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!! biochar vs hugelkultur  RSS feed

 
garrett lacey
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Location: Edmonton Alberta
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I'll offer my bit experience with charcoal in gardening:

A tenant in another suite of a house I was living in left behind a bag of charcoal for barbequeing. I kept it on my porch and peed on it for awhile until my partner told me it had to go. I put it right on top of the hugel beds I built. The soil I covered the mounds with is somewhat sandy and does not hold moisture well at the top of the pile. On the one that I added the charcoal to, the soil stays moist much longer at the top. So, perhaps a bit of char on top of a hugel is handy depending on your soil type and precipitation.
 
chris cromeens
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Wood gasification use it to run all gas engines the by product is biochar
 
Jay Angler
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I have done a bunch of reading about biochar over several years, most recently, "The Biochar Solution" by Albert K. Bates. Overall I suspect that the Amazonians mostly made biochar out of their "garbage", and that many of those against biochar are conserned that if Big Business gets involved it will not happen sustainably. I believe I'm making Biochar in a "permaculture" way, so here's my technique and I'm happy to have any feed-back pros or cons;

I cycle through a set of 3 old paint cans each with three 1/4 in holes drilled in the bottom.
I fill the cans with a mixture of: chipped and shredded tree branches (I use these for mulch, paths etc also, but some goes to biochar), dried "invasive" weeds (some grasses, morning glory roots, Himalayan blackberry roots, Canada thistle with roots), bones from chickens or other meat we've had (we're chicken farmers, so there are lots of chicken bones that have been put through the pressure cooker for soup stock), wood turning scraps from a neighbor's hobby, miscellaneous other organic matter like shells from nuts.
My husband sticks a can at the back of our Pacific Energy Woodstove (fairly efficient and legal for use - I'm not convinced I'd be able to get a Mass rocket stove past our Fire Chief) and builds the fire around it. When the fire burns down we remove it and set it on an old metal baking sheet to cool. It's important not to open the can until it's cool, as the oxygen could re-light it.
In the past I just added the biochar to my garden any time I was disturbing the soil anyway, and in relatively small quantities. With the more recent literature I've read, I'm now trying to "charge" it by making an aerated compost tea for 24 hrs, removing the compost, adding a bunch of the char and a cup or so of urine and bubbling it for another 24 hrs. I haven't been using this system long enough to be able to tell whether this extra effort will make a difference.
Mostly I use the char when building or remediating beds and put it down low (like at the wood level or under the wood in my new Hugelkulture beds). I put a bit in my seed starting mix, so that adds it gradually to the garden, but I suspect it's been slowing the plants down when I used it with out the compost tea. Slowing plants down a little has never worried me if I thought that over the long term the garden would be helped. I'm the type of person who plants a Monkey Puzzle Tree that won't produce seeds until I'm ready to be planted beside it! I'm living on Vancouver Island which is very wet in the winter and dry in the summer, so to me, biochar is one more tool to help hold nutrients in the wet season. We are very shaded with cedar forests around us, so we need to chip/shred branches when trees come down to keep the fire risk reasonable. Most people in this area burn their branches in open fires, and our method of "heating the house while making biochar" seems a definite improvement over an open fire.

To me, a central idea of Permaculture is small, local, multiple use and variety, and I feel that my version of Biochar fits that.



 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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IT appears that biochar reduces nitrous oxide emission from soils that are using animal manure.

Looks like a good study, and shows they are paying attention to sequestration techniques too...

http://m.phys.org/news/2013-04-biochar-nasty-nitrous-oxide-emissions.html
 
syb mundy
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Scott Reil wrote:Adding biology adds both fungal structures and bacterial polysaccharides that are about as sticky as anything on the planet. Inoculation should be enough to hold it in place, or better yet with a mix of compost; fungal composts for woodlands, bacterial composts for grasslands...

S
http://freelancebasixcertificates.com.au/freelance-energy-rating-services-2
 
Marco Banks
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Marc Flora wrote:
So, here is what I will try.  We have some aspen that are not doing well.  A few small remnant groves of trees that are small and not healthy.  I've thinned around them and directed some road runoff to them but they still don't look good a few years later.  Root disturbance is good thing with aspen ( to a limited degree )  so I will dig a small swale on contour along the upper edge of one small grove to catch, spread and sink runoff.  Immediately above this swale I will mark out one tenth of an acre and broadcast a ton of char.  The slope is 8 - 10%, representative of the rest of the place.  I figure that if the swale winds up catching a lot of char we better look for another application method. 

I just planted about 175 stems in the EFG using char in many of the holes.  I had two piles of topsoil that came from burning slash piles that were from decades-old logging.  One I just burned a few weeks ago, the other I burned last year.  I've gotten about ten cubic yards out of each.  These piles were loaded with char, rotted wood and lots of organic material.  I used this stuff in filling the tree holes since the subsoil here is basically rock.  (I've considered re-naming this place Pile-O-Rocks Permaculture) .  I also imported some topsoil - spoiling myself a little.  I tried to get a good mix for most of the fruit and nuts, but took a different course with a few trees.  I planted three each of Hawthorn, Manchurian Crab, Siberian Pear, and Wild Apple.  In one of each I tried in turn the new char soil, the year old char soil, and imported soil.  A few trees got a pretty heavy dose of char.  Any trees that die or fail to thrive will be dug up and the roots and soil examined.  ( I always do this)  If any trees do noticeably better than their neighbors we'll take a little core of the soil to see how much char there is.  Primitive - but I have to start somewhere.  Besides, primitive is what I do best.

The remnants of the two char and rotten wood soil piles are heaped into a berm about 20ft. long and 3 -4 ft. high.  the berm also has many old sticks in it.  Yup. Hugelkulter.


I'd love to resurrect this old thread in hopes that this individual is still around.  Enough time has passed to see if there was any significant difference with the trees he planted using biochar in comparison to those where he didn't.

I've been messing around with biochar myself for the better part of a decade now, ever since this old thread was active and before ---- and while I'm pretty sure that using biochar never hurt anything, I can't say that I've seen any sort of definitive difference due to the addition of biochar.  The two primary arguments for biochar, as I've come to understand it (and boil it down to a simple idea) is that the structure of the chunks of char creates a reef where microbial activity can attach and live, and a nutrient sink that stops the flow of valuable nutrients through the soil.  Basically, its a home/reef for beneficial microbes and fungi, and a baseball glove that catches nutrients as they flow past.

But any soil carbon does those two things.  A living root does all that and more, and should it die, it does those two functions for a limited amount of time until it decomposes and the carbon gasses off.

Anyone who was on this thread . . . are you still around?  What have you learned?
 
Jason Manning
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Kaiwiki Clay wrote:At this cost, it is not even close to economical for carbon sequestration - guilder trees being by far the better alternative. But I've had good resultsso far applying char at about 1 gallon (maybe 5 lbs?) per 10 sqft. I'm on heavy tropic clay. Hugelkulture, even in the tropics where organic matter volitalizes so quickly, is the much better option for carbon sequestration. The recent trend towards char as a solution to global warming is total bs. It's just toexpensive unless subsidized by machinery. We have been discussing the option of a power-producing biochar machine that can char otherwise nearly worthless eucalyptus plantations (talk about a boondoggle!) something like a mobile 40ft container that takes in logs and produces power and char. But the startup cost would run into the millions for such a project.

Having made a few yards of char myself by the deep pit method, I can say it's a lot of work. Biochar vs hugelkulture = hugelkulture wins in terms of food produced per effort, at least in the short term.

Having said that, I've never seen mycellium take off like a 50/50 mix of char and compost. It's just wild! I mixed compost, char, and bonemeal and let it sit a few days with damp cardboard covering the whole thing. Pull back the cardboard and wow! White fuzzy growth all over. I then used this for veggie beds and seedling starter mix, with very good results. Im not sure if the effort that goes into the proccess is worth it when I could be hugelculturing or just chipping the wood into mulch, but the idea that the char could stick around for hundreds of years is pretty appealing.

Biochar: lots of hype, lots of work, good results. Is it worth it? Eeeeeh. Marginally so in the tropics, probably not in temperate climates where humus sticks around for centuries anyway. But it sure is fun to make a soil mix that grows so well!

Now a mulching machine that burned waste wood to make char and powered a chipper to make mulch/compost with the extra heat...expensive but probably worth the capital?


I've done a search for eucalyptus biochar and this post was all I could find.

I have a eucalyptus plantation of roughly an acre. I will chop it all down and use all the decent stuff for fence posts, but the waste I have thought about using in biochar-hugel-trenches. I'm in the tropics so a raised bed isn't as good as a trench in my opinion as I need to keep ground moisture up with no rainfall for 5 or 6 months of the year.

Has anyone got any thoughts about basically digging a trench, lobbing the eucalyptus into it and burning it?
 
Marco Banks
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You are looking to char the wood, not burn it.  Big difference.

If you start a fire in a trench, you will need a way to seal off the oxygen from the fire once the wood it sufficiently charred.  You want it to build a great deal of heat in a low oxygen environment so that the wood gasses off, but he majority of the carbon does not actually burn.  Google charcoal making techniques --- people have been doing this for a long long time (which is the #1 reason for deforestation worldwide --- charcoal production).  I know that there is a way to bury a burning pile of wood and then poke holes down into the pile to allow for a bit of air to get to it.  Smolder is good.  Open combustion is bad.
 
Jason Manning
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Marco Banks wrote:You are looking to char the wood, not burn it.  Big difference.

If you start a fire in a trench, you will need a way to seal off the oxygen from the fire once the wood it sufficiently charred.  You want it to build a great deal of heat in a low oxygen environment so that the wood gasses off, but he majority of the carbon does not actually burn.  Google charcoal making techniques --- people have been doing this for a long long time (which is the #1 reason for deforestation worldwide --- charcoal production).  I know that there is a way to bury a burning pile of wood and then poke holes down into the pile to allow for a bit of air to get to it.  Smolder is good.  Open combustion is bad.


Understood. No problem turning unto charcoal here. It's a requisite skill amongst the locals. đź‘Ť
 
Ben Zumeta
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Seems to me biochar's main climate change mitigation claim is storing carbon and nitrogen in the soil. This is what hugelkulture does anyways without putting out the burned carbon or other pollutants.

From a plants perspective, a piece of dead wood is like a pioneer finding an abandoned city with all it's infrastructure largely in place (the vascular cavities of the tree and its fungal occupants). Would it be better to find an abandoned charred city? I am no plant, though I have taught about fire ecology in the west, and it seems hard to imagine it benefiting most plants. I imagine it would benefit fire associated plants that tolerate the associated alkalinity, but calling it a universal answer seems like a marketing pitch. If your hugels burn by natures whim, then you still have biochar, which would mitigate the disaster, but it seems a waste of energy and fungus to burn wood instead of bury it.
 
Jason Manning
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Ben Zumeta wrote:Seems to me biochar's main climate change mitigation claim is storing carbon and nitrogen in the soil. This is what hugelkulture does anyways without putting out the burned carbon or other pollutants.

From a plants perspective, a piece of dead wood is like a pioneer finding an abandoned city with all it's infrastructure largely in place (the vascular ire of the tree and its fungal occupants). Would it be better to find an abandoned charred city? I am no plant, though I have taught about fire ecology in the west, and it seems hard to imagine it benefiting most plants. I imagine it would benefit fire associated plants that tolerate the associated alkalinity, but calling it a universal answer seems like a marketing pitch. If your hugels burn by natures whim, then you still have biochar, which would mitigate the disaster, but it seems a waste of energy and fungus to burn wood instead of bury it.


If I had other wood apart from eucalyptus, I would agree.
 
Todd Parr
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Ben Zumeta wrote:Seems to me biochar's main climate change mitigation claim is storing carbon and nitrogen in the soil. This is what hugelkulture does anyways without putting out the burned carbon or other pollutants.

From a plants perspective, a piece of dead wood is like a pioneer finding an abandoned city with all it's infrastructure largely in place (the vascular ire of the tree and its fungal occupants). Would it be better to find an abandoned charred city? I am no plant, though I have taught about fire ecology in the west, and it seems hard to imagine it benefiting most plants. I imagine it would benefit fire associated plants that tolerate the associated alkalinity, but calling it a universal answer seems like a marketing pitch. If your hugels burn by natures whim, then you still have biochar, which would mitigate the disaster, but it seems a waste of energy and fungus to burn wood instead of bury it.


The advantage to biochar is the enormous amount of surface area contained within it for beneficial soil life to live in.  Correctly made biochar puts out very few pollutants, at least as far as I can tell.  Unless you are cutting up your hugel wood with a handsaw, as well as moving all that earth with hand tools, there are pollutants involved there as well.  In my mind, hugel beds are much more labor intensive.  Both are tools that have their uses.  It doesn't have to be an either/or equation.
 
Ben Zumeta
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The advantage to biochar is the enormous amount of surface area contained within it for beneficial soil life to live in.  Correctly made biochar puts out very few pollutants, at least as far as I can tell.  Unless you are cutting up your hugel wood with a handsaw, as well as moving all that earth with hand tools, there are pollutants involved there as well.  In my mind, hugel beds are much more labor intensive.  Both are tools that have their uses.  It doesn't have to be an either/or equation.

Very good point about energy and chainsaws. I used about a gallon of gas to break down three 2ft thick Doug firs (20yrs old) and a redwood (used for junkpole fence) that I could not stop my neighbor from cutting for no good reason. Built about 40m x 1.5m of hugel with anything under 6" thick, about 10m from where they fell with about 16hrs labor. I will use the rest for firewood, outdoor furniture or fungus culture. I think the energy audit would out compete biochar in this case but for long transport I see the benefit of reducing weight by burning. I would question whether biochar actually increases the usable surface area for plants, as the rotting wood has a huge amount as does it's embedded fungus, which also seem to serve all the functions that buochar would (moisture and nutrient retention).
 
Todd Parr
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Ben Zumeta wrote:I would question whether biochar actually increases the usable surface area for plants, as the rotting wood has a huge amount as does it's embedded fungus, which also seem to serve all the functions that buochar would (moisture and nutrient retention).


Not the surface area for plants, the surface area for microbes with the charcoal itself.  I have read that 1 tsp (tbps?) of charcoal has the surface area of a football field for soil life.
 
Marco Banks
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In addition to the observation that biochar provides substantially more surface area for microbial life to colonize, the permanence of biochar is also a significant difference from hugelkulture.  Buried wood makes a great substrate for fungal life, but it only lasts for about 10 years or so before its all gone. In contrast, biochar lasts almost forever.  While its not a very good home for fungal life, it's a microbial super condo for bacteria.

Where does that buried wood go to?  It eventually gasses off, just like the carbon in your compost pile, albeit much much slower.  A small percentage remains in the soil as humus, but well over 90 or 95% of a the wood in a hugel bed is gone 10 years later.  Biochar?  I'd guess that well over 90% of it would remain 10 years later.

At the end of the day, comparing the two is comparing apples to oranges, as they are very different soil treatments.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Marco,

I am interested in your continuing exploits. I think in similar ways. I am not noticing greatness from my biochar, but it is the first year and I only inoculated for a month in relatively immature compost.

The biggest advantage I have found is that I can turn pretty good size limbs into tiny fragments of charcoal without chipping. Granted I come out of it with only 1/3 of what I put in by volume but it has worked out pretty well. Also I can use garbage species that tend to sprout (like crepe myrtle).
 
Marco Banks
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Tj Jefferson wrote:Marco,

I am interested in your continuing exploits. I think in similar ways. I am not noticing greatness from my biochar, but it is the first year and I only inoculated for a month in relatively immature compost.

The biggest advantage I have found is that I can turn pretty good size limbs into tiny fragments of charcoal without chipping. Granted I come out of it with only 1/3 of what I put in by volume but it has worked out pretty well. Also I can use garbage species that tend to sprout (like crepe myrtle).


I think that when I first started to introduce biochar into my soil, I assumed an immediate boost.  I buried quite a bit of well-innoculated biochar around a group of 5 apple trees I was planting.  I thought that they would magically grow like Jack's magic beanstalk.   I think that my assumption was based upon the way plants "jump up" when you hit them with a big boost of nitrogen—lots of green growth, lots of blossoms, lots of everything. 

They didn't magically take off.  They grew VERY slowly.  The soil in that area didn't immediately show any immediate marked improvement in fertility.

The same thing happened with my first hugelkulture bed.  I expected immediate goodness (super water retention, improved fertility . . .).  I didn't really see any difference for a couple of years, and even now, it's only marginally better than un-hugeled beds.

Now I understand that biochar is just one ingredient within the larger soil structure.  Soil can take a few years to get healthy, and even then, you've got to continually feed it carbon to keep the microbes and fungi happy.  So perhaps the original premise of this entire thread 5 years ago, one vs. the other, is already a step in the wrong direction.  Soil health isn't a matter of just do this one thing and everything else will magically follow.  Proponents of this technique or that method tend to oversell the benefits, whether that be compost, compost tea, biochar, hugelkulture, back-to-Eden wood chips, bokashi, or biodynamics. 

THERE IS NO ONE MAGIC BULLET in sustainable agriculture.  Anyone who oversells their favorite tip or technique is, in my VERY humble opinion, at risk of discrediting the very thing they are so passionate about.  Soil health is highly contextual depending on where you live, what your soil is like, what you are seeking to grow, and the local weather. 

I do both biochar and hugelkulture.  I compost anything and everything.  I pile biomass on the soil surface through mulch as well as slash piles on the south side of my very sunny hill-planted trees.  I run my food scraps through the digestive tract of my chickens and then use that N rich poop throughout the garden.  I pee on the compost pile, around the base of trees, and on a dark-moonlight night, at the base of my tomato plants.  Every tree trimmer in a 10 mile radius knows that I'll take a load of clean chips almost any time.  I bring coffee grounds home from work, give road kill to the creepy little larva in the soldier fly bin, and cover-crop any space that is going to be fallow for longer than a month or two with N fixing legumes.  There are only a couple of things I won't do, and don't ever see myself doing (one of which is composting my own poop, and the other is burying a cow horn filled with poop facing east under a waxing harvest moon while standing on my left leg).  For those who do, more power to them.

I'd encourage you to continue to use biochar as an ingredient in a multi-ingredient recipe of soil health.  Don't expect miracles.  I think the every day miracle we seek is right there in front of us: a soil food web that works in concert with the growing plant roots.  Sunlight and water being transformed by a tiny seed into a fat watermelon is a miracle.  Soldier flies turning a dead raccoon into more larva, who are in turn fed to the girls, who in turn give me farm fresh eggs . . . that's a complex series of steps, but it's a miracle none the less. 

 
Glenn Jones
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I'm in the subtropics of central Florida and my soil is basically sand it sucks. To help with my soil problems and the long drought every spring I'm using both biochare and hugelkultur to address these problems. These is what I've done. First I dug a very big hole. Filled it with very big oak logs. Then compost. Then biochare  then hay,it was free so I put it in. Then a layer of native soil/sand and then a mix of biochare ,rock dust,wood ash peat moss and native soil. What I'm saying is it took both hugelkultur and biochare to solve the problem
 
Roberto pokachinni
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In addition to the observation that biochar provides substantially more surface area for microbial life to colonize, the permanence of biochar is also a significant difference from hugelkulture.  Buried wood makes a great substrate for fungal life, but it only lasts for about 10 years or so before its all gone. In contrast, biochar lasts almost forever.  While its not a very good home for fungal life, it's a microbial super condo for bacteria.

Where does that buried wood go to?  It eventually gasses off, just like the carbon in your compost pile, albeit much much slower.  A small percentage remains in the soil as humus, but well over 90 or 95% of a the wood in a hugel bed is gone 10 years later.  Biochar?  I'd guess that well over 90% of it would remain 10 years later.

At the end of the day, comparing the two is comparing apples to oranges, as they are very different soil treatments.


I think that Marco's last statement holds a level of accuracy over all the rest in this quote.  I'm not a proponent of one of these methods over the other; I love them both equally.  While I agree that biochar definitely has the potential ability to have a much longer lasting impact on the soil carbon/soil life system, I'm not entirely convinced of the substantial difference in the surface area of biochar as opposed to a fungal based ecosystem working in a hugul bed.  The two are substantially different, but the surface area of fungi is absolutely incredible and should not be understated.  It may also be true that the woody material has all but disappeared from the system, but the fungal networks that broke them down are often transformed by other fungi and by bacteria to form compost corridors of lasting humus in the soil, and the roots and microbial networks of plants that are growing in the hugul system continue to live, die, and contribute carbon to the soil based on the existing carbon rich microbial systems.  While the wood may be gone in 10 years, I think that a substantial amount of the carbon remains, and is not necessarily lost to the atmosphere unless some erosive force, or cultivation is taking place, which oxidizes it or releases it.  With permanent soil systems, the hugulkultur's carbon could be a very long term storage of carbon, and a stable system for bountiful microbial life for centuries as is the case in Northern forests.  I can certainly agree that biochar itself lasts as a substrate longer than the uncharred wood in the hugul bed, but when talking about locking up the carbon that was in the wood, I'm not sure about the guess based statistics that Marco uses here. 

I'm playing devils advocate here.  I understand what Marco is getting at, and largely agree with the idea that he is presenting, but I think that if we look at soil science, and wood based breakdown in forests that such guesses may need to be rethought or thought deeper into what is really going on with the carbon in hugulkultur type systems in the forest over the long haul.
 
Harry Soloman
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I look at hugelkultur and biochar as two separate tools. 

My question is why not do both?

Regarding fungal growth with biochar.  This can be adjusted via natural farming inputs such as making natural farming (indigenous microorganisms 3) and using liquid (indigenous microorganisms 3) or even just a quality and the type of compost tea best suited for your plant type and soil needs to inoculate the biochar to match your needs.

I really like Chris Trump in explaining it.  Here is his videos on Korean natural farming.  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCus0ZO165qzh6KPlULSzs4w/videos

This is an excellent resource as well but I am biased on this one:  http://culturalhealingandlife.com.www413.your-server.de/index.php?/forum/28-natural-farming/


I hope that helps.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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I look at hugelkultur and biochar as two separate tools.

My question is why not do both?
  Definitely you are right, Harry.  They are indeed separate tools.  No reason why not to do both, or combine them in any way, if it seems logically permacultural to you.

The purpose of the thread, started by Paul 7 years ago was to give space for people to discuss why it would be better to create biochar than it would be to simply bury the wood.  Paul's initial thoughts (in the opening post of the thread) were that the biochar was perhaps better suited to the tropics, was too much work, and caused too much pollution to be a viable option to simply burying wood to build soil.  Paul is a big fan of hugulkultur and he didn't see biochar as a useful tool for those reasons, especially when he could simply bury wood to build volumes of soil. 

 
Harry Soloman
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:
I look at hugelkultur and biochar as two separate tools.

My question is why not do both?
  Definitely you are right, Harry.  They are indeed separate tools.  No reason why not to do both, or combine them in any way, if it seems logically permacultural to you.

The purpose of the thread, started by Paul 7 years ago was to give space for people to discuss why it would be better to create biochar than it would be to simply bury the wood.  Paul's initial thoughts (in the opening post of the thread) were that the biochar was perhaps better suited to the tropics, was too much work, and caused too much pollution to be a viable option to simply burying wood to build soil.  Paul is a big fan of hugulkultur and he didn't see biochar as a useful tool for those reasons, especially when he could simply bury wood to build volumes of soil. 



I view biochar through a much more diverse view but this is likely due to time and more knowledge being known today than before perhaps.  When made correctly biochar does not cause pollution as similar to traditional charcoal but I am not sure I knew of biochar 7 years ago so as time progresses and information turns into appreciation this knowledge grows.  I tend to think this may be the case with biochar.

I have a more effective understanding into natural farming than I have with permaculture.  In permaculture I am still gaining my feet in terms of looking at land and knowing what do as I can with natural farming practices.  I have not worked with animals either, in a natural farming way or in a permaculture way but in time I will.  I am kind of in a transition stage at this point in life.

For me biochar in itself is only 50% of using it.  Inoculating the char is the other 50% benefit of how I see it.  When I say biochar I actually mean charged biochar.   I use it mainly as homes for microbes and to help retain soil water retention and to help make compost into something more special. 

All that said, I largely see biochar used incorrectly than utilized correct and as such I think it may be somewhat common to have misunderstandings of it.  For keeping soil stabilized and easier to manage, biochar and natural farming inputs and practices go hand in hand that for me, almost make soil magic but it is just the workings of healthy microorganisms living.  Biochar + natural farming inputs + quality (ingenious microorganisms 3 to 5 can be used or a compost/worm/manure tea) too as inoculation of the char.     

With natural farming, you have to maintain the microbes or the benefit weakens but this is not as difficult as it sounds.  In the tropics or where their is lots of rain the land tends to be less fertile and in those areas it can have a "greater" impact maintaining nitrogen over time but this does not mean it is only good for those area.  You adjust accordingly to your environment and as you work the land you gain better feel for what works best for your situation.  It is common for people think terra pretta,  biochar is not terra pretta but it is part of that mystical and very real substance and when bio char with natural farming is incorporated with healthy soils and healthy microbes and fungus it is a step towards such a thing.  It is also more commonly found in tropics as this is also due to the 3rd world aspect and natural farming came from those directions and not a western world one. 

What I speak is a direction away from tradition for many and truly in life do I find anyone who cares.  I am all about cultural healing and life.  I have much to learn and look forward to that. 

Great discussion!



 
Roberto pokachinni
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For me biochar in itself is only 50% of using it.  Inoculating the char is the other 50% benefit of how I see it.  When I say biochar I actually mean charged biochar
  I think that inoculating or charging the char is even more than 50% of the benefit.  The char without charging can be a great drain on the soil system nutrients for a while before microbes find their way into the char matrix to charge it.  The nutrients are not lost completely, of course, but are in the stage of charging the char, and thus are not yet readily available to plants.

The char is a medium, like a clean canvas that has no painting yet on it.  It is only when the canvas has been given the life of color that the masterpiece can begin to be created, and as such it serves over time to inspire future art.  Each art piece becomes a nucleus, furthering art outwards.  Like the canvas, the char becomes charged with life, and becomes a reservoir of life, and a place for life to expand from.  

Three quotes from Kynes Senior, the father of a character in Frank Herbert's novel Dune:
"The more life there is within a system, the more niches there are for life."
"Life improves the capacity of the environment to sustain life."
"Life makes needed nutrients more readily available.  It binds more energy into the system through the tremendous chemical interplay form organism to organism."  

I think that this analogy/metaphor/idea can be used to describe what goes on in hugulkultur as well, since it takes a bit of time to charge (or benefits greatly from charging), and becomes a reservoir of nutrients/life.
 
Ben Zumeta
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A lot of the statements about biochar retaining more carbon or building greater biomass seem to conflict with how my research reflects that the highest terrestrial biomass and carbon sequestration through photosynthesis is in coastal redwood forests, where fire is rare (though strategically used historically) and virtually never catastrophic in large stands of old-growth (see Noss and Sillett). The soil in the redwood forest is also of unequaled diversity (Noss), with 1500 microinvertebrates and 40,000 fungi species in a single tree. This speciation has resulted from the value of figuring out a way to consume the voluminous amounts of tannic wood is the greatest jackpot in the biological world. As a result of this diversity, the efficiency of nitrogen consumption is also extremely high.

The food output of these ecosystems was much higher before logging and the loss of salmon to external influences and the loss of strategic small scale burning of the understory. Nonetheless, the slow decomposition of tannic trees like redwood and cedar has led to the NW coniferous forests holding 10x the biomass of tropical rainforests and when healthy salmon runs would compete with any other protein production that might replace the old-growth coniferous forests that inevitably lead to salmon runs with their water cooling shade and holding of snowmelt and rainwater in the winter into the spring and summer. Of course we cannot replace old-growth, but it seems that setting everything on fire is not the answer either. I would use charred wood, but would not char it for no other reason. Similarly, I would not cut or prune a tree just for hugel wood, but use what was not going to some other higher use. I am trying to figure out how to integrate symbiotically into this ecosystem, and feel that the use of fire and its bi-products is best considered within the context of your region and plants. If you want trees, fungal soil resulting from hugelkulture would seem to be more advantageous whereas the bacteria from biochar would benefit annuals.
 
Harry Soloman
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Excellent video on the subject.

John Kaisner The Natural Farmer - Tropics - #15 Food Forest with Biochar Hugelkultur
 
Dale Hodgins
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With the forest fire up at wheaton labs, there is now a good opportunity to create a hugelkultur with biochar attached. No further work or burning would be required. Just gather up some of the debris.
 
Todd Parr
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Ben Zumeta wrote:but use what was not going to some other higher use.


This is not a statement about your post only, and is not an attack on what you said, but what seems to be the thought process among a number of people on the forum.  I disagree with the idea of "higher use".  The highest use in my mind is what you need it for.  Using smaller wood for a rocket stove is not a higher use for than using it for wood chips, if what I need are wood chips and I don't have a rocket stove.  Using wood for a debris hut is great if I am in the wilderness and need a shelter to keep from freezing, but if not, making charcoal is not a "lesser" use.  Cutting trees into timber for a log cabin is great if you need a log cabin.  Burying it in the ground is great if you need a hugel bed.  Chipping it is great if you need to build great garden soil.  Using it to build a fence or weave a basket or to build a fish-drying rack, none of these if a "higher use" than another in my mind.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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create a hugelkultur with biochar attached
  For the base layer of my hugulkultur I got a truckload of partially burnt wood from a logging slash pile. 
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I disagree with the idea of "higher use".  The highest use in my mind is what you need it for.
  I don't think that this is dissimilar to what Ben said, the way I read it.  Hugulkultur tends to be made from wood that is not prime anyway, like stumps, branches, and rotten material. I certainly would not cut down a mature living fir timber tree, for instance, to build a hugulkultur with.  It's highest use, in my opinion, would not be hugulkultur, but lumber, or beams; it would be a waste to use such a tree as a hugulkultur.     I could conceive of myself growing stuff specifically for rocket stoves, biochar, chipping, and many other things.  In some spiritual sense, the higher purpose of these trees might be to grow larger and reproduce, but I will likely be coppicing them, keeping them in a youthful limbo.  There is always going to be some kind of balance between ethics and desires.   I think that because permaculture has a focus on Ethics, people will often be considering the 'highest use' that they can for something, and it's not just based on one's personal needs, but on making the best use out of one's resources with respect to the natural system.  It might make an interesting topic for another thread.
 
Dale Hodgins
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A simple way to look at it is to use wood that has no economic value, when placing it in the soil. Most places have plenty of low-grade stuff, stumps and slabs. They are just fine for hugelkultur, and not good for much else.
 
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