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Voices from Auckland, New Zealand.

Forty Acres of Heavy Bush—What Use are They?

Forty Acres of Heavy Bush—What Use are They?

To the Editor of the New Zealander.

What can a man do with forty acres of heavy bush? He can, in five years, almost by his own labour, become the owner of forty acres of excellent grass land—by no means a discouraging prospect.

His first object on arriving upon his ground will be the erection of a suitable house. This, with the timber all around him, is by no means a formidable affair—its size will, of course, be suited to the requirements of his family—its materials to his own judgment or peculiar fancy.

Slabs split from the kauri, totara, rimu, or kahikatea—or palings from the first two—will in either case be the most suitable and most expeditious; let him shingle his roof, avoiding the use of either nikau or grass: time is money, and he will find that to split his own shingles and put them on himself, will be after all a quicker method than using either grass or nikau—certainly a more durable, a neater, and more weather-proof roof. If single-handed, he will for the first month require the assistance of another man in cross-cutting the logs for slabs or shingles, and in putting up the building, The doors and sashes (which he can buy ready-made in Auckland) and nails, will be the only money outlay in the erection of his house.

Allowing then a month for the completion of a moderate-sized house, say, 20 by 24, his next step is the immediate removal of his family from the expensive residence in page 90Auckland to the scene of their future operations. It is a settled fact, that, leaving aside the largest trees, say all three feet and over three feet through, that a man can fall one acre of bush in a week; and as we give the whole of the five years for the reclaimation of forty acres, and we shall only suppose ten acres to be cleared every year, the clearing these ten acres would take them as many weeks; but making allowances for the want of experience, &c. in a new hand, let us say for the first year fifteen weeks, or even four months.

Now, supposing him to comence on his farm at this present time, January 1st, taking one month for the house and four for the felling ten acres of bush, would bring him to the 1st of June. And then comes his next step—the formation of a good garden. It was quite right for him (as he will see bye-and-bye) to make this secondary to the clearing—for, in fact, it is the very first acre which he cleared which must constitute this garden, for by this time, that will of course be in the fittest condition for burning. He will then, in February, when he commences clearing, begin in such a place as he deems most suited for a garden—a northern aspect is best—a gentle slope better than flat ground; and between this acre and the remaining nine he will be careful to leave a strip of uncut bush, of not less than ten yards in depth, lest when he burns off the acre the fire becomes communicated to the other nine, which would be utter ruin to it. Some prefer a garden round the house, others at some little distance, otherwise the poultry are obliged to be kept away from the house—gardens and poultry being "opposite principles." If our settler is of the former opinion, it would be better to clear one acre at the very first before building his house, as every month gained before burning off, the easier, the cleaner, and the more complete the work, at the same time lopping off the branches of all the trees and cutting the trunks into lengths convenient for rolling, by the aid of levers, into twos and threes, where they will burn one another out, and to which the smaller pieces left after the running fire may be carried and consumed.

He must take the greatest possible care that the fire does not lay hold of the remaining nine acres, which will not be burned until the following March or April, for his whole success depends on keeping all fire from the fallen timber, until properly and sufficiently dried.

Burning this acre (which will be double the trouble it would have been had it been cut down twelve months sooner) may probably take him a fortnight or three weeks. In cross-cutting the heavy logs, if he cannot afford to hire labour, or if his family is too young to assist him, then it follows that he has a young wife—if one of the working-classes, she will page 91readily give him a hand at the cross-cut for a few hours in a day—if really a lady, she will be equally willing. And now that the rubbish is all burnt off, this acre he must commence preparing, say half of it, for the immediate growth of vegetables for the house; nor need he fear but that his crops of potatoes, peas, pumkins, cabbages, in fact all garden produce, will be remunerative the very first year. I have seen the very finest vegetables grown in bush land just burnt and dug up. This he will find the most tedious part of the whole work, breaking up the ground with a heavy adze and cutting out the roots as he goes on, which traverse the surface of the soil in every direction. The stumps of course he will not attempt to meddle with—they will remain for years as monuments of his industry. He will find that he can manage to break up the half of the garden in about a month, which brings him to about the end of July, and allows him another month to fence the garden in before he need commence sowing his vegetables. October even will be early enough for potatoes, though I would recommend September as the best month in the year for a general crop.

If he has no neighbours very close, it is likely that it might be profitable for him to fence in his garden, pig and chicken proof (a paling fence is the best, and easily come at in the bush); and as he will have no crops of his own for two years, to purchase two or more cows, a sow, a goat or two, and some poultry at once, giving them the open run of forest outside. Goats will thrive well in the bush, breed fast, and be a very useful substitute for what he cannot get—mutton—provided always they can be kept from annoying himself or neighbours.

"What!" I hear him exclaim, "no crop for two years?"—No, sir, no crop for two years, or you will fall into the common error of too many bush cultivators; for if you attempt to burn off your fallen timber before it is thoroughly dried, you will find that the fire will not properly consume it, but destroy so much of the lighter wood only as will render a second attempt to burn off, if not useless, at least excessively laborious: whereas if the wood is left till well rid of the sap, and thoroughly dry, the fire will clear all before it. Take a walk round most of the clearings in any bush district and see their two or three acre patches that have been burnt too soon but half cleared, and that with double labour—the crop only half what it should have been:—many have given in, in despair, and turned to the occupation of splitting, shingles, and sawing their timber for the market, while the land on which they expended so much labour is allowed to relapse into a wild state.

Neither are you of the bush worse off than we are of the fern: page 92we must wait two years for a crop: certainly we can plough up the ground, say in September, and sow it the next May or July with oats or wheat, as we think best—but what is the result? The crop so obtained will not pay for the expense of seed, reaping and threshing; whereas the same land, if cropped for the first time the year following, would allow a profit on these expenses and the ploughing too. Of what use then is it to crop, if for every twenty shillings worth of produce you must expend thirty? And yet we are told that this is one of the finest agricultural countries in the world!—And so it is; but its soil in most instances possesses this one peculiarity—that overcome, the soil and climate of New Zealand may compete with any in the world.

But not to digress: when the bush-settler has sown the half of his garden, already broken up (the largest portion I should advise with potatoes), he may commence breaking in the other half, which he may plant with maize or Indian corn and pumkins. Time enough if he plant these in November. This done, he must lop and log the nine acres already fallen, and then he can commence falling another ten acres for the next year's work. As a rule, however, the timber should be logged and lopped while green, cutting up more easily when in that state. Nor let him forget to leave a strip of from ten to twenty yards deep of uncut bush between the first and second ten acres, as the first clearing will be burnt off a year before the second ten. Thus every year after the first he will have ten acres ready for the fire. His fencing, which he may procure by splitting the larger logs into posts and rails, he will have all ready, so as to be put up as soon as the piece of ground is burnt off.

The burning off should be driven as late in the season as it is safe to do so—that there may intervene as little time as possible between the burning and sowing, for, otherwise, the weeds, which immediately commence growing, gain the start of the grain, and retain the mastery, the crop is lost, and the land is in a worse plight than before it was cleared, as it must then be broken up by hand for the next crop, a more laborious and costly undertaking than the clearing and burning. I think March a good time for burning off—the wheat may be sown in April: this is early for wheat, but it is unsafe to leave the operation of burning later in the season than the end of March. Supposing then the timber to have been fallen—as we have laid out for our settler—in the present February, March, and April of 1860 (another year he will be forwarder with his work and commence two months earlier), in March, 1861, he commences burning off. Some time in the next month (April) he sows the whole of it with winter wheat broad cast over the ashes, page 93using no means whatever to cover the seed; and early in the spring sows at the rate of two bushels of mixed grass seed, and eight pounds of clover to the acre over the young wheat—thus every year his farm will produce him ten acres of good wheat, and a fresh ten acres of meadow for the use of his cattle. Oats or barley, I know, are better crops to sow grass with than wheat—but he cannot do it, for the timber must be burnt off in the autumn, and if the ground were not sown till spring, the crop would be choked with weeds. Again, he must sow grass the first year, for to sow a second crop on the same ground would entail the necessity of breaking it up by hand—a piece of madness which would ruin him.

Now if the Bush cultivator pursue any other system, what is the result? instead of quickly getting his farm into good pasture, he remains half his life struggling for a living on a few acres—his first year's clearance—which keep him ever after too busy to take another paddock in hand, and he thus remains a poor man all his life.

I have seen excellent crops of wheat taken off land simply fallen and burned, better indeed than patches alongside, where the additional trouble had been taken of chipping the wheat in. The grass grows luxuriantly. As for the stumps they may be unsightly, but they do no harm to the land beyond the mere loss of the ground they stand upon. And to remove them would be paying very dear indeed for the extra land so gained. If the settler wishes to save a few of the handsomest trees scattered over his farm, either singly or in clumps, and he ought so to wish, he can do so by leaving at least a quarter of an acre of bush uncut around the tree he wishes to save—the fire will scorch and destroy the outside ones but not reach the centre: these may be afterwards removed at leisure: the same will be the case with the strips left between each year's clearing, part will be destroyed and part saved, and the latter should be allowed to remain for shelter and for ornament.

And now that the uninitiated has before him this rough sketch of how to proceed upon a farm, whether of 40 acres or 400, he can almost as well as a more experienced person estimate the necessary outlay and probable returns. He should at once possess himself of at least two milch cows (they will find plenty to eat in the wild bush, though he may stare when told so), according to circumstances, pigs, poultry, and goats—he must have the means of maintaining himself and family for at least two years, unless his land is so situated that his timber can be made available at once as a source of income. His seed the first year, for nine acres of wheat and grass, will not cost leas than £14 or page 94£15, and then there are the many incidental expenses of a family, of which as a single man, I neither know nor wish to know anything. After the second year he will have the produce of ten acres of wheat, perhaps some 150 bushels or thereabout, and his cows, as soon as he has some grass for them, will begin to return some profit in dairy produce. The sooner too, that he commences planting well worked fruit trees of the best sorts (which he can do the first autumn or winter in his garden), the sooner will another available, although much neglected source of income turn in. He can always, after the second year, save his own grass seed by reaping a sufficient quantity of grass for that purpose, which will be a saving of some ten pounds for grass seed every year. Every succeeding year, too, his dairy produce will increase. Thus after the second his garden, orchard, wheat, and dairy produce will afford him a comfortable living; the income from his dairy and orchard increasing every succeeding year, till at the end of the fifth he will receive the title to a farm worth in all probability from £400 to £600.