The Cultivator 4(5): 146 (May 1847)
ON THE USE OF CHARCOAL AS A MANURE
Robert L. Pell

MESSES. EDITORS.—Permit me through the medium of your valuable paper, to answer the queries of your correspondent, Mr. JOHN MOXON, of Monroe county, relative to charcoal as a manure the wheat; mode of pulverizing, &c., &c. I presume the article Mr. MOXON refers to, is the following, which I find page 197, in the Dec. number, 1843, instead of page 183, in the Cultivator of 1844.

"I, M. W. Powell, Surveyor, hereby certify, that I have measured the ground herein described, beginning at an apple tree, and running a northwest course ninety-five links, thence a southwest course fifty links, thence east thirty links to a line at the north angle, thence east seventy links to the place of beginning; the line from the base to the north angle being twenty-six links, containing two rods, which is a portion of R. L. Pell's wheat lot No. 2.

"We, Patrick Farrell and Leonard Latten, hereby certify that we gathered, threshed, cleaned, and measured the wheat grown on the above described two rods of ground, belonging to Robert L. Pell, Esq., of Polham, Ulster Co., and the yield was 31 quarts and 1 pint, dry measure. We believe if the gleanings had been threshed, there would have been one bushel.

(Signed) PATRICK FARRELL, LEONARD LATTEN."

If this is the article Mr. MOXON alludes to, he wishes "particularly to know the nature of the soil where the charcoal was used, whether light or heavy, and whether it had been manured within four years previous?"

The surface soil is a sandy loam, with a small admixture of clay; the subsoil is composed of clay and sand, and is twelve feet deep. By analysis, this soil contained all the chemical ingredients necessary to grow any of the cerealia; and had not been manured, or cultivated, except with grass, for many years. By recent analyses of wheat, rye, oats, corn, buckwheat, &c., it appears that they all contain, not only in the stem, but kernel, the following eleven chemical substances, to wit: potash, soda, lime, magnesia, alumina, oxide of iron, oxide of manganese, silica, sulphuric acid, phosphoric acid, and chlorine. If one of these be entirely absent from a soil, the cerealia cannot grow in it, they all being essential to vegetable existence. Carbon is required likewise to develop the nutritive qualities at the plant. In wheat starch, 52.58 per cent. of carbon is found, and in oak wood the same; when oak wood is burned for the purpose of obtaining charcoal, it is not any part of the wood which forms the carbon by ignition, as is vulgarly supposed, but the carbonaceous substance taken up in its growth; by burning, the carbon being less combustible than the other elements, oxygen and hydrogen remains.

If you will take the trouble to examine a sound piece of charcoal an eighteenth of an inch in diameter, you will find one hundred and fifty pores; an inch in diameter would present over 5,700,000 pores, all at which are surrounded by carbon in its original position, as taken up by the tree in its growing state. Burn this carbon and the ashes will contain lime, silex, clay, and alkali; sometimes a minute particle of iron, so that when burned to ash, it is precisely the same thing as if you were to burn wood in the open air, but not as valuable by any means, inasmuch as its gaseous properties are at once given to the atmosphere, in the form of carbonic acid gas; this gas is the suffocating principle of charcoal which renders it so dangerous as fuel. I mention these facts to show you the effect it had upon my wheat. The soil had not in it sufficient carbon to supply 52.58 per cent.; by an application, therefore, of that simple substance, the other requisites being present, the wheat could not but grow. Its action is permanent; during dry weather it absorbs from the atmosphere 90 times its own volume of gas, which when rain falls, is released, and immediately elaborated by the leaves of the plant. The charcoal then becomes charged with water to the same amount which is yielded to the plant during drouth.

The lot on which I grew the wheat in question, was immediately seeded down with clover and timothy, consequently I have had no opportunity of experimenting further upon it. I have, however, tried numerous experiments with wheat, manuring with compounds, and highly nitrogenized manures, obtaining 64 3/4 lbs. to the bushel, and 18 per cent. of gluten, which is the all important principle. Wheat generally, throughout the United States, does not contain much more than 7 per cent. That is the reason why our flour will not make vermicelli and macaroni. The Italian flour yields from 10 to 12 per cent.; consequently the Italians make that substance in great perfection.

Second query. "I have got a pretty large pit of charcoal, and am puzzled how best to pulverize and apply it." I would advise that the pit should be shaken up, and coal exposed to the influence of the sun until dry; then draw it into the barn, and spread it about two inches thick upon the floor,--pass a granite or iron garden roller twice over it, and it will be sufficiently pulverized for agricultural purposes; spread it at the rate of one hundred bushels per acre on subsoiled land, after the wheat has been sown, and once harrowed, then harrow twice and toll once. If your land contains the requisite eleven, I will engage you seventy bushel. of wheat per acre, and it shall weigh 64 lbs., provided you cut it in the milk. A portion of the same field, No. 2, cut in the milk, yielded wheat weighing 643 lbs, to the bushel, a few acres left standing until the grain was ripe, weighed but 52 tbs.

I am very respectfully, your obít serv't,
ROB'T L. PELL
Pelham Farm, March 16, 1847.