Once upon a time there dwelt near a large wood a poor wood-cutter, with his wife and two children by his former marriage, a little boy called Hansel and a girl named Gretel. He had little enough to eat; and once, when there was a great fam... Read more of Hansel And Gretel at Children Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational

A Lesson Of To-day
About Tree-planting
Accounts In Farming
Agricultural Exhibitions
Alkalis Salt Ashes Lime
Bones Phosphates Guano
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Buying A Farm
Co-operation In Farming
Commercial Fertilizers Gypsum
Draining Generally

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What I Know Of Farming

Bones Phosphates Guano

I hate to check improvement or chill the glow of Faith; yet I do so
keenly apprehend that many of our people, especially among the Southern
cotton-growers, are squandering money on Commercial Fertilizers, that I
am bound to utter my note of warning, even though it should pass wholly
unheeded. Let me make my position as clear as I can.

I live in a section which has been cultivated for more than two
centuries, while its proximity to a great city has tempted to crop it
incessantly, exhaustively. Wheat while its original surface soil of six

to twelve inches of vegetable mold (mainly composed of decayed
forest-leaves) remained; then Corn and Oats; at length, Milk, Beef, and
Apples--have exhausted the hill-sides and gentler slopes of Westchester
County, except where they have been kept in heart by judicious culture
and liberal fertilizing; and, even here, that subtle element,
Phosphorus, which enters minutely but necessarily into the composition
of every animal and nearly every vegetable structure has been gradually
drawn away in Grain, in Milk, in Bones, and not restored to the soil by
the application of ordinary manures. I am convinced that a field may be
so manured as to give three tuns of Hay per acre, yet so destitute of
Phosphorus that a sound, healthy animal cannot be grown therefrom. For
two centuries, the tillers of Westchester County knew nothing of
Chemistry or Phosphorus, and allowed the unvalued bones of their animals
to be exported to fatten British meadows, without an effort to retain
them. Hence, it has become absolutely essential that we buy and apply
Phosphates, even though the price be high; for our land can no longer do
without them. Wherever a steer or heifer can occasionally be caught
gnawing or mumbling over an old bone, there Phosphates are
indispensable, no matter at what cost. Better pay $100 per tun for a
dressing of one hundred pounds of Bone per acre than try to do without.

But no lands recently brought into cultivation--no lands where the bones
of the animals fed thereon have been allowed, for unnumbered years past,
to mingle with the soil--can be equally hungry for Phosphates; and I
doubt that any cotton-field in the South will ever return an outlay of
even $50 per tun for any Phosphatic fertilizer whatever. That any
preparation of Bone, or whereof Bone is a principal element, will
increase the succeeding crops, is undoubted; but that it will ever
return its cost and a decent margin of profit, is yet to be demonstrated
to my satisfaction.

No doubt, there are special cases in which the application even of
Peruvian Guano at $90 per tun is advisable. A compost of Muck, Lime,
&c., equally efficient, might be far cheaper; but months would be
required to prepare and perfect it, and meantime the farmer would lose
his crop, or fail to make one. If a tun of Guano, or of some expensive
Phosphate, will give him six or eight acres of Clover where he would
otherwise have little or none, and he needs that Clover to feed the team
wherewith he is breaking up and fitting his farm to grow a good crop
next year, he may wisely make the purchase and application, even though
he may be able to compost for next year's use twice the value of
fertilizers for the precise cost of this. But I am so thorough in my
devotion to "home industry," that I hold him an unskillful farmer who
cannot, nine times in ten, make, mainly from materials to be found on or
near his farm, a pile of compost for $100 that will add more to the
enduring fertility of his farm than anything he can bring from a
distance at a cost of $150.

Understand that this is a general rule, and subject, like all general
rules, to exceptions. Gypsum, I think every farmer should buy; Lime
also, if his soil needs it; Phosphates in some shape, if past ignorance
or folly has allowed that soil to be despoiled of them; Wood Ashes, if
any one can be found so brainless as to sell them; Marl, of course,
where it is found within ten miles; Guano very rarely, and mainly when
something is needed to make a crop before coarser and colder
fertilizers can be brought into a condition of fitness for use; but the
general rule I insist on is this: A good farmer will, in the course of
twenty or thirty years, make at least $10 worth of fertilizers for every
dollar's worth he buys from any dealer, unless it be the sweepings or
other excretions of some not distant city.

I have used Guano frequently, and, though it has generally made its
mark, I never yet felt sure that it returned me a profit over its cost.
Phosphates have done better, especially where applied to Corn in the
hill, either at the time of planting or later; yet my strong impression
is that Flour of Bone, applied broadcast and freely, especially when
Wheat or Oats are sown on a field that is to be laid down to Grass, pays
better and more surely than anything else I order from the City, Gypsum,
and possibly Oyster-Shell Lime, excepted.

My experience can be no safe guide for others, since it is not proved
that the anterior condition and needs of their soils are precisely like
those of mine. I apprehend that Guano has not had a fair trial on my
place--that carelessness in pulverizing or in application has caused it
to "waste its sweetness on the desert air," or that a drouth following
its application has prevented the due development of its virtues. And
still my impression that Guano is the brandy of vegetation, supplying to
plants stimulus rather than nutrition, is so clear and strong that it
may not easily be effaced. It seems to me plainly absurd to send ten
thousand miles for this stimulant, when this or any other great city
annually poisons its own atmosphere and the adjacent waters with
excretions which are of very similar character and value, and which
Science and Capital might combine to utilize at less than half the cost
of like elements in the form of Guano.

My object in this paper is to incite experiment and careful observation.
No farmer should absolutely trust aught but his own senses. A Rhode
Islander once assured me that he applied to four acres of thin, slaty
gravel one hundred pounds per acre of Nitrate of Soda which cost him $4
per hundred, and obtained therefrom four additional tuns of good Hay,
worth $15 per tun: Net profit (after allowing for the cost of making the
Hay), say $30. He might not be so fortunate on a second trial, and there
may not be another four acres of the earth's surface where Nitrate of
Soda would do so well; but, should I ever have a fair opportunity, I
mean to see what a little of that Nitrate will do for me. And I hope
farmers may more and more be induced to conform in practice to the
Apostolic precept, "Prove all things: Hold fast that which is good." No
one's success or failure in a particular instance should be conclusive
with others, because of the infinite diversity of antecedent and
attendant circumstances; but if every thrifty farmer would give to each
of the commercial fertilizers--Lime, Gypsum, Guano, Raw Bone,
Phosphates, Ashes, Salt, Marl, etc.--such a careful trial as he might,
observing closely and recording carefully the results, we should soon
have a mass of facts and results, wherefrom deductions might be drawn of
signal practical value to the present and to future generations.

I firmly believe that great results of signal beneficence are to be
slowly but surely achieved by means of the household convenience known
as the Earth-Closet, and by kindred devices for rendering inoffensive
and utilizing the most powerful fertilizer produced on every farm and in
every household. That is a vulgar squeamishness which leaves it to
poison the atmosphere and offend the senses on the assumption that it is
too noisome to be dealt with or utilized. A true refinement counsels
that it be daily covered, and its odor absorbed or suppressed by earth,
or muck, or ashes, and thus prepared for removal to and incorporation
with the soil. It is far within the truth to estimate our National loss
by the waste of this material at $1 per head, or $40,000,000 in all per
annum: a waste which is steadily diminishing the productive capacity of
our soil. This cannot, must not, be allowed to continue. We must devise
or adopt some mode of securing and applying this powerful fertilizer;
and I defer to that which is already in extensive and daily expanding
use. Let whoever can do better; but meantime let us welcome and diffuse
the Earth Closet.

Next: Muck How To Utilize It

Previous: Soils And Fertilizers

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