Superfood for Seedbeds

Superfood for Seedbeds

  • July 3, 2018
  • By Kari Tiilikkala, Dr.Sc.Agr.For. Natural Resource Institute Finland (Luke)
  • In: Insight

The global food crisis and climate change, with its visible changes and threats, have received greater media coverage since the beginning of the new millennium. Over the last 50 years, the world’s population has increased at an extremely fast pace, and agricultural production has been intensified in order to feed everyone. Simultaneously, the carbon reserves of soil have decreased.

The productivity of agricultural lands has diminished. We have eaten not only the plants but the topsoil too.

While drastic global changes have occurred, it is fortunate that technologies tackling them are constantly evolving. A 2000-year-old invention, biochar, was rediscovered in the beginning of the 21st century. Ever since, ongoing research has focused on the potential of using biochar in seedbeds and as an agent to slow down climate change, with promising results.

The food industry offers consumers all kinds of superfoods. Biochar can be called the superfood of seedbeds and agriculture for several good reasons. The use of biochar can achieve immediate effects as well as long-term impacts on soil and atmosphere.

An immediate impact would be the ability of biochar to sequester carbon, and thus to slow down climate change. Even the United States of America has been enthusiastic about the prospect of offsetting carbon emissions through biochar-related carbon sequestration.

Moreover, biochar can retain and store water: it thus improves the soil’s water-holding capacity by absorbing and releasing it to plants as needed. Using biochar, it is possible to turn arid soil into cultivated land and grow crops even where water is scarce. In countries where people are forced to use saline water foe agriculture due to scarcity or lack of fresh water, biochar can be used to decrease the salinity stress affecting plant growth.

Biochar is a microbe-taxi, when mixed with compost and applied to soil. When it is directly applied to the soil, it is a microbe-hotel.

The long-term benefits of using biochar include the improvement of the physical properties of soil, such as the bulk density of soil. Plants’ roots grow freely in the resulting porous soil and mycorrhizal fungal growth recovers.

Mycorrhizal fungi absorb water and nutrients and thus provide a fertile space for microbes to multiply. All plants except cabbage—trees included—only survive in the presence of these symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi. This applies to both agriculture and home gardening.

Birch, Willow, Spruce, Communal Waste – or Peat Moss?

Biochar is manufactured in a process called pyrolysis. Possible raw materials for biochar include wood from various tree species and communal garden waste. Various tree species have structural differences; however, the end product’s quality is mostly related to the quality of production and of the raw material only in terms of humidity. Top-quality biochar, in terms of water retention and releasing capacities, can only be produced from very dry raw materials.
It is possible to reach carbon neutrality by using biochar; in the future, the practice of replacing peat moss with biochar in seedbeds will become more mainstream. Treaties and directives of states and intergovernmental organizations as well as demand created by consumers will influence this process.

Using Biochar in the Home

It is crucial that consumers actively demand foodstuff and groceries that have been cultivated and produced with a low carbon footprint. A home gardener can enhance plant growth by adding biochar into the seedbed. A barbeque party with a lower carbon footprint can be achieved by using tailor-made biochar for BBQ grills, instead of regular charcoal.

The time for decisions is now.

PS. Please find more information about using biochar in Sinai Peninsula on Facebook @north.sinai.school.biochar