What Is Biochar? Charcoal In Gardening

Ed Wike
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The Different Forms Of Charcoal

The burning and heating properties of biochar are created from the specific properties of the feedstock, temperature and time involved in the firing process as well as the type of temperature and time involved in the firing process. The final product may end up as a different form of charcoal depending on how it was made.

An ultralite carbon type is one such product. This aged blend is what makes up the black earth that has been found in sinkholes.

It is also what your rainforest plants would call "black gold". This charcoal is a scientifically proven addition to any and all plant growth formulas.

There are also the more popular types of charcoal to be found in many GC products (Grow Charcoal). These include:

  • Coral Charcoal Chunky Charcoal
  • Pelletized BioChar

A charcoal that not only helps your plants to flourish, but will benefit you as well.

Coral Charcoal will help remove heavy metal pollution.

Chunky Charcoal is your "get it all" charcoal. It's a great regulator, aerator, and has lots of nutrients.

Pelletized BioChar is a way to share the benefits of charcoal to the growing process without the mess.

Grilling Coals: Can They Be Used?

Many of us love to grill and use charcoal for grilling more than gas. There are just two problems with it—getting the coals properly raked and getting the grill to where the coals are hot enough to grill. In most cases, we pile coals into a mound and surround them with garden soil to act as a heat conductor. While this method works to keep in the heat and give us a long-lasting fire, it's not practical for gardening in the home.

Instead, let's use a method that is similar for getting charcoal hot enough to grill.

Get a section of polyethylene drain. The section will need to be about 1.5 to 2 feet long and about 1.5 feet wide. The section should be about 6 inches deep and you can use the piece of vinyl that surrounds the pieces. Use a solid, non-pliable piece, not the flexible tubing that allows you to bend the hose in half.

When you place the polyethylene plastic in the ground, push it down part way. Once the plastic drain is in place, bury two small straight pieces of wood at each end of the plastic section. These stakes will be used to hold the straight pieces of wood that will elevate the grill.

Activated Charcoal: Not Just For Medical Use

Biochar or activated charcoal has many possible benefits, when used in the garden. Biochar is a uniquely simple solution to the complex problem of soil depletion. It is exactly what it sounds like: charcoal made from plant materials. In ancient times, people would burn plant material in order to cook instead of using coal. This waste material was called biochar.

When the biochar in the soil decomposes, it releases a very small amount of carbon dioxide directly into the air. This added carbon improves the soil, by increasing the amount of water and air it can hold. In addition, crops grown in soil with biochar retain more minerals. As these minerals and other nutrients are not washed away, the plants will be healthier and more likely to fight off disease.

The addition of nutrients and minerals to the soil is a perfect example of biochar's ability to restore balance in an otherwise out-of-balance world. High levels of chemical fertilizers are responsible for many modern industrial farming challenges, and biochar offers a simple solution.

Biochar is also a world-class solution to waste disposal problems, pollution and our over-reliance on fossil fuels. Additionally, the process that is required to create biochar puts a positive force back into the natural world: plants absorb CO2, and biochar absorbs CO2, making it a virtuous cycle that endlessly regenerates and cleans the soil.

Horticultural Charcoal: What Is It Good For?

Biochar is a special type of charcoal (not to be confused with grill charcoal) that is derived from organic matter. It is basically charcoal that can be mixed into soil at a ratio of 5% – 20% by weight. Biochar is produced using the “cold pyrolysis” method which does not require the burning of organic matter in a kiln (as done with traditional charcoal) and is capable of producing charcoal that is high in nutrients and of a quality that retains those nutrients.

So what, exactly, is biochar?

It is the charcoal produced by the burning of plant material at an extremely low temperature in the absence of oxygen. Biochar is an effective soil amendment and was used as a buried soil preservative for pottery and organic material by early civilizations. Today, it is used more as a soil additive and a medium for solid waste decontamination than as a preservative.

Unlike synthetic fertilizers, biochar is not composed primarily of reactive chemical elements and thus will not cause significant changes in the pH or cation exchange capacity of the soil. Biochar stimulates soil microbes to decompose all forms of organic matter and converts them into plant-available nutrients and humus.

Biochar: Is It Just Burned Garden Waste Or What?

Made from biomass like wood or crop residue, what is known as biochar is the latest "hype" in the green-energy community. Charcoal is used to heat houses. It's used to make energy. It's used for medicinal purposes, and it's used for garden mulch.

Learn how to grow a garden full of vegetables, enjoy the bounty, and use biochar to improve the soil so it becomes rich and healthy to grow further crops.

As a biochar distributor, I think about biochar all day long: what to sell, where to buy it, who will sell it, and who is selling it. Today, biochar is popping up in career fairs in elementary schools as a career choice, and I've heard of some local biochar labs offering free biochar test kits. It's cool to see biochar in the news and in real life on a regular basis.

Benefits Of Garden Charcoals

Biochar is a form of charcoal used in gardening. It's made by burning wood in the absence of oxygen, much in the same way that charcoal briquettes are made. It's made from organic materials, and because of that, it is much softer than plain, or hardwood charcoal used for grilling.

It is used in compost (see this article on compost for more information), and seed starting to help provide nutrients for plants.

Biochar is also used to make soil more acidic, which helps plants that prefer acidic soil.

Biochar can be used as a permanent soil amendment, or it can be used as a compost accelerator. Because it holds onto fertilizers, nutrients and water much more than other substances in your compost pile, biological activity goes up, which leads to more organic matter breaking down at a faster rate.

As you can see, there are many benefits to using biochar in gardening. It helps provide nutrients for plants, and it helps your compost break down at a faster rate.

It is made from renewable, organic materials, and can be used as an additive to your compost pile or as a stand alone substance. It's easy to use, and for a gardener, it's a great option.

Drawbacks Of Garden Charcoals

There are many good reasons to use charcoal in your garden, but you still need to be aware of the drawbacks. One is the charcoal's tendency to use up certain nutrients that are necessary for plant growth. Another possible drawback is the tendency for some garden charcoals to leach potentially harmful substances into the soil.

To avoid these and other potential problems, carefully read and follow the recommendations given by any manufacturers you choose to buy from, in addition to using small amounts in your garden.

Lastly, you can try mixing garden charcoals in with other types of clay soils. The charcoal's porous nature creates a very large surface area that can absorb nutrients. It also has very good water retention capabilities, that can help to prevent nutrient run-off. And as an added plus, charcoal is said to exhibit anti-fungal and anti-bacterial abilities.

These five reasons are why so many people have begun to use charcoal in their garden. It has been shown to remove toxins from the soil. It also will improve the soil's texture, drainage and will ultimately make the garden a healthier place to grow healthy vegetables, fruits and flowers.

So You Want To Make Biochar…

What Do You Need To Get Started?

Biochar can be created with a number of different materials; however, a great deal of research and experimentation has been done using the same material as the source of the biochar, which is banana leaves. You may need to start with a sizable amount of the right material, depending on how much you want to make.

A block of dried leaves or plant husks, about a kilogram of material should be enough to make some biochar for your own personal experimentation. If you want to make biochar commercially, the amounts change drastically … 10 tons of material might be needed to make a small amount of biochar.

A drum for drying the banana leaves or other vegetable or plant matter is needed before the biochar can be created. A large drum, which is like a wading pool, will be the center of the biochar production making process.

Before adding the banana leaves, the drum should be placed on a grate over a pit, which has been lined with bricks or concrete blocks. It is on this grate that the biochar will be created, so it should be sturdy enough to sustain the drum. The pit is connected to a drain, through which any excess water will be conducted away from the biochar creation area. Additionally, the drain will also be the spot at which the biochar is transferred to when it is ready to be removed and used.

Basic Activated Charcoal

The definition of activated charcoal is very basic and easy to understand. It is charcoal that is treated in such a way that it is more hydrophilic, and acts as a better adsorbent in a wider variety of chemical and biological systems. However, it is hard to pinpoint the exact processes that are used to activate charcoal.

The most common process is to heat the charcoal in an oxygen-free environment that can cause the formation of steam. The process can often go on for several hours, and the temperature can reach as high as 900 degrees. This process leads to the formation of a material that has a whopping surface area of thousands of square miles per gram. This is one of the most important aspects of activated charcoal. The primary role of activated charcoal is to be used as a universal adsorbent that can take in excessive amounts of various materials in a chemical system, biological system, or environmental system.

But what is the point of using activated charcoal in these systems? The main purpose is for it to work as a cleansing agent. It plays an important role in the purification of wastes in a laboratory system or in purifying a biochemical system. It is also used in the disposal of toxins from the body when carbon monoxide poisoning, excessive alcohol consumption, or drug overdose occurs. It is often used in the purification of chemicals in waste water discharge, or in the purification of blood and surgical instruments.

Making Biochar At Home With A Retort

Due to its high cost, biochar is not something that everyone can afford to purchase. So it is a great idea to try using it as a soil amendment in your own garden.

However, you might believe that making biochar is too expensive and time-consuming. It is important to understand that biochar is not that expensive to make. It will also require a lot of time if you want to make a boatload of biochar.

If you don’t want to spend a fortune on the process, you can use an inexpensive method called the “retort process,” to make biochar for your garden.

The retort process involves burning a mixture of wood scraps, agricultural waste, and manure in a sealed metal drum at high temperatures. The process also causes the mixture to undergo pyrolysis, which means that the material breaks down at a molecular level through the application of heat, also known as combustion. This process preserves the ashes for an unlimited amount of time.

Producing Potassium Carbonate From Ashes

When it comes to soil, you are what you eat is an appropriate metaphor. The healthy soil that your plants will need for survival is more than just its nutrient content. Your soil is alive in the sense that it has a wide variety of microbes that interact with one another in complicated ways. These tiny creatures catalyze all sorts of chemical reactions. Some of the by-products they produce explains how certain compounds are deposited in the soil while others are leached out to form your topsoil.

This is also the reason why you want to have a healthy population of bacteria, a healthy balance of fungi, an abundance of beneficial nematodes, and why you want to maintain a healthy pH range.

In, soil that has been amended with charcoal, you have another tool to bring a little nature into your garden and, make your plants thrive. The idea of adding biochar to your soil is not a new one. In fact, the beneficial properties of charcoal and its contributions to soil fertility have been known for centuries.

The reason why charcoal produced from organic materials is one of the best amendments for your garden is because it will not harm your plants. It can be added to soil at any time during the growth cycle. It will not burn your roots. It is a good practice to add small amounts of biochar to your garden every year. The amount you add should not be more than 10 ounces per every 100 linear feet of your garden.

Wrapping Up: Is Biochar Right For You?

The DIY trend is an amazing thing, and it’s one that’s caught on over the past few years. Thanks to the Internet, for many things you can do-it-yourself. But what about biochar? Biochar is still pretty new.

If you find yourself interested in the process of making biochar, that’s a great thing! But before you run out and get a batch fired up, you should consider a few things.

Is biochar the right thing to do? Are you interested in this technique because you want to contribute to the environment, or is this something you want to do for financial reasons? It’s important to know what you’re getting into before you try to make biochar. And even if you don’t plan to do it yourself, you can still investigate and educate yourself on a few things. Maybe you combine your DIY efforts with finding someone who will do the work for you.

We’re always excited to talk about biochar, because we’re huge fans of the power it has.