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What I Know Of Farming

Commercial Fertilizers Gypsum

Prices vary so widely in different localities that no fertilizer can be
pronounced everywhere cheapest or best worth buying; and yet I doubt
that there is a rood of our country's surface in fit condition to be
cultivated to which Gypsum (Plaster of Paris) might not be applied with
profit. Where it costs $10 or over per tun, I would apply it
sparingly--say, one bushel per acre--while I judge three bushels per
acre none too much in regions where it may be bought much cheaper. Even
the poor man who has but one cow, should buy a barrel of it, and dust
his stable therewith after cleaning it each day. He who has a stock of
cattle should never be without it, and should freely use it, alike in
stable and yard, to keep down the noisome odors, and thus retain the
volatile elements of the manure. Every meadow, every pasture, should be
sown with it at least triennially; where it is abundant and cheap, as in
Central New-York, I would apply it each year, unless careful observation
should satisfy me that it no longer subserved a good purpose.

As to the time of application, while I judge any season will do, my
present impression is that it will do most good if applied when the
Summer is hottest and the ground driest. If, for instance, you close
your haying in mid-Summer, having been hurried by the rapid ripening of
the grass, and find your meadows baked and cracked by the intense heat,
I reckon that you may proceed to dust those meadows with Gypsum with a
moral certainty that none of it will be wasted. So if your Corn and
other Fall crops are suffering from and likely to be stunted by drouth,
I advise the application of Gypsum broadcast, as evenly as may be and as
bounteously as its price and your means will allow. I do not believe it
so well to apply it specially to the growing stalks, a spoon-full or so
per hill; and I doubt that it is ever judicious to plant it in the
hill with the seed. The readiest and quickest mode of application is
also, I believe, the best.

How Gypsum impels and invigorates vegetable growth, I do not pretend
to know; but that it does so was demonstrated by Nature long before
Man took the hint that she freely gave. The city of Paris and a
considerable adjacent district rest on a bed of Gypsum, ranging from
five to twenty feet below the surface, and considerably decomposed in
its upper portion by the action of water. This region produces Wheat
most luxuriantly, and I presume has done so from time immemorial. At
length it crawled through the hair of the tillers of this soil that the
substance which did so much good fortuitously, and (as it were) because
it could not do otherwise, might do still more if applied to the soil,
with deliberate intent to test its value as a fertilizer. The result we
all understand.

Gypsum is a chemical compound of Sulphur and Lime--so much is agreed;
and the theory of chemists has been that; as the winds pass over a
surface sown with it, the Ammonia which has been exhaled by a thousand
barn-yards, bogs, &c., having a stronger affinity for Sulphur than Lime
has, dissolves the Gypsum, combines with the Sulphur, forming a Sulphate
of Ammonia, and leaves the Lime to get on as it may. I accept this
theory, having no reason to distrust it; and, knowing that Sulphate of
Ammonia is a powerful stimulant of vegetable growth (as any one may be
assured by buying a little of it from some druggist and making the
necessary application), I can readily see how the desired result might
in this way be produced. For our purpose, however, let it suffice that
it is produced, of which almost any one may be convinced by sowing
with Gypsum and passing by alternate strips or belts of the same clover
field. I suspect that not many fertilizers repay their cost out of the
first crop; but I account Gypsum one of them; and I submit that no
farmer can afford not to try it. That its good effect is diminished by
many and frequent applications, is highly probable; but there is no hill
or slope to which Gypsum has never yet been applied which ought not to
make its acquaintance this very year. I am confident that there are
pastures which might be made to increase their yield of Grass one-third
by a moderate dressing of it.

I have heard Andrew B. Dickinson, late of Steuben County, and one of the
best unscientific, unlearned farmers ever produced by our State,
maintain that he can not only enrich his own farm but impoverish his
neighbors' by the free use of Gypsum on his woodless hills. The
chemist's explanation of this effect is above indicated. The plastered
land attracts and absorbs not only its own fair proportion of the
breeze-borne Ammonia, but much that, if the equilibrium had not been
disturbed by such application, would have been deposited on the adjacent
hills. As Mr. D. makes not the smallest pretensions to science, the
coincidence between his dictum and the chemist's theory is noteworthy.

Now that our country is completely gridironed with Canals and Railroads,
bringing whatever has a mercantile value very near every one's door, I
suggest that no township should go without Gypsum. Five dollars will buy
at least two barrels of it almost anywhere; and two barrels may be sown
over five or six acres. Let it be sown so that its effect (or
non-effect) may be palpable; give it a fair, careful trial, and await
the result. If it seem to subserve no good purpose, be not too swift to
enter up judgment; but buy two barrels more, vary your time and method
of application, and try again. If the result be still null, let it be
given up that Gypsum is not the fertilizer needed just there--that some
ill-understood peculiarity of soil or climate renders it there
ineffective. Then let its use be there abandoned; but it will still
remain true that, in many localities and in countless instances, Gypsum
has been fully proved one of the best and cheapest commercial
fertilizers known to mankind.

I never tried, but on the strength of others' testimony believe in the
improvement of soils by means of calcined clay or earth. Mr. Andrew B.
Dickinson showed me where he had, during a dry Autumn plowed up the
road-sides through his farm, started fires with a few roots or sticks,
and then piled on sods of the upturned clay and grass-roots till the
fire was nearly smothered, when each heap smoked and smouldered like a
little coal-pit till all of it that was combustible was reduced to
ashes, when ashes and burned clay were shoveled into a cart and strewn
over his fields, to the decided improvement of their crops. Whoever has
a clay sod to plow up, and is deficient in manure, may repeat this
experiment with a moral certainty of liberal returns.

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