Cleve 27. October 1796
Owing to my absence from home on the arrival of our weekly post, I did not receive your Favor of the 17th inst. until the 24th at night. I immediately prepared a Letter for continuance of the correspondence, you seemed to be willing to comply with—Upon a review of that Letter tho, I resolved to suppress it on acct of the subject: That was of a nature to involve too much of conjecture. Your well known Character assures me that you wish only to tread upon established ground: Therefore the food of Plants is too unasscertained a subject, I imagine, to be acceptable.
I will for the present content myself with laying before you some experience, that I have had, in the course of crops best adapted to the restoration of the Land: And I must request you to keep in view the postulata in my late Letter. I once wrote a Society in George Town in Culpepper County; which was printed in the Gazzette, by Timothy Green, in Fredericksburg, 9. Octobe[r] 1794. Extra: That too would perhaps aid my letter; but I must request you to suppose me to have been free from those blunders, the Coppyist, or Printer, have stamped upon it; for it is by a false stop changed from my expression.
The rational conclusion from my Postulata is, that cultivation under fit Crops & proper method, will restore land from a State of stirillity to a pristine fertillity. If Earth is considered to enter into the composition of vegitable food, that is seen to circulate in the Air; & a free divided state of the Soil, under proper guards against heat, must be the most ap[t] state for attracting matter so arranged: And the same may be remarked of each matter that has ever been advocated as the Chief agent in that business.
The mode of Plowing I have pointed out; and you will see my choice of Crops, in the publication alluded to, fully argued as to fitness. I have chiefly now to express my favorite arrangement.
A naked Fallow I deem to be destructive of the Land; and even when manured it is but a cross operation. I would practice Fallow in preferrence to Indian Corn preparation; for small grain: But I would solicit shade, in aid to oblique plowing, to make my Fallow conducive to fertillity. Indian Pease is the growth I have adopted, not merely for its shade but as a moderate claimant from the Earth, by means of its direct down root; and because it occasions a profuse tendency to it; of such aerial matters as lead to fructify the Earth: For that plant strongly attracts from the Air. To make this draft the more copious, it will perhaps occur to you that there must be a croud of them together, for collectiveness is not, in this case, as two to three but as two to four. On account of those ideas I never sow them broad; I should thereby single the pease, and loose the benefit of Plowing thro’ the season: Leaving the soil to grow compact, and in a Level position; which reduces the surface, that presents to the Air, to the least possible extent. I plant the pease 12, 15, or even 20, in a place—say in furrows three feet apart & 18, to 30 inches in the step; tho I have it in contemplation to put in future 10, to 12, & only one foot in the step; and when I plow them, the mouldbd always directs the cast to a ridge in the middle; So as that the pease will ultimately stand on a little ridge: And I plow so close as even to start them & press them over.
Let not this alarm the Farmer; for the plant sustains so much from the air, that it never flags for so rude a push, but gathers vigor from the near approach of the air to its ruits: Nor can they suffer injury from a crouded state, for the Same reason; but rather acquire accumulated supplies by the association. My Letter grows long, and the continuation of the subject must be deferred.
I am equally with you convinced of the utillity of Societies toward the promotion of any Science; and should exult to find an Establishment of that kind, under cong[e]nial Auspices, in some way practicable. A Recluse myself, and under a consequent want of Influence, any attempt by me to set such a thing on foot would of course be fruitless; therefore has not been at all aimed at on my part. But I willingly would follow; tho I cannot lead. I am Dear Sir with every Sentiment of Esteem and respect for you and for your relative regards Your most Obt & very hmble Servant
P.S. As possibly you may not come at once to the Gazzette [and] it may be necessary for the better understanding my La[st] post I have inclose you one from my File—to be returned.
DLC: Papers of George Washington.