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biochar

Posted by Nathaniel Bouman 
biochar
March 16, 2017 10:00PM
I've been saving the charcoal from my wood stoves this winter, sifting out the ash. I've got about 60 gallons at this point. Has anyone tried spreading "charged" charcoal around trees? There seems to be a lot of hype around "biochar" but thinking of the charcoal as a good home to soil life and nutrients makes sense to me, especially if the soil has a lot of clay.

Nat Bouman
Growing cider varieties in Zone 5b
Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania
Re: biochar
March 17, 2017 11:28AM
Bill MacKentley of St. Lawrence Nurseries told me how he sifted out the charcoal from wood ashes as a source of "homegrown biochar" years ago. I've been doing that ever since . . . though achieving a trash can's worth would be a big harvest (given the efficiency of our wood boiler). These chunks are a core part of biological tree prep. Biochar acts as a rechargeable battery by constantly drawing in nutrients. The fine hyphae of mycorrhizal fungi in turn access the crystalline structure of biochar to tap into these savings on behalf of the plant community whereas feeder roots cannot do this. A pound or two of biochar spread through the tree planting hole and in the immediate radius of planting is a fundamental investment in building a fungal ecosystem for a young tree. This recommendation holds for sandy soils, perfect loam, and heavy clay. Similarly, spreading finer biochar (along with good compost) around a fruit tree in decline, and roughly broad forking that ground (a pass around the dripline) to open up compaction, is one of the means to rekindle growth. Charging biochar is simple enough, just soak the charcoal chunks in compost water or urine overnight. All this makes so much sense to me that I have been remiss as far as comparison trials go.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire
Re: biochar
March 18, 2017 11:05AM
[insert sound of stylus being dragged across an lp]

Hork! Here I have been diligently sifting my ashes, only to take the lumps and put them back into the wood stoves to help get the fires going again. Works great. Now I need two big metal bins. One for the ash, which gets applied to ice on the driveways, and one for charcoal chunks.

So how about the ash? I know vaguely that it can be used to alter ph. Is there any nutritive qualities that I should be sanding the driveway and saving the ash for the orchard?

And now I gotta save my urine. I do humanure, but the urine goes in the pail along with the fecal; which then goes into a pile to compost. Mr. Jenkins is pretty adamant about composting doing best when all the wastes are present. Any sense of how much the soaking in urine ups the ante?

Lakes Region NH @ 1200' or so
5a?

393 planted towards a 440 goal mixed apple, pear, plum and apricot...
Re: biochar
March 19, 2017 01:14PM
Second on Chris' post above. Why sift the ashes? I was under impression I could get some minerals, liming power, potassium and calcium out of it by spreading a quart or so under the trees? At what volume does beneficial go to harmful?

Roan Highlands Farm 6b, Roan Mountain, TN elevation: 3200 ft.
Re: biochar
March 19, 2017 02:24PM
Wood ash is pretty potent stuff in my experience. Years ago I killed half a lilac bush, an amelanchier tree, and stunted a couple young apple trees by tossing ash/charcoal too carelessly. I thought I would be helping and turns out I was really doing damage. I think ash and charcoal are doing very different things and you want to be able to control the amount of each you add. There always be a little ash in the charcoal anyway.

Nat Bouman
Growing cider varieties in Zone 5b
Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania
Re: biochar
March 19, 2017 10:50PM
Upon a little more research, it seems the problem mainly lies in the alkaline bend wood ash can quickly give soils.
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