making a difference
for climate, food, energy & security
Certainly you heard of climate change. But likely you're at a loss how to respond to such a huge planetary problem.
Graciously, answers are available to sustainable, organic, open-minded growers. Farmers, gardeners, landscapers, and all lovers of soil are on the front lines to restore balance to our planet's over-heated Carbon Cycle. People across America are learning to be carbon-smart—to make sound, generous choices for the greatest good and highest hopes we can bestow on our next generations.
KAW Valley Biochar is an alliance of inhabitants of the Kansas River watershed who practice and teach carbon-smart solutions to our watershed's farm, food and energy challenges. We teach about biochar and other carbon-smart ways to grow food and produce renewable energy. We also make and distribute biochar and other materials for documented experiments by local growers.
With a Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) grant, we will test carbon-smart methods, especially on food-producing soils. We're underway in the 2013 growing season with research & demonstration test plots on farms and gardens in the Lawrence, Kansas foodshed (yellow box, upper right).
Growing with Biochar is a new project to teach growers to acquire, properly prepare, and use biochar in test plots on farms around Lawrence, Kansas. These test beds will demonstrate effective, intelligent use of biological (or probiotic) farming methods and materials, beginning with biochar, sea minerals and microbial inoculants. Field days, farm tours, grower trainings, and other public events will display these test plots to other growers.
In addition, Growing with Biochar also aims to give growers effective information available on carbon-smart soil fertility and food production. The project will publish various pamphlets, info sheets, reports, videos, and a manual. Documentation and experiences harvested by 2013 research will be compiled into a Grower Manual on Carbon-Smart Farming with Biochar.
“Lots of scientists are doing hardcore scientific research into biochar. That’s not what we’re trying to do,” said Yarrow. “We’re trying to make this method accessible and understandable to growers.”
Yarrow taught about climate change, biochar and carbon-smart farming since 2007. In 2009, he spoke at North America's first biochar conference, and founded Biochar Northeast. Winter 2012, David made biochar from a brushpile at Four Oaks Farm in Topeka, Kansas.
In March, Yarrow traded finished charcoal for a load of wood chips from KAW Permaculture teacher Steve Moring. But Moring's biochar was charged with SEA-90 sea minerals, and had a few extra "pluses."
Moring said, “I was interested to see what effects biochar has, so I put 20 gallons of his biochar in one of my beds. Vegetables grown with biochar did so much better. I was impressed.” Biochar's positive effects on Moring’s plants inspired the Growing with Biochar initiative.
Last November, Yarrow wrote a proposal for a Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) one-year, farmer-rancher grant to fund a Growing with Biochar project. The proposal was approved in March. This spring, soils are being sampled and tested, biochar spread on test plots, beds planted with crops from basil to onions to sweet potatoes.
Moring’s Vajra Farm is one of eight farms participating in Growing with Biochar. Participants are a diverse mix of farm and garden plots in Douglas, Jefferson and Leavenworth counties. All grow organically, but not all are Certified Organic.
Yarrow teaches participants how to make their own char. Yarrow observed, "Most farmers have heard of biochar, but don’t have a clue how to use it in their soil.”
The key for growers is to process raw char into a condition suitable for soil. Adding raw or unprocessed biochar to some soils can inhibit crop growth the first year. Growers who don't understand and follow proper practices to prepare biochar are disappointed by initial results. But properly prepared, small amounts of biochar yield maximum results.
“I demonstrate how to prepare char to use in soil. Then a grower gets optimum response for minimum effort and investment. We will document this, and teach these carbon-smart methods to more farmers,” Yarrow said. Yarrow simplifies this information into "The Four M's": Moisten, Micronize, Mineralize, Microbial inoculate.
Yarrow continued, "We know specific steps to prepare raw char for optimum use in soil. So, instead of tons per acre, only 500 pounds per acre gets 50 percent greater growth. We don't just dump char in soil. We demonstrate how to prepare biochar for optimum use in soil.”
Beyond lack of guidance, the other barrier keeping biochar out of mainstream is lack of farm-scale supplies. There is no biochar industry making large amounts of char, so farmers can’t buy it to use it on their farms. But that may be changing.
“In the last year, a dozen new companies announced their equipment to produce char. They want farmers to buy their biochar and start using it,” Yarrow said. "Unfortunately, few farmers know anything about biochar, don't understand how it can benefit their soils, crops and profitability. We face a huge challenge to educate and train them."
Yarrow has seen acres of wood chips in Kansas City that currently rot into CO2, methane and mulch. This biomass resource needs a pilot project to how to produce biofuels as well as biochar. Or the City of Lawrence recycling facility may explore biochar production for local farms.
International Biochar Initiative
International Biochar Initiative
KAW Valley Biochar Growing with Biochar: a USDA SARE grant project www.GrowingwithBiochar.org 6/21/2013