Anyone into biochar?

Discussion in 'Soils, Fertilizers and Composting' started by Vancouver Island, Jul 27, 2009.

  1. Vancouver Island

    Vancouver Island Active Member

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    I started using biochar more than a year ago. Check out "terra preta" on Wikipedia (some good links there). There is also a "biochar bc" group on google.

    Since using biochar I have found improved soil structure and fertility. Plants grow like crazy! The charcoal apparently hangs onto nutrients and provides an environment for essential micro-organisms necessary for healthy plant growth.

    There is a bit of an art to making biochar, but I also use the charcoal produced from our woodstove. There is a lot of interest in using biochar in farming to recover soil texture, etc., with university research groups looking into ways of producing terra preta.

    Anyone else into biochar?
     
  2. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member

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    Some plants for sale in nurseries look to me as if the soil in the pots has charcoal in it -- what nutrient would this be supplying in abundance? My parents used to use wood ashes from the fireplace as an additive, "in the old days". I am no chemist -- offhand I don't remember what this supplied. A friend has commented that Hawaii grows few fruits and berries but could, with the abundance of lava and burnt plant matter in the soil in areas near spent volcanoes... they import most veggies there, growing mainly macadamia orchards... and crops used in native Hawaiian agriculture, medicine, and cooking. Perhaps this is why forest-fire decimated areas come back again... a natural ingredient.
     
  3. Vancouver Island

    Vancouver Island Active Member

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    It is not so much the nutrients found in charcoal, but rather the environment it creates for micro-organisms. There is a symbiotic relationship apparently between these organisms and the roots of plants. Simply put, as I understand it, the roots provide sugars to the micro-organisms in return for minerals from the soils that the miro-organisms produce. The "terra preta" soils actually grow and are very fertile without the addition of fertilizers.

    Also, it is the charcoal, not the ashes that are used. Ashes change the soil pH and also make a bit of a mess of it if too much is used. The lumps of charcoal do not. It is recommended that the charcoal be soaked in a water with a spoon full of molasses to initiate the process. I also add a bit of compost from the bin or manure. The charcoal also retains soil nutrients and prevents leaching.

    It works for me! This is the best year I have had for west coast gardening. It is also the second year using charcoal.
     
  4. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member

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    Fascinating. I am sure many are reading your explanation with interest. I will certainly follow up your suggestions above for searching the web. Before searching further myself, where do you get it -- would broken up pieces of barbecue charcoal [before heated] work, if it can be crushed? I may have seen potted-plant charcoal as a fine soil pellet type material somewhere for sale in bags, or maybe it's a false memory!
     
  5. Vancouver Island

    Vancouver Island Active Member

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    NO, don't use barbecue charcoal. There are probably chemicals in it you don't want in your garden.

    Suggestions include gleening it from the fireplace, fire pits at camp grounds, any where that there has been a natural fire. It's free. And it is fun to collect.

    I make my own from garden waste -- branches of shrubs and trees in the late fall or early spring. (Don't do this during the fire season). I let it burn hot for 30 minutes or so and then smoother it with soil so the bio gases are trapped in the charcoal. After an hour or so I hose it down, let it cool and pick out the charcoal. This reportedly makes a better biochar. It gets rid of garden waste as well!
     
  6. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    There's a couple of articles on a thread here if you are interested.
     
  7. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member

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    These look interesting -- a new perspective has been provided to me on soil by this topic...
     
  8. soccerdad

    soccerdad Active Member 10 Years

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    I have always understood that fireplace residue was called pot ash which is now condensed to Potash, an essential ingredient of most ferts (although Potash Corp stock is not doing as well as I had hoped this year...). So when I clean out the fireplace I have always strewn the ashes over my garden area. Not that I know if it is really helping anything.
     
  9. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member

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    Potassium carbonate so it says on the Web, that is potash. Not sure that's what form the potassium in fertilizer consists of, perhaps it's the third element in the fertilizer 3-number thing. I think it is considered a valuable additive, although somewhere it said too much is not a good thing. I have definitely seen some plants sold in pots with the charcoal granules in the soil, quite thick around the top, plants no doubt which thrive on a high potassium mix. If any true fertilizer gurus here see any errors, please let us know.
     
  10. Liz

    Liz Well-Known Member

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    I always used the ash from slow combustion stove on garden but in particular as cinder paths so I did not slip. These days I avoid any burning off to try and help the air. Instead use natural gas and let branches rot on a big heap. (I have room) besides they do enough slow burning all around to clean the bush for next fire sesaon.. My dad always added the fire ash to his compost.

    Liz
     
  11. lorax

    lorax Rising Contributor

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    I'm huge into this - any yard waste gets burned and smothered, and then cooled and turned into the gardens. Great stuff.
     
  12. GavGavGav

    GavGavGav Member

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    Incidentally, volcanic areas (such as Hawaii, parts of the Western US, Chile, New Zealand, Indonesia and many other places) produce fertile soils because the material ejected from the volcanoes (e.g. olivines, pyroxenes) contain a large assortment of minerals with a tendency to rapid weathering, at least in a geological sense. Iron-rich material will undergo particularly fast oxidation in areas where water is abundant -- meaning the creation of viable soils in maybe a century or less, as opposed to many thousands of years or more for areas with different geologies and climates. Such conditions also provide an excellent habitat for the micro-organisms that Vancouver Island alluded to further up the thread. This helps explain why putting vulcanism and water together gives us some of the most fertile areas for plant growth in the world.

    Perhaps I was a little off-topic here, but hopefully interesting nonetheless!

    Gavin
     
  13. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    Thanks Gavin.
    Another piece of the puzzle.

    Bob
     
  14. amoors

    amoors Member

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    I'd like to be into it anyone know where I can get some in the lower mainland, short of burning it myself? All suggestions appreciated.
     

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