Using Natural Fertilizers: Soil Nutrients, Green Manure and Making Compost

Livestock manure, nutrient-rich cover crops, homemade compost and ground limestone can all help improve the quality of your soil and your crop yields.

| November/December 1972

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    This homemade seed inoculator ensures that legumes are properly coated with beneficial bacterial just before planting.
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    A light, wire mesh compost container permits good air flow and easy movement. When it is time to turn the pile simply remove the two sides, set them up in a new location and transfer your compost to the new space.

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Special Note: All material here reprinted from Grow It! Copyright © 1972 by Richard W. Langer. The chapter title for this excerpt is Fertilizer. 

If I could play on Homer's lyre
And wing with true poetic fire
To what great theme Would I aspire?
Barnyard manure!

-Alfred Vivian  

Everything on a farm doesn't smell like roses. On the other hand, manure is nowhere near as odoriferous as the average city dweller thinks, and a well-made compost heap doesn't smell at all. Your farm needs both.

Almost from the time man first began domesticating farm animals, barnyard manure — the livestock's excretions mixed with bedding material — was used as a fertilizer to increase the yield of his crops. Some ancient agrarian civilizations, such as the Mayan, never went into animal husbandry on a large scale. It is now hypothesized that many once-great cultures were destroyed not by war, but by the exhaustion of the land surrounding their cities. The local agriculture could no longer support the urban population. All for the want of manure the fabled cities fell? Quite likely.

Agriculturalists used to believe that plants literally "ate" the soil. But with the birth of Justus von Liebig in 1803, the seed of radical change was planted in agriculture. Liebig's contributions to civilization were many and diverse, ranging from baking powder to chloroform. Among the discoveries backed by his chemical laboratory was the fact that plants merely extract certain substances from the soil, specifically, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash.

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