Monday, September 10, 2012

A Book About Manure

One day I was browsing on the Kindle ebooks site and came upon this little gem of a book: 
Farm Gardening with Hints on Cheap Manuring,
Quick Cash Crops and How to Grow Them, by Anonymous.
Published by Johnson & Stokes, seed growers and merchants, 1898

What first caught my eye was the reference to manure, and second that the book is free. Manure might not factor large in your agenda, but it is meaningful for us largely because of our cucumber, zucchini, and winter squash yields this year. They are the best we’ve ever seen, a fact we attribute to farmer Mike's organic cow manure.

The book is in the public domain due to the year it was published, 1898. 
I was curious about what would be said on gardening and growing things from then. It was interesting to find that compost was mentioned. What happened to compost between then and now? My father gardened, but without a compost pile. Weeds and used-up plants were tossed into garden pathways and roto-tilled in the following spring. Same with my grandparents. My then-father-in-law threw weeds and spent plants into the garbage can until one year his plants refused to grow, a problem dismissed as "the blight."

Then suddenly, in the mid 1970's, compost became part of down-home philosophy along with making your own granola and using whole wheat for baking. I made a compost pile in my garden. My mother made one in her garden, and I thought it was a new thing. Um, no. Now, after all these years I discover that “compost” was in the vocabulary all the way back to 1898. This is like when someone tells me, there’s nothing new on earth. Well, i guess: there’s nothing new on earth.

Enough of my rant, and back to the book. The first chapter is called "Making the Soil Rich," and is about manure. After a short mention of lime- it either produces remarkable results or makes no apparent difference, Anonymous states: "Barnyard manure is the best of all known fertilizers. Not only is it complete in character, but it has the highly valuable property of bulk. It opens and ventilates the soil, and improves its mechanical condition to a remarkable degree. Humus is a name for decaying organic matter."

The chapter goes on to cover the three basic nutrients; nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash. It tells how to store and work with manure, and the statement is made that once spread, manure should be dug in right away. This is a proven truth in our orchard. Manure does nothing to change the soil if it lies on top. Like Anonymous says, it has to be dug in. Digging up forest floor is no small feat. We've blogged about the difficulties of converting from forest to garden soil.

Anonymous also talks about green manure, and the growing of legumes to provide nitrogen, ideas I’d figured were invented in the 1970's along with compost.

Following the information on manure, Anonymous talks about vegetables, each one individually. This is excellent information. If you want to know about growing a particular plant type, look it up here. The information is divided into categories including how to plant, cultivate, fertilize, and prepare each one for market. The information will be helpful for someone who wants to sell at a farmers market, as well as for any home gardener.

We learned quite a bit with the entry on asparagus. Anonymous says to plant the crowns 15" deep. This is twice the depth given by our gardening catalogs. The ebook suggests that shallow planting leads to skinny stalks. It also says that asparagus needs lots of manure. This information was sufficient to get us out to the asparagus patch to pile a mix of dirt and manure onto our skinny stalks.

In the section about beans we learned: "The soil of a new bean patch is sometimes inoculated with soil from an old patch, to get quick action of the bacteria..." Our gardening catalogs somehow neglect to tell us this, encouraging the purchase of "inoculant" instead. Hmmm, another tidbit that is good to know.

And there's much more. This is a great little book to have in our collection, and well worth the time it took to download. (If you don’t have a Kindle reader, the Amazon site offers a free version for a computer, and there is an app for a free ipad reader). -jmm

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