Trans. New-York State Agricultural Society 1: 298-301 (1842)
CHARCOAL AS A MANURE
J. H. HEPBURN
Jersey Shore, Lycoming Co., Pa.

There is no subject connected with farming that requires so great attention as "manure." Let the land be ever so sterile and barren, it has been fully ascertained that by a judicious course of manuring it can be enriched and made productive. Let the soil be as rich and as full of succulent matter calculated for the producing and nourishing the variety of plants necessary to be grown for the use of man and the benefit of the animal creation, a continued course of tillage, and a series of years' neglect of manuring will certainly render it barren and unproductive. Upon the state of the soil on every farm depends the living, we may say, of the farmer and his family, and carrying out the principle in its most extensive sense, upon the activity and intelligence of the farming community depends the whole interest of the entire commercial and civil community of any country. These facts are so evident to any man, who will take but a moment for reflection upon them, that it is a wonder indeed that more attention has and is not directed to this all important question, as to what are the best manures? No doubt the manures that are well calculated to produce a decided and active influence at once upon many soils would not act so readily and so permanently upon many other soils; but there are many manures that so act upon all soils; or at best, there are many applications that may be made to almost any soil, that if they are not manures themselves, form the basis upon which the principles of other active manures may be made to produce the most astonishing effects. I have recently had my attention directed to the use of charcoal, by the knowledge of some facts that have been communicated in answer to my inquiries, that has induced me to devote a paper to the subject, in the hope, at least, that it will excite attention, and be productive, in the end, of great good to the community, by inducing a series of experiments upon the use of charcoal as a manure, that will result in immense benefit to the farming interest.

1 shall not pretend to enter into a series of reasonings upon the chemical affinities of charcoal to the soil upon which it may be applied; these matters I shall leave to those whose education and pursuits have better fitted them to ascertain these things, by enabling them to reach them by chemical analysis, which I am unable to make. I shall simply state the facts which 1 have observed, and those which I have learned from others, whom I have requested to look to them, together with the results that have been obtained, leaving to others to Pay whether the question is not of sufficient importance to lead them to try whether the results will not be equally beneficial in very many other situations.

In the neighborhood in which I live there are a great many hearths of coal pits, as they are called; places where wood has been piled, and burned into charcoal, scattered about the country. I have invariably observed, that upon these hearths, in the course of a very few years, a luxurious coat of grass made its appearance, when all around in the vicinity scarcely a blade of grass could be found, and what there was found out of the coal hearth was sickly and dwarfish. This was so well known that in the heat of summer, when the pasture in other places was dried and withered by the summer drought, it was a common practice to drive the cattle to the "coalings," as they are called, sure that they would there obtain food. During the last autumn, business called me into Harford county, in Maryland. While there I was surprised at the exceedingly luxuriant growth of a crop of grain but lately seeded into a field, on Deer creek, and also at the very peculiar appearance of the soil. The soil upon which the grain was growing had a remarkably dark appearance, and appeared to be so mellow and friable as nearly to bury the foot at every step, and although it lay very level did not appear to the touch to be so; not as the soil in the other fields around it on the same level. My attention was excited by what I saw, and I inquired if the field had not been covered with charcoal, and was told that it had been. I inquired when it was done, and was told it had been spread upon it more than twenty years ago!! I then asked what was the general quality of the crops raised upon it, and I was told that they were invariably fine, both as to quantity and quality. The person who lived upon the property informed me that he had repeatedly hauled the soil from that field and spread it upon the surrounding fields, and he could, for years, or in fact from the time he spread it there to the present day, always see, by the growth upon these places, exactly where he had put it!!

I had for some time past had my attention directed to the subject but here I found it fully developed to my full satisfaction.

When 1 returned home, I made it the subject of conversation frequently with the farmers in our neighborhood; and from one of them I learned that when he lived in Chester county, Pa., with his father, a part of their farm became worn out and unproductive. It was abandoned for several years, and in the mean time many coal pits had been formed upon several of the old fields, by drawing the wood there to burn into coal, that had been cut in the adjoining timber lands. After some time they again put those fields under tillage, and he states that wherever a coal hearth had been left, there the crop of grain and the growth of grass was equal, if not superior, to that which grew upon any of their most productive fields. Another case of the application of charcoal I have found in this neighborhood was made by a gentleman in the iron business to his meadow, near the coal house. He had a large quantity of the coal that had become too fine to be used in the furnace; he did not know exactly what to do with it, it was in the way, and he concluded, as the easiest way to dispose of it, to haul it out and spread it upon the grass land. He spread it late in the fall, and for many years he informed me he observed the most astonishing effect produced upon his yield of grass. The quantity was nearly double, and the effect continued as long as he owned the property, which was at least ten years; so he informs me.

From what I can see of its effect, where a large quantity is left upon the ground, as for instance, in the centre of the hearth, it takes a considerable time for it to acquire a sufficient degree of moisture to penetrate to the bottom, and until it has acquired that degree of moisture nothing will grow there. Around the outer edges of the circle where it is thrown upon the ground it is soon saturated with moisture, and vegetation is soon facilitated, and goes on rapidly. I should judge, from this, that when about to be applied to land the coal should be ground fine, and then thoroughly wetted and sown or spread with a lime spreader over the surface of the soil. From the circumstance of its being easily powdered or mashed up, I should suppose that the process would be very easily effected by making a floor of plank, say circular, and procuring a good sized stone, to be affixed by a shaft to an upright post, throw the coal into the circular planked way, arid attach a horse to the shaft passing through the stone, and drive him round, carrying the stone, in its passage, over the coals. A very simple and easy process, precisely similar to the old fashioned way of grinding or breaking up bark, practised by the tanners, previous to the invention of the cast iron mill now in use. The cost of covering an acre would be trifling, and if it produced no other effect than that of forming a permanent vegetable basis in the soil, for lime to act upon, it appears to me it would well repay a greater amount of labor and expense than would be necessary to try it.

I have just been made acquainted with another result of the application of charcoal to arable land, that if general, from its application, will induce its use by every one who can procure it at a reasonable price: that is, wherever charcoal has been applied rust never affects the growing crop of wheat!! My friend who has communicated this fact to me states, that he has observed it particularly, and when the field generally has been "struck with rust," as it is called, those places where he had applied the charcoal invariably escaped.