Student Author(s)

Kathleen Fast

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Brian Bodenbender, Geology

Document Type


Event Date



We studied whether adding biochar to sandy, carbon-poor soil impacts plant growth. Biochar is an organic compound composed mainly of black carbon. Biochar is of interest as a possible soil amendment to alleviate stresses on agricultural production due to its high water and nutrient retention capabilities, high cation exchange capacity, high porosity that increases mycorrhizal growth, and ability to sequester carbon dioxide. Our experiment involved using three different plant types, Avena sativa (common oat), Vigna radiata (mung bean), and Raphanus sativus (cherry belle radish), in greenhouse and garden plot experiments. In the greenhouse we used five different treatments of soil from a demolition site: soil alone and soil mixed with 2%, 5%, 10%, and 20% biochar by mass. Biochar was enriched with nutrients and aerobic bacteria with compost tea. Four replicates of each species were grown for 5 weeks and watered every other day. At the end of the growth period, A. sativa and V. radiata plants were cut off at the soil surface and entire R. sativus plants were removed from soil, then dried in a plant press before weighing. All 60 replicates produced plants, with no statistically significant differences in oat and mung bean above ground biomass or radish whole mass for any treatment. In the garden experiment at a grassed-over former building site, we planted 10 seeds of each plant in each of 5 plots: soil only, 3% compost by mass, 3% biochar by mass, and 3% and 10% biochar inoculated with compost tea. Oats had a 100% germination in all plots while germination in mung bean and radish plots was less consistent. All soil treatments grew plants under controlled greenhouse conditions. The garden experiment, however, suggests that under more natural conditions biochar may foster a better environment for seed germination and survival.