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What is Biochar and why is it good for your soil

What is Biochar and why is it good for your soil?
You may have encountered the term biochar when investigating organic approaches to soil amendment and, like many gardeners, been left in a state of minor confusion. Essentially, biochar is charcoal. When used as a soil amendment, the term biochar is employed.
The production of biochar is likely as old as agriculture and is perhaps best known as the by product of swidden, or slash and burn agriculture.  Although classical slash and burn, which is still practiced in some regions, is said to involve the complete combustion of vegetation to clear land for agricultural use, over time agriculturalists would undoubtedly have observed that in areas where the vegetation smouldered, rather than burned entirely, the soil exhibited enhanced characteristics.
Today, we know that the addition and mixing of biochar, largely through the activity of earth worms or human intervention, into a soil greatly enhances its water retention characteristics, reduces nutrient leaching, decreases soil acidity ( i.e. increases pH), stabilizes populations of soil microorganisms, increases soil cation exchange capacity and available levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, and enhances soil structure.  The easily observable benefits to the gardener include: reduced irrigation need, reduced fertilizer input, and enhanced soil tilth. Experienced gardeners will recognize these as the three pillars of success.
Interestingly, biochar amendment has also been demonstrated to reduce the soil emission of nitrous oxide (a very destructive greenhouse gas) which is a prevalent problem in modern NPK agriculture, especially corn production, and virtually eliminate methane emissions (in agriculture, a product of manure decomposition).  Biochar has also been demonstrated to reduce the effectiveness of pre-emergent herbicides and to reduce the uptake of contaminants and  pesticides by plants.
Amendment with biochar is a relatively easy do it yourself task, one can create one’s own biochar or purchase the product. Its effectiveness is very long lasting, in fact soils in Meso America where the practice was widespread prior to European contact in the 16th century exhibit enhanced qualities to this day, and those soils are known as Terra Preta de Indio.  Optimum application is in the order of one pound per square foot but lower levels still confer significant advantages.
You may have encountered the term biochar when investigating organic approaches to soil amendment and, like many gardeners, been left in a state of minor confusion. Essentially, biochar is charcoal. When used as a soil amendment, the term biochar is employed.
The production of biochar is likely as old as agriculture and is perhaps best known as the by product of swidden, or slash and burn agriculture.  Although classical slash and burn, which is still practiced in some regions, is said to involve the complete combustion of vegetation to clear land for agricultural use, over time agriculturalists would undoubtedly have observed that in areas where the vegetation smouldered, rather than burned entirely, the soil exhibited enhanced characteristics.
Today, we know that the addition and mixing of biochar, largely through the activity of earth worms or human intervention, into a soil greatly enhances its water retention characteristics, reduces nutrient leaching, decreases soil acidity ( i.e. increases pH), stabilizes populations of soil microorganisms, increases soil cation exchange capacity and available levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, and enhances soil structure.  The easily observable benefits to the gardener include: reduced irrigation need, reduced fertilizer input, and enhanced soil tilth. Experienced gardeners will recognize these as the three pillars of success.
Interestingly, biochar amendment has also been demonstrated to reduce the soil emission of nitrous oxide (a very destructive greenhouse gas) which is a prevalent problem in modern NPK agriculture, especially corn production, and virtually eliminate methane emissions (in agriculture, a product of manure decomposition).  Biochar has also been demonstrated to reduce the effectiveness of pre-emergent herbicides and to reduce the uptake of contaminants and  pesticides by plants.
Amendment with biochar is a relatively easy do it yourself task, one can create one’s own biochar or purchase the product. Its effectiveness is very long lasting, in fact soils in Meso America where the practice was widespread prior to European contact in the 16th century exhibit enhanced qualities to this day, and those soils are known as Terra Preta de Indio.  Optimum application is in the order of one pound per square foot but lower levels still confer significant advantages.