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Tag Archives | Maria Dimengo

Bone Char Benefits

Farmers have been experimenting with animal waste for centuries, using it as a fertilizer or as a way to recycle healthy nutrients back into the soil: While some focused on traditional forms of waste, others directed their attention to the benefits of “bone black,” bone char or animal char.

Bone char at Callicrate Cattle Co. in St. Francis, Kansas.

Many see its benefits as a soil amendment. If the soil was dry, it could help retain water. If the soil was wet like a sponge, it could be crushed and sprinkled in to retain nutrients.

Bone char is derived from carbonizing crushed animal bones using a high-heat process known as pyrolysis. When processed through an energy-efficient airtight burner, charcoaled materials can be cleanly burned, finely ground and added to compost.

Primarily rich in calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate and micronutrients, bone char is granular and useful as an adsorbent. Since prehistoric times, it has been used to create bone black pigment used notable painters and artists. Modern uses centered on sugar whitening and defluoridating water. Continue Reading →

Treasure Trove of Fertility: Composting Mussels

For about the last two years, I have been experimenting with composting mussels. Head to southern West Virginia and you’ll meet farmers who are learning to amend the brown, yellowish sandy soil deep within the Appalachian Plateau. The Berks-Pineville and Gilpin-Lily soil created by weathered shale, siltstone and sandstone can be unpredictable. Though it appears to be well drained in some areas and easily cultivated in others, the black gold they need to amend their crops is all but gone.

The author has experimented with a compost mix of zebra and quagga mussels.

Here in the southern coalfields that surround Mullens, Itmann and Pineville, mountaintop soil and dirt can be tightly packed and tough to work.

Compost can take a long time to break down, especially when there are long stretches of dry hot weather.

I knew little about the soil in Mullens when I first started experimenting with my zebra mussel shell compost mix. I first made a visit there last summer and stumbled upon a row of gardens at the Mullens Opportunity Center while I was in town for a meeting.

There, I met the executive director of the Rural Appalachian Improvement League and a farm-to-school AmeriCorps worker who was caring for their summer crops and high-tunnel complex. I asked if I could return to Mullens with just the right remedy for their soil. Continue Reading →