Growing With Biochar ☼Research and Education
(Biochar electron microscope image)
Charcoal is an ancient, well-known substance, made from burning wood or other cellulose with limited oxygen. While its use in soil was unknown until a few years ago, we now know that “terra preta” or “biochar” was successfully used by the Mayans in the Amazon for 6000 years to improve the soil’s physical and chemical properties, to enhance soil biology, and improve fertility and productivity. But how to implement this ancient method in temperate climate soils and crops and with modern farming methods is largely unknown, requiring extensive research.
Several local growers collaborated on a grant application to the U.S.D.A. under the auspices of the Kansas Permaculture Collaborative of Sustainability Action to research biochar. These growers are using experimental plots of vegetables and fruit trees to study the attributes of biochar for their respective crops. The Growing With Biochar Research & Education Project will assist growers to use and test charcoal biochar in soils, monitor, measure and document these early efforts to use biochar, share the information and insights obtained, conduct open house field days and trainings to teach growers about carbon-smart farming, and develop a Grower Manual on how to use biochar.
A series of open house field days are being scheduled for the public to learn from the growers and the research team. The first open house is in conjunction with the Kaw Valley Farm Tour on Saturday-Sunday, 5-6 October 2013. It will take place at Hoyland Farm, operated by Bob and Joy Lominska. Their research protocols involved growing onions, peppers, and sweet potatoes under varying conditions. They used “control” plots in which the crops were grown in their unamended soil. Then they grew the same crops in test plots for comparison’s sake, some plots amended with biochar alone, and others amended with biochar and a bacterial innoculant that tends to quicken the effectiveness of the biochar. Some of the crops showed marked benefits from the biochar use, but for others the effects were inconclusive.
Other growers who are participating in the Growing With Biochar Research & Education Project are Pam Bramlett of Lulus Garden, Jeremiah Peden of Subterra Castle, Jill Elmers of Moon on the Meadow CSA, Tom Buller of Buller Family Farm, Bill Price of Greenman Farm, Stu Shafer of Sandheron Farm, and Steve Moring of Vajra Farm. These growers likewise used test plots and control plots to compare the behavior of their crops under varying circumstances.
A number of these growers will be hosting open houses this Autumn to present their projects to the public. Following the Hoyland Farm open house during the Kaw Valley Farm Tour, the remaining dates will be (subject to change):
Saturday, 19 October; Saturday, 26 October, Saturday, 2 November; and Saturday, 9 November.
These will be half-day field days that feature an intro presentation on biochar use, a biochar demonstration burn, a tour of the test plots, Q & A and discussion, and an opportunity to buy one gallon bags of biochar.
Also on Saturday, 16 November will be the first of two day-long training days in carbon-smart farming, taught by David Yarrow of the Kaw Valley Biochar Project. The morning session will be classroom instruction in the history, theory, current state of the science, and methods of preparing and applying biochar into the soil. The afternoon session will be hands-on field training in design and construction of a biochar burner, biochar feedstock preparation, screening and mixing and inoculating biochar, and methods of applying biochar into the soil. The locations of each of these open houses and training days are To Be Determined.