Biochar soil amendment has become increasingly popular for its positive impacts on not only the soil, but also the environment. Biochar is a type of fine-grained charcoal used as a soil amendment and created by slowly burning wood and agricultural byproducts, such as plant matter, with low oxygen in a process called pyrolysis. Carbon is absorbed within the growing organic material during photosynthesis, and then it is converted into a stable, solid form during pyrolysis, making biochar.
Thousands of years ago, Amazon natives burned jungle plants and branches slowly, combining it with manure and household waste to enrich nutrient-deficient clay soil. What they learned is that unlike compost, biochar doesn’t decompose and continues benefitting the soil for many years. This is because the pyrolysis process fixes carbon into molecular forms which are not easily decomposed by soil microbes, allowing biochar to persist for thousands of years in soil.
The benefits of biochar in soil are numerous:
- Biochar holds water like a sponge, where plant roots can access it when they need it. This is especially helpful during periods of hot, dry soil conditions.
- Biochar helps conserve plant nutrients by storing them and making them readily available when plants need them.
- Road salt can increase the salinity of your soil, making it harder for plants to take up water and nutrients. This dehydrates plants, causing them to wilt or brown. Biochar absorbs and releases salts in the soil to be flushed away in a way that reduces the injury to plants.
- Biochar strongly resists compaction in soil, keeping channels open for water, air, and root movement even if there is repeated traffic on the surface.
- Biochar sequesters carbon, storing it in the soil and keeping it from decomposing and adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.