Gardening Articles

Storing Lime In The Soil

Liberal Use of Limestone. Land never does its best when skimped in any way. As we raise the percentage of carbonate of lime in land that naturally is deficient, we give increasing ability to such land to take on some of the desirable

characteristics of a limestone soil. It is poor business to be making a hand-to-mouth fight against a state of actual acidity unless the cost of more liberal treatment is prohibitive. The most satisfactory liming is done where the expense is light enough to justify the free use of material. When this is the case, extreme fineness of all the stone is undesirable. There is the added cost due to such fineness and no gain if the finer portion is sufficient to correct the acidity, and the coarser particles disintegrate as rapidly as needed in later years. Loss by Leaching. Another valid argument against extreme fineness of the stone used in liberal applications is the danger of loss by leaching. Soils are so variable in their ability to hold what may be given them that it is idle to offer any estimate on this point. The amount of lime found in the drainage waters of limestone land teaches no lesson of value for other land, the excessive loss in the former case being due oftentimes to erosion that creates channels through the subsoil, through which soil and lime pass. But we do know the tendency of lime to get away, and the use of several tons of fine stone per acre may easily be followed by loss in many types of soil. It is wholly reasonable to believe that some portion of such an application should be coarse enough to stay where put until needed by exhaustion of the finer portion. It is upon this theory that coarser material often is preferred to the very finest. What Degree of Fineness? Assuming that the farmer is in a position to store some carbonate of lime in his land for future use, giving the soil an alkaline character for five or 10 years, the degree of fineness of the stone is important, partly because there will be distinct loss by leaching from many types of soils if all the material is fine as dust, and specially because less finely pulverized material can be supplied him at a lower price per ton. Much by-product in the manufacture of coarse limestone for other purposes contains a considerable percentage of material that would not pass through a 60-, or 40-, or 10-mesh screen, but it does contain a big percentage of immediately available lime, and a more complete pulverization of this by-product would add greatly to its cost. It is quite possible that a ton of such stone may be bought at a price that would cover the value only of the fine portion, estimated on the basis of the prevailing price of finely ground material, the coarse material being obtained without any cost at all. It is this situation, or an approach to it, that leads some authorities to become strenuous advocates of the use of coarsely pulverized stone. The advice is right for those who are in a position to accept it. If the money available for liming an acre of land can buy all the fine stone needed for the present and some coarser stone mixed with it for later use by the soil, the purchase is much more rational than the investment of the same amount of money in very fine stone that has no admixture of coarser material. If the investment in the former case is larger than in the latter, it continues to be good business up to a certain point, and the room for some uncertainty is wide enough to provide for much difference in judgment. Quality of the Stone. Another factor of uncertainty is the hardness of the stone. A limestone may have such flinty characteristics that a piece barely able to pass through a 10-mesh screen will not disintegrate in the soil for years, and there are other types of limestone that go into pieces rapidly. The variation in quality of stone accounts for no little difference in opinion that is based upon limited observation. Using One's Judgment. It is evident that no hard and fast rule respecting fineness may be laid down, and yet a rather definite basis for judgment is needed. There is much good experience to justify the requirement that when all ground lime is high-priced in any section for any reason, and the amount applied per acre is thereby restricted, the material should be able to pass through a screen having 60 wires to the linear inch, and that the greater part should be much finer. Usually some part of such stone will pass through a 200-mesh screen. When a limestone on the market will not meet this test, some concession in price should be expected. If the stone is not very flinty, a 40-mesh screen may be regarded as affording a reasonably satisfactory test. An increasing percentage of coarser material makes necessary an increase in amount to meet the lime deficiency, and a distinct concession in price is to be expected when a 10-mesh screen is used in testing. At the same time a careful buyer will use a 60-mesh screen to determine the percentage that probably has availability for the immediate future. A coarsely ground article, containing any considerable percentage that will not pass through a 10-mesh screen, must sell at a price justifying an application sufficient to meet the need of the soil for a long term of years, as the greater part has no immediate availability, and only a heavy application can provide a good supply for immediate need. New York State Experience. A bulletin of the New York agricultural experiment station, published early in 1917, calls attention to the rapid increase in demand for ground limestone in New York. Within the last five years the number of grinding plants within the state had increased from one to 56, and more than a dozen outside plants are shipping extensively into the state. The bulletin says: "Farmers who have had experience with the use of ground limestone are as a rule satisfied with only a reasonable degree of fineness, and are able to judge the material by inspection. When limestone is ground so the entire product will pass a 10-mesh (or 2 mm.) sieve, the greater part of it will be finer than a 40-mesh (or 1/2 mm.) sieve.... There are now in operation in this State more than a dozen small portable community grinders; they are doing much to help solve the ground limestone problem and their use is rapidly increasing. In the practical operation of these machines they grind only to medium fineness (2 mm.). To insist upon extreme fineness is to discourage their use." This State experiment station is only one of many scientific authorities approving the use of limestone reduced only to such fineness that it will pass through a 10-mesh screen, the cost of the grinding being sufficiently small to permit heavy applications.

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