Our neighbours recently gave me a copy of The Country Gentlemen’s Estate Book 1924. Whilst some of it isn’t of much interest to those owning but a few hundred acres some of it is remarkably relevant to us nearly 90 years later.
These extracts from an article entitled Modern Fertilisers are as true today as they were then. After all is said and done, despite our increase in knowledge and modern plant breeds, growing is still growing.
Importance of Garden Lime
This first quote just says something I have harped on about frequently. There is no point chucking fertiliser or manure at an acid plot in need of lime. Now we better understand the mechanics of nutrient uptake we can explain why better but even in those days the basic facts were clear. You can read more on lime here: Garden Lime, Why Lime, When to Lime & How Much to Lime
Speaking on the above subject (Modern Fertilisers) at Gloucester last year (i.e., in 1923), Sir John Russell, Director of Rothamsted Experimental Station, where experiments in the use of artificial manure have been in progress continuously for eighty years, pointed out that modern field experiments brought out very clearly the fact that artificial fertilisers could not act to any profitable extent on land that needed drainage or liming.
No farmer need be in any uncertainty as to whether his land wanted draining, but it was not by any means easy to tell when lime was required. He had repeatedly been asked to visit farms where, in spite of heavy manure bills, the crop results were unsatisfactory, and had found that the trouble was due to lack of lime.
One of the most useful things a farmers’ club could do at the present time would be to arrange for a lime survey. That could be done at a very small cost, and it would be possible to arrange for the liming to be carried out on a co-operative basis at a minimum of expense.
It was necessary to emphasise that, because, unless this matter was attended to, expenditure on artificial manures might give disappointing results.
Farmyard Manure vs Artificial Fertilisers
Particularly after WW2, there was a swing to using artificial fertilisers in preference to manures and treating the soil more as support mechanism for roots than the complex, living medium it is.
When you think that it took until the 1970s for the attitude to artificial fertilisers to start to change and the organic movement to begin to take off, it’s surprising to read this some from some 50 years before.
The second important point to bear in mind was that artificial manures were not the same as farmyard manure, and could not be expected to produce exactly the same results. In particular, farmyard manure helped with the tilth, and kept the soil moist, and for those reasons formed the best basis for manuring of mangels, swedes, potatoes, and other crops, where good tilth was of importance, and where the crop would suffer from any check caused by drought.
There’s quite a lot on the site about both artificial fertilisers and manures in this section on the site: Manures & Fertilisers