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Share your biochar experiences

 
Paul Carson
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Hey Permies, hope everyone is doing well.

I’m looking to start a few new garden beds in the spring, and want to incorporate biochar into them as an experiment. I've been doing research, but I'd like to hear your firsthand accounts. What would you recommend as a good ratio of char to soil? Did you inoculate it first, or use it as is? And finally.. what were your results? Thanks for the wisdom.

 
allen lumley
pollinator
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Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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Paul Carson : Unfortunately we do not have a dedicated Biochar Forum Thread YET, perhaps you can help chance that ! There are
frequent comments made in the Huglecultur Section and in the Energy Forum Threads Bio-Gas (wood gases) as well as in the
alternative energy forum / threads !

At the righthand top of this page between the Permies banner, and the Permies Video of the week, is the Permies Toolbox, finding the
[search] tab and clicking on it will allow you to enter bio-char in the search field, set your search for all forums and do a Permies wide
search of our 10,000s of threads !

As every new thread is made and posted our Permies computer looks for keywords and posts a list of similar threads at the very bottom of
the page, - this page this is an often overlooked resource good luck and good hunting ! For the Good of the Crafts! BIG AL
 
Ghislaine de Lessines
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Location: Vermont, annual average precipitation is 39.87 Inches
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I don't have any first hand experiences but this article I recently posted in the Soil forum does: http://www.examiner.com/article/the-experimental-biochar-terrace-garden
It includes three years worth of work in one garden. I found it inspiring to give it a go myself.
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
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Location: Western Washington
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This was my first season using char and I am absolutely and completely sold on it. Everything I used it on did great. Some of my plants where insane. I was shocked. Fast growth, great yields, and generally healthy vigorous plants. As far as inoculation. If you are buying 'bio-char' it should already be ready to go other wise it would just be 'char'. If you are preparing it yourself you will defiantly need to inoculate it to see positive results quickly. I have never done so, but I really like the Idea of layering on top of compost. Dump rubbish on heap, top with char, repeat, occasionally toss compost. That sounds like a super way to make some soil. What I've been doing, due to my abundance of goose shit and duck down is to mix these with char and water and aerate for a few weeks in a garbage can. I have done this for all my char and as I have said, it works wonders. As far as volume and ratios. Supposedly a little goes a long way, but I have been using quite a bit, and it doesn't seem to have any adverse affects. My mix for potting is about 40 percent crushed char (with lots of pea gravel sized bits left in), 40 percent aged alder leaf mold, and 20 percent sand. Tomatoes, squashes, and other exotics did extremely well starting out in these on a window sill in march and april. For my beds I use A mix of about 50% char and 50% woodchips, around one 5 gallon bucket for every square yard dug into a depth of a foot or so. That's my experience at the moment. I will have a least twice as much by this time next year.
 
Paul Carson
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Thanks for the replies so far Permies.

Allen- Thanks for the tip. I wasn't sure where to post this question, but it's great to know how to search all the forums. A separate biochar forum would be an excellent addition to a great site.

Ghislaine- An excellent link. Very inspiring, thank you!

Landon- Thanks for your reply! It's great to hear that you've had huge success with it. Using the search, I actually found another thread you'd replied in, saying you had plants that were 3X the size of the non-char plants. That speaks volumes for how effective biochar can be.

 
gani et se
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Location: Douglas County OR
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Just wanted to correct that unless it says it is inoculated or charged, it isn't. Really though, it's not that big a deal. Soak it in a dilute urine solution, charge it with compost tea, or just put it on the soil instead of in it to allow the soil microorganisms to begin to colonize it.
From my friend who is in his 4th year of having biochar in the soil: He does cover cropping, no other nitrogen fertilizer. He has had to add some calcium this year, as the rain still leached out enough to make his soil deficient. His cation exchange capacity jumped 10 points between last year and this year.
We have gotten over an inch of rain in the last 48 hours, almost 4 this month. Very squishy in the clay. In my soil that has only biochar added -- I can put in a shovel, and the dirt crumbles. Bloody miracle, that.
Good luck!
Gani
 
Philip Small
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Location: Spokane, WA
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gani et se wrote:Just wanted to correct that unless it says it is inoculated or charged, it isn't.


I want to add my support to this statement. The "bio" refers to plays-well-with-biology. 2 Examples of straight-up-char type Biochar:

Josiah Hunt / PacificBiochar's California Black Lite Biochar.

Renel Anderson / Biochar Supreme's Black Owl Biochar line of products - not inoculated or charged unles specified. Biochar can perform very well without charging or innoculation.

Renel used her BOB char at 5 and 10% by volume (potting trials, field trials on 5" depth soil basis) and got phenomenal results for her peonie farm: earlier plant division (can do in 1 year vs 2 yrs normal), more blooms, elimination of three fungal diseases common to peonies farms in the region, higher root biomass.
 
Philip Small
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Location: Spokane, WA
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Paul Carson wrote:... looking to start a few new garden beds in the spring, and want to incorporate biochar into them as an experiment. I've been doing research, but I'd like to hear your firsthand accounts. What would you recommend as a good ratio of char to soil? Did you inoculate it first, or use it as is? And finally.. what were your results? Thanks for the wisdom.
Since you (thankfully!) don't mention complicating considerations like soil type, regional climate, plants involved, biochar source, limits on biochar availability, reliance on compost and cover crops, supplemental irrigation/grey water system if any, we can keep this pretty simple. Common advise for a first time application is to apply 5-10% by volume worked into the soil on 5" soil depth basis prior to planting.

I suggest you first do a container study or limited plot study with your garden soil. Classic is 0%, 5%, 10% by volume the biochar. Add a 50% test if you can work it in. I routinely use 50% by volume simple biochar (freshly made, odor free, non-oily, low ash, low bulk density, woody biomass, high temperature, low volatile matter, 1/4" max size) in my soil blocks for starting plants. The mix is richly inoculated and charged. Works very well.

You do these 0-5%-10%-50% rate studies to assure you not are grossly mismatching your biochar to your garden ecosystem. Rather than go down the list of often obvious, often classic mistakes, just grow something and revel in the feedback. The 50% by vloume rate can give you a clue what too much biochar looks like.

Plant a legume (beans or peas. look for a sometimes dramatic increase in nodulation) and plant some other favorites garden plant varieties you are familiar with. I use tat soi, basil, summer squash, kale - they seem to respond to biochar in my soil. In my experience, the first noticible effect as biochar test rates increase are typically 1) better germination, and 2) more / earlier rooting. Other effects to look for are thicker stems, and increased drought resistance from improved water holding capacity. Another effect I commonlty see is that when the soil surface remains intact through a moist period, there is indigenous biology on the surface. Also commonly observed are improved soil aggregation, more vitality in the soil odor, and it is easier to wriggle your fingers into the soil.

Use this container/plot observations to derive a volume rate for use in your garden. Many of us use a 5" basis. Biochar a 1/2 inch deep incoporated to 5" is 10% by volume.

In my experience, you can see germination and earlier rooting andnodulation effects at rates lower than ones which get you a noticeably visible improvement in yield. Yield effects are better evaluated by measuring harvest. Your abilities may be better than mine, but I find that an increase in yield is invisible to me util it pushes 50% The biochar plot study I participated in this spring (AgEnergy Solutions barley stubble gasifier biochar, Biochar Supreme woody proprietary process biochar) both biochars had a 30-50% increase in spring wheat yield (33 - 38 bushels, up from 26 bushels) at 3200 lbs/acre biochar or about 2% by volume (5" soil depth basis). I could not see the improved yield by looking for differences in the standing grain plot by plot.

We think our wheat plot results speak to the low pH of the soils (big problem in the Palouse, where 100K acres have been acidified by ammonia base fertilizer use) and better water handling capability in a drought year. We applied the biochar later than planned, only a few hours before the spring wheat was seeded, and we expected _no_ results since the seed was placed below the biochar, and no rains showed up to wet the upper soil, kick in the biology, or attract rooting above the planting depth. Yet something positive clearly happened as a result of adding the biochar.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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