable, but then again, who knows, I may--go into agriculture, however wet, or livestock production, however homey.

Is it that I think these books are humorous, camp? Outrageously ridiculous? No. They are not. I am not. I do not buy books--and I bought these books albeit they were only 20 cents each--to exhibit trendiness or a sense of humor; I buy them to read them.

Have I read "Muck Crops"? Oh yes, not entirely, but good thick bits here and there. I've read enough to know that you must have basically good thick muck to start muck crops and such enviable muck is to be found in places such as New Jersey and not in Southern California. This was a big disappointment to me--I had half-visualized wading about in Wellingtons inspecting my thriving rows of beets or carrots, early celery, mint and spinach.

This book, written by Albert E. Wilkinson and printed in 1916, is one of those wonderfully organized ones that has chapter headings in the table of contents and then a fat summary of the points covered in each chapter so that you can glance down and decide what to investigate first. Chapter 4 listed "Getting the Grade in the Trench; Tile; Example of Tile Drainage and Crops; Tile and Cropping; Plowing; Muck Shoes," so naturally I zeroed in at once on that.

"Muck Shoes--If the ground is soft it may be necessary to use muck shoes. There is good many different kinds, but the best are the iron ones concaved on the lower side, with holes in the bottom"--oh, they sound much more interesting than Wellingtons--"for calks of the horseshoes to fit into and with adjustable clamps coming up over the front of the hoofs." Oh. Horse muck shoes, not mine.

Never mind, back to the Wellingtons and here's Chapter 3 with "Of What Value Is It?" Thought it would just be fun, a retirement leisure activity perhaps, but apparently there's money to be made. You lay in your tile drainage system on 80 acres "at 20 cents an hour for men and 20 cents an hour for a team" and $125 for the tile, amounting to $315. Corn was planted with 500 bushels of shelled corn gleaned from 13 acres, "not an exceptional crop, but fair."

Beets are better. Cost of producing a crop is $60 to $75 an acre and returns of "even $500 may be obtained." There was in the book a slip of thin paper with penciled figures; someone had figured out a profit of $10.76. "The money value to be derived from growing crops on muck soils is certainly very large," the author states, but cautions, "a man with limited capital should always go the longest but safest way in cropping muck." I intend to do so. I am thinking, to start, of a small crop of mangel-wurzels (cow beets) and I have to study carefully the trenching tools I will need as well as figure the tile. It tires a fellow out. So for relaxation I turn to "Dairy Farming." It was written by D. S. Burch, the state dairy commissioner of Kansas, a 1912 publication.

It too is fascinating. It tells you how to find a good milker--"Now looking at the cow from the side, she should appear straight on top, but with the lower line sloping toward the rear and suggesting a wedge. She should show no indications of being leggy, and in the terminology of good dairymen there should be little sunlight under her. Both forelegs and the hindquarters should be. . . ."

Sorry. You're just going to have to wait to hear more.

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