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Coal-Fired Lime Pile Creates Powerful Fertilizer
Here's an old recipe for fertilizer: Layer 7 1/2 tons of coal and 30 tons of blue limestone around a wooden chimney and set the whole thing on fire. That's what Eli Shetler did this past New Year's Eve.
"My dad started building these lime piles in the 1930's, and the last one was burned in 1964," says Shetler. "My personal reason for bringing this back is so farmers can learn the great value of this kind of lime."
Shetler says his dad's piles were impressive in their size but even more so in their results. One time Shetler's dad built a large pile near a poor quality hay field. He burned it and then spread it on the field.
"We took five loads off the first crop before we spread the lime and ten loads from the second crop after it was spread," recalls Shetler. "On another farm, treated corn fields performed so well we had to build extra corn cribs."
Shetler is working with an agronomist to study the effects of the burned lime that he has spread on gardens and fields. "My agronomist says the coal has carbon as well as 125 trace minerals with close to 100 trace minerals in the lime," says Shetler. "Burning them together will give us a combination with 40 we can identify and the rest just a trace. We used a local coal that has a lot of tars and burns very, very hot."
After building his pile, Shetler understands why the practice fell away. It is a lot of work. Though in his 60's, he broke up nearly all the blocks of lime with his sledgehammer.
He then layered it with the coal on top of a wooden platform covered in straw. In the center of the pile, a wooden chimney provided air and draft to the burn. A layer of clay built up around the sides worked like a kiln to hold the heat in.
"Its very important to have enough clay soils at least half way up the pile," says Shetler. "You should have at least 2 to 3 in. packed in around the platform. Pack the clay and wet it a bit."
Before starting the fire, Shetler poured diesel fuel over the pile and around the wooden chimney. He also soaked corncobs in diesel fuel and dropped them down the chimney. The idea was to have the hottest fire at the center to stabilize the pile as the wood burned away. It worked. After 15 minutes of black smoke, flames came out the chimney. Within the hour the chimney was gone, but the heat had set the coal and stone on fire.
Shetler's first pile burned for 9 days. He then left it to smolder, turning into powder. "The stone cracked and popped like popcorn all night long and for days after," says Shetler.
While he has yet to see the results of this first fire, Shetler is already planning the next. Instead of breaking up large blocks of limestone by hand, he will be ordering it from a quarry in pieces the size of his hand and 2 in. thick. He plans to use 2-in. coal as well.
"I'll put down a 2-in. thick layer of coal and follow that with about 6 in. of lime laid on edge out from the chimney, repeating layers to the top," says Shetler. "The ratio of stone to coal is three to one. It is very important that the pile be built to taper and not built square."
He says the burning process makes the nutrients in the lime and coal immediately available to the soil. Shetler also suggests that it remains effective longer than (unburned) lime will.
While Shetler had some help in the process, he did most of the work himself by hand. "I had to hammer stones, some 2-ft. square," he recalls. "Some had to be hammered 50 times to break them in half."
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Eli Shetler, 14955 Salt Creek Rd., Apple Creek, Ohio 44606 (ph 330 359-5334).


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2010 - Volume #34, Issue #3