The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Easy biochar

Sifting biochar out of wood ashesSome of my experiments fade away while others stand the test of time and become part of our daily routine.  Biochar falls into the latter category.

We haven't gotten around to making large amounts of biochar, but it's simple to sift charcoal out of the ashes from our wood stove whenever the ash bucket fills up (once or twice a month.)  Come spring, I'll soak the charcoal in urine to give it a dose of nitrogen, then add it to my soil.

This past growing season, I discovered that biochar gave early spring onion seedlings a leg up, probably due to absorbing sunlight and heating the soil.  The real benefits of biochar, though, will show up later when microorganisms move into their "condos."

For more information on biochar, check out some of my previous posts.  First, videos from the experts:

Next, my research and experiments with bringing biochar to the backyard:

I'm always looking for the permaculture low hanging fruit, and I'd put my biochar system on that list.  If you heat with wood, don't toss those hunks of charcoal!  Put them to work in your garden.

Our chicken waterer makes the backyard flock easy enough to be low-hanging fruit too.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Have you found any use for the fine ash powder you separate from the charcoal?
Comment by Dave V Sat Mar 24 04:30:38 2012

Dave --- Nope, still no use for the ash. In the far past, I've used it a time or two to dust potato leaves to deter flea beetles, but I don't really think flea beetles are that big of a deal on anything except eggplants anymore. (I think they never were a big deal in my garden --- I just assumed if there were bad bugs around, you should squash them.)

If you've got acidic soil, you can use ash to raise the pH, like lime (but with a dose of micronutrients). But our soil is already quite sweet because of the limestone underneath. So I've just been dumping the ash in a pile and letting it wash into the soil in an area I don't care about.

Roland mentioned some chemistry with ash, such as making lye.

Comment by anna Sat Mar 24 08:29:57 2012
Ok, maybe I'll use it around my blueberries! And good thinking with the lye, I forgot ash is used to make it.
Comment by Dave V Sat Mar 24 13:24:53 2012
Duh! Feel free to strike that last post from the record! It hit me when I clicked "post comment" that you said it raises ph...
Comment by Dave V Sat Mar 24 13:26:57 2012
Dave --- I didn't delete your comment because I think there are a lot of other people who might need the reminder. Don't put ashes on your blueberries! :-)
Comment by anna Sat Mar 24 19:46:38 2012
Fair enough!
Comment by Dave V Sun Mar 25 06:09:18 2012

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