Proceedings New York State Agricultural Society, 12: 867-869 (1852)

J. P. Butler, J. S. Whallon

*J. P. Butler's letter, December, 1852.

Charcoal.—Enormous masses of the dust, or detritus of the charcoal, accumulate about the iron works of the county, and create incumbrances and deformities. It has been annually spread in vast quantities, along the highways, constituting an admirable material for roads. An incalculable amount has been cast into the streams. The attention of men of observation and sagacity, has been, within a few years, drawn to the use of this ingredient, as a fertilizer. Experience has established its exceeding utility. In the midst of the disastrous drouth of the last summer, while crossing a field in Moriah, occupied by Mr. Richmond, in pursuit of some Durham cattle I wished to examine, I observed a lot, with its surface deeply and singularly blackened. Upon inspection, I found it thickly strewn with pulverized charcoal. The field presented a rich verdure, strongly contrasting with the parched and blighted aspect of the adjacent country. The following detail of this experiment, supplied at my request, attests the value of this material, as a fertilizing principle: "The soil is loamy; the charcoal was applied on four acres of dry land, and one acre of moist soil, by top dressing. The amount used, was about one thousand bushels to the acre, spread over so as to make the surface look black, but not to incumber or obstruct vegetation. It was applied, in September and October, 1850, at an expense, by contract, of forty dollars. It was procured at a furnace, from a mass of pulverized charcoal, left as useless, and was drawn one mile and a half. The effect was immediate. The grass freshened, and continued green and luxuriant, after the surrounding fields were blackened by the early frosts. Although the last season has been so unfavorable for vegetation, Mr. Richmond realized one-third more than the ordinary yield of hay, and sufficient to repay the whole outlay. He thinks that he cut nearly double the quantity of grass, on this lot, than upon any similar meadow upon his farm, and that the quality of the hay is improved."*

The Hon. J. S. Whallon, has made the most decisive and valuable experiments on this subject. His operations extended through several seasons, and were observed with great intelligence and discrimination. The results amply sustain the conclusions derived from the preceding experiment. I may add, that a similar application of charcoal has been made, under Mr. Whallon's supervision, upon another tract, in Elizabethtown, on a soil of a lighter texture, and with entire success. In this instance, the charcoal was chiefly applied to a crop of oats. The action of this substance, seems to be effected by its physical combination and its chemical affinities. It attracts the rays of the sun, and unites with the fertilizing gases of the atmosphere; it absorbs moisture and combines, as a new constituent, in the formation of the soil. Almost imperishable, it must remain indefinitely, with no exhaustion of its properties, a perpetual invigorating agent in the earth.

The succeeding extract, from a communication of Mr. Whallon, elucidates his experiments and views on this very important subject: "I began the use of it in the year 1846, and first applied it as a top dressing, on a strong clay soil, which was plowed in the fall of 1845; I spread on 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, compared with my neighbors, raised on the same kind of land. The wheat was of better quality, and yielding four or five bushels extra to the acre. I have since used it on similar land, sometimes mixed with barnyard manure, and sometimes alone, but always as a top dressing, and usually on land seeded for meadow. The results were always the most favorable. I find my lands thus seeded, produce more than an average crop of hay, and always of the finest quality."

"I have also used the dust on loamy and intervale land, with the potato crop. During the series of years in which the rot almost ruined the potato crop, I scarcely lost any potatoes from that cause, and supposed it was owing to the coal dust I used. My manner has been to drop the seed and cover it with a small shovel full of dust, and then cover with earth. In this way, I have used all the coal dust I have been able to save from the coal consumed in a forge of five fires, and which amounts to about 250 loads per year."

In the colder regions of the Adirondacs, charcoal dust has been used with great advantage. The notes of Mr. Ralph present the experiment in the following language: "As a top-dressing for meadows, charcoal dust and the accumulation of ashes and burnt earth left on old charcoal pit bottoms, have been used here with remarkable results; and I judge from the trials which have been made, that this application has added at least one third to the hay crop, where it has been used. It was remarked, (during the past very dry season, when vegetation was almost burnt up by the long continued drought,) that those fields which had been dressed with this substance, were easily distinguished by the rich green color of their herbage."