Three things every gardener needs to know about biochar

Every gardener interested in increasing their yield, using less water and fertilizer, improving their soil, positively impacting climate change, and not using chemicals, should learn all they can about biochar. It’s a massively important technology that I believe has huge benefits for your garden and for the planet.

For the last 24 months I’ve studied biochar, used it, made it, and even ate it - yes, ate it. Biochar is certainly getting more attention than it has in the past, but it still boggles my mind how little people know about it. What boggles my mind even more is that people continue to use it incorrectly.

As more people get into gardening and growing their own vegetables, biochar will take on a more important role. We all care about what we put in our bodies, and if there’s a way we can maximize how much we grow in confined spaces without chemicals, we’ll do it.

In this post I’ll cover the top 3 things you should know about biochar so you can make informed judgements about when and how to use it in your garden.

1) It’s been around forever.

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, I would go out with my host family to help them set fire to the fields to prepare for planting season. One of the benefits of this practice is that the burn deposits little bits of carbon into the soil, which improves overall soil fertility. The idea that we should add carbon back into the soil is not new. People figured this out thousands of years ago, and it’s time we bring it back into style.

2) It’s like a grocery store, but for your plants.

Let’s say you need a gallon of milk. What would you do? You’d probably start by getting in your car and driving to the grocery store. Once there, you’d make your way to the milk isle, grab the gallon, pay for it at the register, then drive home and drink it. Though, to be honest, if it were chocolate milk, you’d probably drink it in the car. I know I would.

Plants aren’t all that different. When they’re hungry and thirsty they have to go looking for food and water, too. Just like you found the milk in the dairy section of your grocery store, plants can find the nutrients and water they need stored in the biochar.

How plants eat and drink is truly a wonder of the world, and I’ll write about it in a future post. For now it’s enough to think of biochar like the big grocery store down the street from you. It holds onto water and nutrients and makes them available to plants when needed.

3) You gotta charge it.

Let’s say you went to the grocery store to get milk, and there wasn’t any. Wouldn’t that be frustrating?

So with that in mind, here’s a common scenario. You go to the nursery to get some brand new, fresh tomato plants. When you get back home, you plant them directly into your high quality, pristine, 100% pure biochar. And what happens? Your tomatoes die. How could that be?

I know I seem to be saying two contradictory things. One the one hand, I’m saying biochar helps your plants grow, and on the other I’m saying it kills your plants. So what gives?

Let’s go back to the grocery store analogy for a minute. For a grocery store to be beneficial to the community, it needs to be stocked full of the things we need to eat to live a healthy life. For biochar to be effective, it also needs to be stocked full of the things plants need to live a healthy life. So we need to prepare it a special way before we use it in our garden, and this preparation is called charging.

The way to think of charging, is that we’re literally loading up the biochar with water, nutrients, and beneficial plant microorganisms. Once we do that, the biochar is ready to participate in the ecosystem of the soil and play nice with your plants.

Last Words

Biochar still isn’t widely used as a soil enhancement, but awareness around it is growing each day. It’s the future. So I wanted to write this article to give folks a general blueprint for how to think about it. If you’re new to biochar, or already using it, I hoped this helped. If you’re one of our customers, let me first say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” And we’ve already taken care of all the charging for you.  🙌

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