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Biochar in wood stove  RSS feed

 
Mike Jay
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Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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Hello permies.  I'm sure everyone's seen this before but me.  I watched this Edible Acres video a couple weeks ago and just tried this in the last couple days.  It works great and you get to keep the heat inside the house.  We used a stainless steel pot with a decent lid.  This time of year we only need dinky fires so having the char pot on one side of the stove and some small wood on the other side to keep everything burning works great.  We're getting about three batches a day and I've almost filled a 5 gallon bucket with char.  Now I just need to get better at crushing it up and I need to figure out how to turn it from char into biochar.  Time to research...

 
Greg Martin
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Location: Maine, zone 5
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Hi Mike, Biochar is charcoal made in such a way as to make it most suitable for the soil.  That means making it at a proper temperature more than anything, which is between 400-500 degrees Celsius (the temperature where the char is just starting to glow during the pyrolysis process).  This gives the best balance of properties to the char you'll want for the soil.  At that point it is Biochar, but it's just not ready for soil incorporation....i.e. not charged up with nutrients and "redecorated" by soil microorganisms.  To do that send your Biochar through your compost pile.  I put 2" in the bottom of my compost bucket every time I empty it to help keep the bucket from getting stinky.  Then every time I empty the bucket I'm incorporating Biochar into the pile.  The compost pile will get hotter and compost better, and the Biochar will absorb nutrients that would otherwise leach out or vaporize off.  Also use Biochar as part of a sheet mulch or in the bedding for animals.  Good going on making your own Biochar!!!
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks Greg, that's a good way to incorporate it evenly over time.  I'm pounding it with a 2x4 in a 5 gallon bucket.  It ends up anywhere from dust size to 1" cube.  Should I be mashing it until the big pieces are smaller than that? 
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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The main thing you need to do, besides crushing it as you mentioned Mike, is inoculating.  You can do that, as Greg suggested, but there are other ways. 

A bucket full of char can be inoculated by urinating in it, or by mixing up some compost tea or manure tea or nettle tea, or comfrey tea, and putting it in the bucket.  You can inoculate it in any number of ways... but that is the essential step that you need to do after crushing and before applying it to the soil. 

Get some nutrients and get it into the crazy honeycomb matrix of the char.  The biology will get caught up in all the small corners of the crevices of the char structure, and as a result will be teaming with microbial life.  Once it is added to the soil, the multifaceted colonies have a habitat/refuge, from which to grow and expand into the rest of the soil.  The char serves as a matrix for small water catchments, which also boost microbial life, and when these overflow, it spills microbes out!  The char also serves as an aggregate like sand, but with all the above mentioned benefits.     
 
Mike Jay
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Yup, I knew I needed to charge it to turn the "char" into "biochar".  I was assuming that I'd use direct contact between the char and the compost pile or some kind of compost tea to inoculate it.  I hadn't thought of pee.  I know that would give it plenty of Nitrogen but would it give the char any biology?
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
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Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Char is a great way to neutralize the smell of urine, and the urine's nitrogen combines well with the carbon dust in the microscopic corners of the char to create pretty much instant compost... so there's that. That compost will attract microbes like crazy.    Probably not much biology directly in the urine (though I don't know this for certain), but the high nitrogen in that urine batch will be very useful as an additive to the soil, and plants will go for it with their feeder hair roots. 

You could, for instance have a manure batch, a urine batch, a nettle tea batch, a comfrey batch, a horsetail batch, a yarrow batch, and an actively aerated compost tea batch, and you might mix them so that you get this huge variety of biochar aggregates when you put out your biochar, instead of just one type, like say just manure tea. 

The char is a matrix for water, nutrients, and microbes, and air.  Eventually you will likely see (under a scanning electron microscope), much of the chambers within the structure of the char, filled with mostly microbial colonies and fungal networks, regardless of what was originally used to inoculate it. 

 
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