Biochar?

Hi, all.
I keep hearing good things about biochar as a soil amendment.
Does anyone here have experience using it? I'm thinking of adding it to my flower gardens and vegetable beds.
nancy
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Also known as "Terra Preta", I regularly add charcoal, and wood ash, to my garden beds, but I haven't noticed any effect, but then I haven't added it at the rate of 5 kg/m2 (1 lb/ft2). I don't doubt its efficacy, it has been shown to work.
There is a good article on making charcoal at <http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/Make-Biochar-To-Improve -Your-Soil.aspx?page=2> unfortunately these folks refer to wood ash as being a good source for phosphates(?). It isn't. It's a good source for potassium.
One important point that they bring up is "Charcoal briquettes used in grilling are probably not a good choice (for a source of charcoal). 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."
Lump charcoal (unprocessed charcoal) or it's powder at the bottom of the bag, is OK. My main source of charcoal comes from the wood chips that I use in my barbecue to flavor meat. I soak them in water, wrap them in tin foil and then place them on the coals. After the barbecue cools off, you will find that the wood chips have become charcoal, and this is what I add to our garden beds. I just scratch it into the surface.
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Billy wrote:

Hey, I could add to it my dishwasher. Heh.

One article I read gave me a source that I can find, Cowboy Charcoal. I'm good with buying a few bags of that.

You told me all I need to know, including how to apply. Thanks a million. I'm interested to see how effective this is.
nancy
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Looks good :O)

You may want to look at <http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/05/biochar-test-shows-17-percent-cr op-yield-increase.php>
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wrote:

In addition to the things that Billy has said, in the 'old days' when wood burning fires were still common, the seived charcoal was used in Spring to spread in an area where the soil needed warming. Being black it worked to warm the soil and so give gardeners a bit of a jump on the season.
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FarmI wrote:

That's really interesting, this is the first I've been reading about the 'dark earth' thing. I just heard about biochar last year, I guess it just never came up in all the gardening stuff I've read or watched. Thanks.
nancy
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"1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus" by Charles C. Mann <(Amazon.com product link shortened) 32059/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid96839060&sr=1-1> (available from better libraries near you)
p.344 GIFT FROM THE PAST "Landscape," in this case, is meant exactlyAmazonian Indians literally created the ground beneath their feet. According to Susanna Hecht, a geographer at the University of California at Los Angeles, researchers into upland Amazonia took most of their soil samples along the region's highways, which indeed passed through areas with awful soilsome regions were so saturated with toxic aluminum that they are now being mined for bauxite. A few scientists, though, found patches of something better. "In part because of the empty-Amazon model," Hecht told me, these were "seen as anomalous and insignificant." But in the 1990s researchers began studying these unusual regions of terra preta do ndiorich, fertile "Indian dark earth" that anthropologists believe was made by human beings.
Throughout Amazonia, farmers prize terra preta for its great productivity; some have worked it for years with minimal fertilization. Among them are the owners of the papaya orchard I visited, who have happily grown crops on their terra, preta for two decades. More surprising still, the ceramics in the farm's terra preta indicate that the soil has retained its nutrients for as much as a millennium. On a local level, terra preta is valuable enough for locals to dig it up and sell as potting soil, an activity that, alas, has already destroyed countless arti-facts. To the consternation of archaeologists, long planters full of ancient terra preta, complete with pre-Columbian potsherds, greet vistors to the Santarem airport. Because terra preta is subject to the same punishing conditions as the surrounding bad soils, "its existence is very surprising," according to Bruno Glaser, a chemist at the Institute of Soil Science and Soil Geography at the University of Bayreuth, Germany. "If you read the textbooks, it shouldn't be there."*
*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. I use terra preta loosely to cover both.
Because careful surveys of Amazon soils have never been taken, nobody knows the amount and distribution of terra preta. Woods has guessed that terra preta might represent as much as 10 percent of the Amazon basin, an area the size of France. A recent, much more conservative estimate is that it covers .1 to .3 percent of the basin, a few thousand square miles. The big difference between these numbers matters less than one might expect: a few thousand square miles of farmland was enough to feed the millions in the Maya heartland. Most big terra preta sites are on low bluffs at the edge of the flood-plain. Typically, they cover five to fifteen acres, but some encompass seven hundred or more. The layer of black soil is generally one to two feet deep but can reach more than six feet. According to a recent study led by Dirse Kern, of the Museu Goeldi in Belem, terra preta is "not associated with a particular parent soil type or environmental condition," suggesting that it was not produced by natural processes. Another clue to its human origin is the broken ceramics with which it is usually mixed. "They practiced agriculture here for centuries," Glaser told me. "But instead of destroying the soil, they improved it, and that is something we don't know how to do today" in tropical soils. As a rule, terra preta has more "plant-available" phosphorus, calcium, sulfur, and nitrogen than is common in the rain forest; it also has much more organic matter, better retains moisture and nutrients, and is not rapidly exhausted by agricultural use when managed well. The key to terra preta's long-term fertility, Glaser says, is charcoal: terra preta contains up to sixty-four times more of it than surrounding red earth. Organic matter "sticks" to charcoal, rather than being washed away or attaching to other, nonavailable compounds. "Over time, it
p.346
partly oxidizes, which keeps providing sites for nutrients to bind to." But simply mixing charcoal into the ground is not enough to create terra preta. Because charcoal contains few nutrients, Glaser argued, "high-nutrient inputsexcrement and waste such as turtle, fish, and animal bonesare necessary." Special soil microorganisms are also likely to play a role in its persistent fertility, in the view of Janice Thies, a soil ecologist who is part of a Cornell University team studying terra preta. "There are indications that microbial biomass is higher in terra preta than in other forest soils," she told me, which raises the possibility that scientists might be able to create a "package" of charcoal, nutrients, and microfauna that could be used to transform bad tropical soil into terra preta.
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."
Indians are still making terra preta in this way, according to Hecht, the UCLA geographer. Hecht spent years with the Kayapo, in central Amazonia, watching them create "low-biomass" fires "cool enough to walk through" of pulled-up weeds, cooking waste, crop debris, palm fronds, and termite mounds. Burning, she wrote, is constant: "To live among the Kayapo is to live in a place where parts of the landscape smolder." Hecht regards Indian fire as an essential part of the Amazonian landscape, as it was in the forests of eastern North America. "We've got to get over this whole Bambi syndrome," she told me, referring to the movie's forest-fire scene, which has taught generations of children that burning wildlands is evil. "Let the Kayapo burn the rainforestthey know what they're doing."
In a preliminary test run at creating terra preta, Steiner, Wenceslau Teixeira of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Enterprise, and Wol-fang Zech of the University of Bayreuth applied a variety of treatments involving charcoal and fertilizers for three years to rice and sorghum plots outside Manaus. In the first year, there was little difference among the treatments (except for the control plots, in which almost nothing grew). By the second year, Steiner said, "the charcoal was really making a difference." Plots with charcoal alone grew little, but those treated with a combination of charcoal and fertilizer yielded as much as 880 percent more than plots with fertilizer alone. His "terra preta" was this productive, Steiner told me, despite making no attempt to re-create the ancient microbial balance.
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scroll to bottom http://weloveteaching.com/arsc11/macroevolution/selectedtopicsecology.html ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Somewhere between zone 5 and 6 tucked along the shore of Lake Michigan on the council grounds of the Fox, Mascouten, Potawatomi, and Winnebago
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It has as tendency to absorb nutrients and water, so it is best to first inoculate it with compost or compost tea.
Alex
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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
<(Amazon.com product link shortened) 32059/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid96839060&sr=1-1>
p.345 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.
As a rule, terra preta has more "plant-available" phosphorus, calcium, sulfur, and nitrogen than is common in the rain forest; it also has much more organic matter, better retains moisture and nutrients, and is not rapidly exhausted by agricultural use when managed well. The key to terra preta's long-term fertility, Glaser says, is charcoal: terra preta contains up to sixty-four times more of it than surrounding red earth. Organic matter "sticks" to charcoal, rather than being washed away or attaching to other, nonavailable compounds. "Over time, it
p.346
partly oxidizes, which keeps providing sites for nutrients to bind to." But simply mixing charcoal into the ground is not enough to create terra preta. Because charcoal contains few nutrients, Glaser argued, "high-nutrient inputsexcrement and waste such as turtle, fish, and animal bonesare necessary." Special soil microorganisms are also likely to play a role in its persistent fertility, in the view of Janice Thies, a soil ecologist who is part of a Cornell University team studying terra preta. "There are indications that microbial biomass is higher in terra preta than in other forest soils,"
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Alex wrote:

Oh, okay. I generally add what compost I have to the vegetable beds and I add manure to everything. Thanks for the info.
nancy
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It would probably be best to mix it in with your compost pile or let it sit in the manure and add both together.
On how *not* to do it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JpvhaQjyyc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-hhtZGll0U

Cheers,
Alex
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These folks can answer your questions:
http://groups.google.com/group/pnw-biochar
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Gunner wrote:

Thanks!
nancy
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More reading for you ;O)
<http://www.biochar-international.org/
<http://www.carbon-negative.us/news/CNNN/News3.pdf
<http://biochar.pbworks.com/w/page/9748043/FrontPage
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In article

Give <http://biochar.bioenergylists.org/ubeyreuthde a look as well.
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'Nancy Young[_2_ Wrote:

Hi Nancy,
See the "charcoal ash in compost" article for a method of creating your own Terra Preta type soil. It is not the be all and end all but will give you a grounding on how to proceed. The article is just down below your own post.
uriel13
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