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

the late Sir John Lawes (in 1843) began the dissolving of mineral phosphates for the purpose of manufacturing superphosphate, the “artificial manure” trade took its rise, and ever since then the whole globe has been exploited for the purpose of obtaining the raw phosphatic materials which form the base of the artificial manures of the past and of the present day. The functions which phosphoric acid fulfils in plant life would appear to be connected rather with the maturing of the plant than with the actual growth of the structure. Phosphates are found concentrated in those parts of the plant where cell growth and reproduction are most active. More especially is this the case with the seed in which phosphates are present in greatest quantity. While nitrogen delays maturity, phosphoric acid has just the opposite effect, and cereal crops not sufficiently supplied with it ripen much more tardily than do others. Moreover, the grain is formed more early when phosphatic manures have been given than when they are withheld. Phosphates increase the proportion of corn to straw, and, as regards the grain itself, they render it less nitrogenous, richer in phosphates, and altogether improve its quality.

While these are the principal functions of phosphates, they also exercise an influence on the young plant in its early stages. This is well seen in the almost universal practice of applying superphosphate to the young turnip or swede crop in order to push it beyond the attack of “fly.” Undoubtedly phosphates in readily available form stimulate the young seedling, enabling it to develop root growth, and, later on, causing the plant to “tiller out” well. Phosphoric acid occurs in the soil bound up with the oxides of iron and alumina, or, it may be, with lime, and the extent to which it may become useful to plants will depend largely upon the readiness with which it becomes available. For the purpose of ascertaining this different analytical methods have been suggested, the best known one being that of B. Dyer, in which a 1% solution of citric acid is used as a solvent. As a result of experimenting with Rothamsted soils of known capability it has been put forward that if a soil shows, by this treatment, less than .01% of phosphoric acid it is in need of phosphatic manuring.

Experiments carried on for many years at Rothamsted and Woburn have clearly established the beneficial effects of phosphatic manuring on corn crops, for though no material increase marks the application of mineral manures in the absence of nitrogen, yet the results when phosphates and nitrogen are used together are very much greater than when nitrogen alone has been applied; and this is true as regards not only the better ripening and quality of the grain, but also as regards the actual crop increase.

With root crops phosphates are almost indispensable; and, owing to the limited power which these crops have of utilizing the phosphoric acid in the soil, the supply of a readily available phosphatic manure like superphosphate is of the highest importance.

The assimilation of phosphoric acid goes on in a cereal crop after the time of flowering and to a later date than does that of nitrogen and potash, and it is ultimately stored in the seed. Soils possess a retentive power for phosphoric acid which enables the latter to be conserved and not removed to any extent by drainage. This function is exercised mainly by the presence of oxide of iron. Alumina acts in a similar way. In the case of soils that contain clay only traces of phosphoric acid are found in the drainage water.

3. Potassium.—The element third in importance, which requires to be supplied by manuring, is potassium, or, as it is generally expressed, potash. This in its functions resembles phosphoric acid somewhat, being concerned rather with the mature development of the plant than with its actual increase of growth. Like phosphoric acid, potash is found concentrated throughout the plant in the early stages of its growth, but, unlike it, is in the case of a cereal crop all taken up by the time of full bloom, whereas with phosphoric acid the assimilation continues later. Potash would appear to have an intimate connexion with the quality of crops, and to be favourable to the production of seed and fruit rather than to stem and leaf development. Certain crops, such as vegetables, fruit, hops, as well as root crops generally, make special demands upon potash supply, and, as checking the tendency to over-development of leaf, &c., induced by nitrogenous manures when used alone, potash has great practical importance. Potash appears to be bound up in a special way with the process of assimilation, for it has been clearly shown that whenever potash is deficient the formation of the carbohydrates, such as sugar, starch and cellulose, does not go on properly. Hellriegel and Wilfarth showed by experiment the dependence of starch formation on an adequate supply of potash. Cereal grains remained small and undeveloped when potash was withheld, because the formation of starch did not go on. The same effect has been strikingly shown in the Rothamsted experiments with mangels, a plot receiving potash salts as manure giving a crop of roots nearly 2½ times as heavy as that grown on a plot which has received no potash. In this case the increase is due almost entirely to the sugar and other carbohydrates elaborated in the leaves, and not to any increase of mineral constituents.

The effect of potash on maturity is somewhat uncertain, inasmuch as in the case of grain crops it would appear to delay maturity and to hasten it in that of root crops.

The influence of potash on particular crops is very marked. On clovers and other leguminous crops it is highly beneficial, while on grass land it is of particular importance as inducing the spread of clovers and other leguminous herbage. This is well seen in the Rothamsted grass experiments, where with a mineral manure containing potash one-half of the herbage is leguminous in nature, whereas the same manure without potash gives only 15% of leguminous plants. Similarly, where nitrogen is used by itself and no potash given there are no leguminous plants at all to be found. Potash occurs in an ordinary fertile soil to the extent of about .20%; a sandy soil will have less, a clay soil may have considerably more. Potash, however, is mostly bound up in the soil in the form of insoluble silicates, and these are often in a far from available form, but require cultivation, the use of lime and other means for getting them acted on by the air and moisture, and so liberating the potash. According to B. Dyer’s method of ascertaining the availability of potash in soils, the amount of potash soluble in a 1% citric acid solution should be about .005%, otherwise the addition of potash manures will be a requisite. In the case of soils containing much lime a larger quantity would, no doubt, be needed.

Potash, like phosphoric acid, is readily retained by soils, and so is not subject to any considerable losses by drainage. This retention is exercised by the ferric-oxide and alumina in soils, but still more so by the double silicates, and to some extent also by the humus of the soil. Potash will be liberated from its salts by the action of lime in the soil, the lime taking the place of the potash. Lime is, therefore, of much importance in setting free fresh stores of potash. Soda salts also, when in considerable excess, are able to liberate potash from its compounds, and to this is probably due, in many cases, the beneficial action attending the use of common salt.

4. Calcium.—Though calcium, or lime, is found in sufficiency in most cultivated soils, there are, nevertheless, soils in which lime is clearly deficient and where that deficiency has shown itself in practice. Moreover, so comparatively easy is the removal of lime from the soil by drainage, and so important is the part which lime plays in liberating potash from its compounds, and in helping to retain bases in the soil so that they are not lost in drainage, that the significance of lime cannot be ignored. Further, the availability of both potash and phosphoric acid in the soil has been found to be much increased by the presence of lime. Lime, as carbonate of calcium, is also necessary for the process of nitrification to go on in the soil. Some sandy soils, and even some clays, contain so little lime as to call for the direct supply of lime as an addition to the soil. When this is the case nothing can adequately take the place of lime, and in this sense lime may be called a “manure.” In the majority of cases, however, the practice of liming or chalking, which was a common one in former times, was resorted to mainly because of the ameliorating effects it produced on the land, both in a mechanical and in a physical direction. Thus, on clay soil it flocculates the particles, rendering the soil less tenacious of moisture, improving the drainage and making the soil warmer. Nor must the directly chemical results be overlooked, for in addition to those already mentioned, of liberating plant food (chiefly potash and phosphoric acid), retaining bases, and aiding nitrification, lime acts in a special way as regards the sourness or “acidity” which is sometimes produced in land when lime is deficient. In soils that are acid through the accumulation of humic acid nitrification does not go on, and bacterial life is repressed. The addition of lime has the effect of “sweetening” the land, and of restoring its bacterial activity. This acidity is also seen in the occurrence of the disease known as “finger and toe” in turnips, the fungus producing this being one that thrives in an acid soil. It is only found in soils poor in lime, and the only remedy for it is liming. The growth of weeds like spurry, marigold, sorrel, &c., is also a sign of land being wanting in lime. The most striking instance of this “soil acidity” is that afforded by the Woburn experiments, where, on a soil originally poor in lime, the soil has, through the continuous use of ammonia salts, been impoverished of its lime to such an extent that it has become quite sterile and is distinctly acid in character. The application of lime, however, to such a soil has had the effect of quite restoring its fertility.

The amount of lime which soils contain is a very variable one, chalk soils being very rich in lime, whereas sandy and peaty soils are generally very poor in it. If the amount of lime in a soil falls below 1% of carbonate of lime on the dried soil, the soil will sooner or later require liming.

5. Magnesium.—This is not known to be deficient in soils, although an essential element in them, and it is seldom directly applied as a manurial ingredient. Some natural potash salts, such as kainit, contain magnesia salts in considerable quantity; but their influence is not known to be of beneficial nature, though, like common salt, magnesia salts will, doubtless, render some of the potash in the soil available. At the same time magnesia salts are not without their influence on crops, and experiments have been undertaken at the Woburn experimental farm and elsewhere to determine the nature of this influence. Carbonate of magnesia has been tried in connexion with potato-growing, and, it is said, with good results.

6. Iron.—Iron is another essential ingredient of soil that is found in abundance and does not call for special application in manurial