Transactions of the New-York State Agricultural Society 14: 274-275
Prize essay: A treatise on practical husbandry
(1855)
Winslow Cossoul Watson

Charcoal dust.—In no instance is the improvidence of the American farmer in his neglect of fertilizing ingredients more strikingly illustrated, than in his waste of this most valuable material. The dust or detritus of charcoal collects in large deposits about manufactories where the charcoal is consumed and soon becomes an inconvenience. Instead of being converted to the fertilizing of the soil, in most districts, it is thrown into the streams as a nuisance, or used for the construction of roads. Its great value as a manure is, however, becoming better appreciated.

Charcoal is almost indestructible, and remains a permanent and active agent in the soil to which it has been applied. It has strong affinity for the gases of the atmosphere, and is a vigorous absorbent, and from its nature in these respects, it imbibes vast fertilizing elements, which it imparts to the earth. It combines with the earth chemically, and forms a physical union that produces a new and highly-improved texture to the soil. Few special manures are so active, direct and enduring in their effects.

The following results of practical experiments in the use of charcoal, dust prove its peculiar value, and exhibit the manner of applying it. These experiments are limited to the county of Essex, and came under my own observation in course of my survey of that county in the year 1852.

In the first case I noticed, it had been strewn upon five acres of meadow in so large quantities as to blacken the surface. The field presented a rich verdant aspect, although all vegetation was seared and parched in the vicinity by a severe drouth. On its first application (which was two years previous to this period), the effect was immediate. The grass at once freshened, and continued green and luxuriant long after the surrounding fields were withered by the early frost. The owner estimated that the crop of hay had been doubled by the application of the charcoal.

Mr. Whallon, of Essex, thus explains his views and experiments on this subject: "I spread upon a strong clay soil about fifteen wagon loads of the dust to the acre, after the wheat had been sowed and harrowed one way. I was surprised to find my crop a heavy one in comparison with my neighbor's, sowed on the same kind of land. The wheat was of better quality, and yielded four or five bushels extra to the acre. I have since used it on similar land, mixt with barn yard manure, and sometimes alone, but always as a top dressing, and usually on lands seeded for meadow. The results were always the most favorable. I find my lands thus seeded produce more than an average crop, and of the finest quality. I have also used the dust on loamy and interval land with the potato crop. During the series of years, in which the rot almost ruined that crop, I scarcely lost any potatoes from that cause, and supposed it was owing to the dust I used. My manner has been, to drop the seed and cover it with a small shovelful of dust, and then cover it with earth." I noticed instances in which the charcoal dust had been used on oats with the same beneficial influences. Whether applied to meadows or pastures, the same remarkable effects are produced upon grass.

This dust may be very advantageously used, strewn over garden beds, as a protection to the young shoots of vegetables from the attacks of insects. The ashes of mineral coal may also be beneficially applied as a fertilizer to many crops.