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Electrohorticulture

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The use of electricity to enhance plant growth and yield.

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Electrohorticulture

  1. 1. X* LIBRARY UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA GIFT OK /9oo Received J&/VU Accession No. "YZO o 3 ^ass ^
  2. 2. / n I v/ <&LSJ-. I&AM. ^ui<A <J .
  3. 3. ELECTRO-HORTICULTURE BY GEO. S. HULL, M.D., Sc.D. PASADENA GAL. TEbe Knickerbocker jprcss i?ork
  4. 4. COPYRIGHT, 1898 BYGEORGE S. HULL 7*03-3
  5. 5. PREFACE is analogous to heat and light,ELECTRICITY and, like them, has an influence upon thegrowth of plants. What this is, it is the purposeof the author to inquire into with his readers bypresenting to them a summary of what has beenaccomplished in the comparatively new science ofelectro-horticulture, and by discussing with themthe rationale of the action of electricity uponvegetation. That he may afford assistance to some who arealready at work, and possibly influence others toinvestigate into this fascinating subject, is his solemotive in offering to the public this monograph. He has had in view the popular rather than thescientific aspect of the subject, and hence haslimited himself to what he felt would most appealto the average reader. G. S. II. PASADENA, CAL., October i, 1898.
  6. 6. CONTENTS I. The Dawn of Electro-horticulture. The Appli- cation of Electricity to the Stalks of Plants . I II. Electricity from the Atmosphere Applied to the them ........ Roots of Plants and to the Soil Surrounding 8IIT. Electricity from Batteries Applied to the Roots of Plants and to the Surrounding Soil . . 14IV. Effects of the Electric Light upon Vegetation . 19 V. How Does Electricity Act upon Vegetation ? . 24VI. Some Suggestions and a Glimpse of an Electric Farm of the Future ..... 32
  7. 7. ELECTRO-HORTICULTURE CHAPTER ITHE DAWN OF ELECTRO-HORTICULTURE. THE APPLICATION OF ELECTRICITY TO THE STALKS OF PLANTS use of electricity in horticulture, whileTHE seemingly of recent years, had its small be-ginning long before the invention of the dynamo,and even antedated several years Franklins im-portant discovery, in 1752, by which he startled thescientific world with the announcement that he had " "drawn the electric fluid from the clouds bymeans of a kite, and had proved it to be identicalwith the electricity of the Leyden jar. As early as1746, the very year which saw the invention of thefamous Leyden jar, Von Maimbray, of Edinburgh,began to study the effects of electricity upon plantlife, his first experiment being with two young myrtletrees. He simply passed the current down throughthem to the soil, and found that it stimulated theirgrowth. Soon experimenters upon the continentwere at work along the same line, and their results
  8. 8. were such that they readily agreed with him thatelectricity exerted a favorable influence upon vege-tation. They, like Von Maimbray, passed theelectricity, developed mainly by friction, throughthe stalks of plants to the soil. The machines theyused to develop the current were so crude, andtheir experiments conducted upon such a smallscale, that but little advance was made upon theinitial experiments, and the interest accordinglywaned. In 1783, Abbot Bertholon became interested inthe subject, and his investigations soon convincedhim that electricity was decidedly useful in thematuring of plants. His enthusiasm reached ahigh pitch, and he gave vent to it in a book, Con-cerning Electricity in Plants. He devoted the largerpart of it to reporting the results of his experiments,and the remainder to the description of the appli-ances used in furnishing electricity to the plants. We shall briefly describe two of these devices.One consisted of an insulated rod, supported ver-tically, holding up some points in the air andterminating in other points directly over the plant;his intention being to draw down some of the elec-tricity in the atmosphere and pass it through theplant into the ground. The other was more in-genious and complicated, and furnished electricityon a much larger scale. A barrel of water wasplaced on a cart; beside it stood the operator on aninsulated stool. His body was connected by meansof an insulated wire with the positive pole of africtional-electric machine in action. As he dipped
  9. 9. water out of the barrel by means of a large sprink-ling-can it became charged with electricity fromthe machine. By sprinkling it upon the plantswhile the cart was being driven among them, thecurrent was delivered to them by the water, andpassed through them to the soil. These currents of high electromotive force (pres-sure), generated by the frictional-electric machinesused by Bertholon, could readily pass through the lwater to the plants, and through them to theground. While Bertholon was observing the effects of de-vices which gave a much larger supply of electricityto plants than they could get from the atmosphere,Gardini, of Turin, was pursuing an opposite courseby watching the results of experiments which en-tirely removed plants from the influence of atmo- That water will conduct electricity many persons have 1learned to their surprise when they have attempted to removea coin from a bowl of this fluid which has been connectedwith one of the poles of an induction coil, their bodies havingbeen connected with the other pole. Firemen have alsolearned that it is not safe to throw a stream of water over liveelectric wires, because the insulation may have been burnedoff, or removed and a dangerous and perhaps in other ways,fatal current may escape down the stream of water to theirbodies. That fertile genius, Mr. FMison, not long ago start-led us by suggesting that we utilize theconducting power ofwater in modern warfare. He spoke of rendering a fort im-pregnable by means of such simple machinery as a powerfulforce-pump to propel streams of water, and a dynamo to fur-nish deadly currents of electricity to them. But a handful ofmen would be required to run this machinery and direct theelectrified streams of water- upon the advancing columns of
  10. 10. spheric electricity. The former claimed that byincreasing the supply of electricity he couldmarkedly hasten the maturing of plants, and thelatter that by depriving plants of it, he could verymaterially retard their growth. Gardinis methodwas to protect plants from the influence of the at-mospheric electricity by covering them with cagesof wire gauze, and then to compare them withothers exposed to the action of the electricity in"the atmosphere. The wire gauze which surroundedthe plants conducted the atmospheric electricityaway from them to the ground, and the result wasthat the plants drooped; when he removed the wirecages they revived again. He gave his conclusionsas follows: " i. Atmospheric electricity exerts considerableinfluence upon the production of vegetable matter.All things equal, plants will develop better every-the enemy, mowing them down instantly. If it pleased thesedispensers of death within the fort, they could, by reducingthe strength of the current, merely temporarily paralyze theirfoemen, and then go out and capture them ; or, if they werediabolical enough to crave some sport at the expense of theirhelpless victims, they, by still further reducing the strength ofthe current, could cause them to throw away their weaponsand engage in a dance, which, while amusing to the mercilessmen within the would be anything but pleasurable to the fort,writhing humanity at the other end of the streams of electri-fied water. Of course, the enemy might come clad in rubbersuits, or otherwise insulated and then it would be a question ;of strength of current on the one hand, and perfection of in-sulation on the other. It is hardly likely that we shall have apractical test of this matter ; it belongs more to the realms ofelectric fancy.
  11. 11. where where they are exposed to the action ofatmospheric electricity. " 2. Plants protected from the action of theatmospheric electricity have, in the same space oftime, given from fifty to seventy per cent, of fruitand seed less than the plants placed in ordinaryconditions, that is to say, to which electricity hasfree access. " 3. The proportion of albuminous substancesdoes not appear to depend sensibly upon the influ-ence of electricity, while plants that are protectedfrom it appear to contain less water and more min-eral substances. " Tall plants have a harmful influence upon 4.the development of plants that grow at their base,not only by depriving them of light and heat, butalso because they absorb atmospheric electricity attheir expense." Leclerc, who was experimenting at the sametime, agreed with Gardini. Celi tested the matterin another way. He planted three grains of corn ina flower-pot, and placed it under a bell-glass. Inanother pot of the same size, filled with the samequality of earth, he planted three similar grains,and placed the pot under a bell-glass of the samesize as the former one. He provided so that eachwould receive the same amount of water and air.Thus both were protected from the influence ofatmospheric electricity. He then arranged oneof the bell-glasses so that a wire passed through itstop and ended in a number of radiating points justwithin. This wire was connected with an insulated
  12. 12. metallic vessel near the bell-glass, from which ves-sel issued a fine stream of water. The flow ofwater electrified the vessel, and the current passeddown the wire and was dispersed within the bell-glass. Thus one flower-pot, with its imbeddedcorn, receiveda constant supply of electricity,while the other received none. It was soon noticedthat the plants in the electrified air were growingfaster than the others. In ten days, the formerwere ten centimetres high, while the latter were buteight. These experiments were largely repeated andabundantly confirmed, yet there were experiment-ers who reported contradictory results. Amongthem was Ingenhouss, a high authority in vegetablephysiology in his time (1787). His denial thatelectricity exerted a beneficial influence uponvegetation very much chilled the enthusiasm ofthose who were experimenting; but still the experi-ments were not discontinued. Especially interested and active became Mr.Selim Lemstrom, of University of Helsingfors, whohad noticed that in Lapland and in Spitzbergenplants grew with wonderful rapidity during theshort polar summer, and their flowers were morebrightly colored, and, they were cereals, yielded ifsurprisingly large crops. He attributed this to thefact that atmospheric electricity was more abundantin the polar regions than elsewhere; he knew thatthese regions are the peculiar homes of the auroraborealis, a generally conceded electric phenom-enon. Lemstrom planted seeds in pots, and put
  13. 13. 7some of them under a system of wires with pointsprojecting downward so as to deliver the electricityfrom the positive pole of a Holtz machine upon thegrowing plants; the others were not exposed to thecurrent. He found in six weeks (the machinebeing in operation five hours each day) that theplants electrically treated were forty per cent, inadvance of the others. He also found that it didnot matter whether the electricity was passed downthrough the plant or in the opposite direction. In 1885, experiments were conducted on a largerscale in the open fields in the domain of Niemis.A system of insulated wires was erected over partof a field of barley; at short intervals were metallicpoints which could deliver the electricity downupon the grain. This system was connected withthe positive pole of a four-disk Holtz machine, thenegative pole being connected with a zinc plateburied in the earth. The machine was run eighthours a day. The result was that the crop was in-creased one third in the electrified part of the field.Larger claims were made in the following year bythe experimenters at Brodtorp, who used the cur-rent from four electric machines. From the many experiments conducted by Lem-strom, he concluded that electricity favorablyaffected the growth of wheat, rye, barley, oats,beets, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, celery, leeks,kidney-beans, raspberries, and strawberries; whilecarrots, rutabagas, turnips, cabbages, and tobaccowere more or less injured by the electric treatment. That the results obtained by the different invest-
  14. 14. 8igators were not always harmonious is not strangewhen we consider that the experiments were per-formed at various points on the earths surface, andthat the time of day during which the current wasapplied and the length of the application were sub-ject to wide variations.
  15. 15. CHAPTER IIELECTRICITY FROM THE ATMOSPHERE AP~ PLIED TO THE ROOTS OF PLANTS AND TO THE SOIL SURROUNDING THEM 1891, the Agricultural School at Paulin, ofIN Beauvais, France, began a series of experi-ments near Montbrison, with the expectation ofdrawing down the atmospheric electricity in moreabundant quantities than had been done by pre-vious experimenters. He erected what he called ageomagnetifer. It was merely a tall, resinous poleplanted in the earth, and carrying to its top agalvanized iron rod, insulated from it by porcelainknobs, and terminating in five pointed branches.The electricity thus collected from the atmospherewas carried to the soil and distributed by means ofa system of underground wires to the area of groundto be electrically influenced. His first experimentwas with potatoes. The part of the field underelectric influence responded in a surprising man-ner, as is evidenced by the following extract from "a newspaper report at the time :The eye isarrested by a perceptible irregularity in the vegeta-tion of the field. Within a circle limited exactlyby the place occupied in the earth by the conduct-ing wires of atmospheric electricity, the potato 9 YE* 0**
  16. 16. IOplants possess a vigor double that of the plantsoccupying the rest of the earth, and that, too,without a gap, without a feeble point in this groupof superb stalks, sharply circumscribed as by a linedrawn by a compass." According to the report of the committee dele-gated by the Montbrison Society of Agriculture toreport on Paulins experiments, a geomagnetifertwenty-eight feet high, made its influence felt overa radius of sixty-five feet, and the yield of potatoeswithin this electrified area was from fifty per cent,to seventy-five per cent, greater than without it.This committee was quite enthusiastic over the re-sults of Paulins experiments, and awarded him aspecial medal. He next experimented with hisgeomagnetifer in a vineyard, and found that grapeswere much advanced in their growth,and that theywere sweeter (yielding about five per cent, moresugar) and less acid. In further experiments hefound that spinach and celery were markedly influ-enced, some leaves of the former reaching the lengthof one and one fourth feet, and some stalks of thelatter three feet. Radishes and turnips were muchimproved in size and quality, and sugar-beetsyieldeda larger percentage of their saccharinecompound. It was also noticed that potatoes andsugar-beets, electrically cultivated, were singularlyfree from disease, while those outside of the influ-ence were often seriously affected. Spechnew modified Paulins experiment by stick-ing a number of poles into a field, each pole havinga point at its apex, and all being connected with a
  17. 17. IIsystem of underground conducting wires, so as to "distribute the electricity to the soil. By these "means," he says, the electricity of the atmosphereis rendered denser over the field, and the plantsdevelop in a field of high electric tension." Afterfiveyears of experimentation he was most favorablyimpressed with the results. He tells us that 475pounds of rye by the ordinary method of cultiva-tion grew 2825 pounds of grain and 6175 pounds ofstraw; while by the electric method the same quan-tity of seed yielded 3625 pounds of grain and 9900pounds of straw. Barley and wheat responded ina similar manner, while oats yielded even largerreturns. This method of applying electricity to vegetationis a tempting one to pursue on account of theabundance of atmospheric electricity at onescommand. In speculating on cosmical electricity, Prof. ElihuThomson says: " The earth may possess the char-acter of a huge conductor, the outer coating beingthe rarefied conducting air, the inner coating theground and water surface, and the dielectric thedense air between." The electric potential onthe top of the Eiffel Tower (984 feet high), he says,may be as great as 10,000 volts; and if the increasebe 1000 volts for every 100 feet, on the average, itwould rise to 1,000,000 volts at an altitude oftwenty miles. So, we may liken the earth to ahuge Leyden jar, the dense air acting like the non-conducting glass between the inner and outermetallic coatings of the jar. Sometimes in charg-
  18. 18. 12ing a Leyden jar the electricity will break throughthe glass (especially is it apt to do so if the glasscontains lead), and ruin the jar thereafter for ex-perimental purposes. Likewise, sometimes, elec-tricity, under such high potentials, in the upper,rare atmosphere (in storm-clouds, for instance), willbreak through the intervening denser air and dis-charge itself into the ground or water this we calla stroke of lightning. Franklin raised his kite into such charged clouds,and their electricity came down the string and filledhis Leyden jar, proving the identity of the elec-tricity of the atmosphere with that of the platemachines ordinarily used to charge Leyden jars. What Paulins geomagnetifers could be made ifto penetrate miles up into this reservoir of elec-tricity and thus furnish an easy path for it to theearth ? It is interesting to speculate upon the pos- our being able to tap this great store-sibility ofhouse of stimulus to vegetation possibly even tohuman development at will. If we ask whence the outer, rare layers of ouratmosphere get their electricity, we may comenearest a correct answer by saying from the sun,that great source of so many forms of energy. Weknow that displays of the aurora borealis, and alsoelectric storms, which are so unwelcome to tele-graphers, are most frequent during the prevalenceof sun-spots, and we know that these spots are dueto some great disturbance upon the sun. Whetherthe electricity thus generated upon the sun is carriedto our upper atmosphere by minute particles thrown
  19. 19. out by these eruptions, as is claimed by some, orwhether we get it by induction across space, as isthought by others, we will not attempt to determine.We do know, however, that the electric potentialdoes increase as we go up from the earths surface.According to Mr. McAddie, it can be measuredvery accurately by means of his kite-experiment,which bears some resemblance to Franklins historicone of so many years previous; there is, however,a very marked difference between the conditionswhich surrounded these two experimenters whenthey sailed their kites into the skies. Franklincourted the anger of the thunder-cloud and flew hiskite, with its pointed wire, into the face of deathso far as he knew. His theory of the identity ofelectricity and lightning had not yet been proved possibly it would be proved at the expense of itsoriginators life; he knew that the electricity of theLeyden jarwas deadly to small animals, indeed hisown life had been shocked into insensibility by it. The ingenious Mr. McAddie flew his kite intothe blue of a cloudless sky, and took note of thesparks discharged from the lower end of the in-sulated wire connected with it. By connecting anelectrometer with the wire, he could usually tellwhether the kite was rising or falling by readingthe larger or smaller deflections of the needle. It may be of profit to consider, even if verybriefly, in closing this chapter, the effects of atmos-pheric electricity upon man whether or not itassists in his physical development and well-being.Jean Paul Richter speaks of the value of the
  20. 20. thunderstorm-bath, reminding us how " fresh, " "cheerful, and elastic we feel after a warm ortepid rain has penetrated to the skin," and how,after being exposed to a thunderstorm and becom-ing dry we are invigorated just as the flowers arewhen they stand erect and look refreshed after the "passage of a storm. He says : Why will they notreceive this united fire and water baptism fromabove, and suffer themselves to be raised andhealed by the wonder-working arm in the thunder-cloud ? He is practical when he advises a specialsuit of clothes for the purpose, and the forming ofrain-parties when there is promise of wet weatherin the warmer seasons. If we incline to Richtersbelief, may we not reason that any form of dresswhich insulates us in a high degree from the earth,and thus prevents the passage of the atmosphericelectricity through our bodies, is detrimental tous? This may furnish one of the reasons why onefeels best when he is able to run barefooted; alsoit may explain why in some parts of Germany it isclaimed that many diseases maybe cured by simplyconnecting ones self with an iron rod driven intothe earth. Possibly we may refer any good whichmay be derived from the numerous patent devices " "for electrolibrating," polarizing," etc., to thefact that they are merely contrivances for electric-ally connecting one with the earth, and havenothing inherent in themselves as a means of elec-trically influencing the body. If there, perchance,be any good in these high-priced and much-adver-
  21. 21. tised devices, the author would recommend asbeing just as efficacious (very possibly much moreso, and certainly much cheaper), the connectingof ones ankles by means of an insulated wire withgas or water mains, which have such good connec-tion with the earth. indeed, atmospheric electricity benefits plants, If,as certainly does, may it not be of use also to the itcollection of living cells which go to make mansbody ? Possibly we think too lightly of this.
  22. 22. CHAPTER IIIELECTRICITY FROM BATTERIES APPLIED TO THE ROOTS OF PLANTS AND TO THE SUR- ROUNDING SOIL the previous chapters we dealt with frictionalIN or static electricity, that developed by plate-electric machines or drawn from the upper atmos-phere, and which possesses high electromotiveforce but is very deficient in quantity a littlestream, as it were, moving under great pressure.This, by reason of its great electromotive force,can penetrate the badly conducting air to plantsand readily pass through them to the soil. Nowwe shall consider the uses of galvanic electricity,or that from batteries, and which, having low elec-tromotive force, though capable of being deliveredin large quantities, cannot be applied advantage-ously to the stalks of plants, but can be furnishedreadily to the soil surrounding their roots. A simple form of experimentation, which firstinterested the writer and which yielded in the mainsuch favorable results that he was led to continuehis investigations, was as follows: Two boxes of like size were filled with the samekind of soil, and each was planted the same num- inber of hemp seeds at the same depth. They wereexposed to similar conditions of heat, light, and 16
  23. 23. moisture. In the end of one of the boxes was in-serted a thin piece of zinc, the height and breadthof the box, and in the other end a piece of copperof similar size. Both were pressed down almost tothe bottom of the box, and were connected aboveground by a copper wire soldered to their projec-tions. Thus arranged the box was an earth-battery,the like of which has been used for running clocksand other machinery requiring but little current,and also by previous experimenters in electro-horticulture. The results were always in favor ofthe seeds planted in the earth-battery, the plantsresulting from them being from twenty per cent,to forty per cent, in advance of those in the boxwithout the zinc and copper. Briefly, what goes on in the earth-battery is asfollows some compounds in the moist, soil act :chemically upon the zinc (positive element), one ofthe results of whichis that a current of electricityis generated; this passes through the soil to thecopper (negative element), up the copper to thewire above the soil and through it to the zinc,making a circuit. By inserting a sensitive galvano-meter into this wire a current can be proved to beflowing by the deflection of the needle. It is thiscontinuous current going through the soil whichacts upon some of the compounds in it, and alsoupon the roots of the plants, giving us the goodresults we generally obtain. Ordinary galvanic "cells, such as the gravity," can be used to fur-nish the current; all that is needed is to attach thewire from the positive electrode of the battery to
  24. 24. i8a metallic plate driven into the earth, and the wirefrom the negative to a similar plate at some dis-tance from the other one. More current is fur-nished, but the expense is much greater. The earth-battery in the hands of Spechnew, inthe botanical gardens at Kew (London), achievedsome surprising results. He sank plates of zincand copper, about two feet square and connectedby copper wires, into beds in which he plantedvarious cereals and vegetables. He reported thatin some experiments with cereals in these electrifiedbeds the stalks were four times as large and theyield of grain one and one half times as great as inthe beds not subjected to the electric treatment.He produced in this electrified soil a radish seven-teen inches long and five inches in diameter, anda carrot nearly eleven inches in diameter and weigh-ing five pounds. Both were juicy and fine-flavored.Fischer, of Waldstein, experimented largely withgarden plants, placing his copper and zinc plates,each sixty-five by forty centimetres, in the soilthirty metres apart. In many plants he secured anincrease of from twofold to fourfold. He claimedthat the plantsmatured more quickly, and agreedwith Spechnew that they were always free fromdisease, though often the surrounding plants werebadly affected with fungoid growths. Professor Warner, of the Agricultural College ofMassachusetts, has verified at the Hatch Experi-ment Station many of the results of the Europeanexperimenters, and has given us some very interest-ing ones of his own. In experimenting with let-
  25. 25. tuce, he prepared two plots in a greenhouse so thatthey would be subject to like conditions and influ-ences. In the one he buried, at a little depth inthe soil,a system of copper wires consisting ofseries of from four to nine strands one half inchapart. He connected the wires with a battery oftwo cells, which sent a continuous current of elec-tricity through them. These plots were in a partof the greenhouse which had been used for theraising of lettuce, and in which great trouble hadbeen experienced from mildew. One of his ob-jects was to see if the electric treatment wouldhave any effect upon the mildew. Equal numbersof healthy lettuce plants, of the head variety, wereset in the plots; those in the plot with the electricapparatus were planted over the wires so that theirroots could come in contact with them. He re-ported that five plants out of fifteen in the electricplot were killed by the mildew, the other ten being" well developed and the heads large." In the "corresponding unelectrified plot only three plantshad partially developed, and two of them werenearly destroyed by the mildew only one was freefrom disease." It was noticed that when the cur-rent became weak, or was interrupted, the headsbegan to feel the destructive influence of the mil-dew; also that the largest heads were over thegreatest number of wires and nearest where thewires were attached to the battery. A strangesight presented itself on examining the roots: itwas found that they had " grown about the wiresas if there they had found the greatest amount of
  26. 26. 2Onourishment." Professor Warner sums up by say- "ing, everything considered, the results were infavor of electricity. Those plants subjected to thegreatest electrical influence were hardier, healthier,larger,and had a better color, and were much lessaffected by mildew than others." In later experi-ments he found that parsnips, salsify, radishes, andpeas thrived especially well under the electrictreatment, while turnips and beets responded to aless degree. Spechnew, having obtained such excellent re-sultsfrom the use of earth-batteries, was led toperform the experiment of electrifying seeds beforeplanting them, to see if the current would have anyeffect tomake them develop sooner. He put someseeds into water until they swelled, and then trans-ferred them to a glass cylinder, pressing copperdiscs against them at both ends. The disks wereconnected with the poles of an induction coil, andthe faradic current applied to them for a minuteor two. Immediately afterwards they were planted.Peas, beans, barley, and sunflowers developed inabout half the time required for those not so treated,and the resulting plants were healthier looking,with larger leaves and brighter colors; the yield,however, was not increased. The results reported by other experimenters cor-respond so closely with those detailed in this chap-ter that we need not give space to them. The small expenditure connected with this lineof experimentation in electro-horticulture shouldmake it popular.
  27. 27. CHAPTER IV EFFECTS OF THE ELECTRIC LIGHT UPON VEGETATION is well known that ifa plant be kept in a darkIT place it will lose its green color and pine away.Experimenting with plants deprived of sunlight,Professor C. W. Siemens found that if he substi-tuted the light furnished by electricity, the plantswould keep in a large measure their green colorand grow almost as vigorously as with the sunshining upon them. Recently a gardener, without any scientific abil-ity, and without even the intention of experiment-ing, arrived at a similar conclusion. He wasextremely puzzled one day to find that somelettuce plants at one end of his greenhouse werefar in advance of those of the same age and varietyat the other end. He was finally led to concludethat an arc-electric lamp, which had been burningevery night at the prolific end of the lettuce bed,was the cause of his good fortune; and further ex-perimentation proved his conclusion to be correct. The arc-electric lamp furnishes a light verysimilar to being, however, somewhat sunlight,richer in the rays beyond the violet and slightly 21
  28. 28. 22deficient in the orange rays. The use of an orange-colored globe makes it more nearly like sunlight,and favors its action upon vegetation. The nakedarc-light, if too near some plants, exerts a detri-mental action upon them, and one must carefullystudy the susceptibility of the individual plant inorder to regulate the distance between it and thelight. The length of time the lamp is kept burn-ing and the color of the shade through which thelight is permitted to pass are also matters of im-portance. The value of interposing glass between the lightand the plants has been demonstrated frequently:for instance, Dr. Bailey, of Cornell, whose work inelectro-horticulture has been of the highest order,found that radishes under the naked light lost from under aforty-five per cent, to sixty-five per cent. ;light covered by an opal globe the loss was butslight, while when the light was strained throughthe opal globe and the glass roof of the greenhousethere was an increase in both tubers and tops. Heobtained similar results with beets and spinach.Cauliflowers were so influenced by the light as togrow tall and extend their leaves in a verticaldirection, but they did not head so well as thosegrown without the light. Tulips and petuniasgrew taller and more slender, had richer hues, andbloomed earlier and more freely. Lettuce wasfrom ten to twelve days earlier, and felt the influ-ence of the light all over the greenhouse, whichextended forty feet from the lamp. Another ex-perimenter tells us that a 2Ooo-candle-power arc-
  29. 29. lamp will markedly influence a bed of lettuce sixtyfeet square. Siemens found that the electric light was effica-cious in producing chlorophyll in the leaves ofplants; that it promoted the growth of the wholeplant ; and also hastened the development offlowers and fruit, giving to the former more intensecoloring, and to the latter finer flavor. In straw-berries the rich red color and fine flavor wereespecially noticeable, and the berries were broughtto ripeness two weeks before the usual time. Mel-ons, also, were quite responsive to the light, andwere much improved in aroma. In experimenting with the electric light one willfind it very interesting to study its effects uponplants at different distances, as well as the effectsof different transparent substances placed betweenit and the plants. Some plants are apparentlyscorched by the light, even if not near enough tofeel the effects of its heat. The ultra-violet rays,which seem to cause this, are largely absorbed byplain glass. When a part of a plant is shieldedfrom the light by a piece of ordinary glass onemay sometimes see a distinct line of demarkationbetween the part so protected and that exposed tothe glare of the light; even a single leaf may bepartly scorched and partly of an intenser green asa result of its position in this respect. But one must find the length of time each plantprefers the light to profit most by its influence, inaddition to ascertaining its preference for intensityand for the color of the glass surrounding it.
  30. 30. Plants seem to have an individuality, and oftenshow a decided liking for certain regulations in theuse of the light in order to do their best when sub-jected to its influence. One would think that plants need the darknessfor their well-being, just as animals require thenight for sleep and refreshment; but this has beendeclared by a prominent investigator not to be thecase, or at least but to a very limited extent.Under the stimulus of the electric light they keepon growing at night almost as thriftily as in the day-light. What to us would be dissipation and end indisease, seems to them to be profitable pleasure, ifthe light is properly regulated. Mr. B. F. Thwaitetells us that the leaves of that beautiful plant, theacacia cophanta, which close at night, open almostmagically when removed from the darkness into thebrilliant beams of the arc-lamp; the leaves nearestthe root being the first to be influenced. We have been alluding to the effects of thesteadily shining arc-light upon vegetation; but ifit is flashed at short intervals upon plants it seems tohave increased power, at least it will draw the plantsmore rapidly and strongly toward itself. Theyseem to be whipped up, as it were, by the violentalternations of intense light and darkness. Helio-tropism is the name given to this effect; it deservesa fuller investigation. It is not unlikely that in future experiments,devices will be used to graphically record theprogress of the growth of plants. By using themethod of M. Mach, one may see plants grow, and
  31. 31. 2*be able to follow them in some of their trans-formations. His process consists, first, in photographinggrowing plants at suitable intervals, and, secondly,by means of a somewhat complicated apparatus, inpassing rapidly before the eye the photographs ofthe plants in their various stages of growth. Thus,in a space counted by seconds, we may have passedbefore our wondering eyes the birth, developing,flowering, fruiting, and death of a plant. By re-versing the order of the photographs we are amazedto see the fruit evanesce into the flower, the flowercontract into the bud, the bud absorb into the stem,and finally the stem disappear into the ground. By attaching a piece of fine platinum wire to agrowing plant, and fastening a small piece of crayonto the other end of the wire, it is said that we mayhave recorded on a rotating drum, covered withwhite paper, tracings showing its growth. If wecover the drum with narrow strips of platinum foil,and connect them with one pole of a galvanic bat-tery, and the wire attached to the plant with theother, and then place an electric bell in the circuit,we drum rotates, the ringing of the will hear, as thebell when the wire presses upon the foil, and havesilence when the wire presses upon the spaces be-tween the strips of foil. As plants are said to growmost rapidly between the hours of four and six in themorning, if we make the strips sufficiently narrow,or have a rapidly growing plant, we will have thebell rung quite frequently at our waking hour.
  32. 32. CHAPTER V HOW DOES ELECTRICITY ACT UPON VEGE- TATION? speculating concerning the rationaleBEFORE of the action of electricity upon the growthof plants, it may be helpful to review, even verybriefly, the manner in which plants get their nutri-tion from the air and soil. The atmosphere is a mixture of one fifth oxygenand four fifths nitrogen, with varying percentagesof carbon dioxid and vapor of water, besidesminute quantities of a few other compounds. Theleaves of plants have the power of breaking up thecarbon dioxid (CO 2 ) and fixing its carbon, atthe same time setting free its oxygen. This disin-tegrating action upon the carbon dioxid in wood-lands is performed on such a large scale that suffi-cient oxygen is liberated to produce the exhiliratingfeeling one often experiences during an outing inthe woods. This appropriation of carbon fromcarbon dioxid goes on when two conditions co-exist sunlight and the presence of chlorophyll in :the leaves. To properly appreciate the value ofsunlight to vegetation one must realize that it notonly enables the chlorophyll to decompose carbon 26
  33. 33. dioxid, but also that it is the stimulus which em-powers vegetation to make chlorophyll, the con-stituent to which plants owe their various hues ofgreen. It is well known that a period of rainyweather, with the absence of sunlight, diminishesvery much the quantity of chlorophyll in plants;also that in dark cellars they lose it entirely, and,as a consequence, their lives, though an abundanceof carbon dioxid be present. From the soil plants get most of their water, andnearly all of their nitrogen (so very important totheir well-being), besides the various salts of pot-ash, lime, etc., which they require. Most of thesesubstances exist in the soil in forms which can beabsorbed readily by the roots; this is not the case,however, with nitrogen, so we offer a few wordsconcerning it. Nitrogen is an inert gas, colorless, odorless, andtasteless; it will neither burn nor support combus-tion, and yet it is indispensable to life not only inplants but in human beings. Although it is soabundant in the air (simply mixed with oxygen),neither plants nor human beings are able to appro-priate directly from the atmosphere. It seems nec- itessary that it first should be made into compoundsbefore plants can utilize it. These compoundsare generally formed by oxygen and hydrogen unit-ing with it under certain conditions: nitrous acid(HNO 2 ) and nitric acid (HNO 3 ) are examples.Usually compounds of nitrogen are produced bythe decomposition of organic matter by ferments;thus prepared they are taken up readily by plants
  34. 34. 28and made a part of them. However, the roots ofsome plants, under rare conditions, seem able toappropriate directly the nitrogen brought to themin the air which has been absorbed by rain-water.Legumenous plants are fortunate in this respect;an example will be given later. Concerning the manner in which the electriclight helps plants grow, experimenters have togiven us some valuable information; but in rela-tion to the action of the current itself upon vegeta-tion much needs to be learned and here is aninviting field for the microscopist as well as forthe chemist. The light furnished by electricity acts uponplants in a manner very similar to sunlight. Itstimulates the formation of chlorophyll and assistsin the decomposition of carbon dioxid, upon whichplants feed so largely. That it helps in the forma-tion of starch in the leaves can be proved in a veryinteresting manner. Keep a plant in darkness forseveral days so that the starch may disappear fromits leaves. Then cover one of its leaves with apiece of tinfoil, and cut a letter or figure throughthe foil without injuring the leaf. Expose the leafto the electric light, which will stimulate the pro-duction of starch in the part of the leaf which itreaches through the perforations in the tinfoil.After a couple of days pluck the leaf and at onceput it into boiling water (to render the starch solu-ble), and then into alcohol (to dissolve out thechlorophyll). The leaf will now be colorless, butwill contain dissolved starch in the parts which
  35. 35. were exposed to the electric light. To render thisvisible, immerse the leaf in a weak solution of in aiodin, and the letter or figure will stand outblue color. In considering the action of atmospheric elec-tricity upon vegetation, we have to deal with astimulus which exists in abundance. Plants growmost vigorously where it is most abundant, andwith greatest rapidity in the early morning whenthe dew is more plentifully upon them, makingthem better conductors. Its most important actionupon the stalks of plants is that of increasing theircirculation of sap. Discharges of electricity in the air, especiallyduring thunder-storms, cause some union betweenthe oxygen and nitrogen in the vicinity of the dis-charges, forming oxides of nitrogen, which, beingsoluble in water, are carried to the roots of plantsand absorbed by them directly. Electricity passed through the soil by earth-bat-teries, the geomagnetifer, or other means, has someaction upon its chemical constituents. We arefamiliar with the effects of a current of electricityupon water (OH 2 ) when the electrodes of a batteryare placed in it: from each molecule of water twoatoms of hydrogen go to the negative electrodeand one atom of oxygen to the positive. Since thetime when Davy decomposed the alkalies, soda andpotash, by means of electricity, nearly every com-pound has yielded to this mysterious power, which,as it were, shakes their molecules until the atomscomposing them fly apart. In like manner cur-
  36. 36. rents of electricity may break up the more complexcompounds in the soil into simpler ones, uponwhich the roots of plants can feed. Spechnew found that one hundred pounds ofearth, subjected to the electric current for a certainlength of time, contained one ounce of solublematerial, while a similar quantity of the same kindof earth not so treated contained but half an ounce. Some observers believe that electricity decom-poses the constituents of the soil much as quick-lime does, and it is largely on this account thatplants are more richly fed in electrified earth.Others think that, in some manner, under the elec-tric influence, nitrogen from the air combines withsome other substances in the soil, making com-pounds which are readily absorbed by roots ofplants. A recent experimenter claims that theparticles of electrified earth are set into molecularvibration, thus loosening the earth. Faraday, inhis researches many years ago, declared that plantsrequiring much nitrogen for their developmentwould be benefited by being grown in electrifiedearth. Let us consider how uncombined nitrogen in thesoil, carried there by the water, may be given tothe roots of plants without first being formed intocompounds. We will state the case of one of thelegumenous plants, which plants find nitrogen sovery necessary to their existence. It is well knownthat many of the legumes can sustain themselves insoils too poor in nitrogenous compounds to supportother plants. They seem to do so by feeding
  37. 37. directly upon the nitrogen brought to them fromthe air by rain-water, and this by the aid of certainbacteria at their roots. On the roots of the pea,for instance, we often find numerous tubercles;these used to be thought to be evidence of disease,and the microscope seemed to corroborate this byshowing them to be filled with micro-organisms(bacterium radicicolus). However, it was soon as-certained that instead of causing harm to the peaplants these colonies of bacteria contributed verylargely to their welfare. They actually fed theplants with nitrogen through their roots. If peasare planted in a soil which has been washed andcalcined deprive it of its nitrogenous com- topounds, they soon become sickly and die; but willif some water is made muddy with a little soil inwhich healthy peas are growing, and soaked totheir roots, they become healthy and thereafterflourish. The water carries to their roots some ofthe bacteria from the ground in which the healthypeas are growing. These micro-organisms attachthemselves to the roots, and while living, in ameasure, upon the nutrition in them, more thanpay for what they eat by giving to the plantsthrough their roots quantities of nitrogen, taken insome mysterious manner from the air brought tothe soil by the water. Let us wonder if electricitymay not help in this matter by stimulating theactivity of these bacteria, for it is said to favorvery much the growth of peas when applied to thesoil. Before directing our attention to the questionof the action of electricity upon bacteria, let us
  38. 38. notice the offices of some other bacteria in thesoil. Organic matter containing nitrogen, such asmanure, is converted by fermentation into ammo-niacal compounds. By one kind of micro-organ-isms in the soil these compounds are oxidized intonitrites, and by another kind the nitrites are raised 1to nitrates, ready for absorption by the roots ofplants. Both organisms are found in all good soils;in the future farmers may sow them in bad soils,not forgetting to sow with them some phosphates,sulphates, etc., as foods for the micro-organismsthemselves. Here, as very frequently elsewhere, man is de-pendent upon bacteria for some of the good thingsin life. In these days of antisepsis, when the tend-ency is to sterilize everything, especially our foods,it may soften our animosity towards the disease-producing micro-organisms to reflect that there aremany of their kin which are friendly to us the :delicate flavors given to butter and to cheese are theresults of their action even the process of digestion ;is probaby dependent in a manner upon them. But what has electricity to do with the action 1 When we consider how scarce and costly nitrates are, wecan rightly value the work of these two kinds of bacteria.They make the nitre beds of Chili and India by convertingthe organic matter deposited there by fish-feeding sea-birdsinto nitrates of soda and potash. The absence of rain in theselocalities causes the nitrates to effloresce upon the dry soil,from which they are easily collected in other places they are ;washed away on account of their great solubility in water.
  39. 39. 33of bacteria in feeding atmospheric nitrogen tothe roots of plants ? and what with their action indecomposing ammoniacal salts finally into sol-uble nitrates, ready for absorption by the plants ?Does electricity stimulate the functions of thebacteria ? A current of electricity passed through watercontaining certain freely floating organisms causesthem to take notice of the fact and accommodatethemselves to it. Dr. Waller has shown that avessel of water with parameciae plentifully inhabit-ing it is curiously affected if a current of electricityis passed through it. The minute organisms atonce form in line and rush towards the negativeelectrode, and if the current is reversed hasten theother way. One might think that the currentdrives the minute organisms with it, as it doessome chemicals in cataphoresis; but, strange to say,other micro-organisms swim, as it were, against thecurrent. DArsonville insists that electricity ofhigh potential has a definite effect upon micro-organisms, and his remarkable experiment with thebacillus pyocyaneus, which caused it to change thecolor of its secretive pigment, is much in evidence.And then we know of the stimulating influence ofthunderstorms upon fermentative germs; for in-stance, upon the lactic ferment, causing it to turnmilk sour more quickly. We think we have sufficient knowledge of theeffects of electricity upon the cells of complex manto warrant us in believing that it does favor theirnutrition; why not infer that it has a like action
  40. 40. 34 upon the cellsof plants, and, also, upon the func-tions of the bacteria concerned in feeding nitrogento plants ? In these early days of the X-rays of Roentgen,let us wonder what effect they may have, not onlyon plants above the soil, but especially on the rootsand bacteria in the soil, which soil the rays canpenetrate to a considerable depth. So far experiments have not been conclusive.Professor Atkinson states that while plantTtissuesabsorb the Roentgen rays quite freely, there is nomarked influence on the growing parts, and, also,that bacteria are negatively affected. Other ex-perimenters report that exposure of the bacillusprodigiosus to the radiations of an X-ray focus-tubeinduces very marked increase of growth and pecu-liarchanges in the pigment-forming powers of thisparticular micro-organism. Similar changes werenoted in some of the lower forms of vegetable life,notably in the protococcus. Stanoievitch, a Russian scientist, has made the interesting 1observation that the markings produced by growth on a sec-tion of wood or vegetable, are very similar to those producedby sifting iron filings upon a plate of glass and holding thepoles of a magnet directly under it. And he argues that thereis an analogy between the actions of plants which arrangetheir cells in such definite positions, and the play of the magnetwhich makes the familiar " lines of force."
  41. 41. CHAPTER VISOME SUGGESTIONS AND A GLIMPSE OF AN ELECTRIC FARM OF THE FUTURE simplest and cheapest method of gettingTHE electricity into the soil and to the roots ofplants is by the use of some form of the geomag-netifer. In using this device we must be careful toarrange it so that the atmospheric electricity willcome down the wire on the pole to the system ofwires in the soil, and not down the pole itself to theearth immediately surrounding it. The pole maybe made a non-conductor by being coated withresin, or it may be set into a non-conducting sub-stance. As to the height of the pole, it shouldreach far above the surrounding trees or other highobjects, or, better, the pole should be situated onelevated plots of ground. We must learn moreabout the relation of the area of soil beneficiallyaffected to the height of the pole. We also must tryto find out more about the nature of the soils mostresponsive to the application of electricity, as wellas the varieties of plants most susceptible to itsinfluence. After the installation of a geomagnetifer, themain costwill come from the replacing of the dis- 35
  42. 42. tributing wires in the ground, which wires are sub-ject to corrosion. The use of earth-batteries seems to be a morereliable method of furnishing electricity to the soil.For their successful use the soil should be keptfairly moist, especially around the metallic plates.The use of weak acids in the vicinity of the zincplates may be of advantage if of any disadvant-age, it would be that they consumed the zinc toorapidly, thus increasing the expense, possibly with-out a corresponding increase in the good done tothe crop. The plates should be of ample size, andtheir distance apart should be regulated to suit thecrops planted between them; the greater the dis-tance the larger the resistance to the current andthe less its strength. When a current of but littlestrength is wanted by soils or plants sensitive to it,rows of zinc plates should be connected with rowsof copper plates at considerable distances fromeach other. If stronger currents are needed, thedistance should be diminished. A sensitive gal-vanometer inserted in the wire above the groundwillbe of assistance in finding out the strength ofcurrent best suited to the circumstances of soil andcrop; it will surely tell us whether or not a currentisflowing through the soil: this will point out thecause of occasional failures in this form of experi-mentation. The action of the battery will slowlydestroy the zinc, while the copper will last almostindefinitely; so it will be best to raise the zincplates from the soil when no crop is being grown,or, at least, to disconnect the wires which join the
  43. 43. 37zinc and copper plates. Iron can be used insteadof the more expensive zinc, but the current fur-nished by the iron and copper battery is almost tooweak to be of any service. The advantages of this method over that in whichthe geomagnetifer is used are the absence of under-ground wires which corrode and have to be replacedin time, and the power to furnish a more constantsupply of current. The one disadvantage is theinterference the plates and wires offer to cultivation. The earth-battery would seem to be the more use-ful in raising berries and vegetables in greenhousesor small plots, and the geomagnetifer in growingpotatoes or cereals in fields. When electricity can be generated cheaply enoughby dynamos or other means, its application to soilsin which crops are growing can be regulated to suitevery condition each soil and crop will get its dose ;as exactly and as effectively as the physician pre-scribes tonics and nutrients possibly more so. In using the arc-light the main things to be con-sidered are the proximity of the plants to it, thenature and color of the shade interposed betweenitand the plants, the length of time the plants areexposed to its rays, and the hours of the day ornight most suitable for its use. If the arc-light is too near the plant, though notnear enough to affect it by its heat, it may, never-theless, scorch its leaves and cause serious damage.The ultra-violet rays are said to be responsible for "this, as they, according to Professor Rowlee, pro-duce great activity in the protoplasmic contents of
  44. 44. the cells, particularly of the palisade tissue, orhasten the physiological process. This activitycalls at once for large supplies of water, and it isdrawn first from the overlying epidermal cells;these cells being emptied of their contents, collapselike an empty grain bag. In other words, the vitalactivity is hastened so much by the naked lightthat the plant cannot supply materials quicklyenough, and it is forced to death." Plain glass will strain out these dangerous ultra-violet rays sufficiently to prevent this damage, orit may be avoided by removing the lamp to a suffi-cient distance from the plants. Experiments are being conducted which may de-termine for us just what colors of lamp-shades arethe most desirable for use in cultivating the variousplants which are benefited by the arc-light. Ex-periments have been made with the spectrum of thesun to find out which of its rays are efficacious incausing the formation of woody fibre, which in theformation of starch, which in the formation ofchlorophyll, etc., but the results have not beenconclusive on account of the difficulty of maintain-ing the spectrum steadily at the same place, and onaccount of the short periods of time it could bedepended upon for action. But with the arc-lightthe spectrum can be furnished continuously, andits different colors kept upon a number of similarplants as long as desired. Thus we may learnwhich colors are best suited to the varying needsof plants at the different stages of their growth.Here again we may meet the question of dosage,
  45. 45. 39and may prescribe certain rays for early life, othersfor adult, or combinations for specially developingthe starchy, saccharine, woody, or other substancesin the plants; or we may hasten or retard theripening of crops to suit the varying conditions ofthe market. While it is stated by careful investigators thatplants do not seem to need rest at night, yet furtherstudy of them under the influence of the electriclight put us in possession of facts which will mayenable us to give them their light-stimulus at theproper times and for the exact length of time, inaddition to giving it and color. of the right strengthThe which transforms starch into fact that diastase,sugar, acts best in the absence of light, seems toargue that the leaves of plants, which make starchin the presence of light, should have periods ofdarkness to permit this transformation to go onsatisfactorily; otherwise the leaves may becomechoked with starch, and the plant, although it hasan abundance of starchy food, suffer because itcannot utilize it in the presence of continuous light.Some observers warn us not to give the light toofreely at noonday, or when the heat is greatest,and others suggest that alternations in the dosageare of value; we have before made mention of theeffects of heliotropism. When one thinks of the combinations which canbe made of the methods of furnishing electricity tothe soil and to plants with the methods of furnishingelectric light to the leaves of plants, he feels howlittle indeed has been accomplished, and sees ahead
  46. 46. work for years of experimentation. And then thereisthe possibility that plants, in future generations,may become accustomed to being partly fed by theelectric light, and partly by currents in the soil, andmay adapt themselves to the new conditions to theincreased profit of the horticulturist. While the vast majority of the experimenters havereported results highly favorable to electro-horticul-ture, yet, as we have before pointed out, there havebeen a few who did not obtain the good results soenthusiastically heralded by others; it may be thatin some localities of the earths surface certain con-ditions obtainwhich render such places more favor-able ones for such experimentation than others. Experiments with earth-batteries may fail on ac-count of the connecting wires above ground beingtwisted around the projecting plates instead of beingsoldered to them. In dealing with such feeblecurrents, no more resistance should be opposed tothem than is absolutely necessary. And then thesoil may be unsuitable for sufficient chemical actionupon the zinc plate; possibly too scanty in propermineral matter, or too. dry, and hence unable togenerate a useful current. It is always well to testthe strength of the battery, and still more import-ant to see if there is any current flowing, by meansof a sensitive galvanometer inserted in the wireconnecting the plates. The practical farmer will want to know if electricfarming will increase his profits before he thinksseriously of adopting it. He may agree that it willbe more scientific, perhaps more interesting, and
  47. 47. likely less laborious, but will it pay ? It is tooearly to give satisfactory figures concerning theresults of the application of electricity to the grow-ing of plants and vegetables, as experiments havenot yet been made on a sufficiently large scale tofurnish reliable statistics; but the smaller experi-menters seem much encouraged, and some of themare now engaging in electro-horticulture much moreextensively. As regards the use of electricity as a motivepower on the farm, the experiments have reachedthe stage where figures can be safely given in itsfavor. Recently Julius Muth, United States Con-sul in Mecklenburg, Germany, gives some interest-ing figures concerning a farm near that place runentirely by The dynamo furnishing electricity.the current driven by a turbine whose power is isfurnished by a small brook, and the electricity isstored up in an accumulator of sixty-six large cells.The yearly expenses of running the farm under theold system were $1713.60, while under the elec-tric system they were reduced to $1492. Although it was not our intention to consider theapplication of electricity to the machinery of thefarm in this little book, yet we give room to a state-ment of Otto Doederlein, United States Consul atLeipsic, in his report to the Department of State, "in 1895, concerning The Plow Electric in Ger-many." He says, after giving elaborate figures:" It is thus evident that the working expenses ofthe electric plow for extensive husbandry amountto less than half of those incurred in working the -
  48. 48. steam plow. This contrast is readily explained,for (i) the capital sunk in plant is only one thirdof that required for the steam plow; (2) the ex-penses connected with the generating of power arematerially lower than is the case with the steamplow, in which a very considerable surplus powerhas to be raised in order to work the pulleys andbrakes and to overcome the stiffness of the rope;(3) the expensive transport of water is herein en-tirely done away with." His reference is to theElectric Tilting Plow, made by Messrs. Zimmer-mann & Co. He also adds, " I have been in-formed by the director of the Haale factory thatelectricity will shortly also be used in digging outpotatoes and sugar-beets." When electricity can be furnished more cheaplythan at present, what may not a combination ofelectric farm machinery, electric culture of thesoil, and electric stimulation of plant-life mean tothe farm ? The following extract from a lecture deliveredby the writer some years ago at a Farmers En-campment is appended, thinking a little electricspeculation may interest some of the readers: " The farmer we see in the future has no need ofhorses. Occasionally he may be found with a pairof spirited animals, with which to vary the monotonyof riding in his speedy electric carriage. His workis done by by some near-by electricity furnishedwaterfall, or by a combination of wind-engine andstorage-battery, or by some company which manu-factures electricity cheaply and sells it to communi-
  49. 49. 43ties of farmers. His produce is sent to the nearestshipping station by means of electric railways onthe highways, which run alike winter and summer,and which, when once put down, require no fillingup of chuck-holes and no plowing up of the sidesof the roadway and throwing of the dirt into thecentre. Scattered over his farm are numerous polescarrying insulated wires. Let us go out to his wheat-field and see what he is doing. It is the time ofharvest. We see an odd-looking reaper and binder ;from it, as it moves rapidly along, there pays outsome insulated wire which connects the reaper withthe wire coming to the field from the highway,through which wire it receives the energy whichruns it. Thus the farmer with great rapidity cuts,binds, and shocks his wheat; he does the workalone and complains not of weariness, but only ofa sense of loneliness. As he stops his machine fora few moments to shift the wire, he tells us that thismethod is getting too slow for him, on account ofthe reeling and unreeling of the wire, and that heis thinking of buying the latest patent which carriesitsown electric supply in storage-batteries, only hefears that the recent experiments looking towardmaking electricity directly from coal are so near tosuccess that this new machine, in turn, will soonbecome old-fashioned. " After he is done a wagon comes out, moved bythe same mysterious force, and gathering thesheaves, takes them to the barn. In course of timean electric thresher, which cannot set the barn onfirefrom red-hot cinders, separates and cleans thewheat; and soon the electric railway transports itto the market. " His electricplow is quite an improvement onthe one which not long ago turned up the first fur-row in American soil at the Kansas sorghum experi-ment station, and his electric harrow pulverizes theground to an evenness that is marvellous. ....
  50. 50. 44Among the many lesser inventions of which hemakes use, we notice a simple device to protectsome favorite trees from the invasion of caterpillars.The trunks of the trees have two narrow bands ofcopper around them at short distances apart.These bands are connected by wires with the polesof a battery capable of delivering a very strongcurrent. When a caterpillar crawls up one of thesetrees and crosses the metallic bands, it is in thesame unpleasant situation as the murderer in the4 electrocution chair at Sing Sing. Its bodymakes the connection between the terminals of thebattery, and it goes no farther. If the current ispowerful enough a diminutive arc-light is the result,and a cinder all that is left of the caterpillar. In-deed he is tempted to use this method, with somemodifications, in dealing with the chicken thief,the burglar, and even the ubiquitous tramp. " See the huge earth-batteries and tall geomag-netifers he uses in forcing his crops how he spreads ;electricity, as it were, through the soil, and keepslarge arc-lamps burning at night to still furtherassist in hastening the growth of his farm products.With the heat generated by these lamps, or bymeans of special resistance coils, generating it moreabundantly, he is able to prevent frosts doingdamage to his earlier and more tender fruits andvegetables. "Had the late rain-producing experiments beensuccessful, we might even picture this fortunatefarmer calling down the refreshing showers when-ever he thought his crops needed them. And if hebelieved, with Jean Paul Richter, that the thunder-storm-bath was as refreshing and invigorating tothe human system as to the trees and flowers, hewould invoke the storm with his bombs when hethought his grain needed rain, regardless of the factthat there was a picnic in the wood or a farmersencampment in the grove indeed, he would take
  51. 51. 45 out his wife and children and form a rain-party,and be invigorated and strengthened by thewonder-working arm of the thunder-cloud. " Our electric farmer, besides using electricityto assist in maturing his crops, has learned how toapply it to the destruction of one of his greatestenemies weeds. With a dynamo furnishing a cur-rent stepping up from 2000 to 24,000 volts, asneeded, he sends the current through the weeds bymeans Of brushes of fine wire passing among theirtops as his generator moves over the field, theother pole of the circuit being connected with theground through the wheels of the machine carryingthe dynamo. This strong current breaks up thecellular tissues of the weeds and thus destroys them just as, on a larger scale, a stroke of lightningdestroys a tree. ... In picturing the electricfarm one has a very large range of probabilities todraw upon, but there is ever the danger of his let-ting his fancy run riot and of making the electricfarm of the future appear a very Utopia; there willever be plenty of hard work for the farmer, even onthe model electric farm, but he will have morepleasure and satisfaction in his work, and, it is tobe hoped, more profit from it."
  52. 52. " 50Tn-7,l6
  53. 53. YB 12383UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LIBRARY

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