A man called at my office a few years ago with some dozen bottles as samples of special manures, indispensable, he said, as fertilizers for certain kinds of plants. He had those with him that he claimed to be specially prepared for cabbage, corn, potatoes, wheat, grass, lawns, beets, etc., etc. He even invaded Flora's realm, and declared that his nostrum for roses was a specific for any languid capers of this sometimes rather coquettish queen of flowers. His own arguments, which were rather plausible and glibly uttered, were backed up by numerous certificates - authentic, I have no doubt - where his "potato fertilizer" had worked wonders with some, with others his "corn manure" had been of undoubted benefit, and so on all through the list.
Now, I have no reason to say that the vender of these fertilizers was a quack, except the broad fact, gathered from an experience of thirty years, that has shown me that it makes but little difference with what fertilizer a crop is treated, provided the soil is properly pulverized and the fertilizer applied in proper proportions according to its strength. Had all his separate kinds of fertilizers been taken from the same bag, (provided that bag contained a good article of bone-dust or guano), the result to his patrons would have been the same, whether he had used it on one or all of the crops that he had special prescriptions for.
There are few market gardeners in the vicinity of New York but who have at one time or another been obliged to take anything they could get for fertilizing purposes, and the difference has never been perceptible when manure from horse stables or cow stables has been applied, or when $100 per acre has been expended for bone-dust or Peruvian guano, and these all used on a dozen different crops without any discrimination. Agricultural chemistry may be all very well in some respects, but if it gets down to such hair-splitting niceties as to analyze scores of special plants, and tell us that we must feed each with only just such food as the analysis show it to be composed of, then our common sense, born of practical experience, must scout and ridicule such nonsense.
Plants, like animals, are not so much kept in good health by the special kind of food given as by the proper quantity and conditions surrounding the individual when the food is received, and what proper temperature and pulverization of soil may be to the plant, air and exercise and also proper temperature are the corresponding conditions necessary for healthy animal life. Who will say that the beef-fed English laborer is in any way the physical superior of the Irishman or Scotchman whose daily food has been only potatoes and oat-meal? You get usually fine and nearly equal development in each case, but it is a condition due to a natural use of the muscles in the open air in a congenial climate rather than to anything special in the food. It would be quite as reasonable to tell us that a special food, chemically considered, is necessary for each class of our domestic animals as for our domestic plants, and none but the veriest charlatan or ignoramus will do either.