bio char anyone used it

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by dreuky, Feb 14, 2015.

  1. dreuky

    dreuky Junior Member

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    Hi I've been googling Bio char and wonder if anyone has used it in a broad acre situation? My soil is very sandy and I thought bio char could be helpful as far as water holding goes. But as I don't have a source of wood to make my own I would have to buy it and on the sites I was looking at it was very expensive if you wanted to put it out on pasture. cubic metre well over $1000 plus postage. That is way out of my league. Any thoughts?
     
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  2. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Wait for bazman to comment as he is the resident (dare I say it) biochar nerd.

    That scale though, would be horribly expensive and if you made it yourself, very time consuming.

    Join https://www.facebook.com/groups/Regrarians/ and ask some questions or have a long read.

    I'd assume they would recommend keyline/chisel plowing, seeding and running animals over it in a holistic management regime. Curramore (another member) could probably help more here.
     
  3. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    that's way too much money. biochar is a more controlled version of making charcoal. the process doesn't require much other than the right materials and a willingness to experiment.

    a few drum barrels, some control of air flow and a thermometer or two that can handle the temperatures.

    i have made charcoal using methods as easy as digging holes and burying stuff and then covering it with enough soil to keep the heat in and the air out. it is not strictly biochar but close enough for my purposes. unfortunately, my own reactions to smokes of any kind keep me from doing much further experiments along those lines.

    rocket stoves are supposedly the way to generate small amounts while also using the heat for cooking and hot water. i've not gotten into those yet, but i like the idea in principle of turning some of the woody stems here into some char that can be used in the gardens.

    now, if you really think of what is going on with most forests to generate black earth and humus part of that black in there is from longer term cycling of the forest through periods of fire and growth over thousands of years. that black dirt is very good soil for sure, it takes many years of abuse to turn it back into subsoil. most of the fields around here used to be much better quality...
     
  4. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

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    Hi Dreuky, you can make bio char out of any woody plant stem. I use a 55 gal steel barrel, it has 6 holes around the bottom and three holes in the lid which I can cover to stop any draft action, from initial light up to finished barrel of char it take me about 4 hours. Bio char however really isn't for water holding, it is more for giving micro organisms a place to flourish and spread from. Bio char, to work properly needs to be inoculated with some micro organisms before it is put into the soil. This is usually done with saturation of the char with compost or manure teas. If you don't have a lot of starting material, you would be better off to seed cover crops and chop and drop them. This will have most of the same effect of adding bio char to your soil, although it may take more time to achieve your goal, it will be less expensive and you will end up with far better soil than just adding bio char could do for you.
     
  5. dreuky

    dreuky Junior Member

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    Thanks Bryant think I will go with adding composted horse manure & chop & drop. I don't think I am in a situation to make my own bio char. The stuff on the web definitely said one of the best points of bio char was increasingly water holding of soil
     
  6. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

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    The best method I've found for holding water in a soil is the use of rotting wood in hugel mounds. You are putting a significant amount of spongy wood in there that way, I have one that didn't need water from any source but the rain last year. It produced quite a lot of passion fruit, squashes, oh yeah and some weeds. My garden with the bio char still needed to be watered once a week. It did however, grow some amazing plants and the peek hole I dug was full of white threads of beneficial fungi.
     
  7. dreuky

    dreuky Junior Member

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    The area I was thinking of using bio char is broad acre paddocks so hugel mounds is not an option. I did intend to try the mounds for my vegie garden but that is a different situation
     
  8. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

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    If you can dig out a trench, you can cover it just to the level of the surrounding ground. I've seen that done with good results, there isn't anything about permaculture that can't be modified to fit your situation. Unfortunately there just really isn't a short cut to making sandy soil or pure sand, hold onto a lot of water. Unless of course you also have fairly unlimited funds, and I'm not one of those people. Just about every soil improvement I make is done by hand with pick, shovel and rake or scythe. It can be frustrating but it does keep me in shape, and there's the satisfaction factor when I can look back and see what I've accomplished, before moving on to the next project. Best of luck to you on getting the paddocks into shape.
     
  9. dreuky

    dreuky Junior Member

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    I have started slashing the Lucerne that is getting long and storky. Has the effect of bringing the Lucerne back into leaf that the horse and sheep can eat with a plus of adding some vegetable matter to the surface of the sand. Maybe not a big start but I figure any veg matter added to the sand has to be good. I intend to keep doing this and see how much can be cut and dropped this way. I also thought that as the cut Lucerne is tough it won't get blown away
     
  10. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    dreuky, that is what i do too at times, if i cut lucern too early it breaks down much faster, so i leave some of it to go to seed and then cut it when it has more of a woody stem. lasts a season or two longer on the surface that way as a mulch. like you say though the animals much prefer it when it is more green and not so much stem.
     
  11. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    Maybe not.

    I suggest going to Geofflawton.com and watching the "Re Greening A Mountain" video. The biochar system used was impressive, Baz may even like it.
     
  12. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Is that the one in Hong Kong? The one where they had a chipper in a shed? And the extremely high tech gasifier? And the pots in the nursery worth AUD$8 each, just for the pot?

    Expensive most likely.

    Awesome system though.
     
  13. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    Yes, yes, not sure how high tech, but it does have a condenser which is unusual. Really, those air pots cost that much? DAMN!=(

    still an impressive system though.
     
  14. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    I was gifted some of those pots, 8 of them and was reasonably impressed with the result (my thread has some photos of the root development) so I contacted the manufacturer about postage (price is on website). It made it even worse! He seemed pleased with the photos though.

    Once I saw that nursery in that video with what appeared hundreds of the pots, a 80K dollar chipper in the shed and a gasifier more advanced than a 44 gal drum, it doesn't become relevant to me anymore. I would kill for a chipper sitting in the shed, it would make a lot of work so much easier. And a nursery like that would be nice too.
     
  15. bazman

    bazman Junior Member

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    Horses for courses. "biochar nerd"...... =P First thing to do is spend some money and get your soil tested, then you know what you need to do to improve your soils. The only real world testing in broad acre that I would bother following would be SANTFA as they were applying 40kg per hectare with some really good responses. https://www.santfa.com.au/wp-conten...r-13-Targeted-use-key-to-biochar-benefits.pdf Yes biochar at this point is high value but I would suggest the cheapest you will find in large bulk (truck loads) ordered volumes would be from James Joyce from Black is Green in Australia, he now has a large processing site near Griffith NSW. I think he has two biochar options, wood plantation based and cotton trash based biochar. https://www.blackisgreen.net/ What I would suggest and have suggested to many farmers is to do a test plot of an acre as biochar takes many years to settle and become a stabilised product. Apart from the work SANTFA has done I feel biochar at this point in time is only suited to higher value cropping and the home garden markets. "Biochar however really isn't for water holding" I like to take a holistic approach to Biochar as it has many different positive aspects and water holding is one of them, a high cation exchange (nutrient holding), in general is alkaline which helps with much of Australia's acid soils, helps with aeration in clay soils and it's extremely complex porous structure helps increase soil biology (both fungi and microbe) It can be used the help reduce farm nutrient run off into water ways and as a growing medium in human waste water so plants like bamboo can harvest high nutrient loads. If you spray chemical's biochar can be a negative as it can bind up soil fungicides and pesticides. I have probability made more biochar by hand than anyone and used more biochar in my forest food than any other site, apart from the Amazon. It is well suited to my acid sandy soils and my system is extremely productive. BUT biochar is only one part of many inputs in my organic system and it sits nicely in a permaculture system...... As long as the biochar has been made properly with NO/ZERO burnt/smoke smell. The system producing it must not produce ANY smoke, many of these backyard badly designed drums spew out smoke for hours where it is quite simple to process and make biochar without smoke. Retorts should be totally avoided as they are dangerous and hard to control and/or stop. If anyone ever tells you their smoking biochar maker is an environmental benefit. Tell them Baz told you they are talking out of their ass. =) Cone burners are quite safe but they do need a lid and flue to better deal with emissions, the other system is a TLUD (Top lit up draft gasifier) but these also need a good size flue so emissions have time to burn up and oxidise. To get an idea of flue size have a look at this link which has a pic of me and my Bazman systems, note the chamber diameter compared to flue diameter. (Note I am no longer making these units or biochar for sale.) https://www.biochar.net/bazman-rumbler/ If you are wanting to buy bagged biochar in NSW/QLD talk to Mike from Earth Haven. https://www.earthhaven.com.au/ I also sell Mike's biochar in my new social business nursery in Brisbane (plug). =) https://www.thegardengate.com.au/ I can never get text to para right in this forum, why does it not record new lines? Help...
     
  16. bazman

    bazman Junior Member

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    The unit in Hong Kong is a retort and would have cost close to 80k to make I would say. Nice looking unit but there are better ways to make Biochar. A lot of money has been put into that site in that video, but it is Hong Kong which is full of $$$$.
     
  17. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    Baz, under Settings -> General Settings in the Miscellaneous Options section there are settings for what editor interface to use while writing responses. also if you use quick reply vs. go advanced makes a difference...
     
  18. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    That was the nerdiest thing I've ever read.

    Edit: And the picture on your Garden Gate site looks familiar. Did you know there is a massive rat in the centre of the frame?
     
  19. dreuky

    dreuky Junior Member

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    I have already done a soil test. The nutrients are pretty well balanced and the ph is neutral. The main problem is lack of organic matter and that being very sandy it has very poor water holding ability which is why I was looking into bio char. I have now decided commercial bio char is way too expensive & I'm not interested in making it myself so I think I will look into mushroom compost or chicken manure. Both of which are available quite never where my block is. Thanks for your thoughts
     
  20. bazman

    bazman Junior Member

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    Mushroom compost for boardacre? un-composted chicken manure is also not the greatest soil additive either, I doubt it will do little for improving water holding.

    I think if you want to add labile organic matter to a larger scale system, green manure cropping is the only real cost effective way forward. You will find tonnes of info with regards to this online. Look at what your local farmers are doing with regards to crop/legume rotations. Biochar is not a normal organic matter, far from it. It is a recalcitrant organic matter, as in it does not readily break down and just stabilises over many years (about 5-7yrs in my soils)

    Labile organic matter (like compost, some forums of humus and green manures/animal manures may last 1-4 yrs if you are lucky and depending on seasons.
    Recalcitrant organic matter (like biochar) may last 100-5000 yrs...

    If you run different legumes and high leaf matter green manure crops and keep running that into your soils of one or two years you will get some pretty good organic matter soils. Mix in some good quality EM you will be on your way. If you can afford it make/buy in some biochar and do I test area as I am sure you will see of positive outcome from those sandy soils.

     

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