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Activating/inoculating biochar -- advice?

 
Dave de Basque
Pie
Posts: 100
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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I'm getting ready to put together about 25m2 (250 sq ft) of raised beds and am planning my biochar strategy.

My big questions are:
--What to inoculate with? And how much?
--How to do it exactly?

I live in the Basque Country of Spain, so climate is similar to Pacific Northwest of the States, with variable weather that usually includes a lot of rain. Late tomato blight/mildew is our arch-nemesis here and growing healthy tomato plants with a minimum of inputs would be the local holy grail. But I will have a very diverse vegetable garden with a lot more than just tomato, a little bit of everything. No trees or shrubs allowed in this community garden though.

I'm planning to mix 10 or 12% biochar mixed in with maybe equal parts bagged compost, sand and aged sheep manure. Sound like a good mix?

Inoculants for my biochar -- good idea?:

--SDC BioAg (similar to EM)

--Some kind of endo mycorrhizal fungi (the kind for veggies) -- does it matter whose brand? Or should I forget inoculating and just put the powder on the roots of my plants and on my seeds?

--CustomBio/BiotaMax combo of supposedly beneficial bacteria and fungi
(Bacteria are (Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus laterosporus, Bacillus licheniformus, Bacillus megaterium, Bacillus pumilus plus Paenibacillus polymyxa and fungi are Trichoderma harzianum, Trichoderma viride, Trichoderma koningii, Trichoderma polysporum)

--Actinovate (streptomyces lydicus bacteria)

--Sea Crop sea minerals, minus the salt

--Unsulphured molasses to give all the little critters some lunch

Planning to just mix up a couple gallons of water with the package-recommended doses of all the above for treating soil, all in the same batch, and spray down the ground-up biochar, turning it often to soak everything well. Then just mix it in with the dry compost, wetting it down some with the same stuff as I go, the sheep manure and the sand. Spray, mix, turn, spray, mix, turn.

Any experience with any of these inoculants or opinions about my "cocktail" and planned means of applying it are welcome.

Another detail -- I can't afford to wait weeks while my biochar charges/settles/whatever, I need to get planting pronto!

Thanks



 
Rhys Firth
Posts: 120
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From a distiller/homebrew perspective, Molasses actually is deficient in many nutrients, making rum et al needs supplementing the molasses (flavour) with other nutrients, typically DAP (DiAmmoniaumPhosphate) or other nutrient source. Molasses is low in nitrogen and other protein precursors the yeast needs, it provides sugars and not much more.

Instead of Molasses add a pottle of tomato pasta paste, it has all the nutrients needed and is cheap and readily obtained.
 
Dave de Basque
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Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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Wow... tomato paste! I love permies, who ever thought of tomato paste as a soil amendment? Funny enough, you can't get that here locally but I suppose just plain old tomato puree would do. Organic might cost me a pretty penny though, it's about €2/liter and I think it might take a passle of liters to feed a half a cubic meter of biochar. Do you have a cheap online source of large quantities of organic tomato paste mayhaps? If not, I may have to consider other alternatives...

This whole issue brings to mind, I was a bit worried that my plants and seeds (which I will plant almost immediately after making my beds) won't have too much to eat right at first. Lots of root-lickin' long-term goodness, but perhaps not enough nitrogen and phosphorous at first. Aged sheep (and goat) manure, local lore says, gives the best results of all manures, but stats I see for "average" sheep manure say it's a bit weak on the phosphorous, and I DO want my plants to bear fruit! And some stuff I've read says that pretty much all compost and aged manure is weak on nitrogen in the short-term, the release is long-term.

Poultry manure seems to be high in phosphorous, but honestly I'd rather be burned alive than buy any proceeds of a poultry CAFO.

Perhaps I should just add a balanced organic 5-5-5 or 15-15-15 or whatever fertilizer to my cocktail above?
 
Rhys Firth
Posts: 120
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You can do what the brewers do and use DAP, available from any good garden centre or from a homebrew shop.

It's used as a yeast nutrient in the brewing wash.


As to the volume of paste, the first recipe I checked on the distillers forum used 3 cups (.75L, ( your cost 1.5EUR)) to provide nutrients for enough yeast to digest 18 Kg of sugar in a 80 litre wash. Another uses 13 tablespoons of DAP and 4 crushed daily health MultiVitamin tablets to provide nutrients to digest the sugar in 3 gallons of Blackstrap molasses, (between 40 and 60 % sugar content, call it 1.5 gallons sugar whatever that is in Kg/Lb).

Since there are already nutrients available in the compost and manure you are planning to add, you aren't needing to provide everything, just to supplement what is already available. Adding DAP would provide the Phosphorus you want, and the itty bitty bugs will happily use the nitrogen in the ammonium, just like yeast in a brew barrel. A cup of DAP or a litre of puree/paste should be plenty.


As I read your posts, you are planning to effectively make compost tea, add it to the biochar and dig it all in to let it colonise the biochar while in the soil. Someone more familiar with biochar may have a different view, but I can't see much difference between allowing them to colonise it in the soil and allowing it to colonise it in the tub of compost tea. It will happen either way, just more likely to be slower in the soil.
 
Robin Katz
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Dave,

My advice as an ex-activated carbon researcher is that you will want to fill up all the available adsorption sites in the biochar before putting it in the soil. Biochar is not activated (which increases pore volume and activity of sites) but it can adsorb a LOT of nutrients. Over time the pores will become colonized with bacteria and other nice bugs, but initially it could pull nutrients from your soil instead of enhancing it. Your idea about soaking it in a compost tea is a good one. Maybe add extra fertilizer (dissolved bat guano for N and seabird guano for phosphorus) to the tea and whatever isn't taken up by the char can be spread out into the rest of the garden.

Robin
 
Blake Wheeler
Posts: 166
Location: Kentucky 6b
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Why not just pee on it? Free and easy.

A recent podcast I listened to touched on it. Basically stated to pee on it then quit just as it develops a slight smell, then it should be good to use.
 
nancy sutton
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Posts: 594
Location: Federal Way, WA - Western Washington (Zone 8 - temperate maritime)
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Some ideas come to mind. Most of the nitrogen in sewage is in the urine. Also, the original terra preta in Latin America had biochar and also a lot of pottery shards. Pottery = clay. Which brings to mind bentonite clay (recommended by Eliot Coleman as a beneficial soil amendment, citing some German studies), which is what clay cat litter is. There is a clumping, and non-clumping variety. The clumping variety absorbs much more water than the non-, and can be bought, here in US, at feed stores for a reasonable price.
 
Jim Holmes
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Location: Magnolia, TX
books forest garden fungi
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I know this is an old thread and this is my first post here but I just wrote up an extensive article covering this subject exclusively Here on my website. I go into detail about how I did it and also 5 options from a video:

The next five methods are from an excellent video with Josiah Hunt from the Growing Your Greens youtube channel:

1.) Mix equal parts fresh green grass clippings and biochar. Mix together thoroughly and evenly. Cover and let cure in a dark moist place until grass is mostly composted (~2 months).

2.) Equal parts biochar and worm castings. Then 5% or less of any flour, corn meal or molasses. Cover and let cure for at least 2 weeks.

3.) Toss biochar in chicken coop bedding. This helps deodorize the coop and it gets inoculated with food scraps and chicken manure. Keep adding biochar to coop until it is time to clean out. Then pile up biochar and let cure.

4.) Pee on it. Seriously. This works. You can use a 5 gallon bucket with a few holes in the bottom.

5.) 4 parts biochar, 1 part micronized rock powder, 1 part worm castings, 1/2 part flour or molasses (microbe food). Mix together thoroughly and evenly. Cover and let cure for at least 2 weeks.
 
Jim Tuttle
Posts: 42
Location: Southern Oregon
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I started out with complicated recipes for making bio-char, but eventually settled on simply filling a bucket with char, and pouring in enough urine to cover it. Let it sit a few weeks, and use however. I've seen plants growing quite nicely in the buckets after they've been drained and sat around a while, with no obvious nutrient deficiencies.

Just use urine, it's free, easy, and most importantly, it works. Another method is simply composting with your other manures/greens/straw, also works fantastic, and probably adds plenty of micro organisms.

 
Ivan Weiss
Posts: 172
Location: Vashon WA, near Seattle and Tacoma
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Dave [surl='https://richsoil.com/diatomaceous-earth.jsp' class='api' title='diatomaceous earth article wrote:de[/surl] Basque]
--What to inoculate with? And how much?
--How to do it exactly?

Here's how I do it. I make a lot of "tea" out of comfrey, nettle, and any other dynamic accumulators I have on hand. I just compress the plant matter in a 55-gallon plastic drum that has a small hole in the bottom. I add NO WATER. I want the "tea" as concentrated as I can get it. The leafy matter eventually decomposes and liquefies. The "tea" dribbles out of the hole in the bottom into a basin, and then is poured into two-gallon jugs. I use one part of this to 20 parts of water, in a couple of five-gallon buckets, to quench my biochar burns. I burn my char in 55-gallon steel drums. The quench inoculates the char immediately. I don't worry about "how much" the char has been inoculated because it all goes into the compost anyway. I get that your needs are different.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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