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Post  sanderson on 11/24/2018, 4:26 am

@OhioGardener wrote:. . .My only comment is to not use it as a substitute for other ingredients in your mix . . .
Amen.

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Post  Dan in Ct on 11/24/2018, 6:58 am

My Top Lit Updraft Gasifier Stove arrived yesterday, 4-5 days early. It is actually a BioLite Cook Stove and the burn chamber is probably slightly bigger than a 16 oz beer can. I swear it looked a lot bigger in the picture but the good news is I only have to make a 1 cubic foot bag's worth for it to pay for itself. I will try to get enough made in the next couple of days to mix with some vermicompost so it will be ready to mix into a germination mix in March. The Cook Stove has a fan that runs on a battery that you charge as if it were a smart phone and I think it can run 30 hours on the low setting. In the video the fire/flames get fairly intense, so I think I will make my biochar outside.

https://www.bioliteenergy.com/products/cookstove

I think they only have the Cook Stove in England now. This one will help me engineer a larger homemade model if biochar is as good an amendment as it is reported to be. They do have a Camp Stove 2 that can charge a cell phone while burning which I thought was cool. That seems to be available both here and in England.
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Post  ronbart on 11/25/2018, 7:54 am

@Dan in Ct wrote:My Top Lit Updraft Gasifier Stove arrived yesterday, 4-5 days early. It is actually a BioLite Cook Stove and the burn chamber is probably slightly bigger than a 16 oz beer can. I swear it looked a lot bigger in the picture but the good news is I only have to make a 1 cubic foot bag's worth for it to pay for itself. I will try to get enough made in the next couple of days to mix with some vermicompost so it will be ready to mix into a germination mix in March. The Cook Stove has a fan that runs on a battery that you charge as if it were a smart phone and I think it can run 30 hours on the low setting. In the video the fire/flames get fairly intense, so I think I will make my biochar outside.

https://www.bioliteenergy.com/products/cookstove

I think they only have the Cook Stove in England now. This one will help me engineer a larger homemade model if biochar is as good an amendment as it is reported to be. They do have a Camp Stove 2 that can charge a cell phone while burning which I thought was cool. That seems to be available both here and in England.
How are you going use the stove to make charcoal? Are you going to use it to heat a paint can full of wood chunks? I have a large brick fire pit that I burn until it is full of just coals then I shovel them into a steel drum with a tight fitting lid to smother them. When they are cool I dump them back in the fire pit and rinse off the ash with a garden hose.
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Post  Dan in Ct on 11/25/2018, 2:35 pm

Hi ronbart, on a very small scale I guess. Initially the pyrolysis  When it changes and begins to burn the carbon I will dump it into a tin can and cover to smother. I have a burn barrel and have had remnants that were probably biochar when emptying and with a few modifications could probably make something similar to the TLUD if I need more biochar than this little version can do. I am going to try and run some Japanese knotweed through a garden shedder chipper I have to make the feed stock and then run it through the TLUD so that I should have the perfect size to add to my mix. That is the plan so far. I don't know how much I need but I have seen too much of a good thing turn into a bad thing and rather quickly. I don't know exactly the why but the fan part of this stove is an important factor in making biochar. I am basically in the process of taking a second look at biochar but will get back to you. I do know the process has two parts and charging the biochar is as important as the proper burn.
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Post  ronbart on 11/25/2018, 3:22 pm

When I was a scout master 25 years ago, one of the more well to do boys had a little stove like that for backpacking. It used a 9 volt to power the fan. It would put out a lot of heat with very little wood in the fire chamber, but was too messy and finicky for my taste. I have seen people build similar ones with some metal cans and a computer fan. I agree with proper charging. I do vermiculture and raise soldier flies. The leachate from the soldier flies should work for charging the biochar. The red worms sure love it.
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Post  Yardslave on 11/27/2018, 8:02 pm

I spent yesterday crushing up some of the lump charcoal (B&B brand from WallyMart) and was surprised how well the big pieces were processed. I used a giant pair of plumber's Channel-lock pliers to crush up the pieces and reduced them to tiny bits. (Be sure to use a good mask while working with the char because the dust can get airborne easily and is not too healthy to breath in). I started a 5 gallon batch of worm pop, chicken manure, neem seed meal, and kelp meal tea and dumped in about a pound of charcoal for charging. A large majority sank and mixed in immediately, but the larger pieces floated and refused to blend into the "soup". 24 hours later, I have a tiny fraction of the char still floating, but the rest has absorbed into the tea, and I assume that those pieces are charged, as they no longer have a hydrophobic charge that is repelling the water born nutrients. As soon as the entire batch of char is absorbed in the tea, I will spread the emulsion as evenly as possible onto a bed and let the liquids absorb into the MM. I'll leave it on top for a day longer then till it in. Once that's done, I'll be able to finish my winter/spring planting. Hope the tea does the trick, because I'm out of compost and it's getting too cold to properly prepare a new batch of compost to blend with the char.
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Post  OhioGardener on 11/27/2018, 8:18 pm

@Yardslave wrote: I will spread the emulsion as evenly as possible onto a bed and let the liquids absorb into the MM. I'll leave it on top for a day longer then till it in.

It would be better if you could cover it with mulch, or work it into the soil immediately after spreading it on the soil.  Exposing it to the ultraviolet rays (sunshine) kills microbes that are exposed. Other than that, it sounds like you have a good plan.

I charged the Biochar with Compost Tea, and it seemed like the charcoal took to the tea very quickly.  I poured the Compost Tea over the charcoal until it was completely covered with liquid. Then I stirred the mixture with a wooden stick by switching from clockwise to counterclockwise to make sure it was all mixed. After about 15 minutes there was still some charcoal floating, so I stirred it again. I repeated that every 15 minutes until there was no charcoal floating. In a little over an hour there was no more charcoal floating, and I mixed it into the raised bed.

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Post  Yardslave on 11/28/2018, 11:39 am

You are right about the UV killing off the microbes. Guess I'll just have to get dirty and start tilling it in. Anyone for fresh mud pies? Just had another thought- what if I dump it out after sunset and come back in the morning after the goop has had a chance to absorb, then till it in?
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Post  OhioGardener on 11/28/2018, 11:48 am

@Yardslave wrote:You are right about the UV killing off the microbes. Guess I'll just have to get dirty and start tilling it in. Anyone for fresh mud pies? Just had another thought- what if I dump it out after sunset and come back in the morning after the goop has had a chance to absorb, then till it in?

Yes, that would work.  When I do foliar application of Compost Tea, I always wait until late evening after the sun has begun setting so that it has the night to settle in.

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Post  OhioGardener on 11/28/2018, 11:48 am

I hit the jackpot for getting free charcoal, which will become BioChar in the gardens.  The past few days a farmer down the road from us has been clearing out a fence row and bulldozing the trees into piles to burn them.  When I was coming home last night after dark, I noticed there were a lot of red embers smoldering, but no flames. I stopped by his house to ask him if he would mind if I went out to see if there was any charcoal that I could collect. He told me to help myself because he was just going to dig a hole and push the remaining brush into it.

Went down this morning with a trash can, a leaf rake, and aluminum grain scoop to see what I could scrounge. As soon as I began brushing around with the rake, I could hear the tinkling sound of charcoal and I started scooping it into the trash can. Some of the embers broke into flames when I disturbed them, and I had to leave them behind since I didn't have any water with me to put them out. But, I came home with a 35-gallon trash can full of charcoal. If I had another metal trash can, I would go back this afternoon to get some more from the other piles, but not sure if I want to buy another can or not...

I think I will now have enough BioChar to do all of the beds, plus add some to the perennial flower beds.  But, it is going to take a lot of Compost Tea to activate all of it.....

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Post  Yardslave on 11/28/2018, 11:58 am

You could remove half of the char from the 35 gallon trash can, drop in an aerator, add a couple shovels full of compost, add a dash of good topsoil, fill it up with water, and have half the batch ready to spread in 2 days.
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Post  SQWIB on 11/28/2018, 12:57 pm

Yardslave, dont sweat it, do whats easiest for you.
I have been dumping my charcoal directly on top of the beds, then as bio-mass becomes available I dump that on top of the charcoal.
Why did I say Charcoal? because it is actually charcoal until it is charged then it is considered Bio-Char, but we all knew that already, I just like to babble.

I'm sure there are all kinds of Scientific stuff about the "Proper" way to make bio-char and a "proper" way to use it, but to be honest, if it's being added at the end of the season like most of us "cooler weather folks" are doing, don't sweat it, your not hurting anything by layering, let the microbes deal with it, yes, consider it a mulch until you toss something on top of it.

Adding bio-char is a long term game.
I just hate to see folks get caught up in making this into a huge deal, but hey, if you like to tinker and perfect the perfect char, that is perfectly fine. (triple perfect Very Happy )

At the most, I toss my charcoal into a bucket with some coffee grounds, pee in it, give it a week to sit, then toss in my garden, hell that's what us beer drinking, meat eating, fire loving folks do, sorry girls, this may be a bit harder for you. Wink
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Post  Yardslave on 11/28/2018, 2:21 pm

SQWIB- Good idea! next batch I'll follow your lead- have a few frosty ones and "pi$$ on it", and be done with it! Biochar? - Page 4 3170584802
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Post  SQWIB on 11/28/2018, 3:23 pm

@Yardslave wrote:SQWIB- Good idea! next batch I'll follow your lead- have a few frosty ones and "pi$$ on it", and be done with it! Biochar? - Page 4 3170584802

LOL
I couldn't have said it better myself! Very Happy
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Post  OhioGardener on 3/22/2019, 1:52 pm

Today I was visiting the local discount book store and I happened upon a book titled, "Gardening with Biochar: Supercharge Your Soil with Bioactivated Charcoal", by Jeff Cox (I really must stop going to book stores!).  What caught my attention was a comment on the back cover from Jeff Lowenfels, "Biochar has been in the news a lot of late, so why isn’t it in your garden? That may be the question you ask yourself as you start Gardening with Biochar. It won't be a question you ask again. Jeff Cox not only makes the science of biochar accessible, he makes it downright compelling. Buy it, or make it (Jeff shows you how easy it is), you will be using biochar in your gardens after this read."

As soon as I finish Teaming with Fungi, I really must read this book! I will be adding Biochar to my raised beds this spring, and will be interested in seeing the results. Hopefully I'll have this new book read by then.

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Post  markqz on 1/12/2020, 8:37 pm

@OhioGardener wrote:
To further the experiment, that fall I added Biochar to the bed with perlite for two reasons: 1) to experiment with the benefit of adding charcoal to increase microbial life, and 2) to experiment with the statement that Biochar is a good replacement for perlite or vermiculite.  That experiment exceeded my expectations, though. The bed with Biochar showed exceptional growth and health of the plants, and the production of produce was much higher than normal.  In fact that bed was so successful that last spring I added Biochar to all of the remaining beds.  Had beautiful gardens last year.

But, that is just my 2 cents worth, with change...

Where or how did you obtain the biochar? Was it just added to the existing MM as an amendment, or a substitute for vermiculite ?

I would expect the biochar to break down. It would be interesting to know how your biochar gardens fare on year #2.

Thanks!

Edit: Whoa. Just looked up biochar on home depot and amazon. It makes vermiculite look cheap. Now if there was a way to make your own say, from the 1/4 cord of acacia wood in the back yard, that would be something.
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Post  OhioGardener on 1/13/2020, 8:03 am

@markqz wrote:1. Where or how did you obtain the biochar?
2. Was it just added to the existing MM as an amendment, or a substitute for vermiculite ?
3. I would expect the biochar to break down.
4. It would be interesting to know how your biochar gardens fare on year #2.
5. Edit: Whoa. Just looked up biochar on home depot and amazon. It makes vermiculite look cheap.
6. Now if there was a way to make your own say, from the 1/4 cord of acacia wood in the back yard, that would be something.
I'll try to answer by the number....

1. I bought some for the early test. For the rest, I made some, and got a lot free by simply asking for it.  Farmers in this area frequently clean out trees from the fence rows and burn them. I got trash cans full of free charcoal from those burns. I also experimented with making some from trees I cut down after they died from the Emerald Ash Borer.  Then, I crushed the charcoal and inoculated it to turn the Charcoal into Biochar.

2. It was added as an amendment, not as a replacement for anything. It did, though, an excellent job of "replacing" the perlite that all floated to the top of the bed.  Only need 1 cu ft of Biochar for a 4'x8' raised bed, worked into the top 6" of the soil.

3. Biochar is very stable, and will last for hundreds of years in the soil. Once the Biochar is inoculated and added to the soil, it not only helps retain water but also provides a luxury resort for the microbes that break down the organic material to make the nutrients available to plants.

4. They did excellent the 2nd year, actually better than the first year. This will be the 3rd year, and if the cover crops growth is in any indication, they will do excellent again this year. One thing I learned the hard way was that I had to cut back on the amount of water that I applied to the beds - they were retaining too much water.

5. Amazon & Home Depot is probably the least desirable place to order Biochar. I bought a bag from Wakefield Biochar, which is a 1 cu ft bag, for about $30.

6. Depending upon local burn laws and regulations, making your own is very simple. I have an old 55 gallon drum cut in half lengthwise that makes two great Biochar Kilns.

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Post  OhioGardener on 1/13/2020, 9:44 am

@markqz wrote:Edit: Whoa. Just looked up biochar on home depot and amazon. It makes vermiculite look cheap. Now if there was a way to make your own say, from the 1/4 cord of acacia wood in the back yard, that would be something.

Forgot to mention, one economical way to purchase charcoal that can be turned into Biochar is to purchase Cowboy Hardwood Lump Charcoal, or Rockwood All Natural Hardwood Lump Charoal, from some place such as Walmart, Ace Hardware, etc. This is pure charcoal, not the petroleum-based charcoal such as Kingsford, which should not be used.  If you get Hardwood Lump Charcoal, crush it, and inoculate it, it will be Biochar.

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Post  Dan in Ct on 1/13/2020, 12:03 pm

OhioGardener, I am going to attach a link because although they can look similar from what I have read the process, pyrolysis takes place in all three but differ slightly. I also think there is a lack of oversight and definitive explanations which we know leads to confusion. I have seen and read where the making or creation of biochar takes place in a double chambered barrel and is suppose to be done within certain parameters and is more off gassed charred in relation to the feedstock rather than actually burned as when I think of charcoal. The link also covers activated charcoal. As you know I have been making biochar with my back pack camp stove but I put the fire out when the smoke stops as I think I have reached the point where most of the moisture in the feedstock is diminished to the point I hope will act like a sponge with the nutrients. I don't know if I am making biochar or charcoal and won't know its benefits until next growing season. There is much work being done with biochar but haven't seen definitive answers as to what constitutes the difference between charcoal and biochar or if there is a difference or a difference in their benefits agriculturally. The benefits to biochar are very similar to that of perlite and vermiculite as you create nooks and crannies to hold more nutrients and water plus I am hoping to make my own at home inexpensively. Here is the link, the source a biochar manufacturer, so slightly biased.

https://char-grow.com/biochar-vs-charcoal-vs-activated-carbon
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Post  markqz on 1/13/2020, 12:49 pm

@OhioGardener wrote: If you get Hardwood Lump Charcoal, crush it, and inoculate it, it will be Biochar.

Inoculate with what?

Thanks!
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Post  sanderson on 1/13/2020, 3:55 pm

I moved the current discussion regarding biochar to this Biochar? thread.

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Post  Dan in Ct on 1/15/2020, 11:41 am

Sanderson, I found this link to Washington State University and it has a link to Biochar and covers to some extent what I have learned and what I thought biochar is. There are so many other topics covered at this link that it seems to be a treasure trove of home gardening information that I don't know where the best place to park it would be. Please keep in mind this information has something for everyone but best for the gardeners in the Pacific Northwest. I hope everyone finds a little something that they can use for this coming gardening season.

http://gardening.wsu.edu/compost-and-mulch/
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Post  countrynaturals on 1/15/2020, 1:43 pm

We have a burn pile for yard waste. I've been "harvesting" the small "charcoal" particles, calling it "biochar", and using it as a soil additive in my raised beds.

According to WSU:
WSU wrote:Proper pyrolysis is impossible to achieve at home since oxygen is present and temperatures are too low.

So, am I wasting my time or is there some other benefit to my process? (Gonna re-read this thread in case this question has already been asked and answered.) Embarassed

Here's what I found in another thread:
Vermiculite's role in the mix is to provide aeration, friability and drainage. It also provide moisture retention due 'puffed' nature of it.

Peat's role in the mix is provide moisture retention, also helps provide aeration and slows nutrient leaching and helps with friability.

What makes biochar interesting is the potential to use it in place of vermiculite and peat. It retain moisture similar to peat and attracts and retains nutrients. Similar to vermiculite, it's long term stable in the mix and promotes friability.

So, can I substitute my unprofessional biochar for peat and vermiculite in MM? (I'm already using what Mel calls the "humanitarian" mix, which just means using whatever's available, but I'd like to get a little closer to the real thing if I can -- without spending money, since we have so much organic material just lying around the property.) Rolling Eyes
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Post  Dan in Ct on 1/15/2020, 5:43 pm

Suz, I will let Ohio Gardener answer because he is using charcoal from a burn barrel and having good results. I would ask if he charges his biochar and with what. Here is a link to an Iowa State Dissertation, scroll down to page 57 and read the Conclusion. Mel's Mix for the most part is a sterile mix until you add the compost and then it comes alive. 

https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4406&context=etd

As with everything one question answered, usually creates two more questions. I think backyard biochar needs more research but if there is no money in DIY then who will pay for the research. I would trust Ohio Gardener and his results but he is east of the Mississippi River.
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Post  countrynaturals on 1/15/2020, 6:09 pm

Thanks, Dan. My conclusion is that I'm overthinking it. I'm going to add it to the mix in my Salad Bar (SFG) and see what happens. geek
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