Don't Try this at Home! 'Homegrown' fertilizer was a difficult, dangerous brew to produce

| April 2005

  • EarlyNewIdeaManureSpreader.jpg
    Right: An early New Idea manure spreader with New Idea’s patented widespread paddles at the rear. (From the 50th Anniversary booklet published in 1949 by the New Idea Division of the Avco Manufacturing Corp. at Coldwater, Ohio; author’s collection.)

  • EarlyNewIdeaManureSpreader.jpg

The following recipe for mixing your own fertilizer, using ground animal bones, appeared in an 1877 issue of the Farm Journal:

"Select a good wooden barn floor or make a box of thick plank, laid tight. On this first throw the bones. If not ground very fine, it would be well to sift them, and place only the coarser part on this floor, putting the finer portion aside for mixing in afterward. By this means, the coarse bone will come in contact with the strong acid first, and be more effectually acted upon by it, while the finer parts can then be added to dry up. Water, equal to about one-fourth the weight of the bone, is first to be poured upon it, well stirred in with a spade or hoe, and left for two or three days to heat and ferment; if convenient, it would be well to use the water boiling hot. After the bones have fermented, add the oil of vitriol (sulphuric acid), mixing well with a wooden spade or board; the mass effervesces or boils; stir thoroughly twice a day for two days, so as to turn the whole mass over; let it stand for two or three days to dry; add the fine bone and mix it in well. If not dry, use some absorbing substance, as sawdust, dry peat or muck, or dry earth, in small quantities, and mix well. Do not use, for this purpose, lime, ashes or marl, as they would destroy the super-phosphate and spoil the whole work.

"Now, when your super-phosphate has become thoroughly dry, the addition of sulphate of magnesia, muriate of potash, nitrate of soda, land plaster (gypsum) or other elements which are to compose your complete fertilizer may be made. Stir them in thoroughly one at a time, reserving the land plaster to be worked in the last thing."