Gardeners' Chronicle of America, 18: 558-559 (1842)

Art. II. Bicton Gardens, their Culture and Management. In a Series of Letters to the Conductor.
By James Barnes, Gardener to the Right Honourable Lady Rolle. (excerpt)

You noticed the Onion Loft over the fruit-room and tool-shed. Some of the finest of the onions I have were manured with charcoal dust sown in the drills at the rate of two pints to 100 ft. of drill.

You asked me how I came to think of using Charcoal. In the year 1829 or 1830, while living at Norwood, in Surrey, at the Beulah Spa, I was rummaging about the woods for loamy mould, and in different spots there had been large quantities of wood charred. I could not help noticing how wonderfully strong the various weeds grew at a little distance round about those spots, where a thin sprinkling of charred dust had got amongst them. I got a basketful and tried it amongst my cucumber soil. I found it improved them in strength and colour, so that I began to try it with other soft-growing plants; and thus I have continued trying it, when I could succeed in getting it, with hundreds, I might say thousands, of plants under pot culture. This I shall treat of as I arrive at the different houses. The use of it began in my framing-ground at Norwood, and you are the first person I have communicated it to publicly. I did give my brother privately, some time ago, a little information respecting the use of charcoal, and he has tried it with many plants, and is beginning to use it with every thing.

I find the following a good plan to make a rough sort of Charcoal for Kitchen-gardening, to be kept dry, and sown when the seed is put into the drills, at the rate of three or four pints to a drill 100 ft. in length. Collect all the rubbish together such as will not rot, trimmings of bushes or any rubbish wood, cabbage and broccoli stalks, old pine-apple stems, and, in short, vegetable rubbish of any kind. Put it together, first placing some straw to set it on fire, and still shaking in a little straw, as you continue increasing the heap, on the side at the bottom of the heap you intend setting fire to, so that the fire can run into the middle of the heap after setting fire to it; taking care as you form your heap to beat it tightly and firmly together. When the heap is formed, cover it over with short close moist rubbish of any sort from the rubbish heap, such as short grass, weeds, and earth; so as to keep the fire from flaring through at any place round your heap for any length of time. As soon as the fire breaks through in a blaze or flare, throw on more short rubbish, so that you keep it from blazing, and keep in it as much smoke as you can. It is necessary to thrust a stake or broom-handle into the heap in different places to entice the fire regularly all over it; but as soon as the fire blazes through these holes stop them up, and make others where you think it not burning. When it is finished, collect the whole of the charred rubbish, ashes, &c, together, and put it into old cement casks, old packing-boxes, sacks, or anything you choose. Put these casks or boxes into a dry place, and use it when wanted, taking care to pick out or sift out any pieces of charred wood, which there will be if you char large wood. These can be broken up with a hammer for potting and other uses if wanted, which I shall treat of when I reach the different houses of plants.