Some things haven’t changed since 1913


“The idea that the chemical analysis of soil gives an accurate showing as to its needs for fertilization has long since been shown by scientists to be far from true.”

— from Making Special Crops Pay by Delbert Utter

While reading through this little book, which was evidently one of a series in The Practical Farm Library, I find myself somewhat amazed by things that I had no idea would have even been discussion-worthy in 1913.

I was surprised that chemists had even set about to study the elements of the soil in hopes of helping farmers produce better crops at this early date. Though soil conservation is not discussed, experimental fields is something this author was strongly proposing in his writings.

“The chemist is able to tell us the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium our soil contains, but he cannot tell us how much of these several elements are in an available condition for plant food. Consequently, we can learn what our individual soil needs only by field tests,” Utter writes.

Plot plan

He proposes a good experiment field, embodying five plots, separated by paths 4 feet wide in order to prevent roots feeding on the fertilizer supplied to the adjoining plot. He lists in-depth proposals for each of the five plots, with the first one given no fertilizer.

Potash, acid phosphate, nitrate of soda, muriate of potash are listed in various percentages to be used on the experimental plots. Cyanamid, “a new product that bids fair to become popular as a nitrogenous fertilizer material, is the invention of two German chemists which consists in artificially fixing atmospheric nitrogen … the production of nitrogen in the form of cyanamid is practically unlimited,” the author states.


I was surprised to read an entire chapter on irrigation. After descriptive chapters regarding the need to plant crops which will feed the hungry, such as strawberries, melons, potatoes and sweet corn, the author writes, “Like many other ambitious truck growers, I have considered and planned or dreamed of a system of irrigation that would provide for a few acres of berries, cantaloupes and other crops that produce high-acre values.

“Truck growers whose lands are favorably located near streams or surface springs have been successful in furnishing water for small areas by installing a gasoline engine and laying pipe under or on the surface and extending through the fields. The water runs direct from the pipes or through hose attachments.”

The author admits that it may seem foolhardy to some, but writes, “This process has proved profitable, in spite of the excessive waste of water and the labor expense. It has been demonstrated, however, beyond possibility of doubt, that profitable crop increases can be produced under modern and scientific irrigation, even in the so-called rain belt.”


Utter touches on such things as mistakes made in the hiring of unscrupulous and lazy employees “whose most efficient farm implement is a hoe back home,” over-watering, under-fertilizing, poor marketing and inept storage of harvest after all the hard work and expense of planting and cultivating a crop.

He explains that much of the labor of bringing in a crop can be accomplished without hiring anyone, but relying on a farmer’s own children instead. In closing, he urges readers to consider “millions of acres of reclaimable swamp lands in the east central states that may be made to produce abundant crops.

“These lands can be drained and brought into a good state of cultivation with less labor than was employed by our forefathers in clearing the lands which now command prices so high as to discourage the present generation from buying farms.”


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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