The New Jersey Farmer, February 1859, p. 165
Prairie Farmer

Charcoal as a Manure—Preparation.—It should not be ground too fine for application to the soil. It should not be powdered. Small cubes of coal, the size of marrow fat peas to chestnuts possess more absorbent power, and consequently greater fertilizing properties. We have already stated it absorbs largely in common temperatures; that it absorbs the gases which rise, and retains the organized matter found in water, for plant food. Charcoal is easily prepared after burning. Some grind or crush it on mills prepared for the purpose—like plaster mills—where large quantities are used. But the ordinary farmer may prepare or pulverize with a wooden mallet, with a long handle, and a shovel and hoe, a large quantity in a day. If well burned, it will cost little labor to prepare a thousand bushels. Remember it does not increase its availability as a manure to pulverize it too fine. If the earth and ashes of the pit are mixed with the coal, no harm will result. This substance, as we have before remarked, is valuable in the compost heap, mixed with night soil, or the manure from the hog house. It can scarcely be better employed perhaps than in retaining the fertilizing qualities of the two last named manures. And yet muck, the vegetable deposit of the swamps and low grounds, the leaves of the forests, may be with equal profit used in the compost heap, thus, not only improving the quality, but increasing the quantity of manure. Charcoal, as a manure, is chiefly applicable in its direct application to the soil where corn, wheat, oats, &c., are to grow. It is no detriment to meadows to receive a top-dressing of pulverized charcoal. On clay land, in wheat and corn, we have seen a decisive improvement of twenty to twenty-five per cent. effected by the use of this manure upon the surface, scattering it broadcast from the wagon or cart. But it should be remembered that charcoal is not simply a transient assistant to the plant, not an annual manure, but perpetual. It acts and reacts. It is still there a dozen years hence, unchanged and unchangeable, performing its brokerage duties systematically and profitably, and retaining no per cent. We need not refer the experienced reader to any data in proof of this fact. We know old coal beds that will produce the best corn or other grain, notwithstanding the constant cropping for thirty years, of any piece of land in the neighborhood. The particles of carbon are still distinct and scarcely diminished in size, except so far as the use of the plow, hoe, or harrow, has worn them. Charcoal is more valuable because of its property to retain and yield up organic matter, than as furnishing carbon for the plant, hence the objection to too thorough pulverization. It is proper to add some testimony here as to its value. We copy from various records:

Charcoal on grass land.—A farmer in Connecticut seeded a piece of hill land of about three acres in timothy, which was mowed once each year for five years, receiving no manures and was not pastured. During this time the grain was about one-third in the amount of crop. After five years, a top-dressing of dry dust and the fine coal from the bed of a pit was given it, which increased the crop of hay one-half, with no visible decrease since—five years.

Charcoal about fruit trees.—J. N. Smith, of Chimney Point, Vt., wrote in 1844, that he had used a few shovelfuls about the roots of his fruit trees, with the following results: "It keeps away the grass, prevents the borer entering the bark, beside being a most excellent manure."

Charcoal on wheat.—Robert L. Pell, in 1844, says he obtained eighty bushels of wheat per acre by the use of fifty bushels of pulverized charcoal per acre on soil that was sandy loam, with a small admixture of clay, with a clay and sandy subsoil.

An Ohio farmer affirms he had sown wheat on a piece of ground three times, in each case it was a failure. Charcoal dust was applied as a manure (quantity not stated), and the succeeding crop was twenty-five bushels per acre, of fine plump wheat.

Charcoal on corn.—We have seen a crop increased double, when corn was planted after corn on old meadow land, by sowing broadcast ten barrels of pulverized charcoal to the acre. This experiment was on heavy loam with a clay subsoil.

Charcoal on potatoes.—Here the value of this manure not only exhibits itself in an increased quantity, but in an improved quality. No watery "soggy" potatoes grow where charcoal is usedat least we never saw any.

We might multiply evidence of its effect in increasing the aggregate crop, but it is not necessary. It should be remembered that its mechanical effect on heavy soils is not the least important of its valuable qualities. Mixed with heavy soils it renders them more porous and prepares them to receive the treasures of air and water, and profit by them.—Prairie Farmer.