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Recent Bio-char Study!

 
Roberto pokachinni
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Greg Martin
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Wow Roberto, thank you so much for posting this.  Very interesting read.  I'll be going over this article a few more times. 
 
Marco Banks
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For those who don't want to read the entire study (which is VERY impressive and well conducted):

Biochar added to a soilless potting mixture suppressed FORL crown and root rot of tomato and simultaneously improved tomato plant growth. By and large, biochar concentration and type had significant effects on plant performance and disease suppression, which increased with biochar concentration. There were no effects of biochar amendments on leaf nutrient status, plant tissue stability, photosynthetic pigmentation, or potting mixture water status. However, net photosynthesis rate, stomatal conductance, transpiration rate and electron transport rate increased following biochar amendments. Biochar amendments significantly shifted microbial community structure and functional potential of rhizosphere microbial community. Amendment with biochar also resulted in an increase in microbial taxon and functional diversity, microbial activities, and abundance of several groups closely related to biocontrol and plant growth promoting agents.



In short, in this comprehensive study, we have shown there is a strong link between biochar-induced changes in microbial community structure, taxon-functional diversity and microbial activity and resultant soilborne disease suppression and enhanced plant performance. These results put the rhizosphere microbiome in the center of the broad, multi-mechanism model that envisions the impact of biochar on plant performance and health to be a function of complex interactions between many physical, chemical and biological components of the soil-plant-pathogen system7,13. This concept, whereby the rhizosphere microbiome plays a central role in the biochar effect, is illustrated in Fig. 9. It conforms to the emerging view that there is a strong link between taxon and functional diversity in the rhizosphere microbiome and enhanced ecosystem functioning74,75,76, plant productivity 21,71 and plant resistance to diseases caused by soilborne pathogens19,20,72,73.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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I'm glad you liked it, Greg.

Thanks for giving us the succinct breakdown Marco!
 
Todd Parr
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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I'm glad to see this.  I made another batch of charcoal this weekend.  As a batch finishes, I crush it and put it in my chicken coop.  When I clean the coop, it goes to a compost pile or directly onto a garden area.  Much of the research I've read about biochar shows little difference to the control, and that is a little disheartening.  I continued anyway, based on the fact that the charcoal should absorb odors, nitrogen and moisture from the chicken coop, so it wouldn't hurt.  It's nice to see that isn't the only benefit I'm getting.  Thanks for posting, and thanks Marco for the summary.
 
Marco Banks
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I'm skeptical of many things that are commonly promoted in permaculture circles.  Bio-char is one of those things.  (Don't get me going on the inflated claims of things like dynamic accumulators or the odd claims of biodynamics).  I've done a bit of personal experimentation with biochar in my own garden and haven't seen any sort of miraculous results.  Perhaps its because people tend to exaggerate the benefits of biochar in order to get people to adapt it.  When it's sold as a one-size-fits-all miracle cure to any garden problem, how can it end up doing anything OTHER than disappoint?

But this study seems totally legit and thoughtfully conducted.  The results of the study do not promise miracle cures or an end to all the worlds problems.  Their conclusions are modest and realistic: biochar is helpful in a limited sort of way.

The long-term benefits of using biochar certainly seem to make sense scientifically. 

1.  The biochar provides a "reef" for biologic life to attach to.  It adds to the "hosting" capacity of soil for bacterial and fungal life.

2.  The study shows that there is a clear difference in helping plants fight common pathogens that lead to plant unhealth.

3.  Biochar assists in both better soil drainage as well as soil water holding capacity (as all soil carbon tends to do).

4.  Biochar acts to catch nutrients as they move through the soil profile so they don't wash through so quickly.  Biochar isn't exactly a nutrient sponge per se, but rather, as soil biota colonize the tiny pieces of biochar, they are more able to "grab" the N, K, and P as it washes by. 
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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So, what I like about the study is that it was very thorough and had a lot of controls.

What I don't like about it, was that the char was not amended/inoculated before being added to the soil, so it wasn't really biochar; it was char and was being fertilized via watering the soil from above (albeit a very efficient drip irrigation) with a designed fertilizer.

I'm curious what the results might have been had the char been inoculated before being added to the soil, and the soil simply watered in the biochar samples in the experiment with straight water; all others being fertilized via the watering method described.

 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
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