Does biochar really work?
I’ve asked that question and have been asked that question many times. But I never bothered giving biochar a real test. I threw some into my gardens and some into my compost but never really made a lot, added a lot or paid any real attention to the long term pluses or minuses.
Fortunately, I have friends that do conduct experiments… like Steven:
It’s interesting that his lettuces died… and then in a subsequent year, the leeks went nuts.
Raw charcoal/biochar does seem to have a negative effect when first used as it sucks up the nutrition in the soil.
Later, however, it acts as a soil reserve for those good things as well as in-ground condo developments for beneficial bacteria and fungi.
I plan on making a big batch of biochar and then soaking it in my anaerobic compost tea before adding it to some of my struggling garden beds.
Alternately, I’ve heard you can soak biochar in urine to turn it into a long-term fertilizer. Or just use urine right in the garden, as I demonstrated in yesterday’s video:
Throwing biochar in a compost pile and then later applying the finished compost to your garden gives your plants both the benefits of biochar and the benefit of compost. This is a method I know many gardeners practice.
Simple Biochar Making
Though you can create special biochar kilns and really geek out about making biochar, I approach it more like I approach most composting and just light a big fire, then let it burn a bit, rake it around, then water it out with the hose and gather the charcoal.
Steven has a nice trench method for making biochar I would try if it wasn’t so devilishly hard to dig holes here because of the clay and rocks:
Biochar, no matter how you make it, has promise as a long-term soil amendment. Steven’s experimentation is pushing me to try some experiments of my own. It’s monsoon season right now so I haven’t gotten together enough dry wood to really make awesome biochar, but one of these days it will be clear for a few days in a row and I’ll get to light up a nice fire.
Then it’ll be time to start some crazy biochar action in the garden. So, to answer the question “does biochar really work,” it seems the answer is “yes” based on Steven’s research. More testing is in order, however, as these is a wide range of application amounts possible and great differences in soil and crops.
Anyone else feeling like making a fire? I’m psyched.