How Cows Use Biochar To Make More With Less!

Though I spend a lot of time thinking about how biochar interacts with soils, I was thrilled to read this awesome publication about how biochar increase the efficiency in which cows turn food into mass.

The science is young on this front, but the results that have been reported are extremely encouraging and pose huge implications! One study by Leng et. al at Souphanouvong University found that by feeding cattle a diet with 0.6% biochar, the cows grew 25% bigger on the same amount of food—that’s a huge difference! In the stomachs of cows reside trillions of bacteria that assist in digestion (that’s why they can eat grass and we can’t… er, we shouldn’t) yet at the same time, they produce methane too, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. When this research group looked at how these bacteria in the cow’s stomach responded to biochar, they found that its massive surface area and many pores were such a good place for them to set up shop, they could work more efficiently and thereby produced less net methane. You wouldn’t think it, but cows are the number one global producer of methane. These biochar-fed cows produced an astounding 29% less methane.

So let’s take a step back for a moment and think about how this aligns with our sustainability paradigm: We feed a cow grass with 0.6% biochar by weight; the cow turns that food into more meat than it would have without biochar; the cow produces less greenhouse gas; as the cow produces its waste, the biochar that was originally in its stomach is now in its waste, holding the nutrients in place that can then be used as a sustainable long-term soil amendment.

The more I dig, the more amazing things I find about what biochar can do. In the words of Jeff Wallin, “You use it for one reason, but you end up with many benefits.”

Be cool to the planet!

Biochar Bob

Links:

http://www.lrrd.cipav.org.co/lrrd24/11/leng24199.htm

http://www.ithaka-journal.net/pflanzenkohle-in-der-rinderhaltung?lang=en

How To Apply Biochar To A Garden

If you’re reading this, first of all, good for you for being part of the biochar movement! Biochar does us no good when it is only in our heads—the real change happens as soon as you buy/make biochar and put it to use! So when you’re applying biochar to your soil, remember that while you are increasing your garden’s fertility, you are also sequestering carbon and becoming part of a global response to climate change! The carbon you are putting in your soil (biochar is mostly carbon!), will not return to the atmosphere as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide for a very, very long time. But first, how do you apply biochar to the soil? It’s super simple, I promise!

(Feel free to check out my YouTube video that shows how to do this).

I’ve read a lot of scientific studies that have experimented with different application rates and how they affect plant growth. So many, in fact, that sometimes it’s hard to figure out how much to use! Factors like what kind of soil you have, what kind of biochar you’re using, or even how the biochar was made, affects how much to use. Considering all of these variables, it’s a safe bet to aim for 5% of the top 6 inches of soil to be biochar—this means if you’re using a 50/50 compost blend, aim for 10%. Just spread it on top of your soil and till it in! But remember that all soils are different, so feel free to experiment with application rates and let me know what you find! (email: biocharbob@thebiocharcompany.com)

Why the top six inches? It turns out that this top layer of earth is the most biologically active area of soil. So when we boost the biology (BIO-char, right?) in that super-active layer, the results we see are much more significant than if we buried it two feet deep. These six inches encompass a critical zone where microbes and roots interact, nutrients are cycled, and many of the important soil processes take place; this is where the magic happens.

As you stand back to look at your freshly amended soil, give yourself a dirty pat on the back and a green-thumbs up for helping put carbon back in its place.

Be cool to the planet!

Biochar Bob

TL;DR –Shoot for  5% biochar in top six inches by tilling it in. Different soils have different needs so experiment with rates!