Gardening Articles

The Lime In Soils

Limestone Land. Soil analyses are serviceable only within certain limits, and in the case of the normal soils that comprise the very great part of the entire humid region of the United States the practical man gives little heed to what special analyses

might show him when deciding upon the purchase of a farm. He does know, however, that a limestone soil has great natural strength, and recovers from mistreatment more readily than land low in lime. It has staying powers, and is dependable, unless through natural processes the lime leaches out or loses availability. All limestone areas have gained reputation for themselves as producers of grain and grass. Other Calcareous Soils. It is not only the limestone areas that stand high in esteem. There are types of soil with every varying percentage of lime down to clear sand or to peat, and some of the types are finely calcareous, containing such a high percentage of lime that nothing more could be desired. The actual percentage is not the determining factor, a clay soil needing greater richness in this material than a loam, and a sandy soil giving a good account of itself with an even less total content of lime, but in its way the particular soil type must be well supplied by nature with lime if its trees and other vegetation bear evidences of its strength and good agricultural value. Natural Deficiency. It is interesting to note the differences in evidences of prosperity that are associated with lime percentages. The areas that are able to produce the vegetation characteristic of calcareous soils are obviously the most prosperous. The decidedly lime-deficient sections, advertising their state by the kind of original timber, and later by unfriendliness to the clovers, do not attract buyers except through relatively low prices for farms. Such areas are extensive and have well marked boundaries in places. It does not follow that every farm in such limestone valleys as the Shenandoah, Cumberland, and Lebanon, or in the great corn belt having a naturally calcareous soil, is prosperous, or that a multitude of owners of such lime-deficient areas as the belt in a portion of southern New York and northern Pennsylvania, or the sandstone and shale regions of many states, have not overmatched natural conditions with fine skill. We treat only of averages when saying that a "lime country" shows a prosperity in its farm buildings and general appearance that does not come naturally and easily to any lime-deficient territory. In the latter a man rows against the current, and if livestock farming is not employed to furnish manure, and if the manure is not supplemented by tillage and drainage to secure aeration, or if lime is not applied, the land reaches such a degree of acidity that it loses the power to yield any profit. Nature's Short Supply. The total area of lime-deficient soil is large, comprising certainly much more than half of all the land east of the semi-arid belt of the United States. No small part of this area was not deficient at one time, as the nature of the original timber indicates, and it is well within the knowledge of practical men that land which once produced the walnut and ash and shellbark hickory can be brought back to productivity with reasonable ease after very hard usage. It has a good inheritance. It is a disconcerting fact in our American agriculture that, fertile as our country is as a whole, very great areas were so deficient in lime before they came under man's control that the chestnut, pine, and the oaks of mean growth were fully at home. The gradation from low lime content to high, and its relation to soil type, give us all sorts of mixtures of lime-loving and acid-resistant varieties of trees in original forests, but our agriculture is hampered by the high percentage of land for which nature made no great provision of lime, and on this land farming lags. Effect of Irrational Farming. Interest in liming might well have been due to the amendment of all this soil, but the rational use of lime that has been the subject of much study in the last quarter of a century concerns chiefly great areas that probably could have been kept in alkaline condition and friendly to the clovers for a long time despite a short natural supply as compared with the content of our limestone lands. The success of individual farmers in areas now admittedly acid as a whole is convincing on this point. Nature tries constantly to cure the ills of her soil through the addition of vegetable matter. An excess of water or a deficiency is atoned for in a degree by the leaves and rotted wood of her forests. Aeration is kept possible. The lime in the product of the soil goes back to it. A system of farming that involves the application of manure, thorough tillage, drainage where needed, and the free use of sods in some way, has kept portions of these non-calcareous soils out of the distinctly acid class. Clover grows satisfactorily, grass sods are heavy, and there is no acute lime problem. Such farms are relatively few in the great stretches of land now classed as acid soil, and probably the most of the lime that is being applied goes only on ground that once was sufficiently alkaline to grow the clovers. The loss of organic matter through failure to use the best methods of farming is responsible for no small part of the widespread need of lime today. This subtracts nothing from the urgency of its use to restore a condition favoring clover and grass sods, but it does teach a lesson of the highest value. The day of destructive soil acidity can be retarded by good farming, but in the long run the inevitable losses of lime from most soils must be met by applications. Limestone Soils. The old-time practice of making heavy applications of fresh burned lime to stiff limestone soils to make them friable, and to make their plant food available, led to disuse of all lime in some sections on account of the exhaustion that followed dependence upon these large amounts as a manure. Queerly enough, these original limestone soils have latterly been going into the acid class through loss of their distinctive elements, and they, too, have become dependent upon means for the correction of acidity.

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