ARTi sample 50% Biochar + 50% Soil, long stand of beneficial fungus and organic matter
Biochar is not a fertilizer. On its own it is nutrient poor. Our demonstration projects have shown how biochar affects crops and soil in useful ways. It can add to the productivity and therefore profitability of a harvest. And even more importantly, that biochar added to soil supports improvements over the long term.
But let’s step back just a little. Increasing fertility in soil is a great way to improve crop productivity. A key step in improving soil fertility is increasing the quantity and diversity of beneficial microorganisms present in the soil. Microorganisms in the soil break down organic matter and convert it into nutrients that can be taken up by plants. Certain types of microorganisms, such as mycorrhizal fungi, help to improve soil structure which improves soil stability and reduces erosion. Some microorganisms produce compounds that can suppress plant pathogens and help to protect plants from disease. And there’s more but this is a very good start.
ARTi is located in Iowa so corn is naturally a crop to examine to look for positive response from biochar application. Corn is one of the most valuable crops in the world, with global production values in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
So put together, improved corn production from improved soil resulting from increased beneficial microorganism presence was naturally something we wanted to experiment with. Biochar makes for soil conditions that attract beneficial microorganisms.
ARTi worked with Randal Meyer, Ph.D. from Integrity Soil Health (link) to examine biochar’s effect on the corn soil. Randy’s analysis from eleven sample types that included several of our brands of pure biochar, compost+biochar and biochar+microbe mixes showed some striking results. The soil came from a long-term corn trial the ARTi team has been conducting over several years. Randy responded to us at ARTi that the corn trial biochar soil samples showed interesting and noticeable “microbiome diversity and nutrient cycling.” And that of the samples tested “the fungi biomass is best in the soil + biochar sample in this treatment group with the 100% biochar having a moderate quantity of fungi.”
The corn trial biochar soil samples showed interesting and noticeable “microbiome diversity and nutrient cycling.”
For a bit of background, the long-term corn trials ARTi has been conducting are set in three outdoor pots. One is 100% soil, another with 50% biochar and 50% soil and a final one with 100% soil. What is desired is soil with fungi biomass and microbiome diversity. This is a living soil and therefore more fertile soil. With Randy’s analysis showing positive developments in these areas in the 50% biochar and 50% soil there may be increasing evidence of biochar benefit to soil. 100% biochar pot showed moderate fungi and plant growth, but this is not an ideal scenario as biochar alone is not an ideal growing media. Soil microbiome diversity is advantageous. Although you will hear multiple opinions, one way is to prepare a mixture consisting of 70% garden soil, 20% good compost, and 10% biochar. The biochar should sit with (charge) the compost for a week or two before being added to the soil.
Results from 50% Soil + 50% Biochar
When the 50/50 soil/biochar soil samples were examined, the presence of beneficial fungi strands could be observed. Also, present were testate amoebae which are single-celled organisms that play essential roles in nutrient cycling and decomposition. Their unique shell-like structures provide bioindicators for ecosystem health. Along with these was favourable organic material. All of which demonstrated a much more thriving soil ecosystem than pure soil.
50% biochar and 50% soil, 400x magnification.
100% Soil = Much less soil activity to be seen
Iowa soil with no added biochar showed no fungal strands. Instead, sand, silt clay particles and a small amount of organic material. From this trial, biochar can be observed to have a very noteworthy effect when compared to the 100% soil control samples that display less beneficial soil properties.
100% soil, 400x magnification
Although not recommended, results from 100% biochar.
And just to see what might happen we planted corn in plots with only biochar. Surprisingly enough there was vigorous fungal activity.
100% biochar shows beneficial fungi, 400x magnification.
“Compost” is an all-encompassing term and, as with many things, there are both good and bad types. All compost is not equal.
Randy notes that “Compost” is a rather all-encompassing term and, as with many things, there are both good and bad types. All compost is not equal. From the analysis of the ARTi team’s corn soil, the samples with compost did have some degree of fungi present. However, Randy anticipated higher numbers of beneficial organisms, including protozoa. Protozoa are one of the most widely found single cell organisms and can help with nutrient cycling. The problem is there really is no standard within the industry as to what compost should be and, as a result, the quality varies dramatically. This is why leaders in the compost industry differentiate themselves in the compost arena with higher standards and product differentiators such as “biocomplete” compost or “robust” compost for example. Randy has begun studies with ratios of ARTi’s biochar with better quality compost and will be providing more information on what is being tested.