Biochar

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http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/Make-Biochar-To-Improve - Your-Soil.aspx
Make Biochar this Ancient Technique Will Improve Your Soil By Barbara Pleasant
Last year, I committed one of the great sins of gardening: I let weeds go to seed. Cleaning up in fall, I faced down a ton of seed-bearing foxtail, burdock and crabgrass. Sure, I could compost it hot to steam the weed seeds to death, but instead I decided to try something different. I dug a ditch, added the weeds and lots of woody prunings, and burned it into biochar, thus practicing a new soil-building technique thats at least 3,000 years old.
Whats biochar? Basically, its organic matter that is burned slowly, with a restricted flow of oxygen, and then the fire is stopped when the material reaches the charcoal stage. Unlike tiny tidbits of ash, coarse lumps of charcoal are full of crevices and holes, which help them serve as life rafts to soil microorganisms. The carbon compounds in charcoal form loose chemical bonds with soluble plant nutrients so they are not as readily washed away by rain and irrigation. Biochar alone added to poor soil has little benefit to plants, but when used in combination with compost and organic fertilizers, it can dramatically improve plant growth while helping retain nutrients in the soil.
Amazonian Dark Earths
The idea of biochar comes from the Amazonian rain forests of Brazil, where a civilization thrived for 2,000 years, from about 500 B.C. until Spanish and Portuguese explorers introduced devastating European diseases in the mid-1500s. Using only their hands, sticks and stone axes, Amazonian tribes grew cassava, corn and numerous tree fruits in soil made rich with compost, mulch and smoldered plant matter. Amazingly, these dark earths persist today as a testament to an ancient soil-building method you can use in your garden. Scientists disagree on whether the soils were created on purpose, in order to grow more food, or if they were an accidental byproduct of the biochar and compost generated in day-to-day village life along the banks of the Earths biggest river. However they came to be, there is no doubt that Amazonian dark earths (often called terra preta) hold plant nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium, much more efficiently than unimproved soil. Even after 500 years of tropical temperatures and rainfall that averages 80 inches a year, the dark earths remain remarkably fertile.
Scientists around the world are working in labs and field trial plots to better understand how biochar works, and to unravel the many mysteries of terra preta. At Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., microbiologists have discovered bacteria in terra preta soils that are similar to strains that are active in hot compost piles. Overall populations of fungi and bacteria are high in terra preta soils, too, but the presence of abundant carbon makes the microorganisms live and reproduce at a slowed pace. The result is a reduction in the turnover rate of organic matter in the soil, so composts and other soil-enriching forms of organic matter last longer.
In field trials with corn, rice and many other crops, biochar has increased productivity by making nutrients already present in the soil better available to plants. Results are especially dramatic when biochar is added to good soil that contains ample minerals and plant nutrients. Research continues (track it atThe International Biochar Initiative), but at this point it appears that biochar gives both organic matter and microorganisms in organically enriched soil enhanced staying power. Digging in nuggets of biochar or adding them to compost as it is set aside to cure can slow the leaching away of nutrients and help organically enriched soil retain nutrients for decades rather than for a couple of seasons.
Finding Free Biochar
Biochars soil building talents may change the way you clean your woodstove. In addition to gathering ashes (and keeping them in a dry metal can until youre ready to use them as a phosphorus-rich soil amendment, applied in light dustings), make a habit of gathering the charred remains of logs. Take them to your garden, give them a good smack with the back of a shovel and you have biochar.
If you live close to a campground, you may have access to an unlimited supply of garden-worthy biochar from the remains of partially burned campfires. The small fires burned in chimineas often produce biochar, too, so you may need to look no further than your neighbors deck for a steady supply.
Charcoal briquettes used in grilling are probably not a good choice. Those designed to light fast often include paraffin or other hydrocarbon solvents that have no place in an organic garden. Plain charred weeds, wood or cow pies are better materials for using this promising soil-building technique based on ancient gardening wisdom.
How to Make Biochar
To make biochar right in your gardens, start by digging a trench in a bed. (Use a fork to loosen the soil in the bottom of the trench and youll get the added benefits of this double-digging technique.) Then pile brush into the trench and light it. You want to have a fire that starts out hot, but is quickly slowed down by reducing the oxygen supply. The best way to tell whats going on in a biochar fire is to watch the smoke. The white smoke, produced early on, is mostly water vapor. As the smoke turns yellow, resins and sugars in the material are being burned. When the smoke thins and turns grayish blue, dampen down the fire by covering it with about an inch of soil to reduce the air supply, and leave it to smolder. Then, after the organic matter has smoldered into charcoal chunks, use water to put out the fire. Another option would be to make charcoal from wood scraps in metal barrels. (For details, go toTwin Oaks Forge.)
Im part of the Smokey-the-Bear generation, raised on phrases like learn not to burn, so it took me a while to warm up to the idea of using semi-open burning as a soil-building technique. Unrestrained open burning releases 95 percent or more of the carbon in the wood, weeds or whatever else that goes up in smoke. However, low-temperature controlled burning to create biochar, called pyrolysis, retains much more carbon (about 50 percent) in the initial burning phase. Carbon release is cut even more when the biochar becomes part of the soil, where it may reduce the production of greenhouse gases including methane and nitrous oxide. This charcoal releases its carbon 10 to 100 times slower than rotting organic matter. As long as it is done correctly, controlled charring of weeds, pruned limbs and other hard-to-compost forms of organic matter, and then using the biochar as a soil or compost amendment, can result in a zero emission carbon cycling system.
Burning responsibly requires simple common sense. Check with your local fire department to make sure you have any necessary permits, wait as long as you must to get damp, windless weather, and monitor the fire until its dead.
The Bigger Picture
If global warming is to be slowed, we must find ways to reduce the loss of carbon into the atmosphere. In the dark earths of the Amazon, and in million-year-old charcoal deposits beneath the Pacific Ocean, charcoal has proven its ability to bring carbon release almost to a standstill. If each of one million farmers around the globe incorporated biochar into 160 acres of land, the amount of carbon locked away in the Earths soil would increase five-fold.
But theres more. What if you generate energy by burning a renewable biomass crop (like wood, corn, peanut hulls, bamboo, willow or whatever), while also producing biochar that is then stashed away by using it as a soil amendment? (For an example, see the Archive article, Mothers Woodburning Truck, about wood-gas generators.) The carbon recovery numbers in such a system make it the only biomass model found thus far that can produce energy without a net release of carbon. Research teams around the world are scrambling to work out the details of these elegantly Earth-based systems.
Much remains to be known about how biochar systems should tick, but some may be as simple as on-farm set ups that transform manure and other wastes into nuggets of black carbon that help fertilizer go farther while holding carbon in the soil.
As gardeners, it is up to us to find ways to adapt this new knowledge to the needs of our land. To make the most of my bonfire of weeds, I staged the burn in a trench dug in my garden, and then used the excavated soil to smother the fire. A layer of biochar now rests buried in the soil. Hundreds of years from now, it will still be holding carbon while energizing the soil food web. This simple melding of soil and fire, first discovered by ancient people in the Amazon, may be a new key to feeding ourselves while restoring the health of our planet.
To learn more about this fascinating topic, read Amazonian Dark Earths by Johannes Lehmann. And clickherefor more articles on biochar research. (A the above web site)
--

- Billy
"For the first time in the history of the world, every human being
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wrote:

http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/Make-Biochar-To-Improve-Your-Soil.aspx
Ahem, OldeAlzheimers ! I posted this Thu, 19 Feb 2009 14:43:03 -0600 Msg id snipped-for-privacy@4ax.com
Namenda and Aricept is a good combination. Also read Bill's article on rhubarb.
Not meaning to start a rhubarb here, or nothing......
Charlie
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Never can tell when a newbi will stop by and say,"That's just the question I've always wanted to ask, and there it is, right in front of me. Glory be. "
I'm thinkin' we oten use it for wallpaper. Maybe put in a couple of tasteful corner ads, and make the group some money.
--

- Billy
"For the first time in the history of the world, every human being
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wrote:

Aye...well now, put that way, you are correct! Pardon me smart mouff.
Seems as if some folks needs lots o' repeating (self-included, where's the rhubarb)...
BTW.....the effing weather here sucks.....not conducive to gardening *at all*. Other than the garlic, nothing is up, or planted, except--------> the heirloom greens bed that I planted thisafternoon. It's 4 x 10. I mix all the lettuces and stuff together with some damp sand and broadcast it and then rake it in. Toss in radishes also, they are good to create some space when harvested.
Rain anticipated five of the next seven days. I'm going out later and cover a couple of the beds with plastic to keep the rain off and warm them.
Found a good large metal trashcan with lid and am going to start making batches of biochar out of the weeds, grass, sticks etc. that always accumulate.
Charlie
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Sorry to hear about the weather. Four years ago (I think) we had rain until May. It was June before I could get the garden planted. Talk about "sucked", it "Hoovered". Here, north of San Francisco, we just had a week of overcast and rain (not enough to make any change in expected water rationing but all donations are gratefully accepted). Lookin' in to my little box of seeds, I found a number of partial packets of salad and beets. There was already a thin layer of mulch in the salad patch as well as in the old salad garden which is now mostly beets, onions, garlic, chard. I took my hand full of lettuce seeds and cast them into the salad patch did likewise with the beet seeds into the other patch and now both are showing a number of sprouts. The salad garden actually looks like a green carpet. Thank god for iron phosphate or I wouldn't have any seedlings at all.
Finally got my carrots and parsnips bed seeded (mostly: ran out of seeds) yesterday. I put up a barrier to keep the "Hounds from Hell" out of it. When I finished, I found that they had strolled off, out of the yard, and I spent the next hour finding them. They can enjoy the life of being chained up for awhile. Usually, they don't run off, if I'm outside with them.
I bought some starter plants of Brandywine, Striped German, and a couple of bell peppers. They take so long to develop, I just wanted to have back up to my germinated plants which aren't doing much right now, outside in the cold. Hopefully, I'll get another germination tray started tomorrow with my bitter melons and zuchetta included.
I wanted to thank you for the hanging petunias idea. They didn't do anything last years but they over wintered and 2 out of 5 are blooming already. I'm impressed. The geraniums blackened to the roots but most are showing signs of life.
The garbage can sounds like a good idea, if you already have an old, used-up one. Even when the bottom rots out, you still got the lid to stop the fire.
Funny how things work out. Rome fell in the 4th century AD. Books were used for toilet paper and fires. Knowledge was preserved by arabs and re-discovered by Europeans on the Iberian peninsula in the 14th century. A millennium of western intellectual development lost. Now, from the Amazon, 600 years later, the gift of soil.
I wonder, how much more will humanity learn, what it used to know?
Gotta change the fishs water.
Bye
--

- Billy
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In article

Well thank Billy for lining me up with a source for Iron Phosphate. Got 16 ounces and thought of sending 4 your way then I thought about sending white powder in the mail and in one of my saner moments said not a good idea these days.

Slash and burn has incurred a nasty reputation but I'd guess the folks calling the shots like heavy industry.

Hope is the learning may have a wide margin of error. Fingers crossed as none of my kids know what a hoe is let alone there are many types. Seems a down turn may wake up the notion of being more self sufficient.

I have to soon too.
Bill
--
Garden in shade zone 5 S Jersey USA
Not all who wander are lost.
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It finally came? Hallelujah. Now I can make eye contact with you again. I was feeling pretty crumby coming up with what eventually looked like a rip-off. I'd love 4 oz, if you can clear it with the postal service. I promise not to use it recreationally;O)
My pots of parsley and cilantro that went to seed last year are showing new sprouts. Potatoes that didn't get harvested last year are also of to a roaring start. Three weeks now and no sign of the ones I planted this year.
I'm slowly pushing back the wild onions, to expose the ground and warm it up. Thinkin' about wrapping a couple of tomato cages with plastic and covering the ground directly around them to see if I can hurry along the growth of my store bought tomatoes.
Theory and application, and the gardener in between.
--

- Billy
"For the first time in the history of the world, every human being
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Am not as smart as you Billy. There seems a mystery written in your post as to where this partially burned material came from, biochar. After very little time consumption for thought, I came up with this as to its origin. It was common thoughout early farming to clear an area by burning. Tree and other plant coverage is quite thick in the area of the world mentioned. The area of the world you're talking about receives an inordinate amount of rain. So, I submit that these burnings were partially slowed down or even put out at times by the rain. Or, unable to completely burn as the center of such piling of trees and plant life were to damp in the center of such piles. Or, both. So, clearing an area for farming was not an overnight burning process. Took decades if not longer for an area to be truly void of nothing except of what was intended for farming. During this process, the partially burnt and probably sopping wet material was worked back into the soil both manually and naturally. Given a a milleniium, and natural increase in soil/dust overtopping, and continually working that material gave its gusto and final appearance today. I may be wrong, but that's my interpretation.
--
Dave



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"Dioclese" <NONE> wrote:

"My" understanding of present day slash and burn in the Amazon is that it produces marginal subsistence soil from the laterite for a few years and then takes decades to recover. Normal burning would produce mostly ash, not the quantities of charcoal needed to produce "terra preta" which would have come with extended occupation of an area. The burning would also destroy the organic material needed for the nutrient depleted laterite soil to become fertile. Once exposed, laterite can become very hard. It seems more reasonable that the "terra preta" was developed by a hunter gatherer culture as a bridge to agriculture. In the book, 1491, areas of the Amazon are described as orchards. Early European descriptions of New England forests, compared them to parks (it was easy to access the trees). One of the assertions of the book is that Native Americans had a different attitude about the land and how to use it. The book "1491" also addresses some of their screw ups but indigenous Americans seemed to be able to learn from their mistakes.
I have no idea if the book "1491" is correct, only that it makes a good argument that Native Americans saw (see) the world differently than we do.
1491 pg. 346
Despite the charcoal, terra preta is not a by-product of slash-and-burn agriculture. To begin with, slash-and-burn simply does not produce enough charcoal to make terra pretathe carbon mostly goes into the air in the form of carbon dioxide. Instead, Indians apparently made terra preta by a process that Christoph Steiner, a University of Bayreuth soil scientist, has dubbed "slash-and-char." Instead of completely burning organic matter to ash, ancient farmers burned it incompletely to make charcoal, then stirred the charcoal into the soil. In addition to its benefits to the soil, slash-and-char releases much less carbon into the air than slash-and-burn, which has large potential implications for climate change. Trees store vast amounts of carbon in their trunks, branches, and leaves. When they die or people cut them down, the carbon is usually released into the atmosphere, driving global warming. Experiments by Makoto Ogawa of the Kansai Environmental Engineering Center, near Kyoto, Japan, demonstrated that charcoal retains its carbon in the soil for up to fifty thousand years. "Slash-and-char is very clever," Ogawa told me. "Nobody in Europe or Asia that I know of ever understood the properties of charcoal in soil."
--

"Terra preta" is an intriguing idea that could give us immediate
benefits and bequeath them to our descendants as well. Additionally, the
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As you pointed out, todays' slash and burn isn't working to produce the amount of carbon needed in the soil for biochar. I submit in former times, this was on much smaller scale and the increased the size of such an area over much longer time. The scale is one of the things that important when comparing then and now.
Another point is pilings of trees and other plants for burning. Its highly unlikely that such were made in in a large cleared centralized area as is done now in a large scale, rather, were the tree fell instead. And such trees weren't appreciably broken down, if at all, to facilitate burning. No bulldozers or chainsaws for facilitate these pilings and burning. So, the yield of carbon to the ground back then is increased much over current practices of making major bonfires with high heat yield that consume much more of its fuel source. This billows carbon in the form of gases much more per amount of carbon fuel available as the older method did not burn nearly as well or completely So, I fail to make the association of clear and burn techniques used now compared to those methods used over a 1000 years ago. There is no association that I can see.
--
Dave



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"Dioclese" <NONE> wrote:

of the Americas Before Columbus" by Charles C. Mann (Amazon.com product link shortened) 2059/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid39722303&sr=1-1
According to Mann, great areas of the Amazon basin had been terra formed and were supporting large populations with developed orchards. Slash and burn was a survival technique the locals used to escape their cities which were being overwhelmed with European diseases after 1491.
--

- Billy
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I still find it hard to believe that for at least a thousand years these peoples use what this person (Mann) calls a slash and burn technique that equivocates to present "slash and burn" techniques.. Same term meaning different things in different time periods. In fact, I call it convenient conventionism for ease of understanding by scholars and others that have no usatory knowledge (common sense developed by actual use and associative knowledge of same in the past). So, the way I look at it, there is no basis for the argument you propose. But, I'm not a smart as you, Billy...
--
Dave
Dependency on large banks is undermining your, your children's, and
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"Dioclese" <NONE> wrote:

I'm inclined to agree with you. Amazonians started slashing and burning about five hundred years ago as a way to escape their cities which had become incubators for European diseases. Slash and burning doesn't allow one to stay in the same area too long because the soil rapidly loses the nutrients that it has because of the laterite soil. The "terra preta" comes from a stable culture that doesn't migrate, doesn't slash and burn, but slowly added the charcoal into the soil and created orchards. Slash and burn vs. slash and char. This isn't fun any more. I quit.
--

- Billy
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wrote:

Here's some more info for you and catdaddy.
http://www.biochar.org/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=6&Itemid=7
http://www.biochar-international.org /
http://biochar.pbwiki.com /
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/03/biochar_an_answer.php
A simple charcoal and biochar kiln...
http://www.biocharfertilization.com /
Loverly day today! Rain, windy, temp 40F.
Wisht I had a damned log to crawl under.
Charlie
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It's windy and mostly sunny here, supposed to get in the 50s, was in the 40s when I woke up 4 hours ago, and I just moved some logs that were next to the herb bed, to make more room for more herbs or whatever I want to plant there. So if you need a log, I got plenty! I'm also eager for my 2 dwarf blueberries, ginger root, and 2 black walnut trees that have been shipped to me finally to get here...have no idea where to plant the black walnuts though, because a book on companion planting I have(Carrots Love Tomatoes, by Louise Riotte) says there's a substance on their leaves called juglone that washes off them when it rains and prohibit growth of other greenage near them....anyone had any experience with that?
<Charlie> wrote in message <<snip>>

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I'd would forget to have anything grow under the drip line. Similar to the way mother maples discourage kids from being too near. You are talking a long term time investment but growing stuff for the next generation is nobel. The largest we had was about 30 years old that my dad grew from seed. It was maybe 10 feet in diameter drip line when my brother took it down. The wood is valued highly and some folks use the fruit for dying cloth. I like black walnut brittle. Heard some folks run their cars over the seeds to crack them.
Bill
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Maples too? I also got a sugar maple this year(we named it Miss Marple, just like we named the dwarf fig we got Puddin'). I hadn't known about dying cloth with walnuts, but I have a recipe to make ink and ground walnut shells are one of the ingredients. And yeah I know it's long term investment, but I'm thinking years down the road. Pretty much all the plants I ordered this year won't start bearing for at least 2 years, 2-5 is the range for all of them 'cept the maple and walnuts. For the sugar maple, after it's filled out enough, could I just take a branch of it and get it to root to have more?

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snipped-for-privacy@cmc.net says...

Walnuts have juglone in the leaves, roots and bark which stunts the growth of a number of species.
Look here for juglone tolerant plants and trees.
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