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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/414

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398
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

they must be united to something, and so, as soon as old associations are dissolved, new ones are formed. These new ones are those needed by plants, and thus is plant food digested.

The term "plant food" has been frequently used, and should now be distinctly explained, for merely stating the chemical elements is not describing the food. When a physician tells a nurse to feed a patient he does not order so much carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and the like, but specifies a soup, certain vegetables, and so on, detailing every particular; and the same should be done for vegetable invalids.

In medical practice a condition is recognized that is called scurvy. It is not exactly starvation, but is produced by lack of some food materials usually supplied by fresh vegetables. If scurvy appears at sea, no amount of meat, bread, cakes, or pastry will stop it; vegetables, and they only, will stay it. Sometimes a similar condition prevails among crops: some ingredient in a soil is lacking, and the others may be supplied indefinitely without giving the desired relief. To this may be attributed much of the fault found with fertilizers; for if the soil does not need a particular compound it is useless to apply it, and an excellent fertilizer is often blamed for not producing a crop on land already overstocked with it and crying for something else.

Let us suppose a field on which cotton has been grown for many successive years until it has become exhausted. Analysis shows that a crop yielding one hundred pounds of lint to the acre removes from the soil:

Nitrogen 20.71 pounds;
Phosphoric acid 8.17 "
Potash 13.06 "
Lime 12.60 "
Magnesia 4.75 "
Total 59.29 "

The weight of the whole crop from which these figures were taken was eight hundred and forty-seven pounds, so that cotton exhausts land less than any staple crop, if the roots, stems, leaves, etc., be turned under and only the lint and seed be removed. Of these the lint (one hundred pounds) takes 1.17 pound from the soil, and the seed 13.89 pounds, making 15.06 pounds net loss.[1] But ignoring returns that may be made in the shape of cotton-seed meal, etc., and lime, with which our soils are abundantly supplied, we see that nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash have been removed. Suppose the owner puts bone meal on his exhausted land: the phosphoric acid in the bone will supply one need, and an improvement results. On the strength of this, bone meal will be loaded into the soil again,


  1. United States Department of Agriculture. Farmers' Bulletin, No. 48.