Biochar or charcoal?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

640px-BiocharThe term biochar is nothing but a great marketing ploy because all it is is charcoal or is anyone going tell me that those people in the Amazon who used this method of soil improvement some centuries ago and more made their charcoal in this supposedly special way. They would not have done.

Gardeners at stately homes and elsewhere too were using charcoal, simple charcoal, often from charcoal ranges of the big houses, as a soil improver. That was, as said, ordinary charcoal, and in many cases charcoal that has already been used to cook food.

What they call today biochar may be made in slightly a different way than “ordinary” charcoal but in most ways it is nothing but ordinary charcoal and thus the one that you have used on your barbeque – as long as it is proper lump wood charcoal and the briquettes kind of stuff – is something you should add to your soil or your compost. Forget paying through the nose for a fancy name; it is but charcoal, period.

Terra preta is the name for that particular area and soil in the Amazon basin and has been in intentionally created using charcoal and organic matter. The processes responsible for the formation of terra preta soils are: the incorporation of wood charcoal, the incorporation of organic matter and of nutrients and last but not least the role of micro-organisms and animals in the soil. The latter, more than likely, is a result of the charcoal and the organic matter added to the soil.

As we can very well see from this that Carbon Gold and Co are not required, only charcoal and in the case of the terra preta this, to some extent, was charcoal derived from the cooking fires.

While biochar exists and is produced slightly different to ordinary charcoal it still is charcoal and it works no different in the soil than does “ordinary” lump wood charcoal. Therefore there is absolutely no need to buy into the hype of biochar. Just add ordinary lump wood charcoal to your soil and compost and the result should be (almost) the same, if not exactly the same.

The only difference is that one gets quite a bit of marketing thrown at it and the other, the ordinary charcoal namely, does not. Make the one charcoal out to be something very, very special and you can add a nice price tag to it and, voila, no one will tool at ordinary charcoal, while you can get a large back – I am talking of locally produced lump wood charcoal from hardwood – for less than a packet of the hyped up one.

© 2016