Head down to the Harvest Launceston Community Farmers’ Market this Saturday to meet Frank and Karin Strie from Terra-Preta Developments, and discover their plant boosting char, the black gold for soils. Char is the art of turning organic waste into a valuable charcoal product with a broad range of uses from filtering water to enriching composts and soils. It is the perfect ingredient for the spring garden, it will enhance plant growth and increase the sustainability of your back (or front) yard.

Karin and Frank, together with their two small children moved to Tasmania from Germany 30 years ago. They found their “little paradise” in the Tamar Valley. The young family began planting fruit, apple and hazelnut trees and growing their own vegetables, ensuring the property remained chemical and spray free.

As Frank pondered the waste of annual woody prunings from the orchards, the unloved biomass, his thoughts turned to transforming this waste into a valuable resource. For the next nine years he concentrated on the art of creating biochar, simply turning this unloved biomass waste into charcoal through heat. The process called pyrolysis heats the biomass to very high temperatures, which in the absence of oxygen becomes carbon residues or charcoal.

Frank uses a revolutionary Tasmanian built KON-TIKI-TAS Deep Cone Kiln to efficiently transform biomass such as woody cuttings from his orchards and prunings from local vineyards into Frank’s Char. The kiln uses a flame curtain process that minimises polluting air emissions and creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal or biochar that helps soil retain water and nutrients. This biochar is increasingly seen as an essential tool in carbon sequestration, renewable energy and caring for the land.

The uses for the biochar are many, and Frank is actively exploring its potential in healthy soil development, horticulture, aquaculture and farming. Studies from around the world highlight its potential in boosting crop yields and rehabilitating degraded lands. Frank hopes to see its uses extend into feed for livestock, water treatment and sewerage, disaster recovery and land management, to highlight a few potential areas.
Franks’ Char, apart from its carbon storage properties, has many uses. The clean biochar is a compost booster, it can be used in composting toilets or in animal bedding and poultry sheds, and it lessens nasty odours and filters water.

Nutrient enriched biochar is a ready-to-use soil booster, it improves water retention, increases soil aeration and minimises nutrient leaching. It is a coral reef for the soil due to its sponge effect, says Frank. There are also growblocks with vegetables seedlings available.