Biochar

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by j_cornelissen, Jan 15, 2010.

  1. j_cornelissen

    j_cornelissen Junior Member

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    I know this was a very long thread a while ago, but I'd like to know of other peoples experiences using the stuff.

    I've been using charcoal from my pizza oven in my veggie garden and things are growing OK this year, as a lot of other things have changed and the weather's been much wetter compared to previous years, I'm not sure whether the charcoal is responsible for this (at least there were no negative effects).

    So:

    who's been trying using biochar

    were there any positive or negative effects

    I'd be very interested finding out!

    Cheers, Jan
     
  2. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

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    I have been playing with it for three+ years now.
    Problems
    1. I have VERY high pH soil SOME charcoals also have high pH the combination has been disastrous. As too; putting a lot on acid loving plants.
    Your Pizza oven ash would not just be charcoal but "lime" as well which would exacerbate this effect.
    2. Over-enthusiasm. I have the typical male gardener's problem of thinking that if a little is good more must be better. So i think I have used too much.
    3.Charcoal in pots is different from charcoal in soil. Yet to work out exactly how yet.
    4. Not realising that best effects happen when combined with lots of organic carbon (mulch compost).

    The theory is that the charcoal will provide "housing" for soil micro-organisms there by increasing soil fertility
    Also it should soak up any excess chemical fertilisers before it fertilises the creeks, rivers, lakes Ocean or the Great Barrier Reef.

    In the American Terra preta soils their is a lot of porous clay. This seems to have a symbiotic or catalytic effect with the char's soil improving effects. Rather than break up all my terracotta pots I have been combining charcoal with some Australian Zeolite. Again i have used too much. I initially could not believe that stuff that looks and feels like sand would hold as much water as claimed. It does, and then some. I am beginning to suspect though, that if you let a pot dry out it sucks the water out of the plant--as do water holding polymers. (???).
    The Terra preta soils are in the Tropics so they would get rain on a daily basis. The clay and charcoal should collect the N and any other fertiliser in the rain and make it more available to plants.

    All still just an ongoing experiment I'm afraid, no definite answers for you --at least from my experience-yet. However i am always 'playing" and experimenting in my garden 'laboratory'.
    BTW
    I still have half a tonne of Zeolite and Charcoal (high pH) to sell. Probably enough, I've discovered, for the average suburb or two.

    BTW Did you build your pizza oven or buy it?
     
  3. j_cornelissen

    j_cornelissen Junior Member

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    Hey Mike,

    built the oven myself, my back is just about feeling right again, and i try to get rid of mot of the ash before I use the coal.

    I chuck the glowing embers in a fire pit, extinguish them with water, put the the shovel on the coal to get small fragments and then put it through the compost pile (which contains chicken poo)

    Haven't test the soil pH, but we're on clay here in Melbourne. So far I haven't used that much, but like I said, the tomatoes seem to be going Ok this year

    regards, Jan
     
  4. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

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    Got a pic of your oven? Perhaps we should start a new thread. i am interested in building one.
     
  5. j_cornelissen

    j_cornelissen Junior Member

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    plenty of pics

    but seem to be unable to paste them in, is this only possible when they're on-line on flicr?
     
  6. j_cornelissen

    j_cornelissen Junior Member

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    Come on people,

    surely this the biggest thing out there when it comes to carbon sequestering / crop increasement (even that poor Mr Turnbill seemed to think so)

    where's your stories!

    did I mention I'm a tad impatient?
     
  7. alfamick

    alfamick Junior Member

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    I'm interested in biochar, primarily as a possible by-product from clean-burning stoves.

    I've been running a bunch of experiments with a TLUD stove burning palm fronds and seeds, and I put the char into the compost. No idea yet what impact it has on the garden; I'm certainly not going to use it around the blueberries.

    Currently making a couple of other stove designs, and getting ready to do some more controlled experiments to measure the amount of char retrieved from palm fronds/seeds.
     
  8. j_cornelissen

    j_cornelissen Junior Member

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    is that one of the double walled stoves that'll accommodate pyrolysis of organic matter?
     
  9. alfamick

    alfamick Junior Member

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    Yep - I've got some photos from my earlier attempts here:
    https://backyardpermaculture.blogspot.com/search/label/TLUD

    I've got that one burning really well now; just finishing an "EverythingNice" stove (from WorldStove), made from stainless steel.
     
  10. j_cornelissen

    j_cornelissen Junior Member

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    cool!! (I'm teaching an alternative energy unit at the highschool and trying to make a rocket stove for starters)

    check this site out for the anila stove, which is something I thought you'd made https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-SLnWTAoW0

    Jan
     
  11. alfamick

    alfamick Junior Member

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  12. DJ-Studd

    DJ-Studd Junior Member

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    Hey Mick,
    that's a good video!

    Cheers
     
  13. ppp

    ppp Junior Member

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    nice video! very tempted to try to make one, half for cooking and half to make the biochar.. does it stop burning before the biochar becomes ash or do you have to put it out?

    One thing though.. did you really have to use fire lighters? Surely no one in the developing world has those? I guess it was in your kitchen though..
     
  14. alfamick

    alfamick Junior Member

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    ppp, thanks for the feedback. Regarding firelighters, in most of the developing world they have paraffin or similar and can soak sticks in it. Alternatives include roasted coconut. Main thing is to make sure no flammable liquid moves down through the dry fuel or you won't get a good pyrolysis layer.

    All, regarding differences between different biochars - this article is worth reading:
    https://terrapreta.bioenergylists.o...are-not-created-equal-and-how-tell-them-apart
     
  15. bazman

    bazman Junior Member

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    Hey All

    I have been using Biochar now for many years now and I'm quite a fan of the stuff, I'm just a few weeks off finishing my latest prototype for making Biochar, I'm hoping for a 100lt of Biochar per 2hrs in a batch process, My plan is to bring the system to market for roughly around 1k aud, the cost of steel can effect the final price and I still have many issues to sort out. But that said most of the systems around I have seen cost big $$$ so I'm hoping to slip into this new market somewhere. I'm thinking about open sourcing the design plans too.

    Tips for using it.

    1. Never use the stuff straight, compost it or leave it in compost tea for a couple of months.
    2. Retorts are great hair removal devices. I have lots of small burns too. Be careful making it.
    3. Break the Biochar down into a mix of different sizes before adding to compost/teas, powdered, small chunks and larger chunks are the go, I hate uniform sizes in my permaculture garden.
    4. If your making it in a drum or pit, put out the burn with water, try and create stream jetting through the Biochar, this will increase the amount of pores in the biochar creating a better product. Watch out for stream burns.
    5. I add micronutrients to my Biochar teas which some of the Biochar will absorb.
    6. Biochar is just part of the process in creating great soils, rock dust, compost teas, compost and roting biomass covered by thick mulch with a bit of Biochar will go a long way.
    7. Get your soils tested so you know where you need to go with them, Like Michael said Biochar can have a high ph, this will can be reduced by adding lime/dolmite to your composts/teas.
    8. I have added small amounts of sub soil clays and fine clay stone to my vegi garden soil at the same time as biochar compost. My soil has quite a bit the sand/silt content and the clay helps keep the soil moist and helps bind the sand.
    9. I have often added soil/mud and mulch from my local swamp to try and increase the bio quality of the biochar compost I produce.
    10. I have found worms love Biochar and noticed many more worms in the Biochar layers of my compost.
    11. My soil is turning jet black in the vegi gardens where lots of biochar have been added.
    12. Adding Biochar to your soil is a long term project, it's not going to work over night or even a year, it's a slow process making great quality organic soils.

    Warning, woodgas from stoves, gasifiers and retorts will flare if you lose combustion and they start to smoke, this smoke when mixed with a clean source of air and a spark will flare, I have seen a 2m high flame flare from my retort, good fun but quite nasty if your looking down the retort seeing what happening. Think of woodgas being as flammable as Petrol. T-shirt and shorts are a bad idea, gloves, hat, no exposed skin on your arms. Having a hose close by is a good idea due to sparks.

    My website has some more info and photos, I don't update it as often as I would like. https://www.biochar.net

    Regards

    Baz

    P.S. A Biochar type of product has jut hit the Aussie gardening market called Deco-Carbon which you can use. $20 per 10kg bag. I saw it at my local nursery the other day.
    https://www.productivegardens.com.au/products/deco-carbon
    https://www.rcra.com.au/in-the-garden.html
     
  16. j_cornelissen

    j_cornelissen Junior Member

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    wow, Bazman you make loads of the stuff, good website too btw

    did you find an increased productivity in your garden? I read a reference to an increased water retention, which is great of course.

    re the high pH of the biochar; doesn't the addition of lime or dolomite make the problem worse? Addition of compost (low pH) should be good to neutralise the biochar.

    When you make the biochar, do you burn-off all the gasses, I believe it's methane, or does that happen more or less by accident? I'm asking because methane is roughly 20x worse as a greenhouse gas compared to C02.
    Anyway, very impressive mate. The biochar and your swales, any other clever stuff you're putting into practice?

    Cheers, Jan
     
  17. j_cornelissen

    j_cornelissen Junior Member

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    Hey Mick,

    nice video mate, did you have a look at the anilla stove? Will be building one myself one of these days.

    Cheers, Jan
     
  18. ppp

    ppp Junior Member

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    nice.

    I look forward to updates on how it goes!
     
  19. alfamick

    alfamick Junior Member

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    Thanks Jan,

    Yes, I watched the Anila video. I've read a bit about the Anila - if you were building something that size, I'd recommend looking at Paul Anderson's TLUD design. Paul is very helpful in providing advice too.

    Cheers, Mick
     
  20. bazman

    bazman Junior Member

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    Hi Jan

    Yeah your right, re dolimite, here it's not a problem here, starting PH was 5-5.5 and I'm always thinking about increasing PH not lowering it, so for me adding dolimite into all my composts is a normal process of garden development. I'll edit my earlier post too.

    Re water retention, while I feel it adds to the water retention of my soil I can't be sure, the biochar does sink after about a week in the compost tea drum, it ends up a water logged muddy mix when I use it.

    All my Biochar making systems burn the woodgas and use the energy to speed up and heat the biochar making process. In general all you can see out the top of these systems is a heat haze with almost no smell. I will be having my system tested in the future and that area of it will require some effort in development.

    I have many other permaculture projects I have developed here, I'm thinking about opening my gardens to the general public via Open Gardens Australia in the next year or so, that said I'm always happy to show fellow permies around the farm if they are keen to drop by. I'm adding a library of pics for my open gardens entry and will post it here, so those who have been here can see the progress or those who are interested in having a look.

    Baz

    Edit: The new forum system won't let me edit my old post for some reason???
     

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