Workshop looks at building healthy soil with biochar

FIRST-RATE AMENDMENT: Burned waste wood becomes an excellent soil amendment when nutrients and beneficial microbes are added. Photo courtesy of Living Web Farms

Many sustainability-minded growers are already hip to a simple kind of alchemy that turns downed tree limbs, pruned branches and other waste wood into gardening gold. The process of burning woody biomass in an oxygen-reduced environment yields biochar, an enhanced charcoal that can make for a superior soil amendment.

On Tuesday, June 12, Living Web Farms in Hendersonville will host a workshop that focuses on ways to inoculate biochar with nutrients and beneficial microbes to create a powerful and long-lasting soil conditioner.

Biochar’s porous structure allows it to draw and hold helpful bacteria. And its natural resistance to biodegradation means it can persist in the soil for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, says Living Web’s biochar facility manager, Dan Hettinger, who will present the class along with farm director Patryk Battle. “It’s well documented that biochar-amended soils can have greatly improved nutrient cycling,” says Hettinger. “For gardeners, this means less additional fertilizers are needed over a very long time.”

The biochar method is not new, and it has benefits for the planet beyond improving soil quality. “There are archaeological sites where charcoal was mixed with other nutrient sources and blended with topsoil — these are some of the most fertile soils in the world,” he says, noting terra preta, a dark soil found in the Amazon that was made by ancient humans from charcoal, bone and manure. “It’s for this reason that biochar production can be a carbon-negative process: We are literally burying stored carbon that would otherwise re-enter the atmosphere by burning or being left to rot.”

There are many simple methods for making biochar at home, says Hettinger. (A video and blog post at offer extensive information on how to do this.) “The best ones are easy to use and burn the excess gases [from the wood] very clean at high temperatures,” he says, adding that some processes also allow for the reclamation of heat for cooking and other uses.

But biochar alone is not a fertilizer. “Inoculation involves loading raw biochar with nutrients and microbes that contribute to a soil food web — the complex system of microbes that support healthy plants,” Hettinger explains. “Properly inoculated biochar can be used to build very active garden beds, resilient soils for perennials or restore heavily damaged or otherwise lifeless soils.”

During the 90-minute class, Hettinger and Battle will demonstrate — and participants will get hands-on experience with — easy inoculation techniques that implement home compost, compost teas, worm castings and fermented liquid fertilizers. They’ll also discuss best practices for incorporating biochar into soils.

WHAT: Inoculating Biochar
WHERE: Living Web Farms, 220 Grandview Lane, Hendersonville
WHEN: 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 12

Suggested donation is $10. Register and find more details about biochar at


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.