SOS! Save Our Soils with Biochar

SOS! Save Our Soils with Biochar

For many of us, protecting the health of our plants can verge on obsession – but are we as dedicated to our soils? Soil is beautiful stuff. Nutrient-rich, good textured soil is fundamental to successful crops, as are the complex colonies of micro-organisms that dwell within it, feeding and protecting their plant hosts. One teaspoon of good soil contains more living things than there are people on the planet; however years of digging, heavy rains and chemicals can destroy these natural cultures leaving soils leached and unproductive.

Leading horticulturalists have revealed that adding enriched biochar to their growing systems restores the productivity of their soils, giving good germination and excellent plant health. By improving soil health and biology, biochar blends increase root growth, reduce watering requirements and suppress pathogens – resulting in stronger, healthier plants and bigger yields. Growers are increasingly turning to biochar-based products.

Biochar is a high carbon form of charcoal that has been used for thousands of years to improve soil nutrition and growing conditions. Studies of soil at sites throughout the Amazon Basin suggest that ancient Amazonian civilisations made a primitive type of biochar and added it to their soils to help grow their crops. The result was a rich and fertile black earth – or ‘terra preta’ – which can still be found today.

SOS's modern take on this ancient soil amendment blends together biochar, mycorrhizal fungi, seaweed and wormcasts to increase trace minerals, add good bacteria and maximise nutrient uptake. It can be added to composts or directly into soils, in planting rows or as a top dressing – the closer to your plant roots the better as this is where the micro-organisms need to be. Thanks to its microscopic honeycomb-like structure, biochar provides the perfect habitat for beneficial soil micro-organisms, such as mycorrhizal fungi and actinomycetes bacteria, to flourish; encouraging strong root development and helping your plant fight disease. Biochar also acts like a sponge, significantly improving the water-holding capacity of soil or compost, lessening the risk of drying out and reducing the frequency of irrigation. It also helps to retain mineral nutrients that would otherwise be leached away by rain. Unlike other soil improvers, biochar does not decompose and will stay in your soil almost indefinitely, enhancing and improving the natural health and fertility of your soil for decades to come.

Professional and amateur growers are already reaping the benefits. Paul Howlett, Head of Agronomy at Wight Salads Group, the leading suppliers of organic tomatoes into UK supermarkets, says, “Where we have incorporated Biochar Soil Improver in the very sandy soil at our Portuguese nursery we have seen a 10% yield increase and a lower level of Nematode infestation then areas that were not treated.”

National Vegetable Society exhibitor, judge & lecturer, Mick Poultney also swears by biochar, as he tell us

“I have been using the soil improver on all my raised beds and grow a range of vegetables, fruit and flowers to good effect. Being a great believer in composting and vermicompost, I also started to use the soil improver as one of my ingredients in my compost bins and my composting is now ready to use within a month. When the worms multiply that tells me they are happy, which makes me happy!”

Not only is biochar beneficial for your soil, it is also simple way of capturing carbon. Converting organic matter into biochar, through a process known as pyrolysis, results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions than if it had been burnt or left to rot. Its carbon content is simply locked into the soil where it can benefit plant life, instead of being released into the air. One tonne of carbon locked away in biochar represents nearly three tonnes of carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere, so you can care for your soil and cut your carbon footprint in one fell swoop.

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