biochar

in my recent readings on biochar i was hoping a few books published in the past few years would have more actual science and evaluation. alas the books _the biochar debate_ and _the biochar solution_ both could have filled more of that gap.
not that there wasn't scientific ideas in either of them, but that they both lacked discussion of experiments, methodology, or what you might expect while talking about something as basic as biochar.
of the two the second book by Albert Bates _the biochar solution_ at least did have several ideas that i hadn't seen before in the climatology debate. that was that the Little Ice Age was partially caused by the reforestation of the Amazon jungle (as a result of 99+% population decline after the European diseases were introduced). i didn't think the carbon ratio in the record had declined during that period. i'll have to go find some studies on that and see if it shows or not...
in looking around on-line the topic of biochar and evaluating it is still rather thin with quite a few links to works of very questionable value.
if you are looking into getting biochar for a garden you can do some things to make it more likely it will turn out ok.
- check the pH (both the soil and the biochar) -- you don't want to make your garden more acidic or alkaline
- make sure it has been processed under low temperatures (300-600C)
- make sure it is from plant sources and not soot or made from burned random garbage (tires, plastics or even crushed coal)
- the resulting material varies by what is used and the temperature and process and might even vary from batch to batch if the system or inputs are not consistent
- if it isn't already charged (by running it through a compost heap) it's likely to be a nutrient drain until it gets colonized by soil organisms
- worms should thrive in it (once it is charged up)
my own additions would be to make sure it is handled carefully when damp and to bury it deep enough to prevent it from blowing around or washing away.
songbird
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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
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p.344
*Terra preta exists in two forms: terra preta itself, a black soil thick with pottery, and terra mulata, a lighter dark brown soil with much less pottery. A number of researchers believe that although Indians made both, they deliberately created only the terra mulata. Terra preta was the soil created directly around homes by charcoal kitchen fires and organic refuse of various types. -------
It seems as if any old charcoal (cellulose) will do. I don't think we're talking rocket science here, IMHO. I just throw the charcoal from barbecues, or our wood stove in with the mulch on the garden. I'm not recommending this, but it is what I do. It doesn't collect of the surface, so it must be going somewhere. Digging it in will just destroy all of the worm's work in creating corridors in the soil that aerate, and drain the soil. My oldest garden bed is wondrously soft, considering I started with grey, rocky clay.
I thinned the seedling in the germination trays a couple days ago. I don't want to do that again. What a waste.
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Billy wrote: ...

terra preta is not biochar.

unfortunately, some folks are being sold stuff made from plastics, tires, coal, etc. others may be buying decent biochar, but if it isn't pre- charged with beneficial critters/nutrients then it may reduce production.
it may not be rocket science yet the quality does vary.

for a small garden that is established i wouldn't see a harm in small surface applications. it falls down in the mulch and doesn't likely get washed away and there is no need to worry about charging it with beneficials because it will get those as it works through the mulch.
my previous comments are geared towards those who may be thinking of buying it or making it.
the wormies in the back gardens are challenged in most places as they are often flooded and the soil is heavy. as i get the area raised up and get more organic materials they do better. the wormies inside in the worm farm do much better. i'm ready for spring planting, just waiting for things to warm up enough and dry out enough. might be a while yet, we're still getting snow and overnight temps in the teens...

most plantings here are direct planted into the ground. beets are the one i have to thin as the seeds are in clumps.
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