Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Bio-Char of the Year!

The weather is finally turning coolish and we've generated the first bucket of ash from the wood burning insert.  Out it goes and gets a cooling splash of water....

What's this?  A skim of the fingers and we have biochar!!
Worked into the soil, the biochar 'manages' the release of good stuff from the lovely compost and just generally makes garden beds happy. 
"Biochar enthusiasts generally agree that raw biochar needs to be processed further prior to being added to the garden.  Composting, or soaking with compost tea is commonly used to charge the pore volume with beneficial organisms and nutrients.  Soaking in a nutrient rich solution (examples are urine or fish emulsion) prior to composting is accepted practice."   from a Gardening with Biochar FAQ

The largest pieces will float to the top and can be skimmed off... there will still be some worth saving at the bottom of the bucket amidst the ash. 
Be careful sticking your hands in this stuff, it can be quite alkaline and caustic.  It's best to find an out of the way corner and dump the ash and water there.  You can wash it through a screen to retrieve the rest of the biochar, or leave it and let the rain do the work.  Don't dump the ash itself on the compost pile.  If your soils are very acid, you can add the recommended amount of wood ashes directly to the soil. 
Remember that folks used to make soap out of lye which was made by dripping water through wood ash (particularly oak) and fat.

Frankly, biochar is just 'charred but unburned' organic matter.  Fireplaces won't be too good at 'making' it, but inserts and woodstoves will.  What you want is 'incompletely' burned wood which means making the air mix just a little lean. Smoldering fire is what you are looking for. Yes, you can spend good money on 'biochar', although I'm having trouble googling any sources just now.  But do your research and think about it.

We burn wood anyway, so we'll be thinking more about retrieving those bigger 'charred' logs that used to get pushed back in to burn more completely.  We have been fortunate to be able to 'salvage' the trees we use for wood and this is one more way to use them!


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