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Biochar in the backyard

The biochar debateI've been intrigued by terra preta ever since I first heard about it, and am equally intrigued by its modern grandchild, biochar.  Last year, Mark and I attended a workshop on biochar and came away with a lot of information about how biochar is used in large scale agriculture.  I resolved to put biochar to use in our 2011 garden, then got bogged down in the details of how to tweak the technology to fit the backyard scale.  Did I need to build a special piece of equipment to make the biochar?  Did I need to grind the biochar?  To charge or activate it?  Is biochar compatible with no-till or does it have to be worked into the soil?  And what exactly happens when you put biochar in the soil? 

In this week's lunchtime series, I do my best to answer those questions.  I delved into several books and websites in the research process, but the ones I think you'd enjoy the most are:

Bruges, James.  2009.  The Biochar Debate.  Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont. 

I had high hopes that The Biochar Debate would have all of the answers, but I should have read the subtitle "Charcoal's Potential to Reverse Climate Change and Build Soil Fertility."  Most of the book rehashes information you are probably well aware of about climate change and the evils of modern, mainstream agriculture, but the tidbits on biochar are very easy to read.

Biochar for environmental managementLehmann, Johannes, and Stephen Joseph.  2009.  Biochar for Environmental Management.  Earthscan Publications, Ltd., London.

This book summarizes all of the current data about the production and use of biochar.  As long as you don't mind wading through four hundred pages of scientific language, you can find a lot of answers here.  The downside of the book is that it focuses on the large scale, so some of the information isn't really suitable to the backyard.

Gardening with Biochar FAQ.

This website probably isn't useful if you're just figuring out what biochar is, but once you start getting your hands dirty, you'll suddenly find the information very informative.  If you'd rather get a simplified, pictorial view of how to apply biochar to your garden, visit his Flicker page.

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This post is part of our Biochar in the Backyard lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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