Soils Manures And Fertilizers
The soil must furnish the whole foundation of plant life. For centuries
those who have grown things have realized the vital importance of having
the soil rich or well supplied with plant food; and if this is important
in growing plants in the
field or flower garden, where each vegetable or
flower has from one to several cubic feet of earth in which to grow, how
imperative it is to have rich soil in a pot or plant box where each
plant may have but a few cubic inches!
But the trouble is not so much in knowing that plants should be given
rich soil, as to know how to furnish it. I well remember my first
attempt at making soil rich and thinking how I would surprise my
grandmother, who worked about her plants in pots every day of her life,
and still did not have them as big as they grew in the flower garden. I
had seen the hired man put fertilizer on the garden. That was the
secret! So I got a wooden box about two-thirds full of mellow garden
earth, and filled most of the remaining space with fertilizer, well
mixed into the soil, as I had seen him fix it. I remember that my
anxiety was not that I get too much fertilizer in the soil, but that I
would take so much out of the bag that it would be missed. Great indeed
was my chagrin and disappointment, twelve hours after carefully setting
out and watering my would-be prize plants, to notice that they had
perceptibly turned yellow and wilted. And I certainly had made the soil
So the problem is by no means as simple as might at first be supposed.
Not only must sufficient plant food be added to the soil but it must be
in certain forms, and neither too much nor too little may be given if
the best results are to be attained.
Now it is a fact established beyond all dispute that not only food, but
air and water, as well, must be supplied to the roots of growing plants;
and this being the case, the mechanical condition of the soil in which
the plant is to grow has a great deal to do with its success or failure.
It must be what is termed a porous and friable soil--that is, one so
light and open that water will drain through it without making it a
compact, muddy mass. One of the things I noticed about my special
fertilizer soil, mentioned above, was that it settled, after being
watered, into a solid mass from which water would not drain and into
which air could not penetrate.
It is next to impossible to find a soil just right for house plants, so,
as a general thing the only way to get a good soil is to mix it
yourself. For this purpose several ingredients are used. If you live in
a village or suburb, where the following may be procured, your problem
is not a difficult one. Take about equal parts of rotted sod, rotted
horse manure and leaf-mould from the woods and mix thoroughly and
together, adding from one-sixth to one-third, in bulk, of coarse sand.
If a considerable quantity of soil will be required during the year, it
will be well to have some place, such as a bin or large barrel, in which
to keep a supply of each ingredient. The sod should be cut three or four
inches thick, and stacked in layers with the grassy sides together,
giving an occasional soaking, if the weather is dry, to hasten rotting.
The manure should be decomposed under cover, and turned frequently at
first to prevent burning out; or sod and manure can be rotted together,
stacking them in alternate layers and forking over two or three times
after rotting has begun. The manure furnishes plant food to the compost,
the rotted sod "body," the leaf-mould water-absorbing qualities, and the
sand, drainage qualities.
If the soil is wanted at once, and no rotted sod is to be had, use good
garden loam, preferably from some spot which was under clover-sod the
year before. If it is difficult to obtain well-rotted manure, street
sweepings may be used as a substitute, and old chip-dirt from under the
wood pile, or the bottom of the woodshed if it has a dirt floor, will do
in place of leaf-mould. Peat, or thoroughly dried and sweetened muck
are also good substitutes for leaf-mould. Finely screened coal ashes may
take the place of sand.
If you live in the city, where it is difficult to obtain and to handle
the several materials mentioned, the best way is to get your soil ready
mixed at the florists, as a bushel will fill numerous pots. If you
prefer to mix it yourself, or to add any of the ingredients to the soil
you may have, most florists can supply you with light soil, sand, peat
or leaf-mould and rotted manure; and sphagnum moss, pots, saucers and
other things required for your outfit. If a large supply is wanted, it
would probably be cheaper to go to some establishment on the outskirts
of the city where things are actually grown, than to depend upon the
retail florist nearer at hand.
Potting soil when ready to use should be moist enough to be pressed into
a ball by the hand, but never so moist as not to crumble to pieces again
readily beneath the finger.
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