It is December 31, 2011 and I love to grow vegetables. On my quest today to find Kale and Swiss Chard seeds, my friend at my local nursery recommended something new to me. Biochar. I had toyed with composting, but never got very serious. Gardening where I do is difficult because of the soil. So I asked for some advice...what is the cheapest way to fertilize a large garden? He wrote these words on a business card: Bio-char, Terra Preta, Cover Crops, Perma Culture, Phx-Acidic fertilizer.
So, I came home and Googled "Biochar". What I found was that it seems relatively easy to make, you can use almost anything to make it that goes in the trash, and the carbon compounds in the charcoal form all kinds of cohabitation environments for bugs and nutrients.
The idea of Biochar comes from the Amazonian rain forests of Brazil. The Amazonian dark earths (often called Terra Preta) hold plant nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium better than other soils. The process seems very similar to the process of composting, but the increased presence of carbon helps microorganisms live and reproduce at a slower pace, which reduces the turnover rate of organic matter in the soil.
So the process of "making" Biochar is using a charcoal grill or a metal drum (50 gallon) or even digging a trench...very similar to roasting a pig in a pit. You find matter to burn (wood, leaves, twigs, horse and cow manure, newspaper, trash, food remains, clothing, etc.), you dig a trench and put the matter in it. You light it and let it burn til the smoke is thin and grayish blue (it will go through a process of thick and white...to yellowish then thin and grayish blue), then dampen the fire by covering with about an inch of soil and let it smolder. Once you have your "charcoal", put the smoldering pile out with water and incorporate this in the soil where you will garden. This will have to wait for a "Not no burn day", but the preparation can start tomorrow! January 1, 2012...let the process begin!