PLANT GROWTH and BIOCHAR: An Open Source Trial Template 植物生長與土壤碳的關係

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To what extent might biochar affect soil nutrient levels, soil moisture, seed germination, growth rate, yield, plant health, and plant nutrient levels? This template suggests a trial design, set of procedures, and a record sheet to provide data in answer to the question above. Details, like plot size or plant species, can be modified to accommodate a variety of applications. The Record Sheet, page 3, must be kept current for reliable results. Start with recording the beginning date, the date the plots are dug, raked, weeded, and soil sampled.

Design and Procedures:

This template will assume five plots, each 2'x2' within individual 2”x6” wood frames set into the soil about 4 ½ inches. The plots, A, B, C, D, and E, are to be laid out conveniently in a row in an area of uniform soil. 

The plots will be soil tested separately and if the soil tests show large differences in soil composition then another area should be chosen for the trial. The plots will be dug up with a digging fork, raked, thoroughly weeded and evenly mixed with the rake before the soil samples for the soil tests are taken. 

The soil samples, from the top 6” of soil, should be taken and packaged according to the directions of the Lab which will do the testing. 

The plot area should be protected by fencing adequate to the location. Plot screens may be required prior to any suspected insect problems. Two useful options are a rain gauge and a min-max thermometer set up at the location.

This template will use Logan Labs in Ohio (loganlabs.com) for the soil tests. If the results of the soil tests reflect a uniform soil, then use the most average test to get a fertilizer prescription from the software at growabundant.com. The Logan Labs results fit right into the software form at grow abundant. Mix enough fertilizer to fertilize plots B,C,D, and E, each plot exactly the same. Be careful not to fertilize plot A.

Have on hand the three biochars to be used for this trial and enough seed for three rows in each of the five plots—in this case one lettuce variety well suited to your area, all seeds from the same package of seed. For each plot the amount of biochar is 1 lb, mixed in evenly over the 4 square feet to a depth of 4 inches.

Plot A This is the control plot, no fertilizer added, no biochar amended.

Plot B This plot is similar to plot A but will have fertilizer added, no biochar.

Plot C This plot is the same as B, except that biochar one will be added.

Plot D This plot is also the same as B, except that biochar two will be added.

Plot E This plot is also the same as B, except that biochar three will be added.

Date 1, the beginning date, should see all five plots correctly prepared and sampled, up to fertilizer but not including fertilizer. Measure the moisture level for each plot and record on Record Sheet. It will take a week or two to get the soil test results and fertilizer prescription. Leave another week or 2 to locate, purchase, and receive the fertilizer.

Date 2, mix the fertilizer and rake the determined amount into each plot, except plot A. Evenly rake biochar one into plot C, biochar two into plot D, and biochar three into plot E. Repeat weeding as necessary. Water each plot with exactly the same measured amount of water, unless the soil is wet with rain. Hand water with a gentle spray watering can.

Date 3, seed ¼” to ½“ deep in three evenly spaced rows, seeds 1” apart, each plot the same. Count out and record exact number of seeds sown for each bed. (Necessary to calculate germ %) Water as necessary but being careful not to float the seed.

Date 4, germination, first seedlings appear, wait 7-10 days for full germination.

Date 5, count seedlings for each bed, calculate and record germination percentages, record on record sheet, water as needed but each plot the same.

Date 6, when plants are about 3” tall, thin to about 6” apart, water uniformly if needed, at about Date 6 or 7, (30 days) take 2nd moisture level reading.

Date 7, at about 6”-7” in height, rank plots 1 to 5 in growth rate, (5 is best), record on sheet.

Date 8, harvest and weigh crop for each plot when judged at best harvest size and condition, record weights on record sheet. (Dates 5 through 8 will vary some between plots, this will not affect Record Sheet) Take last moisture reading after harvest.

Optional: send in plant tissue samples to lab for comparative plant nutrient levels. Record in last column on Record Sheet.

Date 9, after all harvesting is complete, take second soil samples and send in to Lab. Record results on Record Sheet for both sets of soil tests. Complete Record Sheet. Make observations. Draw conclusions. If desired, make data available to other gardeners.

Notes: For increased reliability repeat the trial at the same location and through the same time period. The trial time line can be usefully extended into several seasons. Soil micro-life tests could also be added to the trial.

Plot Frame diagram:
Three rows of green plants; brown mix of soil, fertilizer and biochar; and yellow board frame.

Inside dimensions of frame are 2 feet by 2 feet, 4 square feet of garden area. All five plots are set up as illustrated.

The five plots are set up in a row, for convenience and uniform sun exposure, but not more than a foot apart. The soil mixture (brown) is what changes plot to plot.

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