Although ‘biochar’ is a late 20th-century term, the process has actually been around for thousands of years.
Ancient Amazonians disposed of their discarded crop residues and other agricultural waste by burning and burying them. This resulted in rich, fertile soils called terra preta (dark earth), now known as biochar.
Let’s dig deeper into how biochar benefits soil fertility, your plants, and the environment too!
And if you want to check out the easiest way to use biochar at home, jump directly to the section below.
This Article Covers:
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- 5 Proven Biochar Benefits for Your Plants and the Environment
Let’s jump right in.
5 Proven Biochar Benefits for Your Plants and the Environment
Biochar is produced through pyrolysis, a process where biomass (agricultural waste like corn stover, crop residue, or manure) is heated at high temperatures and in a low or zero oxygen environment.
The biochar type produced varies based on the feedstock used and the temperature reached during pyrolysis. For instance, biochar made from a biochar feedstock like manure has a higher nutrient content, whereas wood-based biochar can persist longer without degrading.
But why should you use biochar?
For starters, biochar’s fine-grained, highly porous structure helps retain soil nutrients and enhance soil biodiversity. This allows your plants to grow healthier.
Additionally, biochar captures the carbon present within organic matter and converts it into a stable form in the soil. This way, biochar amendment can significantly reduce the concentrations of the CO₂ greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
Let’s now look at these biochar benefits in detail:
1. Improves Water Retention of Soil
Excessive deforestation, mining, urbanization, and other human activities have contributed significantly to increased water run-off. Surface water run-off is the flow of water on the ground surface that occurs when excess rainwater, meltwater, etc., can’t be sufficiently absorbed by the soil.
Fortunately, biochar amended soil can help reverse this issue.
Biochar properties such as its sponge-like, porous structure allow it to hold more irrigation water, helping the soil to retain moisture and reduce water loss.
For example, research has shown that biochar application to clay soils can increase the soil porosity and the amount of water readily available to plants.
How does this help your plants?
Soils amendment using biochar increases water retention in the soil and can improve the chances of your plants thriving even during periods of reduced precipitation or even drought.
2. Increases Nutrient Retention in Soil
An increase in agricultural soil run-offs leaches essential nutrients from the soil, reducing its nutritional value. This increases our reliance on chemical fertilizers to add nutrients to the earth.
However, the use of chemical fertilizers can alter the soil pH, reducing soil organic matter (SOM) and fertility over time.
Thankfully, along with water retention, biochar’s chemical and physical properties give it a unique ability to attract and preserve soil nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus.
These two nutrients are major components that increase soil fertility and promote plant growth and development.
As a result, using biochar can drastically reduce soil acidity and our chemical fertilizer requirements. This, in turn, has a positive impact on the environment in ways such as:
- Better soil quality and overall soil health
- Lower greenhouse gas emissions
- Lesser pollution of water bodies
3. Enhances Soil Biodiversity
Agricultural soil is a living ecosystem that should ideally be teeming with microorganisms. These microbes take center stage in the nutrient cycle and are fundamental for all life to flourish on Earth.
Unfortunately, various human activities like mining, excessive use of chemical fertilizers, tilling, monocropping, etc., adversely affect soil health and biodiversity.
How does biochar help here?
Biochar’s unique structure with an immense surface area offers a secure habitat for various bacteria, fungi, and other beneficial microorganisms. An increase in the microbial communities through biochar addition can help reverse the damage caused by human activities and increase soil fertility.
Research also indicates that the terra preta boosts microbial activity, particularly in the rhizosphere (the soil present around the plant’s roots), increasing plant nutrient uptake and disease resistance.
4. Boosts Crop Yield
We’ve talked about how biochar amended soil provides agricultural benefits by improving water and nutrient retention and soil quality.
This results in conditions that help increase crop yield and plant growth.
Some studies have shown that biochar amendment can increase maize yields by up to 25 percent, especially in poor agricultural soils with low carbon content.
And when you can achieve this using a sustainable method like amending soil through biochar application, it becomes a long-term solution to solve issues like:
- Food scarcity
- Water shortage
- Soil depletion, etc.
5. Carbon Sequestration
Human activities like excess use of fossil fuels, irresponsibly burning crop residue, etc., have resulted in an abundance of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, NASA says that humans have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide by around 48% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
And it has contributed significantly to forcing climate change and global warming.
Fortunately, the application of biochar can capture and fix soil carbon and help improve air quality. Known as carbon sequestration, this involves the long-term capture and storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide as soil carbon.
A sustainable biochar system is carbon negative since it increases soil organic carbon and reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
According to some experts on biochar, biochar addition to 10% of the global cropland would be able to sequester carbon equivalent to 29 billion tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
If proven to be viable, this can significantly improve the quality of our atmosphere and play an essential role in reversing the effects of climate change.
But does this mean that the biochar amendment is only for large farmlands?
Not at all!
Reversing or slowing down climate change is everyone’s collective responsibility. So if you can bring about a slight change even in your garden or backyard, it can help in our fight against climate change!
The Easiest Way to Use Biochar at Home
Okay, so now that you have all these fantastic benefits of biochar, how do you use it at home and reap the benefits of these biochar properties?
Try Willow Biochar.
At Willow, we provide the most easy-to-use and sustainable biochar for your houseplants and home gardens.
Our biochar feedstock is pine wood waste that would otherwise go to a landfill. And since the feedstock is clean, single-source, and from organic matter, it gives you consistent results compared to other biochar products.
It also comes pre-activated with compost and mycorrhizal fungi in our potting mix and undergoes post-pyrolysis grinding — all of which ensure maximum water and plant nutrient retention.
What’s pre-activated biochar?
Raw biochar is highly porous, it absorbs and retains soil nutrients, forcing the plants to compete for nutrients. To prevent this, you need to saturate the raw biochar with nutrients (known as activation) using organic material like compost.
However, Willow potting mix is already pre-activated with the materials mentioned above and is therefore hassle-free.
And during the biochar production, we don’t mix or blend any fillers, synthetic fertilizers, or peat moss, giving your plants a natural and organic soil amendment solution.
Just mix Willow directly with any soil or add it to the base of any existing plant and see your garden flourish.
Clearly, biochar offers several amazing benefits to the environment.
It can help increase the soil’s water and nutrient content, enhance soil biodiversity, boost plant yields, and potentially reverse climate change.
And with Willow, you can easily experience all these benefits right from your home garden. Why not try a bag today to unlock the secret to happy plants and an even healthier planet?