Blue Tea!

Having been a green tea regular, it was my first experience with floral tea. French have a word for it, Tisane, pronounced tee-zan.

Tisanes come from a water-based infusion of herbs, spices, flowers, leaves, etc. Essentially, an herbal infusion, or tisane is any plant-derived drink other than true tea.

Today I made Tisane from Shankhpushpi. The conch-shaped (or shankh in Hindi) flower, also known as Asian pigeonwings, Shankhini, Kambumalini, Aparajita, Sadaphuli and Sankhaphuli, is popularly used as a memory booster and brain tonic. In Ayurveda, the edible flower is used to calm one’s mind.

Making it is very simple. I let the flowers remain in a bowl full of water overnight. Next day I found that the water had turned blue. In fact, aquamarine blue.

From a painting by Murali Nagapuzha

I sipped the floral tea while wifey clicked the pics. I fail to describe its taste but I know I enjoyed it. I tried it because it promised several wellness properties. Yes, it does calm the mind.

I am told it helps in balancing brain chemicals such as neurotransmitters and ups secretion of dopamine, which in turn keeps the serotonin level under control. It also helps to reduce various symptoms of anxiety which includes restlessness, uneasiness, cold hands and feet, and makes one mentally stronger.

Shankhpushpi Tea

FYI Amazon sells it as Butterfly Pea Tea in 25 g bottles.

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A Heart-Friendly Plant We Consider As Weed

Wherever paddy is cultivated it comes uninvited and stays until uprooted. Only to return. Though considered a weed it is a preferred leafy vegetable among the peasant community and farm folks. In States like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and others. In fact, peasants believe that consumption of its gives one instant energy.

We, Indians, have loved this succulent plant otherwise how does on rationalises the many names it has. Noni Sag in Bangla, Nonila Ghol and Motiloni in Gujarati. But it’s surprising to know that Assamese have seven names for it, Malayalam has eight names to describe it, and Kannada two, namely Doodagooni Soopu and Dudagorai.

As we urbanized ourselves and our food diversity got limited and we no more considered food as medicine we forgot Purslane (portulaca oleracea).  From “noxious weed” to “superfood” the journey of this succulent has been very interesting. Purslane is widely distributed around the globe and is popular as a potherb in many areas of Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean region.

If you’re a plant lover you’re likely to compare Purslane with a miniature jade plant. Yes, it looks like that.

The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp and have a tart, almost lemony tang with a peppery kick. But the taste is not the only reason to eat. Purslane has recently been identified as the richest vegetable source of alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid.

Scientific analysis of its chemical components has shown that this common weed has uncommon nutritional value, making it one of the potentially important foods for the future.

Health authorities highly recommend that we consume fish regularly to meet our bodies’ requirements of omega-3 fatty acids, as other sources are limited and do not supply nearly as much omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike fish oils with their high cholesterol and calorie content, purslane also provides an excellent source of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids without the cholesterol of fish oils, since it contains no cholesterol.

It is a rich source of potassium (494 mg/100 g) followed by magnesium (68 mg/100 g) and calcium (65 mg/100 g) and possesses the potential to be used as a vegetable source of omega-3 fatty acid. Consider this:  while 100g of banana offers 358mg of potassium, coconut water 250mg in the case of Purslane it’s an astounding 494mg.

Purslane flourishes in numerous biogeographical locations worldwide and is highly adaptable to many adverse conditions such as drought, saline, and nutrient-deficient conditions.

It grows well in orchards, vineyards, crop fields, landscaped areas, gardens, roadsides, and other disturbed sites. In fact, once it has taken it’s very difficult to kill it. Remember why it’s called a weed.

According to Dr Artemis Simopoulos, president of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, who discovered Purslane while working at the National Institutes of Health that the plant has the highest level of Omega-3 fatty acids of any other green plant considers it as a “miracle’ plant.

Her research was first reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in the late 1980s, but it has taken time for nutrition awareness and food culture to catch up.

Purslane is very easy to grow, either from a cutting or seeds. While there are very many recipes to cook it, I take two branches of it along with the leaves, wash it, and chew it.  

As you bite into it, it bursts into your mouth and has a crisp, juicy texture and a bit sour.

While Moringa has got its due—also called a miracle plant— it’s time we recognize the importance of Purslane.

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Sagar Island Farmers Get PPR for Aromatic Rice. Cease Growing It In Absence of Rice Huller

I feel I’m in the seventh heaven… as if I’m floating among the clouds,” says a beaming Pradip Kumar Ray on the mobile from Kolkata while the rains lash outside my home in Thane. “I’m happy that our work in conserving an extinct rice variety has been recognised. I’ve just received confirmation of Harina Khuri being granted PPR (Protection of Plant Right).”

Though the authorities at the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Right Authorities had granted the PPR to Sagar Krishnanagar Swami Vivekananda Youth Cultural Society of  South 24 Parganas (West Bengal) for conserving  Harina Khuri in June they were intimated in the last week of July. Incidentally, Ray, a former banker is a mentor and resident agronomist to the Society which comprises of 37 farmer-members, residing in 15 villages.

Harina Khuri has been traditionally cultivated paddy in the lower Gangetic plains, particularly in the coastal saline zone of West Bengal since a long time. With the quick adoption of high-yielding rice varieties during the last 4-5 decades, Harina Khuri like other landraces was almost eroded except in few villages of coastal saline tracts of West Bengal, where it is under localized cultivation. The last mention of it was in the Handbook of Agriculture (1901).

Ray transplanting paddy saplings

Expecting no pecuniary benefits and six years into superannuation, Ray has been visiting Sagar Islands every week for the last one-decade boarding a train at Sealdah to reach Krishna Nagar in Sagar Island —a distance of 135km covered by train, bus, ferry and bike taking close to six hours.

How did Ray, a Kolkattan come in contact with South 24 Pargana farmers?

“I was then working as a manager of State Bank of India’s Rudranagar Branch in Sagar Island. One fine morning the farmers while visiting our branch told me about their effort to conserve an indigenous paddy variety which had become extinct,” he says.

The villagers had accidentally recovered some obscure seeds of paddy when an almost century-old kucha hut was being refurbished. Wrapped in a red-coloured shawl the seeds were stashed in a wooden box kept under a tin roof.  Sown in a tiny patch of land and following harvest, the farmers realised that the seeds belonged to an aromatic variety of rice.

Following Ray’s advice, the villagers contacted the Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya and the latter verified the paddy variety in question.  “We were told that the paddy variety has not been cultivated for some 75 years. The University having sowed and harvested it for six seasons found it to be a lost variety of paddy and named it Harina Khuri, basing it on documentary evidence,” remembers Ray.

Lush field of standing crop

Sagar Island, one of the 54 islands inhabited, experiences a subtropical monsoonal climate with an annual rainfall of 1,600 to 1,800 mm. and receives about four to six severe cyclonic storms per year between August and November. Surrounded by the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Hooghly and Muriganga rivers on the other two, much of the soil here is composed of silt. Salinity gradients change over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. Sagar Island is characterized by mangrove swamps, waterways and small rivers. It also shares the risk of coastal flooding and coastal erosion with other islands. Embankment breaches caused by river and sea, tidal surges, salinity, disappearing mangroves—the ill effects of climate change is all happening here.

“The rising sea level is like a demon to us. We grapple with it every day besides we are also exposed to increasing high-intensity cyclones and storms,” says farmer Sukhdev Nath who grows paddy on his one-acre plot in Krishnagar and is the secretary of Swami Vivekananda Youth Cultural Society. “The rising sea has already submerged Lohachara island in Sagar block, eaten nearly three-fourths of Ghoramara island and severely affected the bigger Sagar island,”

Sukhdev with a bowl of Harina Khuri paddy

Officials from New Delhi’s Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) came calling to Sagar Island and met the farmer-members of the Society to check out on the technique adopted for the conservation of the indigenous paddy variety.  In December 2016 the members of the Society along with farmers from other parts of the country were invited to a day-long seminar organised by the Ministry of Agriculture wherein the Swami Vivekananda Youth Cultural Society was adjudged the best performer for agricultural activities and awarded a cash award of Rs 10 lakhs. With the award money, the Society acquired a three bigha (0.33 acre) plot of land to further its conservation activities.

Harina Khuri is small-grained aromatic rice.  Sown in the Kharif season it’s a 140-day long paddy variety. The unique feature of this variety is its yield.  While the yield of aromatic paddy varieties grown in the North-Eastern Region is three and a half to four quintals per bigha, Harina Khuri’s yield is much more than that. In fact, a member of Swami Vivekananda Youth Cultural Society has harvested seven quintals in a bigha. Most farmers grow the variety the organic way using vermicompost and decomposed cow-dung. An all-purpose rive Harinakhuri is grown here mainly for individual consumption, especially for making of payesh (sweetened rice boiled in milk), khichuri (pulse-mixed rice), puffed rice and flattened rice.

Being an aromatic variety Harina Khuri has good demand in Kolkata and its suburbs but the Society is encountering serious hurdles to process the same. Elaborates Ray: “In order to retain its aromatic properties, it’s generally par-boiled.  As Kakdwip and Diamond Harbour, the places closest to Sagar  Island  after one has crossed  the  estuary of Bay of Bengal  which takes over an hour there is no special huller-fitted rice-milling machine to process unbroken rice.”

In the last several years the Society has made several representations to both State and Central Govt. to address the issue but failed to receive any assistance.  “The growers of Harina Khuri are happy that they were granted the PPR but feel depressed as there are no processing facilities and so we’ve stopped growing it,” concludes Nath.

It’s time the authorities paid heed to the pleas of paddy growers of Sagar Island and not let Harina Khuri, revived after seven decades, not vanish into obscurity.  

Updated and edited on August 20, 2020.

Bamboo Nursery, Home to 24 Varieties

Dendrocalamus giganteus, also known as dragon bamboo, is a giant tropical and subtropical, dense-clumping species native to Southeast Asia. It is one of the largest bamboo species in the world and typically grows to a height of 33 metres.

Anand in his nursery

Bamboo, which comes from the Kannada word Bambu, and considered as the wise man’s timber, is the planet’s most massive grass typically reaching full height and width within the first 12 months of its life.

On a November evening, we met Anand Patki, the owner of the nursery in Dongroli village, a journey of 152 km from Mumbai. The 14-acre nursery sits on a hillock and is home to 24 varieties of ‘green gold’, as many call it. Surrounded by a deciduous forest, the weather in Dongroli, 10 kms from the State Highway 97, is suitable for bamboo cultivation as rainwater does not stagnate despite its neighbourhood logging nearly 2000 mm of rainfall every year.

The hill on the nursery’s south and west side arrests heavy rain showers and wind acting as a protecting wall to the mother plants. “Google maps helped me to decide and choose the nursery site,” says Patki, a landscape artist, who found that most nurseries were either unaware of the species they had or lacked knowledge of fundamental issues related to bamboo cultivation.

Anand with a giant bamboo specimen

Asked why he set up a nursery instead of a plantation, Patki responds by saying that he was deeply inspired by veteran bamboo promoter Ajit Thakur (who also happens to be his father-in-law) and he wanted to make quality planting material available.

Though the nursery is home to 24 varieties, Patki has selected seven commercially essential bamboo species which yield good returns. The selection of bamboo species is crucial before planning a plantation as bamboo flowers once in its life cycle, and depending upon the species, it can be 40 or 60 years. Once bamboo flowers the mother plant dies, making it necessary that the right one is selected for cultivation.

Setting up a nursery in such a remote location was no easy task. “It took me almost a year just to demarcate the plot for it was not farmed for a couple of decades. Then I had to set up the polyhouses, shade net and build a pond to store rainwater. It had to be fenced too because cattle belonging to the locals had a field day feeding on the saplings and then were incidences of the locals stealing away my farm equipment,” Patki informs us.

A bamboo plant can survive harsh climatic conditions, but if provided with enough water and organic fertigation it is likely to give a good yield.

“It takes around three years to have mature shoots to pop out and ready to be harvested. After six years one can start harvesting timber bamboo each year,” says Patki.

According to the India State of Forest Report 2011, the total bamboo bearing area in the country is 13.96 million hectares. On a conservative estimate, it constitutes about 12.8% of the total area under forests is under bamboo in India. The annual production of bamboo in India is about 4.6 million tonnes, of which about 1.9 million tonnes is used by the pulp industries. The annual yield of bamboo per hectare in India varies between 0.2 and 0.4 tonnes with an average of 0.33 tonnes per hectare, depending upon the intensity of stocking and biotic interferences.

Arunachal Pradesh leads with  16,083 sq kms  under bamboo bearing area followed by Madhya Pradesh (13,059 sq km) Maharashtra (11,465 sq km) and Chattisgarh (11,368 sq. km). Under the National Agro-forestry & Bamboo Mission  (NABM), the Central government has established 108 markets closer to villages providing marketing avenues to bamboo growers as well as finished products.

Additionally, efforts are being made to popularise bamboo products through participation in trade fairs. Assistance is also provided to farmers/bamboo growers for nursery establishment, plantations in the non-forest area, imparting training for preparation of nurseries and bamboo plantations, establishing of bamboo markets for farmer products, etc. A total of Rs 1689.36 lakh was released for the entire country under the NABM during 2016-2017, of which Rs 993.48 lakh was allocated to the eight states in Northeast India.

The commercial varieties available at the Dongroli nursery are Dendrocalamus brandisii, Dendrocalamus giganteus, Dendrocalamus longispathus, Bambusa tuldaand Thyrsostachys oliveri.

Elaborating the economics behind commercial bamboo cultivation Patki says, for instance, 350 clumps of Dendrocalamus brandisii planted on an acre is likely to produce six new shoots each year, meaning one ends up with 2100 bamboos. With each bamboo weighing around 120 kg, it is 2,52,000 kg of timber. “The flowering cycle of this species is 66 years that means timber can be harvested for 60 long years,” says Patki.

Patki is proud of the Bambusa cacharensis variety which he acquired from the Northeast. “I acquired this important bamboo species after consistent trials for three long years. I managed to bring some 100 rhizome offsets, of which only 13 have survived.”

His efforts are laudable as bamboo holds a lot of promise for the country’s agriculture sector both by providing livelihood to farmers and artisans who make baskets and other products. Sunil Joshi, the Chairman of Bamboo Society of India, Maharashtra chapter, says, “We require many more people like Anand Patki to make the bamboo movement a people’s movement.”

Check the original piece here https://www.thebetterindia.com/126110/bamboo-maharashtra-anand-patki-green-gold-innovation-cultivation-rural-india/

You can contact Patki at 98223555425 or email anand.patki@hotmail.com

Butterflies, Butterflies Everywhere

The sun and the rain are playing hide and seek; it’s almost August end. The sun appears for a while and then it begins to drizzle. It happens often and is almost synchronous.  And then I notice my winged friends, the butterflies, moving all around especially zooming around the rattlepod plants which I had planted years back, gifted by botanist and native plant nursery owner Kusum Dahivalkar of Nashik .

butterfly1The rattlepods die and are reborn on their own. The butterflies don’t seem to be bothered by the drizzle drinking nectar from the slender branch of the plant. It’s as if there will be no more tomorrow. The insect-host plant association is very charismatic. Plant feeding insects make up a large part of the earth’s total biodiversity.

I’ve found that if you tried catching them when they are feeding you could catch a handful of them for they seem to be intoxicated by the plant’s nectar. This year the arrival of the butterflies has been too early. Don’t know why.

Similar thing has happened to my mulberry plants: they have fruited and in two weeks or may be in ten days the fruits will darken and will be ready to be plucked. Generally, the mulberries in my farm fruit sometimes around November but this year they have fruited too early. My friends in Ratnagiri tell me their alphonso mango trees have bloomed which ordinarily happens in the month of January.

Are these happenings telling something? Is Nature going astray?

My interest on butterflies grew when I read the country’s most famed lepidopterist Peter Smetacek’s book, Butterflies On The Roof  Of the World  and also interviewed him. In the course of the interview he told me that butterflies are excellent bio indicators of the surrounding environment. Be it fields, valley, forest or farms. Every time I chance upon swarm of butterflies or a lone ranger nesting on my plants I feel happy that everything is benign around here.

Searching for Weeds

The earth has dried up but is not parched as such, because of the morning dew which ushers in the moisture every day. Rains are a two-month-old memory now for it has been that long since the monsoon receded. Now, it’s opportune moment to watch for plants and flowers you’ve not been familiar with but which have taken home in the soil.

anantmool
Anantmool

Like the two plants, I found last week. For me, they were weeds–a plant in the wrong place is called so. But then there are soil scientists who believe that weeds arrive or sprout to take care of the soil’s deficiency. And in their own way add nutrition which the soil till recently lacked. Well, that’s the way I too think. For I’ve never sprayed pesticides to exterminate the termites which are plenty on my soil. In fact, I’ve created a congenial environment for them. Come the second week of October when the soil is still moist having received incessant downpour beginning mid-June they start chomping on the twigs and branches strewn all around. They begin covering the twig/branch with a thin film of soil creating a cocoon and slowly as the days advance it chews it away and soon thereafter the dust joins the soil.

When I found two alien plants I clicked them with my phone and sent it my botanist friend, Ajit Gokhale.

tridex procumbance
Tridax procumbens

The tiny flowering plants he identified as Tridax procumbens, also called coat buttons. The flowers are bulbous and easily snappable with long delicate stalks. Its Hindi name is Khal muriya , Tal muriya and Ghamra. While in Sanskrit it’s known as Jayanti veda.
One can find this plant along roadsides and attracts a lot of low flying butterflies. The leaf juice has wonderful wound healing properties. In fact, its Telugu name is Gayam which means wound.

The second plant is Anantmool (Hemidesmus Indicus). Try pulling it out from the soil and you’re likely to find that its roots are unending or anant.

It has a sweet smell and at times prostrate or semi-erect shrub. Its roots are woody and aromatic. The leaves are opposite, short-petioled, very variable and elliptic-oblong. Its flowers are greenish outside and purplish inside.

Anantmool is one of the Rasayana plants of ayurveda and has medicinal galore. It is used for venereal diseases, herpes, skin diseases, arthritis, gout, epilepsy, chronic nervous disorders, abdominal distention, debility etc. Its saponin content is considered to have a steroidal effect that enhances the production of testosterone.

Did you know that a face pack made of anantmool root powder and milk and applying can make your face bright and clear complexioned?

 

Terdal’s Banana Bounty

Terdal (16.5°N 75.05°E.) is a bustling municipal town of 30,000 residents in Jamkhandi taluka of Karnataka’s Bagalkot district. Lying on the Jamkhandi- Miraj road on National Highway 53, it’s one of the many so-called towns—a hybrid made up of a village and a wannabe town—one comes travelling on the highway. There no malls or multiplex here. Yes, it does boast of a polytechnic and an Ayurveda college.

If there is anything the town is famous for it’s the Terdal Shree Allamprabhu temple. Try googling “Terdal” and you’re likely to come across scores of entries related to banks IFSC code, Just Dial numbers and the name of the local MLA. The nearest big town is Jamkhandi, 18kms from Terdal while Sangli (Maharashtra) is 80kms away.

Siddappa with nephew Prabhu
Dhareppa with nephew Prabhu

Kitturs of Terdal, a family  of farmers, are writing the bright story of farming. A media which feeds on sensationalism has totally ignored the success stories scripted by the farmers nationwide. The Kitturs are believed to be originally from Kittur in Belgaum—famous for Rani Chennamma of the State of Kittur (1778–1829) who fought the British East India Company, during which a British Commissioner, St John Thackeray was killed. Prabhu Kittur, Dhareppa’s (23) nephew, is the recipient of Krishi Yuva Samman Farmer of the Year 2015 (Youth) Award, an initiative of the Mahindra Group, for his innovative farming technique of growing tissue culture bananas, using organic methods and drip irrigation. Like most youth of his age Prabhu likes to watch Hindi movies but is not able to string together enough Hindi words to form a sentence unlike his father. “My nephew dropped out of school after seventh standard and has been doing farming since then. He was just six month old when my brother, Siddapa, died” says Dhareppa (46).

The Kittur family owns 19 acres. In one such acre Prabhu planted some 1800 G9 Banana tissue culture saplings in August 2013 and had a bumper crop 67,600kg of bananas. The irrigation was through drip organic fertilizers included vermicompost, Jeevamrut, Panchgavya, goat dung and biogas plant slurry was fed to the crop. The eleven-month crop was harvested in the month of August. In the rest 18 acres, the Kitturs grow vegetables, turmeric, onion, methi, palak etc. “We acquired sapling for Rs 10 each and intercropped it with marigold and chilli which also fetched us a good price,” says Dhareppa who sells the harvest at Terdal market on his own. “Marigold and Chilli gave us an additional Rs 60,000 and that too without any any added expenses.”

A farmer who likes to experiment, Dhareppa who never completed his schooling sells what he calls “organic milk” at a price of Rs 40 a litre. He has installed a biogas plant which takes care of his cooking gas requirement. “I take lot of care of my 15 cows and 10 goats give them proper cattle field,” says he. After having read an article in a local newspaper about scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose’s experiment with plants Dhareppa has been playing music to his cattle and the crops since last ten years. “Between 10pm and 4am every day I play recorded instrumental classical music and have seen an increase in the yields by 10 per cent,” Dhareppa concludes.

Living with crawlies

Most people are at their disgusting best and tend to say: Yuck; even those who swear by organic foods, when they come across an earthworm. When such incidents happen around me I generally mumble a prayer: God pardon them for they do not know.
mangalI know these ‘yuck’ people will never want to enter my farm, at least not during the rains: for you’re likely to come across the creepy crawlies at every step you take or see snails moving slowly on the branches. I am fond of my earthworms and they know that. My policy of peaceful coexistence has paid dividends: Earthworms here are nearly 8 inches long and almost thick as a lead pencil.
Last year I had begun my search in mid October and realized it was too late. This time I started early and have been repeatedly egging Mangal, and thankfully we have had a good harvest of earthworms. earthAll these earthworms go to my vermicompost pit to live and multiply among the leaf and grass litter. Occasionally I feed the pit with the flour mill dust and egg peels. A farmer friend who sells vermicompost frequently sprays his pit with ghee and honey. “It helps,” he says.
I was introduced to the beneficial affects of earthworm by none other than Dr Sudhir Ghatnekar of Biotechnology Resource Centre. A pioneer in management of waste and garbage using biotechnology, Dr Ghatnekar in November 2011 gifted me with buckets of earthworms.

Read about it https://sundayfarmer.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/vermiculture-in-badlapur/

Shell Value

Mangal, my farm hand, had a surprise this Sunday for me.
Let me go back before I reveal what it was.
For over a year now I’ve been delivering used coconut shells to my farm; having carried them from home. Coconut shells in my home are not consigned to the dust bins to be taken to a landfill away from the city. Every Sunday as I leave home to take the 7.08am Badlapur local wifey makes it a point to put the coconut shells in a carry bag along with the other things I carry to my farm including my lunch.
Over the months the pile of coconut shells has grown to attract notice of visitors. This Sunday I found the shells missing. Mangal has burnt them turning them into charcoal which I intend to use it as biochar.
I have spread the biochar alongside my coconut palms and mango trees. biochar

Biochar Merits

Several days back I wrote a post about me carrying vegetable waste—peels, juice waste etc. to my farm spreading them around and letting them decompose. Since last week I added coconut shells to the list. Using one coconut a week at home for garnishing poha, upma and idli chatni we end up using around 10 coconut a month. Imagine using 10 shells multiplied by 12 which come to 120 a year. In fact, its 240 shells (as the coconut is broken into two pieces) going to the municipal dump! From now onwards it will be less 240 shells. That will be my contribution in recycling and conservation.
I don’t litter them in my farm leaving them to the elements but process them to make biochar (or biocharcoal).
What’s Biochar?
It is essentially charcoal, but burnt at a lower temperature and with a more restricted flow of oxygen. Remember the black thing (charcoal) used by the neighbourhood istriwala to heat up the iron to iron the clothes. Nowadays, he uses electricity to power the iron.
Biochar works in several ways. Though it is not filled with nutrients itself, it is able to attract and hold on to nutrients, so preventing them from leaching away, and holding them just where plants can reach them. Its porous nature provides refuges for mycorrhizal fungi, which in effect enlarge the plant’s root system while also increasing its resistance to diseases. It makes soil far more attractive and stable for beneficial microbial activity. Essentially it does everything organic matter does to the soil, but better, and permanently.
Dr Saran Sohi, of the UK Biochar Research Centre, started his career researching soils and soil additives. He says the effect biochar has on soil is different from that of any other additive.
“Biochar brings a physical and permanent change to the soil. Every other additive decomposes but biochar remains, and its effects increase over time,” he told The Telegraph.

How to Make Biochar
• Dig a deep trench in a bed. Use a fork to loosen the soil in the bottom of the trench and you’ll get the added benefits of this “double-digging” technique.
• Pile brush into the trench and light it. Fire starts out hot, but is quickly slows down as oxygen supply is reduced.
• The best way to tell what’s going on in a biochar fire is to watch the smoke. The white smoke, produced early on, is mostly water vapour. As the smoke turns yellow, resins and sugars in the material are being burned.
• When the smoke thins and turns grayish blue, dampen down the fire by covering it with about an inch of soil to reduce the air supply, and leave it to smoulder.
• After the organic matter has smouldered into charcoal chunks, use water to put out the fire. Another option would be to make charcoal from wood scraps in metal barrels.

Read http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/gardeningequipment/9970889/Biochar-a-slow-burn-success.html
Also check out biochar.info