American Agriculturist 3: 108-109 (1844)
CHARCOAL AND ITS USES
Robert L. Pell

Five years since, I received from Italy several hundred mulberry trees, comprising the rarest and most tender varieties—packed in pulverised charcoal dust, in tight boxes. On their arrival, I found the roots as well as the buds had grown to the length of six inches. The growth was of course perfectly white, and when exposed to the atmosphere wilted immediately—the trees were in the most perfect order.

This led me to try various experiments with charcoal dust; such as striking soft wooded geraniums, of one summer's growth, wax plants, grape cuttings, and various other plants, with complete success. I likewise use it in growing vegetables, planting grape-vines, trees, shrubs, &c.—in considerable quantities on strawberry beds, potato fields, grass and wheat lands, sown broadcast. Last February I cut a young grape-vine into a single eye, in the open garden, and freely manured it with charcoal dust. Before the 20th of August it had grown 32 1/2 feet. My gardener soaked a kernel of sweet corn in spirits of ammonia, double F.F., for the space of 20 minutes, and planted it in a pot filled with pure pulverised charcoal dust, which he then thrust in a well-prepared hot bed; in 24 hours it had grown one inch; other grains he soaked 25 minutes, and killed the vital principle of the kernel. So strong were the fumes of the ammonia, that it destroyed a bed of cucumbers in 20 minutes, placed in a saucer in the midst of the vines under glass. The object in putting it there was to kill insects, which it did most effectually in three minutes; and had it been then removed, the probability is the plants would have been improved by the gas—there were cucumbers on them at the time six inches long.

Charcoal as a manure will be found invaluable: it is pure and incorruptible, absorbs from the atmosphere 90 volumes of ammoniacal gas, 55 of sulphuretted hydrogen, and 35 of carbonic acid gas. By uniting with oxygen, it forms carbonic acid gas, and constitutes about 42 per cent. in sugar, 41 per cent. in gum, 43 per cent. in wheat starch, 52 in oak wood, 51 in beach wood, 46 in pure vinegar, 36 in tartaric acid, and 41 in citric acid; as carbonic acid gas, it is found in all cultivated soils, in all waters, and in the atmosphere. It is absorbed by every plant that grows, the carbonic acid gas being composed of oxygen and hydrogen; it will therefore be readily conceded that being necessary to plants, in all stages of their growth, there can not be applied to them a substance more requisite. Charcoal from pine wood is the best for agricultural purposes, on account of its fine texture, which enables it to absorb moisture, together with the other gases before enumerated, more rapidly, and may be easily incorporated with the soil, where it protects plants, not only from decay, but worms. It insures them without cessation, all the elements most required, and essentially necessary to their healthy growth, and gives them a beautiful green appearance, and luxuriance, not obtained by the use of any other substance as a manure.

All farmers are familiar with the fact that coal-beds, where pits have been formed for the purpose of preparing charcoal, produce a most luxuriant growth of vegetable substances or weeds. It has been generally supposed by those who have witnessed the fact, that it was caused by the ashes remaining on the bed, which is not so. It is owing to the hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, azote, &c. absorbed by the carbon. If the coal were even deprived of all the qualities specified, its black color alone would make it valuable, if only to attract the sun's rays, and thereby warm the soil.