DIRECTIONS FOR ASCERTAINING THE QUALITY OF LAND IN THE BUSH. -- SITE OF LOG-SHANTY. -- CHOPPING. -- PREPARATION FOR SPRING-CROPS. -- METHOD OF PLANTING INDIAN CORN. -- PUMPKINS AND POTATOES. -- MAKING POT-ASH.
I SHALL now endeavour to give the emigrant some information to guide him in the selection of his land, and other matters connected with a settlement in the bush. In the first place, the quality of the land is the greatest consideration, and to make a good choice requires a practical knowledge as to the nature of the soils, and the different kinds of timber growing thereon.
The best land is timbered with oak, ash, elm, beech, bass-wood, and sugar maple. A fair mixture of this species of trees is best, with here and there a large pine, and a few Canadian balsams scattered among the hard-wood. Too great a proportion of beech indicates sand or light loam: a preponderance of rock elm is a sign of gravel or limestone-rock near the surface.
The timber should be lofty, clean in the bark and straight in the grain, and of quick growth. The woods should be open, free from evergreens, and with little under-brush. Generally speaking, the soil is of excellent quality, when timbered in the manner described.
It however, often happens, that the best land is full of boulders, which are both troublesome and expensive to remove. Two-thirds of these stones are not visible above the surface, and the remainder are so covered with moss and leaves, that they require a practised eye to detect them. I have no objection to a small quantity of stones, as they are useful to construct French drains, or to roll into the bottoms of the rail-fences.
When limestone-flag is near the surface, the stems of the trees will be shorter, their heads more bushy, and the roots spreading along the top of the ground. Such land is apt to burn in hot weather, and soon becomes exhausted. White pine, or hemlock ridges, are almost always sandy, and good for little--except the timber, which is valuable, if near enough to water. White-pine, mixed with hard-wood, generally indicates strong clay land, good for wheat; but the difficulty of clearing off such heavy timber, and the long time it takes to get rid of the stumps, render such a selection unprofitable, and add additional toil to the emigrant.
The best land for wheat should be gently undulating soil, rich loam, on a clay bottom. In the summer months you can judge the quality of the land by the freshly turned-up roots of trees, which have fallen by the wind.
In winter, when the surface of the ground is covered with snow, and frozen hard, the growth and quality of the timber, as before described, are your only mode of judging correctly.
A constant supply of water is absolutely necessary, in a country liable to such extreme heat in summer. Canada West, abounding, as it does, in small spring-creeks, rivers, and lakes, is, perhaps, as well watered as any country in the world; and, in almost every section of the country, even on the highest ridges, good water can be obtained by digging wells, which seldom require to be sunk more than twenty feet; and in many townships, not half that depth is required.
After the emigrant has selected a proper location, his next object is to choose the best situation to build his shanty, and chop his first fallow. Most settlers like to commence as near as possible to the concession-line or public road; but sometimes the vicinity of a stream of water or good spring is preferred. In fact, circumstances must, in some measure, guide them in their choice.
The best time of the year to commence operations is early in September. The weather is then moderately warm and pleasant, and there are no flies in the Bush to annoy you.
A log shanty, twenty-four feet long by sixteen, is large enough to begin with, and should be roofed either with shingles or troughs. A small cellar should be dug near the fire-place, commodious enough to hold twenty or thirty bushels of potatoes, a barrel or two of pork, &c.
As soon as your shanty is completed, measure off as many acres as you intend to chop during the winter, and mark the boundaries by blazing the trees on each side.
The next operation is to cut down all the small trees and brush--this is called under-brushing. The rule is to cut everything close to the ground from the diameter of six inches downwards.
There are two modes of piling, either in heaps or in wind-rows. If your fallow is full of evergreens, such as hemlock, pine, balsam, cedar, and such description of timber, then I should say wind-rows are the best; but when the timber is deciduous, heaps are better.
The brush should be carefully piled and laid all one way, by which means it packs closer and burns better. The regular price for underbrushing hard-wood land, and cutting up-all the old fallen timber--which is always considered a part of the underbrushing--is one dollar per acre, and board. Rough land and swamp vary from seven shillings and sixpence to ten shillings. Your under-brush should be all cut and piled by the end of November, before the snow falls to the depth of four inches, for after that it would be both difficult and tedious.
The chopping now begins, and may be followed without any interruption until the season for sugar-making commences. The heads of the trees should be thrown upon the heaps or wind-rows. A skilful chopper will scarcely ever miss a heap when felling the timber, besides it saves a great deal of labour in piling the limbs.
The trunks of the trees must be cut into lengths, from fourteen to sixteen feet, according to the size of the timber. Now and then a large maple or beech, when felled, may be left without cutting up, with the exception of the top, which is called a plan-heap, and is left to log against: this is only done when the tree is too large to be cut through easily with the axe.
All timber fit for making rails should be left in double and treble lengths, as it is less likely to burn.
A good axe-man should be able, with fair chopping, to cut an acre in eight days after the under-brushing is done. The regular price of chopping is five dollars per acre, with board, or six without.
The emigrant should endeavour to get as much chopping done as possible during the first three years, because after that time he has so many other things to attend to, such as increase of stock, barn and house-building, thrashing, ploughing, &c., which, of course, give him every year less time for chopping, particularly if his family be small, in which case fifty or sixty acres are enough to clear at first, till his boys are old enough to give him assistance.
Clearing up too large a farm, when labour is so high, is not wise, for it will not answer to disburse much for hire, at the present prices. If, therefore, you are not able to cultivate what you have cleared properly, it will grow up again with raspberries, blackberries, small trees, and brush, and be nearly as bad to clear as it was at first.
The size of the farm must, however, depend on the resources of the emigrant, the strength and number of his family, and the quantity of acres he may possess.
In the month of May the settler should spring-burn three or four acres, and log them up for his spring-crops, such as potatoes and Indian-corn. The Indian-corn should be planted with the hoe in rows, three feet apart and thirty inches in the row. A pumpkin-seed or two should be sown in every second or third hole in each third row. The corn must be earthed or hilled up by drawing the mould close round the roots, and five or six inches up the stalks, which should be done when the plants are fifteen or sixteen inches high. No further cultivation is necessary until the time of cutting, except breaking off some shoots from the roots, if too many are thrown out.
Potatoes on the new land are also planted with the hoe, and in hills of about five thousand to the acre. A hole is scraped with the hoe, in which four or five sets, or a whole potato is dropped. The earth is then heaped over them in the form of a mole-hill, but somewhat larger. After the plants have appeared above the surface, a little more mould is drawn around them. Very large crops of potatoes are raised in this manner. Two hundred and fifty bushels per acre are no uncommon crop. I have assisted in raising double that quantity; but of late years, since the disease has been prevalent, but poor crops have been realized.
Both white turnips and swedes do well, and grow to a large size, particularly on new land: the roots must be either pitted or put in a root-house, or cellar, as the winter is too severe for them to remain unhoused.
The remainder of the fallow should be burnt off and logged up in July, the rail-cuts split into quarters and drawn off to the site of the fences, ready for splitting into rails. After the log-heaps are burnt, you should either spread the ashes or rake them while hot into heaps, if you intend to make potash,* with which, by the by, I should advise the new-comer to have nothing to do until he has made himself thoroughly acquainted with the process.
[* This article is very extensively made in nearly all the new settlements, and may be considered one of the staples of the country. The process is very simple; but great care must be taken in collecting the ashes clear of sand or dirt of any description. If your ashes are well saved and from good timber, ten acres should produce at least five barrels of potash, each barrel containing five hundred weight. Several things should be considered before the emigrant attempts the manufacture of this article. Firstly, his land should be well timbered with oak, elm, maple, and bass-wood. Secondly, it must have a stream of water, near which he may erect his works. And, lastly, it ought to be within reach of a market and a remunerating price, which, to pay the manufacturer, should not be less than twenty-five shillings, Halifax currency, per cwt.
The best situation to erect an ashery upon, is the side of a bank, beside a running stream; and if there should be fall enough in the creek to bring a supply of water over head into the leaches, a great deal of labour will be saved. An ash-house, six or eight leach-tubs, a pot-ash kettle, and three or four coolers are all the requisites necessary. Most persons use a small portion of common salt and lime in the manufacture of pot-ash. After the lye is run off it is boiled down into black salts, which are melted into pot-ash, cooled off, and packed into air-tight barrels ready for market.]
As soon as the settler has cleared up fifteen or twenty acres, his first care should be to erect a frame or log-barn; I should strongly recommend the former, if boards can be obtained in the neighbourhood, as it is undoubtedly the best and cheapest in the long run. If I were commencing life again in the woods, I would not build anything of logs except a shanty or a pig-sty; for experience has plainly told me that log buildings are the dirtiest, most inconvenient, and the dearest when everything is taken into consideration.
As soon as the settler is ready to build, let him put up a good frame, roughcast, or stone-house, if he can possibly raise the means, as stone, timber, and lime, cost nothing but the labour of collecting and carrying the materials. When I say that they "cost nothing," I mean that no cash is required for these articles, as they can be prepared by the exertion of the family.
With the addition of from a hundred to a hundred and fifty pounds in money to the raw material, a good substantial and comfortable dwelling can be completed. Two or three years should be spent in preparing and collecting materials, so that your timber may be perfectly seasoned before you commence building.
Apple and plum orchards should be planted as soon as possible, and well fenced from the cattle and sheep. The best kind of grafted fruit-trees, from three to seven years old, can be obtained for a shilling a tree; ungrafted, at four shillings the dozen.
The apple-tree flourishes extremely well in this country, and grows to a large size. I gathered last year, out of my orchard, several Ribstone Pippins, each of which weighed more than twelve ounces, and were of a very fine flavour. The native plums are not very good in their raw state, but they make an excellent preserve, and good wine.
Some of the particulars mentioned in this chapter have been glanced at in an earlier portion of the work; but I make no apology for the repetition. My object is, to offer instruction to the inexperienced settler, and to impress these important matters more firmly upon his mind and memory, that he may have his experience at a cheaper rate than if he purchased it at the expense of wasted time, labour, and capital.
Last revised 2005-03-04