RAMONA'S RECIPE FOR HOME-MADE DIRT: THE LONG-AWAITED SEQUEL
Mike has been nagging me for weeks about doing a sequel to "Ramona's Recipe for Home-Made Dirt." He keeps saying, "The world is waiting." Obviously, as one who was raised Roman Catholic, Mike has forgotten my own imperviousness to guilt-trips.
But finally today, Mike forbade me from doing anything else until I write this sequel. No reupholstering the living room chairs. No finishing the drapes for the reading room. No relaxing with a good book in the shade on the patio, and learning at last who may have done the dastardly deed of murdering King Tut ("Who Killed King Tut" by Michael R. King and Gregory M. Cooper). Not even weeding our terra preta garden.
Mike can be a real bully sometimes. So here I am, writing the sequel. And because he's going to be reading this first, and as one who was raised Catholic and who will no doubt find himself on a well-deserved guilt trip, I will add here that we are in a heat wave and there is no air conditioning in our house. And he's sitting out in the shade on the patio, reading science fiction and drinking iced tea as I write.
OK, enough of my self-pity. Here is the much-awaited sequel. I hope that the World finds it worth the wait.
Note: my original article can be read online at: http://www.opednews.com/articles/Making-Terra-Preta-Soil-R-by-Ramona-Byron-080821-153.html or at: http://myblog.michaelpbyron.com/2008/08/21/making-terra-preta-soil-ramonas-recipe-for-homemade-dirt.aspx .
SOAK THE CHARCOAL TO MAKE IT EASIER TO BREAK
I wrote "Ramona's Recipe for Home-Made Dirt" to be amusing as well as informative. I think now, though, that the emphasis on the hellishly difficult work of breaking up the dry charcoal may have had the unintended effect of discouraging people from trying to make terra preta soil.
We have learned since then that if you soak the charcoal for awhile, that it gets soft and easier to break. It's one of those "duh" moments when you wonder why you didn't think of that in the first place. I'm actually embarrassed to admit it.
To soak the charcoal, you can leave it out in opened bags under the sprinklers for as long as you want, or you can pre-soak it in some kind of fertilizer-laden liquid to pre-prime it with nutrients so that it will feed the plants sooner. One idea would be put the charcoal in a wheel barrow or large tub, cover it with compost, pour water all over it, mix, and let it sit for some days. The water that comes off of soaked compost is called "compost tea" and it is highly recommended as a nutrient for young plants, so having compost tea absorbed into your charcoal to prime it up with nutrients has to be a good thing. BE SURE THAT YOU USE CHARCOAL THAT DOES NOT HAVE ANY CHEMICALS.
We have been buying non-chemical charcoal and soaking it in the flushed-out water from our turtle aquarium before putting it into the garden, so that the biochar is pre-primed with nutrients from the turtles as well as being soft and easy to break (in case you're wondering, we had to move the turtles to an indoor aquarium because of repeated attacks by raccoons in the outdoor pond that we used to have).
THREE NEW INGREDIENTS FOR OUR TERRA PRETA
Three new ingredients that we are now using for our terra preta and that I did not mention in my first article are: compost, to soften the soil if needed; clay hydroponics balls to hold moisture; and rock powder. But there are other good things that you can add. Use your imagination and do some research. Add ingredients that you have easily and cheaply available.