1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Manures and Manuring
MANURES and MANURING. The term “manure” originally meant that which was “worked by hand” (Fr. manœuvre), but gradually came to apply to any process by which the soil could be improved. Prominent among such processes was that of directly applying “manure” to the land, manure in this sense being what we now call “farmyard manure” or “dung,” the excreta of farm animals mixed with straw or other litter. Gradually, however, the use of the term spread to other materials, some of home origin, some imported, some manufactured by artificial processes, but all useful as a means of improving the fertility of the soil. Hence we have two main classes of manures: (a) what may be termed “natural manures,” and (b) “artificial manures.” Manures, again, may be divided according to the materials from which they are made—e.g. “bone manure,” “fish manure,” “wool manure,” &c.; or according to the constituents which they mainly supply—e.g. “phosphatic manures,” “potash manures,” “nitrogenous manures,” or there may be numerous combinations of these to form mixed or “compound” manures. Whatever it be, the word “manure” is now generally applied to anything which is used for fertilizing the soil. In America the term “fertilizers” is more generally adopted, and in Great Britain the introduction of the “Fertilizers and Feeding Stuffs Act” has effected a certain amount of change in the same direction. The modern tendency to turn attention less to the consideration of manurial applications given to land and more to the physical and mechanical changes introduced thereby in the soil itself, would seem to be carrying the word “manure” back more to its original meaning.
The subject of manures and their application involves a prior consideration of plant life and its requirements. The plant, growing in the soil, and surrounded by the atmosphere, derives from these two sources its nourishment and means of growth through the various stages of its development.
Chemical analysis has shown that plants are composed of water, organic or combustible matters, and inorganic or mineral matters. Water constitutes by far the greater part of a living plant; a grass crop will contain about 75% of water, a turnip crop 89 or 90%. The organic or combustible matters are those which are lost, along with the water, when the plant is burnt; the inorganic or mineral matters are those which are left behind as an “ash” after the burning. The combustible matter is composed of six elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and a little phosphorus. About one-half of the combustible matter of plants is carbon. Along with 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, |
|10 years, |
|10 years, |
|10 years, |
|10 years, |
|10 years, |
of 50 years,
|2||Farm-yard manure yearly||28.0||34.2||37.5||28.7||38.2||39.2||35.6|
|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, |
|10 years, |
|10 years, |
of 30 years,
|11b||Farm-yard manure yearly||26.7||27.8||24.0||26.2|
|11b||Farm-yard manure yearly||40.0||39.9||36.6||38.8|
Whereas on the heavier and richer land of Rothamsted the produce of unmanured wheat has fallen in 58 years from 17.2 bushels to 12.3 bushels, on the lighter and poorer soil of Woburn it has fallen in 30 years from 17.4 bushels to 10.8 bushels; barley has in 50 years at Rothamsted gone from 22.4 bushels to 10 bushels, whilst at Woburn (which is better suited for barley) it has fallen in 30 years from 23 bushels to 13.3 bushels. At both Rothamsted and Woburn the application of farm-yard manure has kept the produce of wheat and barley practically up to what it was at the beginning, or even increased it. Similar conclusions can be drawn from the use of artificial manures at each of the experimental stations named, exemplifying the fact that with suitable manuring crops of wheat or barley can be grown years after year without the land undergoing deterioration, whereas if left unmanured it gradually declines in fertility. Practical proof has further been given of this in the well-known “continuous corn-growing” system pursued, in his regular farming, by Mr John Prout of Sawbridgeworth, Herts, and subsequently by his son, Mr W. A. Prout, since the year 1862. By supplying, in the form of artificial manures, the necessary constituents for his crops, Mr Prout was enabled to grow year after year, with only an occasional interval for a clover crop and to allow of cleaning the land, excellent crops of wheat, barley and oats, and without, it may be added, the use of farm-yard manure at all.
In considering the economical use of manures on the land regard must be had to the following points: (1) the requirements of the crops intended to be cultivated; (2) the physical condition of the soil; (3) the chemical composition of the soil; and (4) the composition of the manure. Briefly stated, the guiding principle of manuring economically and profitably is to meet the requirements of the crops intended to be cultivated, by incorporating with the soil, in the most efficacious states of combination, the materials in which it is deficient, or which the various crops usually grown on the farm do not find in the land in a sufficiently available condition to ensure an abundant harvest. Soils vary greatly in composition, and hence it will be readily understood that in one locality or on one particular field a certain manure may be used with great benefit, while in another field the same manure has little or no effect upon the produce.
For plant life to thrive certain elements are necessary, viz. carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorus, among the organic or combustible matters, and among the inorganic or mineral matters, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and sulphur. We must now examine the extent to which these necessary elements occur in either of the two great storehouses, the atmosphere and the soil, and how their removal in the form of crops may be made up for by the use of manures, so that the soil may be maintained in a state of fertility. Further, we must consider what functions these elements perform in regard to plant life, and, lastly, the forms in which they can best be applied for the use of crops.
Of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen there is no lack, the atmosphere providing carbonic acid in abundance, and rain giving the elements hydrogen and oxygen, so that these are supplied from natural sources. Iron, magnesium and sulphur also are seldom or never deficient in soils, and do not require to be supplemented by manuring. Accordingly, the elements for which there is the greatest demand by plants, and which the soil does not provide in sufficiency, are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and, possibly, calcium. Manuring, apart from the physical and mechanical advantages which it confers upon soils, practically resolves itself, therefore, into the supply of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and it is with the supply of these that we shall accordingly deal in particular.
1. Nitrogen.—Though we are still far from knowing what are the exact functions which nitrogen fulfils in plant life, there is no doubt as to the important part which it plays in the vegetable growth of the plant and in the formation of stem and leaf. Without a sufficiency of nitrogen the plant would be stunted in growth. Its growth, indeed, may be said to be measured by the supply of nitrogen, for while mineral constituents like phosphoric acid and potash are only taken up to the extent that the plant can use them i.e. according to its rate of growth, this actual growth itself would seem to be determined by the extent of the nitrogen supply. This it is which causes the ready response given to a crop by the application of some quickly-acting nitrogenous material like nitrate of soda, and which is marked by the dark-green colour produced and the pushing-on of the growth. Similarly, this use of nitrogen, by prolonging growth, defers maturity, while over-use of nitrogen tends to produce increase of leaf and lateness of ripening. Along with this growth of the vegetative portions, and seen, in the case of corn crops, mainly in the straw, there is a corresponding decrease, from the use of nitrogen in excess, in the quality of the grain. In corn a smaller grain and lesser weight per bushel are the result of over-nitrogen manuring. The composition of the grain is likewise affected, becoming more nitrogenous. With crops, however, where rapid green growth is required, nitrogen effects the purpose well, though here, too, over-manuring with nitrogen will tend to produce rankness and coarseness of growth. Experiments at Rothamsted and elsewhere, as well as everyday practice of the farm, bear testimony to the paramount importance of nitrogen-supply, and to the crops it is capable of raising. This applies not only to corn crops of all kinds, but to root crops, grass, potatoes, &c. Leguminous crops alone seem to have no need of it. In view of this practical experience, Liebig’s “mineral theory”—according to which he laid down that plants only needed to have mineral constituents, such as phosphoric acid, potash and lime, supplied to them—reads strangely nowadays. The use of mineral manures without nitrogen other than that already present in the soil or supplied in rain has been shown, alike at Rothamsted and Woburn, to produce crops of wheat and barley little better than those from unmanured land. The lack of nitrogen in ordinary cultivated soils is much more marked than is that of mineral constituents, and consequently even with the application of nitrogen alone (as by the use of nitrate of soda or sulphate of ammonia), good crops have been grown for a large number of years. This has been shown both at Rothamsted and at Woburn. On the other hand, experiments at these stations have demonstrated that better and more lasting results are obtained by the judicious use of nitrogenous materials in conjunction with phosphates and potash.
The form in which nitrogen is taken up by plants is mainly, if not wholly, that of nitrates, which are readily-soluble salts. Ammonia and other nitrogenous bodies undergo in the soil, through the agency of nitrifying organisms present in it (Bacterium nitrificans, &c.), rapid conversion into nitrates, and as such are easily assimilable by the plant. Similarly, they are the constituents which are most readily removed in drainage, and hence the adequate supply of nitrogen for the plant’s use is a constant problem in agriculture. Experiments on the rate of removal of nitrates from the soil by drainage showed that every inch of rain passing through the drains caused a loss of 2½ ℔ of nitrogen per acre (Voelcker and Frankland). At the same time, soils, as Way showed, have the power of absorbing, in different degrees, ammonia from its solution in water, and when salts of ammonia are passed through soils the ammonia alone is absorbed, the acids passing, generally in combination with lime, into the drainage.
Other experiments at Rothamsted on drainage showed that, though large quantities of ammonia salts were applied to the land, the drainage water contained merely traces of ammonia, but, on the other hand, nitrates in quantity, thus proving that it is as nitrates, and not as ammonia, that plants mainly, if not entirely, take up their nitrogenous food.
From these investigations it follows that much more nitrogen must be added to the land than would be needed to produce a given increase in the crop. Nitrogen, then, being so all-important, the question is, where is it to come from? We have seen that the leaves take up only minute quantities of ammonia, comparatively small amounts are supplied in the rain, dew, snow, &c., and in the case of Leguminosae alone have we any evidence of plants being able to provide themselves with nitrogen from atmospheric sources. Some few organisms present in fertile soils, e.g. Azotobacter chroococcum, have also the power, under certain conditions, of fixing the free nitrogen of the atmosphere without the intervention of a “host,” but all these sources would be very inadequate to meet the demands of an intensive cultivation. An ordinary fertile arable soil will not show, on analysis, much more than .15% of nitrogen, and it is evident that the great source of supply of the needed nitrogen must be the direct manuring of the soil with materials containing nitrogen. These materials will be considered in detail later.
2. Phosphorus.—This is the most important mineral element which has to be supplied to the soil by the agency of manuring. It occurs in ordinary fertile soils to the extent of only about .15%, reckoned as phosphoric acid, and though its absence in sufficiency is not so marked or so soon shown under prolonged cultivation as is that of nitrogen, yet the fact that it is needed by all classes of crops, and that its application in manurial form is attended with great benefits, makes its supply one of great importance. From the time that Liebig, in 1840, suggested the treatment of bones with sulphuric acid in order to make them more readily available for the use of crops, and that 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 form. Iron is essential for the formation of chlorophyll in the leaves, and its presence is believed also to be beneficial for the development of colour in flowers, and for producing flavour in fruits and in vines especially. Ferrous sulphate has, partly with this view, and partly for its fungus-resisting properties, been suggested as a desirable constituent of manures. The function performed by ferric oxide in the soil of retaining phosphoric acid, potash and ammonia has been already alluded to.
7. Sulphur.—This, the last of the “essential” elements, is seldom specially employed in manurial form. There would appear to be no lack of it for the plant’s supply, and it is little required except for the building-up, with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, of the albuminoids. There are few artificial manures which do not contain considerable amounts of sulphur, notably superphosphate. Sulphate of lime (gypsum) is sometimes applied to the land direct as a way of giving lime; this is employed in the case of clover and hops principally.
Having thus dealt with the essential ingredients which plants must have, and which may require to be supplied to them in the form of additional manures, we may briefly pass over the other constituents found in plants, which may, or may not, be given as manures.
8. Sodium.—This is a widely distributed element. The influence of common salt (chloride of sodium) in liberating, when used in large excess, potash from the silicates in which it is combined in the soil has been already referred to, and in this way common salt and also nitrate of soda (the two forms in which soda salts are used as manures) may have some benefit. The principal purpose for which common salt, however, is used, is that of retaining moisture in the land. It is specially useful in a dry season, or for succulent crops such as cabbage, kale, &c., or again for plants of maritime origin (such as mangels), which thrive near the sea shore.
9. Silicon.—All soils contain silica in abundance. Though silica forms so large a part of the ash of plants and is especially abundant in the straw of cereals, there is no evidence that it is required in plant life. Popularly, it is believed to “stiffen” the stems of cereals and grasses, but plants grown without it will do perfectly well. It would, however, appear that soluble silica does play some part in enabling phosphoric acid to be better assimilated by the plant. Silicates, however, have not justified their use as direct fertilizers.
10. Chlorine.—A certain amount of chlorine is brought down in the rain, and chlorides are also used in the form of common salt, with the effect, as aforesaid, of liberating potash from silicates, when given in excess, but there is no evidence as to any particular part which the chlorine itself plays.
11. Manganese, &c.—Manganese occurs in minute quantities in most plants, and it, along with lithium (found largely in the tobacco-plant), caesium, titanium, uranium and other rare elements, may be found in soils. Experiments at the Woburn pot-culture station and elsewhere, point to stimulating effects on vegetation produced by the action of minute doses of salts of these elements, but, so far, their use as manurial ingredients need not be considered in practice.
12. Humus.—Though not an element, or itself essential, this body, which may be described as decayed vegetable matter, is not without importance in plant life. Of it, farm-yard manure is to a large extent composed, and many “organic manures,” as they are termed, contain it in quantity. Dead leaves, decayed vegetation, the stubble of cereal crops and many waste materials add humus to the land, and this humus, by exposure to the air, is always undergoing further changes in the soil, opening it out, distributing carbonic acid through it, and supplying it, in its further decomposition, with nitrogen. The principal effects of humus on the soil are of a physical character, and it exercises particular benefit through its power of retaining moisture. Humus, however, has a distinct chemical action, in that it forms combinations with iron, calcium and ammonia. It thus becomes one of the principal sources of supply of the nitrogenous food of plants, and a soil rich in humus is one rich in nitrogen. The nitrogen in humus is not directly available as a food for plants, but many kinds of fungi and bacteria are capable of converting it into ammonia, from which, by the agency of nitrifying organisms, it is turned into nitrates and made available for the use of plants. Humus is able to retain phosphoric acid, potash, ammonia and other bases. So important were the functions of humus considered at one time that on this Thaer built his “humus theory,” which was, in effect, that, if humus was supplied to the soil, plants required nothing more. This was based, however, on the erroneous belief that the carbon, of which the bulk of the plant consists, was derived from the humus of the soil, and not, as we now know it to be, from the carbonic acid of the atmosphere. This theory was in turn replaced by the “mineral theory” of Liebig, and then both of them by the “nitrogen theory” of Lawes and Gilbert.
We pass next to review, in the light of the foregoing, the manures in common use at the present day.
Manures, as already stated, may be variously classified according to the materials they are made from, the constituents which they chiefly supply, or the uses to which they are put. But, except with certain few manures, such as nitrate of soda, sulphate of ammonia and potash salts, which are used purely for one particular purpose, it is impossible to make any definite classification of manures, owing to the fact that the majority of them serve more than one purpose, and contain more than one fertilizing constituent of value. It is only on broad lines, therefore, that any division can be framed. Between so-called “natural” manures like farm-yard manure, seaweed, wool waste, shoddy, bones, &c., which undergo no particular artificial preparation, and manufactured manures like superphosphate, dissolved bones, and other artificially prepared materials, there may, however, be a distinction drawn, as also between these and such materials as are imported and used without further preparation, e.g. nitrate of soda, kainit, &c. On the whole, the best classification to attempt is that according to the fertilizing constituents which each principally supplies, and this will be adopted here, with the necessary qualifications.
I.—Nitrogenous (wholly or mainly) Manures
These divided themselves into: (a) Natural nitrogenous manures; (b) imported or manufactured manures.
a. Natural Nitrogenous Manures
Under this heading come—farm-yard manure; seaweed; refuse cakes and meals; wool dust and shoddy; hoofs and horns; blood; soot; sewage sludge.
Farm-yard Manure.—This is the most important, as well as the most generally used, of all natural manures. It consists of the solid and liquid excreta of animals that are fed at the homestead, together with the material used as litter. The composition of farm-yard manure will vary greatly according to the conditions under which it is produced. The principal determining factors are (1) the nature and age of the animals producing it, (2) the food that is given them, (3) the kind and quantity of litter used, (4) whether it be made in feeding-boxes, covered yards or open yards, (5) the length of time and the way in which it has been stored. The following analysis represents the general composition of well-made farm-yard manure, in which the litter used is straw:—
|Oxide of iron and alumina||.36|
|Carbonic acid, &c.||1.38|
|*Containing nitrogen = .59%, which is equal to ammonia||.72%|
|†Equal to phosphate of lime||.96|
Put broadly, farm-yard manure will contain from 65 to 80% of water, from .45 to .65% of nitrogen, from .4 to .8% of potash, and from .2 to .5% of phosphoric acid.
This analysis shows that farm-yard manure contains all the constituents, without exception, which are required by cultivated crops in order to bring them to perfection, and hence it may be called a “perfect” manure. Dung, it may be observed, contains a great variety of organic and inorganic compounds of various degrees of solubility, and this complexity of composition—difficult, if not impossible, to imitate by art—is one of the circumstances which render farm-yard manure a perfect as well as a universal manure.
The excrements of different kinds of animals vary in composition, and those of the same animal will vary according to the nature and quantity of the food given, the age of the animal, and the way it is generally treated. Thus, a young animal which is growing, needs food to produce bone and muscle, and voids poorer dung than one which is fully grown and only has to keep up its condition. Similarly, a milking-cow will produce poorer dung than a fattening bullock. Again, cake-feeding will produce a richer manure than feeding without cake. Straw is the most general litter used, but peat-moss litter, sawdust, &c., may be used, and they will affect the quality of the manure to some extent. Peat-moss is the best absorbent and has a higher manurial value than straw. Box-fed manure, and that made in covered yards will suffer much less loss than that made in an open yard. Lastly, manure kept in a heap covered with earth will be much richer than that left in an uncovered heap. The solid and liquid excrements differ much in composition, for, while the former contain principally phosphoric acid, lime, magnesia, and silica and comparatively little nitrogen, the urine is almost destitute of phosphoric acid, and abounds in alkaline salts (including salts of potash) and in nitrogenous organic matters, among which are urea and uric acid, and which on decomposition yield ammonia. Unless, therefore, the two kinds of excrements are mixed, a perfect manure supplying all the needs of the plant is not obtained; care must accordingly be taken to absorb all the urine by the litter. Farm-yard manure, it is well known, is much affected by the length of time and the way in which it has been kept. Fresh dung is soluble in water only to a limited extent, and, in consequence, it acts more slowly on vegetation, and the action lasts longer than when dung is used which has been kept some time; fresh dung is therefore generally used in autumn or winter, and thoroughly rotten dung in spring, when an immediate forcing effect is required.
The changes which farm-yard manure undergoes on keeping, have been made the subject of much inquiry. In Germany, Maercker and Schneidewind; in France, Muntz and Girard; and in England, Voelcker, Wood, Russell and others, have investigated these losses, coming to very similar conclusions concerning them. Perhaps the most complete set of experiments is one conducted at the Woburn experimental station and extending over three years (1899–1901). The dung was cake-fed manure made in feeding-boxes from which no drainage issued, and, after removal, it was kept in a heap, covered with earth. Hence it was made under as good conditions as possible; but, even then, the losses—after deduction for live-weight increase of the animals—were found to be 15% of the total nitrogen of the food, during the making, and 34% (or a further 19%) during storing and by the time the manure came to be put on the land. Accordingly, under ordinary farm conditions it is quite clear that only about 50% of the nitrogen of the food given is recovered in the dung that goes on the land. This is the figure which Lawes and Gilbert suggested in the practical application of their Tables of Compensation for Unexhausted Manure Value.
During the fermentation of dung a large proportion of the non-nitrogenous organic matters disappear in the forms of carbonic acid and water, while another portion is converted into humic acids which fix the ammonia gradually produced from the nitrogenous constituents of the solid and liquid excreta. The mineral matters remain behind entirely in the rotten dung, if care be taken to prevent loss by drainage. For proper decomposition, both air and moisture are requisite, while extreme dryness or too much water will arrest the due fermentation of the mass.
Well-fermented dung is more concentrated and consequently more efficacious than fresh farm-yard manure. Neither fresh nor rotten dung contains any appreciable quantity of volatile ammonia, and there is no advantage from applying gypsum, dilute acid, superphosphate, kainit, or other substances recommended as fixers of ammonia. If dung is carted into the field and spread out at once in thin layers it will suffer comparatively little loss. But if dung be kept for a length of time in shallow heaps, or in open straw-yards and exposed to rain, it loses by drainage a considerable proportion of its most valuable soluble fertilizing constituents. Experiments with farm-yard manure kept in an open yard showed that, after twelve months’ exposure to the weather, nearly all the soluble nitrogen and 78.2% of the soluble mineral matters were lost by drainage (A. Voelcker). To prevent this loss, farm-yard manure, as had been pointed out, should, whenever possible, be carted into the field, spread out at once, and ploughed in at the convenience of the farmer. It is, however, not always practicable to apply farm-yard manure just at the time it is made, and, as the manure heap cannot be altogether dispensed with, it is necessary to see how the manure may best be kept. The best dung is that made in regular pits or feeding-boxes. In them the urine is thoroughly absorbed, and, the manure being more compact through the constant treading, air enters less freely and the decomposition goes on less rapidly, the volatile matters, in consequence, not being so readily lost. External agents, such as rain, wind, sun, &c., do not affect the manure as they would in the case of open yards. Next best to box-fed manure is that made in covered yards, then that in sheds, and lastly that in open yards. When removed from the box or yard, the manure should be put in a heap upon a floor of clay or well-beaten-down earth, and then be covered with earth. When kept in an open yard, care should be taken not to let spoutings of buildings lead on to it, and if there be a liquid-manure tank, this might be pumped out over the manure again when the latter is too dry.
The advantages of farm-yard manure consist, not only in its supplying all the constituents of plant food, but also in the improved physical condition of the soil which results from its application, inasmuch as the land is thereby kept porous, and air is allowed free access. While, however, farm-yard manure has these advantages, experience has shown that artificial manures, properly selected so as to meet the requirements of the crops intended to be grown on the particular land, may be employed to greater advantage. In farm-yard manure about two-thirds of the weight is water and one-third dry matter; a large bulk thus contains only a small proportion of fertilizing substances, and expense is incurred for carriage of much useless matter when dung has to be carted to distant fields. When a plentiful supply of good farm-yard manure can be produced on the farm or bought at a moderate price in the immediate neighbourhood, it is economy to use it either alone or in conjunction with artificial manures; but when food is dear and fattening does not pay, or farm-yard manure is expensive to buy, it will be found more economical to use artificial manures. This has obtained confirmation from the experience of Mr Prout, at Sawbridgeworth, Herts, where since 1866, successive crops of corn have been grown, and entirely with the use of artificial manures.
The real difficulty with farm-yard manure is to get enough of it, and, if it were available in sufficiency, it would be safe to say that farmers generally would not require to go farther in regard to the manuring of any of the crops of the farm. Moreover, experiments at Rothamsted and Woburn have shown of how “lasting” a character farm-yard manure is, its influence having told for some 15 to 20 years after its application had ceased.
Light land is benefited by farm-yard manure through its supplying to the soil organic matter, and imparting to it “substance” whereby it becomes more consolidated and is better able to retain the manurial ingredients given to it. By improving the soil’s moisture-holding capacity, moreover, “burning” of the land is prevented.
With heavy clay soils the advantages are that these are kept more open in texture, drainage is improved, and the soil rendered easier of working. On light land, well-rotted manure is best to apply; and in spring, whereas on heavy land freshly-made, “long,” manure is best, and should be put on in autumn or winter.
Farm-yard manure, where the supply is limited, is mostly saved for the root-crop, which, however, generally needs a little superphosphate to start it, as farm-yard manure is not sufficiently rich in this constituent. It serves a great purpose in retaining the needed moisture in the soil for the root crop.
For potato-growing, for vegetables, and in market-gardening, farm-yard manure is almost indispensable. On grass-land and on clover-ley it is also very useful, and in the neighbourhood of large towns is employed greatly for the production of hay.
For corn crops also, and especially for wheat on heavy land, farm-yard manure is much used, and, in a dry season in particular, shows excellent results, though experiments at Rothamsted and Woburn have shown that, on heavy and light land alike, heavier crops of wheat and barley can be produced in average seasons by artificial manures.
Seaweed.—Along the sea-coast seaweed is collected, put in heaps and allowed to rot, being subsequently used on the land, just as farm-yard manure is. According to the nature of the weed and its water-contents, it may have from .3 to 1% of nitrogen, or more, with potash in some quantity.
Green-manuring.—Though properly belonging to cultivation rather than to manuring, and acting chiefly as a means of improving the condition of the soil, the practice of green-manuring carries with it manurial benefits also, in that it supplies humus and nitrogen to the soil, and provides a substitute for farm-yard manure. The ploughing-in of a leguminous green-crop which has collected nitrogen from the atmosphere should result in a greater accumulation of nitrogen for a succeeding corn-crop, and thus supply the cheapest form of manuring. Green-manuring is most beneficial on light land, poor in vegetable matter.
Manure Cakes, Malt Dust, Spent Hops, &c.—Many waste materials of this kind are used because of their supplying, in the form of nitrogenous organic matter, nitrogen for crop uses. The nitrogen in these is of somewhat slow-acting, but lasting, nature. In addition to nitrogen, some of these materials, e.g. rape cake, cotton cake and castor cake, contain appreciable amounts of phosphoric acid and potash. Rape cake, or “land cake,” as it is called in Norfolk, is used considerably for wheat. It is also believed to be a preventive of wireworm, and so is often employed for potatoes and root-crops. Rape-seed from which the oil has been extracted by chemical means, and which is called “rape refuse,” is made use of in hop-gardens as a slowly acting supplier of nitrogen. It will contain 4 to 5% of nitrogen with 3 to 4% of phosphates. Damaged cotton and other feeding-cakes, no longer fit for feeding, are ground into meal and put on the land. Castor cake is directly imported for manurial purposes, and will have up to 5% of nitrogen with 4 to 5% of phosphates. Spent hops, malt dust and other waste materials are similarly used. The principal use of these materials is on light land, and to give bulk to the soil while supplying nitrogen in suitable form.
Wool-dust, Shoddy, &c.—The clippings from wool, the refuse from cloth factories, silk, fur and hair waste, carpet clippings and similar waste materials are comprised in this category. They are valuable purely for their nitrogen, and should be purchased according to their nitrogen-contents. They are favourite materials with hop-growers and fruit-farmers, whose experience leads them to prefer a manure which supplies its nitrogen in organic form, and which acts continuously, if not too readily. It is the custom in hop-lands to manure the soil annually with large quantities of these waste materials till it has much fertility stored up in it for succeeding crops. According to its nature, wool-dust or shoddy may contain anything from 3% of nitrogen up to 14%.
Leather is another waste material of the same class, but the process of tanning it has undergone makes its nitrogen but very slowly available and it is avoided, in consequence, as a manure. There have been several processes started with the object of rendering leather more useful as a manure.
Hoofs and Horns.—The clippings and shavings from horn factories are largely used by some hop-growers, and, though very slow in their action, they will contain 14 to 15% of nitrogen. They are sometimes very finely ground and sold as “keronikon,” chiefly for use in compound artificial manures.
Dried Blood is another purely nitrogenous material, which however seldom finds its way to the farmer, being used up eagerly by the artificial manure maker. It will contain from 12 to 14% of nitrogen. It is obtained by simply evaporating down the blood obtained from slaughter-houses. It is the most rapidly acting of the organic nitrogenous materials enumerated, and, when obtainable, is a favourite manure with fruit-growers, being also used for root and vegetable growing.
Soot is an article of very variable nature. It owes its manurial value mainly to the ammonia salts it contains, and a good sample will have about 4% of ammonia. It is frequently adulterated, being mixed with ashes, earth, &c. Flue sweepings of factory chimneys are sometimes sold as soot, but possess little value. Besides the ammonia that soot contains, there would undoubtedly seem to be a value attaching to the carbonaceous matter. Soot is a favourite top-dressing for wheat on heavy land, and is efficacious in keeping off slugs, &c. Speaking generally, the lighter a sample of soot is the more likely is it to be genuine.
Sewage Manure.—Where methods of dealing with the solid matters of sewage are in operation, it frequently happens that these matters are dried, generally with the aid of lime, and sold locally. Occasionally they are prepared with the addition of other fertilizing materials and made up as special manures. It may be taken for granted that sewage refuse by itself is not worth transporting to any distance. When made up with lime, the “sludge,” as it is generally termed, is often useful because of the lime it contains. But, on the whole, the value of such preparations has been greatly exaggerated. Where land is in need of organic matter, or where it is desirable to consolidate light land by the addition of material of this class, sludge may, however, have decided value on mechanical and physical grounds, but such land requires to be near at hand.
b. Imported or Manufactured Nitrogenous Manures.
These are nitrate of soda; sulphate of ammonia; calcium cyanamide; calcium nitrate.
Nitrate of Soda.—This is the best known and most generally used of purely nitrogenous manures. It comes from the rainless districts of Chile and Peru, from which it was first shipped about the year 1830. By 1899 the export had reached to 1,344,550 tons. It is uncertain what its origin is, but it is generally believed to be the deposit from an ancient sea which was raised by volcanic eruption and its waters evaporated. Another theory puts it as the deposit from the saline residues of fresh-water streams. The crude deposit is termed caliche, and from this (which contains common salt and sulphates of soda, potash and lime) the nitrate is crystallized out and obtained as a salt containing 95 to 96% pure nitrate of soda. It is sold on a basis of 95% pure, and is but little subject to adulteration.
As a quickly acting nitrogenous manure nitrate of soda has no equal, and it is in great demand as a top-dressing for corn crops, also for roots. On grass-land, if used alone, it tends to produce grass but to exterminate leguminous herbage. Its tendency with corn crops is to produce, if used in quantity, inferiority of quality in grain. It can be employed in conjunction with superphosphate and other artificial manures, though it should not be mixed with them long before the mixture is to be put on. It is a very soluble salt, and the nitrogen being in the form of nitrates, it can be readily taken up by plants. On the other hand, it is readily removed from the soil by drainage, and its effects last only for a single season. Owing to its solubility, it requires to be used in much larger amount than the crop actually will take up. On a heavy soil it has a bad influence if used repeatedly and in quantity, causing the land to “run,” and making the tilth bad. Though, doubtless, exhaustive to the soil, when used alone, there is no evidence yet of nitrate of soda causing land to “run out,” as has been shown to be the case with sulphate of ammonia. One cwt. to the acre is a common dressing for corn crops, but for mangels it has been used to advantage up to 4 cwt. per acre. As a top-dressing for corn crops it differs little in its crop-results from its rival sulphate of ammonia, but in a dry season it answers better, owing to its more ready solubility and quicker action, whereas in a wet season sulphate of ammonia does better.
Sulphate of Ammonia.—This is the great competitor with nitrate of soda, and, like the latter, is useful purely as a nitrogenous manure. It is obtained in the manufacture of gas and as a by-product in the distillation of shale, &c., as also from coke ovens. By adding sulphuric acid to the ammoniacal liquor distilled over from the coal, &c., the salt is crystallized out. It is seldom adulterated, and, as sold in commerce, generally contains 24 to 25% of ammonia. It is not quite so readily soluble as nitrate of soda; it does not act quite so quickly on crops, but is less easily removed from the soil by drainage, leaving also a slight amount of residue for a second crop. It is nearly as efficacious as a top-dressing for corn crops as is nitrate of soda, and for some crops, e.g. potatoes, it is considered superior. It may also be used like nitrate of soda for root crops. On grass-land its effect in increasing gramineous but reducing leguminous herbage is similar to that of nitrate of soda, but with corn crops it has not the same deteriorating influence on the quality of grain. It can be mixed quite well with superphosphate and other artificial manures, and is therefore a common form in which nitrogen is supplied in compound manures. It does not produce the bad effect on the tilth of certain soils that nitrate of soda does, but it is open to the objection that, if used continually on soil poor in lime, it will gradually exhaust the soil and leave it in an acid condition, so that the soil is unable to bear crops again until fertility is restored by the addition of lime. A usual dressing of sulphate of ammonia is 1 cwt. per acre.
Calcium Cyanamide.—This is a new product which represents the earliest result of the utilization, in a commercial form, of atmospheric nitrogen as a manurial substance. It is obtained by passing nitrogen gas over the heated calcium carbide obtained in the electric furnace, the nitrogen then uniting with the carbide to form calcium cyanamide. The product contains from 19 to 20% of nitrogen, and, though still under trial as a nitrogenous manure, it bids fair to form a valuable source of supply, especially should the natural deposits of nitrate of soda become exhausted. The cost of production limits its manufacture to places where electrical power can be cheaply generated. In its action it would seem to resemble most closely sulphate of ammonia.
Calcium Nitrate.—This is another product of the utilization of atmospheric nitrogen as a manurial agent. Nitrogen and oxygen are made to combine within the electric arc and the nitric acid produced is then combined with lime, forming nitrate of lime. Nitrate of lime contains, as put on the market, about 13% of nitrogen. In its action it should be very similar to nitrate of soda, with, possibly, some added benefit to certain soils by reason of the lime it contains. Like cyanamide, it is still in the experimental stage as regards its agricultural use, and can only be produced where electric power is cheaply obtainable.
Neither material is altogether free from objection, the cyanamide heating when mixed with other manures and even with soil, and being liable to give off acetylene gas owing to the presence of calcium carbide, whereas the calcium nitrate is a salt which on exposure to a moist atmosphere readily deliquesces.
Under the heading of manures that are used purely for their phosphatic benefit to the soil are superphosphate and basic slag.
Superphosphate.—This is the typical phosphatic manure, and is the base of the numerous artificial manures used on the farm. Superphosphate is made by dissolving raw phosphatic minerals in sulphuric acid (oil of vitriol), the tribasic phosphate of lime which these contain being converted into the so-called “soluble phosphate,” sulphate of lime being formed at the same time. The first impetus to the manufacture of superphosphate was given by Liebig, when he suggested, in 1840, the treatment of bones with oil of vitriol in order to make them act more quickly in the soil. Lawes subsequently, in 1843, applied this to mineral phosphates, using phosphorite, first of all, and the great manufacture of mineral superphosphate then began. Coprolites, as found in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Bedfordshire and elsewhere were the raw materials at first employed in the United Kingdom. But gradually the demand for the new manure became so great that distant parts of the world were searched to bring in the raw material for conversion into superphosphate. Many new sources of supply have been worked, and many worked out or abandoned in favour of better and richer phosphates. Among these were the crystalline apatites of Canada and Norway, French, Spanish and German (Lahn) phosphates, and, at a later period, Carolina (land and river), Florida, Tennessee, Somme, Belgian, Algerian and Tunisian phosphates. In addition to these came other materials which, in their origin, were really of the nature of guano, being bird deposits the ammoniacal matters of which were gradually washed out. The mineral matters remained and altered the composition of the original rock on which the guano was deposited, thus forming rich deposits of phosphate of lime. Such were the phosphates obtained from many of the islands of the West Indies and South Pacific, and known under such various names as Sombrero, Curaçao, Aruba, Maiden Island, Megillones, Baker Island, Fanning Islands, Lacepedes Islands, &c. guanos. Few of these are now worked, but their place has been largely taken by the rich deposits of Ocean Island and Christmas Island, which are of similar origin. The principal supplies of phosphatic minerals at the present time come from Florida, Algeria, Tunis, Ocean Island and Christmas Island. Other phosphates imported are Redonda and Alta Vela phosphates, but these consist mainly of phosphate of alumina, and are not used for superphosphate manufacture but for phosphorus production.
Coprolites, as formerly used, contained from 50 to 60% of phosphate of lime, but they are not worked now, the richer sources, which are also better adapted for superphosphate manufacture, having taken their place. The amount of oxide of iron and alumina in raw phosphates is of great importance, as phosphates containing these bodies are liable to cause superphosphate to “go back” or form what is called “reverted” phosphate, the percentage of “soluble phosphate” being reduced thereby. For this reason many of the older supplies have been replaced by newer and better ones. Florida rock phosphate of high grade contains 75 to 78% of phosphate of lime, and Florida land pebble phosphate about 70%. Algerian and Tunisian phosphates have from 55 to 65% of phosphate of lime, and are very free from iron and alumina, this fitting them especially for superphosphate making. Tennessee phosphate has about 70% of phosphate, Somme and Belgian phosphates 40 to 50%, while Ocean Island and Christmas Island phosphates are of very high grade and yield over 80 and up to 86% of phosphate of lime. Superphosphate is made by finely grinding the raw phosphate and mixing it with oil of vitriol (chamber acid); what actual product is formed is a matter of some uncertainty, but it is a phosphate soluble in water, and believed to be mono-calcic phosphate. This is the true “soluble phosphate,” but in commercial transactions it is universal to express the amount in terms of the original tribasic phosphate which has been rendered soluble. Ordinary grades of mineral superphosphate give from 25 to 27% of soluble phosphate and higher grades 30 to 35%. On reaching the soil, the soluble phosphate becomes precipitated by the calcium and iron compounds in the soil. But it is precipitated in a very fine form of division, in which it is readily attacked by the plant roots. Superphosphate is used practically for all crops, including cereals, clover and other leguminous crops. Its use tends to early maturity in a crop. Its value for giving a start to root crops is particularly recognized, and root crops generally are dependent on it, as they have little power of utilizing the phosphoric acid in the soil itself. On land poor in lime superphosphate must be used with caution owing to its acid nature, and in such cases an undissolved phosphate is preferable. The quantity in which it is applied ranges from 2 and 3 cwt. per acre to 5 cwt. It suffers but little loss through drainage, and will exercise an influence on crops beyond the year of application.
Basic Slag.—This other principal phosphatic manure is of more recent origin, and is an undissolved phosphate. It is the waste product of steel-making where the Thomas-Gilchrist or “basic” process of manufacture has been employed. This process is used with ores containing much phosphorus, the removal of which is necessary in steel-manufacture. The “converters” which hold the molten iron are lined with lime and magnesia, and the impurities of the iron form a “slag” with these materials. For a long time the slag was regarded as a waste product, but ultimately it was found that, by grinding it very finely, it had distinct agricultural value, and now its use is universal. Basic slag is of various grades, containing 12 to 20% of phosphoric acid, which is believed to exist in the form of a tetracalcic phosphate. This phosphate is found to be readily attacked by a weak solution of citric acid, and this probably accounts for the comparative ease with which plants can utilize the phosphate. With it is also a good deal of lime, and the presence of this undoubtedly, in many cases, accounts partly for the benefits that follow the use of basic slag. It should be very finely ground; a common standard is that 80 to 90% should pass through a sieve having 10,000 meshes to the square inch.
The principal use of basic slag is on grass-land, especially where the soil is heavy or clayey. Its effect on such land in causing white clover to appear is in many cases most remarkable, and without doubt, much poor, cold grass-land has been immensely benefited by its use. It is also employed for root crops; but its effect on these, as on cereals, is not so marked as on grass-land. On light land its benefit is not nearly so great or universal as on heavier land.
III.—Manures containing Nitrogen and Phosphates
These may be classified as follows: (a) Natural manures—bones, fish and meat guanos, Peruvian guano, bats’ guano; (b) Manufactured manures—dissolved bones, compound manures.
a. Natural Manures
Bones..—The value and use of these in agriculture has long been known, as also the comparative slowness of their action, which latter induced Liebig to suggest their treatment with sulphuric acid. Natural bones will contain from 45 to 50% of phosphate of lime with 4 to 4½% of nitrogen. It is usual to boil bones lightly after collection, in order to remove the adhering particles of flesh and the fat. If steamed under pressure the nitrogenous matter is to a great extent extracted, yielding glue, size, gelatine, &c., and the bones—known then in agriculture as “steamed bones”—will contain from 55 to 60% of phosphate of lime with 1 to 1½% of nitrogen. Bones are also imported from India, and these are of a very hard and dry nature. Bones are principally used for root crops, and to some extent on grass-land. The more finely they are ground the quicker is their action, but they are a slow-acting manure, which remains some years in the land. Mixed with superphosphate, bone meal forms an excellent manure for roots, and obviates the difficulty of using superphosphate on land poor in lime. Steamed bones, sometimes ground into flour, are much used in dairy pastures.
Fish and Meat Guanos.—The term “guano,” though generally applied to these manures, is wrongly so used, for they are in no sense guano (meaning thereby the droppings of sea birds). They are really fish or meat refuse, being generally the dried fish-offal or the residue from meat-extract manufacture. They vary much in composition, according to their origin, some being highly nitrogenous (11 to 12% nitrogen) and comparatively low in phosphate of lime, and others being more highly phosphatic (30 to 40% phosphate of lime) with lower nitrogen. These materials are to some extent used for root and vegetable crops, and chiefly for hop-growing, but they go largely also to the artificial manure maker.
Peruvian Guano.—This material, though once a name to conjure with, has now not much more than an academic interest, owing to the rapid exhaustion of the supplies. It is true guano, i.e. the deposit of sea birds, and was originally found on islands off the coast of Peru. Peruvian guano was first discovered in 1804 by A. von Humboldt, and the wonderful results attending its use gave an enormous impulse to its exportation. The Chincha Islands yielded the finest qualities of guano, this giving up to 14 and 15% of nitrogen. Gradually the Chincha Islands deposits became worked out, and other sources, such as the Pabellon de Pica, Lobos, Guanape and Huanillos deposits were worked in turn. In many instances the guano had suffered from washing by rain or by decomposition, or in other cases the bare rock was reached and the shipments contained some considerable quantity of this rocky matter, so that the highly nitrogenous guanos were no longer forthcoming and deposits more phosphatic in character took their place. Gradually the shipments fell off, and with them the great reputation of the guano as a manure. On some of the islands the birds, after having been driven off, have returned and fresh deposits are being formed. On the west coast of Africa also some new deposits have been found, and a certain amount of guano comes from Ichaboe Island; but the trade will never be what it once was. Occasional shipments come from the Ballista Islands, giving from 10 to 11% of nitrogen with 11 to 12% of phosphoric acid, and lower-grade guanos (7% of nitrogen and 16% of phosphoric acid) are arriving from Guanape, while from Lobos de Tierra comes a still lower grade.
The particular feature that marked guano was that it contained both its nitrogenous and phosphatic ingredients in forms in which they could be very readily assimilated by plants. Moreover, the occurrence of the nitrogenous and phosphatic matters in different forms of combination gave to them a special value, and one that could not be exactly imitated in artificial manures. The nitrogenous matters, e.g., exist as urates, carbonates, oxalates and phosphates of ammonia, and a particular nitrogenous body termed “guanine” is also found. Guano contains much alkaline salts, and is, from its containing alike phosphates, nitrogen and potash in suitable forms and quantity, an exceedingly well balanced manure. In agriculture it is used for corn crops, and also for root crops, potatoes and hops. It is esteemed for barley, as tending to produce good quality. For vegetable and market-garden crops that require forcing guano is also still in demand. The more phosphatic kinds are sometimes treated with sulphuric acid, and constitute “Dissolved Peruvian Guano.”
Bats’ Guano.—In caves in New Zealand, parts of America, South Africa and elsewhere, are found deposits formed by bats, and these are used to some extent as a manure, though they have no great commercial value.
b. Manufactured Manures
Dissolved Bones.—These are bones treated with oil of vitriol, as in superphosphate manufacture. By this treatment bones become much more readily available, and are used to a considerable extent, more especially for root crops. Their composition varies with the method of manufacture and the extent to which they are dissolved. Speaking generally, they will have from 11 to 19% of soluble phosphate, with 20 to 24% of insoluble phosphates, and if pure should contain 3% of nitrogen. When mixed with superphosphate in varying amount, or if made with steamed and not raw bone, they are generally known under the indefinite name of “bone manure.”
Compound Manures.—To this class belong the manures of every description which it is the aim of the artificial manure manufacturer to compound for particular purposes or to suit particular soils or crops. The base of all these is, as a rule, mineral superphosphate or else dissolved bones, or the two together, and with these are mixed numerous different manurial substances calculated to supply definite amounts of nitrogen, potash, &c. Such manures, the trade in which is a very large one, are variously known as “corn manure,” “turnip manure,” “grass manure” and the like, and much care is bestowed on their compounding and on their preparation in good condition to allow of their ready distribution over the land.
These, with few exceptions, are natural products from the potash mines of Stassfurt (Prussia). Until the discovery of these deposits, in 1861, the use of potash as a fertilizing constituent was very limited, being confined practically to the employment of wood ashes. At the present time a small quantity of potash salts—principally carbonate of potash—is obtained from sugar refinery and other manufacturing processes, but the great bulk of the potash supply comes from the German mines. In these the different natural salts occur in different layers and in conjunction with layers of rock-salt, carbonate of lime and other minerals, from which they have to be separated out and undergo subsequently a partial purification by re-crystallization.
The principal potash salts used in agriculture are—(1) sulphate of potash, which is about 90% pure; (2) kainit, an impure form of sulphate of potash, and containing much common salt and magnesia salts, and giving about 12% of potash (K2O); (3) muriate of potash, which is used to a great extent in agriculture, and contains 75 to 90% of muriate of potash; and (4) potash manure salts, a mixture of different salts and containing from 20 to 30% of potash.
Potash is much esteemed in agriculture, more especially on light land (which is frequently deficient in it) and on peaty soils, and for use with root crops and potatoes in particular. For fruit and vegetable growing and for flowers potash manures are in constant request. Clay land, as a rule, is not benefited by their use, thesecontaining generally an abundance of potash. Along with basic slag, potash salts have been frequently used for grass on light land with advantage.
There are, in addition to the foregoing, certain materials which in a limited sense only can be called “manures,” but the influences of which are mostly seen in the mechanical and physical improvements which they effect in soil. Such are salt, and also lime in its different forms.
Salt.—The action of salt in liberating potash from the soil has been explained. As a manure it is sometimes used along with nitrate of soda as a top-dressing for corn crops, in the belief that it stiffens the straw. For root crops also, and mangels in particular, it is employed; also for cabbage and other vegetables.
Lime.—The use of this is almost solely to be considered as a soil improvement, and not as that of a manure. Sulphate of lime (gypsum) is, however, occasionally used as a dressing for clover, and also for hops. The fact that superphosphate itself contains a considerable amount of sulphate of lime renders the special application of gypsum unnecessary, as a rule.
As compared with “natural” manures, like farm-yard manure, artificial manures have the disadvantage that they, unlike it, do not improve the physical condition of the soil. Artificial manures have, however, the advantage over farm-yard manure that they can supply in a small compass, and even if used in small quantity, the needed nitrogen, phosphoric acid and potash, &c., which crops require, and which farm-yard manure has but in small proportion. They, further, present the expensive fertilizing matters in a concentrated form, and by their application save expense in labour. (J. A. V.*)
- The amount of nitrogen thus deposited annually was found at Rothamsted to be 7.21 ℔ per acre.