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George Washington practiced some permaculture principles

 
Dave Miller
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Some interesting quotes by George Washington about his farming practices at Mt. Vernon (which I found here).  Apparently the farm went to pot while he was off running the country.  He describes some of the techniques he used to restore the land - "My favorite objects as I have often repeated to you, are to recover my land from the gullied and exhausted state into which it has been unfortunately thrown for some years back. "  (Letter to William Pearce, July 13, 1794).  I have arranged these quotes in date order.


"When I speak of a knowing farmer, I mean one who understands the best course of crops; how to plough, to sow, to mow, to hedge, to Ditch and above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first transmutation towards Gold; in a word one who can bring worn out and gullied lands into good tilth in the shortest time."
George Washington
(Letter to George William Fairfax, June 30, 1785)

"Nothing in my opinion would contribute more to the welfare of these States, than the proper management of our lands; and nothing, in this State particularly, seems to be less understood. The present mode of cropping practiced among us, is destructive to landed property; and must, if persisted in much longer ultimately ruin the holders of it. "
George Washington
(Letter to William Drayton, March 25, 1786)

Began to plant Corn in the common way at the Ferry on Monday last few fish heads and guts & ca. Ordered to be put into some of the Corn hills, to try the effect of them as manure."
George Washington
(Diary entry, May 9, 1787)

"Consequently two things must be engrafted into our plan: 1st, Crops which are useful on our farms, or saleable in our markets, and 2d, the intermixing these crops by such relations and with such dressing as will improve, instead of exhausting our lands. To effect these is the great desiderata of Farming, and ought to be the pursuit of every farmer. On this ground every experiment is a treasure, and the authors of them valuable members of Society. "
George Washington
(Letter to Charles Carter, January 20, 178

"The reasons, however, which induced me to give my Corn rows the wide distance of ten feet, was not because I thought it essential to the growth of the plant, but because I introduced other plants between them... As all my Corn will be thus drilled, so between all, I mean to put in, drills also, Potatoes, Carrots (as far as my seed will go) and Turnips alternately; that not one sort, more than another may have the advantage of Soil. "
George Washington
(Letter to Alexander Spotswood, February 13, 178

"Every improvement in husbandry should be gratefully received and peculiarly fostered in this Country, not only as promoting the interests and lessening the labour of the farmer, but as advancing our respectability in a national point of view; for in the present State of America, our welfare and prosperity depend upon the cultivation of our lands and turning the produce of them to the best advantage. "
George Washington
(Letter to Samuel Chamberlain, April 3, 178

"My object is to recover the fields from the exhausted state into which they have fallen, by oppressive crops and to restore them (if possible by any means in my power) to health and vigour. But two ways will enable me to accomplish this. This first is to cover them with as much manure as possible (winter and summer). The 2d a judicious succession of crops. "
George Washington
(Letter to William Pearce, December 18, 1793)

"If buckwheat is not plowed in while it is green and in a succulent state, to have it on the ground will prove an injury rather than a benefit because it is from the juices that the putrefaction and fermentation proceeds, and causes it to become manure."
George Washington
(Letter to William Pearce, July 13, 1794)

"It has always appeared to me that there were two modes in which Buck wheat might be used advantageously as a manure. One, to sow early; and as soon as a sufficiency of seed ripened to stock the ground a second time, to turn that in also before the seed begins to ripen: and when the fermentation and putrification cease, to sow the ground in that state, & plough in the wheat. "
George Washington
(Letter to Thomas Jefferson, October 4, 1795)

 
Charlie Michaels
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Interesting. Thanks
 
John Polk
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Those were the wisdoms that most farmers of his day understood.  I call that "Traditional Farming".  Now, when most people say "traditional farming" they are speaking of the modern chemical based model which became popular between the two World Wars.

The seed company that George often used (Landreth: http://www.landrethseeds.com/) is still in business today.  Harry Truman was the first president in US history NOT to buy seed from them.
 
Tyler Ludens
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John Polk wrote:
Those were the wisdoms that most farmers of his day understood. 



And yet he complains "The present mode of cropping practiced among us, is destructive to landed property; and must, if persisted in much longer ultimately ruin the holders of it."  So evidently his prudent practices were not the wisdoms most farmers of his day understood.  The common way of farming in the US was to farm out the land and then move west.    And I think we still have a lot of that idea - there's always more over the horizon - in our culture here in the US.  There are some groups who have been prudent for a long time (Amish, some others) but over all I don't think land stewardship is typical of the American farming idiom.    Good stewardship was certainly not the typical practice in my locale, where the carrying capacity has been reduced to 1/5 of what it once was and many fields are badly depleted of nutrients thanks the Cotton Boom (early part of the previous century) - and still have not been restored! 
 
Mekka Pakanohida
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:
And yet he complains "The present mode of cropping practiced among us, is destructive to landed property; and must, if persisted in much longer ultimately ruin the holders of it."  So evidently his prudent practices were not the wisdoms most farmers of his day understood.  The common way of farming in the US was to farm out the land and then move west.    And I think we still have a lot of that idea - there's always more over the horizon - in our culture here in the US.  There are some groups who have been prudent for a long time (Amish, some others) but over all I don't think land stewardship is typical of the American farming idiom.    Good stewardship was certainly not the typical practice in my locale, where the carrying capacity has been reduced to 1/5 of what it once was and many fields are badly depleted of nutrients thanks the Cotton Boom (early part of the previous century) - and still have not been restored! 


The man also observed the North East of America, and its indigenous, natural edible forest, perhaps one of the first ever seen by a European, and how Euro settlers were destroying it.  He saw this first hand.  I can't express how angry this actually makes me towards the USDA and it's corporate pockets.
 
George Lee
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He was for 'sustainable agriculture' and practices. Perma- is just new-aged terminology. Don't forget - he was also for 'destroying' the Iroquois people, their traditions, and cultural stability. He aimed to 'annihilate' them and remove them from the map completely.
 
Tyler Ludens
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LivingWind wrote:
He aimed to 'annihilate' them and remove them from the map completely.


Definitely not permacultural there. 
 
                                              
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:
And yet he complains "The present mode of cropping practiced among us, is destructive to landed property; and must, if persisted in much longer ultimately ruin the holders of it."  So evidently his prudent practices were not the wisdoms most farmers of his day understood.  The common way of farming in the US was to farm out the land and then move west.    And I think we still have a lot of that idea - there's always more over the horizon - in our culture here in the US.  There are some groups who have been prudent for a long time (Amish, some others) but over all I don't think land stewardship is typical of the American farming idiom.    Good stewardship was certainly not the typical practice in my locale, where the carrying capacity has been reduced to 1/5 of what it once was and many fields are badly depleted of nutrients thanks the Cotton Boom (early part of the previous century) - and still have not been restored! 


well john is right that these things were known and in use that long ago, with the wise building on them... the problem is, most folks were not so wise. they did whatever was easiest....
 
Tyler Ludens
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SILVERSEEDS wrote:
the problem is, most folks were not so wise. they did whatever was easiest....


Exactly.

 
George Lee
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[font=Verdana]...and what was easiest at the time, was saving manure from livestock and introducing to the layer of soil.. I enjoy the romanticized dream of moving west to the rolling hills of Northern California for its beauty as perpetuated by the great Steinbeck. Yet there was plenty of  land available to them on the eastern seaboard. It really came down to their imperialistic vision of treking from east to the west, in hopes of settling in and establishing community and state alike.[/font]
 
Tyler Ludens
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LivingWind wrote:
...and what was easiest at the time, was saving manure from livestock and introducing to the layer of soil


A lot of people chose not to do that, but instead chose to ruin the land and move on.  Otherwise there would be no (or very little) ruined land.  And maybe that's because the vision of Manifest Destiny was more important to them than learning how to farm prudently, or for some other reason.  I'm not sure we can really know.

 
                                              
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not all farmers even had animals either, though we generally think of those who did.... and frankly the manure alone was much more common then the entire scope washington appears to have done, and other more knowledgeable and thoughtful folks. (yes I know he had faults to, but he was a thoughtful farmer it sounds like)

  also compared to europe these were rather fertile lands, being that many cleared forests to farm only added to that..... so doing the minimums worked rather well for a decent amount of time..... its not a cut and dry topic...
 
Mekka Pakanohida
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SILVERSEEDS wrote:
not all farmers even had animals either, though we generally think of those who did.... and frankly the manure alone was much more common then the entire scope washington appears to have done, and other more knowledgeable and thoughtful folks. (yes I know he had faults to, but he was a thoughtful farmer it sounds like)

   also compared to europe these were rather fertile lands, being that many cleared forests to farm only added to that..... so doing the minimums worked rather well for a decent amount of time..... its not a cut and dry topic...


Rather fertile?  I think it was beyond fertile.  James Audubon notes that carrier pigeon (an important animal world wide back then, all the way to early mans civilization) was so abundant, they would block out the sun for hours, and roosting would cause inches of manure to be dropped by them in a short amount of time.  A forest that can handle that much manure constantly dropping ((all be it randomly)) is a very bio-active forest.

Since Euro-settlement starting in the 1600's nothing but destruction of the soil nationwide has occurred, which is why, IMO, it is so important where ever I live to improve the soil.
 
                                              
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Mekka Pakanohida wrote:

Since Euro-settlement starting in the 1600's nothing but destruction of the soil nationwide has occurred, which is why, IMO, it is so important where ever I live to improve the soil.


soil destruction didnt start with europeans in all of the states anyway... Some of the tribes did rather poorly as well..... the navajo being one. of course one of their tools was the sheep they came to this area with, which they got from the earliest spanish settlers from mexico apparently.....

a few things other tribes in the area here did, were long term rather negative as well, nothing like what the navajo did with sheep, turning a massive area into mainly dust, but europeans werent the only ones.....  but given a long enough timeline they would leave this place less and less fertile. at their own detriment as well.

lots of tribes used fish as a soil amendment, rather wasteful by todays standards....

certainly not denying what the europeans did being horrendous... but they werent the only ones.... and some of them, albeit handfuls did better.....

 
George Lee
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Mekka Pakanohida wrote:
Rather fertile?  I think it was beyond fertile.  James Audubon notes that carrier pigeon (an important animal world wide back then, all the way to early mans civilization) was so abundant, they would block out the sun for hours, and roosting would cause inches of manure to be dropped by them in a short amount of time.  A forest that can handle that much manure constantly dropping ((all be it randomly)) is a very bio-active forest.

Since Euro-settlement starting in the 1600's nothing but destruction of the soil nationwide has occurred, which is why, IMO, it is so important where ever I live to improve the soil.
I've read this and watched many documentaries on this here topic. All concluded that America was the most fertile vivacious place any had ever laid eyes on, simply stated.
 
John Polk
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When I stated that such knowledge was well known to the settlers, I should have been more specific.  There were basically two classes of settlers: The wealthy from landed families in England who knew how to care for land.  They often had large land grants here from the king.  And then there were the endentured servants.  Generally uneducated, poor people from the slums of large English cities.  They had no knowledge of land stewardship.  True, that when they used up a piece of land, they just headed west until they found another parcel they could use up.  Since they owned no land to begin with, they were not citizens, and consequently had no right to vote.  They had no tie to the land, hence little interest in it other than eeking out an existence for their families.  People who do not value land cannot be expected to care for it.  Two centuries of such mismanagement has cost our nation much valuable crop land.  Reclaiming it will be slow and costly.

Every small plot or parcel that WE can reclaim will be enlightenment for the 'slow learners' to follow in our foot steps.  I forsee a future of $8 gasoline, more unemployment, and the State/Federal governments  reclaiming foreclosed properties from the struggling banks/lenders.  I think that out of necessity the government will need to allot some of those properties to private citizens (vs AgBusiness) in order to keep a hungry population from rebelling.  Restructuring our economy from consumerism to productionism will hurt many, but in the long run will be best for our overall survival in a globalized world.
 
                                              
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John Polk wrote:
When I stated that such knowledge was well known to the settlers, I should have been more specific.  There were basically two classes of settlers: The wealthy from landed families in England who knew how to care for land.  They often had large land grants here from the king.  And then there were the endentured servants.  Generally uneducated, poor people from the slums of large English cities.  They had no knowledge of land stewardship.  True, that when they used up a piece of land, they just headed west until they found another parcel they could use up.  Since they owned no land to begin with, they were not citizens, and consequently had no right to vote.  They had no tie to the land, hence little interest in it other than eeking out an existence for their families.  People who do not value land cannot be expected to care for it.  Two centuries of such mismanagement has cost our nation much valuable crop land.  Reclaiming it will be slow and costly.

Every small plot or parcel that WE can reclaim will be enlightenment for the 'slow learners' to follow in our foot steps.  I forsee a future of $8 gasoline, more unemployment, and the State/Federal governments  reclaiming foreclosed properties from the struggling banks/lenders.  I think that out of necessity the government will need to allot some of those properties to private citizens (vs AgBusiness) in order to keep a hungry population from rebelling.  Restructuring our economy from consumerism to productionism will hurt many, but in the long run will be best for our overall survival in a globalized world.



very astute post imo.... although unless we demand it, im not sure we will get the land over the agri businesses who simply buy it.(unless "we" buy it first) Hopefully we can help save a bunch of family farms, by showing them other means of widening profit margins... which just happen to build soil and the rest as well....
 
Emerson White
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:
A lot of people chose not to do that, but instead chose to ruin the land and move on.  Otherwise there would be no (or very little) ruined land.  And maybe that's because the vision of Manifest Destiny was more important to them than learning how to farm prudently, or for some other reason.  I'm not sure we can really know.


I disagree. The price of labor was so high that the labor of children vastly outpaced the costs of raising them. This in turn lead to high birth rates and a population boom. This population boom meant that there were lots of folks growing up and needing farms. That is why they spilled out west, not because they had ruined the land but because they couldn't make any more of it.
 
Brenda Groth
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my early 1960's visits to Mt Vernon did not leave me with a feeling that permaculture was practiced there..to me it appeared that if it was being "kept like when he lived there" that it was pretty much row crops with plenty of chemicals used when I was there..an impressive property but pretty much conventional farming
 
                                              
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Brenda Groth wrote:
my early 1960's visits to Mt Vernon did not leave me with a feeling that permaculture was practiced there..to me it appeared that if it was being "kept like when he lived there" that it was pretty much row crops with plenty of chemicals used when I was there..an impressive property but pretty much conventional farming


yeah certainly... i saw the chemicals actually. i wandered down a side and was hanging out with some workers I guess they were.

doesnt mean its reflective of what he did. that stuff didnt even exist in his time.
 
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:
And yet he complains "The present mode of cropping practiced among us, is destructive to landed property; and must, if persisted in much longer ultimately ruin the holders of it."  So evidently his prudent practices were not the wisdoms most farmers of his day understood.  The common way of farming in the US was to farm out the land and then move west.    And I think we still have a lot of that idea - there's always more over the horizon - in our culture here in the US.  There are some groups who have been prudent for a long time (Amish, some others) but over all I don't think land stewardship is typical of the American farming idiom.    Good stewardship was certainly not the typical practice in my locale, where the carrying capacity has been reduced to 1/5 of what it once was and many fields are badly depleted of nutrients thanks the Cotton Boom (early part of the previous century) - and still have not been restored! 



Agreed.  Let's not forget tobacco...and just farming in general.  While some of our forefathers certainly were aware that they were practicing an unsustainable system - by and large they DID NOT CARE.  As several others have mentioned on here, the common vision was that land was exploitable to whoever got there first.  The practice was such that yes, that men of means bought good land, cleared it, tilled it, exploited it…and then moved onto the next plot.  So much was this practice accomplished that if one could have looked at a Satellite map of North America much of the East Coast would have appeared rather drab (brown/grey/black) with little patches of green.
Heck…while many folks worked a manure pile…by and large manure was seen as a burden, something not wished for…and was frequently thrown away.  Judging by the amount of adds for FREE MANURE I see on Craigslist by small farm operations today it would appear to be much the same.
Words on G.W. (the original), he was a great experimenter, a great traveller, mediocre soldier, our first president…etc.  I would consider it far from G.W. to take much of anything he wrote/said with regards to farming as being sound knowledge that he had.  The fact that he wrote that the farming practices of the day were destructive, is probably more a testament to his great failures by flawed practices than due to his great knowledge and understanding of how to make it better.  What he understood is more likely that what he was doing wasn’t working and he understood that…perhaps that is the 1st step to recovery, admitting that there is a problem.  G.W. was certainly no great farmer…perhaps despite his flaws still a great man, but I would venture that most people on this board probably have more ‘perma-culture’ knowledge/know-how and experience than G.W.  For more methodical presidential reading on the subject, I’d recommend the Jefferson papers on Gardening, Farming etc….as their more apt to be more explicit in what conditions were experienced and solutions in remedying and mishaps encountered.  For other ‘perma-culture’ know-how from back in the day check out the book Ten Acres Enough, or check out some of the farming/agriculturalist journals of the 19th century (e.g. American Agriculturalist, Southern Cultivator…etc.).

Paul B.
 
                    
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John Polk wrote:
Those were the wisdoms that most farmers of his day understood.  I call that "Traditional Farming".  Now, when most people say "traditional farming" they are speaking of the modern chemical based model which became popular between the two World Wars.

The seed company that George often used (Landreth: http://www.landrethseeds.com/) is still in business today.  Harry Truman was the first president in US history NOT to buy seed from them.



thanks for the link. love that website. ill give em a shot
 
                    
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John Polk wrote:
When I stated that such knowledge was well known to the settlers, I should have been more specific.  There were basically two classes of settlers: The wealthy from landed families in England who knew how to care for land.  They often had large land grants here from the king.  And then there were the endentured servants.  Generally uneducated, poor people from the slums of large English cities.  They had no knowledge of land stewardship.  True, that when they used up a piece of land, they just headed west until they found another parcel they could use up.  Since they owned no land to begin with, they were not citizens, and consequently had no right to vote.  They had no tie to the land, hence little interest in it other than eeking out an existence for their families.  People who do not value land cannot be expected to care for it.  Two centuries of such mismanagement has cost our nation much valuable crop land.  Reclaiming it will be slow and costly.

Every small plot or parcel that WE can reclaim will be enlightenment for the 'slow learners' to follow in our foot steps.  I forsee a future of $8 gasoline, more unemployment, and the State/Federal governments  reclaiming foreclosed properties from the struggling banks/lenders.  I think that out of necessity the government will need to allot some of those properties to private citizens (vs AgBusiness) in order to keep a hungry population from rebelling.  Restructuring our economy from consumerism to productionism will hurt many, but in the long run will be best for our overall survival in a globalized world.




This is the most orderly shift i can imagine. i hope you are right!
 
                    
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rose macaskie wrote:

      We still have pretty terrible attitudes to people of other cultures, bad enough to go on understanding why the founding fathers decided that church should be separated from state.


I took a course on religion in america, and it seems that the separation of church and state was as much about getting a constitution ratified than it was about respecting other religions. there was a great deal of religious intolerance in america but they seemed to have hated england even more.

the constitution hardly mentions religion AT ALL. i think the number was twice. one being about not having religious tests for office. (from memory) And they proceeded with the promise that religion would be addressed in the days after (bill of rights).

on top of that while GW has much credibility he tried to mediate the religion problem by having the constitution? just mention religions which include 'God' because that is what we all believe in, right? and we can still see much of that mentality alive today, (as long as one does not try and count Allah as God)
 
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