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I Forge Iron

Charcoal People of Brazil

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For those that are interested in the process of charcoal making,there's a film that airs periodically on the 'documentary' channel called "The Charcoal People of Brazil"

(Sorry, you'll have to check your t v listings for dates and times)

Although the focus of the film is on the plight of the workers, there is ample footage which demonstrates how to make charcoal ,....using primitive methods.

Shows the cutting of wood,how it's stacked in large mud/brick kilns, monitoring the burn, even how they sack it up for use by the Brazilian Steel industry.

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related and very interesting is the topic of terra preta soils

Terra Petra Soils - Envirotalk

A recent symposium (EACU) at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, USA brought together a group representing scientists from chemistry, archeology, physics, anthropology, microbiology, soil scientists, agronomists, renewable energy research, and representatives from DOE, USDA and industry. The focus was to look at the evidence for massive historical carbon utilization, current research and how carbon negative energy could be economically deployed today. (Index of /carbon)

The initial phase of the meetings started with a review of the current knowledge of man made soils called Terra Preta occupying an area of the Amazon that totals twice the size of Britain. Carbon was added to these soils in the form of a low temperature 'manufactured' charcoal. Using low intensity smoldering fires created these charcoals. By analysis, we can tell that they were created 1000-2000 years ago and were part of a soil management practice designed to take a yellow clay soil of limited biological productivity and convert it into some of the richest soil in the world. A thousand years after its creation it is so well known in Brazil, that it is dug up and sold as potting soil.
Dr. Ogawa, from Kansai Environmental in Japan, a division of Kansai Power the 2nd largest electric producer in that country, presented their research on charcoal addition to the soil. Their work, which has been ongoing for more than 15 years, has been studying the causes of the charcoal effect and led to the Japanese government approving charcoal as an official land management practice.

The impact of many studies in Brazil to Thailand to Japan, showing increased crop yields of 20-50% and total bio mass yields increasing as much 280%, led Kansai Electric to fund a reforestation research plantation in Australia with Dr. Syd Shea for producing charcoal and returning it to grow more trees and crops in the arid west of that country.
Low temperature woody charcoal (not grass or high cellulose) has an interior layer of bio-oil condensates that microbes consume and is equal to glucose in its effect on microbial growth (Christoph Steiner, EACU 2004). High temp charcoal loses this layer and does not promote soil fertility very well. Tests by Finnish researcher Janna Pitkien, on highly porous materials like zeolite, activated carbon and charcoal show that microbial growth is substantially improved with charcoal (opposite to her expectations).

Evidence of Terra Preta's ability to grow and sequester more carbon was uncovered by soil scientist William Woods (U.Illinois). The work is still under investigation in Brazil where over the last 20 years, mining Terra Preta for potting soil has not decreased its availability. Farmers have learned it recovers a centimeter per year! The possibility is that small fractions of charcoal continually migrate down, providing 'housing' for microbes as they process surface-cover bio mass. The microbes and fungi live and die inside the porous media increasing its carbon content.

(from the first link, emphasis & italics mine)
Product of an advanced pre-Columbian civilization

The Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana, the 16th C explorer who was the first European to transverse the Amazon River, reported densely populated regions running hundreds of kilometers along the river, suggesting population levels exceeding even those of today. The only reason this population left no lasting monuments was simply that they happened to use local wood as their construction material, which unfortunately rotted in the humid climate (stone was unavailable.) While it is possible Orellana may have exaggerated the level of development among the Amazonians, their semi-nomadic descendants have the odd distinction among tribal indigenous societies of a hereditary, yet landless, aristocracy, a historical anomaly for a society without a sedentary, agrarian culture. This suggests they were once more settled and agrarian but after the demographic collapse of the 16th and 17th century due to European introduced diseases they reverted to less complex modes of existence but maintained certain traditions. Moreover, many indigenous people were forced to adapt to a more mobile lifestyle in order to protect themselves against colonialism. This might have made the benefits of terra preta, such as its self-renewing capacity, less attractive — farmers would not have been able to enjoy the use of renewed soil because they would have been forced to move for safety. Slash-and-burn (high temperature charcoal) might have been an adaptation to these conditions.

this is actually one of the best chances for large scale. grass roots CO2 sequestration with the benefit of replenishing worldwide soil infertility
but there is a massive difference between high and low temperature charcoal
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  • 2 weeks later...
I just realized that my charcoal scraps and wood ashes would be good for my garden!

The iron scale is especially good for roses, makes the colors, especially reds, vivid. It's also good for any bright fruits and veggies. Just don't get too carried away there may be a toxic level.

Another use for wood ashes is dusting the snow on your walks and driveway. It absorbs sunlight and the slight increase in acidity speeds melting. It's also a good way to make ice non-slip. Well, less slippy anyway.

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