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Fertilizing biochar with urine

Adding urine to biocharI've discussed the benefits of biochar before, but as I did more research, I realized that gardening with biochar isn't as simple as taking charcoal and throwing it in your soil.  Instead, you need to prepare the charcoal a bit to get best results.  The first step in preparation is soaking the charcoal --- charcoal is naturally hydrophobic, so you have to overcome that barrier to water.  The second step is to add some kind of high nitrogen input to the charcoal to give the first microorganisms something to eat.  You can do both preparation steps at once using urine. 

I filled a four gallon bucket with biochar and poured a gallon of urine over top.  The charcoal chunks snapped, crackled, and popped just like rice cereal as they soaked up the liquid, and only a scant half cup was left in the bottom of the bucket a few hours later.  I'll apply the mixture to the garden soon and hope that microorganisms get to work on the fertilized biochar in time to see results in this year's garden.  (Much more on biochar to come in next week's lunchtime series.)

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This post is part of our Urine in the Garden lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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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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Thanks for the update about water and nitrogen. I decided to follow your lead this winter by saving the charcoal from the wood stove, but I'm not ready to start saving urine, even if it helps to make it more receptive for the soil. We have chickens and rabbits, so I'll probably make a compost tea to add to the charcoal when the snow melts. Over all, I'm excited to see what difference the biochar will make!
Comment by David Mon Feb 14 00:25:38 2011
I'll be very curious to see how your biochar experiment turns out. Chicken and rabbit manure should activate the biochar just as well as urine (and if it's composted, probably better since it will seed good microorganisms in the process.)
Comment by anna Mon Feb 14 09:00:12 2011

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