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

rich.



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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