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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/416

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

readily than would be possible if lie bad to reduce the metal from the ore; and Nature uses this principle over and over again. The importance of nitrogen to plants and its abundance in Nature have been mentioned, but it has also been said that plants can not use it directly, as most animals do with oxygen. The tiny bacteria intervene, and this they do in two ways: first, by causing decay of animal or vegetable matter containing nitrogen, and by this decay producing substances that plants can absorb; and, secondly, by producing little nodules or "tubercles" on the rootlets, through which the plant can take up nitrogen.[1] Now, when a plant is sated with nitrogen, it ceases to form these tubercles, and their formation is a sure sign that the plant is craving this article of food. When it is supplied, and its own life is ended, these form reservoirs from which other plants may be supplied, as new castings may be made from broken wheels. The great value of "green manuring" depends on the store of available nitrogen so laid up, but it is open to failure in one direction. The liability of fermentation to go to the acid stage from contamination with acid-forming ferments has been mentioned, an accident the possibility of which is impressed on us from time to time by sour bread; and similarly the organic matter turned under may undergo acid fermentation, rendering the ground "sour" and unfit for cultivation. The limits of this paper forbid the consideration of special fertilizers, but from the general principles laid down the rules for any special case may be deduced. A soil should contain a sufficient amount of potash, soda, lime, iron, and a few other minerals; phosphoric acid, nitrogen, organic matter, and, for some special crops, some other ingredients may be needed. When the soil needs renewing, there are two ways of accomplishing it. One way is to guess at what is needed; to buy fertilizers at high prices, without inquiring whether the soil needs the substances in that particular brand or not. Though very common, this is not a good plan. It is as though a physician were to give a patient any drug that was convenient, without inquiring into the disorder or the needs of the system, and it is followed by much the same result. That acid phosphate gave Farmer A a good crop, is no reason that Farmer B's land is also deficient in phosphorus. The same reasoning would teach that a heart stimulant that rouses a patient from shock would benefit one in danger of apoplexy, where the least increase in heart force might be fatal. A physician using such reasoning as the basis of his practice would not be considered a master of his art; and were he to attribute the fatal outcome of his logic to the poor quality of his stimulant, he would display criminal ignorance of drugs as well as disease; yet it


  1. Leguminous Plants for Green Manuring and for Feeding. E. W. Allen, Ph. D. United States Department of Agriculture. Farmers' Bulletin, No. 1