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How to apply biochar to your garden

Applying biocharWe started our first biochar experiment at the beginning of February.  After soaking a bucket of biochar in urine, I applied it in a thin coating across half of one of our garden beds.  (The other half of the bed was left alone as a control.)  Then I added an inch of well-composted horse manure on top of both halves.  I'll be planting lettuce there this spring, and I hope to be able to see a difference between the biochar and control portions of the bed.

When applying biochar, there seems to be only one rule --- make sure the charcoal gets covered up so it doesn't erode or blow away.  Traditional farmers plow biochar into their soil while no-till farmers have been known to powder the charcoal and apply it mixed with liquid manures.  Although biochar seems to give the most benefits at or just below the primary root zone, earthworms and other soil critters have been shown to mix the biochar into the soil pretty quickly, so you don't need to work too hard at incorporation.

Covering the biochar with manureFarmers have even applied biochar to existing perennials (like trees.)  One method is to dig several holes within the tree's root zone, add biochar, then put the native soil back in.  A less intrusive method involves scattering the biochar on the soil surface in the autumn when the charcoal will soon be covered up by falling leaves.  This last method is particularly useful in riparian buffers where you need to catch nutrients leaching away from your field or pasture to prevent pollution of a stream.

I have one more bucket of biochar being activated as I type and suspect I might come up with a third and final bucket before the heating season is over.  I haven't quite decided what to do with my limited bounty, but am already thinking of ways to get more biochar.  I had originally assumed that we would make a biochar-producing stove if our garden experiments look promising, but Mark suggested, instead, hooking up with other wood burners in our area who are unlikely to use their charcoal.  Turning the region's trash into fertility for our garden seems to be the theme of 2011!

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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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