1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Manures - Chalk; Shell Sand and Limestone Gravel; Gypsum; Burnt Clay.

(Part 47)

X. MANURES (cont.)

Chalk. Shell Sand and Limestone Gravel. Gypsum. Burnt Clay.


Throughout the extensive chalk districts of England, the practice of spreading this substance over the surface of the land has prevailed from the remotest times. In the case of the Lincolnshire Wolds, once as celebrated for desolate barrenness as they now are for high culture and smiling fertility, chalking was one important means of bringing about this wonderful improvement, as it still is in maintaining it. "The soil being but a few inches in depth, and often containing a large proportion of flints, naturally possesses very little fertility – often being a light sand, not strong enough naturally to grow turnips --- so that the farmers were at first obliged to make a soil, and must now maintain its new-born productiveness. The three principal means by which this is done are the processes of chalking, and boning, and manuring with sheep. A dressing of 80 or 100 cubic yards per acre of chalk is spread upon the land, and then a crop of barley is obtained if possible, being sown with seeds for grazing. The fields are grazed with sheep two years, the sheep being at the same time fed with oilcake; and then the land will be capable of producing a fine crop of oats. Bones are also used frequently for the barley crop, and when they first came into use were thrown upon the land in a chopped state, neither broken nor crushed, and as much as 40 or even 50 bushels per acre. The boning and sheep-feeding are in constant operation, but chalking is required only at intervals of a few years. On the western side of the Wold district, wherever the chalk adjoins the white or blue marl, an extensive application of it is made to the surface. Thus immense quantities of earth and stone have been added by manual labour and horse-carriage to the thin covering of original soil; and, besides this, the soil is being continually deepened by deep ploughing, the chalk fragments thus brought to the surface crumbling into mould." [Footnote 351-1]

In Dorsetshire "it is usual to chalk the land once in twenty years, the sour description of soil being that to which it is found most advantageous to apply it the chalk is dug out of pits in the field to which it is applied, and it is laid on sometimes with barrows, but chiefly with the aid of donkeys. The first method costs 40s. an acre, the last 35s. when hire donkeys are used; 20s. to 25s. where the donkeys are the property of the farmer. The chalk is laid on in large lumps, which soon break down by the action of frost and exposure to the weather. Chalk is occasionally burned and applied as lime, in which state it is preferred by many farmers, notwithstanding the additional cost of the burning." [Footnote 351-2]

Shell Sand and Limestone Gravel

On the western shores of Great Britain and Ireland are found great quantities of sand mixed with sea-shells in minute fragments. This calcareous sand is carried inland considerable distances, and applied to the land as lime is elsewhere. Limestone gravel is also found in various places and used in the same way.


Sulphate of lime or gypsum is considered an excellent top-dressing for clover and kindred plants. It is thought by some that the failure of red clover is to be accounted for by the repeated crops of that plant having exhausted the gypsum in the soil. Its application has been followed by favourable results in some cases, but has yet quite failed in others. It is applied in a powered state at the rate of two or three cwt. per acre when the plants are moist with rain or dew.

Burnt Clay

About fifty years ago burnt clay was brought much into notice as manure, and tried in various parts of the country, but again fell into disuse. It is now, however, more extensively and systematically practiced than ever. Frequent reference to the practice is to be found in the volumes of the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. This burning of clay is accomplished in several ways. Sometimes it is burned in large heaps or clamps containing from 80 to 100 cart-loads. A fire being kindled with some faggots or brushwood, which is covered up with the clay, taking care not to let the fire break out at any point, more fuel of the kind mentioned, or dross of coals, is added as required, and more clay heaped on. A fierce fire must be avoided, as that would make the clay into brickbats. A low, smothered combustion is what is required; and to maintain this a god deal of skill and close watching on the part of the workman is necessary. A rude kiln is sometimes used for the same purpose. Either of these plans is suitable where the ashes are wanted at a homestead for absorbing liquid manure, &c.; but for merely spreading over the land, that called clod-burning is preferable, and is thus described in the volume viii. Page 78, of the Royal Agricultural Society’s Journal:--- "Roll and harrow, in dry weather, till the majority of clods are about the size of a large walnut; nothing so good as the clod-crusher to forward this operation: when perfectly dry, collect them into rows about six yards apart with iron-teethed rakes; take a quarter of a whine faggot, or less, according to size, previously cut into lengths by a man with an axe’ place these pieces about four yards apart in the rows, cover them with clods, putting the finest mould upon the top of the heap, to prevent the fire too quickly escaping; observe the wind, and leave an opening accordingly; having set fire to a long branch of whin, run from opening to opening till two or three rows are lighted, secure these, and then put fire to others, keeping a man or two behind to attend to the fires and earthing up till the quantity desired may be burned, which will generally take four or five hours, say from 25 to 35 loads per acre of 30 bushels per load.

"This work is often put out to a gang of men at about 10s. per acre for labour, and the whins cost 4s. 6d. per acre, not including the carting.

"When the heaps are cold, spread and plough in. the great advantage of burning clods in these small heap, in preference to a large one, is the saving of expense in collecting and spreading; there is much less red brick earth and more black and charred; no horses or carts moving on the land whilst burning; and a large field may be all burned in a day or two, therefore less liable to be delayed by wet weather. In the heavy land part of Suffolk, the farmers purchase whins from the light land occupiers, and often cart them a distance of fourteen or sixteen miles, when there is no work pressing on the farm. These are stacked up and secured by thatching with straw, that they may be dry and fit for use when required. Bean straw is the next best fuel to whins or furze, and it is astonishing to see how small a quantity will burn the clods if they are of the proper size and dry. Observe, if the soil is at all inclined to sand, it will not burn so wee. I will here mention, that I often sift and store up a few loads of the best blackened earth to drill with my turnips, instead of buying artificial manure, and find it answers remarkably well, and assists in maintaining the position that a heavy land farm in Suffolk can be farmed in the first-rate style without foreign ingredients."

Burnt clay is an admirable vehicle for absorbing liquid manure. A layer of it in the bottom of cattle-boxes does good service, at once in economizing manure, and in yielding to the cattle a drier bed than they would otherwise have until the litter has accumulated to some depth. Valuable results have also been obtained by using it for strewing over the floors of poultry-houses, and especially for pens in which sheep are fed under cover. In the latter case it is mixed with the excrements of the sheep as they patter over it, and forms a substance not unlike guano, nor much inferior to it as manure. As an application to sandy or chalky soils it is invaluable. It is mainly by this use of burnt clay, in combination with fattening of sheep under cover, that Mr. Randell of Chadbury has so astonishingly increased the productiveness of his naturally poor clay soil. A Berwickshire proprietor, himself a practical farmer, who visited Mr. Randell’s farm in the summer of 1852, thus writes: --- "I have visited most of the best managed farms in England, at least those that have so much of late been brought under general notice; but without exception, I never saw land in the splendid condition his is in. the beauty of the system lies in the cheap method by which he has imparted to it this fertility, and in the manner in which he keeps it up. A large part of the farm consisted, fourteen years ago of poor clay, and was valued to him at his entry at 7s. 6d. per acre. It is now bearing magnificent crops of all kinds, the wheat being estimated to yield from 6 to 7 quarters per acre.

"Mechi has enriched Tiptree-heath, it is true; but then it is effected at a cost that will make it impossible for him to be repaid. Mr. Randell, on the other hand, has adopted a course that is nearly self-supporting, his only cost being the preparation of the clay. The great secret of his success lies in his mode of using it; and as I never heard of a similar process, I will briefly explain to you how it is done: --- His heavy land not permitting him to consume the turnip and mangold crops on the ground, he carts them home, and feeds his sheep in large sheds. They do not stand on boards or straw, but on the burnt clay, which affords them a beautiful dry bed; and whenever it gets the least damp or dirty, a fresh coating is put under them. The mound rises in height; and in February, when the shearlings are sold (for the sheep are only then twelve months old), the mass is from 7 to 8 feet deep. He was shearing his lambs when I was there, as he considers they thrive much better in the sheds without their fleeces. They are half-bred Shropshire downs; and at the age I mention, attain the great weight of 24lbs. per quarter.

"I walked through the sheds, but of course they were then empty. I saw the enormous quantity of what he called his "home-made guano;’ the smell from it strongly indicated the ammonia it contained. He had sown his turnips and other green crops with it, and what remained he used for the wheat in autumn. He assured me he had often tested it with other manures, and always found 10 tons of the compound quite outstrip 4 cwt. of guano, when they were applied to an acre of land separately."


351-1 "Farming of Lincolnshire," by John Algernon Clarke; Journal of Royal Agricultural Society, xii. 331.

351-2 See Caird's English Agriculture 1850 and 1851, p. 61.

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