Terra preta from the Amazon had "plant residues, animal feces, fish and animal bones, pottery shards and other organic wastes." This is from "The Biochar Debate" by James Bruges. It is a small book, 2009, Chelsea Green.
Is anyone else actively putting waste materials on their biochar? As I mentioned in other posts, I am adding flour and ag lime/minerals to it. I am going to start adding those things to the biochar before I inoculate it.
However, the evidence from archaeologists finds that there is no clear line of abrupt change in their biochar unearthing. This suggests that their civilization lasted for thousands of years uninterrupted until the people were wiped out by European diseases. It adds more evidence to the idea that civilizations destroy themselves by destroying their soil. It also leads one to believe that they understood how to continue a healthy civilization for a very long time, and that adding some of these various wastes contributed to the high levels of minerals such as zinc, phosphorus, calcium, and nitrogen still in their soils. Biochar seems to prevent leaching of a lot of minerals from soils, which is a serious bonus in high rainfall areas.
I am intrigued by these findings. One problem on a practical level that I have, is that one year after I have dug my biochar in a ring around the dripline of the tree, I can mostly guess where it is, but I can't really see it. There are often leaves and wood chips covering them. Although they might be included in what could be called the organic wastes that seem to have been put to maintain the fertility of the biochar, I can't see it.
One practice I have started with is adding what I can easily add to the biochar line. I often have partially rotten apples that I am eating throughout the gardening off season. I try to throw those onto the line of the biochar. I haven't biocharred around the soil by appletrees yet, and I am putting the rotten apples on the biochar of other trees. I think I will continue with my practice of adding rotten fruit to the biochar of other species of trees. In addition, when I have to go out to the yard to take a whiz, I intentionally aim to send that source of nitrogen onto the biochar. We seem to have had only brief discussions of bone biochar. I don't want to put out unaltered meat bones, as they may attract vermin. I may try to lightly burn them and add them to the biochar mix. I would think that this would be a great opportunity for humanure, for those who are involved in that practice.
What wastes are you putting or are you considering putting on your biochar?
hau John, Terra Preta did not actually have items "put on" the items you mention were actually part of the "junk pile" or "refuse heap" which in todays world are termed "Dumps".
When the "Dump" was full the inhabitants burned the giant pile of garbage, once the burn was completed (fire probably burned out) they would spread the remains of the fire so they could once again build a new garbage dump heap.
This activity continued for over 500 years that we know of and probably far longer as you mention.
The term "Bio Char" is a recent term, given to distinguish newly made charcoals that are then activated with biological organisms prior to spreading and digging into the soil.
The easiest method is to burn wood in the absence of oxygen or at least almost the absence of oxygen, then add the resulting "char" to a compost heap which will provide the bacteria and other microorganisms which will seek homes in the nooks and crannies of each piece of char.
When you then use the compost, you are also adding the char (now able to be called bio char) to the places you want to make such an addition to.
It should be noted that there have been at least 20 scientific papers written and published on this subject and one "little book" would not be the best place to reference for developing a plan to create your own Terra Preta.
It also should be noted that since the 1990's many companies have been opened to exploit the discovery of Terra Preta, all of which are trying to use smoke and mirrors to prove that you need to buy their product.
Making your own is easy and since all the microbiome organisms are everywhere, all you would need to do is replicate the original peoples method. Unless you just have to have instant results.
Great clarification, Redhawk.
It is useful to think about what the original project was to understand how we can adapt it to today. I'm pretty sure that neither my wife nor my neighbors are excited about me starting a giant garbage dump in the back yard. The nice thing about the Terra Preta version is that they didn't have toxic waste in there to contaminate everything, so the soil is still good to use 500-1000-? years later. I think I may experiment with different versions of adding bones, etc, partway into the char, at the beginning, during inoculation and after. Obviously, when I have already put the biochar into the ground, my only option is to place it on top of where I placed it into the ground and hope that it leaches into it. I will keep people posted on how everything seems to be working and I would love to hear what you all are doing as well.
On Buzzard's Roost I'm trying the original method minus the "trash or refuse" portion, meaning wood and other ignitable items only.
I make a pile of these materials then set it ablaze, tending the burn so I don't set my woods on fire. I tend to send a water mist over it if the flames get to high and I will douse the outer rim if it looks like it wants to escape from my designated burning area.
Once I have the charred remains I usually take the new materials and incorporate them into a compost heap, alternating layers until I have a 4 to 5 foot tall heap of compost and char layers.
This sits for around three months so the microbiome of the composting heap flourishes and ends up occupying the heap top to bottom, I might turn the heap once should it indicate the need for turning.
Once the heap is finished compost I simply use it, as is, to our garden beds. Lately one heap of this material tops off one to two of our raised garden beds, I just use it as mulch, letting nature work it into the soil via worms, harvesting and then removal of the spent plants, which go to a compost heap.
I've been doing this for one full year now and I expect to need at least two more years to get the beds all done with two layers of this mulch with char. At that point I plan to do some testing to see if I am close to true Terra Preta type soil.
My compost heaps contain plant and animal materials (meat, bone, and manures), sometimes I even add broken clay pots that I've smashed into small bits. My idea is that when I mix in the char, I am closer to what the amazonians were doing.
Hans Quistorff wrote:Note in this video that bones nutshells ect. can be turned into char using this method. Alternatively I use a long holow leg bone to add liquids to my wicking beds.
I crush mine that way except that I lay the bag in my driveway and drive over it as I'm going to work and back or wherever. I've been saving up bones that my dogs have cleaned for months now. I have enough to fill my retort with just bones, so I'll be trying this soon.
I incorporate my charcoal much like Redhawk describes. It is added to my chicken run and then composted, or added directly to the compost bin with everything else to be composted. 1 caveat. If you are trying for a certain percentage of charcoal to soil ratio, don't forget that your compost may shrink by 60% or so, and your charcoal won't :) If you start out with a 20% mix of charcoal to compost materails, you may end up with more like a 40 - 50% mix. Personally, I don't really worry about it, it's all an experiment to me.
The heap of compost and biochar etc, lit on fire method sounds like it could work well if you live in the country. I live in a suburb and I have no place for that. Even if I did, the neighbors would call a fire truck. After it's done cooking, but before I inoculate it, I put the biochar between two full panels of plywood and drive over it. It works well. Then I can inoculate it. The nice thing about this site is we can share ideas and adapt them to our particular circumstances.