SQWIB
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Biochar

Does anyone make their own Bio Char?

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I have been using it for a while, I usually make a batch once or twice a year from garden waste. I usually just dump the Bio-Char in the beds without "charging", I'm going to start mixing it with rabbit manure then toss into my compost heap this season to charge.


I don't burn just to make bio-char.
Some of my garden waste that won't be composted or added to the hugelkultur beds, are burnt and dowsed with water. I will be adding bones to the Bio-Char this year, been saving my bones up this year. The better way is to toss dirt on the fire but for me its too much of a mess.

Our rare "Family or friend get together fires" are left to go to ash but I will be dowsing those as well to acquire the Bio-char.

I have made retorts in the past to make Lump Charcoal for my Pit, but it wasn't worth the time and effort. The only reason I made the retorts was because we cut and split over two cords of ASH that was infested with wasp beetles and the wood wasn't salvageable to use on my pit.

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Retort 2

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Do you use it?
Do you charge it?
How do you make yours?

thanrose
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Re: Biochar

I'd love to know who is doing this and how, too. I have not, save in tiny little ways, like if I come across chunks of burnt wood I'll toss them on my compost. Way too small an effort to tell.

I love the global concept of it, and the ancient practice of it. Maybe the next time I'm near a controlled burn shortly after the inferno, I'll pick up some charcoal there.

Can't do an open burn here. Grilling is okay, indoor fireplace is okay, but I don't think we are allowed to burn a pile however small in the yard. We're in perennial drought for an essentially humid area.

I've thought I'd build a retort the next time I live somewhere I could do it. Why don't you use one anymore, if I may ask? It's an unattractive mess if you only have a small yard, I'd venture, but if you could set it up and leave it year after year it could make sense.

There's an Aussie fellow on youtube with a huge following. Primitive Technology, maybe? Anyway, millions of views on each video. He never speaks, just goes out into the woods and videos whatever skill he's working on. He's done a mud retort that was cool. And messy. Yeah, primitive.

You are missing the benefits of using biochar if you don't saturate them in compost or manure or some other nutrient rich medium. The chunks of charcoal will absorb trace elements, micro-nutrients, macro-nutrients much as charcoal is used to filter water. Then when layered in your planting area with good soil, all the good stuff doesn't just percolate through and away. The charcoal will hold it and make it immediately available to whatever is growing.

ronbart
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Re: Biochar

I tried some this year but I did not charge it. My garden soil is very rich with a high percentage of compost so I'm not sure of the benefit I gained from it. I have a large fire brick lined fire pit. After I had a large bed of coals going, I shoveled them into a steel barrel with a tight fitting lid. They smothered from lack of oxygen. In a day or two I opened the barrel and used a 2x4 like a mortar and pestle to reduce it to a finer texture. This fall I plan to do some more. This time I want to charge it with leachate from soldier flies that break down my compost.

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Re: Biochar

Have you read about the old layers of biochar in the Amazon basin that aboriginal tribes sometimes utilize? Fascinating. It doesn't matter in the long run what we do to charge it. It will remain in situ and continue to benefit the soil for generations. The anthropologists and geologists and whomever else say that the layer is possibly hundreds of years old. It gets reforested, then cleared again and used for subsistence crops until that tribal unit moves away again. (Then I suppose it's the loggers who come in and clear cut the area so the charcoal layer is exposed.)

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Re: Biochar

thanrose wrote:
Why don't you use one anymore, if I may ask? It's an unattractive mess if you only have a small yard, I'd venture, but if you could set it up and leave it year after year it could make sense.
Yes, I do have a small yard and It's too much of a hassle and can be pretty smoky if your not burning off the smoke. It was practical to make lump charcoal from the infested ash to cook with on my pit, but as far as using a retort to make Bio-Char for gardening, its not worth the hassle.
I just stick with what I get from my Fire Pit in either ash form or Bio-Char, it all gets composted.


Hers my PIT

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And Schwenking some Schwenkbraten on the Fire Pit





Here's more on Vimeo

https://vimeo.com/114593323

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Re: Biochar

ronbart wrote:I tried some this year but I did not charge it. My garden soil is very rich with a high percentage of compost so I'm not sure of the benefit I gained from it. I have a large fire brick lined fire pit. After I had a large bed of coals going, I shoveled them into a steel barrel with a tight fitting lid. They smothered from lack of oxygen. In a day or two I opened the barrel and used a 2x4 like a mortar and pestle to reduce it to a finer texture. This fall I plan to do some more. This time I want to charge it with leachate from soldier flies that break down my compost.
Or pee on it :D

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Re: Biochar

thanrose wrote:Have you read about the old layers of biochar in the Amazon basin that aboriginal tribes sometimes utilize? Fascinating. It doesn't matter in the long run what we do to charge it. It will remain in situ and continue to benefit the soil for generations. The anthropologists and geologists and whomever else say that the layer is possibly hundreds of years old. It gets reforested, then cleared again and used for subsistence crops until that tribal unit moves away again. (Then I suppose it's the loggers who come in and clear cut the area so the charcoal layer is exposed.)
Yes, there is all kinds of stuff out there regarding Bio-Char, a lot of negative facts out there about making it as well.
That's a discussion I will not get into, because for me, I'm just recycling my burnt wood, I'm not burning wood for the sole reason of Bio-Char.

Over the last several years mostly all of my yard waste (and my neighbors) has been placed in Hugelkultur beds, Logs, Twigs, Sticks, Leaves, Grass, Kitchen waste etc...

When I get my hands on wood, it is cut up, and sorted, some goes for my gas smoker (premium chunks) some go for my pit (stickburner), some is set aside for the chiminea and what can't be used to cook with, is set aside for my fire pit, unless of course I am cooking on it, then I'll alternate with a safe wood for cooking but may start the fire with it.

This Magnolia wood shouldn't be used for my smoker, pit or fire pit but I used some for a new Hugelkultur bed I built and will split it for Family Fires in the pit or chiminea.

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I'm pretty confident you can cook with this wood on the pit but would rather use other woods that impart better flavor.



After all, you want some nice smoke kissing your food!

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Every once in a while I will burn some twigs and shrub cuttings, alternating the burn with clean pallets, especially if there is a lot of green I am burning.
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Since all of my Hugel Beds are completed and I have no where to put the shrub cuttings that are too thick to compost and too small too use for firewood, I make Bio-Char.

I also do a burn at the end of the season and burn my tomato plants, sunflower stalks, basil stalks and other things that wont be composted and I'll dump those ashes in the compost pile.

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Re: Biochar

You're doing great as we've noted before. Envious. Also with the youtube on the schwenker, I love the Philly accent... Feels like home so to speak. I'm from South Jersey, but lots of relatives from both sides of the Delaware River.

Hugelkutur is underutilized. It takes years of casual mentioning and pointing out the benefits to get a relative to try even dead fall composting.

I'm not so interested in political or sociological ramifications of different methods of agriculture, but espouse what I think is healthy or simply good for me. This is just one that interests me, especially if it helps the very sandy soil here to retain a good supply of nutrients for healthy crops.

ronbart
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Re: Biochar

How much biochar should I use without overdoing it?

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Re: Biochar

ronbart wrote:How much biochar should I use without overdoing it?
I have no idea but I have been adding ash to my garden from my Pit (stickburner) for years and Bio-Char for a few years. last fire yielded just under a 5 gallon bucket, thats including the ash.

I don't crush the Bio-Char real fine like most, mine is a bit chunky like large marbles.

My plan is to just start adding the Bio-Char to the beds one at a time, after charging, and top with compost, mainly because my compost bin is about to burst at the seams. Hopefully I can start thinning out the beds, amend with the Bio-Char and plant some Crimson Clover and Oats. I still have tomato plants, peppers and Eggplants that are producing pretty well in there, so I'll have to work around that.

Then my fall burn, I'll do the same to the other side. My winter burns I'll start amending the soil in the Hugelkultur beds, then once all the beds have been "Bio-Charred" rinse, repeat!

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applestar
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Re: Biochar

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m ...”sensitive”? to wood etc. smoke. So I have been unable to pursue this very interesting subject so far.... but I just came across this and am thinking of experimenting a little.


Biochar Workshop Part 1, How to Make Biochar


“Tin Man”
55 gal outer carbon steel (or stainless steel barrel) with lid and chimney
Triangular and small holes along bottom side rim, and series of small holes along the top side rim
+
30 gal inner carbon steel (or stainless steel barrel) with solid lid 1/2 inch holes in the BOTTOM ONLY

* peel off the rubber gasket before burning - toxic smoke
* carbon steel barrel only lasts about 10 burns due to extreme heat


...that elegantly simple concept for the “Tin Man” was what drew me in, but I was watching and thinking wow I need one that’s a little smaller in scale if possible, both in terms of easier handling and for fire hazard safety in this densely built postage stamp size development. I was turning some ideas in mind while watching, then he mentioned “Rocket Avila Stove”.... using which they were cooking their lunch, he said. LOL. The glimpse of it near the end looked like they made it out of recycled beer keg....

That looks more like what I could handle.

That was an interesting revelation since I HAVE been looking at Rocket Stove ideas for a couple of years now, but had not come across this concept of combining the design with making biochar until now.

It sounds like the key is to adjust the ingredients and design and output for clean *smoke-less* burn, but...I suppose there will still be smoke until I learn the ins and outs of it all.... I’ve come up with a possible DIY project idea out of what I have available right now to start experimenting with, while I try to figure out if I could possibly make something that is already tried and true .. hopefully a minature version of “Tin Man”


2nd part of this 2 part video gets much more “brainy” and is 58 minutes long — I’m only half way through it since I can’t seem to assimilate in one go — going back and taking it in smaller bites, as it were. In this one the presenter mentioned their website. I’m going to go check that out next.

Biochar Workshop Part 2, Why to Make Biochar

58 min. Long!

*** BTW *** I found source of seeds for that turnip !!! :D
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applestar
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Re: Biochar

Quick idea sketch —
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...I did have the various clay pots and saucers I envisioned —
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- inner pots ... right way up or upside down? Fits either way, but right way up would be easier to fill and remove.
- may put another saucer in the bottom to block the bottom hole, or just sit the pot on a something solid (the empty big pot was sitting on a cardboard half filled with rain water because bottom hole was blocked — so even if not using for this purpose, it needs side holes drilled)
- need to drill bottom side holes, but may try it without drilling top side holes to see if the gap between the saucer-lid is sufficient ventilation
- need to drill holes in the center of the big saucer-lid, then thinking another pot can act as a chimney or maybe get something longer to act as chimney for good draft/draw (how to secure....) ...maybe bolt handles onto sides of the saucer-lid...


...what do you experienced folks think? Will this work? Are the straight sides of the steel drums significant?
...if the inner chamber needs to be metal to get hot enough to burn the contents, I have some old stainless or enameled soup pots that might be sacrificed...

I do have another budding idea, but that will need more time to put together....
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Re: Biochar

I'm pretty sure those will break your first fire.

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applestar
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Re: Biochar

Bummer! Well, you would know, and that’s why I asked, but this is disappointing for sure.

...I did wonder what would be the mitigating factor, so looked up a few things... (what can I say, I can’t help it. :wink: )

...I think my original thinking (that was probably mistaken) was that terra-cotta pots are “equivalent to clay bisqueware”, and therefore would be able to handle high temperature firing, much higher than what will be needed for wood charcoal. While the references listed below might indicate a small chance that one or more of the pots may be able to survive the ordeal, there are factors that I believe are likely to present and/or reveal defects:

- terra-cotta pots are generally made of impure non-uniform clay mixture rather than the high quality bisqueware that will undergo second high temperature firing after glaze is applied
- these are all used and will have absorbed different levels of moisture and organic matter “contaminants” that will affect their behavior under heat stress
- my mishmash collection of clay pots and saucers will Be from different sources/production processes so their behavior under fire will not be the same, and it’s exactly this kind of non-uniform expansion/contraction properties that can cause cracking and shattering
- the outer large terra-cotta is actually Italian frost resistant type, which means it is somewhat vitreous — I think that’s also why it was holding water. But this type while stronger and weathers better, is more likely to shatter/crack in direct heat....
- assuming everything proceeds as intended, in the above the workshop video (1st one) the presenter said when the flammable gases from inner chamber are pushed out and reaches the outer firing chamber, there will be an explosive burst of temperature surge. That sounds like when the pots would definitely crack, even though they might have been heated slowly and more evenly until then as the temperature in the chambers rise.


Let’s see — here are the references I’m drawing these conclusions from:

Rice University › news › 2012/03/22

Cooking better biochar: Study improves recipe for soil additive - Rice University News & Media
Mar 22, 2012 · For all feedstocks, the researchers found that biochar produced at temperatures above 450 degrees Celsius (842 degrees Fahrenheit) had optimal properties for improving soil drainage and storing carbon.

...

there are 'cones' that melt at different temperatures.

...

How to Find, process, and fire clay without a kiln
https://www.goshen.edu/art/DeptPgs/rework.html

WHY IS CLAY FIRED?
Clay becomes pottery at temperatures at about 1,000 degrees F (the beginning of glowing red heat - about 540 C). Traditionally, tribal earthenware is fired to about 1,400 degrees F (760 C). Heat removes the molecular water in the clay. The heat converts clay molecules to molecules that do not dissolve or slake in water. In modern societies pottery and brick is fired in kilns to temperatures ranging from 1,800 F to 2,400 F. Most of the common clays like clay shown here on the left found in our back yards start to deform and melt if they are fired higher than about 1,900 F. Modern toilets are fired from clay that has fewer contaminants. It is fired to 2,300 to 2,400 F., making it very strong and impervious.

Terra cotta
It is fired at much lower temperatures than stoneware so, not surprisingly, it is not nearly as strong. However fired terra cotta ware has a much better ability to withstand sudden temperature changes without cracking.



Debunking the Terracotta Mythos - Eye of the Day Garden Design Center
https://www.eyeofthedaygdc.com/2014/09/ ... ta-mythos/

Low fire clays, having been fired to their maximum temperature (anywhere from 1800-2100°F) remain porous, while high fire clays vitrify when fired to higher temperatures ( 2200-2500° F). Since clays have many “ingredients” that are specific to their particular region, all clays have a different temperature range, but all can be classified as either low fire or high fire clay. Terracotta is technically a red earthenware, a low fire clay containing between 5 and 10% iron.
[...]
It is best to speak of terracotta regionally, for example Mexican terracotta is essentially the same as Italian, but fired at a lower temperature. Another mistake about terracotta is that it is weak. In many places in the world it is hard to find even enough fuel to bring the fire up to the maturation temperature of the clay. If the temperature that matures (hardens, strengthens) the red clay is 1980°F, but the fire only reaches 1800°F, what happens? You have immature, under-baked pottery that is susceptible to cracking and doesn’t last very long.



Can You Oven Cook With Pottery?
https://oureverydaylife.com/can-oven-co ... 42986.html

While pottery may seem fragile -- and it does break on impact -- clay vessels are hardened at high temperatures in a kiln. Clay cookware isn’t damaged by indirect oven heat, but direct heat from a stove top or open flame can cause it to shatter.



Clay Pot Cooking, Stoneware, China, Earthenware, flameware.
https://www.claycoyote.com/clay-pot-coo ... g-in-clay/


EARTHENWARE
Lower fired clays (1800 to 2000 degF) are considered earthenware. They may be glazed or unglazed (think Romertopf) and some of them, with care, can even take direct heat. Because of the lower firing temperature, earthenware is typically still porous but crystalline silica is not formed. It is somewhat fragile because of the lack of vitrification of the clay body.



What Is 'Bisque' in Pottery Terms
https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/bisque-2745994

* Bisque refers to ware that has been fired once and has no chemically bonded water left in the clay. Bisque is a true ceramic material, although the clay body has not yet reached maturity. This stage is also sometimes called biscuit or bisc.
* Bisqueware is the term for pots that have been bisqued—fired for the first time. The pots may also be called biscuit ware.
* To bisque is to fire the clay for the first time.
* Bisque fire is the first firing and is usually only to between cones 08 and 06—1720 and 1835 degrees F or 945 and 1005 degrees C.
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Re: Biochar

I would still try it, what do you have to lose, a few clay pots.
Post back your results.

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Re: Biochar

Hmmm.... I will have to wait for no rain in the forecast....


...hey didn’t we have this particular conversation before....? :hehe:
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Re: Biochar

not sure, lol

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applestar
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Re: Biochar

I was testing it out with what I thought was a small amount of loosely packed dried branches and bits — not much more than kindling — mostly to dry out the pots and see what happens ...and realized I had forgotten the most important factor — I’m not very good at building a fire :oops:

The smoke lasted for about 1/2 hour, then trickled for maybe another 1/2 hr ... 2 hours later the lid was cold to the touch. :roll:
Image

...I’ll look inside today and re-fuel with maybe better material like pine cones and branches, then see how long it can stay lit. I’m only expecting to get ash out of this for now until I get some practice and learn with it a bit.
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Re: Biochar

applestar wrote:I was testing it out with what I thought was a small amount of loosely packed dried branches and bits — not much more than kindling — mostly to dry out the pots and see what happens ...and realized I had forgotten the most important factor — I’m not very good at building a fire :oops:

The smoke lasted for about 1/2 hour, then trickled for maybe another 1/2 hr ... 2 hours later the lid was cold to the touch. :roll:
Image

...I’ll look inside today and re-fuel with maybe better material like pine cones and branches, then see how long it can stay lit. I’m only expecting to get ash out of this for now until I get some practice and learn with it a bit.

Awesome, I was worried the pots would break.
Get some firemans gloves and invert the pot with the wood onto the ground when everything is glowing red, this will slowly smother the fire for a good char.

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Re: Biochar

Get a bag of Lump Charcoal, a cheap chimney and you are set
Start your chimney halfway with lump, ($10-$12) add your wood to the chimney starter ($12) and pot, wait 10 minutes, dump chimney into pot. Just a warning, lump gets hot so I'm not sure what it will do to your clay pots.

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applestar
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Re: Biochar

:clap: THANKS @SQWIB :clap:
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Gary350
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Re: Biochar

What does charcoal do for garden soil?

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applestar
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Re: Biochar

I’m only just starting, so my answer might not be complete or entirely correct, but I believe there are several benefits —

- in charcoal form, the substance is pure carbon — the basic building block of life. By preserving the wood in charcoal form rather than burning to ash, you sequester the carbon rather than allowing to volatize into gaseous form and escaping into the air.

- charcoal is made up of pores - lots and lots of pores. And in its pristine form, it sucks up just about everything (activated charcoal filter).This is NOT good for the garden — it sucks up all of the available nutrients. HOWEVER, once it finishes absorbing — or “charging” in bio-char parlance — they will sit in the soil and slowly release the nutrients over time, and if you charge the charcoal with biologically active beneficial microbes, they will happily live densely packed and hyper-populated, and continue to engage in the microbial life cycles to contribute to the organic bio-activity of the garden soil. THIS is considered the replication of the original South American native cultural practices of controlled burn and layered charcoal to enrich the soil without depleting it. ... some of this is mentioned in the earliest posts of this thread.

- Also, charcoal is made by internally redirecting and using the initial gasses generated by the fire to fuel a secondary hotter burn so it’s a “clean” burn with minimum smoke and polluting gases, thereby preserving your carbon footprint. I haven’t managed a 100% charcoal-producing burn yet (mostly because I’m trying to stay small and some people with experience have told me that there is a minimum volume that is needed for correct gaseous reaction s— I think this concept of “make it greater than the minimum, then it becomes easier” sounds similar to compost piles and ponds — the fire is a living, breathing process)

- But the rocket stove is letting me clean-burn to ash the diseased and pest riddled plant materials without sending them to the waste stream, so that’s good in its own way.

- And if I smother and halt the burn, then I get some char+coal (not the good hard glassine kind, but inferior quality) in addition to ash — which you already know is a good source of potassium and phosphorus as well as low pH neutralizing alkaline @Gary350 — so I’m considering that a progress.
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Re: Biochar

  • Water Retention
  • increases the retention of nutrients and helps prevent leaching of nutrients of soil in to the groundwater
  • Prevents nutrients from erosion.
  • Helps with tilth and is extremely light
  • Sequesters Carbon
  • It's inert and doesn't break down like other organic soil amendments and resists chemical and microbial degradation, especially when buried.
  • Works best in poor soils
  • reduces fertilizer requirements because it attracts and holds soil nutrients
  • provides a secure habitat for micro-organisms and fungi
  • carbon negative
  • Fun to make
  • many folks skeptical of Biochar claims
  • Doesn't add too much benefit in extremely Rich soils, I add it anyway.

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Gary350
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Re: Biochar

SQWIB has the correct set up a metal bucket with 3 holes in the lid to allow gas to burn off his photo #3. This bakes the wood in the absence of oxygen so your charcoal product does not burn up. You get more charcoal from hard wood than soft wood. When I want to make some good hard wood charcoal I do it in this stainless steel pot with the lid on. Put a brush pile over the stainless steel pot and set it on fire. Fire is more efficient like an oven if I burn this inside a metal barrel. I set brush on fire then leave it set tomorrow it will be cool. I use brush, stick, pine tree limbs from the yard to make the fire. Some times I have old boards and wooden ballets to burn. Pallets have lots of nails & stables that go into the garden too soil needs iron. I can make a lot of charcoal by burning it in the barrel then choking the fire with a metal lid to limit oxygen soon as gas flames are gone close the lid charcoal goes out. When I till charcoal into my soil it is gone in a few weeks I can't tell for sure if charcoal helps plants to grow better or not it seems like carbon will remove nitrogen from soil. I have lots of wood ash that is full of calcium for BER and Potash = Potassium very good to make blossoms on all plants, blossoms turn into fruit. 60 blossoms vs 15 blossoms = 60 tomatoes vs 15 tomatoes or 60 peppers vs 15 peppers per plant. If you can find 100 year old industrial chemistry books you can lean 1000s of things that NEW books do not tell. Many products use to be made from the process of making charcoal. Back in the day when education was more important than $$$$$ books had good information but now days big business does not want to give their secrets away new computation is bad for profits. I use to worry too much wood ash will increase ph and kill plants but 1 pint per plant is no problem when mixed well into the soil then covered with 1" of soil before planting my plants direction on top of the wood ash.

Biochar reminds me of 1980 when I hung out with the long hair hippie group and everyone was interested in Mother Earth News Magazine and planted gardens with only organic material. I watched both videos, I will be on both sided the fence for a while until I experiment with this to see what happens. Putting biochar on certain plants in my garden then a year later all plants will be planted in different places it won't be easy to compare apples to oranges and notice any improvements. I have noticed large pieces of charcoal tilled into the garden vanish in about 3 weeks. If I were to make a dedicated area of the garden with biochar then maybe I will notice plants grow better.

Look at PH chart when ph gets to 8 or higher many plants will die. When ph gets 4 or less many plants will die. Last year too much organic material make my soil 8 ph I solved the problem by pouring several gallons of 5% vinegar down each plant row. Yellow dying plants turned green & growing better in 2 days.
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Gary350
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Re: Biochar

I posted a question on the chemistry forum to see if biochar has more or less fertilizer value than wood ash.

Answers on the chemistry form are, charcoal will have slightly more nutrients, and fertilizer value than wood ash. Because some nutrients are lost during burning through particulates leaving with the smoke not all the nutrients make it into ash. Charcoal will have more heavy metals than wood ash because heavy metals will burn off in the smoke as charcoal becomes wood ash.

Here is a link farming with wood ash as fertilizer. https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/2279e/

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applestar
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Re: Biochar

Things discussed in this thread are all definitely going to be part of this year’s gardening experiments. Thanks for the link. :D
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Gary350
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Re: Biochar

applestar wrote:Things discussed in this thread are all definitely going to be part of this year’s gardening experiments. Thanks for the link. :D
Look at this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRAaAkfirRU

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Gary350
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Re: Biochar

More information from the chemistry forum.

When charcoal is entirely turned to ash P & K stays the same it is in a form that does not burn. Ash will have P and K in the same volume as it was in charcoal.
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Vanisle_BC
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Re: Biochar

I'm not sure the term biochar applies, but the ashes from my woodstove include black chunks that I call charcoal. I have sieved these out in mixing my fertilizer. Now; what to do with them? Could they be a useful mulch? Would they break down in the compost pile? I'm not into processing them further either mechanically or in pseudo-pyromania :). Suggestions?
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Re: Biochar

Vanisle_BC wrote:
Wed Apr 08, 2020 3:57 pm
I'm not sure the term biochar applies, but the ashes from my woodstove include black chunks that I call charcoal. I have sieved these out in mixing my fertilizer. Now; what to do with them? Could they be a useful mulch? Would they break down in the compost pile? I'm not into processing them further either mechanically or in pseudo-pyromania :). Suggestions?
Its Bio-Char once its charged (my 2 cents)
Toss them in the garden as mulch or compost bin, no further processing needed.

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