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The use of charcoal as a fertilizer

The positive effect from the use of charcoal as a fertilizer for growing crops is known for a long time. The unique properties of charcoal are varied and their complex impact on improving soil fertility cann’t be assessed. 

At the end of the twentieth century, the attention of soil scientists was attracted by the pieces of the incredibly fertile land in Peru, which the Indians called "Terra Preta" that translated from Spanish as "The Black Land".The fact is that the land in the Amazon region (as all tropical lands) is very infertile. It is red and yellow soil with a large amount of oxides of aluminum and other metals, on which almost nothing grows, except some local weeds. However, "Terra Preta" land had a bright black color and was extremely fertile. It gave a good harvest even without fertilizers. The land was so good that local farmers began to export it as the ground for flower pots.

Terra Preta

It is also incredible that this black land is very fertile while red and yellow land in a few dozen meters from it is almost completely useless. When the chemical analysis of these lands was conducted, it became clear that they are absolutely identical in chemical composition. And geological analysis showed that these soils had the same geological origin. The difference was only in one: black soil contained charcoal from 10% to 30%. The analysis showed that the age of this charcoal is more than 2,000 years. Therefore, ancient civilization existed in this place. 

Interest in the "Terra Preta" is growing more and more all over the world. These plots of fertile land remain fertile without the use of any fertilizer even after thousands of years. It is known that the Indians added wood charcoal, which was produced from trees growing in the jungle, into the ground.

Charcoal as a fertilizer

Charcoal is produced by the slow (cold) burning of wood with limited access of oxygen (wood pyrolysis process).

Charcoal obtained by this method has the following properties:

  1. It is chemically inert and, therefore, can lie in the land not decaying for 1,000 years.
  2. It is highly absorbable, i.e. it can absorb the excess of, for example, aluminum oxides, which are abundant in tropical soils and which strongly inhibit the growth of the root system of plants. 
  3. It has large porosity.
  4. Charcoal in the soil has the unique ability to keep nitrogen from the air and turn it into plant-available forms.
  5. Charcoal in the soil acts as a catalyst for the vital activity of biosphere of humus layer.
  6. It is regulator of soil moisture. During rainy periods charcoal placed in the soil actively absorbs moisture and during drought it gradually gives off this moisture.
  7. Besides, the presence of charcoal in the soil inhibits the growth of insect pests.

The use of charcoal as a fertilizer solves a number of problems:

  • It significantly improves the quality of soils, their structure, richness in nutrients and, as a result, the yield of crops increases;
  • It delays the release of volatile carbon into the environment;
  • It is strong antibacterial and antiparasitic remedy for the plants;
  • It removes residual toxic chemicals from the soil;
  • It has positive effect on the development of beneficial microorganisms that increase soil fertility;
  • It acts as soil ripper;
  • It increases the access of oxygen to the plant roots;
  • It Increases the permeability of the soil, retains moisture;
  • It prevents the washing-out of soil nutrients, especially in fields with intensive farming during the active irrigation.

 

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