Introducing Myself

It’s great to see this website coming together. I welcome the communication with biochar enthusiasts world-wide, and especially the opportunity to connect with the research and practical activity taking place in NZ.

I first learned about biochar from Albert Bates (author of The Biochar Solution) at the Australasian Permaculture hui in Turangi last year. Its relevance to NZ immediately seemed obvious to me. What has also become obvious is that very few people have even heard about it, there is no appreciation of its value in small-scale gardening, and absolutely no technology available for making the stuff. I set about developing a website to change all that, and I’m pleased that BIG-NZ are doing the same with this site.

As I live in the city and have no access to land or any form of agriculture, I have focused on biochar education, and promoting its use in home gardens. I’ve had a lot of fun making TLUDs out of food cans, as a first step in designing and manufacturing domestic-scale stoves in NZ. The process also lends itself to school and community education programmes, leading to practical action on carbon sequestration and climate change, local food production, community gardens, and many other community projects.

There’s a lot to learn, but the great thing is that we don’t need a degree in biochar before we can use it to improve our food quality and quantity, and make a difference to the health of the planet.

Overseer and biochar

How will the application of biochar in NZ soils affect nutrient flows in farming and agriculture systems? How would these changes affect the assumptions used in Overseer?

Maybe after further research in NZ on nutrient retention and the environment benefits of biochar, we can engage with Overseer. I wonder if they would collaborate or support research. A future biochar module in their software?

Ways of Making Terra Preta: Biochar Activation

I am linking in this article by Hans-Peter Schmidt on his ithaka website. Hans-Peter is a leader on biochar in Europe and he writes well on a range of biochar application subjects. I plan to link into more of his articles where they may overlap with biochar applications in NZ agriculture.

This article is not about biochar production but using a range of methods to ‘activate’ or ‘charge’ the biochar prior to soil application. Designer biochars.Capture - char closeup

Biochar is not a fertilizer, but rather a nutrient carrier and a habitat for microorganisms. First of all, biochar needs to be charged to become biologically active in order to efficiently utilize its soil-enhancing properties. There are numerous methods of activating and producing substrates similar to terra preta aside from mixing biochar with compost. …”


The link below is to a discussion on the biochar-yahoo group regarding the concept of NPK-C (hopefully the link will work for non-members). It would be an interesting concept but would the big fertiliser companies in NZ entertain this? Biochar will probably always work better in an organic soil management system but maybe NPK-C could be an additional pathway to more sustainable agriculture.

Water quality and nutrient management in NZ

When I look back at posts on the temporary BIG-NZ G+ site, there are common threads around pastoral farming, water quality, nutrient management. I believe biochar should have a stronger profile related to these issues in NZ. There is strong science around biochar’s positive influence on nutrient management. This has still to be translated to broad acre experiments in the NZ agricultural environment.

Amending healthy soils with biochar

The following are extracts from an article posted by Thayer Tomlinson (to the link below).
Amending Healthy Soil
…”Until recently, it was believed that biochar’s beneficial soil impacts were seen primarily in soils with significant constraints, but two recent publications examine its impact on more fertile Midwestern agricultural soils, showing that biochar can benefit even healthy, fertile soils.”

“An interesting study came out in 2010 that examines the impact of biochar not in terms of nutrient addition but of stimulating plant growth. The paper “Biochar impact on development and productivity of pepper and tomato grown in fertigated soilless media” by Graber et al[4] found that when biochar-treated pots were compared against controls, plant development was enhanced. The impacts of biochar on plant development were not due to direct or indirect effects on plant nutrition as both the biochar-treated pots and the control had the same leaf nutrient content (the biochar was a nutrient-poor biochar to ensure the same nutrient content). The research team found two alternatives to explain the improved plant performance under biochar treatment; first, that the biochar “stimulated shifts in microbial populations towards beneficial plant growth promoting rhizobacteria or fungi, due to either chemical or physical attributes of the biochar” and/or that the “low doses of biochar chemicals, many of which are phytotoxic or biocidal at high concentrations, stimulated plant growth at low doses (hormesis).”


Phosphorus retention project around Lake Rotorua

I listened to the RNZ rural news podcast linked below back in July 2012 which includes a review of a water quality related project around Lake Rotorua. 2:30min in is a discussion on the “P Project”. Their project does seem to have some links to keyline plowing.

RNZ rural news – P-project
No reference to biochar in following 2010 report (but hardly surprising)…



Welcome to the my first post to AllBlackEarth.

The concept of a NZ biochar interest group has been under discussion between biochar enthusiasts for a number of years. A call to arms was circulated on 10Mar 2012 to a circulation list of ~130 potentially interested folk. Our plan was to gather a voluntary ‘interim management team’ to undertake the work leading to a (this) NZ interest group.  We clearly needed a bit of biochar in our diet as project development has been slow. But here we are, with a brand new website. Where this will lead remains to be seen and will be dependent on your encouragement and participation.

Our initial group (11 of us) congealed around a google+ group about one year ago. Since then, I’ve been posting news reports to that site that I think were relevant for biochar in a NZ context. My plan is to migrate some of these old posts to this new site to kick things off. So some of it may be a bit dated but fell free to leap in with your comments.

Our current structure is still very lose. We have not set protocols for the blog or discussion groups or sorted out moderation responsibilities. Bare with us.

Cheers, Trevor