Magic Soil from the Amazon- “Terra Preta”

How would you like to grow a garden that produces almost twice as much vegetables and fruits than any form of gardening? There is a way to give your garden amazing nutritional benefits and also benefits the environment. Fall is upon us very shortly and this is a perfect project for cleaning up your yard and preparing your gardens for next year. It’s a perfect dream!

Terra preta soil is formed by incorporating biochar-locally produced charcoal-into ordinary soil. This activates the soil and enables it to permanently hold far greater quantities of minerals and nutrients than would otherwise be impossible. This then sets into motion a complex and still not fully understood chain of events that include microorganism growths throughout the soil, which results in the soil becoming terra preta soil within several years. A new friend of mine told me that we could actually solve the worlds need for food if farmers adopted this process into their fields….now if I were smart enough to come up with a plan to make it for the farmers we would be rocking!

The things that define terra preta have to do with the way it was amended. The soils that have been found in the Amazon were likely ancient compost piles that included cook fire ashes and char, bones, blood and other organic matter. The char is important – it’s often called biochar charcoal or just biochar. It’s essentially, organic material that was burned to the point that it resembles a hunk of charcoal, and not completely reduced to ashes.   The reason this is important is because of the carbon that is locked into the organic material that hasn’t been completely burned.

We can produce our own charcoal by using refuse around the property like tree branches, yard debris and composting materials. If you don’t have much of either of these wood chips would make a substitute you can purchase. You will also need on hand a pile of dirt.

There are 2 systems we can use to make it.

  1. Dig the pit about three feet deep and then trench it out as long as you need to burn all of your material. You’ll want a thick bottom layer of kindling (leaves and paper are good options), topped with a slow burning layer of branches and logs, then the layer of any gross stuff you’re tossing in there. You’ll get this collection burning very hot, a nice roaring fire, and then add another slow burning layer to the top followed by a layer of dirt. The fire will live on the oxygen of the gaps in the slow burning materials and will eventually burn itself out. It will get hot enough to burn any bad bacteria out of the organic matter you tossed in there.
  2. Use a 55 Gallon burn barrel. It is better to show you this by illustration.

Pic of burn barrel demo.

Let everything burn till until the smoke from the pile begins to turn frothy billowy white smoke to a thin grey. To keep it from burning too hot you may have to add more dirt. Leave it to burn till all has burned into small chunks of charcoal but not reduced to ash.

Douse it with water to put out the fire or leave it until it cools. Biochular soil has the same benefits as a purchased horticultural chemical plus it helps to get rid of your yard waste.

Tip: What is special about Biochular material is its effectiveness at retaining moist nutrons and making it available to plants much better than compost or manuere!

Clear out your gardens for next season and add Biochular soil to your garden…I do not have an exact amount to give you to add. It really depends on your soil. You may need a fair amount to quite a bit.

The personal message to be gained from terra preta is that permaculture doesn’t just benefit the growers who get the bigger fruits and vegetables from the garden; it benefits the entire planet (or at least your little part of it!). It is so much better than all the chemicals we use in our environment.

Enjoy the fall with all the beauty of color and feel God’s presence.

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