Greenhouse Canada

Growing Media Inputs
Inside View: October 2013

September 23, 2013
By Gary Jones


I’ve talked about this topic before, but interest continues to grow.

I’ve talked about this topic before, but interest continues to grow. Not only is it supposed to be good for naturally improving soil fertility, but it is also considered to reduce a number of foliar and soil-borne diseases. Further, it is considered by many to be a key to carbon sequestration helping combat climate change issues. And it’s something you can make at home.

What am I talking about? Congratulations if you said “biochar.”


Biochar is essentially charcoal when used as a soil amendment or for growing purposes. Made from burning wood (or other biomass) in the absence of oxygen – a process known as pyrolysis – it’s the essential ingredient found in the high fertility historic “black earths” of South America.

This year, Burnaby company Diacarbon Energy Inc. has begun trials at Kwantlen Polytechnic University looking at the short-term benefits of biochar on greenhouse-grown potted geraniums, on flowering bedding plants grown in an outdoor bed and as a top-dressing in landscape applications (pin oak trees).

The control medium (garden mix purchased from another local supplier) was amended with either 25 per cent or 50 per cent “plain” (i.e., with no added inoculum) biochar by volume. The biochar was made using bark-free spruce, pine and fir in an approximate mix of one-third each.

■ For pot-grown geraniums, plants in soil with biochar incorporation appeared to root faster and to have more extensive root systems than the control. Plants with 50 per cent biochar were the first to have roots emerge from the bottom of the containers. While the control medium had the most buds overall, there are indications that biochar advanced the flowering date.

For the bedding plant trial, a diverse range of plant types, including nemesia, snapdragon, marigold, alyssum, begonia, osteospermum and gerbera, were planted on May 8. After planting, all three replicates of each treatment received the same watering, weeding, dead-heading and supplementary foliar feeds (20-20-20 once per week).

The most significant difference noted so far is the low number of weeds in the flower beds when higher amounts of biochar are used. On the downside, biochar seems to give a decrease in flower size, although flowers do seem to last some seven to 14 days longer and require less dead-heading.

Watering on media with biochar has been reduced by approximately 10 per cent compared to the control. Elsewhere, Jessica Dennis at the University of British Columbia is “currently coordinating field trial research on the use of biochar as a soil amendment at the UBC Farm in Vancouver in conjunction with Fraser Common Farm Cooperative in Aldergrove. The project is funded by OSDP and is currently underway. The Canadian Biochar Consortium … is planning to coordinate on farm research.”1

Lloyd Strachan, of the Canadian Biochar Council, elaborates: “The Canadian Biochar Consortium, a Canadian not-for-profit organization, has been formed to conduct extensive trials to verify the usefulness of biochar as a soil amendment and plant production enhancement product. The Consortium proposes to conduct field-level trials with various types of biochar in typical regions of the country, starting in 2016, and is presently gathering farmer ‘Expressions of Interest’ (EOI) in this research. This does not commit you or the Consortium to future collaboration but rather establishes your interest in being contacted as funding becomes available to carry out field trials. It will also demonstrate to the funder that there is an effective demand by Canadian farmers for biochar trials.”2

For more information about the Kwantlen trials, contact Julie Pocock ( or Shelley Murley (, or the biochar supplier: Diacarbon Energy Inc., e-mail: or phone 604-291-0001.

For questions regarding the research at UBC, contact Jessica Dennis.

For more information about biochar in general, refer to the IBI FAQ website: , or to express an interest in the work of the Canadian Biochar Consortium, contact Lloyd Strachan at the Consortium:

1 Jessica Dennis, UBC, e-mail, July 10, 2013.

2 Lloyd Strachan, Canadian Biochar Council, contained in e-mail from Jessica Dennis, July 2013.

Gary Jones is a faculty member in the School of Horticulture at Kwantlen University, Langley, B.C. He serves on several industry committees and would welcome comments at

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