Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
611
MANURES


hydrogen and oxygen the carbon forms the cellulose, starch, sugar, &c., which plants contain, and with these same elements and sulphur the carbon forms the albuminoids of plants. The inorganic or mineral matters comprise a comparatively small part of the plant, but they contain, as essential constituents of plant life, the following elements: potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and sulphur. In addition, other, but not essential, elements are found in the ash e.g. sodium, silicon and chlorine, together with small quantities of manganese and other rarer elements.

The above constituents that have been classed as “essential,” are necessary for the growth of the plant, and absence of any one will involve failure. This has been shown by growing plants in water dissolved in which are salts of the elements present in plants. By omitting in turn one or other of the elements aforesaid it is found that the plants will not grow after they have used up the materials contained in the seed itself. These elements are accordingly termed “essential,” and it therefore becomes necessary to inquire how they are to be supplied.

The atmosphere is the great storehouse of organic plant food. The leaves take up, through their stomata, the carbonic acid and other gases of the atmosphere. The carbonic acid, under the influence of light, is decomposed in the chlorophyll cells, oxygen is given off and carbon is assimilated, being subsequently built up into the various organic bodies forming the plant’s structure. It would seem, too, that plants can take up a small quantity of ammonia by their leaves, and also water to some extent, but the free or uncombined nitrogen of the air cannot be directly assimilated by the leaves of plants.

From the soil, on the other hand, the plant obtains, by means of its roots, its mineral requirements, also sulphur and phosphorus, and nearly all its nitrogen and water. Carbon, too, in the case of fungi, is obtained from the decayed vegetable matter in the soil. The roots are able not only to take up soluble salts that are presented to them, but they can attack and render soluble the solid constituents of the soil, thus transforming them into available plant food. In this way important substances, such as phosphoric acid and potash, are supplied to the plant, as also lime. Roots can further supply themselves with nitrogen in the form of nitrates, the ammonia and other nitrogenous bodies undergoing ready conversion into nitrates in the soil. These various mineral constituents, being now transferred to the plant, go to form new tissue, and ultimately seed, or else accumulate in the sap and are deposited on the older tissue.

Whether the nitrogen of the air can be utilized by plants or not has been long and strenuously discussed, Boussingault first, and then Lawes, Gilbert and Pugh, maintaining that there was no evidence of this utilization. But it was always recognized that certain plants, clover for example, enriched the land with nitrogen to an extent greater than could be accounted for by the mere supply to them of nitrates in the soil. Ultimately Hellriegel supplied the explanation by showing that, at all events, certain of the Leguminosae, by the medium of swellings or “nodules” on their roots, were able to fix the atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, and to convert it into nitrates for the use of the plant. This was found to be the result of the action of certain organisms within the nodules themselves, which in turn fed upon the carbohydrates of the plant and were thus living in a state of “symbiosis” with it. So far, however, this has not been shown to be the case with any other plants than the Leguminosae, and, though it is asserted by some that many other plants can take up the nitrogen of the air directly through their leaves, there is no clear evidence as yet of this.

We must now consider how the different requirements of the plant in regard to the elements necessary to maintain its life and to build up its structure affect the question of manuring.

Under conditions of natural growth and decay, when no crops are gathered in, or consumed on the land by live stock, the herbage, on dying down and decaying, returns to the atmosphere and the soil the elements taken from them during life; but, under cultivation, a succession of crops deprives the land of the constituents which are essential to healthy and luxuriant growth. Without an adequate return to the land of the matters removed in the produce, its fertility cannot be maintained for many years. In newly opened countries, where old forests have been cleared and the land brought under cultivation, the virgin soil often possesses at first a high degree of fertility, but gradually its productive power decreases from year to year. Where land is plentiful and easy to be obtained it is more convenient to clear fresh forest land than to improve more or less exhausted land by the application of manure, labour and skill. But in all densely peopled countries, and where the former mode of cultivation cannot be followed, it is necessary to resort to artificial means to restore the natural fertility of the land and to maintain and increase its productiveness. That continuous cropping without return of manure ends in deterioration of the soil is well seen in the case of the wheat-growing areas in America. Crops of wheat were taken one after another, the straw was burned and nothing was returned to the land; the produce began to fall off and the cultivators moved on to fresh lands, there to meet, in time, with the same experience; and now that the available land has been more or less intensely occupied, or that new land is too far removed for ready transport of the produce, it has been found necessary to introduce the system of manuring, and America now manufactures and uses for herself large quantities of artificial and other manures.

That the same exhaustion of soil would go on in Great Britain, if unchecked by manuring, is known to every practical farmer, and, if evidence were needed, it is supplied by the renowned Rothamsted experiments of Lawes and Gilbert, on a heavy land, and also by the more recent Woburn experiments of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, conducted on a light sandy soil. The following table will illustrate this point, and show also how under a system of manuring the fertility is maintained:—

Table 1.—Showing Exhaustion of Land by continuous Cropping without Manure, and the maintenance of fertility through manuring.
(Rothamsted 50 years; Woburn 30 years.)

1. Rothamsted (heavy land).
Crop. Plot. Treatment Average yield of corn per acre.
8 years,
1844–1851.
10 years,
1852–1861.
10 years,
1862–1871.
10 years,
1872–1881.
10 years,
1882–1891.
10 years,
1892–1901.
Average
of 50 years,
1852–1901.
      Bush. Bush. Bush. Bush. Bush. Bush. Bush.
Wheat 3 Unmanured continuously 17.2 15.9 14.5 10.4 12.6 12.3 43.1
  2 Farm-yard manure yearly 28.0 34.2 37.5 28.7 38.2 39.2 35.6
Barley 7–2 Unmanured continuously 22.4 17.5 13.7 12.7 10.0 15.3
  1–0 Farm-yard manure yearly 45.0 51.5 50.2 47.6 44.3 47.7
2. Woburn (light land).
Crop. Plot. Treatment. Average yield of corn per acre.
10 years,
1877–1886.
10 years,
1887–1896.
10 years,
1897–1906.
Average
of 30 years,
1877–1906.
      Bush. Bush. Bush. Bush.
Wheat 7 Unmanured continuously 17.4 14.5 10.8 14.2
  11b Farm-yard manure yearly 26.7 27.8 24.0 26.2
Barley 7 Unmanured continuously 23.0 18.1 13.3 18.1
  11b Farm-yard manure yearly 40.0 39.9 36.6 38.8