10 Sep
Dry Biochar

On a trip to Oregon we stopped in Philomath to speak with John Miedema, one of the founders of the Pacific Northwest Biochar Initiative. John operates an experimental biochar cooker on the site of a log storage yard in Philomath, using the chopped up bits of wood and bark leftovers that would have previously been considered waste to be burned or buried. The result is a light, dry, charcoal type material with a black pigment which I immediately spread onto my nose. We picked up a double bagged 30 gallon bag full to try out as a soil amendment.

It’s not the nutrients in biochar that we are after. We’re hoping instead to use its amazing propensity to hold onto nutrients and create habitat for microbes and beneficial fungi. The process of making biochar, using higher temperatures and a lower oxygen environment than a normal wood fire is capable of, results in a material with amazing properties. Tiny pores are opened in the burnt wood, creating a massive surface area in a very small volume. This surface area will be perfect for holding the cations and anions necessary for plant growth. Also, the char is structured into tiny tubes which catch and hold water and provide the perfect homes for microbes and fungi.
Biochar micrograph courtesy of Ithaka Journal
Our soil is quite sandy and low in nutrient holding capacity, plus being in central California near the coast we experience long dry summers, bright sunlight and breezy afternoons. It is not a natural environment for mycorrhizae; wood left on the ground tends to dry out and be eaten by insects with little to no sign or rot, unlike our western Oregon garden soil which ate anything and everything. If biochar could help us hold and spread out soil moisture, plus create a home for microbes, it may be a profound improvement. Our part of California is prone to late summer wildfires of enormous proportions which litter the ground with the charred remains of chaparral. The result of the fires is nothing short of amazing — the wildflowers go nuts the next few years. Perhaps we can emulate that in our garden.Poppies

One Response to Biochar!

  1. Pingback: Biochar experiment « Grow Abundant Gardens

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