Ten Acres is Enough: How a Very Small Farm Can Keep a Very Large Family
Review Press, 2009
First published in 1867, this reprint offers a fascinating review of farming techniques in the 19th century. The author, Edmund Morris, was the Joel Salatin of his day, an ebullient innovator who combined a reverence for nature with a keen eye on the bottom line, all written up in a witty aphoristic style. My favorite: “The fragrance of a fat and ample manure heap is as appealing to the nostrils of a good farmer, as the fumes of the tavern are notoriously attractive to those of a poor one.”
Morris purchases a run-down ten-acre farm in semi-rural New Jersey, as close as possible to a town for access to stores and a social life, and also within striking distance of a newly built railroad line connecting New York with Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Thus he has a ready market for the raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, peaches, tomatoes and cabbages that he produces. The financial details he provides are fascinating: many famers had an income of over five hundred dollars per year selling produce to the big cities from land that cost one hundred to three hundred dollars to purchase. Morris earns a very high price by getting his fruit to market two weeks earlier than other farmers; when market saturation drops the price too low, he keeps the produce for family use.
What did farmers use before the advent of commerical fertilizer? They used manure and lots of it. Morris is fixated on manure, which he purchases in wagon loads from a nearby city. A big fan of tilling, he tills deep and manures heavily. In addition, after planting, he applies liquid manure. After purchasing his land for five hundred dollars, he then spends two hundred dollars on manure—a huge sum when compared to the cost of the land. He spends these sums for several years until he realizes he can get manure for free by keeping cows over the winter. He purchases ten cows in the spring, keeps them in the barnyard throughout the year, feeds them on green cuttings, garden waste and hay, and sells them for a small profit early in the year. Meanwhile he gathers up all the manure for his crops—with no more expensive outlay. He also composts all the leaves he can get his hands on in the fall.
His other fertilizer is ashes, which he saves up throughout the year. He plants each fruit tree in a hole filled with ashes, and reapplies ashes to the roots every year. When the peaches set on the branch, he removes two-thirds of them so that the remaining have plenty of nutrients to grow big and sweet.
For insect protection, the root balls of the tree get an application of tar every spring; Morris also encourages the population of birds with numerous bird boxes. He considers the loss of a small amount of grain or fruit to the birds a just compensation for all the insects they eat. “A certain insect was found to lay 2,000 eggs, but a single tomtit was found to eat 200,000 eggs a year. A swallow devours about 543 insects a day, eggs and all.”
Morris’ other obsession is weeds, to which he has “an almost religious aversion.” During the first few years, he and his family and hired hand spend every free hour cultivating and weeding. Over time this hard work pays off and the weeds diminish. Using manure from his own cows, fed produce and greens before they have gone to seed, helps immeasurably, as does the planting of cover crops such as purslane.
The reward for all this hard work is steady profit and an enjoyable life in the country. It’s much harder to make as much money in agriculture today, but there is a great deal in this little book to provide inspiration to modern farmers. Read and enjoy!
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2009.