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

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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.)

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

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