, Volume 136, Issue 1, pp 31–46 | Cite as

Soil biochemical properties and crop productivity following application of locally produced biochar at organic farms on Waldron Island, WA

  • Si Gao
  • Kai Hoffman-Krull
  • Thomas H. DeLucaEmail author


Biochar (a carbon-rich product from pyrolysis of organic materials) additions to agricultural soils have been shown to often result in neutral to positive influences on soil properties and processes; however, the only a limited number of studies have been conducted on active organic farming systems and of those, none have used multivariate analytical methods to examine the influence of biochar on soil microbial activity, nutrient cycling, and crop performance. In this study, biochar produced from local timber harvest residues on Waldron Island, WA was applied in factorial combination with a poultry litter based fertilizer to replicated plots on six organic farms that were all growing Kabocha squash (Cucurbita maxima) in the summer of 2016. A series of soil physicochemical and biochemical properties were examined after 5 months of biochar application; squash samples were evaluated for productivity and nutrient uptake. Factorial multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) revealed a significant influence of biochar on soil properties as well as a synergistic effect of biochar and poultry litter during a 5 month field trial. Principle component analysis (PCA) highlighted soil total C content, microbial biomass C, enzyme activities, bioavailable P, and phosphatase enzyme activity as the variables most influenced by biochar incorporation into surface mineral soil. Redundancy analysis (RDA) further indicated that better soil biochemical conditions, particularly soil enzyme activities and available P concentrations, were associated with higher crop productivity in biochar-treated plots. Overall, our study demonstrates that locally produced wood biochar, in addition to improving soil C storage, has the potential to significantly improve soil fertility and crop productivity in organic farming systems on sandy soils.


Biochar Crop productivity Multivariate analyses Organic farms Soil available phosphorus Soil fertility 



The authors gratefully appreciate the financial support provided by the Amazon Catalyst program at the University of Washington. The authors would like to thank the owners of each of the farms for giving us access to their property and assisting us with establishment and maintenance of the field trials: Steve and Linnea Bensel, Ilsa and Sally Huntley, Rebecca Moore, Carla Jo, and Sarah Benson. Thanks also to Amanda Bidwell and Alvin Lieu for their help with field and laboratory work.

Supplementary material

10533_2017_379_MOESM1_ESM.docx (23 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 22 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environmental and Forest SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.ForageWaldron IslandUSA
  3. 3.College of Forestry and ConservationUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA

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