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Harris, Joseph / Talks on Manures A Series of Familiar and Practical Talks Between the Author and the Deacon, the Doctor, and other Neighbors, on the Whole Subject
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* * * * *


TALKS ON MANURES.

A Series of Familiar and Practical Talks
Between the Author and the Deacon, the Doctor,
and Other Neighbors, on the Whole Subject
of Manures and Fertilizers.

by

JOSEPH HARRIS, M.S.

Author of “Walks and Talks on the Farm,”
“Harris on the Pig,” etc.


NEW AND ENLARGED EDITION,

Including a Chapter Specially Written for It
by Sir John Bennet Lawes, of Rothamsted, England.


[Illustration: Publisher’s Logo]


New York:
Orange Judd Company,
1919





Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1883, by the
ORANGE JUDD COMPANY
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

Printed in U. S. A.




CONTENTS.


CHAPTER I.

Farming as a Business.-- High Farming and Good Farming.--
Summer-fallowing and Plowing under Clover.-- We must raise
larger Crops per Acre.-- Destruction of Weeds.-- Farming is
Slow Work.-- It requires Personal Attention. 9

CHAPTER II.

What is Manure?-- The definitions given by the Deacon and the
Doctor. 19

CHAPTER III.

Something about Plant-food.-- All soils on which plants grow
contain it.-- The Season.-- Water, Shade, Light, and Mulch,
not Manures.-- Several Definitions of Manure. 21

CHAPTER IV.

Natural Manure.-- Accumulated Plant-food in the Soil.-- Exhaustion
of the Soil.-- Why our Crops are so Poor.-- How to get Larger
Crops.-- We must Drain, Cultivate thoroughly, and Make Richer
Manure. 23

CHAPTER V.

Swamp-muck and Peat as Manure.-- Draining Swamp-land.--
Composition of Peat and Muck. 29

CHAPTER VI.

What is Potential Ammonia. 31

CHAPTER VII.

Tillage is Manure.-- The Doctor’s Lecture on Manure. 32

CHAPTER VIII.

Summer-fallowing.-- Mr. Lawes’ crop every other year.-- Wheat
after Barley.-- For Larger Crops raise less frequently, and
Manure Higher; also keep better Stock, and Feed Higher. 34

CHAPTER IX.

How to Restore a Worn-out Farm.-- The Author’s Farm.-- Tillage
renders the Plant-food stored in the soil available.--
Cultivated Lands contain less Plant-food, but are more
productive.-- Grass alone will not make rich land. 37

CHAPTER X.

How to Make Manure.-- We must get it out of the Land. 41

CHAPTER XI.

The Value of the Manure depends upon the Food--not upon the
Animal. 43

CHAPTER XII.

Foods which Make Rich Manure.-- Table giving the composition of
31 kinds of Food and the value of the Manure they yield.--
Cotton-seed Cake.-- English and German Clover.-- Nitrogenous
matter in Rich and Poor Foods.-- Manure from Corn compared
with that from Straw. 45

CHAPTER XIII.

Horse-manure and Farm-yard Manure.-- Why the one is richer than
the other.-- Amount of Manure from a Horse.-- Composition of
Farm-yard Manure.-- We draw and spread a ton to get 33 lbs. of
Nitrogen, Phosphoric Acid, and Potash. 50

CHAPTER XIV.

Fermenting Manure.-- Composition of Manure when Fresh and in
its stages of Fermentation.-- Loss in Fermentation and from
Leaching.-- Tables showing the composition of Manure at
different stages.-- Fermenting makes Manure more Soluble. 52

CHAPTER XV.

Keeping Manure under Cover.-- Dr. Vœlcker’s Experiments.-- Manure
Fermented Outside and Under Cover.-- Loss from keeping Manure
spread in the Barn-yard.-- Keeping well-rotted Manure in a
Heap.-- Conclusions from Dr. Vœlcker’s Experiments. 59

CHAPTER XVI.

An English Plan of Keeping Manure.-- Box feeding of Cattle.--
Spreading Manure at once.-- Piling in Heaps in the Field.--
Old Sods and Ashes from Charred Sods. 69

CHAPTER XVII.

Soluble Phosphates in Farm-yard Manure.-- Fermented, the Manure
has the most.-- Over 40 per cent. of the Phosphoric Acid is
Soluble. 72

CHAPTER XVIII.

How the Deacon makes Manure.-- A good plan for making poor Manure. 74

CHAPTER XIX.

How John Johnston Manages His Manure. Summer-fallows for Wheat.--
Does not plow under Clover.-- Value of Manure from different
foods.-- Piling Manure.-- Applies Manure to Grass-land in Fall,
and Plows under in Spring for Corn.-- His success due to the
Effect of Manure on Grass.-- It brought in Red Clover. 76

CHAPTER XX.

The Author’s Plan of Managing Manure.-- Piles as fast as it is
Made.-- What it is Made of.-- Horse and Cow Manure Together.--
Horse Manure for Bedding Pigs.-- To Prevent Freezing.-- Liquid
Manure from Pigs.-- Bedding Sheep.-- Piling in the Field.--
Where the Piles should be Made.-- Manure in a Basin.-- Reasons
for Piling.-- What we Gain by Fermenting Manure. 83

CHAPTER XXI.

Management Continued.-- Why We Ferment Manure.-- Dr. Vœlcker’s
Experiments showing the Loss when Manure is spread in Yards.--
Fermenting adds Nothing to Manure, but makes it more
available.-- Mr. Lawes’ Experiments on Wheat and Barley.-- Dr.
Vœlcker’s Results.-- Ellwander & Barry’s Experience.-- Loss of
Ammonia by Fermenting.-- Waste from Leaching.-- How to Save the
Liquid Manure from Cows. 94

CHAPTER XXII.

Manure on Dairy Farms.-- Wheat removes much more Nitrogen than
Cheese.-- Manures for Dairy Farms.-- Letter from Hon. Harris
Lewis.-- How to make more and better Manure on Dairy Farms.--
How to save and apply it.-- Letter from T. L. Harison, Esq. 101

CHAPTER XXIII.

Management of Manures on Grain Farms.-- Letter from Hon. Geo.
Geddes.-- Grain on Dairy Farms.-- Sheep on Grain Farms.-- Visit
to John Johnston.-- Mr. Lawes’ Wheat-field.-- Mr. Geddes and
Clover.-- Gypsum and Clover as Manures. 111

CHAPTER XXIV.

The Cheapest Manure a Farmer can use.-- Clover vs. Tillage.-- As
Plant-Food.-- Constituents of a Crop of Clover, as compared with
one of Wheat.-- Making a Farm Rich by Growing Clover. 127

CHAPTER XXV.

Dr. Vœlcker’s Experiments on Clover.-- Lawes and Gilbert’s on
Wheat.-- Clover Roots per Acre.-- Manures for Wheat.-- Liebig’s
Manure Theory.-- Peruvian Guano on Wheat.-- Manures and the
Quality of Wheat.-- Ammonia.-- Over 50 Bushels of Wheat to the
Acre. 135

CHAPTER XXVI.

Experiments on Clover Soils from Burcott Lodge Farm, Leighton
Buzzard.-- Soil from Part of 11-acre Field twice Mown for Hay.--
Soil from do. once Mown for Hay and left for Seed.-- Amount of
Roots left in the Soil by different Crops.-- Manures for Wheat. 149

CHAPTER XXVII.

Lawes and Gilbert’s Experiments on Wheat.-- Most Valuable and
Instructive Tables now first made accessible to the American
Farmer.-- The growth of Wheat Year after Year on the same Land,
unmanured, with Farm-yard Manure, and with various Organic and
Inorganic Fertilizers. 170

CHAPTER XXVIII.

Lime as a Manure.-- Prof. Way’s Experiments.-- The uses of Lime in
the Soil.-- Lime in this Country.-- Composts with Lime. 215

CHAPTER XXIX.

Manures for Barley.-- Composition of Barley, grain and straw.--
Valuable Tables giving the Results of Lawes and Gilbert’s
Experiments on the growth of Barley, Year after Year, on the
same Land, without Manure, and with different kinds of Manure.--
Manure and Rotation of Crops. 227

CHAPTER XXX.

Manures for Oats.-- Experiments at Rothamsted.-- Experiments of
Mr. Bath of Virginia.-- At Moreton Farm. 252

CHAPTER XXXI.

Manures for Potatoes.-- Peruvian Guano for Potatoes.-- Manure from
different Foods.-- Experiments at Moreton Farm.-- Mr. Hunter’s
Experiments. 255

CHAPTER XXXII.

What Crops should Manure be Applied to?-- How, and When?-- John
J. Thomas’ manner of Applying Manure.-- Top Dressing.-- Doct.
Vœlcker’s Experiments. 265

CHAPTER XXXIII.

Manures on Permanent Meadows and Pastures.-- Experiments at
Rothamsted. 271

CHAPTER XXXIV.

Manures for Special Crops.-- Hops.-- Indian Corn.-- Turnips.--
Mangel-Wurzel or Sugar-Beets.-- Cabbages, Parsnips, Lettuce,
Onions, etc. 274

CHAPTER XXXV.

Manures for Gardens and Orchards.-- Market Gardens.-- Seed-growing
Farms.-- Private Gardens.-- Hot-beds.-- Manure for Nurserymen.--
Fruit Growers.-- Hen-Manure. 294

CHAPTER XXXVI.

Different Kinds of Manures.-- Cow Manure.-- Sheep Manure.-- Buying
Manure.-- Liquid Manure.-- Nightsoil and Sewage.-- Peruvian
Guano.-- Salts of Ammonia and Nitrate of Soda. 302

CHAPTER XXXVII.

Bone-Dust and Superphosphate of Lime.-- Bone furnishes Nitrogen
as well as Phosphate of Lime.-- Increasing the Availability of
Bone with Sulphuric Acid. 314

CHAPTER XXXVIII.

Special Manures.-- Liebig’s Views.-- Special Manure for Wheat and
Turnips.-- Rothamsted Experiments. 320

CHAPTER XXXIX.

Value of Fertilizers.-- Cost per pound of the Essential
Constituents of Fertilizers.-- Value of Guanos.-- Potash as a
Manure. 324

CHAPTER XL.

Restoring Fertility to the Soil, a Chapter by Sir John Bennet
Lawes.-- The Treatment of a Poor Farm, to Restore it most
Profitably.-- Meat-making the Back-bone of the System.-- The
Use of Sheep to Manure the Soil.-- The Feeding of Cotton-seed
Cake.-- Artificial Manures not Profitable on Poor Land.--
The Loss of Nitrogen.-- The Formation of Nitric Acid. 342

APPENDIX.

Letter from Edward Jessop.-- From Dr. E. L. Sturtevant.-- From
M. C. Weld.-- From Peter Henderson.-- From J. B. M. anderson.--
Manure Statistics of Long Island.-- Letter from J. H. Rushmore.--
Letter from John E. Backus.-- Manure in Philadelphia.-- Various
other Letters. 352




INTRODUCTION TO NEW AND ENLARGED EDITION.


Sir John Bennet Lawes kindly consented to write a Chapter for the new
edition of this work. The Deacon, the Doctor, the Squire, Charlie and
myself all felt flattered and somewhat bashful at finding ourselves in
such distinguished company. I need not say that this new Chapter from
the pen of the most eminent English agricultural investigator is worthy
of a very careful study. I have read it again and again, and each time
with great and renewed interest. I could wish there was more of it. But
to the intelligent and well-informed reader this Chapter will be valued
not merely for what it contains, but for what it omits. A man who knew
less would write more. Sir John goes straight to the mark, and we have
here his mature views on one of the most important questions in
agricultural science and practice.

Sir John describes a tract of poor land, and tells us that the cheapest
method of improving and enriching it is, to keep a large breeding flock
of sheep, and feed them American cotton-seed cake. We are pleased to
find that this is in accordance with the general teaching of our
“Talks,” as given in this book several years ago.

When this work was first published, some of my friends expressed
surprise that I did not recommend the more extended use of artificial
manures. One thing is certain, since that time the use of superphosphate
has been greatly on the increase. And it seems clear that its use must
be profitable. Where I live, in Western New York, it is sown quite
generally on winter wheat, and also on barley and oats in the spring.
On corn and potatoes, its use is not so common. Whether this is because
its application to these crops is not so easy, or because it does not
produce so marked an increase in the yield per acre, I am unable to say.

Our winter wheat is sown here the first, second, or (rarely) the third
week in September. We sow from one and a half to two and a quarter
bushels per acre. It is almost invariably sown with a drill. The drill
has a fertilizer attachment that distributes the superphosphate at the
same time the wheat is sown. The superphosphate is not mixed with the
wheat, but it drops into the same tubes with the wheat, and is sown with
it in the same drill mark. In this way, the superphosphate is deposited
where the roots of the young plants can immediately find it. For barley
and oats the same method is adopted.

It will be seen that the cost of sowing superphosphate on these crops
is merely nominal. But for corn and potatoes, when planted in hills,
the superphosphate must be dropped in the hill by hand, and, as we are
almost always hurried at that season of the year, we are impatient at
anything which will delay planting even for a day. The boys want to go
fishing!

This is, undoubtedly, one reason why superphosphate is not used so
generally with us for corn as for wheat, barley, and oats. Another
reason may be, that one hundred pounds of corn will not sell for
anything like as much as one hundred pounds of wheat, barley, and oats.

We are now buying a very good superphosphate, made from Carolina rock
phosphate, for about one and a half cents per pound. We usually drill in
about two hundred pounds per acre at a cost of three dollars. Now, if
this gives us an increase of five bushels of wheat per acre, worth six
dollars, we think it pays. It often does far better than this. Last year
the wheat crop of Western New York was the best in a third of a century,
which is as far back as I have had anything to do with farming here.
From all I can learn, it is doubtful if the wheat crop of Western New
York has ever averaged a larger yield per acre since the land was first
cultivated after the removal of the original forest. Something of this
is due to better methods of cultivation and tillage, and something,
doubtless, to the general use of superphosphate, but much more to the
favorable season.

The present year our wheat crop turned out exceedingly poor. Hundreds of
acres of wheat were plowed up, and the land resown, and hundreds more
would have been plowed up had it not been for the fact that the land
was seeded with timothy grass at the time of sowing the wheat, and with
clover in the spring. We do not like to lose our grass and clover.

Dry weather in the autumn was the real cause of the poor yield of wheat
this year. True, we had a very trying winter, and a still more trying
spring, followed by dry, cold weather. The season was very backward. We
were not able to sow anything in the fields before the first of May, and
our wheat ought to have been ready to harvest in July. On the first of
May, many of our wheat-fields, especially on clay land, looked as bare
as a naked fallow.

There was here and there, a good field of wheat. As a rule, it was on
naturally moist land, or after a good summer-fallow, sown early. I know
of but one exception. A neighboring nursery firm had a very promising
field of wheat, which was sown late. But their land is rich and
unusually well worked. It is, in fact, in the very highest condition,
and, though sown late, the young plants were enabled to make a good
strong growth in the autumn.

In such a dry season, the great point is, to get the seed to germinate,
and to furnish sufficient moisture and food to enable the young plants
to make a strong, vigorous growth of roots in the autumn. I do not say
that two hundred pounds of superphosphate per acre, drilled in with the
seed, will always accomplish this object. But it is undoubtedly a great
help. It does not furnish the nitrogen which the wheat requires, but
if it will stimulate the production of roots in the early autumn, the
plants will be much more likely to find a sufficient supply of nitrogen
in the soil than plants with fewer and smaller roots.

In a season like the past, therefore, an application of two hundred
pounds of superphosphate per acre, costing three dollars, instead of
giving an increase of five or six bushels per acre, may give us an
increase of fifteen or twenty bushels per acre. That is to say, owing
to the dry weather in the autumn, followed by severe weather in the
winter, the weak plants on the unmanured land may either be killed out
altogether, or injured to such an extent that the crop is hardly worth
harvesting, while the wheat where the phosphate was sown may give us
almost an average crop.

Sir John B. Lawes has somewhere compared the owner of land to the owner
of a coal mine. The owner of the coal digs it and gets it to market in
the best way he can. The farmer’s coal mine consists of plant food, and
the object of the farmer is to get this food into such plants, or such
parts of plants, as his customers require. It is hardly worth while for
the owner of the coal mine to trouble his head about the exhaustion of
the supply of coal. His true plan is to dig it as economically as he
can, and get it into market. There is a good deal of coal in the world,
and there is a good deal of plant food in the earth. As long as the
plant food lies dormant in the soil, it is of no value to man. The
object of the farmer is to convert it into products which man and
animals require.

Mining for coal is a very simple matter, but how best to get the
greatest quantity of plant food out of the soil, with the least waste
and the greatest profit, is a much more complex and difficult task.
Plant food consists of a dozen or more different substances. We have
talked about them in the pages of this book, and all I wish to say here
is that some of them are much more abundant, and more readily obtained,
than others. The three substances most difficult to get at are: nitric
acid, phosphoric acid and potash. All these substances are in the soil,
but some soils contain much more than others, and their relative
proportion varies considerably. The substance which is of the greatest
importance, is nitric acid. As a rule, the fertility of a soil is in
proportion to the amount of nitric acid which becomes available for the
use of plants during the growing season. Many of our soils contain large
quantities of nitrogen, united with carbon, but the plants do not take
it up in this form. It has to be converted into nitric acid. Nitric acid
consists of seven pounds of nitrogen and twenty pounds of oxygen. It is
produced by the combustion of nitrogen. Since these “Talks” were
published, several important facts have been discovered in regard to how
plants take up nitrogen, and especially in regard to how organic
nitrogen is converted into nitric acid. It is brought about through the
action of a minute fungoid plant. There are several things necessary for
the growth of this plant. We must have some nitrogenous substance,
a moderate degree of heat, say from seventy to one hundred and twenty
degrees, a moderate amount of moisture, and plenty of oxygen. Shade is
also favorable. If too hot or too cold, or too wet or too dry, the
growth of the plant is checked, and the formation of nitric acid
suspended. The presence of lime, or of some alkali, is also necessary
for the growth of this fungus and the production of nitric acid. The
nitric acid unites with the lime, and forms nitrate of lime, or with
soda to form nitrate of soda, or with potash to form nitrate of potash,
or salt-petre. A water-logged soil, by excluding the oxygen, destroys
this plant, hence one of the advantages of underdraining. I have said
that shade is favorable to the growth of this fungus, and this fact
explains and confirms the common idea that shade is manure.

The great object of agriculture is to convert the nitrogen of our soils,
or of green crops plowed under, or of manure, into nitric acid, and then
to convert this nitric acid into profitable products with as little loss
as possible. Nitrogen, or rather nitric acid, is the most costly
ingredient in plant food, and unfortunately it is very easily washed out
of the soil and lost. Perhaps it is absolutely impossible to entirely
prevent all loss from leaching; but it is certainly well worth our while
to understand the subject, and to know exactly what we are doing. In a
new country, where land is cheap, it may be more profitable to raise as
large crops as possible without any regard to the loss of nitric acid.
But this condition of things does not last long, and it very soon
becomes desirable to adopt less wasteful processes.

In Lawes and Gilbert’s experiments, there is a great loss of nitric
acid from drainage. In no case has as much nitrogen been obtained in the
increased crop as was applied in the manure. There is always a loss and
probably always will be. But we should do all we can to make this loss
as small as possible, consistent with the production of profitable
crops.

There are many ways of lessening this loss of nitric acid. Our farmers
sow superphosphate with their wheat in the autumn, and this stimulates,
we think, the growth of roots, which ramify in all directions through
the soil. This increased growth of root brings the plant in contact with
a larger feeding surface, and enables it to take up more nitric acid
from its solution in the soil. Such is also the case during the winter
and early spring, when a good deal of water permeates through the
soil. The application of superphosphate, unquestionably in many cases,
prevents much loss of nitric acid. It does this by giving us a much
greater growth of wheat.

I was at Rothamsted in 1879, and witnessed the injurious effect of an
excessive rainfall, in washing out of the soil nitrate of soda and salts
of ammonia, which were sown with the wheat in the autumn. It was an
exceedingly wet season, and the loss of nitrates on all the different
plots was very great. But where the nitrates or salts of ammonia were
sown in the spring, while the crops were growing, the loss was not
nearly so great as when sown in the autumn.

The sight of that wheat field impressed me, as nothing else could, with
the importance of guarding against the loss of available nitrogen from
leaching, and it has changed my practice in two or three important
respects. I realize, as never before, the importance of applying manure
to crops, rather than to the land. I mean by this, that the object of
applying manure is, not simply to make land rich, but to make crops
grow. Manure is a costly and valuable article, and we want to convert it
into plants, with as little delay as possible, which will, directly or
indirectly, bring in some money.

Our climate is very different from that of England. As a rule, we seldom
have enough rain, from the time corn is planted until it is harvested,
to more than saturate the ground on our upland soils. This year is an
exception. On Sunday night, May 20, 1883, we had a northeast storm which
continued three days. During these three days, from three to five inches
of rain fell, and for the first time in many years, at this season, my
underdrains discharged water to their full capacity. Had nitrate of
soda been sown on bare land previous to this rain, much of it would,
doubtless, have been lost by leaching. This, however, is an exceptional
case. My underdrains usually do not commence to discharge water before
the first of December, or continue later than the first of May. To guard
against loss of nitrogen by leaching, therefore, we should aim to keep
rich land occupied by some crop, during the winter and early spring, and
the earlier the crop is sown in the autumn or late summer, the better,
so that the roots will the more completely fill the ground and take up
all the available nitrogen within their reach. I have said that this
idea had modified my own practice. I grow a considerable quantity of
garden vegetables, principally for seed. It is necessary to make the
land very rich. The plan I have adopted to guard against the loss of
nitrogen is this: As soon as the land is cleared of any crop, after it
is too late to sow turnips, I sow it with rye at the rate of one and a
half to two bushels per acre. On this rich land, especially on the moist
low land, the rye makes a great growth during our warm autumn weather.
The rye checks the growth of weeds, and furnishes a considerable amount
of succulent food for sheep, during the autumn or in the spring. If not
needed for food, it can be turned under in the spring for manure. It
unquestionably prevents the loss of considerable nitric acid from
leaching during the winter and early spring.

Buckwheat, or millet, is sometimes sown on such land for plowing under
as manure, but as these crops are killed out by the winter, they cannot
prevent the loss of nitric acid during the winter and spring months. It
is only on unusually rich land that such precautions are particularly
necessary. It has been thought that these experiments of Lawes and
Gilbert afford a strong argument against the use of summer-fallows. I do
not think so. A summer-fallow, in this country, is usually a piece of
land which has been seeded down one, two, and sometimes three years,
with red clover. The land is plowed in May or June, and occasionally in
July, and is afterwards sown to winter wheat in September. The treatment
of the summer-fallow varies in different localities and on different
farms.

Sometimes the land is only plowed once. The clover, or sod, is plowed
under deep and well, and the after-treatment consists in keeping the
surface soil free from weeds, by the frequent use of the harrow, roller,
cultivator or gang-plow. In other cases, especially on heavy clay land,
the first plowing is done early in the spring, and when the sod is
sufficiently rotted, the land is cross-plowed, and afterwards made fine
and mellow by the use of the roller, harrow, and cultivator. Just before
sowing the wheat, many good, old-fashioned farmers, plow the land again.
But in this section, a summer-fallow, plowed two or three times during
the summer, is becoming more and more rare every year.

Those farmers who summer-fallow at all, as a rule, plow their land but
once, and content themselves with mere surface cultivation afterwards.
It is undoubtedly true, also, that summer fallows of all kinds are by
no means as common as formerly. This fact may be considered an argument
against the use of summer-fallowing; but it is not conclusive in my
mind. Patient waiting is not a characteristic of the age. We are
inclined to take risks. We prefer to sow our land to oats, or barley,
and run the chance of getting a good wheat crop after it, rather than to
spend several months in cleaning and mellowing the land, simply to grow
one crop of wheat.

It has always seemed to me entirely unnecessary to urge farmers not to
summer-fallow. We all naturally prefer to see the land occupied by a
good paying crop, rather than to spend time, money, and labor, in
preparing it to produce a crop twelve or fifteen months afterwards. Yet
some of the agricultural editors and many of the agricultural writers,
seem to take delight in deriding the old-fashioned summer-fallow. The
fact that Lawes and Gilbert in England find that, when land contains
considerable nitric acid, the water which percolates through the soil
to the underdrains beneath, contains more nitrate of lime when the land
is not occupied by a crop, than when the roots of growing plants fill
the soil, is deemed positive proof that summer-fallowing is a wasteful
practice.

If we summer-fallowed for a spring crop, as I have sometimes done, it
is quite probable that there would be a loss of nitrogen. But, as I have
said before, it is very seldom that any water passes through the soil
from the time we commence the summer-fallow until the wheat is sown in
the autumn, or for many weeks afterwards. The nitrogen, which is
converted into nitric acid by the agency of a good summer-fallow, is
no more liable to be washed out of the soil after the field is sown to
wheat in the autumn, than if we applied the nitrogen in the form of some
readily available manure.

I still believe in summer fallows. If I had my life to live over again,
I would certainly summer-fallow more than I have done. I have been an
agricultural writer for one-third of a century, and have persistently
advocated the more extended use of the summer-fallow. I have nothing
to take back, unless it is what I have said in reference to
“fall-fallowing.” Possibly this practice may result in loss, though
I do not think so.

A good summer-fallow, on rather heavy clay land, if the conditions are
otherwise favorable, is pretty sure to give us a good crop of wheat, and
a good crop of clover and grass afterwards. Of course, a farmer who has
nice, clean sandy soil, will not think of summer-fallowing it. Such
soils are easily worked, and it is not a difficult matter to keep them
clean without summer-fallowing. Such soils, however, seldom contain a
large store of unavailable plant food, and instead of summer-fallowing,
we had better manure. On such soils artificial manures are often very
profitable, though barn-yard manure, or the droppings of animals feeding
on the land, should be the prime basis of all attempts to maintain, or
increase, the productiveness of such soils.

Since this book was first published, I do not know of any new facts
in regard to the important question of, how best to manage and apply
our barn-yard manure, so as to make it more immediately active and
available. It is unquestionably true, that the same amount of nitrogen
in barn-yard manure, will not produce so great an effect as its
theoretical value would indicate. There can be no doubt, however, that
the better we feed our animals, and the more carefully we save the
liquids, the more valuable and active will be the manure.

The conversion of the inert nitrogen of manures and soils, into nitric
acid, as already stated, is now known to be produced by a minute fungus.
I hope it will be found that we can introduce this _bacterium_ into our
manure piles, in such a way as to greatly aid the conversion of inert
nitrogen into nitrates.

Experiments have been made, and are still continued, at Woburn, under
the auspices of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, to ascertain,
among other things, whether manure from sheep receiving an allowance of
cotton-seed cake is any richer than that from sheep, otherwise fed
alike, but having, instead of cotton-seed cake, the same amount of corn
meal. We know that such manure contains more nitrogen, and other plant
food, than that from the corn meal. But the experiments so far, though
they have been continued for several years, do not show any striking
superiority of the manure from cotton-seed cake over that from corn
meal. I saw the wheat on these differently manured plots in 1879. Dr.
Vœlcker and Dr. Gilbert, told me that, one of two plots was dressed with
the cotton-seed manure, and the other with the corn meal manure, and
they wanted me to say which was the most promising crop. I believe the
one I said was the better, was the cotton-seed plot. But the difference
was very slight. The truth is that such experiments must be continued
for many years before they will prove anything. As I said before, we
know that the manure from the cotton-seed cake is richer in nitrogen
than that from the corn meal; but we also know that this nitrogen will
not produce so great an effect, as a much smaller amount of nitrogen in
salts of ammonia, or nitrate of soda.

In going over these experiments, I was struck with the healthy and
vigorous appearance of one of the plots of wheat, and asked how it was
manured. Dr. Vœlcker called out, “clover, Mr. Harris, clover.” In
England, as in America, it requires very little observation and
experience to convince any one of the value of clover. After what I
have said, and what the Deacon, the Doctor, Charley and the Squire have
said, in the pages of this book, I hope no one will think that I do not
appreciate the great value of red clover as a means of enriching our
land. Dr. Vœlcker evidently thought I was skeptical on this point. I am
not. I have great faith in the benefits to be derived from the growth
of clover. But I do not think it originates fertility; it does not get
nitrogen from the atmosphere. Or at any rate, we have no evidence of it.
The facts are all the other way. We have discussed this question at
considerable length in the pages of this book, and it is not necessary
to say more on the subject. I would, however, particularly urge farmers,
especially those who are using phosphates freely, to grow as much clover
as possible, and feed it out on the farm, or plow it under for manure.

The question is frequently asked, whether the use of phosphates will
ultimately impoverish our farms. It may, or it may not. It depends on
our general management. Theoretically, the use of a manure furnishing
only one element of plant food, if it increases the growth of crops
which are sold from the farm, must have a tendency to impoverish the
land of the other elements of plant food. In other words, the use of
superphosphate furnishing only, or principally, phosphoric acid, lime
and sulphuric acid, must have a tendency to impoverish the soil of
nitrogen and potash. Practically, however, it need do nothing of the
kind. If the land is well cultivated, and if our low, rich, alluvial
portions of the farm are drained, and if the hay, grass, clover, straw
and fodder crops are retained, the more phosphates we use, the richer
and more productive will the farm become. And I think it is a fact, that
the farmers who use the most phosphates, are the very men who take the
greatest pains to drain their land, cultivate it thoroughly, and make
the most manure. It follows, therefore, that the use of phosphates is a
national benefit.

Some of our railroad managers take this view of the subject. They
carry superphosphate at a low rate, knowing that its use will increase
the freight the other way. In other words, they bring a ton of
superphosphate from the seaboard, knowing that its use will give them
many tons of freight of produce, from the interior to the seaboard. It
is not an uncommon thing for two hundred pounds of superphosphate, to
give an increase of five tons of turnips per acre. Or, so to speak, the
railroad that brings one ton of superphosphate from the seaboard, might,
as the result of its use, have fifty tons of freight to carry back
again. This is perhaps an exceptionably favorable instance, but it
illustrates the principle. Years ago, before the abolition of tolls on
the English turnpike roads, carriages loaded with lime, and all other
substances intended for manure, were allowed to go free. And our
railroads will find it to their interest to transport manures of all
kinds, at a merely nominal rate.

Many people will be surprised at the recommendation of Sir John B.
Lawes, not to waste time and money in cleaning poor land, before seeding
it down to grass. He thinks that if the land is made rich, the superior
grasses overgrow the bad grasses and weeds. I have no doubt he is right
in this, though the principle may be pushed to an extreme. Our climate,
in this country, is so favorable for killing weeds, that the plow and
the cultivator will probably be a more economical means of making our
land clean, than the liberal use of expensive manures. It depends,
doubtless, on the land and on circumstances. It is well to know that
manure on grass land, will so increase the growth of the good grasses,
as to smother the weeds. Near my house was a piece of land that I wanted
to make into a lawn. I sowed it with grass seed, but the weeds smothered
it out. I plowed it, and hoed it, and re-seeded it, but still the weeds
grew. Mallows came up by the thousand, with other weeds too numerous to
mention. It was an eye-sore. We mowed the weeds, but almost despaired of
ever making a decent bit of grass land out of it. It so happened that,
one year, we placed the chicken coops on this miserable weedy spot. The
hens and chickens were kept there for several weeks. The feed and the
droppings made it look more unsightly than ever, but the next spring,
as if by magic, the weeds were gone and the land was covered with dark
green luxuriant grass.

In regard to the use of potash as a manure, we have still much to learn.
It would seem that our grain crops will use soda, if they cannot get
potash. They much prefer the potash, and will grow much more luxuriantly
where, in the soil or manure, in addition to the other elements of plant
food, potash is abundant. But the increased growth caused by the potash,
is principally, if not entirely, straw, or leaves and stem. Nature makes
a great effort to propagate the species. A plant of wheat or barley,
will produce seed if this is possible, even at the expense of the other
parts of the plant.

For grain crops, grown for seed, therefore, it would seem to be entirely
unprofitable to use potash as a manure. If the soil contains the other
elements of plant food, the addition of potash may give us a much more
luxuriant growth of leaves and stem, but no more grain or seed. For hay,
or grass or fodder crops, the case is very different, and potash may
often be used on these crops to great advantage.

I am inclined to think that considerable nitrate of soda will yet be
used in this country for manure. I do not suppose it will pay as a rule,
on wheat, corn and other standard grain crops. But the gardener, seed
grower, and nurseryman, will find out how to use it with great profit.
Our nurserymen say that they cannot use artificial manures with any
advantage. It is undoubtedly true that a dressing of superphosphate,
sown on a block of nursery trees, will do little good. It never reaches
the roots of the plants. Superphosphate can not be washed down deep into
the soil. Nitrate of soda is readily carried down, as deep as the water
sinks. For trees, therefore, it would seem desirable to apply the
superphosphate before they are planted, and plow it under. And the same
is true of potash; but nitrate of soda would be better applied as a
top-dressing every year, early in the spring.

The most discouraging fact, in Lawes’ and Gilbert’s experiments, is the
great loss of nitrogen. It would seem that, on an average, during the
last forty years, about one-half the nitrogen is washed out of the soil,
or otherwise lost. I can not but hope and believe that, at any rate in
this country, there is no such loss in practical agriculture. In Lawes’
and Gilbert’s experiments on wheat, this grain is grown year after year,
on the same land. Forty annual crops have been removed. No clover is
sown with the wheat, and great pains are taken to keep the land clean.
The crop is hoed while growing, and the weeds are pulled out by hand.
The best wheat season during the forty years, was the year 1863.



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Main -> Harris, Joseph -> Talks on Manures A Series of Familiar and Practical Talks Between the Author and the Deacon, the Doctor, and other Neighbors, on the Whole Subject