We Turned Mussel Shells into a Soil Additive

by James Sauer August 10, 2017

But how?! 

No, we didn't use magic. But it was something kind of similar -- our BioCharlie cooked them up in our fire the other night after a delicious meal.

The BioCharlie is a log-sized retort in which you can make biochar -- a carbon-negative substance that's great for the Earth and your plants. We've discussed on the Biochar Blog before how you can turn just about anything organic into biochar. And that includes any shellfish or similar food waste, such as chicken bones. 

Is it organic? You can turn it into biochar. Mussel shells? Sure!

This is how our mussels started out:

Mussels we turned into biochar, a soil additive

Then we ate them (delicious!)

Of course, we had all the shells leftover. We were planning on having a fire in our outdoor fireplace for my wife's birthday that evening. We thought, why not throw the shells in the BioCharlie with the fire, and see what happens?

BioCharlie in fire

A great Summer night for a fire

And this is how our mussel shells turned out after an hour in the fire:         

carbonized mussels in biochar form   Charred Mussels

As you can see, they retained much of their shell form, as well as their color -- a dark outer shell with lighter pigments on the inside. Our biochar does usually keep the shape of whatever we fire (often kindling wood), but these colors were something new.

However, the mussels turned into the same old biochar material: pure carbon that we were able to mash up and mix into our compost. Like the rest of our biochar, it will hold onto its carbon and benefit the soil for thousands of years!

We noticed when grinding it up that the mussels-turned-biochar were also distinctly brittle. This made our mashing easier -- and somehow less dusty -- when done with our usual 2x4 and bucket.  

Mussels we turned into biochar, a soil additive

Our ground biochar made from mussel shells, noticeably lighter in color

When mixed into compost, your biochar "charges up," or absorbs the nutrients of the waste products. This way, your gardens and plants can benefit greatly from an organic soil amendment, reducing your need for fertilizers.

Creating biochar and using it with your compost is just one way you can reduce and reuse waste -- but one of the few ways you can give it directly back to the Earth!

Both making biochar and composting are great ways to reduce and reuse. Like we did with our mussel shells, you can use a variety of organic materials to make biochar. You can also place many other food scraps in your compost instead of throwing them in the trash. Everything from wood scraps, fallen tree branches, grass clippings, leaves, wood pellets, to bones and shellfish, as we found out, can be turned into biochar. That biochar can then go into your composter, where you can discard apple cores, banana peels, grape vines, watermelon rinds, rotted produce, coffee grounds, and bread crusts -- all to the benefit of your soil. When the biochar and compost come together, that's where the magic happens. 

Making and using biochar is sustainable, eco-friendly, and also really fun -- as evidenced by our shellfish experiment here.

What have you used to make biochar? Tell us about your experiments in the comments below!  




James Sauer
James Sauer


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