On the Application of Lime to Early 19th Century Farmland (Parts 3 and 4)


In my last post, I partly published Sir John Sinclair’s missives on liming farmland in his General Report of the Agricultural State, Volume II. from 1814.  The man had divided his instructions into four parts and my design is to keep this format intact for both the readers of Of Woodbridge and Hedgely, who would enjoy further information on the agrarian chemistry mentioned in the novel, and also for those with a historical curiosity on the state of farming in the early 19th century.  Let’s get started:

3. How Land is Managed After Lime is Applied

Increased yields as a function of liming magnitude
Increased yields as a function of liming magnitude

Many farmers have found, to their cost, that land which has received a complete liming should be rested from cropping or laid down for pasture as early as can be accomplished. But this being often inconvenient, a gentle and easy mode of cropping is generally adopted, such as may be sufficient to counteract the effects that lime would otherwise produce. Alternate white and green crops are peculiarly calculated for obtaining so desirable an end, and if these are properly cultivated the soil will not soon be exhausted.

4. What Are the Effects of Lime?


In bringing in newer maiden soils the use of lime is found to be so essential that little good could be done without it. Its first application in particular gives a degree of permanent fertility to the soil which can be imparted by no other manure. Its effects indeed are hardly to be credited, but the correctness of the following facts cannot be disputed. Maiden soils in Lammermuir of a tolerable quality will, with the force of sheep’s dung or other animal manures, produce a middling crop of oats or rye, but the richest animal dung does not enable them to bring any other grain to maturity. Peas, barley, or wheat will at first assume the most promising appearance, but when the peas are in bloom and the other grains are putting forth the ear, they proceed no farther and dwindle away in fruitless abortion. The same soils after getting even a slight dressing of lime will produce every species of grain, and in good seasons, bring them to maturity, always supposing the ground to be under proper culture, and the climate adapted to the crop. Lime is also peculiarly beneficial in improving moorish soils by making them produce good herbage, where nothing but heath and unpalatable grasses grew formerly.

On the Application of Lime to Early 19th Century Farmland


This is Part Two of a series I originally entitled ‘Excerpts on Mineral Manuring, Before the Advent of Commercial Fertilizer,’ and in such, I will be covering the application of lime shells (sea shells found in calcareous strata) to farmland for the purposes of regulating an acidic soil’s pH, improvement of its general texture (especially if it is a light, sandy soil) and thusly its ability to retain nutrients from plant and animal manures later applied, and perhaps adding calcium supplementation.  The full post will be in four parts, according to my reference’s author, Sir John Sinclair, who has divided it so in his General Report of the Agricultural State, Volume II. from 1814.  Such was profitable when devising my character, Mr. Winter’s suggested improvements to the land around Woodbridge and Hedgely; though if I recall correctly, I (rather, he) cut down the prescribed doses in a few situations to accommodate the large volumes of marl that too would eventually see the fields.  But before we get to my reproduction of his instructions on liming, I will add a few vocabulary terms:

Calcination (as it applies to limestone and lime shells) – this is the process of heating the substance to a high enough temperature, that an endothermic reaction occurs, in which the calcium carbonate degases carbon dioxide, leaving behind the more reactive calcium oxide (quicklime).

CaCO3 + heat —> CaO + CO2

Slacking (or slaking) – this is the process of adding water to quicklime, causing it to degrade to a powdery slurry of particulates (for the purpose of integrating such into the soil).  The result is also called ‘limewater’.

CaO + H2O —> Ca(OH)2

Lime Shells

Burned Lime Shells, Ready for Slaking

Limestone, after undergoing the process of calcination, has long been applied, by Scotch husbandmen, as a manure of stimulus to  the soil; and, in consequence of such, an application luxuriant  crops have been produced, even upon soils apparently of inferior quality, and which would have yielded crops of only trifling value had this auxiliary been withheld.  In fact the majority of soils,  unless naturally possessed of calcareous matter, cannot be  cultivated with advantage till they are dressed with lime, and  hence it is justly considered to be the basis of good husbandry.  

In treating of lime, it is proper to explain, 1. How it is prepared for use, 2. How it is applied to the soil, 3. How the land is managed  after the lime is applied, 4. What are its effects upon the soil, and  5. What are the rules for its application.

I. How Lime is Prepared for Use

picture from http://www.agrivi.com/importance-of-liming-for-high-soil-fertility/

The preparation of lime for laying on the soil consists in the  operations of 1. Calcining or burning, and 2. Of slacking it:

The burning of limestone is conducted generally by the  proprietors of land whose estates contain limestone rock, or by  persons who rent lime quarries from them.  They erect kilns,  either standing or drawing ones, according to the expected  demand, and sell it in shells or calcined limestone at certain rates per measure, varying according to circumstances.

The operation of slacking is extremely simple: It is only throwing  water upon the shells until they crack and swell, and finally  dissolve into a fine powder.  But instead of watering it in great  heaps, the practice which at present most commonly prevails is to lay it down in the state of shells upon land under summer fallow,  in portions of one firlot, barley measure (1 bushel and 1/2) upon a  fall of ground, or thirty six square yards.  These heaps will be six  yards asunder from centre to centre, upon an eighteen feet ridge and the quantity applied will, under these circumstances, be forty  bolls (240 Winchester bushels) per Scotch acre.  But if sixty bolls,  or 360 bushels per acre, are required, the heaps of the above size must occupy only twenty four square yards, and be at the distance of four yards four inches from each other, and so on, when other quantities of lime are applied.  Some farmers however prefer  laying up slaked lime in heaps of a size to serve two or three  English acres each, instead of those of smaller dimensions, though in this way an additional expense is incurred.

When lime can with any tolerable degree of convenience be watered, that operation ought never to be neglected.  When watered  soon the whole shells easily dissolve and leave not a particle  unpowdered if properly burnt, which is a great acquisition.  But  when the shells are not completely reduced before they are  ploughed in, they afterwards turn into clotted half reduced lumps which lie in the soil for years, and till broken or dissolved by  water, are of no use whatever.

In place of watering, which is often inconvenient, sometimes  impracticable, the heaps are covered with earth thrown up  around the circumference of the base of each heap, in which way  the shells are gradually brought into a powdered state.  This is an excellent device; and in spreading out the lime thus slightly  compounded, it is in a state fit to be divided with the utmost  regularity.  After spreading lime on fallow, it is of great advantage to harrow the fallow and wait till it gets a shower before  ploughing.  In this way the first shower becomes a shower of lime water which unites with a large proportion of the soil.  

Mr Mitchell, late surgeon in Ayr, strongly recommends a new  mode of slacking lime by means of sea water converted into brine. He calculates that 3000 gallons of sea water boiled down to about 600 gallons will slack 64 bushels of lime shells – a quantity  sufficient to manure two acres, the expense of which he estimates at only 30s. per acre.  Slacking lime with urine, he also considers  as an excellent practice.

II. How to Apply Lime

from http://www.noble.org/ag/soils/soilacidity/

So great is the variety of soils, and other circumstances, that no general rule can be devised for fixing the quantity of pure lime that is required for an acre of land.  Thirty two barley bolls, or 192 Winchester bushels of shells per Scotch, or 153 bushels per English acre have been applied with success to light, soft land: a beautiful verdure has been the consequence, and this verdure always indicates a certain degree of melioration, which will appear in future crops.  From wanting even this small powdering, some parts of the same field left unlimed had, in comparison, the appearance of barren land.  But from forty to sixty bolls, barley measure, (i.e. from 240 to 360 bushels), are generally esteemed proper for different degrees of clay.  Indeed from sixty to one hundred bolls have been applied successfully, for both corn and grass, on strong land.  The application is generally made when land is under the process of summer fallow, though it is not unusual to apply lime to grass land when the surface is tolerably level.

On the whole it seems agreed, that from 50 to 80 bolls of lime shells per Scotch acre (i.e. from 300 to 480 bushels per Scotch, or from 240 to 384 bushels per English acre), are quite sufficient for the greater part of the most fertile districts in Scotland, and that light soils, which require less in the first instance, are greatly benefited by a frequent repetition.

Lime operates powerfully with earth, particularly when mixed with half rotted vegetable substances requiring farther decomposition.  It makes an excellent compost also, with the scourings of ditches, sea ooze, or mud and moss, or wherever there is inert vegetable matter.  But it should be rendered mild to answer these purposes without waste, and the rubbish of old walls or old plaster is accordingly preferable.‡

‡ Note:  The chemist, Sir Humphry Davy, recommended lime not be applied to nutriment that was already decomposed, as it would render it less active with regard to plant adsorption, but instead would recommend caustic lime (quicklime) for use with inert organic matter (old roots, branches, &c. yet to have broken down) to encourage it into a state of putrefaction.

[Parts three and four, underway]

Do Waterwheel Pumps Cause the Marthambles?

Turbines no doubt causing herpes outbreak epidemics. Compliments of Wikimedia Commons.

Of Woodbridge and Hedgely contains several satirical moments that poke fun at the modern anti-science crowd, which may be lost one folks not intimately acquainted with the propaganda currently being generated by climate denialists and anti-clean energy associations funded by those with stakes in the fossil fuel industry.   Luckily, I’m here to help:

In Episode 6th of the novel, we find the engineer, Thomas Winter, committing to his journal a recount of the obstruction the novel’s antagonists have served out regarding his recently installed water pumps (see previous blog post on water wheel pumps) which will be used to deliver water to a set of small fields to be mixed with a primitive nitrogen fertilizer he’s experimenting with.  He writes the following:

‘…George Moore has naturally taken some complaints concerning my engineering endeavors – firstly against my pools, for as soon as my hires had presented to the fields the ridiculous notion that I was to glaze over the land and take backdoor payments on tax collections sprung up again, causing time to be wasted on the part of all involved. And as quick as the howling of these dogs quieted down after having been satisfied in our suffering of time, they started up again upon the recent deployment of my water wheel pumps: Claims that they were a blight on the countryside, ruining its continuity and picturesque quality, became a pounding point by this same set of men at the latest Society meeting. No doubt they further authored the misinformation that the pumps would be uncommon loud, like steam pumps when they ran at full capacity, and that the noise and vibration would cause those proximal to suffer “headaches, dyspepsia, shortened tempers, and any other manner of nervous attitude putting them and their offspring in the way of infectious sequelae”, those specifically mentioned being pox, influenza, measles, whooping cough and even the nefarious marthambles. I’m now obliged to dispel these charges through demonstrations, again dampening my schedule whilst these few wag their tales and salivate at having further antagonized me.’                

The satire is revealed when one realizes all the loathsome tactics the antagonists use to slow the progress of Mr. Winter’s experiment are the selfsame tactics currently being used by anti-wind groups (as in wind turbines – renewable energy).  The waterwheel pumps indeed act as a satirical proxy for modern wind turbines.  I’m sure a significant amount of readers have heard, through the media, some of the anti-wind propaganda – they muck up the countryside, they’re loud, &c. – so I needn’t explain these grievances further.  But the ‘plum in the pudding’, as is colloquially stated throughout the novel, is the notion that these contraptions cause those nearby to suffer illnesses they otherwise wouldn’t have.  Enter the mischief of modern propagandists and activists:

From Desmogblog:

Research Finds Wind Farm Health Concerns Probably Caused By Anti-Wind Scare Campaigns

By Graham Readfearn • Thursday, March 14, 2013 – 21:55

‘ANTIWIND farm activists around the world have created a silent bogeyman they claim can cause everything from sickness and headaches to herpes, kidney damage and cancers.

This “infrasound” exists at frequencies too low for the human ear to detect but is present almost everywhere from offices and roadsides to waves tumbling on ocean beaches. These low frequencies can crawl menacingly from the back of your kitchen fridge or from your heart beating.

Despite the ubiquitous nature of infrasound, anti-wind farm groups such as Australia’s Waubra Foundation like people to think that it’s only inaudible infrasound from wind turbines which might send residents to their sick beds.

But two new studies suggest the cause of health complaints by people living near wind farms could in fact be down to the scare campaign of the anti-wind groups and reports about such scares in the media.

The first study Can Expectations Produce Symptoms From Infrasound Associated With Wind Turbines? was published earlier this month in Health Psychology – a journal of the American Psychological Association.

The researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand wanted to find out if simply exposing people to warnings that turbines might make you ill was enough to cause them to report typical symptoms such as headaches and nausea.

Using 54 people, the researchers showed half the group five minutes of footage of people complaining that wind farms had made them ill. Some of the footage was taken from this Australian Broadcasting Corporation report (watch it here) into “Waubra disease” where residents were filmed complaining about a wind farm at Waubra in Victoria. Footage was also taken from this CTV Network report from Canada about a wind farm in Ontario.

This group was called the “high expectancy group” because the information they were given had led them to expect they might experience certain symptoms if exposed to infrasound. The other half of the group was shown interviews with experts stating that the science showed infrasound could not directly cause health problems.

The researchers then told each person they were going to be exposed to two 10-minute periods of infrasound in a special acoustic room when, in fact, for one of those periods they would be exposed to no sound at all, or “sham infrasound” as the researchers describe it.  So what happened?

The response from the “high expectancy” group was to report that the “infrasound” had caused them to experience more symptoms which were more intense. This was the case whether they were exposed to sham infrasound or genuine infrasound. The report explains that “the number of symptoms reported and the intensity of the symptom experienced during listening sessions were not affected by exposure to infrasound but were influenced by expectancy group allocation.”

In the low expectancy group, the infrasound and sham infrasound had little to no effect. In other words, the study found that if a person is told that wind turbines will make them ill then they are likely to report symptoms, regardless of whether they are exposed to infrasound or not.

Clearly, this points the finger at anti-wind farm campaigns as a potential cause of people’s symptoms, rather than “infrasound” from turbines. The research added: “The importance of findings in this study is that symptom expectations were created by viewing TV material readily available on the Internet, indicating the potential for such expectations to be created outside of the laboratory in real-world settings.”

Writing about her research on The Conversation, lead author Fiona Crichton says

The findings indicate that negative health information readily available to people living in the vicinity of wind farms has the potential to create symptom expectations, providing a possible pathway for symptoms attributed to operating wind turbines. This may have wide-reaching implications. If symptom expectations are the root cause of symptom reporting, answering calls to increase minimum wind-farm set back distances is likely to do little to assuage health complaints.

Reading some news reports (such as those offered by The Australian newspaper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd or anti-wind activist and UK anti-wind columnist James Delingpole) and material from anti-wind farm groups, it might seem that health complaints are common among people living near turbines.

But an as yet unpublished study (and therefore not peer-reviewed) just released by Simon Chapman, the Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, suggests only a tiny proportion of people living near turbines do actually complain and, when they do, the complaints coincide with campaigning from anti-wind groups.

Chapman looked at health complaints made by residents living within 5 kilometres of all 49 wind farms operating in Australia between 1993 and 2012. After reviewing media reports, public inquiries and complaints to wind companies themselves, Chapman found evidence of only 120 individuals having actually complained – representing about 1 in 272 people living near wind farms.

But significantly, Chapman found that 81 of those 120 residents were living beside just five wind farms “which have been heavily targeted by anti wind farm groups”. What’s more, some 82 per cent of all the complaints had occured since 2009 when Chapman says anti-wind farm groups began to push the health scare as part of their opposition to turbines.

Some 31 of the 49 wind farms studied had never been subjected to a complaint either about noise or health.

“The 31 farms with no histories of complaints, and which today have some 21,530 residents within 5km of their turbines have operated for a cumulative total of 256 years,” says Chapman’s report. In Chapman’s research, he says that anxiety among residents increases as media reports spread the stories of health concerns and as researchers start investigating.

One down side to this research is, of course, that it tells anti-wind farm groups that by concentrating on unproven health concerns, their campaigns can illicit a steady flow of complaints and negative sentiment from communities.’

And aside from plums in puddings, the cherry on top of my satire is that the antagonists’ scare tactics concerning illnesses contains the ‘nefarious marthambles’.  You see the marthambles was a fictional disease authored to sell snake oil health remedies in the 18th century.

And now you may ever so slightly raise one corner of your mouth and blink once in appreciation of the subtleness of the humor.

‘The Vague Ancient Opinion of the Use of Nitre and of Nitrous Salts in Vegetation’


A particular edition to Sir Humphy Davy’s Elements of Agricultural Chemistry on Google Books contains an added bonus:  An add-on book called A Treatise on Soils and Manures…In Which the Theory and Doctrines of Sir Huphry Davy…Are Rendered Familiar to the Experienced Farmer by ‘A Practical Agriculturalist’ published in 1821.  On page 28 of this latter work we find this anonymous author critiquing Davy’s dismissal of fallowing on the grounds that atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen, Davy has observed, do not react with elements or compounds in the soil.  He illuminates a particular passage of Davy’s dealing with nitrogen, which appears on page 72 and 73, in Lecture VIII of Elements of Agricultural Chemistry Part 2 (this is an 1840 edition), that reads as follows:  “Oxygen is absorbed by the vegetable film and perhaps in certain cases azote, but the earths the great elements of soils cannot be combined with new elements from the air; none of them unite to azote; and such of them as are capable of attracting carbonic acid are always saturated with it in those soils on which the practice of fallowing is adopted.  The vague ancient opinion of the use of nitre and of nitrous salts in vegetation seems to have been one of the principal speculative reasons for the defence of summer fallows.  Nitrous salts are produced during the exposure of soils containing vegetable and animal remains, and in greatest abundance in hot weather, but it is probably by the combination of azote from these remains with oxygen in the atmosphere that the acid is formed, and at the expense of an element which otherwise would have formed ammonia; the compounds of which, as is evident from what is stated in the last Lecture, are much more efficacious than the nitrous compounds in assisting vegetation”.  The author notes that such seems almost contradictory to experiments done by physiologists in which plants grew in nitre alone.


Excerpt on fallowing in Elements of Agricultural Chemistry

Now the interesting part about Davy’s and the anonymous farmer’s arguments has little to do with fallowing, but that they are discussing one of the key ingredients to plant fertilizer (nitrogen) several decades before such is discovered by a later agricultural chemist to be so (see below pamphlet snippet, regarding Baron Liebig).  Secondly this also illuminates the state of agricultural science in 1820:  Davy understands that a soil lacking a particular nutrient causes a lower yield for a particular crop dependent on such, and he has developed a soil assay technique for discovery of a fair amount of soil chemistry, but he puts little effort into understanding the relative value of the elements he’s adjudicating; it does not occur to him that a cocktail of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (potash) is the key to fertilizer.  J.C. Lyons of Australia makes this very point in his 1867 pamphlet that deals with the history of agricultural chemistry, entitled The Chemistry of Soils and Manures.  He sums up Davy’s contribution to the science on page 32:

Page 32, Lyon’s ‘Chemistry of Soils and Manures’

This 42 page pamphlet is a wonderful summary of the history of agricultural chemistry from ancient times up to the point commercial scale fertilizers were being implemented in the mid-19th century.  Inside there is also some specific talk about Davy’s lack of reverence for phosphate (which would have come from crushed animal bone in his day; long before bat guano and superphosphate, &c.).  This particular concept is not lost either on my character, Thomas Winter, in Of Woodbridge and Hedgely, for he mentions Davy’s lack of attention to the ingredient in the man’s lectures.  In spite of this, he manages to understand its utility from a chance look at one of Davy’s charts on elemental concentrations in different organs of a plant, and as a result, triumphs in boosting crop yields for his new home in the English countryside by commissioning a miller to grind up animal bones for his fields.

‡ Note: azote is the olden term for atmospheric nitrogen or N2.


However, we cannot be overly dismissive:  Reread Davy’s quote from above, in which he does define a relative value for nitrous salts against ammonium salts, favoring the latter concerning vegetation.  He further makes reference to what was stated in Lecture VII as supportive evidence, which is partly the following:

“I made a number of experiments in May and June 1807 on the effects of different saline substances on barley and on grass growing in the same garden, the soil of which was a light sand, of which 100 parts were composed of 60 parts of siliceous sand, and 24 parts finely divided matter, consisting of 7 parts carbonate of lime, 12 parts alumina and silica, less than one part saline matter, principally common salt, with a trace of gypsum and sulphate of magnesia: the remaining 16 parts were vegetable matter.  The solutions of the saline substances were used twice a week, in the quantity of two ounces, on spots of grass and corn sufficiently remote from each other to prevent any interference of results.  The substances tried were super-carbonate, sulphate, acetate, nitrate, and muriate of potassa; sulphate of soda, sulphate, nitrate, muriate, and carbonate of ammonia.  I found that in all cases when the quantity of the salt equaled 1/10th part of the weight of the water, the effects were injurious; but least so in the instances of the carbonate, sulphate, and muriate of ammonia.  When the quantities of the salts were 1/300th part of the solution the effects were different.  The plants watered with the solutions of the sulphates grew just in the same manner as similar plants watered with rain water.  Those acted on by the solution of nitre, acetate, and super carbonate of potassa, and muriate of ammonia grew rather better.  Those treated with the solution of carbonate of ammonia grew most luxuriantly of all. This last result is what might be expected, for carbonate of ammonia consists of carbon, hydrogene, azote, and oxygene. There was however another result which I had not anticipated the plants watered with solution of nitrate of ammonia did not grow better than those watered with rain water.  The solution reddened litmus paper and probably the free acid exerted a prejudicial effect and interfered with the result.” – Pg. 303-05 Elements of Agricultural Chemistry 

This section too is of great interest to my character, Thomas Winter, who goes on to solve the problem in Of Woodbridge and Hedgely of how to water an entire 1/2 acre of wheat using such a solution (carbonate of ammonia), as there was no commercially available, off-the-shelf, supply of the salt, nor formulation for delivery to the field in 1820-21.  He does indeed come up with an engineering solution (which meant I had to run though lots of calculations and research onto what was feasible at that point in time, including guesstimating how much water could be applied to a field, based on weather data, without such being prejudicial).

Basically, Davy had the great epiphany that is nitrogen fertilizer on the tip of his tongue in places in his writing, but it seemed never to travel past that point, based on my readings of such.

Of Incidental Interest: Arthur Young’s Inquiries on the Subject of American Agricultural Efficiency

Monticello, VA
Monticello, VA

During my research regarding early 19th century England’s Board of Agriculture and its related publications, I came across a particular extract of a letter from Arthur Young – a proficient author of agricultural topics who published such in his journal The Annals of Agriculture (1784 – 1818) – to His Excellency, George Washington, president of the U.S.  The idea behind this particular letter is that Mr. Young is trying to compare the efficiency of the American slave labor agricultural model against England’s free labor model.  He’s appalled on two accounts:  firstly that American farmers are so lax on their accounting (presumably because they are in the land of plenty, and are therefore indifferent to economy, efficiency and sustainability); and secondly that they have so little cattle with respect to their wheat production.  This second point too is a jab at Americans’ disregard for sustainability:  without enough cattle, perhaps there will not be enough animal manure to replenish the land with nutrients that the wheat crops are extracting from it, but there is more concern for the lack of rotation that the inadequate number of animals implies.

Here are pages 427-28 of a historian’s paper entitled ARTHUR YOUNG, AGRICULTURALIST AND TRAVELLER, 1741-1820. SOME BIOGRAPHICAL SOURCES BY JOHN G. GAZLEY, Ph.D. PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AT DARTMOUTH COLLEGE, NEW HAMPSHIRE from the John Ryland Library (incidentally, Ryland was one of England’s most influential Baptist ministers and President of the Bristol Baptist College (late 18th century and early 19th century), which produced generations of Baptist ministers).  The subject is Thomas Jefferson’s land at Monticello:



Excerpts on Mineral Manuring During the First Part of the Nineteenth Century, Before the Advent of Commercial Fertilizers (I)

Before commercial fertilizers – even before the chemistry that revealed the prime importance of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (potash) – farmers used a handful of mineral compounds which had shown some success in the improvement of their land; either by introduction of nutrients, modification of pH, or improvement of texture (which modified how much water or nutrients a soil could retain for a given time).   Sir Humphrey Davy, in his Elements of Agricultural Chemistry±, an 1810 compilation of lectures for the Board of Agriculture, listed many of these, as did Sir John Sinclair’s 1814 General Report of the Agricultural State.  However, it appears that the quantitative detail on the application of these manures didn’t appear in the literature until years later (saving Sinclair’s instruction on liming).    Below is one such account on the use of bone dust (phosphate) from an 1835 American publication.

± This link is to the 1836 Edition.


Manuring with Bone Dust – Details

From The Farmer’s Register: A Monthly Publication Devoted to the Improvement of the Practice and Support of the Interests of Agriculture; Volume II, 1835; [Pg. 319, 320].


By the Honorable Captain W. Ogilvy, Airlie Castle

 (From the Prize Essays and Transactions of the Highland Society of Scotland.)

 ‘Mr. Watson of Keilor introduced the use bone manure into Strathmore, having seen it used in England. I am not certain in what year he began to make experiments with it or to employ it extensively, but I remember well that the great deficiency of farm yard dung in 1827 (consequent on the almost total failure of the crop of the previous year) first induced me to try four acres of turnip without other manure sown with 15 bushels of bone dust per acre which I obtained from Mr Watson: it cost 3s per bushel or £2 5s. per acre. The crop of turnip on these four acres was at least equal to the rest raised with farm yard manure; but as the whole of the turnips were pulled, and the land received some dung before the succeeding crop, much stress cannot be laid on the circumstance of the following white crop and grass being good.

Next year, 1828, encouraged by the former successful experiment, eight acres were sown with turnip solely with bone dust; the soil a light, sandy loam; the subsoil gravely and sand coming in some places nearly to the surface, which is very irregular, but in general has a south exposure This field had been broken up with a crop of oats in 1827, after having been depastured six years principally by sheep. The quantity of bone dust given was 20 bushels per acre and cost 2s 6d per bushel, or £2 10s per acre. The turnip crop was so heavy, that, notwithstanding the very light nature of the soil, it was judged advisable to pull one third for the feeding cattle, two drills pulled, and four left to be eaten on the ground by sheep. The following year, 1829, these eight acres sown with barley and grass seeds, and the produce was 57 bolls 1 bushel, or 7 bolls 1 bushel nearly, per acre, of grain, equal in quality to the best in the Dundee market, both in weight and color. Next year, a fair crop of hay for that description of land was cut, about 150 stones an acre; and though am now convinced that the field should rather have been depastured the first year, yet the pasture was better than it had ever been known before for the two following seasons, 1831 and 1832. It is worthy of remark as a proof of the efficacy of the bone manure, that in a small angle of this field, in which I had permitted a cottager to plant potatoes, well dunged, and which, after their removal, was included in one of the flakings sheep, and had (one might have supposed) thereby had at least equal advantage with the bone-dust turnip-land, both the barley and grass crops were evidently inferior, and this continued to be observable until the field was again ploughed up. A very bulky crop of oats has been reaped this season, probably upwards of eight bolls per acre, but no part of it is yet thrashed.

Having detailed what may be considered a fair experiment during the whole rotation of the above eight acres, I may add, that turnip raised with bone manure, and fed off with sheep, has now become a regular part of the system on this farm; 15, 20, and, last year 25 acres were fed off, and invariable with the same favorable results, with the prospect of being able to adopt a five shift rotation, and to continue it without injury to the land. Every person in the least acquainted with the management of a farm, of which a considerable proportion consists of light, dry, sandy loam, at a distance from town manure, must be aware the importance of this, from knowing the expense at which such land was formerly kept in a fair state of cultivation; indeed, the prices of corn for some years past would not warrant the necessary outlay, and large tracts of land, capable of producing barley little inferior to that of Norfolk, must speedily have been converted into sheep pasture, but for the introduction of bone manure.

Note – For the last four years, 25 bushels of bone dust have been given to the acre: the price this year was 3s. per bushel or £2 15s per acre.

[The foregoing article places in a striking point of view, the value of a kind of manure which is entirely neglected in Virginia, and used no where (we believe) in the United States, except near the city of New York, and there to a very limited extent. Two individuals are there engaged in pulverising bones for sale – but though the price of the prepared article is much lower than in England, there is not sufficient demand for what the mills have pounded, and a large quantity recently was about to be exported to England for a market.

Many farmers would try the use of bones if they could be pounded by their own laborers, but this cannot be done as yet with economy, and the owners of mills in and near our towns have not thought of entering into the business. Yet there can be no doubt of the profit to all the parties if some one having proper facilities for procuring the bones insufficient quantities, and for pounding them, would commence the business, and intelligent and improving farmers would buy the new manure. The prices in England have been regulated by long and accurate trial of the effects of the manure – and farmers have been thereby convinced that they can afford to give prices varying between fifty and sixty six cents the bushel. Here they might be profitably prepared by millers at half cost – and therefore might be applied with double profit by the purchaser. We hope that some one of the owners of the great flour mills in Richmond or Petersburg, whose machinery and water power are without employment for the greater part of the year, will make a trial of crushing and grinding bones for sale and that their neighbors, the “town farmers”, will take care that the want of purchasers shall not cause loss to the enterprise, or put a stop to the work before a full and fair trial of the effects of the manure.]’

Spiral Water Wheel Pump

In chapter six of the novel, the character, Mr. Winter describes solving a logistical problem concerning watering two, 1/2 acre fields weekly, with a primitive nitrogen solution that must be mixed on the fly (as he has no storage capacity to hold a volume of solution that is the equivalent of a few inches of rain per month, for the size of these fields).   He decides to pump water from the River Compton below the field, up to two small pools he’s constructed for each, which hold enough volume that 1/7th of each field may be watered each day.  His nitrogen salt is added to these pools when they are full, and a set of young farm hands dip tin watering cans into the pools and run up and down the fields with these until the day’s area is covered.

Yet in 1821, in his particular area of the country, a small mechanical pump running on steam was probably not practical, both because of economic reasons, and because such would destroy the peacefulness of the countryside which Mr. Winter (and his fellow residents) so cherished.  His solution was therefore a spiral water pump similar to the pictures shown below.  The technology is derived from ancient times, but Mr. Winter, being an engineer who specializes in the improvement of machines, comes up with something quite similar:







[From the March 1984 issue of the Blair Research Bulletin of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health.]

[Note this was originally published in February of 2015]