Impacts of varying biochar application rates with and without a compost addition on vegetable yields and plant health

Biochar is a material that has been gaining interest in the research and public sectors alike in recent years. It is made up of biological materials of various sources that have been broken down at high temperatures, different pressures, several time periods, and with low amounts of oxygen. We can use this material as an amendment in our soil to act as somewhat of a “container” for nutrients to be held. As these nutrients have longer staying power through binding to biochar’s high surface area, they become more readily available to plants and this increases soil health. With our study, we are interested in comparing 4 application rates of biochar (0, 500, 1,000, and 2,000 lb/acre) to find an optimal application rate to assess impacts on yields, plant health, and soil fertility. We have also opted to combine our biochar with compost (9,680 lb/acre) within each application rate to see if this will stimulate the microbial community further than the biochar addition already does through the accelerated growth of mycorrhizal fungi. This thereby assists with quickened breakdown within the soil by increasing microbial activity. The intention of this project aims as well at decreasing nutrient leaching beneath the surface of the soil. As biochar is holding nutrients for plants, so also we are evaluating whether it will store nutrients such as nitrate. If this is the case, lesser nutrient leaching to our groundwater implies greater health of the waterways that we all use. If there is greater nutrient availability, then there is a potential to lessen the use of inorganic fertilizers, lowering input costs to growers. This also implies decreased nutrient leaching potential by applying less nutrients to thereby leach.