Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
Research article
22 Sep 2014
Research article |  | 22 Sep 2014

Biochar as a growing media additive and peat substitute

C. Steiner and T. Harttung

Abstract. Environmental concerns raised the demand for alternative growing media substituting Sphagnum peat. However growing media formulations still depend on peat and alternatives are limited. Biochar is carbonized plant material and could be an appropriate additive or even substitute for Sphagnum peat. Freshly produced, it is free from pathogens, has a low nutrient content (if produced from nutrient-poor feedstock), a very high structural stability and likely other favourable properties such as air capacity and water-holding capacity.

Preliminary tests were conducted to compare biochar with other growing media and growing media additives. The growth of a miniature sunflower, pH and electrical conductivity (EC) was measured in different growing media such as biochar, perlite, clay granules, Sphagnum peat and peat mixed with biochar in the ratios 1 : 4, 1 : 1 and 4 : 1 (25, 50 and 75%, by volume).

Fresh biochar has a similar EC to peat which is even lower after rinsing with water. Due to the relatively high pH of biochar, it could be added to peat instead of lime in a concentration of up to 75%. The growth of the sunflower was similar in all growing media. Only the plant weight was slightly higher of plants that grew in perlite or peat. There is a large potential for optimization such as selection of particle size and feedstock for biochar production and growing media formulations for specific plant requirements.