Earlier in the month I received a press release from Carbon Gold, whose biochar compost products have been through the first commercial trials in the UK with professional horticulturalists. Apparently, biochar “helps to boost root growth, reduces the need to water, improves germination rates and results in stronger, healthier plants which are more resilient to disease and changing weather conditions” (you can read more in the trial highlights PDF available from the Carbon Gold website; a more detailed report on the trials will be available at the end of the month).

Carbon Gold is a UK-based company, producing peat-free biochar growing products that are approved by the Soil Association. It’s great news that their composts perform well, but to me it’s more interesting that in the trial they performed as well as, or better than, peat-based composts. Comments from the trialists included:

“Excellent peat substitute, better than green waste. Would not hesitate to use as part of a John Innes mix.”
Fergus Garrett, Head Gardener & CEO of Great Dixter

“Switching from our usual compost brand to Carbon Gold has cut water usage by a third. The GroChar compost is less prone to drying out.
Jez Taylor, Market Gardener at Daylesford Organic Farm

“Despite a rather sketchy year, due to the weather and erratic temperatures, I’ve seen excellent root growth in the seedlings I’ve grown with Carbon Gold Soil Improver, I’ve had to water less and it also works well in my own compost mix.”
Mark Diacono, author, smallholder and garden designer at Otter Farm

Although biochar works well in the Amazon (where it’s known as Terra preta and is a traditional soil management technique), we need more trials examining whether it has a role to play elsewhere – there are too many variables involved in environmental problems to assume we can find a one-size-fits-all solution.

In the meantime, it’s good to know that there’s some more high quality, peat-free products on the market for gardeners, so that we can leave peat where it belongs, in the ground.

If you’re pondering the change to peat-free gardening, then have a look at The Peat-Free Diet, my latest book. It’s available to read free here on the website, or to purchase as an audio book.