Search for Excellence in Consumer or Commercial Horticulture

Julie Weisenhorn
Extension Educator, Horticulture
University of Minnesota Extension

Weisenhorn, J.E.*1, Hagen, L.*2, Haynes, C.*3, McCormick, Y.*4, Shrock, D.*5
1 Extension Educator, Horticulture, University of Minnesota Extension, St. Paul, MN, 55108
2 Project manager, University of Minnesota Extension, Andover, MN, 55304
3 Professor, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, 50011
4 Extension Master Gardener, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, 50011
5 Master Gardener State Coordinator, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, 50011

The purpose of this study (2012-2015) was to answer the question "Is biochar a good soil amendment for home landscapes?" Biochar is a carbon-rich solid byproduct of pyrolysis, the process of converting biomass into biofuel.  Fifty Extension Master Gardeners in Minnesota and 25 in Iowa observed and recorded the performance of 15 commonly grown vegetable and flower crops in seven demonstration gardens amended with hardwood biochar. Soil types ranged from sandy to silt loam to clay and provided the opportunity to observe whether biochar had an effect on crop performance, specifically plant growth and in some cases yield.  Preliminary results show biochar had some beneficial effect on certain crop performance in poor (low nutrient) soils, and informally, volunteers observed biochar-amended soils were less compacted. Extension outreach was an important component of this project.  This project is part of CenUSA Bioenergy Objective 9: Extension and Outreach ( CenUSA Bioenergy is supported by AFRI Competitive Grant No. 2011-68005-30411 from the USDA NIFA.