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    Don Woolley

    Charles please
    I have just been introduced to the idea of Biochar via an high powdered article
    Has this any relevance to us on our little plots. What is your take on the matter?
    Don Woolley



    Nice to hear from you and your interesting question.
    I am sure there is value in biochar and in fact I have been given some charcoal burners’ finings to experiment with. But there may be snags too and I also read a high powered article in a sadly-obscure journal (Mother Earth of the Soil Association) whose author, Dr Charles Merfield, put forward many reasons to be cautious.I suspect biochar has a place in farming more than in gardening – but one could perhaps try a small area to see what happens.


    Don Woolley

    Thanks for your reply Charles.I know how to make charcoal,but It seems to me that Biochar is a much more complicated process.I think the vegetable mass has to smoulder at a lower temp. with little air. By all accounts it is however an ancient process. I’ll look for a purchase source, for any experiments Don Woolley



    Assume that most people have heard of Terra Preta, it is a method of slash/burn farming used by meso-American Indians from Mexico to the Amazon basin.

    By burning in a specific way they produced charcoal which was trapped in the soil.

    Small areas were cleared and farmed for a number years, not sure how many but maybe up to 20 years before fertility decreased.

    This is how the various cultures Aztecs, Mayan etc supported large populations, in the case of Mexico city which at the time of the Spanish conquest was the largest city in the world with an estimated population of 1 million. They used the floating islands, artificial land for growing as well.

    Back to TP it apparently traps carbon in the soil, it helps in the release of a greater number of nutrients/minerals and increased productivity by 300%.

    It is natures fertiliser and it is one area I intend to take a look at along with Rockdust which is from the SEER org.

    Rockdust is the waste product from the quarrying industry, the problem with our reliance upon inorganic fertilisers is that our soils lack for want of a better word fibre.

    Rockdust re-mineralises soils allowing plants to access all the minerals it needs for healthy growth. It can be added to compost heap or sprinkled on soil and thus incorporated into the soil.

    However Biochar was principally used in the Amazon which was thought unable to support a large population, this method of sustainable farming did just that.

    To me it seems to all make sense as all the products are natural and in no way artificial unlike chemical fertilisers.

    Its all a bit of misnomer anyhow, as lime is not an organic product but it is used in organic gardening. However it was once living, most substances allowable in organic gardening are not all organic, meaning they did not live at some point.

    It is a sustainable form of growing food and one perhaps the farmers should take a look at rather than reliance on petro-chemical based products.


    Don Woolley

    Thanks for your contribution Stevie. I have read all that you say on the internet.I am now interested to know how to proceed practically Don.




    It is an interesting subject, although this reply may be outside the remit of growing.

    It is a sustainable form of farming, I think it is being adopted by farmers in practice as well.

    I have not read up on it completely but it is being researched.

    But to round the circle if municipal authorities are moving towards biodesters for dealing with organic waste materials, as are sewage works, to produce electricity.

    The waste pellets are then passed on to power generation plants where the last bit of energy is extracted from the pellets produced by the bio-digesters.

    Then would it not make sense if they burnt that with a low oxygen content producing bio-char which could then be used in farming.

    As far as I can tell the bio-char acts like fertilizer and it lasts in the soil for a long time, locking up carbon essentially from the atmosphere.

    Could be used as part of geo-engineering which is currently in the process of development.

    To me that is what sustainability is about, mostly from a food growing angle but that all the raw materials we take out of the earth should be returned in one form or another or just simply recycled.

    Burying waste from our over consumptive society is not the solution, we need to close the feedback loops which is what sustainability is about to me.

    If bio-char does increase soil productivity without the use of chemical fertilisers derived from petro chemical industry, then does it not make sense to do that from a sustainable source?

    If we have increased demand on land use, then does it not make sense to make the land we do use for growing food more productive to do it a way that is sustainable?

    The problem that no one is talking about very much or least as far as governments go is exponential population growth. The elephant in the room, it is itself is not sustainable, it’s an oxymoron.

    Something has to be done about population growth globally, it is none sustainable at some point when that growth meets its maximum, populations will collapse, it is inevitable.

    In the natural world for example a plague of locusts can ravage a landscape, until they run out of food, then they die. It is more complicated than that but essentially we are forgetting that we are part of an organic living system, we think we are above it and that that can not or will not happen to use.

    As far as I know there is a biochar producer in the UK, it is not cheap, not sure of what the application rate is but I for sure will be using it.

    Whereas Rockdust does pretty much the same except that it re-mineralises the soil, not so much of a problem for small scale growing but essentially it ensures that the soil has all the minerals that it needs. There are some minerals which are lacking in most UK soils.

    As small scale growers then to me we should not abandon either biochar or the use of Rockdust but use it as a general purpose application/addition to our soil.

    It helps with keeping the soil healthy, locks up excess carbon from the atmosphere and traps it in the soil.

    As for how I would use them, I would use them as a layer in my compost bin, along with lime, as my assumption is you do not need much of them. The application rates I have seen suggest that is for industrial farming practices.

    Why would I do it?

    To ensure that all the micro/macro flora and fauna in my growing space as well as the plants/vegetables are given all that they need to survive in a healthy environment.

    Where a whole food chain exists from the smallest living organism to the larger predators/prey species. At the same time giving me the healthiest fruit and vegetables which will lack 57 varieties of herbicide and pesticide as in some recently tested supermarket apples. YUCK!!!!

    On a health and population angle, all those additives can not be healthy for us in the long term and frankly I for one think it is a ticking bomb that we setting up for future generations.


    Don Woolley

    Yes Stevie But exactly how ?




    I did a little further research they are both readily available in the UK.

    Use them as a top dressing, so the approach that I was going to take by using them as layers in a compost bin would work as well.

    It will make both of them go further and it will ensure a more even spreading of all the minerals, trace elements and organic matter needed for healthy growing.

    You can find Rockdust here:

    Or here:

    Which has information on application, advises not to add lime.

    As for Biochar try here for discussion:

    And here for suppliers:

    Its a matter of doing a bit more searching to find larger 20Kg bags as it works out cheaper and for one suspect that 20Kg of either or both would be enough on a rolling basis to keep your soil healthy.

    The only other thing I would suggest would be test the pH of the soil on a regular basis to ensure it is neither too acid or too alkaline.

    As my soil is still a bit claggy, lacking a lot of drainage and still in need of organic matter/humus then the addition of Rockdust and Biochar can not effectively do it any harm.


    Don Woolley

    Further to the suggestion that Charles made to experiment, I notice that the Organic
    Gardening catalogue for 2012 features Grochar on their outside back cover. I assume this is the same stuff. Don Woolley


    Roger Brook

    I think biochar has wonderful potential in the garden. Apart from having so much going for it to improve fertility it sequesters carbon in the ground. It seems the ideal way for the organic gardener to sensibly use woody waste. The best way for us ordinary gardeners to make charcoal is to pore water over the burning embers of a bonfire. If done carefully you get a lot of charcoal from an average fire.



    Hi. Interested in this old thread if anyone is still following it. We have been producing Biochar on Hadrian’s Wall and trialling it in our food growing with significantly positive results. We use only waste wood from our woodland management and tree surgery operations – and we use a Kon-Tiki kiln that allows us to do a continuous feed process and ensure that the wood gases are burnt up through pyrolosis. Basically it is great for water and nutrient retention, provides homes for microbes and bacteria, and also improves soil structure for poorer soils. We have been giving away samples at local farmers’ market and other “growing” events – and this has then turned into sales when people have tried it out for themselves. We are starting to scale up the operation, getting ore local woodlands into production, and ensuring even more of a tree felled is put to good use. Just as a comment – biochar is a charcoal but it is made specifically for going int the ground – smaller sized pieces and made in a clean way!



    Mark, nice to hear, however I have tried charcoal and was not impressed.
    Nor was I impressed with trials of Carbon Gold biochar.
    Are you impregnating yours with something good? Do you have any trial photos, with and without?



    Hi Charles. I can certainly post some photos of tomatoes, and also results from trials in terms of weights and numbers of fruit – but there should also some stuff on our Facebook page – Northumbria Biochar. I have never tried Carbon Gold, as I am not sure about the ethics of it being shipped in from Namibia. We have currently been trialling it untreated in our own beds – but this year we will be selling it both untreated, and treated with Comfrey liquid and worm tea. selling it treated means different packaging and we try to reuse packaging from various sources. More later….



    Hi, I am new to this group but throwing my two cents worth into this discussion. I have been reading a great deal on permaculture/regenerative agriculture in recent months and one word of caution has been sounded about biochar – it is incredibly good for trapping carbon in the soil and retaining fertility, however it does need to be properly ‘charged’ before use, or, much like fresh wood chippings, it can retard growth until such time as it has matured fully.

    I have bought some to experiment with on my plot this year, however having read this caution, will be mixing it thoroughly with some well rotted horse-manure first and leaving it to stand for a few weeks before incorporating into the beds.

    It seems to work similarly to vermiculite in that it is more a storage system for nutrients than a nutrient in itself.



    For anybody interested in this topic I can recommend the One Yard Revolution channel on Youtube. Patrick Dolan from Chicago has done comparison trials with biochar, garden compost and compost tea, and he stopped using the biochar as he found things didn’t grow better in a well nourished garden, plus in a blind-tasting trial the biochar tomatoes were rated the lowest.

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