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Archive | Biochar

Bone Char Benefits

Farmers have been experimenting with animal waste for centuries, using it as a fertilizer or as a way to recycle healthy nutrients back into the soil: While some focused on traditional forms of waste, others directed their attention to the benefits of “bone black,” bone char or animal char.

Bone char at Callicrate Cattle Co. in St. Francis, Kansas.

Many see its benefits as a soil amendment. If the soil was dry, it could help retain water. If the soil was wet like a sponge, it could be crushed and sprinkled in to retain nutrients.

Bone char is derived from carbonizing crushed animal bones using a high-heat process known as pyrolysis. When processed through an energy-efficient airtight burner, charcoaled materials can be cleanly burned, finely ground and added to compost.

Primarily rich in calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate and micronutrients, bone char is granular and useful as an adsorbent. Since prehistoric times, it has been used to create bone black pigment used notable painters and artists. Modern uses centered on sugar whitening and defluoridating water. Continue Reading →

Biochar: Prepping it for Soil

Biochar can benefit your soil, but only if properly prepared prior to application. In November 2007, scientists at the USDA National Laboratory for Agricul­ture and the Environment (NLAE) in Ames, Iowa, began multi-year field trials to assess the effects of biochar on crop productivity and soil quality. Scientists amended almost 8 acres with biochar made from hardwood. Twelve plots re­ceived 4 tons per acre; 12 were treated with 8 tons per acre.

Prepping soil for biochar

Author David Yarrow helps install a biochar test plot at Subterra in Kansas.

They found no significant difference in the three-year average grain yield from either treatment. Other USDA field and laboratory studies in Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Texas showed hardwood biochar can improve soil structure and increase sandy soils’ ability to retain water. But soil fertility response was more variable.

USDA scientists violated four key principles for biochar use: they used 1) bulk char, in one large load; 2) raw, uncharged char; 3) sterile, uninoculated char, with only a tad of microbial life; and 4) synthetic salt fertilizer, tillage, and other antibiotic practices.

Biochar, like water, is best added in a series of small doses so soil has adequate time to distribute and digest it. After all, soil may get 25 or more inches of rain a year, but not all at once in a single event. We already know from research in the Amazon that dumping 5, 10, or even 20 tons of raw char all at once into poor soil retards plant growth for one year and maybe two. After that, though, plants erupt in impressive, vigorous growth.

But a dip in yield isn’t acceptable for production agriculture. Farmers can’t wait a year or two to harvest a profit­able crop. Professional growers need fast response and strong stimulus to growth. Economics and handling logistics require convenience and low cost, with vigorous growth from minimal applied material.

Fortunately, we are learning how to prepare char for optimum results in soil and on crops. Biochar research in America is hardly 10 years old, but solid research shows that properly prepared, intelligently applied biochar has dramatic effects on soil structure and plant growth at as little as 500 pounds per acre.

There are four fundamental steps for optimally preparing biochar for use in soil: moisten, mineralize, micronize, and microbial inoculation. Continue Reading →