Adding Biochar to improve the soil & an update on the patch..

Posted August 18th, 2013 by Rob Bob : )»

Biochar (char) as a soil additive...
Been looking at ways to boost the soil quality in the beds & for a while now I've been interested to have a crack at adding some biochar after seeing some fairly impressive results by back yard growers on the internet..
Our soils were all bought in & unfortunately they haven't got the best structure so I am hoping that the biochar will help add some & at the same time offer its other benefits..
Biochar is a form of charcoal that is made when plant matter has been cooked with little or no oxygen present in a process, called Pyrolysis.. The process also produces another useful by-product called wood gas or syngas.. I have seen people use this gas to run their pickups in the US..
It is often made from timber scraps, animal manure & husks of rice/grain.. When the material is "cooked" small voids are formed in the char that allows water to be held making it a great way to improve the moisture holding capacity of the soils.. A lot of people also take advantage of its porous nature by "activating" the biochar with liquid fertilisers.. This allows the nutrients to be held in the voids for use later by the plants.. As a soil additive it is high in potash (potassium) & is alkaline so is a great additive for acid soils that need "sweetening".. Another benefit of the char being activated is that beneficial microbes & fungi can move into the voids where there is plenty of food.. These little workers start the process of making these nutrients more available for plants..
I had been waiting for the beds to be emptied before I add the char.. However, as they are never empty of plants & the bag has been under the house for the past year I thought I should open it and get to it..
I have made up a few lots now & think that the easiest way for us to do it is to add the char to Worm Castings tea while it is brewing..

Once it has been activated the biochar is added to the soil..
Some like to add it to the surface of garden beds while others like to dig it through the soil.. I have been adding the activated biochar to the surface of the soil, racking it in a bit then adding about 75-100mm of broken down horse manure on top of it.. I shall be doing this once a year/season to the beds that I think will benefit from it.. In the new beds that are being made up I am looking at adding 2 layers into the soil mix as I build the beds..

It is fairly easy to make & have seen many clips on you tube showing homemade char ovens/cookers.. I also know of people that make their own by cooking organic matter in small tins put in their fireplace during winter making it an efficient use of resources.. I am confident that this will benefit the poor soil structure of our purchased soils greatly & over time increase the vigour & harvests of our patch.. I am looking at doing some side by side comparisons in the coming months with some of the new beds going in out the front..
Here are some links to a few sites that I found helpful when I was looking into the char..

Planting out and a wander around the patch..

Started off a few more seeds, corms & rhizomes this week.. Some snow pea seeds went out into one of the front asparagus beds & some tigerella tomato seeds.. It appears that I didn't plant any in the tray I have out the back so it has been sitting in the water with nothing in it, Ooops...
Some spaghetti squash & kohlrabi seed were also sown into containers & some lettuce randomly sown in the aquaponic beds & an asparagus bed..
I have started to set up 2 IBC beds out the front & hope to have another 2 up in a few weeks time at the latest.. This will give us a bit more space to plant out the yacon & some very special seeds I managed to get this week, more on that later..

8 water chestnut corms that had shot were also planted out..
It is still a bit early for these to go out but the warmer weather over the past week has helped them to shoot earlier.. Hopefully they will have their summer home ready for them by the first week of spring..
8 potted up yacon rhizomes were brought out from their hidey hole under the house, placed in a sunny spot with their first drenching of water..
Was surprised to see a few green shoots on some of the rhizomes so I think we will end up with more plants than what we know what to do with..

Did a bit of a walk around the patch with the camera earlier in the week to do a bit of an update on how things are growing on if your interested..

Harvests from the patch...

The honey pod peas have picked up their production this week with us being able to take a few meals worth off.. We are not saving any just yet as they are being used in nearly every nights meal & a fair few appear to be finding their way into B's snack box :D»
Finely took off the last pumpkin from the volunteer plant under the back stairs.. Not the largest specimen we have picked but shall be enjoyed just the same.. Have been mighty impressed with the way the chillies have kept powering on during winter as well.. Always nice to have some fresh on hand for salads & cooking..
Still can't get over the amount of broccoli we have been picking.. I've decided to pull 3 of the original plants that went out at the end of summer because I need some space for upcoming crops.. Think we will still get a steady stream of shoots for a while but not enough to have it 5 nights out of 7 anymore : (»
Took off our first pepino from the aquaponic grow beds this week & I made it part of my breakfast this morning : )»
Shall be saving the seeds I collected from it to see how they grow as we have never tried that method before..

That's it for this blog.. If anyone has any questions on anything I haven't mentioned for a while or are interested in around the patch feel free to ask..
Hope you all got out into the patch this week & had a ball..

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