Biochar is the byproduct of the gasification process. When biological material (wood, manure, etc.) is burn at high temperatures and with limited access to oxygen, the powdery charcoal which is left is biochar. Researchers have learned that an application of biochar as a soil amendment can greatly benefit crop production!
Biochar is alkaline so it raises pH in acidic soils (a big benefit here in Alabama). Because it is carbon, it apparently filters toxins out of the soil preventing their uptake into the plants and may also reduce the spread of soil- borne diseases (think tomato crops). It also helps retain soil moisture (think August in Alabama) and it enhances “ionic exchange” so you need less fertilizer. And, best of all it only needs to be applied once every 1800 years! Yep! You heard me right. It pretty much stays where you put it and is not “used up”. Researchers have found areas in the Amazon where biochar occurred naturally (or perhaps was intentionally applied by the indigenous peoples) and it is still benefiting the poor, acidic, leached, rain forest soil.
What is the application rate of this miracle amendment? Somewhere between “a lot” and “a little”. The research is still ongoing but you are probably safe applying ¼ – ¾ inch and tilling it in. Other sources say between 5 and 20 percent by volume.
Where can you get it? I just got lucky and found some left over from an experiment facility. It is not readily available… yet. But if you know some one running a gasification process you may be able to get it for free. I am suspicious this “miracle product” will soon be available on an info-commercial for a price just slightly below that of gold.
Does it really work? I don’t know but we made an application to the peas and some of the potatoes yesterday and will keep you posted on the results. For more information on biochar (from people who actually know what “ionic exchange” is) see The Basics of Biochar : A Natural Soil Amendment at http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/SCM-30.pdf