Making biochar with your BioCharlie is kind of like baking a cake -- except you don't have to worry about burning it, because the goal is to burn it. Most people find the task of baking a cake to be an enjoyable experience and making biochar is no different.
You could go to the store and buy a cake but it's more fun to make it yourself. Biochar can also be bought already made but probably not from your neighborhood grocery store (yet). It can be purchased online from several venders, too. But when using an all natural product like biochar in your garden, why not use the valuable resources in your own surroundings -- what would otherwise be waste -- to make it?
We thought it would be helpful to share some tips to help you get the most out of your BioCharlie. We get questions from folks all the time about how they can use the BioCharlie. Here are some of the most common FAQs on this DIY product:
Q: How does the BioCharlie make biochar?
A: The BioCharlie is designed to allow the burning of it's contents while restricting oxygen from entering the container. The technical term for the process of burning with little oxygen is called "pyrolysis." The process restricts carbon in the material from being broken down and it is left intact, instead of turning into ashes. Pure black biochar is all that remains.
Q: Why should I make biochar?
A: There are many ways that biochar helps build your soil, making you a good steward of your property and the earth in general. Simply speaking -- it's fun to make something that's good for the environment while enjoying a fire in your fireplace.
Q: Will the BioCharlie fit in my fireplace? What are its dimensions?
A: The BioCharlie is approximately 18 1/4 inches in length including the top cap handle. The diameter is 5 inches, or 6 1/4 inches including the carrying handle.
Q: How much biochar can I make when using the BioCharlie?
A: The BioCharlie can make about two or three pounds of biochar with each burn. The amount depends on the type of material being used, moisture content and other variables. In our experience, wood pellets are optimal for maximum quantity produced.
Q: How long does it take to convert a batch of wood to biochar?
A: The BioCharlie is designed to completely transform all biomass materials to biochar within the time it takes for an evening fire in your fireplace. Wood that is put into the BioCharlie needs to be well seasoned just like the rest of the wood in the fire.
Q: How many times can a BioCharlie be used in a fireplace and hold up through the extreme temperatures?
A: The BioCharlie is made from the same materials used to make stove pipe so it is able to endure high temperatures. Our experience is that the BioCharlie will hold up for more than fifty burns in a conventional fireplace. The heat will take a toll on the metal over time and this tool, yet strong, will not last indefinitely.
Q: Can the BioCharlie be used in a wood stove with similar result as a fireplace?
A: Yes, as long as the stove is large enough to accommodate the size of the BioCharlie it will work well. Our experience shows that the heat within some of the more efficient wood stoves can be more intense than a fireplace and may shorten the life of the BioCharlie to some degree. We recommend placing the BioCharlie into the stove toward the end of the burn time so that it's not subject to a long duration of intense heat.
Q: Can the BioCharlie be used outside in a fire pit?
A: Yes, it is well suited to fire pits, bon fires and outdoor fireplaces.
Q: Will the BioCharlie work in a gas fireplace?
Q: How should I apply biochar to my garden/plantings
A: A general recommendation is to mix biochar into the root zone of your plantings at a rate of approximately ten percent. This can be built up over time and there is no exact or perfect mixture.
Q: Can biochar be added directly to my plants?
A: Biochar needs to be charged up before it is added to your soil. If pure biochar is added it will compete with the plants for nutrients and absorb them away from your plants. Before adding biochar to your soil it needs to be introduced to compost, compost tea or fertilizer for it to charge up. The char will then hold onto those nutrients and make them available to your plantings.
Photo from Down to Earth Garden & Gift, Eugene OR
Please let us know if you have any other questions or comments. We would love to hear about some of the non-typical things that the BioCharlie has transformed to their carbon structure.