May 1989

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Gardening for Profit

A Guide to the Successful Cultivation
of the Market and Family Garden


Peter Henderson

first published in 1866, reprinted from 1874 edition
Index to selections from Gardening for Profit

Chapter VII


The quantity, quality, and proper application of manures, is of the utmost importance in all gardening operations, and few have any conception of the immense quantity necessary to produce the heavy crops seen in our market gardens. Of stable or barn-yard manure, from 50 to 100 tons per acre is used, and prepared, for at least six months previously, by thorough turning and breaking up to prevent its heating unduly. The usual method is to have the manure-yard formed in a low part of the garden, but if there is no natural depression, one may be made by digging out from 18 to 24 inches deep, and enclosing it by a fence about 6 feet in height. The wagons are driven alongside, and the green manure thrown into the enclosure, care being taken to have it spread regularly; hogs are usually kept upon the manure in numbers sufficient to break it up, they being fed in part by the refuse vegetables and weeds of the garden.

The manure of horses is most valued, as we consider it, weight for weight, of about one-third more value than that of cows or hogs; on stiff soils it is of much more benefit as a pulverizer. There are many articles, the refuse of manufactures, that are still wasted, that have great value as manures. Among others, and of first importance, is the refuse hops from the breweries. It is a dozen years ago since they first began to be used in our gardens about New York; at first they were to be had almost at every brewery without cost, but the demand has so increased, that the price to-day ranges even higher than that of the best stable manure. Aside from its high fertilizing properties, it is excellent for breaking up and pulverizing the soil, and as a top-dressing or mulching, either to protect from the sun in summer, or from the frost in winter, it has no equal. From my experience with this fertilizer, I consider it to be of nearly double the value of that of stable manure. It requires to be composted in the same manner as other manure; it heats rapidly, and must be either spread regularly over the hog yard, or else turned once in two weeks to prevent "fire fang," from violent heating.

Another valuable refuse from our manufactories is the shavings and scrapings from horn, or whale-bone manufactories. The best way to render these most available, is to compost them thoroughly with hot manure, in the proportion of one ton of shavings to fifteen of manure; the heated manure extracts the oil from the shavings, which is intermingled with the whole. I have on several occasions seen the mixture of five tons of whale-bone shavings with our ordinary stable manure, make $400 per acre difference in the value of the crop; but of course such manufactories are not common, and it is only in certain localities that this fertilizer can be had.

Another valuable fertilizer from manufactories is "sugar house scum," which is composed largely of blood, charcoal, and saccharine refuse; as it heats violently, instead of being thrown in heaps by itself, it should be composted with equal quantities of soil or muck, and turned frequently, so that the whole is thoroughly mixed; thus when composted, it makes an excellent manure at twenty tons per acre; it is best applied by lightly plowing, or deeply harrowing-in.

Of concentrated manures, perhaps the best for general purposes, is pure Peruvian guano; this for general crops, when used without the addition of stable manures, is put on at the rate of from 1000 to 1200 pounds per acre; it is first pounded to powder so that it can be regularly sown over the surface, after plowing; it is then thoroughly harrowed in, and the crop is sown or planted at once.

In my experience, the next best concentrated fertilizer is bone-dust, or flour of bone; in experiments last season, with our crops of cauliflower and cabbage, we applied it in the same manner as guano, but at the rate of nearly 2000 pounds per acre, and it gave most satisfactory results, surpassing those of guano, where that had been used at the rate of 1200 pounds per acre.

In applying manures to the soil, we have long ago discovered the great importance of an alternation of different kinds; when I first began business as a market gardener, I had opportunities of getting large quantities of night soil from the scavengers of Jersey City; this was mixed with stable manure, charcoal, sawdust, or any other absorbent most convenient, and applied so mixed at the rate of about 30 tons per acre. The crops raised with this manure were enormous, for two or three years, but it gradually began to lose effect, and in five years from the time we began to use it, it required nearly double the weight of this compost to produce even an average crop. I then abandoned the use of night soil and applied refuse hops instead, at the rate of about 60 tons per acre, with marked improvement; but this was for the first and second years only, the third year showing a falling off. About this time our prejudices against the use of concentrated manures for market gardening began to give way, and at first we applied guano together with manure at the rate of 300 pounds per acre, which we found to pay; and the next season, guano was used at the rate of 1200 lbs. per acre, with very satisfactory results. Since then, our practice has been a systematic alternation of manures, which I am convinced is of quite as much importance to the production of uniform crops of first quality, as is the alternation of varieties of the different kinds of vegetables.

It is a grave blunder to attempt to grow vegetable crops, without the use of manures of the various kinds in about the proportions I have named. I never yet saw soil of any kind that had borne a crop of vegetables that would produce as good a crop the next season without the use of manure, no matter how "rich" the soil may be thought to be. An illustration of this came under my observation last season. One of my neighbors, a market gardener of nearly twenty years' experience, and whose grounds have always been a perfect model of productiveness, had it in prospect to run a sixty-foot street through his grounds; thinking his land sufficiently rich to carry through a crop of Cabbages, without manure, he thought it useless to waste money by using guano on that portion on which the street was to be, but on each side sowed guano at the rate of 1200 pounds per acre, and planted the whole with Early Cabbages. The effect was the most marked I ever saw; that portion on which the guano had been used sold off readily at $12 per hundred, or about $1400 per acre, both price and crop being more than an average; but the portion from which the guano had been withheld, hardly averaged $3 per 100. The street occupied fully an acre of ground, so that my friend actually lost over $1000 in crop by withholding $60 for manure. Another neighbor, whose lease had only one year to run, and who also unwisely concluded that it would be foolish to waste manure on his last crop, planted and sowed all without it; the result was, as his experience should have taught him, a crop of inferior quality in every article grown, and loss on his eight acres of probably $2000 for that season.

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