Why and How Biochar is Important

Why and How Biochar is Important

Do you know? Biochar has been used by the people of Amazon over 1000 years ago. In that place, there was a soil named Terra Preta- Black Earth because in that soil there were lots of biochar that makes soil looks black, and even in today’s century the soil of that place is very fertile.

Some importance of biochar are given below;

  1. Biochar stores Water

Biochar has a lot of pores, which means it has a lot of surface area to trap water. As a result of its many tiny pores, biochar has a very large surface area.

It’s natural for water to stick to the surfaces. Let Consider a mineral water bottle full of water, If you fully pour out all of the water from the bottle, there will be still some water droplets that remain inside the surfaces, cap, lid, and mouth of the bottle. Based on this consideration, we will know that water sticks to the surfaces and empty spaces.

  • The larger the surface area, the more water will stick to it. i.e. surface area is directly proportional to the sticking properties of water.

We all know that when we give a certain amount of water to plant, only a small portion is taken up by plants through roots and the most amount of taken water will go out in the transpiration process. Water can be lost as vapour by evaporation, runoff, percolation, and other processes, and the plant cannot absorb water quickly enough as it runs off into lower soil layers. As a result, the plant’s roots are unable to absorb water from the lower soil layers, so the plant necessitating frequent watering. It eats up time, money, and labor.

So, to prevent water loss from any reason and method, we can use biochar. Because biochar soaks the water and stores it for as long as possible until microorganisms and plant roots consume it.

  • If there is already biochar on your field, then if you did watering in that field then water will not be lost through a different process cause Biochar catches the water like a strong magnet and it soaks up the water until it gets saturated.
  • Biochar can store water, 2 times of its weight. That means If you have 10 kg of biochar, then your biochar has the capacity to store 20 L of water. Biochar makes soil always water available to plant even in drought conditions, so even you can grow vegetables in the desert with the use of biochar.
If you normally apply water in the field water will be loss in different form and by different methods, so you have to watering, again and again, it is time, labor and money consumable. Is it or not?

Of course, it is. So let’s just imagine how much water, time, energy, labor, money you can save by using Biochar.

As you know the many positive aspects of biochar on water storage. We can say that biochar can help in farming very well.

  • There are many high-value crops that are grown on the farm like tomatoes, potatoes, sugarcane, etc. Which need lots of water for their development and cultivation and of course all crops require water for continuing their life, it’s a fundamental thing. So, if you use biochar in your farm, biochar stores water as much as possible until it gets saturated and which is very helpful to keep soil with water available to the plant, also in drought conditions. Drought can destroy the plant and soil. it will give stress to the plant. the plant will grow hardly, it harms the vegetative, fruiting, and reproductive stage of the plant and loss happens in both quantity and quality of the Agriculture product, which is very sad for farmers as well as consumers and nation.

Let’s have a physical experiment, but it’s not theoretical it is practical; Let us consider, we are growing tomatoes on the farm and generally, we have to watering 2 times a day in morning and evening time.But if we use the biochar watering quantity, time, labour, money will be saved and we can watering only one time a day in the tomatoes field.

Picture source: http://www.nakanoassociates.com/biochar/

  1. Biochar stores Nutrients

  • We know biochar is very porous, have many small pores, so it has a large surface area and these pores act as a role of the magnet for nutrient.

Here, Pores = Magnet
Nutrient= iron(this concept kept cause magnet attract iron very strongly)

  • Biochar has negative charge, it’s like high power negatively charged magnet which is highly preferred to attract positively charged nutrients like  Ca, K, Mg, etc. They attract each other very strongly. So, biochar attracts nutrients strongly and stores Nutrients tightly until biochar will get saturated, this is how biochar stores the nutrient very much. Generally when we apply the manure, fertilizer in the field, in the sense of giving nutrient to the plants, nutrients of fertilizer, manures loss in a different form, methods like evaporation, percolation, running off, so nutrients will go deeper in soil, washed away, convert into different form and loss. If there is biochar in the field all nutrients of the fertilizer and manures will absorb on it until it gets saturated. It does not let nutrients to be wasted and lost, it held the nutrient in the topsoil close to plant root which is easily available to plant and give high quality and quantity of product.
  • Let’s have a example if you are growing maize in your field, which requires high amount of nutrients to grow. you have to apply at least 4 times fertilizer in its whole lifecycle Because of the losses. It cost a lot and wastes labor too. But If you used biochar in that field you have to apply fertilizer only 2 or 3 times only. This means biochar can store nutrients in the soil without being lost and wasted. You need less fertilizer, harmful chemicals in your field to grow plants and it saves your money, time, soil, environment everything.

So imagine how much it helps you to make your nation and environment healthy.

Picture source: http://www.nakanoassociates.com/biochar/

  1. Host microbes like bacteria

How biochar host microbes?

  • In biochar, there are many pores, spaces and where these pores and spaces have oxygen, water, and nutrients. most of the microorganisms are aerobics in nature which means need oxygen for their activities and metabolism so they prefer an oxygenated place to stay and start to do their jobs. So biochar has enough space and oxygen for the microorganisms and bacteria, therefore biochar is the perfect habitat for the microorganism.

How microorganisms are important for soil and plants?

  • Generally, most people think that when we add more and more nutrients from the source of nutrients like fertilizer, our plant will grow better, faster, and give high productivity. In some sense, it is true too but there is lack of proper explanation. When we add nutrients and fertilizers to the soil or there are nutrients in the soil, doesn’t mean that these Nutrients are easily available to the plant or uptake by the plant. The plant takes the nutrients in different forms of different nutrients.

Let’s take an example of Nitrogen (N) nutrient, we can get Nitrogen nutrient from different source like organic fertilizers manure, FYM, compost, jholmol, etc and also from chemical fertilizers like urea, DAP, Ammonium sulfate, etc. when we apply these fertilizers in the soil, it can be any form of Nitrogen like ammonia, ammonium, nitrate, nitrite, etc in the soil. Some of these forms like nitrate and ammonium are easy to take up by the plant roots. Nitrate form of Nitrogen more easily uptake by the plant than ammonium but leaching loss is high in nitrate form so in water stagnated field ammonium type or form of fertilizer will be effective. So, plants can’t take any nutrients without convert into the simplest form.

  • Soil microbes that are in biochar can change the form of nutrients which will be easy to uptake by plants. bacteria are also soil microbes, some bacteria change the form of nutrients like Nitrosomonas, Nitrobacter, azotobacter, etc. So firstly microbes prepare the nutrients for the plant and plants uptake that form of nutrient easily. More microbes in your soil mean more nutrients easily available to the plants.

So if you add biochar in the soil, there will be more space, oxygen, area to stay microbes and microbes will be more in soil and more microbes mean more nutrients easily available to the plants.

It increases Agriculture productivity by both quantitatively and qualitatively. The soil will be fertile, more efficient to fertilizer, and cost low.

Let’s consider an example, like honeybees, Workers bee as soil microbes and queen as soil and plant. the worker’s bees are good to take caring of queen for their generation and productivity. They collect honey for the queen, like microbes convert Nutrients in different form which is available to the plants.

Picture source: http://www.nakanoassociates.com/biochar/

  1. Microbes-Fungi

There are some fungi in nature that are found in soil, they help plant roots to uptake more and more Nutrients and reach up to the source of nutrients. Plant roots have some limited distribution over the soil, limited length so only plant roots can’t uptake more and more Nutrients that are in the soil. Mycorrhizal fungi are very small but they spread a lot They have numerous lots branches over the soil, these fungi work together with plants roots and help to absorb nutrients, they have symbiosis relationship like commensalism. So with the help of these fungi plant will able to uptake more and more Nutrients from the more soil area, so the plant will grow faster and give high productivity. Both plant roots and fungi have a symbiotic relationship. fungi help the plant to absorb or collect Nutrients and the roots of the plant help fungi by giving sugar to the fungi. so they both have their own benefits

  • Let’s go into the main thing, we know biochar will absorb and collect more and more Nutrients and water, has many more spaces. So these fungi will grow easily in biochar and gets inside the biochar due to pores and it would be easy to uptake the nutrients for the plant. So biochar is also important for fungi.

Picture source: http://www.nakanoassociates.com/biochar/

  1. Biochar is permanent

Biochar has a permanent structure and it is stable.In actual biochar has no Nutrients itself, it only stores Nutrients. so to make it nutrient full we have to charge it. This storage of nutrients in biochar can be fill, emptied, and refilled by different processes. In the soil, the Nutrients of biochar will uptake by the plants and empty the nutrient storage but the biochar stays in the soil. Biochar doesn’t easily decompose like organic matters, composts, etc, worms, water and microbes only can break it. So this is amazing because we don’t have to apply biochar, again and again, each year.

Note: if you did apply biochar again next year, there will be no problem with that, the effect of old and new biochar will be acting together in greater amount and very efficiently.

Picture source: http://www.nakanoassociates.com/biochar/

Does biochar is important for different types of soil to make the best soil properties, character?

Yes, both clay and sandy soil indeed need to make it better and best for plants and also for acidic soil too.

6. Clay soil

I) Biochar adds air spaces in the soil;

We all know that the nature of clay soil is hardy, heavy, and very compact with respect to other types of soil. Clay soil is heavy and dense and has less and low air or air space in the soil. Oxygen is very essential for both plants and microorganisms. When there is no air means there is no oxygen. So, less oxygen means fewer root growth of plants, low productivity, and less microbial activities in the soil and it also affects the conversion and efficiency of nutrients and fertilizer. we all know biochar has a very porous structure, many many pores, that can capture the air. Especially the coarse biochar has more air spaces and adds more and more air spaces. The more air space, the more air, more oxygen and have high root growth and microbial activities.

II) Clay soils are very dense- Biochar helps them to be light;

We already knew that Clay soils are very dense and which is very difficult to penetrate by the plant’s root. it is a very big problem for the growth and development of plant roots. plant roots faced like lifting a heavyweight. Roots need a clear way to move forward. In clay soil plant requires more and more energy and sometimes roots can’t penetrate the soil due to heavy dense properties also we already knew that biochar adds lots of air space in the soil, so the soil becomes loose and fragile after the application of biochar. Roots grow very well and easily in air spaces and pores. Biochar has lots of air spaces and pores. There is no resistance to the growth of plant roots. So, biochar helps soil to be lightened.

III) Clay Soil is bad in drainage- Biochar helps to improve drainage in the Soil.

Clay soils are very hard and can hold lots of water and bad in drainage in nature. So, when we apply water in clay soil which is already saturated, water will be stagnated in the field which blocks the air i.e. Oxygen of all pores of soil fill up with water by displacing air which leads to having less root growth, plant growth, and microbial activities due low oxygen availability and another disadvantage is that when there is always water in the soil, soil always be cool and that leads to later germination, slow growth of the plant.If we used biochar, we know biochar stores water but when the storage is full. water will run out through it. So biochar helps soil to drain. Let’s have an example, When we through sponge, cloth or something on land which have many pores and have high storage capacity, firstly it soak up the water until it gets saturated and when it becomes saturated water will run through it, like this same mechanism biochar works.So, biochar acts as a buffer in the soil, it preventing the soil from being both too dry and too wet.

Note: Biochar only can’t improve the soil but if you charge it with nutrients it will. So adds organic matters too.

Picture source: http://www.nakanoassociates. com/biochar/

  1. Sandy soil:

We know that clay soil has dense, concrete and holds much more water but sandy soil can’t hold any water and nutrients.

We also all know that biochar is very very good at storing water and nutrients like a Superman. If you directly apply water and fertilizer in the field without using anything, most of the water and nutrients will be lost in different forms and process like percolation, evaporation, etc. we need more and more water and fertilizer to grow the plant in sandy soil which is hard, irritating and very costly. But when we use Biochar in the sandy soil, it keeps storing water and storing nutrients from the fertilizer, there is less chance to be lost so we need to apply less water and fertilizer in the sandy soil when we use Biochar. Which is very beneficial and also there will be the perfect place for microorganisms. This makes it easy to do farming in the sandy soil, cheaper and more productive.

Picture source: http://www.nakanoassociates. com/biochar/

  1. Acidic soil

Biochar raises the PH of the soil. In today’s world, most of the places of the world have acidic soil due to various reasons. but plants and microbes love neutral soil.

How it raises the soil PH?

  • You already knew many times that biochar stores nutrients, and we know hydrogen ion makes soil acidic which is positively charged but Biochar is negatively charged, so biochar attract hydrogen ion strongly and in biochar there is lots of water, nutrients, and soil which helps to convert hydrogen ion in different forms like OH. So by this way, biochar helps to raise soil pH.

Picture source: http://www.nakanoassociates. com/biochar/

Why it is very important?

In acidic soil, plants can’t grow well, have low roots growth, microbial activities so plants productivity will be low in both quality and quantity terms. It badly harms the peoples.

Let’s see the chart of different nutrients availability in terms of PH.

Note; if you didn’t test your soil and don’t know either it is acidic or alkaline, then first use only a small amount of biochar and see the result then decide you should apply biochar or not.

Credit: Olivia

About the author
Manoj Shrestha

Agriculture and Forestry University
Rampur, Chitwan, Nepal

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Manoj
    Can you please elaborate on the size of Biochar to used. Is it in coarse form or Powder form. What quantity should it be used in the farm.
    Thanks

    • Hi, vijay ji,
      Generally size and form of biochar doesn’t matter . Cause they have same property and character but there is one condition you can apply coarse form in clay soil because clay soil are tight and to make fragile and areable coarse biochar is more preferable than fine.
      And talking about the amount of biochar you can use as much as you want, more you apply more good for your soil. And it is degredable as well as soil enhancer.

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