INEXPERIENCE OF MY FRIEND. -- BAD STATE OF HIS LAND. -- FALL WHEAT. -- FENCING. -- GRASSES. -- INVITATION TO A "BEE." -- UNITED LABOUR. -- CANADIAN SPORTS. -- DEGENERACY OF BEES.
COLONEL B----- was an old and valued friend of my family, who had held a lucrative situation under Government for many years. His retirement from public life, on some disgust, had eventually led to his settlement in Canada.
Now, his literary tastes and sedentary habits had ill-fitted him for the rough customs of the colony. Besides having scarcely seen a grain of corn in its progressive state from the blade to its earing and harvest, he knew nothing of agricultural operations. Of stock he was equally ignorant, and of the comparative goodness or badness of soil he was, of course, no judge. Such a man, in the choice of a farm, was sure to be shaved by the shrewd Yankee proprietor, and my poor friend was shaved accordingly.
I found my friend's farm had been much neglected. His out-door labourers were all from the south of Ireland, and had never before followed farming operations. In consequence of their inexperience, half the clearing was quite overrun with raspberries and Canadian thistles. (The latter weed is far more troublesome to eradicate than any other I know. It is the same as the common corn-thistle, or Serratula arvensis, so well known to English agriculturists).
As we intended to prepare a large piece of ground for summer-fallow, it was necessary to get rid of those stumps of the trees, which, according to the practice of chopping them two or three feet from the ground, present a continual obstacle to the advance of the plough. We, however, succeeded in getting clear of them by hitching a logging-chain round the stump near the top, when a sudden jerk from the oxen was generally sufficient to pull it up. For the larger, and those more firmly fixed in the ground, we made use of a lever about twenty feet long, and about eight or nine inches in diameter, one end of which was securely chained to the stump, the oxen being fastened to the other and made to go in a circular direction, a manoeuvre which rarely fails of the desired effect. This plan will not answer unless the roots are sufficiently decayed. During dry weather the application of fire produces more effectual results. A few embers shaken from a cedar-torch on the crown of the stump are sufficient for the purpose: some hundreds of these blazing merrily at night have a very pretty effect.
In ten or twelve years the hard woods, such as oak, ash, beech and maple disappear; but the stumps of the evergreens, such as pine, hemlock and cedar, are much more difficult to eradicate.
The land being of a sandy nature, we had but few stones to contend with. When such is the case, we raise them above the surface, by the help of levers. By these means, stones of half a ton weight can be easily lifted from their beds. The larger ones are generally drawn off the fields to make the foundations of fences, and those of a smaller size are used in the construction of French drains.
To succeed well with your summer fallow, it is necessary to have the sod all turned over with the plough by the end of May, or sooner if possible. Shortly afterwards the fallow should be well harrowed; in July it should be crossed, ploughed and harrowed, and rolled at least twice before the final ploughing or ridging up, which should be completed by the last week in August.
Fall-wheat should be sown between the first and fifteenth day of September.* The sooner the better, in my opinion, because the plant is stronger and better able to withstand the frost, and is decidedly less liable to rust. Our fallow having been prepared in this manner, and sown broad-cast with fall-wheat, the next object was to fence in the field securely, which is done in the following way. Trees of a straight growth--and straight also in the grain--are selected and cut into twelve feet lengths, and are then, by the means of a beetle and wedges, split into rails as nearly four inches square as possible. The rails are then laid in a zigzag direction, crossing each other about a foot from the end, making an angle of about six feet. Seven rails in height, crowned by a stake and rider, complete the fence. The best timbers for making rails, are pine, cedar, oak and black and white ash: these kinds of timbers will last about thirty years. Bass-wood is more commonly used for the first fences, because it is to be procured in greater abundance, and splits more easily; but as it will not last more than ten years, I would not recommend settlers to use it, if the other sorts can readily be obtained.
[* "Fall" is the term usually applied to wheat sown in the autumn by the Canadian farmer, and will be used in this sense throughout a work especially written for the service of the inexperienced settler.]
In this country, hay-cutting commences about the first or second week in July. Timothy-grass and clover mixed--or timothy alone--are the best for hay, and the most productive. The quantity of seed required for new land is six quarts of grass-seed and two pounds of clover to the acre; on old cleared farms nearly double this seed is required. Timothy is a solid grass with a bulbous root. If the weather is hot and dry, the hay should be carted the second day after cutting, for there is no danger in carting it at once into your barn, the climate being so dry that it never heats enough to cause spontaneous combustion. We have other sorts of grasses, such as red-top, blue-joint, &c.: these grasses, however, are inferior, and therefore never grown from choice.
Soon after my arrival at Darlington, one of my neighbours residing on the lake-shore invited me to a mowing and cradling "Bee."* As I had never seen anything of the kind, I accepted the invitation. On my arrival at the farm on the appointed day, I found assembled about forty men and boys. A man with a pail of spring water with a wooden cup floating on the surface in one hand, and a bottle of whiskey and glass in the other, now approached the swarm, every one helping himself as he pleased. This man is the most important personage at the "Bee," and is known by the appellation of the "Grog-bos." On this occasion his office was anything but a sinecure. The heat of the weather, I suppose, had made our party very thirsty. There were thirty-five bees cutting hay, among whom I was a rather awkward volunteer, and ten cradlers** employed in cutting rye.
[* What the Canadian settlers call a "Bee" is a neighbourly gathering for any industrious purpose--a friendly clubbing of labour, assisted by an abundance of good cheer.
** The cradle is a scythe of larger dimensions than the common hay-scythe, and is both wider in the blade and longer. A straight piece of wood, called a standard, thirty inches long, is fixed upright; near the end of the snaith, or handle, are four fingers made of wood, the same bend as the scythe, and from six to seven inches apart, directly above the scythe, and fixed firmly into the standard, from which wire braces with nuts and screws to adjust the fingers. These braces are secured to the fingers about eight inches from the standard. The other end of the wire is then passed through the snaith and drawn tight by means of a screw-nut. These machines are very effective, and in the hands of a person who understands their use will cut from two to three acres a-day of either wheat, oats, barley, or rye.]
At eleven o'clock, cakes and pailfuls of tea were served round. At one, we were summoned by the sound of a tin bugle to dinner, which we found laid out in the barn. Some long pine-boards resting on tressels served for a table, which almost groaned with the good things of this earth, in the shape of roast lamb and green peas, roast sucking-pig, shoulder of mutton, apple-sauce, and pies, puddings, and preserves in abundance, with plenty of beer and Canadian whiskey. Our bees proved so industrious, that before six o'clock all Mr. Burke's hay and rye were finished cutting. Supper was then served on the same scale of profusion, with the addition of tea. After supper a variety of games and gymnastics were introduced, various trials of strength, wrestling, running, jumping, putting the stone, throwing the hammer, &c.
About nine o'clock our party broke up, and returned to their respective homes, well pleased with their day's entertainment, leaving their host perfectly satisfied with their voluntary labour. One word about bees and their attendant frolic. I confess I do not like the system. I acknowledge, that in raising a log-house or barn it is absolutely necessary, especially in the Bush, but the general practice is bad. Some people can do nothing without a bee, and as the work has to be returned in the same manner, it causes a continual round of dissipation--if not of something worse. I have known several cases of manslaughter arising out of quarrels produced by intoxication at these every-day gatherings. As population increases, and labour becomes cheaper, of course there will be less occasion for them.
Last revised 2005-02-28