Saturday, November 22, 2008
CHARCOAL COMPOSTING ELIMINATES SLASH AND BURN MAYA AGRICULTURE
CHARCOAL MAKES GOOD COMPOST!
Recent archeological finds; that the central Amazon supported hundreds of millions of people BEFORE the arrival of the Spanish wiped them out with new diseases; has sparked a new interest in adding charcoal to your compost. The Amazon is interesting, because otherwise it has poor soils, or lack of soils, like found here in Belize. Here in Belize we mostly use the clays and marls and sand to hold the plants and roots and feed the plants IMPORTED FERTILIZER. This costs lots of money and does nothing for the soil quality, if that is possible? The other method uses ASHES, as in slash and burn milpa agriculture. Other people in other countries do use charcoal. The advantage to charcoal is that it uses nutrients from the charcoal in creating good loam, for growing food. The ancient Amazonian Indians supported their hundreds of millions of people, for nearly 9000 years successfully. It has been found that the scientific assumption, that such populations were not possible in the otherwise soiless Amazon, is false. The archeological findings show that Amazonian indians used beds of charcoal mixed with compost to increase the fertility of the soil. In fact, layers of this have been found nine feet deep all over the Amazon interior on shallow soils otherwise deemed impractical for supporting large populations. Above you can see a vegetable bed similar to that prepared by the Taiwanese Mission at Central Farm in the Cayo District of Belize. Notice the layering of charcoal. We do use ASHES from burnt wood in Belize, but the nutrition only lasts about two years and sometimes three years with a thinner crop; then rotational slash and burn farming must be practiced by clearing new jungle. The old milpa is then allowed to re-generate over 30 or more years or so. A very inefficient wasteful method of growing food and farming in general. When you use charcoal with your compost, the result results in a nutrient rich loam that grows plants for centuries. If one combined charcoal, with rice leavings, perhaps the offal from Tilapia fish farming as in skeletons and heads, plus ordinary compost organic food matter, the result should be equal to that proven by the Amazonian ancient knowledge of the Indians of South America.
Nobody is making charcoal yet in Belize that I know of, but it is easy to make. You can make it in your back yard. You simply make a furnace, like using a rusty 55 gallon drum, with a fire heart in the bottom and some blocks, or rocks to hold a grill. Inside the drum on top of the grill and fire heart, you place a smaller 5 or 16 gallon container, in which you place air dried lumber, which you can pick up in the Mountain Pine Ridge for free, eaten by the pine beetles. In the bottom of this small metal container ( called a retort ) you bore a few small holes and then set the fire heart going. The holes are in the bottom of the retort can. The fire heart burns wood like any fire, but the heat does not set fire to the wood stuffing the retort can, which simply dries out even more into charcoal. It takes about 3 hours to produce charcoal in your backyard this way and you lose shrinkage of about a third. You can also bar-b-que with this charcoal.
There is certainly a charcoal producing industry market in Belize for this. Young entrepreneurs anyone? Will Extension Officers and the Agricultural College teach this ancient method of making good loam soil in Belize? We certainly need it.