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a. :- : v?Zi^ "~- — '" " -i^ 44s . vm*il" '/-■■■■'■■:■•'/.■■'■■■■:<■ v^ ' w /^y^-\-s-s-:V.t'i:'."''r'y^.^/^/.-y..'y.<..''--'.'.'- ■'.';■/■.■■• \ :'••'■'•'."'' Vol. XXIII. No. 22. HUMUS==ITS RELATION TO SOILS AND CROPS FOR the progressive farmer or orchardist the matter of fertilizers for his soil bids fair to hold his close attention for years to come. In time past the farmer of the northwest has been content to let the soil take care of itself in this respect, but with the repeated croppiugs the fertilizer content is being depleted, and the fact forces itself upon the owner that neglect of the soil in this respect cannot be longer allowed. There are many points to be considered in treating of such a broad subject, but we will only take up that of humus in the soil in this issue, for, be it known, humus is an imperative constituent of all soils that are to produce good crops. Humus, as every one should know, is the organic matter in the soil, and its most important value is that it is the principal source of nitrogen in the soil. As has been repeatedly stated in The Ranch, nitrogen is a very important element in the production of crops, and if the farmer had it to buy on the mar kets of the world, he would find it the most expensive of all elements needed by the soil to produce his crops. To produce fifty bushels of corn and the nec essary fodder it requires about sixty to eighty pounds of nitrogen, and at present this element is quoted from ten to eighteen cents per pound. Nitrogen is im portant in soils because it promotes the growth of the stems and leaves and gives the plant its rich green color. Wallace Sherlock says that humus being a principal nitrogenous ingredient of soils, it is safe to say that black soils, soils containing humus, are sure to be rich in nitrogen and that such soils will make an abundant growth of any crop attempted thereon. In soils in which the humus has been allowed to run down, or become exhausted, the supply of nitrogen will be lacking, and on such soils the crops will make an inferior growth. The farmer knows that if he does not manure a hilltop, but crops it continuously, before long the clay will show and the growth of the crop will be puny, yellow, very in ferior and unprofitable. This is caused by the supply of humus being de pleted till the soil loses its nitrogen. By the decay of organic matter materials are yielded up that nourish the plants growing upon the soil in which this matter is decaying. Though humus contains the greater part of the nitrogen found in soil, yet if the humus did not undergo decay the nitrogen contained in the humus would be of little, if any, value to growing crops, because it is not soluble or so nrenarfid that the nlant can use it. In decay. however, nart of the nitroeen Fruit at Recent San Juan County Fair. Humus is valuable in another way. Its decay furnishes a large supply of carbonic acid which assists greatly in decomposing the other elements, such as potash, phosphorus, etc., rendering a great many of these that are unsoluble ready for the plant's use. It has been shown by a number of ex periments that 10,000 parts of ordinary atmosphere contain about six parts of carbonic acid; while air taken from sandy forest soil has about 38 to 40 parts; air taken from clay surface soil haß about 125 to 130 parts; air taken from dry soil, rich in humus, had 550 parts; and the same soil after a rain had nearly 1,200 parts. This shows that soils rich in humus not only contain a great deal of nitrogen or ammonia, but, it also produces SEATTLE, WASHINGTON, NOVEMBER 15, 1906. FRIDAY HARBOR, CAPITAL, OF SAN JUAN COUNTY, WASHINGTON. carbonic acid which greatly assists in increasing tne supply or soiuoie mineral plant food in the soil. The application of animal and vegetable remains to the soil not only increases the nitrogen supply and benefits the physical condition of the soil, but it hastens the solution of mineral matters. Soils rich in humus become the home of the earthworms, whose value to soils is generally underestimated, if not overlooked, by the farmer. Earthworms are rarely found in soils destitute of humus, while the richer the soils and the more it is manured with animal dung and animal remains the more numerous they are. These worms benefit soils by swallowing unsoluble elements, digesting them and then casting them off as worm manure in a soluble state. It has been estimated that on soils reasonably rich in humus these worm casts will reach as high as twenty tons per acre per year, of which one-third of one per cent, is nitrogen. Then in addition to the worm casts, the worms themselves die and their bodies by decay go to increase the richness of the soil. When we stop to con sider that millions of these insects are on every acre we can see how they benefit soils. Besides being the means of increasing the fertility of the soil, humus is of great benefit itself. We know that dark soils are good ab sorbers of heat, and this alone is of great value in the germination of seeds and plants. Farmers know that well manured soils, which are therefore rich in humus, are lighter and more easily cultivated than tenacous clay soils. Rich, peaty soils have been weighed and a cubic foot found to weigh from thirty to fifty pounds; rich garden soils weigh about seventy pounds per cubic foot; while tenacious soils destitute of humus weigh from eighty to ninety pounds, and sandy soils with no humus are as heavy as 110 pounds per cubic foot. Soils light in weight are more easily cultivated than heavy soils; they do not pack so rapidly; and, therefore, the plant roots can penetrate them with less resistance, and, if the soil contains a sufficient amount of plant food a better growth is the result. The looser the soil is the more particles of it can be reached by the roots of the plant. If each particle of soil was no smaller than a cubic foot, then the roots of the plant could only reach a surface of six square feet to every cubic foot of soil. If the cubic foot of soil is pulverized till the particles are all a cubic inch in size, then a cubic foot of soil will have 10.3G8 spuare inches of surface, or 72 square feet that can be reached by the roots. To render the soil more porous than in the humus unites with the hydro gen in the water at the rate of one atom of nitrogen to three of hydrogen, and we have what is called ammonia. This element can be taken up by the plant through its root system and be used to assist in the growth and de velopment of the plant. It can be seen that ammonia cannot be created to any considerable extent without the presence of humus and sufficient moisture in the soil. An experiment, conducted not long ago in England showed that yellow clay contained only .005 per cent, (five one-thou sandths of one per cent.) ammonia; white sandy loam about X) 2 per cent, (two one-hundredths of one per cent.'; while black garden soil, rich in humus, had nearly one per cent. In other words, rich black garden loam had nearly two hundred times as much ammonia as yellow clay. If for no other reason, this alone shows the value of humus in the soil. this means an increasing of the surface that can be reached by the roots. Anything, then, that assists in mellowing or pulverizing the soil makes it possible for a larger portion of that soil to be reached by the roots. Aa stated before, humus does this very thing, and in this one thing is its great value of soils. The presence of humus in soils greatly assists in the absorption of moisture from the air. All soil has a power of withdrawing the vapor of water from the air to a greater or lesser degree, and conserving the same In its pores. This property is of great value, since it increases the supply of moisture in the soil when the same is running low, and then in absorbing Choice Collection of San Juan Products. 50c per Year; 5 c the Copy.