This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Each man assures his neighbour that the process of desiccation is quite easy, and the art of deodorising almost nice; but nobody " goes in." The reader, I have no doubt, has with me had large experience of this perversity in neighbours, and ofttimes has been perplexed and pained by their dogged strange reluctance to follow the very best advice. There was at Cambridge, five-and-twenty years, an insolent, foul-mouthed, pugnacious sweep, who escaped for two terms the sublime licking which he " annexed " finally, because no one liked to tackle the soot. There were scores of undergraduates, to whom pugilism was a thing of beauty and a joy for ever, who had the power and the desire to punish his impudence, but they thought of the close wrestle, - they reflected on the " hug," and left him. To drop metaphor, there is no more valuable manure; but it is, from circumstances which require no explanation, more suitable for the farm than the garden, especially as we have a substitute, quite as efficacious, and far more convenient and agreeable in use.
No, not "burnt earth." I spoke as earnestly as I could of the value of that application in my last chapter (p. 513), because it is impossible in many cases to exaggerate its worth, but I alluded at the same time to another indispensable addition which must be made to the soil of a Rose-garden, and now I will tell you what it is: I will tell you where I found the Philosopher's Stone in the words of that fable by aesop, which is, I believe, the first of the series, and which was first taught to me in the French language, - "Un coq, grattant sur un fumier, trouvait par hazard une pierre precieuse; " or, as it is written in our English version, " A brisk young cock, in company with two or three pullets, his mistresses, raking upon a dunghill for something to entertain them with, happened to scratch up a jewel." The little allegory is complete: I was the brisk young cock, my favourite pullet was the Rose, and in a heap of farmyard manure I found the gift so precious to her.
Yes, here is the mine of gold and silver, gold medals and silver cups for the grower of prize Roses; and to all who love them, the best diet for their health and beauty, the most strengthening tonic for their weakness, and the surest medicine for disease. " Dear me !" exclaims some fastidious reader, " what a nasty brute the man is! He seems quite to revel in refuse, and to dance on his dunghill with delight!" The man owns to the soft impeachment. If the man had been a Roman Emperor he would have erected the most magnificent temple in honour of Sterculus, the son of Faunus, that Rome ever saw. Because Sterculus, the son of Faunus - so Pliny tells - discovered the art and advantage of spreading dung upon the land; and he should have appeared in the edifice dedicated to him graven larger than life in pure gold, riding proudly in his family chariot, the currus Stercurosus (Anglice, muck-cart), with the agricultural trident in his hand. As it is, I always think of him with honour when I meet the vehicle in which he loved to drive - have ever a smile of extra sweetness for the wide-mouthed waddling charioteer, and am pained at heart to find the precious commodity fallen, or, as they say in Lancashire, "shattered," on the road.
Ah! but once, that fastidious reader will be pleased to hear, the man brought himself to sore shame and confusion by this wild passionate affection. Returning on a summer's afternoon from a parochial walk, I inferred from wheel-tracks on my carriage-drive that callers had been and gone. I expected to find cards in the hall, and I saw that the horses had kindly left theirs on the gravel. At that moment, one of those " Grim spirits in the air, "Who grin to see us mortals grieve, And dance at our despair," fiendishly suggested to my mind an economical desire to utilise the souvenir before me. I looked around and listened; no sight, no sound, of humanity. I fetched the largest fire-shovel I could find, and was carrying it bountifully laden through an archway cut in a high hedge of yews, and towards a favourite tree of "Charles Lefebvre," when I suddenly confronted three ladies, who "had sent round the carriage, hearing that I should soon be at home, and were admiring my beautiful Roses." It may be said, with the strictest regard to veracity, that they saw nothing that day which they admired, in the primary meaning of the word, so much as myself and fire-shovel; and I am equally sure that no Rose in my garden had a redder complexion than my own.
And now, to be practical, what do I mean by farmyard manure - when, and how, should it be used?
By farmyard manure I mean all the manures of the straw-yard, solid and fluid, horse, cow, pig, poultry, in conjunction. Let a heap be made near the Rosarium, not suppressing the fumes of a natural fermentation by an external covering, but forming underneath a central drain, having lateral feeders, and at the lower end an external tank, after the fashion of those huge dinner-dishes whose channels carry to the "well" the rich gravies of the baron and the haunch (here that fastidious reader collapses, and is removed in a state of syncope), so that the rich extract, full of carbonate of ammonia, and precious as attar, may not be wasted, but may be used either as liquid manure in the Rosary, or pumped back again to baste the beef.
How long should it remain in the heap before it is fit for application to the soil? The degree of decomposition to which farmyard dung should arrive before it can be deemed a profitable manure, must depend on the texture of the soil, the nature of the plants, and the time of its application.* In general, clayey soils, more tenacious of moisture, and more benefited by being rendered incohesive and porous, may receive manure less decomposed than more pulverised soils require. Again, the season when manure is applied is also a material circumstance. In spring and summer the object is to produce an immediate effect, and it should, therefore, be more completely decomposed than may be necessary when it is laid on in autumn, for a crop whose condition will be almost stationary for several months. It was my custom for many years to apply a good covering of long fresh manure to my Rose-trees towards the end of November, and to dig it in about the end of March; and I am still of opinion that for Rose-trees on their own roots, especially the more tender varieties, such as Teas and Bourbons, and for Roses on the Manetti Stock, this system is advantageous. The straw acts as a protection from frost, and the manure is gradually absorbed, to the enrichment of the soil and nourishment of the roots.