54th Street, Oskaloosa, KS
Mixed Brassica & Potato
The first KAW Valley Biochar test plot resulted from a barter of wood chips for biochar. In March 2012, Permaculture teacher Steve Moring stopped by Four Oaks Farm in Topeka, where David Yarrow and Brad Rush were turning a brush pile into a mushroomm and vegetable garden, one 50-gallon barrel at a time. David and Brad were busting brush into sticks to dump in a primitive 55-gallon TLUD—an old barrel with six feet of 8-inch chimney on top, and three air holes in the bottom. Except the barrel was upside down.
Steve made a deal with Brad to trade a pickup load of wood chips for 25 gallons of home-made, brush-pile biochar. But Steve's biochar was no ordinary charcoal. To quench the charcoal fire at the end of a burn, David Yarrow used a solution of SEA-90 sea minerals. This biochar was charged with full spectrum trace elements—a complete menu of minerals to jumpstart the soil biology.
In late March, Steve took his biochar home to use in his next permaculture class. The next Saturday, his students made two double-dug growing beds in Steve's garden. Both beds got the same compost added, both were mulched with prairie hay. But one bed had 20 gallons of black, lightweight, granular powder added (photo on right); the other, as a control, got no biochar. In late March, both beds were planted with cauliflower, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, and potatoes.
untreated bed in foreground, biochar-treated bed in right rear
Biochar-amended plants didn't only outgrow controls. They grew thicker than any bed on right or left—denser than any other bed in Steve's garden. (click on photo at right)
Biochar-boosted plants weren't just bigger. They looked healthier, studier, stronger, richer, more vital and alive than other plants in the garden. Clearly, something had occurred to optimize the growth and health of the plants.
Steve was very curious to understand what caused such a qualitative upshift in his soil and plants. He began a quest for answers, and he is still exploring, learning, questioning. Meanwhile, he is now Secretary of KAW Valley Biochar and Treasurer of Growing with Biochar.
Steve Moring is a true believer. He tried biochar. He did his own field trial. He watched his plants respond. He discovered the huge potential of carbon-smart farming. For Steve, it's no theory, or Amazon mystery. He saw strong response to his crude first attempt to "biochar-ge" his soil.
Steve is now embarked on a different, full spectrum, probiotic path to soil fertility. Steve is committed to sequester carbon in soil, beginning with charred carbon. Steve is committed to work with—not against—the soil biology, to optimize his soil conditions for microbes of every sort. Steve chooses to pioneer a new partnership with Nature—literally, from the ground up.
In the last year, Steve's understanding of a probiotic path to ferility has grown. But last summer and through winter, severe drought curtailed his farming activities. Yet, last winter he designed and fabricated his own TLUD stove to make biochar. His design includes a few extra features that explore new insights into how we can harness the fire in a 55-gallon burner. His burner performs reliably, quietly, with no smoke—good for public demonstrations.
This spring, Steve made lots of biochar for his own farm. He experimenting with several ways to spread biochar on his land and farm, including adding biochar to new compost.
Steve also made biochar for his neighbor Bill Price, who is planting a small food forest nearby at Greenman Farm. In late April, Bill and Steve planted 15 apples trees in a biochar test plot. Further soil treatments and plantings are planned.
Steve Moring is also a leader of the new PermaCommons Garden at 1308 Pennsylvania St. in Lawrence. This new garden departs from the past urban gardens, with separate plots assigned to individual housesholds. The PermaCommons is based on Permaculture principles, and is a common garden space, with different beds allocated to various plant families. These include perennial vegetables, small fruits, tree fruits and nuts. The PermaCommons is an organic design experiment that is still in early development. But Steve was a steady anchor and resource to advance this innovative effort forward through the 5-phase cycle of organizing a self-organizing organization.
The PermaCommons Garden is very new this year, and has no specific biochar research plan or demonstration goals. We have no plan to create biochar test plots, but instead add it liberally to garden soils as it becomes available.
The response of plants to each application of biochar and SEA-90 is truly inspiring. Many people comment they have never seen such large, fast-growing vegetables. David Yarrow laughs as he scatters more char, mulch and sea minerals around more plants.
International Biochar Initiative
International Biochar Initiative
KAW Valley Biochar Growing with Biochar: a USDA SARE grant project www.GrowingwithBiochar.org 6/21/2013