Scientists Promote Benefits of Black Soil

The future of environmentally friendly farming may well lie in our past.

A new discovery has shed light on a strange quality of soil made by our ancestors’ happy accident, and it is likely to become a beacon for the practices of tomorrow.

Terra preta, or ‘dark earth’, was created long ago by the Amazonian people due to their unique methods of waste removal, which involved smoldering the waste with a slow burning fire.

Discovered by a group of archeologists from Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo and termed black soil, scientists doubt the Amazonian people had any indication of its fertility when they created it, hence the “happy accident”.

Properties of Black Soil

Terra preta was the byproduct of an entirely different process, and its uses went undiscovered by its creators. Many modern Amazonian farmers are reaping the rewards of their ancestors. The black soil is rich in carbon – perfect ground for a new foundation of modern farming.

“These indigenous people were not farmers,” pointed out archeologist Eduardo Goes Neves to LiveScience“ (source). The potential has just been lying in the soil waiting for modern farmers to discover it.”

The incredible properties not only is terra preta fertile for crops and growing, but the process of making this dark earth effectively removes carbon out of the atmosphere. Carbon reduction has become a tending topic in these wearisome days of global warming, and in this reduction terra preta finds its second ‘happy accident’.

Johannes Lehmann, a biochemist at Cornell University, points out how the knowledge buried in this terra preta can not only teach us how to improve our farming techniques through more sustainable means and soil, but also how to cap the critical carbon of the air into the soil itself, effectively hindering future global warming.

It may well be the first substantial step the modern world takes in transferring its farming practices into a new and environmentally conscientious century. Both Lehmann and Neves reported as much at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As a result, the terra preta has come into demand by local farmers wizened to the unique properties of this precious and ancient soil.

In the aftermath of this discovery, Brazil is now utilizing the dark earth to increase their crop production to meet the demands of its nearly two hundred million population. However, due to the limited amounts of terra preta readily available, scientists would do well to caution the farmers from exhausting the resources available to them. As of this writing, terra preta is limited to the reserves leftover from the Amazonian people, and the exhaustion of those reserves would damage the precious information of these wondrous archeological sites filled with many possible answers for modern farming.

Creating new terra preta has become the top priority for those involved, and its successful production would yield both incredible advancement and incredible profit.

Slash and Char

Today scientists are imitating the waste burning practices of ancient indigenous tribes people, and it’s quite the clash of old world practices transformed into new world solutions. The smoldering method concerned is known as ‘slash and char’, and, like the processes used by the Amazonian people, intends to capture carbon from the air and trap it inside of the ground, effectively limiting other soil emissions.

But the modern take on this ancient practice is decidedly mundane, and deceptively simple. Scientists have been able to replicable the effects of slash and char with a combination of charcoal, leaves, a bit of cow dung and normal everyday soil. “

Bio-char has these very efficient properties of retaining nutrients,” Lehmann said. “It will retain more carbon in the soil better than any uncharred organic matter.”

But the benefits of slash and char don’t come from new methods alone. A hidden benefit to this new process is the benefit of substitution: modern farmers use slash and burn techniques to clear ways for their fields and crops, which releases incredible amounts of gases into the air. Lehmann estimates that the adoption of this new technique may result in a twelve percent drop in such human-caused emissions.

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This was a guest post by Dwayne Bravo who writes for a company called, Weedaway. It’s a company which manufactures black garden soil mix.

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