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Biochar — The Grow Network Community
When in doubt, throw doubt out and have a little faith…

- E.A. Bucchianeri


Have you used or made biochar?

Does it have to be charged/activated?

Do you mix it in with compost? Can you just "layer" it?

How fine do you crush it?

So many questions! We have a fire pit that mostly the boys use, then before they come in, they wet it down, which makes awesome biochar. It's really pretty and crunchy and I have several 5 gallon buckets full, but there's all kinds of conflicting evidence about mixing it with compost or charging it with "stuff" (various complicated recipes with various ingredients) for 2 weeks, etc.

I have a large 30 gallon trashcan full of compost tea that I could soak it in and I'm pretty sure I remember David the Good just crumbling it on top with some compost and slightly raking it in. I don't recall him charging it. Have any of you made/used this and what method did you use and what were your results. The last thing I want to do is to steal nitrogen for a year (but then I heard for several years after that, the soil and benefits are awesome). I'm wondering if waiting til fall would work, so it can soak in all winter.

Your thoughts are appreciated.


  • CherlynnCherlynn Posts: 165 ✭✭✭

    I have a bag of it and was told to just mix it in with my organic matter. Haven't had a chance to try it out this year but the next growing area I will add it in.

  • EarlKellyEarlKelly Penn state master gardener Northeastern Pennsylvania zone 5bPosts: 230 ✭✭✭

    @KarynPennington if you go to you tube and look for edible acres my buddy Sean is extremely knowledgeable. He has a video where he makes the biochar in his wood stove. Very helpful info. His place is very interesting. Have made the trip a bunch of times for his trees and plants. Has many videos I’m sure you will find helpful. Hope this helps you and good luck.

  • judsoncarroll4judsoncarroll4 Posts: 2,378 admin
    edited January 22

    Cuatemoc Villa is one of my Permaculture teachers through Matt Powers' Advanced Permaculture course. He's a great guy and a real expert on biochar. Check out his videos on youtube https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=cuatemoc+villa He inoculates biochar with worm tea and water kefir

  • JensJens Posts: 393 ✭✭✭

    @KarynPennington you can use it straight out of the fire pit, well maybe crush it a bit finer. I use it as a sprinkle within the mulch layer.

    The enormous advantage of soaking it in compost tea, diluted urin, or any other liquid fertilizer is that you have it loaded witht he goodness and it will straigtaway release it over a long period and you have a long term fertilizer.

    If used straight on this propertie will only develop over time but work nevertheless.

  • probinson50probinson50 Posts: 49 ✭✭✭

    Biohar was featured in the documentary The Need to Grow: https://www.earthconsciouslife.org/theneedtogrow

  • 2017pams@gmail.com[email protected] Posts: 12 ✭✭✭

    I would sure like to try it in my garden. Need to ask my kids to create some or find some. I always love the experiment. My grandfather and I would talk of soil fertility in the 90s and that it was one of the biggest issue facing the world. He loved his acres of trees though he fed many people from his huge garden for 6 decades. Combining the 2 to solve this problem would have made him happy. We need to do more to make it available to ordinary people.

  • llvonnllvonn Posts: 18 ✭✭✭

    It is also useful for getting rid of odour. I had a minor issue with my chooks, some of their food spilt and got trampled and combined with the heavy rain started to smell a bit. A friend raked over the area with biochar and odour went away. Haven't had any problems since.

  • tomandcaratomandcara Colorado front range- Denver MetroPosts: 659 ✭✭✭✭

    @judsieffert and @probinson50 Thank you for the video links. Very informative.

  • flowerpower *flowerpower * Posts: 85 ✭✭✭

    @Annie Kate The charcoal seems to be helpful because it provides a huge surface area when helpful bacteria can work and can also be charged up with minerals somehow. I would suggest mixing charcoal, fertilizer from kelp, compost right into the soil. The plant roots need to be able to get at those materials. I have not used this method. I am stopped by how expensive and unavailable charcoal is. I think it needs to be made in a special burn process and is not just the regular campfire charcoal. Perhaps we should all start local production and sales?

  • flowerpower *flowerpower * Posts: 85 ✭✭✭
    edited November 16

    @judsoncarroll4 Your link got me started on searching YouTube videos which led me to a four part workshop on making biochar (biocharcoal, char). I have watched part 1 & 2 so far.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svNg5w7WY0k Part 1 Living Web Farms 2013

    Biochar is properly produced in a controlled burn, with little smoke (pollution), and resulting in charcoal, not ash. Before the charcoal can be used as a beneficial soil amendment it must be charged with nutrients and bacteria.

    The Terra Preta of the Amazon, estimated to be 1000 year old soil tended by pre Columbus Indigenous cultures is 10X more fertile (CEC of 222) than is the best glacial soil of North America (CEC 22), compared with sandy soil (CEC 3 to 5), based on "CEC", "cation exchange capacity". The peoples farming the Terra Preta built the soil with biochar charged with humanure.

  • TaveTave Posts: 204 ✭✭✭

    @Karyn Pennington David the Good does charge his biochar. In his current experiment, he used Dyna Grow. I just throw it in my DTG fetid swamp water:)

  • tomandcaratomandcara Colorado front range- Denver MetroPosts: 659 ✭✭✭✭

    @Tave May I ask what is "DTG fetid swamp water"?

  • TaveTave Posts: 204 ✭✭✭

    @tomandcara One of David the Good's free fertilizers. It smells really bad but plants love it:) Instructions start at minute 9:30

  • Annie KateAnnie Kate Eastern Ontario, CanadaPosts: 254 ✭✭✭

    @flowerpower * Thank you for sending me to this thread. Yay! We have a lot of wood ash from the fireplace, so I could probably sift the charcoal out of it and go from there. :)

    And thanks everyone for all the other links. I love making soil better!

  • tomandcaratomandcara Colorado front range- Denver MetroPosts: 659 ✭✭✭✭

    @Tave Thank you for the definition of "DTG fetid swamp water" and the video in your post with the time que for the "instructions" for that fetid swamp water. Makes a lot of sense. And his warning about chemical contamination of manure is a great warning.

  • flowerpower *flowerpower * Posts: 85 ✭✭✭

    @Annie Kate I am so enthused by the idea of building up soil with nutrient infused biochar. Also, biochar can be used to clean up petrochemicals and poisons in the soil. The workshop videos even show how to make your own biochar. Bob Wells grew a giant turnip in his enriched soil, cut it up and sold it all for $100.

  • Elizabeth VossElizabeth Voss Posts: 57 ✭✭✭

    @Annie Kate thanks for the new use of biochar. This is all new to me. Will definitely take a look at Bob Wells.

  • Elizabeth VossElizabeth Voss Posts: 57 ✭✭✭

    @tomandcara awesome video, thank you for sharing!

  • Elizabeth VossElizabeth Voss Posts: 57 ✭✭✭

    Appreciate the history you shared of how rich biochar can be for the soil - It is not an easy thing for me here - small no wood burning anything -and the wood here are eucalyptus - will keep eyes open and see what turns up by luck!

  • tomandcaratomandcara Colorado front range- Denver MetroPosts: 659 ✭✭✭✭

    Hi @Elizabeth Voss. Just wondering where you are with no burning anything rules? Not even a Charcoal grill?

  • flowerpower *flowerpower * Posts: 85 ✭✭✭

    @Elizabeth Voss Activated Biochar is also sold and can be applied to the top of the soil, right near where you plant according to one of the workshop videos.

    I just thought if people could help in the production and affordability the healing of the soil could commence far and wide. Healthier soil means healthier food, people and biosphere.

  • tomandcaratomandcara Colorado front range- Denver MetroPosts: 659 ✭✭✭✭

    @flowerpower * I am wondering which workshop video says it can be applied to the top of the soil, right near where you plant. I would think ( but I could be and frequently am LOL) that it should at least be worked into at least the top inch or so of soil to better incorporate the bacteria and whatever other living beasties are in the activated biochar into biosphere of the soil. One of the ways I learn is by being willing to admit I might be wrong

  • SlippySlippy Posts: 58 ✭✭

    Excellent info on Biochar. I really haven't thought about it but I'm always looking to amend my raised bed soil.

    Thanks all!

  • jodienancarrowjodienancarrow Mid North Coast AustraliaPosts: 652 admin

    @Karyn Pennington I stumbled across biochar recently. We had a large burn pile and this winter, we lit it up. I wasn’t happy with its position, so we have a new burn pile spot. So the old one had heaps of compost as well as the burnt timber. I went through the pile and threw out any timber unburnt, forked it through, raked it into a tidy pile, added sugar cane mulch and thoroughly wet it. Gave it 2 or 3 weeks to settle and then planted my pumpkin seedlings into it. Wow, you should see them now. They are so healthy and growing like triffids, flowers, fruit. I’m impressed. From now on I’ll be saving my ashes/coals from our fireplace in the house, letting them cool and fork them through my gardens beds. This as well as homemade liquid fertiliser and worm tea, I’ll never buy store bought fertiliser again.

  • seeker.nancy - Central Texasseeker.nancy - Central Texas Posts: 698 ✭✭✭✭

    A neighbor of mine has a burn pile for limbs and prunings (and mine as well lol). I saw him today as he was leaving his house and asked if it was okay if I got some ash and such from the pile. Thought he was going to die laughing 😂. He told me there wa a wheelbarrow back there if I wanted to use it.

  • dottile46dottile46 Posts: 391 ✭✭✭

    Help! I thought biochar could only be produced by pyrolysis.

    "Pyrolysis is a process by which a solid (or a liquid) undergoes thermal degradation into smaller volatile molecules, without interacting with oxygen or any other oxidants" https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/pyrolysis

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