SB E77 511
Value of Swamp Lands,
How to Make
Unproductive Black Soils More Valuable.
GERMAN KALI WORKS
Some important books on agricultural subjects :
Principles of Profitable Farming,
Potash in Agriculture,
Farmers' Note Book,
Sugar Cane Culture^
The Co-w Pea,
Why the Fish Failed.
If you wish anjf othese 1Wbks* c .yau can obtain the same free
of charge by writing t^o yie, ^GERMAN &ALI "WORKS, 93 Nassau Street,
New York or At^nta'tej^; J^^anttief- 6u>lding or Chicago 111.,
662 Monadnock Block. t / . -. . ta
VALUE OF SWAMP LANDS.
Most farmers in hilly or rolling sections are familiar
with swamp, or black, soils. In some sections nearly every
farm has a low, wet place where the soil is black and sticky.
In the middle West, notably in Indiana and Illinois and
adjoining states, there are large areas of these swamps or
black lands which are called "unproductive" and frequently
are not cultivated In fact, so much of this land is found
in the two states just mentioned that the experiment stations
have made a special study of this class of soils. Farmers
have generally been taught to believe that the black soils
are naturally very rich in plant food.
"The swamps ought to be rich since they have received
for centuries the drainage from the hills".
We often hear farmers make that statement and there is
much truth in it. Many of these places represent the
bottoms of old ponds, the water having dried out or escaped
in some way so as to leave the bottom bare. Here Nature
has locked up great treasures of plant food, and in doing
so, as we shall see, carried the key away with her.
la a general way two methods of handling such soils
have been tried, both based on the theory that swamp soil
or muck contains a well baiariced ration of all needed
4 VALUE OF SWAMP LANDS.
plant food. The mistake in the theory has made both
methods disappointing. One plan is to dig out the muck,
leave it for a time to "sweeten", and then spread it on the
upper fields of the farm like manure. But in all cases
where muck is used alone for fertilizing other fields, the
final result is disappointing. Somehow the muck does not
"hold out" or continue to give good crops.
Another well known method is to drain the swamp
either with open ditches or tile, and thus reduce the level
at which water stands. When this is done the soil can be
worked with horse tools and planted with ordinary crops.
Thus in one case the swamp is carried to crops in higher
fields, while in the other the swamp is dried and the crops
are brought to it. It is noticed that when grass is seeded
in these drained swamps it usually makes a good growth
for a few vears. Small grain also does fairly well, though
inclined to lodge or fall down. In many swamps, corn,
while making a fair stalk, refuses to ear well; and potatoes
make heavy vines but produce poor tubers. Farmers
have often observed these facts about black soil or muck
and have wondered why this apparently rich soil fails. In
theory it ought to be nearly as rich as manure, yet it is true
that swamp lands seldom give permanent satisfaction with-
out the addition of some form of fertilizer.
What is the matter with the soils ?
The answer, by chemical analysis and practical ex-
perience alike, is that they lack available potash. In
Indiana analyses were made of many such soils and in
VALUE OF SWAMP LANDS. 5
every case a deficiency of potash was shown. In most
cases there was less than one-tenth of the potash found in
average soils throughout the state. The following analysis,
taken from Bulletin Number 95 of the Indiana Station,
shows, in part, the composition of such a soil:
TOP SOIL. SUB-SOIL.
Nitrogen 3 22 per cent. 2. 84 per cent.
Phosphoric Acid 0.46 " 0.27 "
Potash 0.105 " 0.108 "
In some cases a chemical analysis of a soil is of little
value to the farmer, but this one gives a clue to the solution
of a puzzling farm problem. Here we have a soil containing
as much nitrogen as a large proportion of the chemical
fertilizers offered for sale, three or four times as much
phosphoric acid as a good average soil, but only about one-
tenth as much potash as will be found in average clay loam.
It is easily seen from this why such soil fails to produce
good crops year after year. There is nitrogen and phos-
phoric acid enough to last 500 years, but the lack of potash
renders these elements useless for the production of crops
like potatoes or grain. Even the potash found naturally in
such soil is, for the most part, unavailable, being in such
forms that the plants cannot use it.
It will, of course, be asked how such soil can be rich in
nitrogen and phosphoric acid and yet low in potash. In
Bulletin No. 93 of the Illinois Station the following ex-
planation is made for the lack of potash in peaty soils:
"Peat itself consists largely of partially decayed sphag
VALUE OF SWAMP LANDS.
num moss, which grew in the water once covering
these areas. In growing, the moss obtains carbon from
the carbon dioxide in the air, and hydrogen and oxygen
from water, being similar to other plants in this respect.
The water in which the sphagnum moss grows is more or
less stagnant. It is usually surface drainage or seepage
water, and contains sufficient nitrogen, phosphorus, potas-
sium, and other essential elements of plant food to meet
the needs of the growing moss. Both nitrogen and phos-
phorus enter into fairly stable organic combinations with
the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and when the moss
changes to peat, and even when the peat partially decays,
these two elements, nitrogen and phosphorus (especially
the nitrogen), are largely retained in the organic matter.
The potassium, however, reverts more largely to the soluble
form and it is finally lost to a greater or less extent in the
drainage waters flowing from the peat bogs.
"A considerable number of peaty swamp soils from differ-
ent places in the State have been analyzed by the Experiment
Station, and they are found to be very rich in nitrogen, well
supplied with phosphorus, but very deficient in potassium,
as compared with the ordinary fertile soils of the state."
Farmers are not always ready to accept such scientific
theories without proof which they can understand, that is
the actual results with crops. Ample proof of this kind
has been given by both the Illinois and Indiana Experiment
Stations. In Indiana it was found that many of these tracts
of swamp land were very hard to drain. Of course they
VALUE OF SWAMP LANDS. 7
could not be permanently improved until the surface water
was removed Where water stands thirty inches below the
surface such a crop as corn cannot be successfully grown.
Since it was impossible for the owners of such lands to
drain them thoroughly by ordinary means, experiments were
made to see what temporary improvement could be made
AVERAGE SAMPLES OF CORN GROWN ON SWAMP LAND, WITH AND
Experiment made by Experiment Station of Indiana.
in the crops. Part of the land selected for the experiments
was plowed in the ordinary way. Another part was sub-
soiled in addition, that is, after plowing, a sub-soil plow
was run deeper in each furrow, not turning the lower soil
VALUE OF SWAMP LANDS.
over but simply breaking it up. Plots of equal size in each
portion were laid out, one being planted as it stood to test
the natural capacity of the soil. On another plot kainit at
the rate of one ton per acre was used, on another the same
amount of kainit and lime at the rate of five tons per acre,
and another an equal amount of lime alone. The kainit
contained no plant food but potash. The object in using
the lime both alone and with the kainit was to test the oft-
repeated claim that lime will set such soils right.
The following table shows the results:
YIELDS PER ACRE
Kainit & Lime
Kainit & Lime
No one could ask for stronger evidence than this. It is
exactly what we had a right to expect from the analysis of
VALUE OF SWAMP LANDS. 9
the soil. Not only was the potash in the soil deficient as
compared with other soils but what there was present was
unavailable to plants. When the kainit was used as a
fertilizer the corn received what it needed, and gave a fair
crop even on this poorly drained soil. Take the average of
the two plots and the natural soil gave only 17.35 bushels
of sound corn and 11.50 bushels of poor corn. The average
CORN GROWN ON SWAMP SOIL.
NO POTASH ON LEFT. WITH POTASH ON RIGHT.
Experiment Conducted by the Illinois Experiment Station.
of the plots where kainit was used shows 58.1 bushels of
sound and 3.35 of poor corn. There can be no question
that this increase was due to the potash in the kainit. The
use of lime alone was not satisfactory. We see from the
table that what the soil needed was potash. The lime
could not furnish potash or set it free in the soil and thus it
failed to produce the crop. Not only is this so but you
10 VALUE OF SWAMP LANDS.
will notice that where the kainit was used the proportion
of poor corn is lowest. It is always the rule that an
abundant supply of potash ensures a plump ear, well filled
to the tip. The benefit was not confined to the first year.
For ten years after the kainit was used there was an in-
crease in yield. In n years this gain over the natural soil
amounted to 594 bushels per acre, which represents the
gain from using one ton of kainit. At the average selling
price of 35 cents per bushel this means $207.90. In every
case where potash has been used on these black, unproduc-
tive soils the gain in the crop yields has been remarkable.
The results on similar soils in Illinois, as recorded in
Bulletin No. 93 were just as marked. In every case where
potash was used the yield of the corn was increased.
Analysis of this Illinois soil showed much the same con-
dition as was found in Indiana, the black or swamp soil
contained several times as much nitrogen as the best soils
in the corn belt and also an abundance of phosphoric acid.
It was, however, almost entirely deficient in available potash.
It was this lack of potash, combined with poor drainage,
that made these soils unproductive. The use of lime alone
did not increase the yield greatly because it did not add
potash. These Illinois experiments were even more elabo-
rate than those in Indiana. One soil thus tested consisted
of about 16 inches of black peat, then 14 inches of lighter
soil, with a sub-soil of coarse sand. This soil was a failure
at producing ordinary crops, particularly corn While
analysis showed a lack of potash it was determined to try
VALUE OF SWAMP LANDS.
the other fertilizing elements also. Nitrogen was furnished
in the form of dried blood, phosphoric acid in steamed
bone meal, while muriate of potash at the rate of 200
pounds per acre was used for the potash. Lime was also
used on all the experiment plots. The result is shown in
the following table:
Lime, nitrogen, phosphorus
Lime, nitrogen, potassium
Lime, phosphorus, potassium
Lime, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium
Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium. . . .
5 2 -5
The results are even more striking than on the Indiana
soil. It was evident that lime was not the needed addition,
for even where nitrogen and phosphoric acid were used
AVERAGE CORN STALKS, WITH AND WITHOUT POTASH, GROWN ON THE FARM OF MR. J. H.
MILLIGAN AT TAMPICO, ILLINOIS.
WITHOUT POTASH, NO YIELD.
Experiment made under the direction of the Illinois Experiment Station.
WITH POTASH, YIELD FROM 36 TO 60 BUSHELS
OF SHELLED CORN PER ACRE.
VALUE OF SWAMP LANDS. I
alone or together, with lime, no ear corn was made. Just as
we should expect, these elements of plant food increased
the growth of stalk, but could not complete the ear. It
was only when potash was added that the ear was formed.
The potash need of corn is made very clear in this
bulletin. The stalks required to grow a crop of 100 bushels
of corn contain 52 pounds of potash while the grain contains
19 pounds, or 71 in all. As the stalks grow before the ears
are formed, they will exhaust the potash in the soil, if it is
deficient, so that when the ears are made there is little
potash left for them. The result v: 111 be small and imperfect
ears and poor grain. One Illinois farmer gave a good illus-
tration of this. His soil was a black peat 16 inches deep.
The experiment station used it for growing corn, and among
other chemicals used potash at the rate of 200 pounds
muriate per acre. The result was that no ear corn was
produced where no potash was used, while in every case
where potash was added,-alone or with other chemicals,
from 36 to 60 bushels of corn per acre were grown. The
owner of this farm saw how potash produced corn and he
was so impressed with the results that he decided to use
potash again. The following year he used fifty pounds of
muriate of potash per acre. The result was a good crop of
stalks but no ear corn. We can easily see the reason for
this. There was little or no available potash in the soil.
The corn crop was obliged to depend upon what was added
in the muriate of potash. The stalks alone required 52
pounds of potash to make a full growth. The fifty pounds.
14 VALUE OF SWAMP LANDS.
of muriate containing 25 pounds of pure potash added less
than enoujh to grow the stalks and there was absolutely
none left to provide for the ears. This shows the necessity
of using at least 200 pounds of muriate per acre on such
BUCKWHEAT GROWN ON SWAMP SOIL, ON THE FARM OF MR. C. C. PORTER,
AT MOMENCE, ILLINOIS.
ON THE LEFT NO POTASH. ON THE RIGHT WITH POTASH.
Another example of the necessity of potash is shown
in the photograph illustrating the results obtained on corn
by Mr, George Wakeman, near Momence, 111. He made a
heavy application of stable manure to the field shown at
the left side of the picture, and applied muriate of potash
to another portion of the field, shown on the right side.
The results are very striking. The stable manure produced
FARM OF GEO. WAKEMAN, NEAR MOMENCE, ILL.
CORN ON SWAMP LAND.
ON LEFT STABLE MANURE ONLY. ON RIGHT MURIATE OF POTASH ONLY.
little effect, because it contained only a very small amount
of potash, while the large quantity of nitrogen and in
addition thereto, the phosphoric acid, were not needed on
this particular soil. Muriate of potash used alone made
a heavy crop of corn.
An abundance of evidence has been obtained to prove
that potash is the needed element in these black or peaty
soils. We know of a low valley which has been drained and
planted in celery. It has been found that kainit alone year
after year will produce good crops of celery while any mix-
tures of chemicals containing no potash will fail. From
what has already been said we can easily see why this is so,
for while the soil of the valley provides ample nitrogen and
16 VALU.K J:JF SV/AMP LANDS.
phosphoric acid, it has little if any available potash. In this
same valley potatoes planted in the natural soil grow a large
vine and a coarse, watery tuber, unfit to eat. Add sulphate
of potash and the tubers grow white and "mealy", excellent
in quality. That is just what we would expect, knowing the
influence of potash on the formation of starch and on qual-
ity. The simple truth is that these black swamp lands are
really the most valuable soils on the farm. They need
drainage to take out the surplus water and potash to
provide the missing fertility.
AVERAGE COMPOSITION OF POTASH SALTS
and Application Recommended in Pounds per acre
for use on Elack Unproductive Soils.
NAME OF SALTS. OF PURE POTASH. POUNDS.
AVERAGE. PER ACRE.
A. Salts containing Chlorides:
Muriate of Potash 50 200
Manure Salt 20 600
Kainit (crude salt) 12.4 800
B. Salts free of Chlorides :
Sulphate of Potash 50 200
Sulphate of Potash-Magnesia 27 400
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LIBRARY