RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1844. Manures and steeping seed. Gardeners' Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette no. 23 (8 June): 380.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed, corrected and edited by John van Wyhe 2003-8. RN2
Manures, and Steeping Seeds.—Some of your readers may be amused at the style, as well as at the matter of the following quotations from "The Curiosities of Nature and Art in Husbandry and Gardening," published in 1707.1 They show that the value of the inorganic parts of manure, and the advantage of steeping seeds, were well known at that time. "The whole secret of multiplication consists in the right use of salts. Salt, says Palissy,2 is the principal substance and virtue of dung. A field may be sown every year, if we restore to it by stercoration3 what we take from it in the harvest." … "Seeing all multiplication depends on salts, the main business is to get together a great quantity at little expense, that the profit may be the greater." The author then describes a method of making liquid manure, in three old casks, into which objects are separately thrown, according to the ease with which they decompose. He further urges the importance of burning all wild plants, and of carefully dissolving the soluble parts of their ashes, and then proceeds—"Take as many pounds of saltpetre or nitre as you have acres of land to sow. For each acre dissolve a pound of saltpetre in twelve pints of the water that sanks from the dunghill. When the saltpetre is quite melted, throw in a little of those salts of plants (i.e. ashes) according to the quantity you have of them. This liquor is then called the 'Universal Matter,' because nitre is truly the universal spirit of the elementary world. This is the main point of the whole secret of multiplication. We will for the future call the water that is got ready in the casks, Prepared Water, and the water from which the salts are extracted from plants, and the nitre, Universal Matter. For one acre, take twelve pints of the prepared water, and mix with it immediately the universal matter, in which there ought to be a pound of dissolved nitre. The vessel into which you put these liquors must be large enough to contain the corn which you design for one acre. Then strew in your corn into these liquors; there must be two inches of water above the seed. Leave the corn to soak for twelve hours, and stir it up and down every two. If by that time it do not swell, let it lie longer till it begin to plump up considerably. One third less of seed than usual will serve for an acre; nay, you may safely use but half as much, and mingle among it some straw cut very small, that the sower may take it up by handfuls and sow it in the ordinary way, as I have said already." The explanation the author offers of the use of soaking seeds is whimsical. He says that the first action is to "cut the covers that infold the sprouts," and that the second action is "to serve each grain of corn, as it were, instead of a loadstone, to attract the nitre of the earth, which the subterranean fires have reduced and driven into steams and vapours in the low and middle region of the air, for the nourishment of vegetables and of animals. This is not a vain imagination, a chimera, or empty notion."—C. Darwin.
2 Palissy 1636. Referred to in Vallemont 1707, pp. 172-4.
3 Manuring with dung.
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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
File last updated 2 July, 2012