Coal In The Stocking

Urban Farm Lifestyle

  Healthy Regenerative Lifestyle 


Some claim that Biochar is the pathway to carbon sequestration and a way to end global warming.  Others say Biochar is the quickest way to rid ourselves of oxygen on this earth.

David Proctor


From Seed To Fork, Egg To Plate.

    We may not live on a farm, but we can grow where we live.






by David Proctor

December 13, 2018

Urban Farm Lifestyle Magazine    Published Weekly

When Molly and I lived back in Missouri, we use to supplement the heating system with a wood stove.  We could damper the stove down to where wood would stay burning for many hours.  Was this charcoal or Biochar? Actually both.

We even had a producer of biochar that was one of the biggest employers in Lebanon, MO  The Independent Stave Mill, which produces the chard staves that are used to make whiskey barrels.

Biochar is charcoal produced from plant matter and stored in the soil as a means of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It is produced by pyrolysis, which is the burning of organic material at elevated temperatures with the absence of oxygen.

This process of pyrolysis produces organic matter to a carbon state that is stable, some say for a very long time. This is how carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere to a more stable form to be stored in the earth instead of the atmosphere.

When we dampened the stove, the fire was retarded by lack of oxygen but would still burn down to an ash, most of the time.  When biochar was made in the past,  a green plant was burned and covered with soil so that the process smothers the fire but still produces a char.
The interest in biochar came about many years ago, from studying the biochar dark earth soils in the Amazon called  terra preta (“dark earth” in Portuguese). 

 It was found that these soils are very productive for microbial life; like mycorrhizal fungi, a symbiotic phosphorus seeking microbe. The soils also helped hold in nutrients for plants due to its porous state.  Other areas without this amendment did not have nearly as desirable soils for plant growth and were more prone to erosion.


How Biochar Improves Soil

How Biochar Improves Soil

The porous state of the char allows water to penetrate and be absorbed by the char, thus helping to stabilize the soil.  Biochar will also absorb nutrients from the soil like a sponge, that may be retrieved by plants later.  This is where the other side of the discussion says that this absorptive nature will also absorb and hold oxygen.



If a great global push was made to create biochar to stop global warming, the opponents say, that we may end up losing our oxygen at such a rate that the earth could be doomed. There are groups that have been pushing for a huge upturn in the use of biochar.

I like the idea of carbon sequestration but have doubts in the human management of the process.  I do not think that biochar is the savior or the demon.  As with most things, it seems moderation of use to be the most pertinent way to use biochar.  I am a firm believer that nature and the natural processes are the most stable and beneficial way to go.

The old saying, “You’ll get coal in your stocking” may be because you have been good instead of bad!

Check It Out!


Biochar – the future of sustainable agriculture: Lauren Hale at TEDxUCR   10:33
Published on Dec 14, 2013

Quick Tip


Here’s the breakdown:
• Ash and charcoal have many uses in a garden
• Use on rich soil with no deficiencies
• Use to correct acidic soils, or amend the pH of the char before application
• Never use on acid loving plants like blueberries
• Add to compost after composting has finished, not during composting.
• Use in moderation
• Never use char from pressure-treated or painted wood.
• Don’t use petroleum based fire starters or fluids if you intend to reuse the ash.
• Fires started with alcohol or non-paraffin wax are acceptable for garden use.
• Be mindful of your nutrient levels and pH when using char, test regularly for best results.
• Not all char is equal, refuse from wood gasifiers or efficient wood stoves is preferable to that from your campfire, fireplace or grill, but all are acceptable for use given the correct use of your discretion.


“The Survival Podcast Forum.” Misconceptions about Ash, Charcoal, and “BioChar” The Survival Podcast Forum, 05 Jan. 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

“What Is Biochar?” What Is Biochar? | International Biochar Initiative. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

“Biochar.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Ho, Dr. Mae-Wan. “Beware the Biochar Initiative – The Permaculture Research Institute.” The Permaculture Research Institute., 23 Nov. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Tenenbaum, David J. “Biochar: Carbon Mitigation from the Ground Up.” Environmental Health Perspectives. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Feb. 2009. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Cox, Jeff. “Biochar.” Rodale’s Organic Life. N.p., 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.


Posted in Magazine Issues, Plants Tagged with:

Sign Up To Receive The Free Urban Farm Lifestyle Magazine