Biochar growing experiments

pot_test

Seed pots with a coir and perlite mix with biochar added at three different concentrations. No plants nutrients have been added yet, so at this stage this is purely a germination test.

We have been experimenting with Biochar as a soil amendment over the last few months and today we have set up a pot trial to test germination rates and growing rates for three different mixes and for three different brassica plants: Kale, Cabbage and Mibuma. 15 seed pots in total

B1 = Mix of coir and perlite with a this topping of vermiculite

B2 = Mix of coir and perlite with approx. 1/3 by volume biochar. We made a batch of biochar on a burn at Pen Dinas in June as part of the PDC course we were running at the time. Also topped with a this layer of vermiculite. 12 pots in total

B3 = We used the same I mix as above but extended the mix with more coir and perlite to make 18 pots in total. Also topped with a this layer of vermiculite.

All the pots have been placed outside and will be treated exactly the same. We are specifically interested in germination success and rare, plant development and plant health. We will add a liquid feed to all the pots when they develop their first true leaf. This will be a nettle and comfrey ‘tea’ mix.

1.2m square bed with 1 wheel barrow of Cwm Harry compost added

1.2m square bed with 1 wheel barrow of Cwm Harry compost added

The other test is a straight growing test in 2 identical raised beds, one with the addition of 1.2 Kg of biochar, both have 1 wheel barrow of Cwm Harry compost added. They have been been planted with 9 Oca plants, at equal spacing.

Oca may not be the best choice of plant to get a clear result, but i chose it as it yields a tuber which is therefore very easy to measure and compare.  Doing some simple growing tests has also taught me that growing test are difficult to do accurately, as there are so potential variables to eliminate.

1.2m square bed with 1.2Kg of biochar and 1 wheel barrow of compost added

1.2m square bed with 1.2Kg of biochar and 1 wheel barrow of compost added

Biochar business

Steve Jones from Cwm Harry/ Cultivate together with colleagues from Garden Planet Biochar at the Hay festival

Steve Jones from Cwm Harry/ Cultivate together with colleagues from Garden Planet Biochar at the Hay festival

If you still haven’t got an understanding of what biochar is and how it is so important then it might be worth watching this BBC Horizon documentary that puts it in its historical perspective

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It is similar to but different from charcoal… made from biomass that has been pyrolyzed within a specific temperature range and set of conditions. The resulting char is pure carbon with all the potentially poisonous volatile substances driven off and combusted and has a gigantic internal surface area. A teaspoon of the material can have a potential internal surface area of 2 acres… creating a perfect habitat for soil microbes..

b1

This is our mark 4 kiln… each time we make a new one we are learning from our mistakes. The next version will be in stainless steel and will be able to better withstand the high temperatures achieved during the burn

Together with two friends, local stock farmers we have been developing our techniques for producing the substance. It has remarkable potential in that not only does it increase soil structure, stability and fertility it also helps sequestrate atmospheric carbon into the soil in a very stable form. Last month we were invited to the Hay festival to present our ideas at their ‘Green Dragon’s Den’ forum, sponsored by Unlimited. We had a simple three minute pitch opportunity to impress the competition judges and a keen audience.. an extremely challenging experience! We were one of the runners up and have been listed to receive at least some of the funding we hoped to win. Next up we will be going to the British Biochar Foundation conference in Oxford where we will be having our product and burner scientifically tested as part of a demonstration and competition they are running. We will be trading in future under the name of Garden Planet Biochar.

b2

Char made from our biochar kiln, whole pieces and crushed for use in growing tests we are undertaking at Pen DInas

We hope to be able to sell our product from Pen Dinas in Newtown as perfect complement to the riased beds and plant nursery.. we want to be able to offer a complete growing opportunity for people that keeps us all at the cutting edge in organic growing.

Food security, relocalised food production and low carbon methods of production seem essential strategies for development and often simple practical solutions such as these are overlooked in favour of high tech and high investment options.