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- Home Vegetable Gardening - 8/33 -
even where the same spot must be occupied year after year: rye, field corn, field peas (or cow peas in the south) and crimson clover. After the first of September, sow every foot of garden ground cleared of its last crop, with winter rye. Sow all ground cleared during August with crimson clover and buckwheat, and mulch the clover with rough manure after the buckwheat dies down. Sow field peas or corn on any spots that would otherwise remain unoccupied six weeks or more. All these are sown broadcast, on a freshly raked surface. Such a system will save a very large amount of plant food which otherwise would be lost, will convert unavailable plant food into available forms while you wait for the next crop, and add _humus_ to the soil--concerning the importance of which see Chapter VII.
I am half tempted to omit entirely any discussion of chemical fertilizers: to give a list of them, tell how to apply them, and let the why and wherefore go. It is, however, such an important subject, and the home gardener will so frequently have to rely almost entirely upon their use, that probably it will be best to explain the subject as thoroughly as I can do it in very limited space. I shall try to give the theory of scientific chemical manuring in one paragraph.
We have already seen that the soil contains within itself some available plant food. We can determine by chemical analysis the exact amounts of the various plant foods--nitrogen, phosphoric acid, potash, etc.--which a crop of any vegetable will remove from the soil. The idea in scientific chemical manuring is to add to the available plant foods already in the soil just enough more to make the resulting amounts equal to the quantities of the various elements used by the crop grown. In other words:
) Available plant food elements in ( the soil, plus > == Amounts of food elements Available chemical food elements ( in matured crop supplied in fertilizers )
That was the theory--a very pretty and profound one! The discoverers of it imagined that all agriculture would be revolutionized; all farm and garden practice reduced to an exact science; all older theories of husbandry and tillage thrown by the heels together upon the scrap heap of outworn things. Science was to solve at one fell swoop all the age- old problems of agriculture. And the whole thing was all right in every way but one--it didn't work. The unwelcome and obdurate fact remained that a certain number of pounds of nitrogen, phosphoric acid and potash--about thirty-three--in a ton of good manure would grow bigger crops than would the same number of pounds of the same elements in a bag of chemical fertilizer.
Nevertheless this theory, while it failed as the basis of an exact agricultural science, has been developed into an invaluable guide for using all manures, and especially concentrated chemical manures. And the above facts, if I have presented them clearly, will assist the home gardener in solving the fertilizer problems which he is sure to encounter.
What are termed the raw materials from which the universally known "mixed fertilizers" are made up, are organic or inorganic substances which contain nitrogen, phosphoric acid or potash in fairly definite amounts.
Some of these can be used to advantage by themselves. Those practical for use by the home gardener, I mention. The special uses to which they are adapted will be mentioned in Part Two, under the vegetables for which they are valuable.
GROUND BONE is rich in phosphate and lasts a long time; what is called "raw bone" is the best "Bone dust" or "bone flour" is finely pulverized; it will produce quick results, but does not last as long as the coarser forms.
COTTON-SEED MEAL is one of the best nitrogenous fertilizers for garden crops. It is safer than nitrate of soda in the hands of the inexperienced gardener, and decays very quickly in the soil.
PERUVIAN GUANO, in the pure form, is now practically out of the market. Lower grades, less rich in nitrogen especially, are to be had; and also "fortified" guano, in which chemicals are added to increase the content of nitrogen. It is good for quick results.
NITRATE OF SODA, when properly handled, frequently produces wonderful results in the garden, particularly upon quick-growing crops. It is the richest in nitrogen of any chemical generally used, and a great stimulant to plant growth. When used alone it is safest to mix with an equal bulk of light dirt or some other filler. If applied pure, be sure to observe the following rules or you may burn your plants: (1) Pulverize all lumps; (2) see that none of it lodges upon the foliage; (3) never apply when there is moisture upon the plants; (4) apply in many small doses--say 10 to 20 pounds at a time for 50 x 100 feet of garden. It should be put on so sparingly as to be barely visible; but its presence will soon be denoted by the moist spot, looking like a big rain drop, which each particle of it makes in the dry soil. Nitrate of soda may also be used safely in solution, at the rate of 1 pound to 12 gallons of water. I describe its use thus at length because I consider it the most valuable single chemical which the gardener has at command.
MURIATE and SULPHATE OF POTASH are also used by themselves as sources of potash, but as a general thing it will be best to use them in combination with other chemicals as described under "Home Mixing."
LIME will be of benefit to most soils. It acts largely as an indirect fertilizer, helping to release other food elements already in the soil, but in non-available forms. It should be applied once in three to five years, at the rate of 75 to 100 bushels per acre, after plowing, and thoroughly harrowed in. Apply as long before planting as possible, or in the fall.
Mixed fertilizers are of innumerable brands, and for sale everywhere. It is little use to pay attention to the claims made for them. Even where the analysis is guaranteed, the ordinary gardener has no way of knowing that the contents of his few bags are what they are labeled. The best you can do, however, is to buy on the basis of analysis, not of price per ton--usually the more you pay per bag, the cheaper you are really buying your actual plant food. Send to the Experiment Station in your State and ask for the last bulletin on fertilizer values. It will give a list of the brands sold throughout the State, the retail price per ton, and the actual value of plant foods contained in a ton. Then buy the brand in which you will apparently get the greatest value.
For garden crops the mixed fertilizer you use should contain (about):
) Nitrogen, 4 per cent. ( Basic formula Phosphoric acid, 8 per cent. > == for Potash, 10 per cent. ( Garden crops )
If applied alone, use at the rate of 1000 to 1500 pounds per acre. If with manure, less, in proportion to the amount of the latter used.
By "basic formula" (see above) is meant one which contains the plant foods in the proportion which all garden crops must have. Particular crops may need additional amounts of one or more of the three elements, in order to attain their maximum growth. Such extra feeding is usually supplied by top dressings, during the season of growth. The extra food beneficial to the different vegetables will be mentioned in the cultural directions in Part Two.
If you look over the Experiment Station report mentioned above, you will notice that what are called "home mixtures" almost invariably show a higher value compared to the cost than any regular brand. In some cases the difference is fifty per cent. This means that you can buy the raw chemicals and make up your own mixtures cheaper than you can buy mixed fertilizers. More than that, it means you will have purer mixtures. More than that, it means you will have on hand the materials for giving your crops the special feeding mentioned above. The idea widely prevails, thanks largely to the fertilizer companies, that home mixing cannot be practically done, especially upon a small scale. From both information and personal experience I know the contrary to be the case. With a tight floor or platform, a square-pointed shovel and a coarse wire screen, there is absolutely nothing impractical about it. The important thing is to see that all ingredients are evenly and thoroughly mixed. A scale for weighing will also be a convenience. Further information may be had from the firms which sell raw materials, or from your Experiment Station.
The matter of properly applying manure, even on the small garden, is also of importance. In amount, from fifteen to twenty-five cords, or 60 to 100 cartloads, will not be too much; although if fertilizers are used to help out, the manure may be decreased in proportion. If possible, take it from the heap in which it has been rotting, and spread evenly over the soil immediately before plowing. If actively fermenting, it will lose by being exposed to wind and sun. If green, or in cold weather, it may be spread and left until plowing is done. When plowing, it should be completely covered under, or it will give all kinds of trouble in sowing and cultivating.
Fertilizers should be applied, where used to supplement manure or in place of it, at from 500 to 1500 pounds per acre, according to grade and other conditions. It is sown on broadcast, after plowing, care being taken to get it evenly distributed. This may be assured by sowing half while going across the piece, and the other half while going lengthwise of it. When used as a starter, or for top dressings--as mentioned in connection with the basic formula--it may be put in the hill or row at time of planting, or applied on the surface and worked in during the growth of the plants. In either case, especially with highly concentrated chemicals, care must be taken to mix them thoroughly with the soil and to avoid burning the tender roots.
This chapter is longer than I wanted to make it, but the problem of how best to enrich the soil is the most difficult one in the whole business of gardening, and the degree of your success in growing vegetables will be measured pretty much by the extent to which you master it. You cannot do it at one reading. Re-read this chapter, and when you understand the several subjects mentioned, in the brief way which limited space made necessary, pursue them farther in one of the several
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