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Biochar?

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Post  markqz 1/15/2020, 8:26 pm

According to wikipedia, charcoal is usually made by a process of slow pyrolysis.  So ... could we crush up charcoal and use it?

I imagine attempting to make your own bio-char by pyrolysis would be violating all sorts of statues here in CA. Enjoy your freedom, all you gardeners outside the banana state!

Bio-char runs $37 a cubic foot on Amazon. Since it's "bio", it's probably not going to stick around as long as vermiculite.

At some point, I'm reminded of the book The 64 Dollar Tomato (How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden).
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Post  OhioGardener 1/15/2020, 8:33 pm

CN, my thought is that you may be OverThinking It.  Shocked 

The residue from burned plants will contain both charcoal and ash. When sprayed with a hose, the ash will wash away, and the charcoal will be left.  But, both the ash and the charcoal are beneficial to the soil. 

The overthinking part is in regards to inoculating or charging the charcoal to turn it into Biochar. If adding the recommended 10% Biochar to the soil, inoculating it first is essential to ensure it is already loaded with moisture and microbes. Otherwise, for the first year or so it will pull the microbes & nutrients from the soil to store them in the biochar cells, and deprive the plants of the needed nutrients and microbes. But, if adding a very small amount of charcoal/biochar to the soil, it will have very little impact on the plants.

I added inoculated Biochar to each of my raised beds at the rate of 1 cu ft per 4'x8' of soil, and worked it into the top 6" of soil. I inoculate the biochar by soaking it overnight in compost tea, then blending it with an equal amount of homemade compost and letting it sit for 24 hours. Then it was spread evenly on the soil surface and worked into it.  I did not use the biochar as a replacement for the vermiculite or perlite, but as an addition.  That said, the biochar is a "permanent" amendment which should be there well past my lifetime. Charcoal is a very stable form of carbon, which does not decompose in the soil.

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Post  countrynaturals 1/16/2020, 12:14 am

OhioGardener wrote:CN, my thought is that you may be OverThinking It.  Shocked 

The residue from burned plants will contain both charcoal and ash. When sprayed with a hose, the ash will wash away, and the charcoal will be left.  But, both the ash and the charcoal are beneficial to the soil. 

The overthinking part is in regards to inoculating or charging the charcoal to turn it into Biochar. If adding the recommended 10% Biochar to the soil, inoculating it first is essential to ensure it is already loaded with moisture and microbes. Otherwise, for the first year or so it will pull the microbes & nutrients from the soil to store them in the biochar cells, and deprive the plants of the needed nutrients and microbes. But, if adding a very small amount of charcoal/biochar to the soil, it will have very little impact on the plants.

I added inoculated Biochar to each of my raised beds at the rate of 1 cu ft per 4'x8' of soil, and worked it into the top 6" of soil. I inoculate the biochar by soaking it overnight in compost tea, then blending it with an equal amount of homemade compost and letting it sit for 24 hours. Then it was spread evenly on the soil surface and worked into it.  I did not use the biochar as a replacement for the vermiculite or perlite, but as an addition.  That said, the biochar is a "permanent" amendment which should be there well past my lifetime. Charcoal is a very stable form of carbon, which does not decompose in the soil.
YEE-HAH! I have a huge bucketful of accidental compost tea, so I can inoculate my biochar before spreading it. thankyou so much OG. Without your post, I would have just added the biochar without inoculating it, and dumped the compost tea, so I would have basically wasted both of them. dangit
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Post  sanderson 1/16/2020, 3:23 am

CN, It will be interesting to see how your experiment works.

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Post  countrynaturals 1/16/2020, 10:35 am

sanderson wrote:CN,  It will be interesting to see how your experiment works.
Got a storm going on today, and nothing but rain on Friday, but Saturday I should be able to get this going. Nature is washing off the ash for me, and the kids did a nice, big burn before it started raining, so I have plenty of material. I need to get someone to cover the bucket of compost tea, so it doesn't overflow and wash away.

Sunday is also supposed to be nice, so that's when I plan to spread it. Last time, I didn't use nearly enough. I won't make that mistake again, either. dangit

For the next batch, can I use fresh horse manure for the compost tea or should it be aged? thinking (Time to do some research on that topic.  geek )
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Biochar? - Page 5 Empty Smokers and pellet grills as a source?

Post  Ret EE 4/26/2021, 5:23 pm

Given the quantities involved, I suspect pots would be the most logical use. 

I have and use two smokers and two pellet grills.  The Little chiefs recommend hardwood chips, but I find that hardwood pellets work as well or better.  When they stop putting out smoke I dump the carbonized pellets in the lawn and refill the pan.  I believe that I will start dumping them in a metal can and save them for use as a soil amendment.  I don't have a use in mind yet, but they should be used somewhere and not just tossed out.  There must be some way to turn them to dust.  An old food processor may work, but then it would become a single use tool and you know what Alton Brown says about single use tools.  Smile

I wonder what BBQ joints do with their ash?  It may not take much convincing to have them dump it in a metal trash can for pick up by an avid gardener.  With two cans in rotation you could get quite a bit from a decent sized Pit.

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Post  mollyhespra 4/29/2021, 10:01 pm

I wonder what is used as a binder in those hardwood pellets, @RetEE? If it's just compressed and the wood's own resins bind the pellets then ok, but I don't think I'd want to use the charred pellets if they've potentially got weird chemicals in them.

Oh, and great idea about the restaurants, might have to go ask the local smokehouse what they do with their ashes, lol

(Can you imagine the looks I'll get?)
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Post  OhioGardener 4/30/2021, 8:36 am

Biochar is very inexpensive and easy to make by just visiting your local big box store and get some bags of Royal Oak 100% Natural Lump Charcoal. Less than $10 for a 15# bag.  Crush it, and activate it, and you are good to go.

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Post  donnainzone5 4/30/2021, 12:58 pm

I had an educated guess that biochar would raise soil pH, so I did a bit of research.  Here's what I found:

[url=https://www.gardenmyths.com/biochar-work-garden/#:~:text=Biochar does increase the pH of soil and,alkaline clay soil. It does increase microbe populations.]Biochar - Does it Really Work in the Garden? - Garden Myths[/url]
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Post  OhioGardener 4/30/2021, 1:49 pm

After I added  Biochar to my raised beds, the pH level did not change at all. Microbial activity did increase dramatically, though, as I have observed through the microscope. Biochar is not a fertilizer, it simply serves as a resort hotel for microbes.

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Biochar? - Page 5 Empty pellet binder?

Post  Ret EE 4/30/2021, 5:01 pm

The good ones only use the natural lignins contained in the sawdust feedstock.  I only use hardwood pellets for cooking.  Those in the NW who have pellet furnaces may use hemlock, fir, pine and possibly others, which you do not want to cook with.  I was going with the biochar post.  Truly, I have no idea what it does to pH or any other soil characteristic.  I was just suggesting a possible source.  It's also easier &cheaper than hardwood charcoal IF you're already using the pellets for cooking.

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Post  donnainzone5 4/30/2021, 5:33 pm

Still, biochar is not a component of Mel's Mix.

In some limited circumstances, however, it could be a valuable addition to acidic soil, for in-ground planting.
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Post  Ret EE 4/30/2021, 5:44 pm

Thanks?
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Post  markqz 4/30/2021, 6:30 pm

I would expect ashes to raise pH, no matter what biochar does. Remember they used to make lye from hardwood ashes.


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Post  mollyhespra 5/1/2021, 7:23 pm

OhioGardener wrote:Biochar is very inexpensive and easy to make by just visiting your local big box store and get some bags of Royal Oak 100% Natural Lump Charcoal. Less than $10 for a 15# bag.  Crush it, and activate it, and you are good to go.

Cool! Thanks for the tip, OG. I've been asking DH to set aside the charcoal residue from the woodstove, but it's not going to be enough for all the beds in the new garden,. so I'll need to supplement.

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Post  Yardslave 5/3/2021, 11:34 am

OhioGardener wrote:Biochar is very inexpensive and easy to make by just visiting your local big box store and get some bags of Royal Oak 100% Natural Lump Charcoal. Less than $10 for a 15# bag.  Crush it, and activate it, and you are good to go.
OG is correct, it's pretty easy and affordable if you choose to go the lump charcoal route. I just dump the lumps on my driveway and pound the snot out of it with a 4' piece of old fence post until it's the size I like, then it goes into my compost tea bucket for a few days to super-charge it with beneficial microbes.
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Post  sanderson 5/8/2021, 1:42 am

Newbies to Square Foot Gardening. Biochar is not needed for SFG. Some experienced members do branch off with experiments, but, SFG with just Mel's Mix is a proven method.

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Post  OhioGardener 6/28/2023, 10:11 am

Yardslave wrote:
OhioGardener wrote:Biochar is very inexpensive and easy to make by just visiting your local big box store and get some bags of Royal Oak 100% Natural Lump Charcoal. Less than $10 for a 15# bag.  Crush it, and activate it, and you are good to go.
OG is correct, it's pretty easy and affordable if you choose to go the lump charcoal route. I just dump the lumps on my driveway and pound the snot out of it with a 4' piece of old fence post until it's the size I like, then it goes into my compost tea bucket for a few days to super-charge it with beneficial microbes.

I thought about this old post with a smile yesterday when I was out in the driveway driving over a bag of lump charcoal to get it ready to add to the compost tumbler. Home Depot has a sale on the 15.4# bags of Royal Oak Lump Charcoal, so I stocked up on it.  Rather that beating the charcoal to death, I put some of it in a plastic woven bag that bird seed came in, lay the bag on the driveway, and repeatedly drive over it with one of the car's front tires. Then I sift it through a 1/2" hardware cloth to take out the larger pieces, and run over the bigger pieces again to further break them down.

When I start a new section of a compost tumbler I add charcoal to it so that it both holds moisture and becomes activated biochar with the compost when later added to the gardens. One of the greatest benefits I have seen from the Biochar in the gardens in addition to it being a microbe resort hotel, is that it retains a lot of moisture which becomes available to plants if needed during a dry period.

But, a point worth remembering....
sanderson wrote:Newbies to Square Foot Gardening.  Biochar is not needed for SFG.  Some experienced members do branch off with  experiments, but, SFG with just Mel's Mix is a proven method.

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Post  OhioGardener 11/16/2023, 10:31 am

sanderson wrote: Biochar is not needed for SFG.  Some experienced members do branch off with  experiments, but, SFG with just Mel's Mix is a proven method.

I have been doing an interesting experiment with Biochar this summer, and have been receiving interesting results. It doesn't directly relate to Mel's Mix, but the end product does end up there.

I have two Jora JK-270 Compost Tumblers which produce finished compost in one month from the time a section is filled. Each tumbler has two sections, so that gives me monthly batches of compost to use in the gardens. But, this summer I started experimenting adding charcoal to the compost tumbler sections to activate, or charge it, to later be added to the gardens. A surprising result of the experiment, and not expected at all, has been that the compost completes in one-fourth less time. When I check the compost tumbler sections the compost is finished, or nearly finished, in three weeks instead of four. I have been leaving the compost in the tumbler for the full four weeks since that fits into my schedule, but it has been interesting seeing the improvement in time required to make finished compost. I am going to do more research on Biochar in compost.

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