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Virgil — Soil types

Georgics, book 2, lines 226–258

Suppose you want to understand
the differences in types of soil:
is this one looser, this one denser than the kind you’re used to?
Here’s the way to do it.
Dense soil’s good for corn; and loose is best for vines.
First pick a spot where you can tell your men
to dig a deep pit in the ground,
then put the earth back in again
and tread it down to make it even at the top.
If the spoil comes short,
the soil is loose, and suitable for pasture
and the cultivation of our valued friend, the vine.
But if it won’t fit back into its place
and there is earth left over when the pit is filled,
the soil is dense; expect to find
tough clods and stubborn ridges there;
to break that ground you’ll need strong oxen.
Salty land — the kind that sometimes we call bitter —
is no good for crops, and ploughing doesn’t sweeten it;
its vines are mediocre and its apples not worth mentioning.
To test it, get your tightly woven wicker baskets
and your wine-press strainers from the smoky roof space.
Fill them to the brim with this bad soil and fresh spring water.
Stamp the mixture down.
You’ll see the water trickle through the wicker in big drops.
Its taste will give the game away;
the tasters’ mouths will pucker at the bitterness.
The only way to know rich soil is to knead it in the hand;
it never crumbles
and it sticks like pitch between your fingers as you work it.
Moist soil can be too rich; taller grasses flourish there
but spare me over-fertile ground,
too strong a stimulant for delicate young corn!
Both heavy soil and light reveal their nature placidly, by weight.
The naked eye can quickly spot black soil
or earth of any other colour.
But the worst of all, and hardest to detect,
is cold soil; only pitch pines, noxious yew trees and black ivy
sometimes indicate the patches where it lies. Avoid!

Virgil — Georgics, book 2, lines 226–258

Nunc quo quamque modo possis cognoscere dicam.
rara sit an supra morem si densa requires
(altera frumentis quoniam fauet, altera Baccho,
densa magis Cereri, rarissima quaeque Lyaeo),
ante locum capies oculis, alteque iubebis
in solido puteum demitti, omnemque repones
rursus humum et pedibus summas aequabis harenas.
si derunt, rarum pecorique et vitibus almis
aptius uber erit; sin in sua posse negabunt
ire loca et scrobibus superabit terra repletis,
spissus ager: glaebas cunctantis crassaque terga
exspecta et validis terram proscinde iuuencis.
salsa autem tellus et quae perhibetur amara
(frugibus infelix ea, nec mansuescit arando
nec Baccho genus aut pomis sua nomina seruat),
tale dabit specimen: tu spisso vimine qualos
colaque prelorum fumosis deripe tectis;
huc ager ille malus dulcesque a fontibus undae
ad plenum calcentur: aqua eluctabitur omnis
scilicet et grandes ibunt per vimina guttae;
at sapor indicium faciet manifestus, et ora
tristia temptantum sensu torquebit amaro.
pinguis item quae sit tellus, hoc denique pacto
discimus: haud unquam manibus iactata fatiscit,
sed picis in morem ad digitos lentescit habendo.
umida maiores herbas alit, ipsaque iusto
laetior. a, nimium ne sit mihi fertilis illa,
nec se praeualidam primis ostendat aristis!
quae gravis est, ipso tacitam se pondere prodit,
quaeque leuis. promptum est oculis praediscere nigram,
et quis cui color. at sceleratum exquirere frigus
difficile est: piceae tantum taxique nocentes
interdum aut hederae pandunt uestigia nigrae.