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What is Biochar?


By definition, Biochar (pronounced¬†ÔĽŅbio - charÔĽŅ), is biologically activated charcoal which is used in gardening, horticulture and land management to improve soil fertility and plant health. AND it's a form of carbon capture and storage.

The benefits of applying biochar to soils:

To get the best out of biochar, it should be mixed with nutrients and microbes a process known as charging, inoculating or activating. Think of it like a battery for your soil. 

Biochar is very porous and has a very high surface area to volume ratio. These pores absorb and hold onto the nutrients and microbes. Think of it as a sponge for all the things your plants love and need to grow!

Three amazing properties of Biochar:

  1. Biochar increases the microbial diversity in the soil and microbes are vital for the growth of your plants because they make essential nutrients which the roots absorb.
  2. Biochar improves water retention in the soil meaning your plants are unlikely to go thirsty and you can use less water in your garden! A win-win!
  3. Biochar improves nutrient retention in the soil meaning your soil will retain nutrients for the plants instead of nutrients being washed away after rainfall.

Three facts about biochar:

  1. Biochar will increase plant productivity (health and growth) by at least 15% in good quality soil and up to 200% in poor quality soil.
  2. Our biochar is 100% natural and organic, made from waste wood to ensure it is carbon negative. 
  3. Biochar will reduce the amount of watering and feeding you need to give to your plants by 25-40%.

Biochar is a form of carbon storage

Biochar is a recognised Negative Emission Technology (NET) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This means Biochar can be used as a method of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby helping to reverse climate change. 

This is the core reason we started Earthly. Not only is Biochar great for plants but it’s a vital tool in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Our biochar is made from wood which was destined for landfill or incineration, therefore we are intercepting the carbon before it has a chance to escape back into the atmosphere.

If you remember back to your biology classes at school, you might recall the carbon cycle in which trees suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere whilst they grow, and when they decay (or get burned), they release the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. This is carbon neutral - the trees take and return the CO2 after 44-104 years.

When Biochar is made, the wood is only half-burned and the carbon is trapped in a porous structure, this cannot biodegrade (which is good), meaning the carbon is safely stored in the ground for hundreds of years.

This is carbon negative - the trees take the CO2 out of the atmosphere and then the biochar keeps it locked away, preventing it from re-entering the carbon cycle.

So at the end of the day, when you add Biochar to your garden soil, you are helping remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and helping reverse climate change!

Biochar's exotic history:

The story of Biochar dates back to 450 BC in the Amazon Basin. At this time there was a 100,000 strong population in the Amazon Basin in Brazil who were composting and burning their waste in large dug out pits. The cycle of burying and burning their organic waste over time resulted in rich fertile soil, called Terra Preta. The discovery of this soil by ecologists in the 1980s has developed into a field of research aiming to uncover the history, properties and applications of Terra Preta. 
Learning about Terra Preta’s amazing properties encouraged the re-creation of the soil today. This is how Biochar was created. The Amazonian civilisations buried and burnt wood with organic matter (food waste, excretion etc.) and the charcoal made from the wood absorbed the nutrients in the organic matter. 
Making Biochar is based on the same principles, using charcoal which is activated with nutrients and microbes from organic matter.