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jim_w_ny

Biochar available, make your own??

jim_w_ny
14 years ago

I don't think it is yet availble commercially but maybe? Anyone know whether it is and where to get it?

Now I think I saw on Wikipedia some home made gadgets to make your own. And how to do it.

So wondering if anyone has tried. Results, How did you do it? Which method did you use?

Comments (75)

  • val_s
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    takadi - I don't know anything about biochar or how to make it or how to use it but, I love that guy in the link you provided. A man who stands out there making dinner in a wok is my dream man!

    Seriously - I think it's cool that he's found a use for the heat and is doing double duty with his contraption.

    Val

  • 11otis
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I have been wanting to mix charcoal with my potting soil and had to pay big $$ (to me anyway) at the nursery. No where in BC Canada have I found a supplier for charcoal other than for filters which cost even more. I have checked out the links provided in this forum to make biochar and it doesn't look that complicated, provided you have room, which I have not. I might set my garage, shed or fence afire.

    I have not heard of BIOCHAR before. Is there any other charcoal that is not bio? Explanation in the "for dummies" form appreciated. Thanks.

    Otis

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  • val_s
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hey Otis - there was something blutranes was talking about on another thread called Cowboy Charcoal. He said you might be able to use it place of making your own.

    I looked on the Cowboy Charcoal website and they say they use Lowes as their distributor. I looked on Lowes website and they say they have stores in Canada. Any closer than that I can't help ya :-)

    Val

  • 11otis
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks Val, I'm going to check out the posts now.
    Otis.

  • takadi
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    You can buy about 8-9 lb bags of cowboy charcoal for about 7 dollars. Sounds like a rip off to me though

  • 11otis
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    takadi,
    that is for the "clumps". They also have chips for 3 dollars/bag. I assume it's the same size of bag as the clumps. That isn't too bad since I have no means of making my own.
    Otis.

  • pkapeckopickldpepprz
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Blutane, see there are people willing to pay $7-8 for just a small 8 pound bag of the cowboy charcoal which may or may not be as useful as the real Biochar. There is / will be a market for this stuff and to think a company that makes stuff like mulches/fertilizers would jump on this.

    I did get the jist of your story, but your friend Ed still was able to give you the rewards from using your compost so it was a win win situation. Not sure how that compares to a company not willing to risk making money on producing Biochar (it is cheap to make on a large scale) and once the general public starts hearing about it more there will be a demand for it. I think the problem is if people can't buy something, obviously there won't be a demand for it. You also mentioned that people can make it themselves. Sure if you live in a rural area where you have a 20 acre lot and no nosy neighbord thinking you are building a nuclear reactor in your backyard then it is feasible, but if you live in suburbia on 1/4 acre lots the neighbors would be suspicious of thick black clouds of smoke and the authorities would be knocking on your door before the first batch of Biochar was produced. See my point?

  • pkapeckopickldpepprz
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Heck I have neighbors that look suspiciously at my 3 Earth Machines compost bins and everytime I grill using that Nordic Ware? grill where you crumple up newspapers, they act suspiciously like I am committing a crime.

  • canuckistani
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I've seen other people make biochar out of Cowboy charcoal on the web...anyone know why Cowboy is the favoured brand?

    Sounds like the way to go for most people...the biggest problem seems to be crushing it finely enough.

  • 11otis
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    pppppp,

    other people buy Cowboy Charcoal for their BBQ, that is why the choice of Hickory or Mesquite. And that is also why it is expensive. What they call the "chips" is priced as 1/2 of the clumps because it is not convenient or right out useless for BBQ-ing. I also suspect there must be some kind of regulation from the Food Agency or whatever agency, since the food will be directly above the coals.

    I am prepared to pay for it because:
    1. I am a garden/plant nut/wacko.
    2. Several bags is all I need (I hope), because that is all I am prepared to pay for.
    3. I am convinced of the "plusses" for adding charcoal to my soil. (I'm starting a new project and I want the "cream" of the soil)

    That was even before I heard (sorry: read) the word biochar and visiting this forum. It is now the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing before I go to bed (well, before brushing my teeth that is). Proofing enough of a wacko?

    Otis

  • takadi
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I haven't seen the "chips" before, not sure if they are available at my lowes. I only saw the lumps

  • canuckistani
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Well it looks like one company is jumping on the Biochar gravy train

    http://www.buyactivatedcharcoal.com/product/GREEN

    They're charging an arm and a leg for it though.

  • canuckistani
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    They're making their product from activated charcoal/carbon as well. If they're not lying about having a team of soil scientists helping to develop their product then I'd assume that activated carbon should work as well as the run of the mill biochar...if anything it seems to be even more porous...maybe it doesn't last as long in your soil though?

  • blutranes
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Pepprz said:

    "Would also be great if they taught how to properly make the charcoal."

    They cant, nobody knows which is the best way to produce biochar; either low heat producing a slow char, or high heat producing a fast char. I am confident the natives were not concerned with gas exchange rates, pyro-emitted heat levels, or how many facets are found on each chuck of charcoal over 3000 (three thousand) years ago.

    "Also wondering why isn't there some company that is manufacturing this stuff for home gardens?"

    Have you ever heard of the $500.00 or higher "Compost Tea Brewer" manufactures? They all went out of business due to 1 (one) government regulation. The only people who have machines are those who made their own with parts purchased at Wal-Mart for the low low price of @ $25.00. Search "Bruce Deuleys Little Texas Tea Brewer" to learn how to make one of the best ever made on your back porch. The same thing can happen to the newly developed biochar industry, slow will be the progress going down that road, me thinks.

    "Blutane, see there are people willing to pay $7-8 for just a small 8 pound bag of the cowboy charcoal which may or may not be as useful as the real Biochar."

    Now you sound like my daughter when she found out they are selling biochar on Ebay for $5.00 a pound (Cowboy Charcoal is not such a bad buy now, huh?). Biochar is garbage to the biofuel industry just like used coffee grounds are to Starbucks. Let Starbucks try to start selling used coffee grounds and see what happens. Think about how useful coffee grounds are to your compost and garden, yet almost nobody cares to beat you to those free grounds. Cowboy Charcoal is the same kind of charcoal you can make at home, there are no additives like in Kingfords or other brands. Biochar or activated, makes no difference IMO.

    "Not sure how that compares to a company not willing to risk making money on producing Biochar"

    Ed is 83 years old who lost one of his arms in a fall many years ago. Yet this man is producing enough tomatoes to feed his entire neighborhood, and it doesnt appear he is doing any hard work. He wants to keep how he does it a secret. I tell him his logic is called rationalization, he tells me he doesnt care if they call it "safe at home plate" he knows what he is talking about. That I am too young to understand such things; so just shut up let a man old enough to be my father protect me from my own foolishness. Ed doesnt even know how to make compost (or has to learn), pays nothing for it, and in his own sneaky way, insists I make sure he never runs out. One of the best marketing tools is word of mouth, yet Ed aint going for none of that shiltz. No Pepp, I may be wrong, but politics (local or worldwide) are going to be an even slower track as it relates to biochar and gardening. I wish I am wrong about this, but Ed hasnt told anyone yet to my acquaintance.

    "You also mentioned that people can make it themselves."

    Artists do it all the time to make charcoal to draw pictures with. You can make it on that Nordic gas grill with an empty Maxwell House coffee can if you think about it. You said you dont have a lot of land, that only means you dont need a lot of charcoal. Dont be in such a rush to pick up the kettle full of hot burning coals with your forearms "Glasshopper"; your day to lay in the snow will come soon enough , IMO.

    I dont want to sound like I need to attend some 12-step Negative-aholic Anonymous meetings; I am doing my best to get charcoal in the hands of (you) the membership. May I suggest we focus on how you can make some charcoal, not why you cant? There may be factors you have not discovered yet

    Blutranes

  • pkapeckopickldpepprz
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks for the coffee can idea. Is there any safety concerns if I were to cook over the coffee can containing wood or other organic materials such as grass or weeds to make into biochar? I figure I'd want to take advantage of the flame to cook meat that will keep me from having to use my stove or oven saving electricity.

  • fayea
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I have tried biochar in my vegetable garden - quite casually and without scientific measurements, so take this with the appropriate grain of salt. I crushed Cowboy charcoal (bought at Fred Meyers in Oregon). It was a very labor intensive messy chore. I put the lumps on a board under the empty bag and pounded with a sledge hammer. The board was in the garden so the powder was not wasted as it flew off the board. I rec you protect your airways with some type of mask because the dust is in the air. I added about a 1/4 - 1/2 inch layer to one of my pepper beds. That bed needed less water and produced larger, thicker walled, juicier peppers than the other beds which were otherwise composted and amended the same. Even if Cowboy charcoal is not the best, it sure seemed to be good. I especially liked the reduced tendency of the plants to wilt on hot afternoons. I only had to water that bed about half as much, and yes, it is equally "well drained".
    There are now federal grants available for medium scale applications of biochar technology (the latest Farm Bill). Here is a link to a large scale biochar operation using chicken litter as the source:

    http://www.biochar-international.org/projectsandprograms/memberprojects.html

  • wayne_5 zone 5b/6a Central Indiana
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I have an 8.8 pound bag of Cowboy charcoal from Lowes. It does need cutting up and presoaking with nutrients.

  • takadi
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hey fayea, I use a giant mortar and pestle that I bought from a Thai grocery store, I find it works ten times better than a hammer

  • pagardner
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi, the gist of this topic seems to be 'where to get bio-char'? When I first read about terra preta it made total sense to me. Now where to get it? I guessed that I needed about 500 lbs to get started, I tried to find chipped charcoal at the stores. No good. Kingsford has to much other stuff. I started talking to all the farmers I bumped into. Searching the web was fruitless. Finally a farmer said that I should call the roller mills and ask them. The first roller mill I called asked if I wanted it in the 200 lb drum or 60 lb sack? It is sometimes used in place of pea coal in the burners. I got ten 60 lb sacks at 23 bucks per sack. Cheap. The char is pure and is called "rice" charcoal. I love it. It is dusty and various chips up to about pea size, bigger than rice. In short I would look in the yellow pages under roller mill and let your fingers do the walking. Thr roller mill where I got mine, as of Friday, has fifteen bags in stock. Shipping will probably be about 60 bucks ups most anywhere US.Best regards to all.

  • wayne_5 zone 5b/6a Central Indiana
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    pagardner,

    Uh, What's a roller mill?

  • rosewater
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The September/October 2008 edition of the Australian "Organic Gardener" magazine had an article by Peter Cundall on biochar which included the following instructions on how to make it from charcoal produced by a slow-combustion wood heater:

    1. After the charcoal has cooled, add wet coconut coir to keep the moisture in and help absorb dust particles.

    2. To crush the charcoal, use 2 hefty firewood logs, 1 of them with a fairly flat surface.

    3. Spread a plastic sheet over an area of level ground, with the flat piece of wood laid on top, near the centre.

    4. Thickly spread the charcoal pieces over the flat top of the wood and give them a good thumping, using the butt of the second log.

    It takes only minutes to make half a bucket of crushed charcoal.

    5. Into this, mix one part coarse sand and garden (or potting) soil to double the bulk.

    If leafy or other nitrogen hungry vegetables are to be grown, add 2 litres of water into which 1 tablespoon of fish emulsion and another of seaweed concentrate is dissolved.

    When this is poured into the charcoal mix, a stiff black slurry, thickly dotted with fragments of charcoal is created. It can be stored or used straight away.

  • takadi
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hey Pagardener, I'm guessing you live in Pennsylvania? :)

    PA is pretty close to DC, shipping might be a little less

    And yes I concur, what exactly is a roller mill?

  • takadi
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Oh yea, what was the name of the place you called btw Pagardner?

  • sunnyside1
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I just picked up a copy of the new Mother Earth News today and there is an article in it regarding making biochar.
    Sunny

  • pagardner
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi, a roller mill as near as I can tell is a local place where the farmers take or took their grains to be powdered or crushed. Some have/had grain elevators. The place where I got mine is called Pottstown Roller Mills, in Pottstown, Pa., not to far from the turn pike rt 76. This mill is a bulk supplier for the area farmers for fertilizers and other things. They also supply coal, wood pellets, and charcoal, both bulk grilling and chips. The chips are pure, the briquets are not. I know advertizing is frowned upon here. I have no profit relation to them. For some here it may be worth the trip to drive there. The place is historic and preserved as such. I hope this helpes. Best regards to all.

  • takadi
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Oh don't worry, I just wanted to check to see if my google searches matched yours. There are some in VA where I live, so I might give them a call

  • takadi
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Btw, I found this AMAZING documentary from 2006, "The secret of El Dorado". Basically, biochar is the magic of what allowed the great civilization of the Amazon to exist, and what millions of wasted dollars and forest damage has never been able to do

  • takadi
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Oops link is here

  • takadi
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Well according to the documentary, the secret to the Terra Preta is not just the charcoal element, but the microbiology that literally allows the Terra Preta to reproduce and spread. So even after subsequent harvesting of the soil and selling it, the farmers allow it to rest for a period of time, and the Terra Preta literally regenerates itself. Now they claim that this phenomenon is due to a specific microbial element, whether that element is specific to the Terra Preta or can be imitated by simply adding charcoal to the soil isn't explained

  • pagardner
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Just a thought. The northern part of the country is covered with snow since early December it seems. Some reports are showing improvement of char by pre.treating it. Makes sense. For s... and giggles I surface applied char to the gardens right after Xmas to the snow. It snowed the next day and nearly everyday since. My theory is that the char will soak up moisture and maybe some N from the snow and be more ready in spring. As far as microbial replacement by char, probably after a period of years if we avoid chemicaly killing it, ie fungicides, round-up, ect. There is a material that is unique to Pa that in tests this last year is prooving out to be able to remineralize the soil and rejuvenate the microbial and fungicidal activity. Char and Black Magic, as the people testing the material call it, together may get us back to productive soil health in a heartbeat. Hang onto your hats as dramatic breakthroughs in organic farming and gardening are around the corner. Best regards to all.

  • valerie_ru
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    takadi said:

    Well according to the documentary, the secret to the Terra Preta is not just the charcoal element, but the microbiology that literally allows the Terra Preta to reproduce and spread

    ====================

    takadi,

    Microbiology is a UNIVERSE under microscope.
    UNIVERSE is a contrast thing which you may see also in microscope, but from opposite side.
    I dont think that anybody understand both UNIVERSES very well.

    So, the secret of the Terra Preta is ... CHARCOAL.

    The only thing I belief in relation with charcoal is that in hot climate it contribute to water condensation under ground (underground dew). Good thing!

  • pkapeckopickldpepprz
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Otis11, are the Cowboy CHarcoal wood chips you say are half price, are they in those small bags? I was expecting when you said half price to mean you get the same sized 8# bag for about $3.00. The bag of the chips looks smaller than a bag of potato chips. Is this the bag?

  • 11otis
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    pppppp, since we don't have Lowes in western Canada, I have to search for the closest US city which is Bellingham, WA.
    I found it here:

    http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=productList&N=4294961544&Ne=4294967294&Ntk=i_products&Ntt=cowboy+charcoa%3B

    Now that you mentioned it, I went back to that page it doesn't say the weight. The picture is deceiving because it looks the same as the lump charcoal.
    Please let me know if you find out more info about it because I asked a friend of mine who often drives to Bellingham to p/u several bags for me. Hope he doesn't come back w. potato chip size bags, I was expecting 8# bags.
    Sorry if I have been mistaken. You know where it gets you to "assume".

    Otis

  • jeremyjs
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    If there's a feed store near you I'd check there. I can get "natural" lump charcoal very cheaply at the local feed store.

  • valerie_ru
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    fayea said:
    "I especially liked the reduced tendency of the plants to wilt on hot afternoons."

    Its an interesting observation to me. That underground dew I mentioned above is also known as "afternoon dew" in Russia because it has maximum rate in the afternoon when temp of air above the surface of soil is high. Its exactly the moment when plants (and beneficial microbes too) need maximum water. Russian soil scientist Kostychev (a doctor of S.-Petersburg university 1860-1880) demonstrated experimentally that only no more than 2-inch tillage of soil give best underground dew wich may be considerable and giving as much water as precipitations in average. Other factors were not taken into account that time (such as a kind of mulch), but also may be significant. It would be interesting if someone repeated Kostychevs measurments nowadays. Especially in the presence of charcoal. If charcoal burst "underground dew" in soil we may hope to see creeks and even Edam Garden all over Texas soon.

    Happy self-watering!

  • val_s
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Otis -

    Hope he doesn't come back w. potato chip size bags, I was expecting 8# bags.

    I went to the Lowes site and by enlarging the picture this is what I found on the bags. I couldn't find anything about pounds:

    Cowboy Charcoal Mesquite Wood Chunks = 700 cubic inches and 14.7 liters = $6.97

    Cowboy Charcoal Mesquite Wood Chips = 180 cubic inches and 2.94 liters = $2.97

    Quite a big difference. Sounds like "potato chip size bags" :-)

    Val

  • 11otis
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Val,

    thanks for checking. Yes, that is definitely a potato chip size bag. Maybe that's why it's called Wood Chip. (sour, disappointed smile). I had to enlarge it further to see the volume description. Oh well!

    There are about 5 big branches broken off the evergreen (pine? or someother) in front of the house because of the heavy load of snow we had 2weeks ago and I was playing with the thought of burning them and make charcoal. However, there is really no room for building any fire on my property other than BBQ-ing. I am on a 66x126ft. lot adjacent to neighbours on 3 sides.

    Thanks again.
    Otis

  • pkapeckopickldpepprz
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Otis the limited yard I have was the reason making my own biochar is not likely. I did notice when I was at Lowes last week that the large bag was #8 and I did see the smaller bags but since they were small and were labelled as mesquite and hickory I didn't pay any attention that they were the very chips that were mentioned here. The bag is way too small to be feasable.

    That said Wal Mart sells the lump charcoal in the Royal Oak brand and it is $4.97 for a 8 or 10# bag.

  • canuckistani
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    There's some excellent info here:

    http://biochar.pbwiki.com/

  • 11otis
    14 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    pppppp:

    I was at Canadian Tire (a chainstore NOT just selling tires) earlier today after reading that disappointing news about the chip bag size here on the forum. There I saw the Royal Oak charcoal, an 8kg (17lb 10.2 oz) bag for CDN13 + tax. So I bought one bag just to start, hoping it will get cheaper going into summer when people start using more for grilling.

    Yeah well, we canadians pay more for everything. hmph!

    Otis

  • PRO
    equinoxequinox
    12 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Apoligies for bringing up an ancient post.

    The "Cowboy Charcoal Mesquite Wood Chips" potato chip bag size are I believe just that. Wood Chips not Charcoal Chips. Used for getting wet and smoking and flavoring food. I remembered seeing smaller bags of "stuff" next to charcoal and I think this is what it is. Sorry for the bad news, we will just have to buy the big bags and crush.

    As for crushing. Please, please, please do not breath the dust. Wetting will cut the dust and soften the charcoal making crushing easier.

    Many people are presently hard at work making small cookstoves that use only a tiny bit of wood and leave charcoal. http://worldstove.com/products/the-beaner-backpacking-stove/ is one brand. It has had poor reviews in backpacking forums. So don't buy it. It is a tiny example of the important aspect of charcoal making of burning off the released gasses so they do not pollute. The gasses released by the charcoal actually burn.

    Burners that use less wood are very important in places where wood is scarce and women have to search long distance for it and are subject to grave dangers and death.

    The secret of biochar is not what it is but what it is not. The empty spaces are the gold. The wee beasties do all the work. The nooks and crannies like a good english muffin provide the surface area.

    Like much of the sea is baron until a shipwreck which draws sea life. Biochar is an island of microscopic life.

    I'm interested in how to get the biochar dirty or life filled to do its job. May toss some into bokashi before the vermicomposting bin.

    I have made, am and will in the future make a few small batches. 1/4 acre here too. I will soon buy lump charcoal also. To put in the worm bin. I may not crush.

    Biochar is charcoal made for the express purpose of putting into soil.

    Process are still being worked on to bring biochar production into this century.

    The key is to make biochar without making polution. The idea is to use the offgasses to good use. They are valuable resourses too.

    Biochar like a baby is temporarily resource hungry before it begins giving back to society. But it is not a picky eater. BSFL waste drippings, pig waste, the yuckier the better.

    Biochar provides a home for the good guys in the soil. Without the good guys the soil has either bad guys or is dead. Living soil grows good plants.

  • Louis-wsp
    11 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Conichar.com is where to find great biochar!

  • Lloyd
    11 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    hmmm....Brand new member, first posts are plugging a business...I suspect you might see a little "resistance" from some members.

    ;-)

    Lloyd

  • gardenlen
    11 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    i'll stick to my interpretations of terra preta bio-char, it was spurned from slash and burn technolgy and that is what it is, got a bloke over here gets into these threads to promote his business of selling bio-char incinerators.

    they are polluters of their neighbourhoods at least.

    len

  • gonebananas_gw
    11 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Here is how charcoal long was made:
    http://www.sciencephoto.com/media/362622/enlarge

    Add mud or earth on the outside of those cones and it is how Spanish laborers in the huge mangrove swamps of SW Florida would have been making cooking charcoal for colonial Havana in the 1500s or 1600s or 1700s.

    It would seem fairly easy to do except in the small neighbor-beset city lot.

  • Kimmsr
    11 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Len presents a very good case against BioChar. Much of what I find about BioChar says there is simply not enough known about it to make the claims some proponents make and the production of the charcoal contributes very large amounts of pollutants to our air, unless very expensive filtering equipment is used during the process.

  • toxcrusadr
    11 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I'm sifting the 1/4" charcoal bits out of my woodstove ash and throwing them into the compost bin. Can't hurt, and it cleans up the ash so I can leach out the lye and try making some pioneer soap just for fun.

    BTW I have a catalytic stove, so it burns pretty darn clean. :-]

  • wertach zone 7-B SC
    11 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I make my own charcoal for my smoker/grill, I never thought about making it for the garden. I have a lot of fallen tree limbs that I have to dispose of.

    I build a fire with the oak and sweet-gum wood. I chop up the hickory and put it in a metal 5 gallon bucket that has a lid with holes in it to let the gases escape. I just put it on top of the fire. Perfect charcoal.

    By the way the neighbors don't mind, they all have wood stoves and/or fireplaces. And the closest one is 500' away.

    I watched one of the videos on the link, not the original one, but it was on the same page. I'm thinking pretty serious about making that setup.

  • ladyrose65
    11 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I've been using it to detoxify the soil. We had a septic leak. I bought a lot of it and put it on the lawn. It's quite Pricey...!

    http://www.buyactivatedcharcoal.com/oil.

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