On Agriculture

Cato the Elder


Introduction: of the dignity of the farmer

The pursuits of commerce would be as admirable as they are profitable if they were not subject to so great risks: and so, likewise, of banking, if it was always honestly conducted. For our ancestors considered, and so ordained in their laws, that, while the thief should be cast in double damages, the usurer should make four-fold restitution. From this we may judge how much less desirable a citizen they esteemed the banker than the thief. When they sought to commend an honest man, they termed him good husbandman, good farmer. This they rated the superlative of praise. Personally, I think highly of a man actively and diligently engaged in commerce, who seeks thereby to make his fortune, yet, as I have said, his career is full of risks and pitfalls. But it is from the tillers of the soil that spring the best citizens, the stanchest soldiers; and theirs are the enduring rewards which are most grateful and least envied. Such as devote themselves to that pursuit are least of all men given to evil counsels.

And now, to get to my subject, these observations will serve as preface to what I have promised to discuss.

Of buying a farm

  When you have decided to purchase a farm, be careful not to buy rashly; do not spare your visits and be not content with a single tour of inspection. The more you go, the more will the place please you, if it be worth your attention. Give heed to the appearance of the neighborhood, — a flourishing country should show its prosperity. "When you go in, look about, so that, when needs be, you can find your way out."

Take care that you choose a good climate, not subject to destructive storms, and a soil that is naturally strong. If possible, your farm should be at the foot of a mountain, looking to the South, in a healthy situation, where labor and cattle can be had, well watered, near a good sized town, and either on the sea or a navigable river, or else on a good and much frequented road. Choose a place which has not often changed ownership, one which is sold unwillingly, that has buildings in good repair.

Beware that you do not rashly contemn the experience of others. It is better to buy from a man who has farmed successfully and built well.

When you inspect the farm, look to see how many wine presses and storage vats there are; where there are none of these you can judge what the harvest is. On the other hand, it is not the number of farming implements, but what is done with them, that counts. Where you find few tools, it is not an expensive farm to operate. Know that with a farm, as with a man, however productive it may be, if it has the spending habit, not much will be left over.

Of the duties of the owner

  When you have arrived at your country house and have saluted your household, you should make the rounds of the farm the same day, if possible; if not, then certainly the next day. When you have observed how the field work has progressed, what things have been done, and what remains undone, you should summon your overseer the next day, and should call for a report of what work has been done in good season and why it has not been possible to complete the rest, and what wine and com and other crops have been gathered. When you are advised on these points you should make your own calculation of the time necessary for the work, if there does not appear to you to have been enough accomplished.

The overseer will report that he himself has worked diligently, but that some slaves have been sick and others truant, the weather has been bad, and that it has been necessary to work the public roads. When he has given these and many other excuses, you should recall to his attention the program of work which you had laid out for him on your last visit and compare it with the results attained. If the weather has been bad, count how many stormy days there have been, and rehearse what work could have been done despite the rain, such as washing and pitching the wine vats, cleaning out the barns, sorting the grain, hauling out and composting the manure, cleaning seed, mending the old gear, and making new, mending the smocks and hoods furnished for the hands.

On feast days the old ditches should be mended, the public roads worked, briers cut down, the garden dug, the meadow cleaned, the hedges trimmed and the clippings collected and burned, the fish pond cleaned out. On such days, furthermore, the slaves' rations should be cut down as compared with what is allowed when they are working in the fields in fine weather.

When this routine has been discussed quietly and with good humor and is thoroughly understood by the overseer, you should give orders for the completion of the work which has been neglected.

The accounts of money, supplies and provisions should then be considered. The overseer should report what wine and oil has been sold, what price he got, what is on hand, and what remains for sale. Security should be taken for such accounts as ought to be secured. All other unsettled matters should be agreed upon. If any thing is needed for the coming year, it should be bought; every thing which is not needed should be sold. Whatever there is for lease should be leased. Orders should be given (and take care that they are in writing) for all work which next it is desired to have done on the farm or let to contract. You should go over the cattle and determine what is to be sold. You should sell the oil, if you can get your price, the surplus wine and corn, the old cattle, the worn out oxen, and the cull sheep, the wool and the hides, the old and sick slaves, and if any thing else is superfluous you should sell that.

The appetite of the good farmer is to sell, not to buy.

  Be a good neighbor. Do not roughly give offense to your own people. If the neighborhood regards you kindly, you will find a readier market for what you have to sell, you will more easily get your work done, either on the place or by contract. If you build, your neighbors will aid you with their services, their cattle and their materials. If any misfortune should overtake you (which God forbid!) they will protect you with kindly interest.

Of laying out the farm

  If you ask me what is the best disposition to make of your estate, I would say that should you have bought a farm of one hundred jugera [about 66 acres] all told, in the best situation, it should be planted as follows: 1.) a vineyard, if it promises a good yield, 2.) an irrigated garden, 3.) an osier bed, 4.) an olive yard, 5.) a meadow, 6.) a corn field, 7.) a wood lot, 8.) a cultivated orchard, and 9.) a mast grove.

  In his youth, the farmer ought diligently to plant his land, but he should ponder before he builds. Planting does not require reflection, but demands action. It is time enough to build when you have reached your thirty-sixth year, if you have farmed your land well meanwhile. When you do build, let your buildings be proportioned to your estate, and your estate to your buildings. It is fitting that the farm buildings should be well constructed, that you should have ample oil cellars and wine vats, and a good supply of casks, so that you can wait for high prices, something which will redound to your honor, your profit and your self-respect.

  Build your dwelling house in accordance with your means. If you build well in a good situation and on a good property, and furnish the house suitably for country life, you will come there more often and more willingly. The farm will then be better, fewer mistakes will be made, and you will get larger crops. The face of the master is good for the land.

  Plant elm trees along the roads and fence rows, both that you may have the leaves to feed the sheep and cattle, and the timber will be available if you need it. If any where there are banks of streams or wet places, there plant reeds; and surround them with willows that the osiers may serve to tie the vines.

  It is most convenient to set out the land nearest the house as an orchard, whence fire wood and faggots may be sold and the supply of the master obtained. In this enclosure should be planted every thing fitting to the land and vines should be married to the trees.

  Near the house lay out also a garden with garland flowers and vegetables of all kinds, and set it about with myrtle hedges, both white and black, as well as Delphic and Cyprian laurel.

Of stocking the farm

  An olive farm of two hundred and forty jugera [160 acres] ought to be stocked as follows: an overseer, a house keeper, five laborers, three ox drivers, one swineherd, one ass driver, one shepherd; in all thirteen hands: three pair of oxen, three asses with pack saddles, to haul out the manure, one other ass to turn the mill, and one hundred sheep.

Of the duties of the overseer

  These are the duties of the overseer: He should maintain discipline. He should observe the feast days. He should respect the rights of others and steadfastly uphold his own. He should settle all quarrels among the hands; if any one is at fault he should administer the punishment. He should take care that no one on the place is in want, or lacks food or drink; in this respect he can afford to be generous, for he will thus more easily prevent picking and stealing.

Unless the overseer is of evil mind, he will himself do no wrong, but if he permits wrong-doing by others, the master should not suffer such indulgence to pass with impunity. He should show appreciation of courtesy, to encourage others to practice it. He should not be given to gadding or conviviality, but should be always sober. He should keep the hands busy, and should see that they do what the master has ordered. He should not think that he knows more than his master. The friends of the master should be his friends, and he should give heed to those whom the master has recommended to him. He should confine his religious practices to the cross roads altar on festival days, or to his own house.

He should lend money to no man unbidden by the master, but what the master has lent he should collect. He should never lend any seed reserved for sowing, feed, corn, wine, or oil, but he should have relations with two or three other farms with which he can exchange things needed in emergency. He should state his accounts with his master frequently. He should not keep any hired men or day hands longer than is necessary. He should not sell any thing without the knowledge of the master, nor should he conceal any thing from the master. He should not have any hangers-on, nor should he consult any soothsayer, fortune teller, necromancer, or astrologer. He should not spare seed in sowing, for that is bad economy. He should strive to be expert in all kinds of farm work, and, without exhausting himself, often lend a hand. By so doing, he will better understand the point of view of his hands, and they will work more contentedly; moreover, he will have less inclination to gad, his health will be better, and he will sleep more refreshingly.

First up in the morning, he should be the last to go to bed at night; and before he does, he should see that the farm gates are closed, and that each of the hands is in his own bed, that the stock have been fed. He should see that the best of care is taken of the oxen, and should pay the highest compliments to the teamsters who keep their cattle in the best condition. He should see to it that the plows and plow shares are kept in good repair. Plan all the work in ample time, for so it is with farm work, if one thing is done late, every thing will be late.

  When it rains try to find some thing to do indoors. Clean up, rather than remain idle. Remember that while work may stop, expenses still go on.

Of the duties of the housekeeper

  The overseer should be responsible for the duties of the housekeeper. If the master has given her to you for a wife, you should be satisfied with her, and she should respect you. Require that she be not given to wasteful habits; that she does not gossip with the neighbors and other women. She should not receive visitors either in the kitchen or in her own quarters. She should not go out to parties, nor should she gad about. She should not practice religious observances, nor should she ask others to do so for her without the permission of the master or the mistress. Remember that the master practices religion for the entire household. She should be neat in appearance and should keep the house swept and garnished. Every night before she goes to bed she should see that the hearth is swept and clean.

On the Kalends, the Ides, the Nones, and on all feast days, she should hang a garland over the hearth. On those days also she should pray fervently to the household gods. She should take care that she has food cooked for you and for the hands. She should have plenty of chickens and an abundance of eggs. She should diligently put up all kinds of preserves every year.

Of the hands

  The following are the customary allowances for food: For the hands, four pecks of meal for the winter, and four and one-half for the summer. For the overseer, the housekeeper, the wagoner, the shepherd, three pecks each. For the slaves, four pounds of bread for the winter, but when they begin to cultivate the vines this is increased to five pounds until the figs are ripe, then return to four pounds.

The sum of the wine allowed for each hand per annum is eight quadrantals, or Amphora, but add in the proportion as they do work. Ten quadrantals per annum is not too much to allow them to drink.

  Save the wind fall olives as much as possible as relishes for the hands. Later set aside such of the ripe olives as will make the least oil. Be careful to make them go as far as possible. When the olives are all eaten, give them fish pickles and vinegar. One peck of salt per annum is enough for each hand.

  Allow each hand a smock and a cloak every other year. As often as you give out a smock or cloak to any one take up the old one, so that caps can be made out of it. A pair of heavy wooden shoes should be allowed every other year.

Of draining

  If the land is wet, it should be drained with trough shaped ditches dug three feet wide at the surface and one foot at the bottom and four feet deep. Blind these ditches with rock. If you have no rock then fill them with green willow poles braced crosswise. If you have no poles, fill then with faggots. Then dig lateral trenches three feet deep and four feet wide in such way that the water will flow from the trenches into the ditches.

  In the winter surface water should be drained off the fields. On hillsides courses should be kept clear for the water to flow off. During the rainy season at the beginning of Autumn is the greatest risk from water. When it begins to rain all the hands should go out with picks and shovels and clear out the drains so that the water may flow off into the roads, and the crops be protected.

Of preparing the seed bed

What is the first principle of good agriculture? To plow well. What is the second? To plow again; and the third is to manure. When you plow corn land, plough well and in good weather, lest you turn a cloddy furrow. The other things of good agriculture are to sow seed plentifully, to thin the young sprouts, and to hill up the roots with earth.

  Never plow rotten land nor drive flocks or carts across it.

If care is not taken about this, the land so abused will be barren for three years.

Of manure

  Plan to have a big compost heap and take the best of care of the manure. When it is hauled out see that it is well rotted and spread. The Autumn is the time to do this.

  You can make manure of litter, lupine straw, chaff, bean stalks, husks and the leaves of ilex and of oak.

  Fold your sheep on the land which you are about to seed, and there feed them leaves.

Of soil improvement

  The things which are harmful to corn land are to plow the ground when it is rotten, and to plant chick peas which are harvested with the straw and are salt. Barley, fenugreek and pulse all exhaust corn land, as well as all other things which are harvested with the straw. Do not plant nut trees in the corn land. On the other hand, lupines, field beans and vetch manure corn land.

  Where the soil is rich and fertile, without shade, there the corn land ought to be. Where the land lies low, plant rape, millet, and panic grass.

Of forage crops

If you have a water meadow you will not want forage, but if not then sow an upland meadow, so that hay may not be lacking.

Save your hay when the times comes, and beware lest you mow too late. Mow before the seed is ripe. House the best hay by itself, so that you may feed it to the draft cattle during the spring plowing, before the clover is mature.

  Sow, for feed for the cattle, clover, vetch, fenugreek, field beans and pulse. Sow these crops a second and a third time.

Of planting

  Wherever the land is cold and wet, sow there first, and last of all in the warmest places.

Of pastures

  Manure the pastures in early spring in the dark of the moon, when the west wind begins to blow. When you close your pastures (to the stock) clean them and root out all weeds.

Of feeding live stock

As long as they are available, feed green leaves of elm, poplar, oak and fig to your cattle and sheep.

  Store leaves, also, to be fed to the sheep before they have withered.

  Take the best of care of your dry fodder, which you house for the winter, and remember always how long the winter may last.

  Be sure you have well constructed stables furnished with substantial stalls and equipped with latticed feed racks. The intervals between the bars of the racks should be one foot. If you build them in this way, the cattle will not waste their food.

This is the way that provender should be prepared and fed: When the seeding is finished, gather mast and soak it in water. Feed a measure of it every day to each steer; or if they have not been worked it will be sufficient to let them pasture the mast beds. Another good feed is a measure of grape husks which you shall have preserved in jars. By day turn the cattle out and at night feed twenty-five pounds of hay to each steer. If hay is short, feed the leaves of the ilex and ivy.

Stack the straw of wheat, barley, beans, vetch and lupine, indeed all the grain straws, but pick out and house the best of it. Scatter your straw with salt and you can then feed it in place of hay. When in the spring you begin to feed (more heavily to prepare for work), feed a measure of mast or of grape husks, or a measure of ground lupines, and fifteen pounds of hay. When the clover is ripe, feed that first. Gather it by hand so that it will bloom a second time, for what you harvest with the sickle blooms no more. Feed clover until it is dry, then feed vetch and then panic grass, and after the panic grass feed elm leaves. If you have poplar, mix that with the elm so that the elm may last the longer. If you have no elm feed oak and fig leaves.

Nothing is more profitable than to take good care of your cattle.

Cattle should not be put out to graze except in winter when they are not worked; for when they eat green stuff they expect it all the time, and it is then necessary to muzzle them while they plow.

Of the care of live stock

  The flocks and herds should be well supplied with litter and their feet kept clean. If litter is short, haul in oak leaves, they will serve as bedding for sheep and cattle. Beware of scab among the sheep and cattle. This comes from hunger and exposure to rain.

  To prevent the oxen from wearing down their hoofs, anoint the bottom of the hoof with liquid pepper before driving them on the highroad.

Take care that during the summer the cattle drink only sweet and fresh water. Their health depends on it.

To prevent scab among sheep, make a mixture of equal parts of well strained amurca [dregs of olive oil], of water in which lupine has been steeped, and of lees of good wine. After shearing, anoint all the flock with this mixture, and let them sweat profusely for two or three days. Then dip them in the sea. If you have no sea water, make salt water and dip then in that. If you will do this they will suffer no scab, they will have more and better wool and they will not be molested by ticks.

  If an ox begins to sicken, give him without delay a raw hen's egg and make him swallow it whole. The next day make him drink from a wooden bowl a measure of wine in which has been scraped the head of an onion. Both the ox and his attendant should do these things fasting and standing upright.

  If a serpent shall bite an ox, or any other quadruped, take a cup of that extract of fennel, which the physicians call smyrnean, and mix it with a measure of old wine. Inject this through his nostrils and at the same time poultice the wound with hogs' dung. You can treat a man the same way.

  If a bone is dislocated it can be made sound by this incantation. Take a green reed four or five feet long, cut it in the middle and let two men hold the pieces against your hips. Begin then to chant as follows:

"ln Alio. S. F. Motas Vaeta,
Danes Dardaries Astataries Dissunapiter"

and continue until the free ends of the reed are brought slowly together in front of you. Meanwhile, wave a knife above the reeds, and when they come together and one touches the other, seize them in your hand and cut them right and left. These pieces of reed bound upon a dislocated or fractured bone will cure it.

But every day repeat the incantation, or in place of it this one:

"Huat Hanat Huat
lsta Pista Sista
Domiabo Damnaustra."

Of cakes and salad

This is the recipe for cheese cake [libum]: Bray well two pounds of cheese in a mortar, and, when this is done, pour in a pound of corn meal (or, if you want to be more dainty, a half pound of flour) and mix it thoroughly with the cheese. Add one egg and beat it well. Pat into a cake, place it on leaves and bake slowly on a hot hearth stone under a dish.

This is the recipe for olive salad [epityrum]: Select some white, black and mottled olives and stone them. Mix and cut them up. Add a dressing of oil, vinegar, coriander, cumin, fennel, rue and mint. Mix well in an earthen ware dish, and serve with oil.

This is the recipe for must cake [mustaceus]: Sprinkle a peck of wheat flour with must. Add anise, cumin, two pounds of lard, a pound of cheese and shredded laurel twigs. When you have kneaded the dough, put laurel leaves under it and so bake.

Of curing hams

This is the way to cure hams in jars or tubs: When you have bought your hams trim off the hocks. Take a half peck [semodius] of ground Roman salt for each ham. Cover the bottom of the jar or tub with salt and put in a ham, skin down. Cover the whole with salt and put another ham on top, and cover this in the same manner. Be careful that meat does not touch meat. So proceed, and when you have packed all the hams, cover the top with salt so that no meat can be seen, and smooth it out even. When the hams have been in salt five days, take them all out with the salt and repack them, putting those which were on top at the bottom. Cover them in the same way with salt and press them down.

After the twelfth day remove the hams finally, brush off the salt and hang them for two days in the wind. On the third day wipe them off clean with a sponge and rub them with (olive) oil. Then hang them In smoke for two days, and on the third day rub them with a mixture of (olive) oil and vinegar.

Then hang them in the meat house, and neither bats nor worms will touch them.

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