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“‘First then, Socrates, I want to show you that what is called the most complicated problem in agriculture by the authors who write most accurately on the theory of the subject, but are not practical farmers, is really a simple matter. [2] For they tell us that to be a successful farmer one must first know the nature of the soil.’

“‘Yes, and they are right,’ I remarked; ‘for if you don't know what the soil is capable of growing, you can't know, I suppose, what to plant or what to sow.’ [3]

“‘Well then,’ said Ischomachus, ‘you can tell by looking at the crops and trees on another man's land what the soil can and what it cannot grow. But when you have found out, it is useless to fight against the gods. For you are not likely to get a better yield from the land by sowing and planting what you want instead of the crops and trees that the land prefers. [4] If it happens that the land does not declare its own capabilities because the owners are lazy, you can often gather more correct information from a neighbouring plot than from a neighbouring proprietor. [5] Yes, and even if the land lies waste, it reveals its nature. For if the wild stuff growing on the land is of fine quality, then by good farming the soil is capable of yielding cultivated crops of fine quality. So the nature of the soil can be ascertained even by the novice who has no experience of farming.’ [6]

“‘Well, I think I am now confident, Ischomachus, that I need not avoid farming from fear of not knowing the nature of the soil. [7] The fact is, I am reminded that fishermen, though their business is in the sea, and they neither stop the boat to take a look nor slow down, nevertheless, when they see the crops as they scud past the farms, do not hesitate to express an opinion about the land, which is the good and which is the bad sort, now condemning, now praising it. And, what is more, I notice that in their opinion about the good land they generally agree exactly with experienced farmers.’ [8]

“‘Then, Socrates, let me refresh your memory on the subject of agriculture; but where do you wish me to begin? For I am aware that I shall tell you very much that you know already about the right method of farming.’ [9]

“‘First, Ischomachus, I think I should be glad to learn, for this is the philosopher's way, how I am to cultivate the land if I want to get the heaviest crops of wheat and barley out of it.’ [10]

“‘Well, you know, I take it, that fallow must be prepared for sowing?’

“‘Yes, I know.’ [11]

“‘Suppose, then, we start ploughing in winter?’

“‘Why, the land will be a bog!'

“‘How about starting in summer?’

“‘The land will be hard to plough up.’ [12]

“‘It seems that spring is the season for beginning this work.’

“‘Yes, the land is likely to be more friable if it is broken up then.’

“‘Yes, and the grass turned up is long enough at that season to serve as manure, but, not having shed seed, it will not grow. [13] You know also, I presume, that fallow land can't be satisfactory unless it is clear of weeds and thoroughly baked in the sun?’

“‘Yes, certainly; that is essential, I think.’ [14]

“‘Do you think that there is any better way of securing that than by turning the land over as often as possible in summer?’

“‘Nay, I know for certain that if you want the weeds to lie on the surface and wither in the heat, and the land to be baked by the sun, the surest way is to plough it up at midday in midsummer.’ [15]

“‘And if men prepare the fallow by digging, is it not obvious that they too must separate the weeds from the soil?’

“‘Yes, and they must throw the weeds on the surface to wither, and turn up the ground so that the lower spit1 may be baked.’”

1 Literally, the “crude land.”

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