Digging biochar into the soil is actually an ancient practice. It was first used in settlements on the banks of the river Amazon, deep within the rainforest. Surprisingly, the soils of tropical forests are extremely poor – acidic and low in minerals and nutrients. When they took up farming, the indigenous people got round this problem by engineering extremely potent soils using charcoal. These human-made super soils, known as Terra Preta, still cover up to 10% of the Amazon basin today. Scientists have dated them back at least 2,500 years – some even as far back as 6,000 years.
I have been sent a sample of a biochar product that is shortly (1 Sept 18) to be launched onto the market by an organisation called Sacred Earth, or to give it its full name, the Sacred Earth Community Benefit Society. Based in Horam, East Sussex, this is an environmental organisation that connects people with nature. Specialising in experiential learning, it runs courses and events designed to help people establish better relationships with themselves, each other and the natural world on its 40-acre, off-grid site. It also rents out land to entrant biodynamic farmers at affordable rates, offering them infrastructure and support. As a Community Benefit Society (CBS), all profits made are returned to the community organisation, rather than being distributed among members or external shareholders.
According to Sacred Earth "The structure of biochar makes it the perfect home for the beneficial mycorrhizal fungi and friendly bacteria that are essential to healthy soil. Made by burning sustainable plant and wood waste at low temperatures, in the absence of oxygen, biochar is more porous and absorbent than common charcoal. Its surface is pitted with minuscule nooks and crannies, in which beneficial micro-organisms and fungi can flourish. When a healthy microbial ecosystem is established, a plant's root mass will become larger, which in turn allows the plant to take up more water and nutrients." If you want to know more about the product and its production process, have a look HERE.
Sacred Earth have kindly sent me a 1kg sample of the product, despatched (in accordance with their principles) in a compostable bag contained within a recyclable cardboard box.
When the product goes on sale in September it will be supplied only in 3kg paper sacks, again with a compostable liner. The price for 3kgs will be £9.99.
Biochar can be applied directly to the soil, or mixed in with compost and then dug in. If using the former method the recommended 'dosage' is approximately 1kg per square metre, if your soil isn’t good and a little less if it’s not too bad. If you want to add it to established plants, Sacred Earth suggest incorporating a good few handfuls around the roots. You’ll need at least 1kg for a small tree. If you decide to add it to compost first, they recommend one part Biochar Soil Booster to nine parts compost. I'm planning to apply my sample directly to the smallest of my raised beds.
It will be interesting to see what results it produces, but I'm very conscious that the product comes with a warning not to expect instant results: "Please note: the revival or establishment of microbial ecosystems can take time, depending on the current health and makeup of your soil. Please be patient. Sacred Earth’s Biochar Soil Booster is designed to improve the long-term health of your garden soil. You might not see its benefits the first season, but it will greatly improve your soil’s function over time."
There is one other important fact to note. Sacred Earth suggest that you use your Biochar Soil Booster as soon as you receive it, because it’s a live product, bursting with the fungi and beneficial bacteria essential to soil health. They say that "due to the product’s dampness and living vibrancy, it really should be used within two weeks of purchase – to avoid it decomposing its own packaging." That's not much of a Shelf Life, is it?? It will take a lot to persuade me that this stuff is superior to my own 1-year-aged Garden Compost!
|Homemade compost "cooking" - Best Before End Feb 2019!|
Note: Sacred Earth provided me with the review sample, free of charge.