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Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Goosegirl on 9/8/2012, 8:13 am

@Damon wrote:
Has anyone heard of biochar? I wonder if that might be an alternative; although it seems it could throw the balance of potassium way off in the long run.

NOTE: The link is a wikipedia article.

Organic Gardening Magazine had a nice article on Biochar a some time ago.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Damon on 9/10/2012, 8:30 am

Kay, could you explain more of how the carbonizing method works? I've been wanting to try something like that for a while, but I've been completely unsure how to do it.

Goosegirl, thanks. I'll see if I can find that article as well. I did find this article over at Mother Earth News: "Make Biochar."

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  walshevak on 9/13/2012, 6:38 am

I wish I could, but all I got was a verbal explanation. I never saw the operation in progress, but I did see some of the final product. It looked like coffee grounds in color and somewhat in texture. I'm planning a trip to PI after the first of the year. I'll see if I can find out more.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Damon on 9/13/2012, 7:50 am

If at all possible please do. I wonder if coarse sand and biochar together would make a good vermiculite alternative?

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  floyd1440 on 9/14/2012, 5:52 am

@Damon wrote:If at all possible please do. I wonder if coarse sand and biochar together would make a good vermiculite alternative?

Let stick with biochar which is formed by burning organic matter in the absence of oxygen. The temperature will rise to over 1000 degrees, burning off any volitale matter and organic by products, leaving you with a form of carbon. Most believe pure carbon is black but it is actually silver in color and if biochar is black to start with it will over time turn silver.

But living in Alabama there is a ton of high quality carbon material that I am sure is superior to biochar; it is know as coke or you need coke breeze. Pure carbon, very tough and somewaht porous, and all you may need is a few bags, a mask and goggles, all right in you back yard.....

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  No_Such_Reality on 9/14/2012, 1:49 pm

Biochar is getting quite a bit of study lately. Currently, the commercially produced bio-char is not cheap, it's more expensive than vermiculite or peat moss.

That said, as a potential alternative to one or the other or both, I'd like to see it investigated as a potential substitute to help improve upon the 100% compost solution for those areas or people that don't have the infrastructure in place to obtain vermiculite or peat.

I don't have Mel's book handy, but if my memory is correct, each component has the following roles:

Vermiculite's role in the mix is to provide aeration, friability and drainage. It also provide moisture retention due 'puffed' nature of it.

Peat's role in the mix is provide moisture retention, also helps provide aeration and slows nutrient leaching and helps with friability.

Compost's role is largely as nutrient delivery and additional structure.


What makes biochar interesting is the potential to use it in place of vermiculite and peat. It retain moisture similar to peat and attracts and retains nutrients. Similar to vermiculite, it's long term stable in the mix and promotes friability.

Coupled with the ability to self-produce from local organic sources, it becomes a potential resource for developing world to improve their food production and the developed world to improve sustainability.




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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Damon on 9/14/2012, 4:51 pm

Thanks, No_such, that's about what I was wondering. It's the ability to self produce that excites me most.

Flyod, yeah, I'm in the middle of coal country. In fact a nearby town is called Coaling, AL.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  floyd1440 on 9/16/2012, 7:58 pm

@Damon wrote:Thanks, No_such, that's about what I was wondering. It's the ability to self produce that excites me most.

Flyod, yeah, I'm in the middle of coal country. In fact a nearby town is called Coaling, AL.

Hey Damon

I used to live near Birmingham and you should be able to get all the coke particles you will need for free; some of us are not so lucky. Get a Home Depot bag and go down some railroad tracks and you should find as much as you ever need. Let me know how it works........

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Turan on 10/13/2012, 6:57 pm

bumping this for 'greenhome' as it basically answers his questions on how SQ Foundation approaches the problems of not enough compost etc. It is a gradual realistic approach.
SquareFoot wrote:This has been a great discussion. I really enjoy how you all are trying to look for ways to improve the system. We are always looking for ways to improve, so if you do find something, let me know!. By the way, I do travel extensively to 3rd world countries for SFG and Yes, I teach 100% compost as that is all that is available there.

However, the point that it takes a while to make enough compost to use is also true. So I combine ideas here. I tell people to set up compost bins and start composting immediately. However, I also tell them to get planting in whatever they can get. If they only have dirt available, let's see what we can add now(husks, leaves, to increase aeration, friability,etc) and add diluted human urine or wood ash (which are fantastic fertilzers) for instant 'improved soil' (consistent use of Urea has shown to double the yield on many crops!) I then have families use the SFG system to plant efficiently.

Yes, there will be weeds in this improved mix while the compost builds, but they have handled that for generations, so that is not as big a turnoff. Once they see the crop sizes and yields compared to the amount of space they used, they are converted. Then when the compost is ready, we add that and increase the yield even more. I thought you guys might like some real like experiences here. Alan Wink

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  CindiLou on 10/16/2012, 3:48 am

For the biochar issue, I was at a seminar in Aug for our continuing education in MG. We had a class on biochar. There are students doing their thesis on it. I will try to find some links for it. They are getting good results as an alternative to vermiculite.

"Biochar is the solid product of thermochemically processing biomass, used for agronomic or horticulture purposes. As soil amendments, chars have been shown to increase soil fertility by improving nutrient and water retention, lowering soil acidity and density, and increasing microbial activity. In addition, energy production from biomass that stores carbon as biochar can be considered carbon negative due to biochar’s high recalcitrance."

They are doing studies on the different sizes of the particles.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Damon on 10/16/2012, 7:22 am

@CindiLou wrote:For the biochar issue, I was at a seminar in Aug for our continuing education in MG. We had a class on biochar. There are students doing their thesis on it. I will try to find some links for it. They are getting good results as an alternative to vermiculite.

"Biochar is the solid product of thermochemically processing biomass, used for agronomic or horticulture purposes. As soil amendments, chars have been shown to increase soil fertility by improving nutrient and water retention, lowering soil acidity and density, and increasing microbial activity. In addition, energy production from biomass that stores carbon as biochar can be considered carbon negative due to biochar’s high recalcitrance."

They are doing studies on the different sizes of the particles.

Wow, that's good news. If you don't mind me asking, did you guys make biochar in the class, were they reporting their findings or what?

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  LikeToGarden on 3/8/2013, 7:47 pm

I was saw recently a video on youtube about biochar being used in gardens and the new thing they are saying is charge the biochar.
By charging they say in a bucket of water to add mycorrhizae, remineralizer (rock dust or Sea-Crop), fish fert, seaweed and some other things and pour over the biochar. The biochar absorbs the liquid and is released into the garden.
Not sure how it would work as once it is used up (released) how do you recharge it. Unless you add these things the next season as a drench or foiler.
Anyways something to check out for those who are interested.

BTW could you not charge up the vermiculite the same way?

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  RoOsTeR on 3/8/2013, 8:59 pm

I use Mel's Mix. No charging required Very Happy

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Gunny on 3/8/2013, 9:54 pm

Before SFG I was looking into biochar to use as an amendment to my high pH clay ground and found that it adds alkaline to the soil so promptly forgot about it. You can make biochar by making a wood gas extractor which would also give creasol beside the gas. Just run a search on youtube and you will have as much info as you want.



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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  LikeToGarden on 3/8/2013, 10:16 pm

@RoOsTeR wrote:I use Mel's Mix. No charging required Very Happy

RoOsTeR I don't know if that is quite true. When water is added to the soil I think that it mixes with the nutriments and minerals in the MM and the vermiculite is charged from that watering.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  LikeToGarden on 3/8/2013, 10:21 pm

@Gunny wrote:Before SFG I was looking into biochar to use as an amendment to my high pH clay ground and found that it adds alkaline to the soil so promptly forgot about it. You can make biochar by making a wood gas extractor which would also give creasol beside the gas. Just run a search on youtube and you will have as much info as you want.

I wont use biochar either Gunny. From what I have read it helps really bad soil and depletes good soil of it's nutriments and minerals.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  camprn on 3/9/2013, 4:09 am

The individual components of the Mel's mix doesn't need recharging. Adding compost to the mix after growing season will provide fertility and nutrition to the plants the next growing season.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Gunny on 3/9/2013, 7:33 am

Righto, Camprn, 'nuff said.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Pollinator on 3/9/2013, 11:36 am

@LikeToGarden wrote:
I wont use biochar either Gunny. From what I have read it helps really bad soil and depletes good soil of it's nutriments and minerals.

Biochar really shines in hot, humid climates where compost breaks down very quickly and leaching is a serious problem. It alleviates both problems.

I make biochar myself from items that don't compost well, such as peach and avocado pits, tough plant stalks, pine cones and bark, tree trimmings, chicken bones; all of which I place in a metal can (only a small opening at the bottom), which is then placed in the middle of my burn barrel. In the burn barrel I use old pallets, wax impregnated cardboard, and burnable home refuse. Once the inner can is hot, it will begin to offgas, which is the hydrogen portion of the material being driven off. As it offgasses, the fire will begin to roar, and the process becomes almost self sustaining. When that stops, the batch is done. I leave it for a day or two to cool, then run it though the garden shredder (dusty process). It's charged with urine or a little chicken poo with water, then added to the garden after a couple days.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Turan on 3/9/2013, 11:44 am

What does 'charged' mean? It sounds like a porous substance being soaked in a bath of something. In the case of MM isn't watering the compost going to 'charge' the vermiculite?
Isn't one of the reasons to use vermiculite something to do with transport of nutrients or something like that?

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  RoOsTeR on 3/9/2013, 12:05 pm

I guess you could consider adding a trowel of new compost to your mix, recharging or a recharge Razz

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Turan on 3/9/2013, 12:14 pm

@RoOsTeR wrote:I guess you could consider adding a trowel of new compost to your mix, recharging or a recharge Razz

Yeah, so is that what they are meaning?

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  plantoid on 3/9/2013, 1:56 pm

Biochar sounds like a nerds words for good old honest to goodness charcoal
It is highly absorbant . Because of the absorbancy and the nutrality of it it is used in the air filters of chemical warfare respirators ( aka gas masks ) It is also used as steam activated charcoal on the insides of biological protection suits to name just a few uses

In a garden scenario all the charcoal will do is absorb the liquids/ moisture born nutrients around it till either the soil dries out taking some of th nutrient out of the charclal or when it is extracted by plant hairs . It will also act like as the place for roots to anchor to similar to vermiculite .

Something bothers me about using the charcoal ... I'll need to do some checking ...but I suspect it is because I have a vague mamory that it can be used to neutralize acids and as we all know plants like the stuff they grow in to be slightly acidic unless they are lime lovers . so it may well knock the balance of your MM out.

Back in a bit... I put biochar into wikki and found what I was looking for
Biochar might not be the best thing for the sfg's.

Anyone wanting to use their own money and do some experiments with some then report back giving detailed log pbesevations inc things like pH before adding it and at the end of year one , two and three as well as crops produced ???? Laughing

This is basically the wikki thing
Soil amendment
For plants that require high potash and elevated pH, biochar can be used as a soil amendment to improve yield. Biochar can improve water quality, reduce soil emissions of greenhouse gases, reduce nutrient leaching, reduce soil acidity, and reduce irrigation and fertilizer requirements

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Turan on 3/9/2013, 2:42 pm

Best article I have found so far. Seems like Biochar is a form of charcoal that has had all its volatiles driven off. But still when fresh it can be higher Ph, you would want to balance that. Maybe one can balance that with a more acidic 'charging'?The Basics of Biochar : A Natural Soil Amendment

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  floyd1440 on 3/9/2013, 2:50 pm

Biochar

The symposium eventually turned to name calling: it was proposed to drop the prefix “bio” from biochar, a “technical misnomer” – and a source of confusion in Europe where “bio” means certified natural farming. What’s the name to be? - “Plant Charcoal” (“Pflanzenkohle – it’s more accurate”).

Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-farming/biochar-claims-overblown-zwfz1207zhun.aspx#ixzz2N4blkIjx

If this, biochar, is to be used instead of peat and vermiculite, the question is what long term benefit is there? Charcoal is wek in structure and pure carbon/coke need to be burned with regulated oxygen at around 900 degrees.

Better get some fire brick, build a coke oven, obtain a permit, and live in a remote area.....

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

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