10 steps to make biochar | Living the Country Life
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10 steps to make biochar

Cathy Rose makes homemade biochar at her Nature’s Nest Farm west of Delano, Minnesota. This ancient form of fertilizer is gaining ground as a new tool for growing things well. Follow these steps to make it yourself.
  • 1. Find biomass

     You can use any kind of plant matter – tree limbs, twigs, clippings – plus manure or animal bedding.

    Date Published: February 26, 2013
    Date Updated: February 26, 2013
    Tags: Biochar
  • 2. Punch holes in bottom of lowest barrel

    This will get the draft in the chimney working.

    Date Published: February 26, 2013
    Date Updated: February 26, 2013
    Tags: Biochar
  • 3. Load bottom barrel

    Don't pack the material too tight.

    Date Published: February 26, 2013
    Date Updated: February 26, 2013
    Tags: Biochar
  • 4. Light it

    “The extremely hot fire cooks the biomass down fast, and fast is all about making combustion without making much carbon,” says Cathy. “It’s a scientifically proven way to burn.”

    Date Published: February 26, 2013
    Date Updated: February 26, 2013
    Tags: Biochar
  • 5. Add the second barrel

    The second barrel is about 18 inches tall and sits over the top of a 55-gallon drum.

    Date Published: February 26, 2013
    Date Updated: February 26, 2013
    Tags: Biochar
  • 6. Add the top barrel

    The top barrel is smaller in diameter, which creates the chimney, pulling air through the fire from the bottom. The three barrels work to create a rocket stove chimney that is the most efficient way to cook.

    Date Published: February 26, 2013
    Date Updated: February 26, 2013
    Tags: Biochar
  • 7. Burn for one hour

    And then snuff out the fire by closing off the airflow. “I can choke off the fire either with water or by starving it for air – anything so it doesn’t burn all the way to ash,” says Cathy.

    Date Published: February 26, 2013
    Date Updated: February 26, 2013
    Tags: Biochar
  • 8. Dump out biochar

    The biochar produced from her bottom barrel yields about a half bushel. “From this half bushel, I can treat a good-size garden,” says Cathy. “Unlike lump or processed charcoal, this granule stuff gleans and glistens, and it sounds like broken glass when it dries.

    Date Published: February 26, 2013
    Date Updated: February 26, 2013
    Tags: Biochar
  • 9. Save every bit of it

    “The biochar I’m making is burned down to small particles, so even the dust is important. A little of this stuff goes a long way,” she says. The hard part is getting it spread evenly. The tiny particles are full of air, the opposite of clay.

    Date Published: February 26, 2013
    Date Updated: February 26, 2013
    Tags: Biochar
  • 10. Mix with compost or castings

    Homemade biochar needs to be charged with nutrients before being added to the garden. You can mix it with compost or soak it with worm castings tea or a nutrient-rich solution like urine or fish emulsion.

    Cathy applies the final product in a thin layer close to the plants. You can also top-dress the soil and work it in with a tiller to the first 4 to 6 inches.

    Date Published: February 26, 2013
    Date Updated: February 26, 2013
    Tags: Biochar
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