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Alkalis Salt Ashes Lime

I do not know a rood of our country's surface so rich in all the

materials which enter into the production of the Grains, Grasses,

Fruits, and Vegetables, which are the objects and rewards of

cultivation, that it could not be improved by the application of

fertilizers; if there be such, I heartily congratulate the owners, and

advise them not to sell. Nor do I believe that there are many acres so

fertile that they would
not produce more Indian Corn, more Hemp, more

Cotton, and more of whatever may be their appropriate staple, if

judiciously fertilized. If there be farms or fields originally so good

that manure would not increase their yield, I am confident that the

first half-dozen crops will have taken that conceit out of them.

Prairies and river-bottoms may yield ever so bounteously; but that very

luxuriance of growth insures their gradual exhaustion of certain

elements of crops, which must needs be replaced or their product will

dwindle. Whoever has sold a thousand bushels of grain, or its equivalent

in meat, from his farm, has thereby impoverished that farm, unless he

has applied something that balances its loss. "I perceive that virtue

has gone out of me," observed the Saviour, because the hem of his

garment had been touched; and every field that had been cropped might

make a similar report whenever its annual loss by abstraction has not

been balanced by some kind of fertilizer. The farmer who grows the

largest crops is the most merciless exhauster of the soil, unless he

balances his annual drafts (as good farmers rarely fail to do) by at

least equal reenforcements of the productive capacity of his fields.

The good farmer begins by inquiring, "Wherein was my soil originally

deficient? and of what has it been exhausted by subsequent crops?" I

judge that my gravelly hill-sides would reward the application of two

hundred loads (or tuns) of pure clay per acre, as I think the clay flats

which border Lake Champlain would pay for a like application of sand or

fine gravel where that material is found in convenient proximity; and

yet, I know very well that, on at least three-fourths of our country's

area, such application would cost far more than it would be worth. Every

farmer must act on his knowledge of his soil and its peculiar needs, and

not blindly follow the dictum of another. Yet I know few farms which,

were they mine, I would not consider enhanced in value by a vigorous

application of some alkaline substance--Lime, Salt, Ashes, or some of

the cheaper Nitrates. I should be very glad to apply one thousand

bushels of good house-made, hard-wood Ashes to my twenty acres of

arable upland, if I could buy them, delivered, at twenty five cents per

bushel; but they are not to be had. I doubt that there are a hundred

acres of warm, dry, gravelly or sandy soil east of the Alleghanies that

would not amply reward a similar application. But Ashes in quantity are

unattainable, since no good farmer sells them, and Coal is the chief

fuel of cities and villages. The Marls of New-Jersey I judge fully equal

in average value to Ashes which have been nearly deprived of their

potash by leaching, but not quite half equal, bushel for bushel, to

unleached Ashes. I judge that average Marl is worth 10 cents per

bushel where Ashes may be had for 25. But Marl is found only in a few

localities, and a material worth but 10 cents per bushel will not bear

transportation beyond 40 miles by wagon or 200 by water. Salt is only

found or made at a few points, and is too dear for general use as a

fertilizer. Where the refuse product of Salt-Works can be cheaply

bought, good farmers will eagerly compete for it, if their lands at all

resemble mine. I judge the tun of Potash I ordered fifteen years ago

from Syracuse, paying $50 and transportation, was the cheapest

fertilizer I ever bought. It was so impregnated with Salt (from the

boiling over of the salt-kettles into the ashes) as to be worthless for

other than agricultural purposes; but I mixed it with a large pile of

Muck that I had recently dug, and, six or eight months thereafter,

applied the product to a very poor, gravelly hill-side which I had just

broken up; and the immediate result was a noble crop of Corn. That

hill-side has not yet forgotten the application.

--If I should try to explain just how and why Lime is a fertilizer, I

should probably fail; and I am well assured that liming has in some

cases been overdone; yet I think most observers will concur in my

statement that any region which has been limed year after year produces

crops of noticeable excellence. I cite as examples Chester and

Lancaster Counties, Pennsylvania, with Stark and adjacent counties of

Ohio. Possibly, results equally gratifying might be secured by applying

some other substance; I only know that frequently limed lands are

generally good lands, as their crops do testify. I heartily wish that

the flat clay intervales of Western Vermont could have a fair trial of

the virtues of liming. I should expect to see them thereby rendered

friable and arable; no longer changing speedily from the semblance of

tar to that of brick, but readily plowed and tilled, and yielding

liberally of Grain as well as Grass. I am confident that most farms in

our country will pay for liming to the extent of fifty bushels per acre

where the cost of quick-lime does not exceed ten cents per bushel; and

most farmers, by taking, hot from the kiln, the refuse lime that is

deemed unfit for building purposes, can obtain it cheaper than that.

I wish some farmer who gives constant personal attention to his work--as

I cannot--would make some careful tests of the practical value of

alkalis. For instance: the abundance and tenacity of our common sorrel

is supposed to indicate an acid condition of the soil; and all who have

tried it know that sorrel is hard to kill by cultivation. I suggest that

whoever is troubled with it should cover two square rods with one bushel

of quick-lime just after plowing and harrowing this Spring; then apply

another bushel to four square rods adjacent; then make similar

applications of ashes to two and four square rods respectively, taking

careful note of the boundaries of each patch, and leaving the rest of

the field destitute of either application. I will not anticipate the

result: more than one year may be required to evolve it; but I am

confident that a few such experiments would supply data whereof I am in

need; and there are doubtless others whose ignorance is nearly equal to


Many have applied Lime to their fields without realizing any advantage

therefrom. In some cases, there was already a sufficiency of this

ingredient in the soil, and the application of more was one of those

many wasteful blunders induced by our ignorance of Chemistry. But much

Lime is naturally adulterated with other minerals, especially with

Manganese, so that its application to most if not to all soils subserves

no good end. In the absence of exact, scientific knowledge, I would buy

fifty bushels of quick-lime, apply them to one acre running through a

field, and watch the effect. If it doesn't pay, you have a bad article,

or your soil is not deficient in Lime.