I guess I watch too much CSI: Anytown. When I first saw the term biochar pop up in my garden-related reading, my first thought was an appalled, “Ew!” Don’t know exactly what I thought they were charring, but plain old wood scraps wasn’t my first guess.
Bio Char is a concept that’s been around for a while, but recent articles are touting a region down in South America (mid-Amazon region) where the soil is so rich, you only have to think about putting seeds in to get a terrific yield. This region’s soil is known as Terra Preta. One lovely fact about the soil there, immensely rich in biochar and other compost, is that it is able to hold onto nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium, much more efficiently than unimproved soil. As you can imagine, plants adore this. What does this have to do with you, the home gardener? It means you have a choice. You can continue to buy chemicals to coax growth out of your plants or you can feed your soil and entice them to grow instead. Terra Preta is soil that was fed a lot of biochar a L O N G time ago, and which is now pretty much self-sustaining topsoil. It may look black, but it’s really pure gold.
It’s a funny thought, feeding the soil. Even though I earned my Master Gardener certificate over ten years ago, and one of our excellent sessions dealt with soil health, up until I interned at Home Sweet Farm with Farmer Brad and Farmer Jenny, I did not fully understand the concept. Feeding the soil, be it molasses to help the beneficial microbes multiply (and the fire ants explode) or biochar to help the soil hold on to those precious nutrients so that they stay where the plants can get them rather than leaching down out of the reach of many root systems, is not just a good idea, it is necessary for healthy plant growth with most soils. Along with making for healthy soil, BioChar is shaping up to be a new tool that can assist in mitigating greenhouse gasses. (That is one cool thought!)
Now that you know all about biochar and you’re rarin’ to make your own, go for it — let us know how your experience is both with creating biochar and what the results are of incorporating biochar in your garden.