Its fermenting quality is chiefly owing to the salts wherewith it abounds ; but a very little of this salt, applied alone to a few roots of almost any plant, will (as in my mint-experiments it is evident common salt does) kill it.
This proves, that its use is not to nourish, but to dissolve, i.e., divide the terrestrial matter, which affords nutriment to the mouths of vegetable roots.
It is, I suppose, upon the account of the acrimonious fiery nature of these salts that the florists have banished dung from their flower-gardens.
And there is, I am sure, much more reason to prohibit the use of dung in the kitchen-garden, on account of the ill taste it gives to esculent roots and plants, especially such dung as is made in great towns.
It is a wonder how delicate palates can dispense with eating their own and their beasts ordure, but a little more putrefied and evaporated ; together with all sorts of filth and nastiness, a tincture of which those roots must unavoidably receive that grow amongst it.
Indeed, I do not admire, that learned palates, accustomed to the goût of silphium, garlic, la chair venée, and mortified venison, equalling the stench and rankness of this sort of city muck, should relish and approve of plants that are fed and fatted by its immediate contact.
People who are so vulgarly nice as to nauseate these modish dainties, and whose squeamish stomachs even abhor to receive the food of nobles, so little different from that wherewith they regale their richest gardens, say, that even the very water wherein a rich garden cabbage is boiled, stinks ; but the water wherein a cabbage from a poor undunged field is boiled, has no manner of unpleasant savour ; and that a carrot bred in a dunghill, has none of that sweet relish which a field-carrot affords.
Ther is a like difference in all roots nourished with such different diet.
Dung not only spoils the fine flavour of these our eatables, but inquinates good liquor. The dung vineyards in Languedoc produce nauseous wine, from whence there is a proverb in that country, that poor people's wine is best, because they carry no dung to their vineyards.
Dung is observed to give great encouragement to the production of worms ; and carrots in the garden are much worm-eaten, when those in the field are free from worms.
Dung is the putrefaction of earth after it has been altered by vegetable or animal vessels.
Vegetable dung, unless the vegetable be buried alive in the soil, makes a much less ferment in it, and consequently divides it less than animal dung does.
But if the dung be thoroughly ventilated and putrefied before it be spread on the field (as I think all the authors I have read direct) so much of its salts will be spend in fermenting the dung itself, that little of them will remain to ferment the soil, and the farmer who
might dung one acre in twenty, by laying on his dung whilst fully replete with vigorous salts, may (if he follow these writers' advice to a nicety) be forced to content himself with dunging one acre in a hundred.
This, indeed, is good advice for gardeners, for making their stuff more palatable and wholesome, but would ruin the Virgilian farmer, who could have no more dung than what he could make upon his arable farm.
For every sort of dung, the longer time it ferments without the ground, the less time it has to ferment in it, and the weaker its ferment will be.
The reason given for this great diminution of dung is, that the seeds of weeds may be rotted and lose their vegetating faculty ; but this would be of little purpose, if according to the option of Equivocus, and the lowest degree of the Virgilian vulgar, weeds sprung up naturally from the soil by equivocal generation.
This I am certain by demonstration, that let a dunghill remain three years unmoved, though its bulk be vastly diminished in that time, and its best quality lost, charlock-seed will remain sound in it, and stock the land whereon it is laid ; for that ferment which is sufficient to consume the virtue of the stercoraceous salts, is not sufficient to destroy the vegetative virtue of charlock-seeds, nor (I believe) of many other sorts of weeds.
But the dung of vegetables is much more wholesome for the use of edible roots and plants than that of animals is.
The very effluvia of animal bodies, sent off by perspiration, are so noxious as to kill the animal that emits them, if confined to receive them back in great quantity, by breathing in an air replete with them ; which appears from the soon dying of an animal shut up in a receiver full of air. Yet this seems to be most harmless of all the sorts of animal-excrements the air can be infected with. How noxious then must be the more foetid steams of odure !
If a catalogue were published of all instances from charnel-houses, of cemeteries, and of the pestiferous effects which have happened from the putrefaction of dead bodies after great battles, even in the open air, nobody, I believe, would have a good opinion of the wholesomeness of animal dung ; for if a great quantity do so infect the air, it is likely a less may infect it in proportion to that less quantity.
In great cities, the air is full of these effluvia, which in hot climes often produce the pestilence ; and in cold climes, people are generally observed to live a less time, and less healthfully in cities, than in the country ; to which difference, it is likely, that the eating unwholesome gardenage may contribute.
This dung is a fitter food for venomous creatures* than for edible plants ; and it is, no doubt, upon account of this that dunged gardens are so much frequented by toads, which are seldom or never seen in the open, undunged fields.
Some have lost their lives by toads being accidentally boiled in the folds of a loaf-cabbage ; others poisoned by their own fixing their claws on their arm. A mountebank, to show the energy of its antidotes, used to eat part of a toad on his stage, and cure himself by his medicines ; but I was told by one that once saw him in his chamber after eating too large a dose of the poison, or else delaying too long the application of his remedy, in such a dismal condition that his life was despaired of, though with much difficulty, and some time, he recovered.
And notwithstanding what some authors have said of the innoxiousness of this animal, these and other instances persuade me, that nature did not give most people such an aversion to it in vain. It may not be mortal to every human body, since I am told of a man that has eaten several toads without any apparent injury to
him ; but I believe most who shall try the experiment will be forced to confess, that what is one man's meat in another's poison.
What can we say, then to the salubrity of those roots themselves, bred up and fattened amongst these toads and corruption ? The leaves, indeed, are only discharging some of the filth when we eat them ; but the roots have that unsavoury, infected food in their very mouths, when we take them for our nourishment.
But though dung be, upon these and other accounts, injurious to the garden, yet a considerable quantity of it is so necessary to most corn-fields, that without it little good can be done by the whole husbandry.
But though dung is so necessary in the old Virgilian, raftering, and sat-erit husbandry, yet to most sorts of land used in the old and new pulverising husbandry, it is not necessary ; as it appears by mine, and by the experience of all farmers, who being emancipated from Virgilian principles, have made proper trails : they find, as well as I, that dung may be supplied by an increase of tillage.
That dung may be used when properly applied, I believe was never denied by any author, though I have been accused of it ; but I cannot be justly charged with being the first who has thought it not to be absolutely necessary, since we lean from Hesiod (who mentioned nothing of it in his Georgics) that the ancient Greeks carried on their husbandry without stercoration.
Dung is not injurious to the fields*, being there in less proportion ; and the produce of corn is the grain. When the leaves have done their utmost to purify the sap, the most refined part is secerned to be yet further elavorated by peculiar organs ; then, by the vessels
* Such plants as cabbages, turnips, carrots, and potatoes, when they are designed only for fattening of cattle, will not be injured by dung, tillage, and hoeing altogether, which will make the crops the greater, and the cattle will like them never the worse.
of the blossoms, it is become double-refined for the nourishment of the grain, which is therefore, more pure from dung, and more wholesome, than any other part of the pant that bears it.
And common tillage alone is not sufficient for many sorts of corn, especially wheat, which is the king of grains.
Very few fields can have the conveniency of a sufficient supply of dung, to enable them to produce half the wheat those will do near cities, where they have plenty of it.
The crop of twenty acres will scarcely make dung sufficient for one acre, in the common way of laying it on.
The action of the dung's ferment affords a warmth* to the infant plants in their most tender state, and the most rigorous season.
But it is hard to know how long the warmth of this ferment lasts, by reason of the great difficulty to distinguish the very least degree of heat from the very least degree of cold.
Water in wells and springs is not warmer in winter than in summer ; it only seems to be so, because our sense of feeling is differently affected by touching it, as our hands and the air are colder in winter than in summer, to a greater degree than subterraneous water is.
For want of taking notice of that vulgar mistake, Equivocus asserts, that earth is warmer in winter than in summer.
* But though dung, in fermenting, may have a little warmth, yet it may, sometimes, by letting more water enter its hollowness, be in a frost much colder than undunged pulverised earth ; for I have seem wheat-plants in the winter die in the very spits of dung, when undunged drilled wheat adjoining to it, planted at the same time, has flourished all the same winter ; and I could not find any other reason for this but the hollowness of the dung, and yet it seemed to be well rotted.
Under the name of dung, we may also understand whatever ferments with the earth, except fire, such as green vegetables covered in the ground, &c.
As to the difference of the quantity of artificial pasture made by dung without tillage, and that made by tillage without dung, the latter is many times greater, of which I had the following proof. An unploughed land, wherein a dunghill had lain for two or three years, and being taken away was planted with turnips ; at the same time a tilled land, contiguous thereto, was drilled with turnips, and horse hoed ; the other, being hand-hoed, prospered best at the first, but at least did not amount to the fifth part of the tilled and horse-hoed in bigness nor in crop. The benefit of the dung and hand-hoe was so inconsiderable, in comparison of the plough and hoe-plough ; the little quantity of artificial pasture raised to the other, was only near the surface, and did not reach deep enough to maintain the turnips, until they arrived at the fifth part of the growth of those of which the artificial pasture reached to the bottom of the staple of the land.
A like proof is, that several lands of turnips drilled on the level, at three-feet rows, ploughed and doubly dunged, and also horse-hoed, did not produce near so good a crop of turnips as six-feet ridges adjoining, horse-hoed, though no dung had been laid thereon for many years. There was no other difference than that the three-feet rows did not admit the hoe-plough to raise half the artificial pasture, as the six-feet rows did. The dung ploughed into the narrow intervals before drilling, could operate no further, with any great effect, than the hoe-plough could turn it up, and help it in its pulverisation.
Dung, without tillage, can do very little ; with some tillage does something ; with much tillage pulverises the soil in less time than tillage alone can do ; but the tillage alone, with more time, can pulverise as well.
This the experiments of artificially pulverising of the poorest land, as they are related by Mr. Evelyn, fully prove.
And these experiments are the more to be depended on, as they are made, both in England and Holland, by persons of known integrity.
This truth is also further confirmed by those authors who have found that highway dust alone is a manure referable to dung. And all these pulverisations being made by attrition or contusion, why should not our instruments of pulverisation in time reduce a sufficient part of the staple of a dry friable soil, to a dust equal to that of a highway ?
The common proportion of dung used in the field, pulverises only a small part of the staple ; but how long a time may be required for our instruments to pulverise an equal part, it depending much upon the weather and the degree of friability of the soil, is uncertain.
I have seen surprising effects from ground, after being kept unexhausted, by ploughing with common ploughs for two whole years running ; and, I am confident, that the expense of this extraordinary tillage and fallow will not, in many places, amount to above half the expense of a dressing with dung ; and if the land be all the time kept in our sort of little ridges of the size most proper for that purpose, the expense of ploughing will be diminished one-half, besides the advantage the earth of such ridges hath of being friable in weather which is too moist for ploughing the same land on the level.
I have made many trials of fine dung on the rows, and notwithstanding the benefit of it, I have, for these several years past, left it off, finding that a little more hoeing will supply it at a much less expense, than that of so small a quantity of manure, and of the hands necessary to lay it on, and of the carriage.