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Plants to avoid putting biochar near

 
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As some of you have seen from my thread about posting biochar results, I have put biochar around the dripline of most of my pie cherry trees.  However, there are a few that I haven't put biochar around.  That is because one had an evergreen huckleberry plant right next to it.  Another had a regular blueberry plant next to it.  They both love acidic soils.  Since biochar has ash in it, I have avoided putting it next to acid soil loving plants.  Ash is quite alkaline.  I moved both of those plants and I am going with the biochar there this year.  Are there other plants that you avoid putting biochar near? Anyone have any results, either positive, negative or neutral of biochar near a particular plant that surprised you?

Thanks,

John S
PDX OR
 
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I use the char I sift from my ashes as mulch around plants in containers in its coarse state. So far I have not had any plants seem to suffer from it. Tomatoes and peppers seem to thrive with this mulch.  It gradually becomes biochar as it gets incorporated into the soil as I reuse it. The char is a very effective mulch, insinuative, weed free, stable non degrading while still being friendly to plant and soil life.
 
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From my experience, potatoes don't like to be in contact with biochar.

I had some mixed in into my soil where I planted them (I had added wood ash from my stove) and the potatoes ended up with small black crusty spots on the skins in places where they appeared to be in contact with the charcoal.
It didn't seem to hurt the potato or make it inedible, just made for unattractive produce and might not be good for long term storage.

Causation vs correlation? ...I'm unsure. I can't find the source of where I found this explaination, but I haven't had this problem since I stopped planting them in areas with charcoal.  YMMV.
 
John Suavecito
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Good point Pete.  But noticing correlations is how we can start to test to see which is really causing or not.  One thing I've noticed that few people talk about with biochar, but really helps in my area is that it improves drainage. Water can flow through it, unlike some of our really compacted thick clay soil that we often get around here.  

I would avoid putting biochar around rhododendrons, azaleas, or any other really acidic soil loving plant, but I wouldn't hesitate to put it by any sort of neutral or alkaline soil loving plant.

John S
PDX OR
 
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Pete Podurgiel wrote:From my experience, potatoes don't like to be in contact with biochar.

I had some mixed in into my soil where I planted them (I had added wood ash from my stove) and the potatoes ended up with small black crusty spots on the skins in places where they appeared to be in contact with the charcoal.
It didn't seem to hurt the potato or make it inedible, just made for unattractive produce and might not be good for long term storage.

Causation vs correlation? ...I'm unsure. I can't find the source of where I found this explaination, but I haven't had this problem since I stopped planting them in areas with charcoal.  YMMV.



Most probably Black Scurf  However it could be the change in pH that made them more susceptible
 
John Suavecito
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The change in Ph is the reason I'm concerned.  Of course, there could be something else as well.  That's why I'm asking.  That's why sharing experiences like we do on permies will help us figure out what to do for optimal plant growth.
John S
PDX OR
 
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John Suavecito wrote:The change in Ph is the reason I'm concerned.  Of course, there could be something else as well.  That's why I'm asking.  That's why sharing experiences like we do on permies will help us figure out what to do for optimal plant growth.
John S
PDX OR


John, have you seen or done any testing that indicates that biochar affects pH? You seem more experienced with it than me but I was under the impression that it acts as a pH buffer (holds the soil near neutral) and that the effect was minor, very localized, and due to increased microbial acrivity. I added a fair but of bone char that I made.to our containers that hold berries (blue berries, black berries, black raspberry, red raspberry, and some wild berry that I found but haven't identified). So far everything  seems happy (applied last spring) but the blue berries are rescues so its hard to gauge their health although they certainly still seem to be recovering from their neglect.
Interesting topic that I definitely never considered, I'm excited to hear what other thoughts folks have
 
John Suavecito
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For years, no one planted blueberries in their yards because the prevailing wisdom was that they "can't be planted in a yard. Only grown in nature".  Then through testing, people found that you can grow blueberries in your yard, but that they are much happier and likely to thrive in acidic soil.  I have done testing with ash to confirm that it is alkaline. This is common knowledge.  It's also common knowledge by now that blueberries normally thrive in acidic soils.  I have read extensively that biochar, which almost always retains some amount of ash, is alkaline. One source suggested that the only positive impact of biochar in gardening is that it makes the soil more alkaline. I don't think that is true. The soil where I live is naturally acidic, so I  first started using biochar with plants that preferred neutral to alkaline soils.  It has been very effective.

Your post is exactly what I'm looking for in this thread: to try to get a pulse from gardeners to see if they can notice effects on plants from biochar, both positive and negative.

Thanks,
John S
PDX OR
 
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I would think that any acid-loving plants would have a problem with fresh biochar as it is by nature a more alkaline amendment, particularly if it is unwashed and not amended with acidifying innoculants.  

That said, it's alkaline nature, as noted, is due to the wood ash.  There has been a lot of literature mentioning the problems of certain plants with wood ash, and this should give you the lists you are seeking, John.  

Wood ash, when used in the garden or when observed after a forest fire, provides a limited and relatively short term effect of boosting it's potassium and other minerals and thus acts as a fast acting fertilizer, but this diminishes over time (depending on the depth/volume of ash and the ability of the plants to deal with the alkaline nature.  The same diminishing nature would be true of the ash in biochar (and I think that this would be even quicker due to the relatively small amount of ash), and as such the negative effects in regards to excess alkalinity should diminish accordingly, leaving the carbon matrix of the char, it's inoculants, and the resulting microbial populations to live on after the fact.  

I would think that by washing out the ash from the char, by inoculating the char with acidifying amendments, or by mixing it with high ratios of acidifying elements such as peat, a person can mitigate or neutralize the alkaline nature right from the start.  

Potatoes will get scab and other biological problems when soil becomes too alkaline, and that is proven.  Scab exists in all soils but it's population explodes in Alkaline soils, particularly if those soils are dry.  Consistant moisture increases a soil's acid producing bacteria and fungi, thus decreasing the alkalinity and the potential for scab population rising to the point of being a problem.  Soil that is super alkaline in the first place would take a lot of acidifying amendments to grow scab free potatoes, from what I understand.  
 
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Comments offered up by Roberto & Skandi likely have sourced the true root cause(s) of my potato scabbing. I have very acidic soils here (5-5.5) and had added the wood ash to help neutralize before planting.
I also remember that year being dry and trying to hill the plants with dry soil. So perhaps using true Bio-char (sans the wood ash) is OK for potatoes

Thanks to all for the input/knowledge, this is why I love this forum.

Best regards.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I use the char I sift from my ashes as mulch around plants in containers in its coarse state. So far I have not had any plants seem to suffer from it.

 I have thoughts and dreams about using biochar and non-inoculated pyrolisis produced char as surface mulch in my gardens (mixed with chopped straw and leaves maybe).  My hope is that this will create slow incorporation, without tilling, while providing many of the benefits of mulch while alsor providing a black surface which will increase heat in my cold sensitive area.  I would limit this type of mulch directly around strawberries or potatoes unless I added a lot of peat, some forest soil, or a trace of agricultural grade sulfur.  I have a local source of peat (a farmer dug up a lot to make a pond and said I can come any time to get it, and he will load my truck, and the local poplar forests create a nice low acid high fungal soil and mulch, so for me, I am rich in possible additions for biochar.
 
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Now I'm curious and will have to test the pH of the compost I have brewing. Other than the bone char that I made myself, inoculated in urine and then an aerated tea and spread around my container plants I have only ever added it to compost-in-progress.
The stuff I have going now has a ton of biochar in it because I simultaneously inhereted about 10 gallons of very well made biochar and moved to a much tighter garden space where the only compost area is very shady and damp. To add to the cool wet conditions in have been anaerobically fermenting our kitchen waste with bokashi which works great but makes a super wet and slimy compost input. Anyway my solution to this has been to mix random soil/compost tidbits in have collected up and lots of biochar between layers of goopy kitchen scraps and sparse yard waste "browns".
I could test the pH of the leachate from my kitchen bokashi too and then test the pH of the finished compost and see how they differ.
I'll also keep a closer eye on the blue berries with this on mind, but their conditions are so far from ideal that I fear I could only confidently report if the char seemed to be part of a massive improvement
 
Hans Quistorff
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From the potato growing farmers in north Maine I learned that the black scab spots on their potatoes showed up where forest leaves or clover were tilled into the soil at planting. Perhaps because potatoes in there native soil did not have an abundance of bacterial activity surviving the dry season the tubers lack resistance to the bacteria transferring to the skin of the tuber for moisture.  I have noted that russet  potatoes are much more resistant to those bacterial spots than smooth skin potatoes. I have also noted that potatoes planted in sand with mulch on top have little black scab compared to those in the same sand with a lot of bacterial dominant organic material incorporated. I am about to make another potato planting so I will make a trial of non inoculated char for observational comparison.
As we make biochar from the char we make it may pay to make batches that incorporate bacterial culture and separately fungal culture and a mixture to trial with different plants.  
 
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:

 My hope is that this will create slow incorporation, without tilling, while providing many of the benefits of mulch while also providing a black surface which will increase heat in my cold sensitive area.  



Roberto,  I have spread biochar (first soaked in urine) a half dozen places on the surface in my yard.  From March 10 to May 10.  I am testing the temperature, moisture, and PH of the soil directly under the char and 1 foot nearby every 4 or 5 days.  Consistently, the soil underneath is cooler and wetter!  Wetter is to be expected; it acts like any mulch to preserve moisture.  But cooler, in spite of being a black surface?  I will now try testing it during the night; maybe it will be warmer than the surrounding soil.  Quite possibly, the extra moisture is making the temperature more stable.  In any event, consistently, seeds sprout more quickly than under 3 other different mulches or no mulch, and grass has doubled the growth of that in nearby soil.     PH testing has had erratic results so far.

Ray

 
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Woah. That's very interesting, Ray. I have a bunch of biochar awaiting inoculation. I can't wait to read the results of your night time testing.
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