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Biochar: How Your Garden Can Save the Planet

Wednesday, April 08, 2015


Biochar via Wikimedia CC.

I first learned about biochar two years ago while volunteering for a NGO in rural Thailand with my parents. My father, a mechanical engineer, designed barrel drum furnaces to burn pounds and pounds of waste rice husk for local farmers to use as an amendment. Now it’s making a splash in farm and garden stores everywhere. 

Here are 6 reasons why biochar could save our planet: 

1. Biochar is an ancient agricultural technology 3,000 years old. Our ancestors mimicked natural forest fires in the controlled burning of their land, sequestering carbon into the soil. When you use biochar you are part of a movement to rediscover the knowledge of the agricultural practices of the ancients, who used it to improve crop yield and enrich the soil. 

2. Biochar is being considered as a means for negative carbon emissions. So instead of feeling guilty for all those long road trips, biochar your yard to suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If 10 percent of the world’s farmers added biochar to their fields, it would capture the equivalent of one year of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions, or about 29 billion tons of carbon dioxide total (Slate.com, July 2013). 

3. When biochar is mixed into the soil it acts like a tiny sponge, serving as a moisture and nutrient storehouse for your precious cherry tomato plants. 

4. Unlike compost and other organic soil amendments, biochar never breaks down. Ever. Which means you can apply it one time and it will enrich the soil for hundreds of years. The initial cost of the black stuff is fairly expensive ($15-20 for a cubic foot), but you’ll never have to reapply it.

5. Most decomposition of organic matter releases methane into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide. Biochar never decomposes, so no methane!  

6. Biochar stimulates mycorrhizal fungi, the microorganisms that live along the length of plant roots and collect phosphorus for the plants’ use. Plants with healthy mycorrhizal fungi are more drought-tolerant and less susceptible to disease. 

Sound too good to be true? Perform a science fair experiment with the kiddos. Give one potted plant a healthy scoop of biochar and another just regular potting soil. See the difference for yourselves! 

An urban farmer and master gardener, Amélie Rousseau writes for fellow explorers and eaters of the plant kingdom. It's a jungle out there. 


Related Slideshow: 10 Things You May Not Know About Truffles

The annual Oregon Truffle Festival is set to kick off in January in Portland and Eugene. But before attending the festival, here are 10 things you may not know about truffles. (All photos were provided by the Oregon Truffle Festival). 

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Truffles Priced 1,000 +

Prices in the U.S. for the French black truffle and Italian white truffle have reached up to $1,200 per pound. 

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Not All Are That Good

There are at least 1,000 truffle species in North America. All are thought to be edible, but only a few have real culinary value.

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Best in the West

Oregon has the four most famous “culinary” truffle species in North America.

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Where Else Are They?

There are currently three other “culinary” truffle species found elsewhere in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

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European Truffles Here

There are at least 20 farms in North America that are beginning to produce European truffles.

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Growing in the Northwest

In the Pacific Northwest, farms are producing Perigord, Burgundy, and bianchetto truffles in orchards of inoculated trees.

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Success in the West

Seven orchards of inoculated truffle trees in the Pacific Northwest have successfully produced European truffles.

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Wine Country Truffles

Yamhill Valley wine country has one of the largest concentrations of productive truffle patches in Oregon. 

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Oregon Soil

The Oregon Truffle Festival will be holding North America’s first truffle dog championship, named “The Joriad.”  The event is named after Oregon’s state soil, Jory soil, which is prime for truffle growing.

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Oregon Leads the Way

In early 2013, the famous black truffle of Southern Europe, aka the Perigord truffle, was harvested for the first time in Oregon in an orchard of hazelnut trees. 


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