Photo: meganpru (flickr)
Did you know that soil deterioration is one of the main contributors to global warming?
The earth’s soil contains large amounts carbon in the form of organic matter. However, when the soil is worked and fertilized intensively, organic matter breaks down, giving off carbon dioxide that collects in the atmosphere. This also depletes the soil’s nutrients, causing it to be less fertile.
Thankfully scientists at Delaware State University have found that an ancient method of fertilizing soil may help.
Fifteen-hundred years ago, people from the central Amazon area in South America made a sort of charcoal by heating tree bark and animal bones without air. They used this charcoal to fertilize the land, creating some of the richest and most fertile soil in the world.
In small scale experiments, this “biochar,” as scientists are calling it, was effective in enriching the soil.
In these experiments researchers grew wheat in greenhouse pots, some with biochar and some without. The results: wheat fertilized with biochar grew more quickly than wheat without.
The idea is that heating organic material makes it more stable than raw plant residue. Instead of breaking down quickly and releasing carbon dioxide, it keeps carbon and nutrients in the soil for a really long time—thousands of years even.
More research is needed, of course, but biochar could end up changing the way we think about farming in the future.