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Loading your Biochar

 
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It is my understanding that making good biochar is just the first step to helping soil fertility.  

In fact, adding naked biochar to your soil can actually lower fertility the first years as it sequesters nutrients into its internal holding spaces.

It seems then that preloading your biochar with the 'right' chemistry, a magic formula that will support the right microbes and biology is a key step.

Naked biochar will from my understanding increase fertility in the 2nd year, as it has 'filled up' in the first and then starts to give back.

But how much better would it be to preload your biochar during the initial application?  

So now to my question.   What is the secret formula?  How can one presoak biochar in something delicious that will really get the microbes and soil biology singing in the first year?

My application is tropical, similar to those conditions where they find that beautiful manmade black soil in the Amazon.  That I believe was made with charcoal (biochar) and human waste.

Does anyone have first-hand experience with making your own formula and then presoaking your biochar?

Thank you

 
master pollinator
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Not soaking actually, but I mix mine in my compost pile as the compost is being made, and by the time the compost is ready, it is teaming with worms and other tiny crawlies, so good things are happening.  
 
master gardener
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Trace Oswald wrote:Not soaking actually, but I mix mine in my compost pile as the compost is being made, and by the time the compost is ready, it is teaming with worms and other tiny crawlies, so good things are happening.  



Yeah, the final product of composting with biochar (I do about 20% of the initial pile volume in biochar) is such a beautiful product, teaming with worms and making you wish your entire property were made of the stuff.  Other than composting with biochar, I always tell people to blend raw biochar into any place where organic matter is breaking down so that the biochar will absorb a lot of that goodness.

I really need to take more pictures.
 
Simon Scott
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All good ideas.  Thank you.

If you haven't seen The Secret Of Eldorado - TERRA PRETA, it is worth a look:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Os-ujelkgw

At around 29 minutes they begin discussing soil.

Seems our forefathers knew a thing or two.

 
gardener
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I have seen the term "inoculating' frequently used instead of loading.

I agree that it is important to do this.  It makes sense too.  If you are providing housing for microbes and it is empty, nutrients will enter the housing until it can come to a healthy dynamic balance.

There are other threads on this in the biochar forum.  After crushing it, I have used 5 gallon buckets in which I have put the biochar, urine, compost, worm castings, and some old rotten wood, because in a forest, you want a lot of fungi in your soil.  I have been soaking the biochar in this high nutrient broth for a few months, and I am gradually putting the biochar into the drip root zone in batches in sequential order after heavy rains.  
John S
PDX OR
 
pollinator
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There are many ways to inoculate or/and charge biochar and many firms claim they have reached the ideal combination. Terra preta is out there, we know it is working but we don't know how we can get a product that is going to work immediately. If left alone inoculation will take more then 2-3 years actually and it might take a decade to "balance out" if not more.
I would highly recommend this webpage where your questions seems to be answered :pacific biochar
From that webpage:

In subsequent experiments we have been successful in creating high quality and economically feasible compost/biochar blends that are majority compost.  We have found that the two ends of the spectrum – vast majority biochar or vast majority compost – tend to be the best products, largely due to economics and application rates.


I don't live in tropics but I do produce biochar. There are always some diseases you don't want to fight (such as fire blight) or sometimes there is huge amount of inflow of branches etc. Open pit or cone kiln methods are really efficient for such cases. How I charge and inoculate?
-Add biochar to compost piles (20%). Dont forget to add some sea salt and such. Please refer to Redhaws soil treads
-Use it as bedding for chickens or other animals (depending on the smell, 20 to 40% biochar and rest is straw or fall leaves or any other high carbon material)
-Feed it to animals such as chickens: article and cow: Doug Pow Biochar Cows Dung Beetles Avocado trials Biochar and dung beetles with Doug Pow
-Mix it with manure and use it directly in the garden as mulch (50-50). Fungi love this!
-Use it as mulch (if you don't turn it into powder). Similar to using stones as mulch. (Much like collecting local fungi or such, I usually add this to a compost pile a week later than its final turn to introduce)
-Use it as filter for ponds as it gets charged. (the product is not as strong as others)
Or just pie on it!
Formulas: no obvious differences for my situation. All work and get the job done.

Some useful links:
Biochar Application to Soils- JRC
Biochar in Poultry Farming
 
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Good ideas on how to get char to the bio char stage.
Here's how I make mine, and what I'm currently doing with it.

Create the char and run it through my hammer mill (wood chipper), I have a bag that fits the discharge tube which collects the broken up char nicely, I end up with mostly small pieces (less than 1/4 inch).
I make aerated compost tea most of the summer months which is used in over most of our land that we grow our foods and pastures, so I have good microorganisms available  most of the time.
I empty my bags of processed char into a food grade barrel I labeled for this purpose to prevent cross contamination issues then I spray the barrel with compost tea and drop the lid in place.
Every time I am going to spray compost tea, I do a test of the filled sprayer into this barrel, I never "soak" the char, just let what I spray trickle as gravity decides.
When I'm ready to use the char, usually about a month has passed at this point, I make a few sample slides and check these under the microscope for organism counts.
I tend to find well populated pieces as well as non populated pieces but the average is heavy towards the populated (biochar) pieces.
I have one area that is being used as a terra preta test site and this gets additions of biochar twice a year which are spread then shallow tilled in.
I am one full year into this test site and with two applications the terra preta currently extends 6 inches into the soil, no bleed effect has started as of yesterday.

I have also created a char compost heap for the purpose of documenting the progression of microorganism population.
This heap has been inoculated with four doses of mushroom slurry and the heap is composed of layers of straw from the chicken house, donkey and hog manure and spent coffee grounds.
Between a set of these layers, which are each 3 inches thick, I placed a 3 inch layer of fresh char that had been crushed through the hammer mill.
This heap has been added to every month from March to September this year and it shows greater microorganism population than the "barrel" method being tested.
We are getting ready to re-do many of our garden beds this winter and come spring I will use this char compost heap to top dress the beds for beets, beans, onions, garlic, carrots and the squash beds. (That is going to use up the quantity I have currently)

Redhawk

 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Good ideas on how to get char to the bio char stage.
Here's how I make mine, and what I'm currently doing with it.

Create the char and run it through my hammer mill (wood chipper), I have a bag that fits the discharge tube which collects the broken up char nicely, I end up with mostly small pieces (less than 1/4 inch).
I make aerated compost tea most of the summer months which is used in over most of our land that we grow our foods and pastures, so I have good microorganisms available  most of the time.
I empty my bags of processed char into a food grade barrel I labeled for this purpose to prevent cross contamination issues then I spray the barrel with compost tea and drop the lid in place.
Every time I am going to spray compost tea, I do a test of the filled sprayer into this barrel, I never "soak" the char, just let what I spray trickle as gravity decides.
When I'm ready to use the char, usually about a month has passed at this point, I make a few sample slides and check these under the microscope for organism counts.
I tend to find well populated pieces as well as non populated pieces but the average is heavy towards the populated (biochar) pieces.
I have one area that is being used as a terra preta test site and this gets additions of biochar twice a year which are spread then shallow tilled in.
I am one full year into this test site and with two applications the terra preta currently extends 6 inches into the soil, no bleed effect has started as of yesterday.

I have also created a char compost heap for the purpose of documenting the progression of microorganism population.
This heap has been inoculated with four doses of mushroom slurry and the heap is composed of layers of straw from the chicken house, donkey and hog manure and spent coffee grounds.
Between a set of these layers, which are each 3 inches thick, I placed a 3 inch layer of fresh char that had been crushed through the hammer mill.
This heap has been added to every month from March to September this year and it shows greater microorganism population than the "barrel" method being tested.
We are getting ready to re-do many of our garden beds this winter and come spring I will use this char compost heap to top dress the beds for beets, beans, onions, garlic, carrots and the squash beds. (That is going to use up the quantity I have currently)

Redhawk

At the end of the summer season I started to inoculate a batch in the garage... I used castings, urea, chicken manure, molasses, water and flour. It was a liquid slurry that I mixed daily..... For about 2 weeks. At that point it was too cold to add it to the compost pile so I just left it to winter in the shop... Frozen 1/2 the time, I'm pretty sure it went anaerobic. What are the hazards of using this as is, should I add some beer molasses and an aerator first or just mix it into my raised tomato bed and hope for the best? I inoculated the bed last season with Bigfoot micorhize.

 
pollinator
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I'm curious if you can make biochar with larger (4-6" inch wide, 6ft long) seasoned logs in shallow trenches (in my raised beds, hand digging a foot down, two feet wide).  I also have a large open-air fire pit (two foot high cinder block, 3x4 ft wide/long, dug down a foot, open on one side) with closeable vents on the side.  I have a lot of larger logs but minimal brush, and no real use for the logs except to cook smores (as they're not splittable, not needed for wood chips, and crooked).  I would build up a large fire with kindling and large logs, and then try to add excessive amounts of wood (and close the small vents), to keep a very large fuel load smoldering (no flames higher than a few inches) for several hours.  My concern is I'd get big chunks more like charcoal or a hugel-bed log.
 
John Suavecito
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Yes, Josh,
That is a concern.  I find that when my wood pieces are of greatly different sizes, I end up either cooking the smaller ones too far into ash or stopping early on the big ones so they still have wood inside.  As has been mentioned in other places on this forum, wood of approximately equal size is optimal.  If you do have some with wood left inside, you can just store it and convert it on your next batch of biochar.

On another topic,  I realized that I was loading/inoculating my biochar with a nutritious mix of compost, old fungal wood, worm castings, rotten fruit and urine, which works, but I was storing it in plastic.  I have been pouring it through the  biochar in the five gallon plastic buckets, and now after flowing it through the biochar every few days, I am storing it in either a glass or a ceramic container.  With all the concern for high quantities of plastic in our bodies and in nature, using a glass or ceramic container makes sense to me.  After a month or so of inoculating every few days, I dig the biochar around the dripline of the selected tree and pour the liquid mixture either into the next batch of newly crushed uninoculated biochar or into the biochar dripline circle in the ground around the tree.  

John S
PDX OR
 
pollinator
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I'm quite a newby in the area of biochar, but am enjoying learning and experimenting. Fortunately (/unfortunately), charcoal production is one of the two main industries in our rural area of Haiti. I can just ask for the unuseable powder that is a byproduct of every charcoal pit.

I used to put it into my compost pile, but then I decided a compost pile isn't for me, and started trench composting directly into my beds.

So I've put a handful into my worm bin, which doesn't seem to bother them. I've also mixed it into a pile of goat manure and compost and let it sit for several months.

Right now I'm mostly out of it, and what I have is combined with goat manure already (a kid in the community brings it to me). I plan to put it in my chicken/rabbit house once that's set up, to charge in the deep bedding. I'll also set up a compost tea slurry barrel (once I get the barrel) and soak it in that.

Very insightful reading. I'm getting more ideas! :)
 
John Suavecito
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Priscilla,
You had me cracking up on that one:

goat manure already (a kid in the community brings it to me).

I would think that a kid (young goat) would naturally bring it to you. :)
John S
PDX OR
 
Priscilla Stilwell
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John Suavecito wrote:Priscilla,
You had me cracking up on that one:

goat manure already (a kid in the community brings it to me).

I would think that a kid (young goat) would naturally bring it to you. :)
John S
PDX OR



Oh, LOTS of kids bring it and leave it everywhere, just not conveniently bagged up for me. And what they take in return makes it a rather skewed business agreement . . . Ha
 
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