From Antivist

If you have soil that man has never touched and interfered with, you could doubtless maintain fertility and crop production indefinitely at a high standard. However, the land on which you have to deal probably has been so injured by man's abuse that it's ability to grow desirable plants is at a low ebb.

Soils may be classified according to their principal components - clay, sand, and innumerable combinations of these with vegetable matter (humus). Clay - blue, red or yellow - though rich in mineral elements is undesirable without modifications by the presence of the other two components. It is sticky, hard to dig or plow, and so dense that water and air penetrate it with difficulty and its surface contains far less actual plant food material, allows water to rush through, carrying with it and wasting soluble plant food material added by nature or man.

Combinations of these extremes with vegetable matter form 'loam' of many grades popularly known as heavy clay loams, light clay loam, sandy loams, etc.

Loams are more desirable for plant growing than are either clay or sand because o the one hand, they are easier to work, more porous and less likely to bake than clay, and on the other hand are more retentive of moisture and plant food than sand.

Clay may be lightened by plowing under a two-horse load of fresh horse manure to each 2,500 square feet of area in late fall, leaving the clods and furrows unbroken just as turned up by the plow so frost will break them, adding a 1 inch layer of sifted coal ashes during the winter and in spring, giving a surface dressing of lime (about a pound to 10 square feet, 250 to 300 pounds per acre.

Coarse soil has got the best value for truck farming, mainly due to the size and the quantity of sand particles. When coarse, the soil is 'quick' because it drains rapidly, warms up quickly and permits early sowing. Such soils are warm all season long and thus favor early crop maturity. Because of their open texture, they require large quantities of humus, lavish feeding and irrigation.

Medium sandy loams are not quite so early but retain water and plant food better and are more productive. Fine sandy loams though later than the preceding are usually best of summer vegetables and strawberries. For latest crops, silty and clayey loams are often most valuable of all. Their fertility is also more easily and economically maintained.

The sandy loam is the best bet for vegetable farming.

When soil need humus, we can put on liberal dressings of manure, muck, peat, leaf mold, or other vegetable material or by growing green manures. When leaves and other forest litter decay they become 'leaf mold', a material highly valued by flower growers, but not as much by vegetable growers and farmers. The annual deposit of leaves or needles and other waste in populous pine woods is about a ton and in hardwoods probably twice as much to the acre. But only does it gradually change to humus, but it adds appreciable quantities of plant food to the soil.

A farmer who applies the rakings of one acre of heavy oak woods to an acre of field crop land during three years, secured corn and cotton which increased his monetary returns about 16 times than that of an acre which was not treated.

Soil color is another test for fertility, usually, black soil is rich and a dark soil productive in ratio to its darkness but black color is due to combinations of organic matter and lime.

Brown color generally indicates soil acidity, due to the presence of iron oxide. In such soils, the organic matter, even though abundant, is not saturated with lime. When iron oxide is in the 'free' state, the soil is usually yellow when the quantity is small, or red when the quantity is large.

Red and brown soils are highly valued, because their condition indicates that they have good drainage, and other favorable growth conditions and proves the presence of abundant material which will both supply and retain plant food.

White and light colored soils are deficient in important components - organic matter and clay - and contain excess sand. Hence they cannot absorb and retain water but permit such rapid drainage that the soluble components of manures and fertilizers rapidly disappear and are wasted in the drainage.

Some sandy soils cannot ever be treated enough to make them grow vegetables well.

The loss of soil fertility due to sheet erosion is probably far greater than from gullying. Though it is a thin layer of the most fertile soil is removed from the surface with each heavy rain. Because the material is removed gradually and because subsequent cultivation destroys all evidence of erosion, the ill effects often go unnoticed until after much damage has been done.

Sheet erosion is greatly reduced when the land is kept covered with a crop as much of the time as possible. By using a cropping system that provides for a crop curing most of the seasons when the greatest erosion is likely to occur, much can be done to reduce the disastrous effect of sheet erosion.

Small grain crops give more effective protection than do others, such as corn or other cultivated crops. Red clover forms a sod and protects the land more effectively than a crop like soy beans and thus gives not only more efficient but more extended protections from washing. Sweet clover or alfalfa used in the cropping system gives much the same protection as red clover.

On steepest lands, permanent grass pastures or meadows should be used at much as possible since they form a most effective protection against erosion. The less sloping ground should be grown to small grains or kept in such rotations that the land will be protected by a crop at least 3/4 of the time. It is only on relatively level upland or bottom land that cultivated crops can be grown more or less constantly without serious loss from erosion, even in such cases, the land should be rotated with other crops since continuos cropping is seldom the best practice on any soil.


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