This topic contains 12 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  leo 4 years, 6 months ago.

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    Is adding inorganic carbon to soil as beneficial as the proponents claim
    a note on the term organic as used from a chemists point of view Organic means carbon bond to hydrogen inorganic is carbon that has no hydrogen mix in. Diamonds and graphite are examples of inorganic carbon.



    Biochar is a bit more complicated than that Jim. So I am a bit confused by your title which says, “biochar?” and your post that says, “inorganic carbon”. But rather than quibble about little things, I will address the basic question, “Is adding inorganic carbon to soil as beneficial as the proponents claim”

    That really depends. I have never seen any studies showing benefit for diamonds or graphite in the soil. Biochar can be a benefit in some soils if the soil’s humus levels are low or micro-organism balance is off. But of course Biochar isn’t simple inorganic carbon either, and neither is humus.

    Please don’t make the logic error of equivocation ( the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time) regarding the term “organic”. While it is true that the term “organic” as it is used in soil science and agriculture derives originally from “organic chemistry”, it has a different context. In agriculture organic refers to a whole plethora of complex interactions and deeply nuanced interdependencies of life in the soil and how it interacts with the soil composition and structure.



    > ok, that is why i brought up the notion or question of the term organic and its many varying uses. Pyrolysis drives out the hydrogen and some of the carbon out of wood leaving inorganic carbon that can be then tilled into the soil. Proponents of biochar claim that it does many useful things, creating a porous water absorbing sponge that give soil habitat for fungus and bacterium. Also claimed is that the process sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. The draw back as i see it is that it requires tilling. I am learning from Larry’s presentation that we need not practice absolutes and that there may be times when tilling is a good or acceptable one time operation. So i guess i went off on a bit of a tangent with the organic definition thing, but that is because words can be confusing. With that i will ask as straight forward as possible now, are the claims of biochar proponents sound enough to warrant plowing?



    I wish there was a simple answer too that. In many cases, yes. But it does depend a lot on the land itself and the degree to which you are disturbing the land. Disturbance is part of permaculture, used wisely. And burying biochar is closely related to Hügelkultur as practiced by Sepp Holzer, Toby Hemenway, and Masanobu Fukuoka. The difference being the wood is turned to charcoal instead of just logs. So it reaches that sequestered carbon “humus” state much faster.

    You very seldom in permaculture find a one size fits all method. Does your land need carbon? Is fire and charred wood part of the natural ecosystem of your area? Are you talking about using it in specific areas creating underground edges similar to the way permaculture uses edges above ground? Or tilling up the whole thing? Is the land pretty much already completely disturbed and you want to help jump start the process? Or has it had some time to heal already?

    There are so many variables it is hard to say directly. However, if you are starting with the typical poor conventional agricultural land that has been abused, and to start off the whole process you want to provide a jump start to get the ball rolling with permaculture, then sure, it can be hugely beneficial. But you don’t want to take 3 steps backwards to “jump start” 2 steps forward. So if the land is already recovering and already has perennials, bacteria and other microbial life, worms etc colonizing it, tilling might be that 3 steps backward. I guess the best answer is that it is a judgement call based on the understanding you have of your own plot of land. There are plenty of documented cases where it makes a huge benefit. Me personally, I tried it in a very limited way and on poor ground it helps a lot, but in my land that I have already been healing with other organic methods, it didn’t do anything spectacular at all.

    Hope that helps.



    I think I would use biochar to A) do soil remediation where there’s soil degradation, or B) limit the biochar to Zone 1 and maybe Zone 2 intensive gardens. Basically, anywhere you’d use compost or sheet mulching to build soil. If you don’t need to build soil, or are just using cover-cropping and animal grazing for “green manure”, then why break the soil?



    You can disburse biochar on top and build soil on top of that without tilling. Biochar does not have to be produced using trees or wood, you can use manure or cuttings or shred up sunflower stalks ect.



    Sorry forgot the link…let me try again.



    and ok so I’m not so good at putting up links.


    Rik Jensen

    I have been taking a local gardening class and one of the lessons was on this subject. What we were studying is the natural environment and watching nature. how things grow with out cultivating and disrupting the natural cycle and breakdown of natural matter. we discovered that the reason there is the occasional forest fire is to create bio-char. The reason things grow better after a fire is cause the Bio-char attracts the mico nutrients into itself and will hold onto them for literally thousands of years. If you would like to know more abt cultivation free gardening you should look up “Back to Eden Gardening “



    Biochar can have positive or negative effects on the soil. No one type of biochar is suitable for all soil types. When plant or animal material is made into biochar, there can be very toxic residues, such as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons. Biochar is a very complex subject. I would love to elaborate but as this is my first hour in this site, I need to focus on finding my feet and getting into the learning rather than the teaching.


    Jade Wildy

    Looking for a simple answer: how does biochar differ from wood or ash from a simple combustion heater? What retains the “bio” in the biochar?

    *I’ve only just seen the brief mention in lecture 22 and was hopeing he would come back to it, so excuse if it is answered later.



    Biochar is the term commonly used for char made in a certain way and from organic residue material (anything of little use otherwise), ensuring the ecological benefit of the product. Hence the term ‘bio’. Normally these chars are made through pyrolysis at lower temperatures than your conventional charcoal. There are some varying opinions about the optimal temperatures of the process, some think its between 300°C and 500°C and others go a bit higher, up to about 650°C. Since it is a relatively new subject (again) there appear to be heaps of research happening just now and results should be coming in the next years.
    Ash is the residue of fire and basically almost all nutrients. Therefore this will be used up by plants while the char is just a sort of a habitat for microorgansims and not used up, staying stable to a great part for periods of 1000s of years.



    Hi all, here in the Amazon we have the black soil or “terra preta de índio”. It. is a kind of soil built by precolombian indigenous people. It is calculated that approximately 20% of the Amazon are man made black soil. This includes very big city where the inhabitants lived eating, making fire, etc. and accumulating enormous quantity of organic material. After a given time people migrate to another site and the land is ready for agricultural use. The extraordinary quality of black soil is that is alive, it regenerate itself and is permanently fertile. One the the most intriguing elements is the charcoal, which allows the permanent fertility of this soil. Its microcavities is the perfect home from micro organisms, nutrients and water.
    We are doing a permacultural project rescuing the old indigenous technique. We are opening an area of secondary forest, cleaning with a soft fire, that only burns leaves and small branches. All the trunks are located in the level curves and sulcus for plantations are made always in the level curves. This soil after a burning have around one year of use and then lost all fertility. This is why the Amazonian agriculture of small growers is today migratory.
    Our project is a permanent fertility on the Amazonian soil. In the first necessary burning we lost all microorganism, then we need to rebuilt our soil from scratch. So the biochar is the best solution for us. We produce it by pirolisys with small medications of the traditional way of local people. Then we smash the biochar and incorporate it in the soil, with the soil of the forest and other organic material.
    And sure we include othe permacultural and traditional techniques.
    The process it seems to works as expected.
    Cheers, Leo

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