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Soil and Composting: bio char anyone using it? making it?

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tropicalnut777
Provo, UT
(Zone 5a)

October 4, 2012
6:53 PM

Post #9296188

in my readings..i see much discussion on using bio char in the soil..
also making your own..which i think im going to try making this
fall.. we'll see how that goes..
has anyone made their own?
has anyone used it..and found any affect on their plants? good or bad??
hope to see some discussion on this..

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

October 5, 2012
6:54 PM

Post #9297019

I am interested in it but just don't have the time for many special projects. I do scoop up charcoal from our outdoor campfire pit and toss them around in my gardens, and mix them in.
Last summer I was being very lazy- I dumped a good scoop full of that right by a Datura. I was surprised to see the it did not seem to harm the plant or any nearby plants. the ashes were not as instantly toxic, at least in that dose, as I feared.

Well, couple summers ago when I first read about bio char, I made several campfires, and then scooped the hot coals into a bucket of water to stop the burn and make char. Maybe I even threw some compost or manure into the bucket too. Obviously, being so haphazard, I cannot claim any detectable benefit. (I did manage to set a bucket on fire once. Impressive!)

darius

darius
So.App.Mtns.
United States
(Zone 5b)

October 6, 2012
4:18 PM

Post #9297730

Yes, I do... and have for several years now. I have a 30 gal. barrel with a lid, inside of a 55 gal. barrel, also with a lid. I stuff smaller pieces of wood (mostly limbs) in the inner barrel, and between it and the outside barrel I stuff anything and everything I can burn, even paper and cardboard. Sometimes it takes a few burns to really char what's in the small barrel enough that I can break it up in pea-size pieces (or smaller) with a hammer. (Caution: do this on a day that's not windy, and wear a mask.)

I also sift out the charred remains from my woodstove. My pH doesn't need the ash, but the biochar is great. After 4-5 years, I'm seeing improvement in the soil, and in brix measurements of produce from the garden.

The most important thing, in my opinion, is to provide initial food for the microbes, so I soak the charcoal bits in fresh human urine, or in compost tea before adding it to the garden. I don't till it in, but with a mulch cover it seems to work its way down into the soil. Of course, the microbes need to be continually fed...
tropicalnut777
Provo, UT
(Zone 5a)

October 6, 2012
6:57 PM

Post #9297890

thanks darius.. online i see where you dig a shallow ditch..fill with small limbs/brush..burn it to
where a bluish/grey smoke shows..then put it out..and sift thru for the char...
do you think this is a good way?
thats a great idea of soaking the char ..i make a rabbit manure tea every yr..good idea
on getting the fertilizer in the char right off..
i dont think i want to go all out with barrels..but wondered if shallow ditch method would work..
?? how long do you burn yours for darius??you said you sometimes have to burn a couple times to
get everything to char state? you have a bigger volume to burn though..or is it to get to smaller sizes?
thanks so much..

darius

darius
So.App.Mtns.
United States
(Zone 5b)

October 7, 2012
6:45 AM

Post #9298295

The method of the shallow trench shows up a lot, esp. in 3rd world areas where metal drums might be hard to find.

My 25 gallon inner drum doesn't hold much, more like the amount and sizes you'd put in a trench. If I pack the outer drum with enough material to keep a fire going long enough to make a decent bed of coals, then put the lid on the small drum when it really starts to smoke, it is often ready overnight. It's like making old-fashioned charcoal on a small scale.

I wrote a rather introductory piece on biochar in 2008 here on DG:
http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1669/

Not long after that, Dave (who used to own DG) posted a thread with several pictures on making biochar at his farm. Sally might remember where to find the thread, unless the new management has deleted the thread.

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

October 7, 2012
11:56 AM

Post #9298624

Off hand I don't know where Dave's char thread is- search the forum? site?
Oberon46
(Mary) Anchorage, AK
(Zone 4b)

October 7, 2012
12:00 PM

Post #9298628

You could just go to The "All Things Plants" site and look for it there or ask Dave for a link
tropicalnut777
Provo, UT
(Zone 5a)

October 7, 2012
2:47 PM

Post #9298807

thanks all..i think i will try my hand at making some char..
ive been doing more reading on it.. some very enthusiastic folks in australia..
the soaking the char..or even "inoculating " it before adding to the soil discussed..
excellent idea..
plus..i guess..just adding the char to whatever soil.. it will leach out..draw to it the nutrients in
the soil. i guess eventually the plants will get..but.. soaking the char before probably better method???
again..much thanks.. yea..another gardening pursuit for me!!!! :)
daves_not_here
Las Vegas, NV
(Zone 9b)

December 5, 2012
9:01 PM

Post #9351009

I have been experimenting/playing with making small amounts of biochar. If you search Youtube, there are many methods explained. The method I use is a TLUD (top lit up draft). I have a one gallon paint can with 1/2" holes in the bottom. It's basically copied from one of the videos from Youtube. I place this on top of a few bricks placed in a U pattern to keep the bottom holes open for air flow. I have a floor fan with a 2' x 4' board placed between the top of the fan and the top of the bricks. This helps maximize the flow of air from the fan to the bottom of the paint can. I also (like on Youtube) made a chimney with water heater exhaust ducts. With a 6" to 4" reducer to a 4" x 4' long duct. The 6" side of the reducer is a little to small to fit into the slot (where the lid fits into) of the paint can.

As the the name states, the top is lit first and burns toward the bottom. After some trial and error I've found that placing smaller pieces at the bottom helps to ensure complete charing of all material. Though I do end up with Biochar, I don't feel like this method is very efficient. The volume of material is reduced to about half that of the original. I'll post some pics of the process when I have a chance.

David

arfitz
Caldwell, NJ
(Zone 6a)

December 6, 2012
6:28 AM

Post #9351162

I have been using charcoal from hickory wood as an addition/fertilizer on my rhododendrons and azaleas with mixed results. It seems to initially help by giving new growth to the plant , but be careful about the amount you use. On several plants it burned the plant so badly that I thought I might lose it. The plant did come back however and after a year is bigger and better than I would have expected. Since the main ingredient is carbon I attribute the increased growth to that element, but the exact mechanism I don't know.
There is the theory that The ancient Indians from the Amazon used their charcoal from their fires of centuries ago to improve their soil to the point that
the very poor native soil became exceptionally productive for their crops, and allowed them to prosper in otherwise impossible places,
daves_not_here
Las Vegas, NV
(Zone 9b)

December 6, 2012
8:03 PM

Post #9351870

Most of my recent efforts have been in producing the Biochar. I have added a small amount to my raised garden with no ill effects. I'm planning on adding more in the spring when I refill the raised garden. I soak the char in fish emulsion diluted in urine. I don't know why exactly. I have read that others use urine, and figured why not mix in some fish emulsion.

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

December 7, 2012
5:17 AM

Post #9352011

Your additives are said, I believe, to soak into little voids in the material and then be released slowly.
daves_not_here
Las Vegas, NV
(Zone 9b)

December 7, 2012
12:15 PM

Post #9352348

Exactly. As tropicalnut777 said the charcoal will adsorb the nutrients from the soil, making it unavailable to the plants, it is necessary to inoculate the Biochar before adding it to the soil.

Wikipedia describes adsorption as-
Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions, or molecules from a gas, liquid, or dissolved solid to a surface.[1] This process creates a film of the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent. This process differs from absorption, in which a fluid (the absorbate) permeates or is dissolved by a liquid or solid (the absorbent).[2] Note that adsorption is a surface-based process while absorption involves the whole volume of the material. The term sorption encompasses both processes, while desorption is the reverse of adsorption. It is a surface phenomenon.

As I understand, the porosity of the charcoal greatly increases the surface area onto which the microbes can live.

This is how I understand what I've read and watched about biochar. I am no biochemist so please don't take this for gospel.

David
tropicalnut777
Provo, UT
(Zone 5a)

December 7, 2012
5:58 PM

Post #9352613

i plan to use biochar in my gardening this yr..
?? is there any advantage to waiting for growing season to add to
the soil..or good now???
my understanding..help me out here.. its going to be in the soil for many yrs..
so im thinking of inoculating some..and mixing in to some of my gardens now
?? what do ya all think???
thanks...

darius

darius
So.App.Mtns.
United States
(Zone 5b)

December 8, 2012
6:38 AM

Post #9352851

Good now~
tropicalnut777
Provo, UT
(Zone 5a)

February 13, 2013
9:02 PM

Post #9418448

getting anxious for planting..:) like all us northerners im sure..
dave u mention u use fish emulsion and urine as your inoculant..
ive been reading some good stuff online..many universities are
doing research on biochar in ag business.. seems like its not just
a fad...
as an inoculant ..i was thinking of using mix of compost tea,and worm tea..
one source was saying using a aerobic tea.. not really wanting to get into
the whole aerating compost tea.. i know theres been good discussion on
is there really a difference between aerobic/anerobic..
i plan to buy my biochar.. seems like some ok sources on ebay..
what do u all think/??
thanks tons

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