When we have exactly ascertained the quantity of ashes left after the combustion of cultivated plants which have grown upon all varieties of soil, and have obtained correct analyses of these ashes, we shall learn with certainty which of the constituent elements of the plants are constant and which are changeable, and we shall arrive at an exact knowledge of the sum of all the ingredients we withdraw from the soil in the different crops.
With this knowledge the farmer will be able to keep an exact record, of the produce of his fields in harvest, like the account-book of a well regulated manufactory; and then by a simple calculation he can determine precisely the substances he must supply to each field, and the quantity of these, in order to restore their fertility. He will be able to express, in pounds weight, how much of this or that element he must give in order to augment its fertility for any given kind of plants.
These researches and experiments are the great desideratum of the present time. To the united efforts of the chemists of all countries we may confidently look for A solution of these great questions, and by the aid of enlightened agriculturists we shall arrive at a rational system of gardening, horticulture, and agriculture, applicable to every country and all kinds of soil, and which will be based upon the immutable foundation of observed facts and philosophical induction.
My dear Sir,
My recent researches into the constituent ingredients of our cultivated fields have led me to the conclusion that, of all the elements furnished to plants by the soil and ministering to their nourishment, the phosphate of lime—or, rather, the phosphates generally—must be regarded as the most important.
In order to furnish you with a clear idea of the importance of the phosphates, it may be sufficient to remind you of the fact, that the blood of man and animals, besides common salt, always contains alkaline and earthy phosphates. If we burn blood and examine the ashes which remain, we find certain parts of them soluble in water, and others insoluble. The soluble parts are, common salt and alkaline phosphates; the insoluble consist of phosphate of lime, phosphate of magnesia, and oxide of iron.
These mineral ingredients of the blood—without the presence of which in the food the formation of blood is impossible—both man and animals derive either immediately, or mediately through other animals, from vegetable substances used as food; they had been constituents of vegetables, they had been parts of the soil upon which the vegetable substances were developed.
If we compare the amount of the phosphates in different vegetable substances with each other, we discover a great variety, whilst there is scarcely any ashes of plants altogether devoid of them, and those parts of plants which experience has taught us are the most nutritious, contain the largest proportion. To these belong all seeds and grain, especially the varieties of bread-corn, peas, beans, and lentils.