Biochar is an amazing soil conditioner dating back 2,000 years to a civilization in the Amazon Rainforest, where you can still find extensive regions of dark, highly fertile soil known as terra preta – Portuguese for “black earth.” These soils were found to have very high concentrations of organic matter and charcoal, what modern humans have dubbed “biochar.” Essentially, biochar is agricultural waste burned in an anaerobic environment, then pulverized for use as a soil enhancer that can sequester and hold carbon, increase soil biodiversity and thus, dramatically enhance nutrient delivery to plants and boost food security.
This amendment is especially beneficial in tropical environments with sandy soils — where nutrients are otherwise quickly washed away and decomposed rather rapidly. But biochar is used with great success in all soil types.
At a time when carbon dioxide levels and deforestation are at all time highs, it would be great if everyone got involved in making and applying biochar to Mother Earth, and of course, planting lots of stuff in all that fertile soil!
The remainder of this post is devoted to methods of producing biochar, a low cost but sometimes tedious process. Good news is, you can skip the hassle and buy this miracle product ready-to-use at many speciality garden and hydroponic stores.
The Green Texan Organic Farms Biochar is of excellent quality, and comes turbo-charged with the globally known EM-1 (Effective Microorganisms) Microbial Inoculant.
And here is another good biochar amendment available online, which is inoculated with beneficial bacteria, fungi, and microbes and then mixed with top grade organic compost, organic worm castings and kelp meal.
How to Make Biochar Yourself
There are several methods of creating the raw biochar material itself, charcoal. Keep in mind that after completing one of these methods, you must then pulverize the resulting charcoal and, optimally, inoculate it with beneficial microbes before adding it to the soil. Prior inoculation is not necessary — bacteria, fungi, and microbes will naturally start growing in the porous biochar, just much slower and to a lesser degree, and lesser diversity.
To start, collect your agricultural waste materials — logs, branches, twigs — things that you would normally add to a fire or any other agricultural waste product like a ton of corn cobs. Choose materials that are locally available to you. Hit up local tree trimming companies for a steady supply of free or nearly free chipped wood.
Then, you want to burn all the materials in an oxygen controlled environment. There are several ways of achieving this…
The easiest and most “low tech” method would be to simply dig a cone shaped hole in the ground for your fire like this:
As you can see, not all the materials get burned evenly and you get lots of ash (wasted charcoal) due to excessive oxygen levels. To better control oxygen levels, you can buy a special kiln to burn the materials in an anaerobic environment like this. Or you can make a biochar kiln yourself. Here is a quick and easy basic design:
If you want to make massive quantities of biochar without a kiln, watch how Peruvians create huge earth ovens to produce large quantities of biochar. Pretty freaking cool!
Here is one innovative way a man in Florida makes large quantities of biochar in minimal time, using a rotation of homemade kilns. I like his efficiency… and use of chipped wood. Makes the last step of crushing the charcoal into a fine material much easier.
Hope this helps get you growing! So what you know about biochar? Have you tried it on your farm or garden? Leave me a comment below 😉
~ Happy Farming Everyone ~