What is biochar?
Biochar is an eco-friendly kind of charcoal that you dig into the soil to improve its health. It’s made in a special kiln, which burns wood and plant waste at low temperatures in the absence of oxygen. The process is akin to the wood being cooked rather than burnt, like standard charcoal. At Sacred Earth we make biochar on-site and dig it into our land. We also sell it via our Earth Elixirs range of garden products.
Why we make biochar
Many world-famous scientists, such as James Lovelock, the visionary behind the Gaia Hypothesis, and NASA’s Jim Hansen advocate that biochar has a key role to play in the fight against climate change. Like them, we believe biochar is one of a range of measures – including reforestation and fundamental changes to the way we farm – that can help combat our two greatest environmental threats:
1. Soil Infertility
People are concerned about melting Arctic ice caps and the deforestation of the Amazon basin, but not enough of us are aware that the very soil beneath our feet is in danger. Modern farming practices – intensive harvests, the planting of monocultures, as well as the use of pesticides and industrial fertilizers – have stripped it of much of its goodness.
Research from the United Nations shows that over a third of all soil on our planet is ‘severely degraded’ – meaning it lacks the nutrients, beneficial bacteria, fungi and micro-organisms essential for plants to grow. Globally, healthy soil is being lost at a rate of 24 billion tons a year. In the UK alone, we are only three or four decades away from our soil being rendered completely infertile. In just 30 years the green arable fields of England could become as barren as the sands of the Sahara Desert.
This is where biochar comes in. When dug into the soil, biochar has been scientifically proven to boost soil fertility. Due to its highly porous structure and large surface area, biochar is a great home for the beneficial micro-organisms that make soil fertile.
2. Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Some gases in the Earth’s atmosphere stop heat escaping into space. Known as the greenhouse gases, they are the primary drivers of global warming and climate change. The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2), while the others are methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and water vapour. The burning of fossil fuels, like oil, coal and gas, causes an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The situation is made worse by deforestation. Trees and plants absorb CO2 from the air as they grow. Using energy from the sun, they turn the carbon captured from the CO2 molecules into building blocks for their trunks, branches and foliage. This is all part of the carbon cycle, meaning that mature forests are reservoirs of stored carbon. If they are razed to the ground down, then most of that carbon is released back into the atmosphere, increasing CO2 levels.
Biochar can help cool the planet by storing carbon. When biochar is dug into the soil, it fixes it there and stops it being released into the atmosphere. It has also been shown to reduce the amount of methane and nitrous oxide being released into the atmosphere.
How we make biochar
Much of our beautiful 40-acre site is woodland. We manage it using the age-old pruning techniques of pollarding and coppicing, which actually encourage tree regrowth. We use the natural wood and plant waste created by this eco-friendly forest management to make biochar in our on-site kiln. We make biochar in small batches and then grind it up by hand – before adding our own uniquely potent mix of biodynamic preparations, including Comfrey tea.
We are firmly against the industrial production of biochar, in which trees are grown specifically to make it. We believe that biochar should only be made using naturally-arising organic tree and plant waste. We want a world in which there is a biochar kiln on every farm and woodland – or farmers and landowners link up with a local, small-scale biochar manufacturers.