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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter XIX.—Liquid Manures—Illustration


No sooner had the autumn of my second year fairly set in, and the leaves fallen, than I turned my attention more closely than ever to the subject of providing an abundant supply of manure, in hopes of being able to devise some plan by which to lessen the large cash outlay necessary to be annually made for it. I did not grudge the money for manure, any more than the sugar on my strawberries. Both were absolutely necessary; but economy in providing manure was as legitimate a method of increasing my profits as that of purchasing it. I knew it must be had in abundance: the point was, to increase the quantity while diminishing the outlay. Thus resolved, I kept Dick more actively at work than ever in gathering leaves all over the neighborhood, and when he had cleaned up the public roads, I then sent him into every piece of woods to which the owner would grant me access. In these he gathered the mould and half-rotted leaves which thickly covered the ground. I knew that he would thus bring home a quantity of pestiferous seeds, to plague us in the shape of weeds, but by this time we had learned to have no fear of them. By steadily pursuing this plan when no snow lay on the ground, he piled up in the barnyard a most astonishing quantity of leaves. There happened to be but little competition in the search for them, so that he had the ground clear for himself. All this addition to the manure heap cost me nothing. To this I added many hogsheads of bones, which the small boys of the neighborhood gathered up from pig-pens, slaughter-houses, and other places, and considered themselves well paid at ten cents a bushel for their labor. These were laid aside until the best and cheapest method could be devised for reducing them to powder, and so fitting them for use.

In the meantime, I frequently walked for miles away into the country, making acquaintance with the farmers, observing their different modes of cultivation, what crops they produced, and especially their methods of obtaining manures. As before observed, farmers have no secrets. Hence many valuable hints were obtained and treasured up, from which I have subsequently derived the greatest advantage. Some of these farmers were living on land which they had skinned into the most squalid poverty, and were on the high-road to being turned off by the sheriff. Others were manured at a money cost which astonished me, exceeding any outlay that I had made, but confirming to the letter all my preconceived opinions on the subject, that one acre thoroughly manured is worth ten that are starved. Of one farmer I learned particulars as to the history of his neighbor, which I felt a delicacy in asking of the latter himself. Some instances of success from the humblest beginnings were truly remarkable; but in all these I found that faith in manure lay at the bottom.

One case is too striking to be omitted. A German, with his wife, and two children just large enough to pull weeds and drive a cow, had settled, seven years before, on eight acres, from which the owner had been driven by running deeply in debt at the grog-shop. The drunkard's acres had of course become starved and desolate; the fences were half down, there was no garden, and the hovel, in which his unhappy family was once snugly housed, appeared ready to take its departure on the wings of the wind. Every fruit-tree had died. In this squalid condition the newly arrived German took possession, with the privilege of purchasing for $600. His whole capital was three dollars. He began with four pigs, which he paid for in work. The manure from these was daily emptied into an empty butter-firkin, which also served as a family water-closet, and the whole was converted into liquid manure, which was supplied to cabbages and onions. A gentleman who lived near, and who noted the progress of this industrious man, assured me that even in the exhausted soil where the crops were planted, the growth was almost incredible. On turnips and rutabagas the effect was equally great. Long before winter set in, this hero had bought a cow, for while his own crops were growing he had earned money by working around the neighborhood. He readily obtained credit at the store, for he was soon discovered to be deserving. When away at work, his wife plied the hoe, and acted as mistress of the aforesaid butter-tub, while the children pulled weeds. His cabbages and roots exceeded any in the township; they discharged his little store-bills, and kept his cow during the winter, while the living cow and the dead pigs kept the entire family, for they lived about as close to the wind as possible.

This man's passion was for liquid manure. If he had done so much with a tub, he was of course comparatively rich with a cow. Then he sunk a hogshead in the ground, conducted the wash of the kitchen into it, and there also emptied the droppings from the cow. It was water-closet for her as well as for the family. It is true that few of us would fancy such a smelling-bottle at the kitchen door; but it never became a nuisance, for he kept it innoxious by frequent applications of plaster, which improved as well as purified the whole contents. It was laborious to transport the fluid to his crops, but a wheelbarrow came the second year to lessen the labor. There happened, by the merest accident, to be a quarter of an acre of raspberries surviving on the place. He dug all round these to the depth of eighteen inches, trimmed them up, kept out the weeds, and gave them enormous quantities of liquid manure. The yield was most extraordinary, for the second year of his location there he sold $84 worth of fruit. This encouraged him to plant more, until at the end of four years he had made enough, from his raspberries alone, not only to pay for his eight acres, but to accumulate a multitude of comforts around him. In all this application of liquid manure his wife had aided him with unflagging industry.

It was natural for me to feel great interest in a case like this, so I called repeatedly to see the grounds and converse with the German owner. As it was seven years from his beginning when I first became acquainted with him, his little farm bore no resemblance to its condition when he took possession. There were signs of thrift all over it. His fences were new, and clear of hedgerows; his house had been completely renovated; he had built a large barn and cattle-sheds, while his garden was immeasurably better than mine. Everything was in a condition exceeding all that I had seen elsewhere. His two girls had grown up into handsome young women, and had been for years at school. All this time he had continued to enlarge his means of manufacturing and applying liquid manure, as upon its use he placed his main dependence. He had sunk a large brick cistern in the barnyard, into which all the liquor from six cows and two horses was conducted, as well as the wash from the pig­pen and the barnyard. A fine pump in the cistern enabled him to keep his manure heap constantly saturated, the heap being always under cover, and to fill a hogshead mounted on wheels, from which he discharged the contents over his ground. The tub and underground hogshead with which he commenced were of course obsolete. If it be possible to build a monument out of liquid manure, here was one on this farm of eight acres. Its owner developed another peculiarity—he had no desire to buy more land.

This man's great success in a small way could not have been achieved without the most assiduous husbanding of manure, and this husbanding was accomplished by soiling his cow. As he increased his herd he continued the soiling system; but as it required more help, so he abandoned working for others and hired whatever help was necessary. The increase of his manure heap was so great that his little farm was soon brought into the highest possible condition. In favorable seasons he could grow huge crops of whatever he planted. But his progress was no greater than has repeatedly been made by others, who thoroughly prosecute the soiling system.

A frequent study of this remarkable instance of successful industry, led me to conclude that high farming must consist in the abundant use of manure in a liquid state. A fresh reading of forgotten pages shed abundance of new light upon the subject. The fluid excretia of every animal is worth more than the solid portion; but some are not contented with losing the fluid portions voided by the animals themselves, but they suffer the solid portions of their manure to undergo destructive fermentation in their barnyards, and thus to become soluble, and part, by washing, with the more valuable portions. Now it is well known that the inorganic matter in barnyard manure is always of a superior character, therefore valuable as well as soluble; and this is regularly parted with from the soil by those who permit the washings to be wasted by running off to other fields or to the roadside. I have seen whole townships where every barnyard on the roadside may be found discharging a broad stream of this life-blood of the farm into the public highway. The manure heap must be liquefied before the roots of plants can be benefited by the food it contains. No portion of a straw decomposed in the soil can feed a new plant until it is capable of being dissolved in water; and this solution cannot occur without chemical changes, whose conditions are supplied by the surroundings. Such changes can be made to occur in the barnyard by saturating the compost heap with barnyard liquor. All that nature's laws would in ten years effect in manures in an ordinary state, when ploughed into the ground, are ready, and occur in a single season, when the manures are presented to the roots of plants in a liquid form.

A suggestion appropriate to this matter may be made for the consideration of ingenious minds. Every farmer knows that a manure heap, when first composted, abounds in clods of matted ingredients so compact, that time alone will thoroughly reduce them to that state of pulverization in which manure becomes an available stimulant to the roots of plants. Fermentation, the result of composting or turning over a manure heap, does measurably destroy their cohesion, but not sufficiently. Few can afford to let their compost heaps remain long enough for the process of pulverization to become as perfect as it should be. Hence it is taken to the field still composed of hard clods, around which the roots may instinctively cluster, but into which they vainly seek to penetrate. Some careful farmers endeavor to remedy this defect by laboriously spading down the heap as it is carted away. The operation is a slow one, and does not half prepare the manure for distribution. A year or two is thus required for these clods to become properly pulverized, for they remain in the soil inert and useless until subsequent ploughings and harrowing reduce them to powder.

As farmers cannot wait for time to perform this office in the manure heap, they should have machinery to do the work. A wooden cylinder, armed with long iron teeth, and revolving rapidly in a horizontal position, with the manure fed in at the top through a capacious hopper, would tear up the clods into tatters, and deliver the whole in the exact condition of fine powder, which the roots of all plants require. To do this would require less time and labor than the present custom of cutting down with either spade or drag. Better still, if the manure could be so broken up as it is taken from the barnyard to the compost heap; the process of disintegration thus begun would go on through the entire mass, until, when carted away, it would be found almost as friable as an ash heap. It is by contact of the countless mouths of the roots with minute particles of manure that they suck up nutriment, not by contact with a dense clod. Hence the astonishing and immediate efficacy of liquid manure. In that the nutriment has been reduced to its utmost condition of divisibility, and when the liquid is applied to the soil, saturation reaches the entire root, embracing its marvellous network of minute fibres, and affording to each the food which it may be seeking.

We cannot use liquid manures on a large scale, but thorough pulverization of that which is solid is a very near approach to the former. Immerse a compact clod in water, and the latter will require time to become discolored. But plunge an equal bulk of finely pulverized manure into water, and discoloration almost instantly occurs. Diffusion is inevitable from contact with the water. Now as rain is water, so a heavy shower falling on ground beneath which great clods of manure have been buried, produces in them no more liquefaction than it does on that which has been dropped in a bucket. On the other hand, if the ground be charged with finely pulverized manure, a soaking rain will immediately penetrate all its comminuted particles, extract the nutriment, and deliver it, properly diluted, into the open mouths of the millions of little rootlets which are waiting for it. Practically, this is liquid manure on the grandest scale. But no one can quickly realize its superior benefits from a newly buried compost heap, unless the latter has been effectually pulverized before being deposited either in or upon the ground.

I was so impressed by the example of the thriving German referred to, that I resolved to imitate him. He had given me a rich lesson in the art of manufacturing manures cheaply, though I thought it did not go far enough. Yet I made an immediate beginning by building a tank in the barnyard, into which the wash from stable, pig-pen, and yard was conducted. This was pumped up and distributed over the top of the manure heap under the shed, once or twice weekly. A huge compost heap was made of leaves, each layer being saturated with the liquor as the heap accumulated, so that the whole mass was moist with fluid manure. It was never suffered to become dry. Now, as in the centre of a manure heap there is no winter, decomposition went on at a rapid rate, especially among the leaves, stimulated by the peculiar solvents contained in the liquor. Thus, when taken out for use in the spring, both heaps had become reduced to a half fluid mass of highly concentrated manure, in a condition to be converted, under the first heavy rain, into immediate food for plants. Though my money cost for manure for next season would be greater than before, yet my home manufacture was immense. As I was sure that high manuring was the key to heavy crops and high profits, so my studies, this winter, were as diligently pursued in the barnyard as in the library, and I flattered myself that I had gathered hints enough among my neighbors to enable me, after next year, to dispense entirely with the purchasing of manure.

But I had other reasons for avoiding the purchase of manure—none can be purchased clear of seeds, such as grass and weeds. I have already suffered severely from the foul trash that has been sold to me. One strong warning of the magnitude of the nuisance was given by the condition of my strawberries. A small portion of them was covered, at the approach of winter, with litter from the barn­yard, and another portion with cornstalks. The object was protection from the cold; and it may be added that the result, so far as protection goes, was very gratifying. But when the covering was removed in April, the ground protected by the barn­yard litter was found to be seeded with grass and other seeds, while that protected by the cornstalks was entirely clean. During a whole year I had the utmost difficulty to get the first piece of ground clear of these newly planted pests, and am sure that the labor thus exerted cost more than the strawberries were worth. From this sore experience I have learned never to cover this fruit with barn­yard litter. When they are covered, cornstalks alone are used. They are drawn back into the balks in April, where they serve as a mulch to keep down the weeds, and ultimately decay into manure. Though not so neat to look at, nor so convenient to handle as straw, yet they answer quite as well, and at the same time cost a great deal less.


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