Several years ago, I read an article on something called terra preta. Intrigued, I looked for information out on the Internet and found very little, other than the fact that terra preta is Portuguese for “dark earth” and that the pre-historic inhabitants of the Amazonian rain forest had manufactured it and used it as a soil amendment.
Fast forward two years: a big, big change. Suddenly, terra preta, now called “biochar”, is touted as the solution to global warming by some. Others are not so sure, so the truth likely lies somewhere in between. In its December 4, 2008 issue, Time Magazine had a piece that featured Josh Frye, of Wardensville, West Virginia, who was burning chicken litter to produce biochar. As usual with the mainstream press, there was more to the story than met the eye. Articles in The Mother Earth News and in BioCycle gave lots more information and revealed that biochar wasn’t something that the home gardener could easily produce in the quantity needed. The Gardening With BioChar wiki has a great deal of useful information about how to use biochar in the home garden and I intend to peruse this source in depth when I have the time. You can make your own biochar, but you can also buy regular charcoal from Cowboy Charcoal in 20 pound bags or you can buy a whole pallet of the stuff if you want to apply it to your entire garden. The TreeHugger site has an interesting article that documents up to a 17% increased yield by using biochar as compared to a control plot.
The International Biochar Initiative website also has a great deal of information on the subject. I’m not sure how I got to this particular page, but biochar is not a light topic. There is some very serious research taking place.
Here is a video that features Johannes Lehmann, of Cornell University, which offers an overview of this complex and fascinating subject. The truck spreading biochar and the pyrolysis unit are on Josh Frye’s farm:
Is anyone in Virginia or the Carolinas using biochar in their gardens? BioChar has “permaculture” stamped all over it – how many other folks out there are investigating its use?