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Cyril G. Hopkins.

The Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, online

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two and applies perhaps four hundred pounds of fertilizer at a cost
of $6.00.

"As an average of the most common commercial fertilizers sold to the
farmers in the Eastern and Southern States, the four hundred pounds
would add to the soil seven pounds of nitrogen, fourteen pounds of
phosphorus and seven pounds of potassium, while a single
fifty-bushel crop of corn will remove from the soil ten times as
much nitrogen, five times as much potassium, and nearly as much
phosphorus as the total amounts applied in this six-year or
seven-year rotation.

"In this manner the farmer extends the time during which he can take
from the soil crops whose value exceed their cost. He applies only
one-fourth or possibly one-half as much of the most deficient
element as the crops harvested require, and thus he continues for a
longer time to 'work the land for all that's in it! '"

"Well, isn't that the limit?" said Adelaide, with emphasis on the
"isn't," for which she received a disapproving look from her mother,
so far as her almost angel-face could give such a look.

"So far as human ingenuity has yet devised," replied Percy, "this
system appears to be the limit; but this limit has not yet been
reached on any Westover soil. If anyone can devise a method for
extending this limit he should apply it on a type of soil covering
more than two-fifths of the total area of St. Mary County and more
than 45,000 acres of Prince George County, Maryland, some of which
almost adjoins the District of Columbia. This soil has been reduced
in fertility until it contains only one-third as much phosphorus as
your poorest land. I found a Western man who had come down to
Maryland a few years ago. He saw that beautiful almost level upland
soil, and it looked so good to him that he bought and kept buying
until he had 'squared out' a tract of eleven hundred acres. He
still had left money enough to fence the farm and to put the
buildings in good repair. He was a live-stock farmer from the West
who just knew from his own experience and from that of the Secretary
of Agriculture, in the use of a little clover or farm manure in
unlocking the great reserves of an almost virgin soil, that all his
Maryland farm needed was clover seed and live stock. Sheep
especially he knew to be great producers of fertility.

"He sowed the clover and grass seed and they germinated well. He
even secured a fine catch, but it failed to hold, as we say out
West. He tried again and again, and failed as often as he tried. He
showed me his best clover on a field that had received some manure
made from feed part of which was purchased, and that had also
received five hundred pounds per acre of hydrated lime, which he was
finally persuaded to use, after becoming convinced that
clover-growing on old abandoned land was not exactly as easy as
clover-growing on a 'run-down' farm of almost virgin soil in the
West."

"And was the clover good after that treatment?" asked Mr. West.

"No, not good," said Percy, "but in some places where the manure had
been applied to the high points, as is the custom of the Western
farmer, the yield of clover, weeds, and foul grass together must
have been nearly a half ton to the acre. Fortunately he waited to
fully stock his farm with cattle and sheep until he should have some
assurance of producing sufficient feed to keep them for a time at
least, instead of making the common mistake of the less experienced
farmer who goes to the country from the city, and who imagines that,
if he has plenty of stock on the farm, they must of necessity
produce abundance of manure with which to enrich his land for the
production of abundant crops."

"Well, now you'll have to show me," said the grandmother. "To my
way of thinking that's a pretty good kind of a notion for a farmer
to have, and I'd like to know what's wrong with it."

Again a shadow seemed to cross the sweet face as the mother's glance
turned from grandma to Adelaide.

"The system has some merit," replied Percy, "but it starts at the
wrong point in the circle. Cattle and sheep must first have feed
before they can produce the fertilizer with which to enrich the
soil; and people who would raise stock on poor land should always
produce a good supply of food before they procure the stock
requiring to be fed. There is probably no more direct route to
financial disaster than for one to insist upon over-stocking a farm
that is essentially worn out."

"But doesn't pasturing enrich the soil?" asked the grandmother.

"Pasturing may enrich the soil only in a single element of plant
food," said Percy. "In all other elements simple pasturing must
always contribute toward soil depletion. If the pasture herbage
contains a sufficient proportion of legume plants so that the
fixation of free nitrogen exceeds the utilization of nitrogen in
animal growth, then the soil will be enriched in that element,
although with the same growth of plants it would be enriched more
rapidly without pasturing; for animals are not made out of nothing.
Meat, milk, and wool are all highly nitrogenous products.

"On the other hand no amount of pasturing can add to the soil a
single pound of any one of the six mineral elements, and phosphorus,
which is normally the most limited of all these elements, is
abstracted from the soil and retained by the animals in very
considerable amounts. As an average one-fourth of the phosphorus
contained in the food consumed is retained in the animal products,
especially in bone, flesh, and milk."

"Well, I didn't know that milk contained phosphorus," said Mr. West,
"although I did know, of course, that phosphorus must be contained
in bone."

"But, as you know," said Percy, "milk is the only food of young
animals, and they must secure their bone food from the milk.
Furthermore, the complete analysis of milk shows that it contains
very considerable quantities. There are also records of digestion
experiments in which less than one-half of the phosphorus in the
food consumed was recovered in the total manural excrements. As a
matter of fact there is a time in the life of the young mother, as
with the two-year old cow, for example, when she must abstract from
the food she consumes sufficient phosphorus for the nourishment of
three growing animals, - her own immature body, a suckling calf, and
another calf as yet unborn.

"Of course the organic matter of the soil should increase under
pasturing, especially under conditions that make possible an
accumulation of nitrogen; but here too the animals make no
contribution toward any such accumulation. With the same growth of
plants the accumulation of organic matter would be much more rapid
without live stock."

"It is known absolutely but not generally that live stock destroy
about two-thirds of the organic matter contained in the food they
consume. With grains the proportion is higher, and with coarse
forage it is lower, but as an average about two-thirds of the dry
matter in tender young grass or clover or in a mixed, well-balanced
ration of grain and hay is digested and thus practically destroyed
so far as the production of organic matter is concerned.

"This you could easily verify yourself, Mr. West, by feeding two
thousand pounds of any suitable ration, such as corn and clover hay,
collecting and drying the total excrement, which will be found to
weigh about seven hundred pounds, if it contains no higher
percentage of moisture than was contained in the two thousand pounds
of food consumed.

"Of course one should not forget that the liquid excrement contains
more nitrogen and more potassium than the solid, and that much of
this can be saved and returned to the land by use of plenty of
absorbent bedding, and in pasturing there is no danger of any loss
from this source."

"That is one great trouble with us," said Mr. West. "We never have
as much bedding as we could use to advantage, and it is altogether
too expensive to permit us to think of buying straw."

"Probably it would be much less expensive for you to buy ground
limestone and then use good alfalfa hay for bedding," said Percy. "I
mean exactly what I say," he continued. "Of course I do not advise
you to use good alfalfa hay in that way, but it would be a cheap
source of very valuable bedding, and it would make an extremely
valuable manure. However, I should not hesitate to make liberal use
of partially spoiled alfalfa hay for bedding, and you are quite
likely to have more or less such hay; for under favorable
conditions, such as you can easily have with your soil and climate,
alfalfa comes on with a rush in the spring, and often the first crop
should be cut before the weather is suitable for making hay. There
should be very little or no delay at this time, because the first
cutting should be removed in order that it may be out of the way of
the second crop, which comes forward still more rapidly under normal
conditions.

"Some of our Illinois farmers make strenuous objection to taking
care of an alfalfa field that produces $50 worth of the richest and
most valuable hay, because it interferes too much with the proper
care of a $25 corn crop, which they somehow feel requires and
deserves all their time and attention.

"Some of our Virginia farmers have sent to Illinois for their seed
corn," said Mr. West; "and they report very good results as a rule,
especially on land that has been kept up. On our poor land I think
the native corn does better than the Western seed."

"Perhaps that is because it is used to it," suggested Percy, "used
to making the struggle for itself on poor land. Fighting for all it
gets, so to speak. You know the high-bred animals cannot hold their
own with the scrubs when it comes to pawing the snow off the dead
wild grass for a living in the winter, as cattle must do sometimes
on the plains of the Northwest.

"Well, there may be something in that," responded Mr. West, "but the
western seed corn certainly looks fine."

"Yes, that is true," said Percy. "Our farmers have made marked
improvement in seed corn; they also understand very well how to grow
corn. They know how and when to prepare the ground, how and when to
plant; and how and when to cultivate. When Illinois farmers go to
Iowa to buy land, the Iowa real estate men usually take them to see
a farm that is owned and operated by a former Illinoisan, and they
insist that there are no other farmers who know how to raise corn
quite so well as the Illinois farmer. Perhaps the Illinois real
estate man would tell a similar story to the Iowa farmer if he ever
came there to buy land, but 'Westward the Course of Empire takes its
Way' and the man once gone west knows the east no more, except as a
market for his surplus products or a good place in which to spend
his surplus cash.

"But, here. We must finish our study of the data that Miss Adelaide
so kindly helped me to compute."

It was the first time that he had spoken her name in her presence;
and she met his glance as she raised her eyes.

What's in a name? What's in a glance?

Percy proceeded without delay; and Adelaide listened as before, her
drooping lashes protecting her eyes almost entirely from the view of
others. The father and mother heard no name spoken and saw no eyes
meet, and yet as Percy continued speaking a second self seemed to be
thinking different thoughts and he was conscious of a strong desire
to look longer than an instant into those captivating eyes.

A side glance, as she let her lashes droop, revealed to Adelaide
that grandma alone had heard and seen. But Percy was a very
common-place man. Certainly he had no such face as had held her
glance for more than an instant as the afternoon train began to move
from the depot platform. Percy was slightly above the average height
and solidly built, but he was not tall. His face had often been
described as a "perfect blank." No one saw anything of what lay
within by merely looking into his eyes, and yet there was a certain
indescribable something that appealed to one from those eyes. An
elderly German lady once remarked to his mother: "Ihr Sohn hat so
etwas gutes im Auge."

Percy was not polished in manner, Adelaide admitted. Professor
Barstow had said that he deliberated for half an hour as to whether
he should bring his "cawds," for use on Thanksgiving day, because he
feared that the custom in "Vi'ginia" might not be the same as in
"No'th Cahlina"; while she doubted very much if Percy had any cards
whatever. She had never heard it said that he was "strong as an ox
and quick as lightning," but perhaps she knew it as well as his
schoolmates ever had. She had not heard that one of the college
professors, noted for his short-cut expressions, had once told his
class that he wished they would all "keep their thinking apparatus
in as good repair as Johnston's." One thing she did know was that
Percy's voice had been trained to talk to a woman, and that no other
voice had ever spoken her name as he did. Reserve force? depth of
manhood? confidence in his own words? absolute decision? wealth of
tenderness? persistent endurance? unfailing loyalty? boundless
affection? Deep in her heart Adelaide felt that these were among the
attributes revealed in Percy's voice. When he spoke all listened.
His voice was low-pitched but rich in tone and volume and
sincerity, - that was the word. - The whole man seemed to feel and
speak when he spoke. He surely can have no secrets. His mother must
know all that he knows of his own self; but were those letters from
his mother? The handwriting was very modern. Even her father made an
old-fashioned C and W in signing his own name. Had he not looked at
the writing on both those letters before he noticed the others? and
why did he remain so long in his room before coming down to dinner?
Had he not been in college - in a great University where there were
hundreds of the brightest girls of his own State? But why should any
girl be interested in farming? Teaching is such a cultured
profession.

Only a moment - just while he was sorting the papers upon which they
had made the computations, but a hundred thoughts had passed through
her mind. Now he was speaking.

"You remember we took a sample of the subsoil on the sloping land.
This soil is evidently residual, formed in place from the
disintegration of the underlying rock. The soil may represent only a
small part of the original rock, because of the loss by leaching.
Here are the amounts of plant food found in two million pounds of
the subsoil:

590 pounds of nitrogen
1,980 pounds of phosphorus
37,940 pounds of potassium
24,808 pounds of magnesium
31,320 pounds of calcium

"A splendid subsoil," Percy continued. "I know of none better in
Illinois, except that we sometimes have more calcium in the form of
carbonate, and even somewhat more potassium in places; but this must
be a fine subsoil for alfalfa, where the bed rock is not too near
the surface. Of course there is but little nitrogen in the subsoil,
but that is true of all normal soils, because the nitrogen is
contained only in the organic matter, and that decreases rapidly
with depth and usually becomes insufficient to color the soil below
18 inches."

"Now," began Mr. West, "from these different analyses or invoices,
and from your discussion of these results, I take it that you would
not advise me to purchase any commercial fertilizer for use on the
land we are still using in my rotation; but you think we should make
large use of limestone and legume crops."

"Yes, Sir. Phosphorus is markedly deficient only in the very level
upland which has been allowed to remain uncleared for fifty years or
more, and nitrogen is certainly the limiting element on the land you
are trying to keep in your rotation. While you cannot hope to put
into your soil any such reserve of slow-acting organic matter as we
still have in our comparatively new soils of the West, we may keep
in mind that a small amount of quick-acting fresh organic matter is
more effective than a large supply of what we might call embalmed
material that decomposes very, very slowly unless assisted by the
addition of more active organic matter. It frequently happens that
one soil containing a large reserve of old humus, and hence showing
more organic carbon and more nitrogen, by the ultimate invoice, than
another soil, is, nevertheless, less productive, because the other
soil contains a larger amount of fresh organic matter which decays
quickly and thus furnishes more nitrogen and liberates more of the
other elements from the insoluble minerals of the soil because of
the greater abundance of the active products of organic decay.

"I think you should keep in mind, however, that, for every
twenty-five bushels of corn you wish to produce, you should return
to the soil one ton of clover or four tons of average farm manure,
and that for one ton of produce hauled to the barns and fed, you
will probably not return to the land more than one ton of manure."


CHAPTER XXX

"STONE SOUP"


THE next forenoon Percy and Mr. West spent some time making some
further tests with hydrochloric acid and litmus paper in different
places on the farm; but the result only confirmed the previous
examinations.

"I never before saw any such light as now appears," said Mr. West.
"It seems to me that for the first time in the history of Westover,
covering about two centuries, a real plan can be intelligently made
based upon definite information looking toward the positive
improvement of the soil. While you have been away, I have been
looking up the lime matter. I find that a lime is being advertised,
and sold in small amounts, that is called hydrated lime, and it is
especially prepared as an agricultural lime. It is recommended by
some dealers as being fully equal to the ordinary commercial
fertilizer which sells at about $25 a ton, while this hydrated
agricultural lime can be bought for $8 a ton, and I think for a
little less in larger amounts. You mentioned also that you had seen
some one who had used hydrated lime, but it didn't seem to make much
of a clover crop. Of course, I understand from what you said that
his soil contained only one hundred and sixty pounds of phosphorus,
and I take it that lime alone could not markedly improve his soil;
but still I would like to know why, if he has one hundred and sixty
pounds of phosphorus in his plowed soil, he could not produce a few
good crops of clover. HOW much phosphorus does it require for a ton
of clover?"

"One ton of clover contains only five pounds of phosphorus," Percy
replied, "and of course the roots must also require some phosphorus,
although after the crop is produced and removed, the phosphorus
contained in the roots remains for the benefit of subsequent crops.
Thus we might suppose the land which contains one hundred and sixty
pounds of phosphorus ought to furnish the phosphorus needed for a
three ton crop of clover every year for ten years; but in actual
practice no such results are secured. The invoice of the plant food
in the soil is a matter of very great importance, for it reveals the
mathematical possibilities, but another matter of almost equal
importance is the problem of liberating plant food from this supply
sufficient for the crops to be produced year by year.

"Decaying or active organic matter is one of the great factors in
the liberation of plant food, and undoubtedly the extension or
distribution of the root system of the growing plant is another very
potent factor. If the root surfaces come in contact with one per
cent. of the total surface of the soil particles in the plowed soil,
then we might conceive of a relationship whereby one per cent. of
the phosphorus in that soil would be dissolved or liberated from the
insoluble minerals and thus become available as food for the growing
crop. We know that the rate of liberation varies greatly, with
different soils and seasons, and crops also differ in their power to
assist themselves in the extraction of mineral plant food from the
soil. The presence of limestone encourages the development of
certain soil organisms which tend to hasten some decomposition
process. But, all things considered, it may be said, speaking very
generally, that the equivalent of about one per cent. of the total
phosphorus contained in the plowed soil does become available for
the crops under average conditions. On this basis one hundred and
sixty pounds of phosphorus would furnish about one and one-half
pounds for the crops during one season. But in such a soil the
phosphorus still remaining may be the most difficultly soluble, and
the supply of decaying organic matter may be extremely low, so that
possibly less than one pound per acre would become available, and
this would meet the needs of less than four hundred pounds per acre
of clover hay. Furthermore, the supply grows less and less with
every crop removed.

"With your ordinary soil, carrying twelve hundred and seventy pounds
of phosphorus, perhaps you may be able by a liberal use of decaying
organic matter to liberate ten or fifteen pounds of phosphorus, or
sufficient for a crop of forty to sixty bushels of corn; and, with a
subsoil richer in phosphorus than the surface, and with more or less
of the partially depleted surface removed by erosion year by year,
the supply of phosphorus is thus permanently provided for unless the
bed rock is brought too near the surface. It is doubtful if the
direct addition of phosphorus to your sloping lands will ever be
necessary or profitable. Certainly such addition is not advisable
until you have brought the land to as high a state of fertility as
is practicable by means of limestone, legumes, and manure."

"That seems clearly to be the case with most of the land now under
cultivation on this farm," said Mr. West "Can you tell me anything
about this hydrated lime?

"I can tell you it is correctly named," Percy replied. "_Hydrated_
means _watered,_ and an investment in hydrated lime is properly
classed with other watered investments. If you prefer to use
hydrated lime I would suggest that you buy fresh burned lump lime
and do the hydrating yourself, which only requires that you add
eighteen pounds of water to each fifty-six pounds of quick lime; in
other words, that you slack the lime by adding water in the proper
proportion. Both quick lime and hydrated lime are known as caustic
lime. Webster says that the word _caustic_ means 'capable of
destroying the texture of anything or eating away its substance by
chemical action.'

"This definition is correct for caustic lime, as you can easily
determine by keeping your hand in a bucket of slacked lime a few
minutes. Caustic lime eats away the organic matter of the soil. In
an experiment conducted by the Pennsylvania Experiment Station,
during a period of sixteen years, eight tons of hydrated lime
destroyed organic matter equivalent to thirty-seven tons of farm
manure, as compared with the use of equivalent applications of
ground limestone; and, as an average of the sixteen years, every ton
of caustic lime applied liberated seven dollars' worth of organic
nitrogen, as compared with ground limestone. That this much
liberated nitrogen was essentially wasted and lost is evidenced by
the fact that larger crops were produced where ground limestone was
used than where burned lime was applied.

"The limestone must be quarried whether used for grinding or for
burning, and the grinding can be done for twenty-five cents a ton
where a large equipment with powerful machinery is used and where
cheap fuel is provided, as near the coal mining districts. It need
not be very finely ground. If ground to pass a sieve with twelve
meshes to the linear inch, it is very satisfactory, provided that
all of the fine dust produced in the grinding is included in the
product. You see the soil acids are slightly soluble and they attack
the limestone particles and are thus themselves destroyed or
neutralized. If, however, you ever wish to use raw rock phosphate,
insist upon its being sufficiently fine-ground that at least ninety
per cent. of it will pass through a sieve with ten thousand meshes
to the square inch, this being no finer than is required for the
basic slag phosphate, of which several million tons are now being
used each year in the European countries. Like the raw rock
phosphate, the slag gives the best results only when used in
connection with plenty of decaying organic matter."

"That reminds me," said Mr. West, "of what one of the fertilizer
agents said about raw phosphate. He said the use of raw phosphate
with farm manure reminded him of 'stone soup,' which was made by


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Online LibraryCyril G. HopkinsThe Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, → online text (page 14 of 23)