What Bill Nye Knows About Farming

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A Texas toad. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) 

In 1885, two of the existing farm implement papers at the time, Farm Implement, published by E.J. Baker, and Farm Implement News, merged under the editorship of Charles W. Marsh who, along with his brother William, invented the celebrated Marsh harvester. The first combined issue was that of April, 1885, and, even though humor was a rarity in the farm papers back then, it contained the following more or less humorous story.

During the past season I was considerably interested in agriculture. I met with some success, but not enough to madden me with joy. It takes a good deal of success to unscrew my reason and make it totter on its throne.

Agriculture has a charm about it which I cannot adequately describe. Every product of the farm is furnished by nature with something that loves it so that it will never be neglected. The grain crop is loved by the weevil, the Hessian fly and the cinch bug; the watermelon, squash and cucumber are loved by the squash bug; the potato by the potato bug; the cabbage and tomato by the cutworm; and so forth and so on, so that no plant need be a wallflower.

Well, I began early to spade up my angle-worms and other pets to see if they had survived the severe winter and found they had. They were unusually bright and cheerful—oh, the potato bugs were a little sluggish at first, but as the ground warmed up they pitched right in and did first rate. Along in April I had not seen a cutworm and began to fear they had perhaps perished in the past winter’s extreme cold.

One morning late in the month, however, I saw a cutworm come out from a cabbage stump and take off his muffler and ear muffs. He was a little stiff in the joints but he had not lost hope. I saw at once now was the time to assist him if I had a spark of humanity left. I searched agricultural papers, the encyclopedia and the almanac to see what farmers feed their blamed cutworms, but nary a word. I feared that I had brought but one cutworm through the bitter winter and now I was liable to lose him unless I could find what to feed him. I even askes my neighbors, who jeered and spoke sarcastically. Apparently all their cutworms had died last winter and they couldn’t stand to see me get ahead.

All at once I had a brain storm! The worm had wintered under a cabbage stalk; ergo, he was fond of that food. So I bought him two dozen red cabbage plants, at 50 cents a dozen. I had hit it! He was passionately fond of these plants and would eat down two or three in one night. He also had several sauerkraut festivals for his friends and I had to buy three dozen more cabbage plants.

By this time I had collected a large group of common scrub cut worms, early Swedish cut worms, dwarf Hubbard cut worms, and even some registered shorthorn cut worms, all doing well, but I thought, a little listless and bilious. As my squash bugs, currant worms, potato bugs, etc., were all doing well without care, I devoted myself almost exclusively to my cut worms. They were all strong and well but seemed melancholy with nothing to eat day after day but cabbages.

I therefore bought five dozen large tomato plants that the worms ate at the rate of eight or ten each night. In a week the cut worms had thrown off that air of ennui and languor that I had formerly noticed and were gay and light hearted. I got them some more tomato plants and then some more cabbage for a change. On the whole I was as proud as any young farmer who has made a success of anything.

Then one morning I noticed a cabbage plant still standing unmolested, and the next day it was still there! I was thunderstruck! I spaded up the whole patch but there wasn’t one worm. Just as I had become attached to them and they had learned to look forward each day to my coming, when they would almost come up and eat a tomato plant out of my hand, someone had robbed me of them. I was almost wild with despair and grief.

Just then I saw something move at the corner of the garden. It was bumpy and mostly all stomach but it had a foot at each corner. My neighbor said it was a warty toad. That critter had eaten up my summer’s work and had swallowed all my cunning little cut worms. I tell you, gentle reader, unless some way is provided whereby this warty toad scourge can be wiped out, I for one shall relinquish the joys of agricultural pursuits. When a common toad, with a bad complexion and no intellect, can swallow up my summer’s work it is time to pause.

I don’t know who Bill Nye was, but he told a pretty clever story.

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