Increased interest and research in biomass and biofuels has promoted the use of biochar, a coproduct of the pyrolysis process, as an amendment to improve soil health.
To answer the question whether biochar would benefit home gardeners and grow more productive plants we amended soils at four demonstration sites in Minnesota were with hardwood biochar. With the assistance of Extension Master Gardener volunteers, we grew, harvested and measured common garden crops over four years to see if those grown in biochar-amended soils were more productive.
Variables in weather, crops and volunteer interpretation of data did not provide conclusive results. However, the poorer soils amended with biochar showed some increase in soil pH and percent organic matter, and clay loam soils were less compacted. Most crop yields showed improvement over the four years; however, we believe these increased yields were likely affected by a combination of factors (rainfall, air temperatures) and cannot be directly attributed to the addition of biochar.
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University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener CenUSA Biochar Demonstration Gardens 2012-2015. 2017. Lynne Davenport-Hagen, Julie Weisenhorn, Mary H. Meyer, Luna Xiaoye Su