I remembered an interesting section on manures in The Cottage Garden
Dictionary, edited by George Johnson in 1852 so I went off to find it.
Johnson is writing at a point when the only firmly established plant needs
are carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and has read Davy's work on plants and
nitrogen. He is therefore speaking mostly about his own garden observations.
At this point he was experimenting with separate storage and drying of
individual crop residues to return them either dug in or as a surface mulch
to the same species since they would contain the precise mixture that that
crop required and is using stable manures to mix with weeds to accelerate
tissue breakdown in the weeds. Although he is digging in most of the
resultant mix he has started experimenting with mulching, mostly in the
interest of moisture conservation but also looking at possible nutrient
effects through recording of growth, and is also experimenting with a
couple of dozen other substances for the same purposes - he recommends
cotton waste. There seems some textual evidence that William Cobbett was
makiing composting experiments in both England and Long Island in the first
decades of the last century - can't find my copy this morning and he went
bankrupt both sides of the atlantic - do what I say not what I do.
Then I really got into the history of manure - Thomas Tusser in 1557 points
out that the new dung heap should be made well away from the old one, the
second edition is expanded to explain that manure should be well matured
before it is applied to the land. At various points in his work, which went
through several edition, he first stacks for a month in the dung yard
(December), then takes to the field and stacks another month(January), then
spreads and ploughs in February for sowing in March. Tusser was on very
light, sandy soil in Norfolk, a talented court musician who dreamt of being
a farmer and went bankrupt trying it several times, having to go back to
court to make the money for the next attempt!
However! New Penny Gardening Handbook - no date but cover illustration
shows lady in hour glass corset and costume of not later than 1904 - has
instructions for preparation of a prety modern compost heap - manure,
vegetable parings,weeds, stable sweepings, "household slops", all to be
turned frequently until fully decomposed and sweet smelling. Howard was
adapting an old tradition to farm scale I think.
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