Alfred Reed Bishop and Doris William Butler

The picture above is the very tap root of Bishop's Homegrown/Face Of The Earth Seed. My grandparents shortly after moving to Pekin Indiana from Greensburg KY in 1947 where they purchased the farm that is now Bishop's Homegrown. This picture was taken in Pekin in front of the old co-op next to the old railroad depot, neither of which exist today.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Expanding my ideas and horizons concerning Terra Preta

Above you can see one of the buckets of newly produced char as a byproduct of our heating the two greenhouses. I'll leave it up to your imagination to figure out which high nitrogen all natural ingredient will be used to amend the finished product.

As you can read in a post from a couple days back that I posted concerning Terra Preta and Bio-Char I have decided to write down and expand upon some of the ideas I have regarding this valuable ancient technology.
(repost from
Don't be too quick to think scientists and organic proponets know exactly what the natives were doing yet, no one has been able to recreate Terra Preta and where I think they miss the point is by not trying to fully understand how it is done (minus anthropologist and archaeologist who are working to figure it out), the bio-char folks simply took the simplest part of the method, the slow release of fertilizer element, and tried to make that into a soil science of it's own, one that in my eyes is mostly doomed to fail for anything other than sequestering carbon. Not that I don't believe that Sequestering Carbon is an important reason to explore this technology because it most certainly is, but if it's done on a commercial scale and garnering commercial profit it will be out of the reach of most ordinary people in the first place.

Here are a few theories I have thrown out myself:

-Accidental development of initial Terra preta by early natives. Using manure and slow burning plant material to fire pots which busted, successive generations of natives continued this tradition in the same area (large pot making industry?) sometimes pots would bust, fires are always built on top of old burn sites using old charcoal as smoldering material, activating a new layer of charcoal. Over time beneficial agricultural practices were developed by accident and happenstance. This would explain the presence of so many pottery shards, activated charcoal, and the manure for OM.

-Layering strata to draw in microbes and worms. Probably still by happenstance originally, un-needed material is dumped in trash pits, natives notice microbial and worm activity expanding and enriching soil, they then start to layer materials in such a way that will entice microbial life and endemic earthworm populations to inhabit and work the strata. The pot shards serve as a tilth mechanism? What are the pots made of? If they are terra cotta or ceramic then they are porous, will hold water and nutrients just about as well as charcoal?

-Perhaps expanding upon this theory we take the next step. Explaining the presence of large unbroken pots in the Terra Preta, we can look at them as a form of formulated sacrifice. Sacrificing a pot for fertility but in this case maybe there is more to that! Could it be that my second theory is right but instead in this case, they were brewing soil inoculate (beneficial microbes? plant tea?) in pots which could then be sacrificed to the terra preta earth as fertility? They could be broken on or in the soil (working as a aerator with bits of tile and ceramic pot) or buried whole to leach out over time? Either way someone was putting a lot of work into these pots, some appear to be in relatively good condition, this to me could show evidence of sacrifice for fertility.

These are just some of the ideas that I have. Either way in the next few years I will be experimenting with these theories and watching the understanding of Terra Preta technology (notice I didn't say bio-char for a reason) expand and then becoming disseminated as it should be to the general public.

I definitely encourage all interested to experiment, particularly if the charcoal can be produced or obtained as a byproduct of other necessary activities (wood heating and so on).


mmbtupr said...

The sender is a semiretired energy economist with considerable agronomy in his background. In a biochar discussion group, I have argued to no avail that the vast number of abandoned crop platforms in the Amazon should be sampled, soil tested and crop tested. Then soil samples should be taken and put in experimental plots to determine the importance of individual components such as biochar, and interaction effects.

Michael said...

Fascinating subject. Have you considered that perhaps the pots were throw aways? Pottery would have been a daily, heavy use item. Being somewhat cheap and easily (this is an assumption based on personal research only), once chipped or broken they may simply have been tossed on the trash heap? If true, then they would have had additional organic materials absorbed during use to add to the piles. Could the infinitesimal amount of "stuff" been a factor in any way?

Marge said...

Maybe they were used as slow-release watering pots like ollas.