This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol1", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
From time to time scientists have turned their thoughts to the question of electricity in connection with the soil and plant growth, and numerous experiments have been carried out. The main object of these experiments is to try to rob the atmosphere of nitrogen and convert it into nitric acid, in the hope that plants will not only grow bigger and better but much quicker than at present. The actual cultivation of the soil itself on scientific principles does not appear to have been considered in these experiments, all of which seem to aim at getting as much out of the soil as possible without having recourse to physical labour. When it is remembered that a man who digs 1 ac. of ground 1 ft. deep turns over about 1340 tons of soil in 10 to 14 days (more or less) at a cost of a couple of pounds, the idea of the "electrical" cultivator is apparently to save this trouble and expense.
Amongst those who have already taken part in electrifying the soil are the French priests the Abbe Berthelon and the Abbe Nolet, the Swedish Professor Lemstrom, and, more recently, Sir Oliver Lodge and Mr. J. E. Newman, of Evesham. Under the Newman-Lodge method - as The Times describes it - "the wire is taken from the dynamo to a shed in one of the fields which are to be electrified. This shed contains apparatus for transforming the electricity to high tension, and also the vacuum valves. The network over the crops consists of a kind of gridiron of wire, supported from each pole with larger insulators than those seen on telegraph poles. The poles are 70 yd. apart in the rows and 100 yd. apart between the rows. The thick telegraph wire is extended down the rows, with thin wire - to encourage leakage - at every 10 yd. The thin wire is invisible 20 yd. off. There is a slight fizz, caused by the electrical discharge, and in walking beneath the wires a slight sensation may be experienced. At night there is some glow. If a wire breaks - this does not often happen - anyone picking it up would receive an unpleasant shock; but though there are obviously possibilities of electrocution in the high-tension shed, there is no risk to life in the field. The apparatus does not supply a tenth of an ampere. The apparatus can be managed by a boy, but it is necessary to make sure from time to time that there is no interference with the proper discharge of the electricity due to leakage down damp poles or to defective insulators. An installation of the simplest type, for experimenting on from 5 to 10 ac, a dynamo being available, would probably cost about £100. In the same conditions an installation for 60 ac. might cost about £225. A complete outfit for 30 ac, including engine, dynamo, and shed, would involve an expenditure of something like £300, but an installation for twice the area would not cost more than another £100. There is a probability of the expense being decreased in the future." It is claimed for this electrical process that there is an increased yield accompanied by accelerated production, and the plants (Lettuces have been chiefly experimented on) are of a deeper green.
It is always wise to pay attention to experiments, even when carried out by those who have had little or no training in horticultural practice, but we have no hesitation at present in saying that £6 or £8 per year spent on trenching an acre of ground 2 ft. to 3 ft. deep would yield larger supplies of nitrates and crops immensely superior to anything that can be achieved by "electrical" culture. [J. w.]