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Natural Awakenings Ann Arbor Michigan

From the Wilds of the Amazon Comes a 2,000 Years in the Making Fertilizer

Mar 31, 2018 08:18PM
Patrick Schoen is the owner of Ann Arbor Biochar. A gardener for 50 years, he graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.S. in natural resources and earned an M.S. in environmental science from Eastern Michigan University. In addition to starting the Ann Arbor Biochar Company, he is also a member of Citizens Climate Lobby.

Biochar is a revolutionary new product more than 2,000 years in the making. The ancient people of the Amazon burned their garbage in a smothered pit, a low oxygen condition, which created char. Eventually, the ancients noticed vegetation thrived near their pits and began spreading the darkened earth on their farmland.  So, when an archaeologist noticed some regions of dark soil along the banks of the Amazon with lush vegetation growing above it, he began to investigate. He found pottery shards that told him that the soil was associated with human habitation.

Scientists call the high char content soils terra preta. Under an electron microscope, char looks like a sponge, except that it's black and hard. The sponge-like pores retain water in the sandy soil, but miraculously, in a clay soil, which can get too wet and heavy when it gets saturated, the char allows the water to trickle through it. Water retention is increased by 92% in sandy soil and water drainage is increased by 300% in clay soil.

The surface of the biochar has both positive and negative charges.  Remember rubbing a balloon in your hair to create static electricity and then you could attract objects with the balloon? Just like the balloon, char holds soil nutrients in place instead of letting them leach through the soil. The nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and all the other micronutrients have charges to them.

The porous nature of char also provides a perfect habitat for microorganisms that are beneficial to any garden. Studies show an explosion of beneficial microorganisms in the soil with the addition of char.

Biochar is char made in modern, computerized kilns, under exacting conditions, for use in soil.

"What you want to do is spread about three-quarters of an inch of biochar over the surface of your soil and work it into the top 6 inches, then you're ready to plant," says Schoen. "A more economical way would be to dig a hole and take a little bit of the biochar, mix it with the soil, and then put in your plant." The soil is amended immediately. "Our product is a mixture of 50% organic compost with 50% biochar, and then we add worm castings and kelp meal. The way the carbon atoms bond together, they can last 500 to 1,000 years or more in the soil. That's why biochar is a tool in fending off climate change!" exclaims Schoen.

The carbon in the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, can be stored by nature in earth's oceans, soils, and atmosphere. Modern agricultural processes exhaust the carbon in the soil. Biochar is made of pure carbon which has been bound in such a way that bacteria and other decomposers cannot break it down. Using biochar builds up the carbon content in the soil.

Every time you use biochar you keep putting more carbon into the ground permanently. The properties of water regulation, nutrient retention, and increased microbial life are included with the biochar so the plant is getting just what it needs. When you use biochar, you'll be using less fertilizer, increasing crop yields and helping the planet," notes Schoen


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