American Farmer 1(3): 68 (Sept 1845)

Charcoal for Wheat

In one or two instances where charcoal has been applied to winter wheat in the State of Ohio, at the rate of 50 bushels to the acre, it has evidently prevented the injury of the very severe drought which has nearly ruined adjoining wheat fields. Mr. R. H. HAYWOOD, of Buffalo, is the owner of a large farm near Sandusky in Ohio, and has tried the use of pulverized charcoal with marked success.

American Farmer 1(4): 99 (Oct 1845)



To the Editor of the American Farmer.

DEAR SIR:—A gentleman in my neighbourhood who owns extensive bark mills, is disposed to grind Charcoal for the use of the farmers. But we want information as to its action, mode of application, the quantity per acre, &c. Can't you supply all this through the columns of the American Farmer. P.

Charcoal is a substance which may be said to be indestructible, that is, that it is not subject to decomposition. Therefore, of itself, it cannot be said to be a manure. In its offices, however, it acts as such, and may be said to act the same part as though it were intrinsically manure. When spread over the surface of land which has been manured, as the manure decomposes and parts with its volatile gases, the charcoal seizes upon these gases, assimilates with, retains them for the benefit of the growing plants, giving them out gradually as they may be required by the necessities and wants of such plants. Nor do the offices of the Charcoal stop here, it absorbs carbonic acid and ammonia from the atmosphere, and retains them in the same way as it does the gases which it arrests in their escape from the manure which may have been buried in the soil. It possesses a very powerful attraction also for water, and hence it is, that lands where charcoal may be applied, measurably retain moisture longer than others where no application of it may have been made. The dew, rain and snow are known to contain very sensible traces of ammonia. These, by evaporation, are lost to culture, unless intercepted by some body possessing the power of attraction, absorption and assimilation, and hence it is, that charcoal performs a most potent part, in dispensing benefit wherever it may be applied to the surface. The experiments of chemistry have proved, that such is the affinity for ammonia, of charcoal, that when fresh, it has the power to absorb 90 times its weight of ammoniacal gas, with which it parts on the recurrence of each succeeding rain, by which it is taken or carried into the earth, where it is, by means of the voltaic action of the roots of the plants, taken up into their general circulation, and form the nitrogen so necessary to their growth.

If we are right in our views, charcoal, though not a manure in itself, is a most efficient caterer of aliment, and does most munificently provide it for plants. From its known antiseptic powers, we should think it would also exert a very active property in the improvement of the health of neighborboods, as it would, by its capacity to attract and condense deleterious gm, (which we take it, always superabound in marshy regions) divert them from their unfriendly action upon human health, and probably render them tributary to the production of vegetation. If used, however, for sanitary purposes, it should be applied it much larger quantities than when simply wanted for those of agriculture.

We have spoken of applying charcoal to the surface,—when so applied, it should be sown broadcast at the rate of 20 bushels to the acre. It may, however, be very advantageously used in the Compost heap. If stable or barn-yard, or other animal, vegetable, and earthy bodies, be formed into compost, 20 bushels of charcoal to every 20 double-horse cartloads of such bodies, maybe very beneficially mixed therewith. When thus used, it performs a similar office to that which it discharges when applied on the surface; it appropriates to itself the ammoniacal and carbonic acid gases, and holds them in reserve, to be doled out to the growing plants in such proportions as the appetites of those plants may dictate.

American Farmer 1(5): 144 (Nov 1845)


The Genesee Farmer states that near Sandusky, Ohio, charcoal ground fine, has been applied to wheat lands with signal success. The average yield of four pieces, grown by Mr. Hayward of Buffalo, to which 25 bushels of charcoal per acre had been applied, was 27 1/2 bushels per acre, while on three other pieces without coal, the average yield was only 4 3/4 bushels per acre. Mr. Hayward will apply 10,000 bushels of coal to wheat fields this autumn. He grinds it in a common bark mill used by tanners.

American Farmer 1(6): 171 (Dec 1845)


GENTLEMEN—In fulfilment of my promise I communicate the following statement of some of the results of my enquiries in relation to the beneficial effects of charcoal as a fertilizer and as preventive of shrinkage in winter grain.

Mr. Holloway of Hancock, Delaware county, informed we that he had never known land to wear out where there had been a coal-pit, but that such places always produced better than the adjoining land. It may be well to remark here, that in some instances, I have been told that the burning of a coal-pit had, for a while, destroyed the fertility on the immediate site of the pit. But this may be owing to excessive burning of the soil, or too great quantity of the coal. We would not expect a crop from seed sown in a heap of lime or silica. Almost all of whom I have enquired, confirm the account of Holloway as to its uses as a fertilizer and its durability. I will state but one of a number of facts proving its benefit in increasing vegetation, besides the luxuriant growth on the sites of coal-pits.

An aged and credible man, Mr. Dow of Chehocton, In Delaware Co., said that some years ago, when living at a place called Butternuts, he purchased a load of charcoal to use in a small furnace. The man who brought it, in passing through a piece of ground occupied as a garden, upset his load. They gathered up all they could—but much fine coal was left. Mr. Dow and his wife both said that it was astonishing to see the increased vegetation to the extent where the coal was left. They say it was a moist soil.

These, and a number of facts, the result of much enquiry on the subject, have convinced me that coal can be profitably used as a fertilizer. But it is peculiarly valuable as a preventive of rust and shrinkage in Wheat and Rye. In proof of which—Col. Holliday of Colchester, Delaware Co.,—a reputable man, well esteemed for truth, who was himself a blacksmith and whose father had followed the same trade and had burnt many coal-pits, told me that he had made the remark to his father, that he had never known grain to be shrunk where there had been a coal-pit.—Last year my son-in-law, Henry Woolsey of Deerpark, in Orange Co., said he had a piece of Rye much shrunk and of little value except where there had been a coal-pit, where it was plump and fair. Many other facts have come to my knowledge confirming my opinion that charcoal may be used so as to greatly increase the profits of farming—and particularly where wood is abundant. But as there has, as yet, been little experience on the subject, I would suggest that every farmer who reads this should try the experiment, at least in a small way. Almost any one can procure a little (if only a bushel)—try it in different proportions—observe the nature of the soil, and if possible, compare the effect of coal from different kinds of wood. If those containing more potash, better, and if so, what soils, &c. Some, (as the coal from Hemlock) contain little or no ash—if such are beneficial, it proves pure carbon to be, indeed, a manure.

Respectfully yours,
Farmer and Mechanic