Farm update, tea, biochar sweet potatoes

January 2nd, 2010

Tea: We did our third tea harvest on November 30, processed as a green tea.  We have actual packaging now with a logo and label.  Several people bought it to give as a holiday gift.  As our first green, it was delicate and floral and nice, and it sold out quickly.

Biochar: the first solid results are in.  Test 1 (green beans) didn’t work well as plants varied widely within each plot.  Test 2 (popcorn) showed promise with the char plots growing better, but heavy rains this fall prevented any of the plots from maturing to compare yield.  Test 4 (taro) is still in progress as taro grows slowly at our elevation.  Test 3 (sweet potatoes) was harvested yesterday:

8 plants, control: 13.8 lbs
8 plants, with char and IMO: 21.2 lbs

That’s around 50% more tuber, and here’s the picture, control on the left:

This corresponds what Jay in Puna has reported on his use of biochar with hawaiian food sustainability (see biochar on the Sensible Simplicity forum)

Farm update

July 16th, 2009

Many bits of unrelated news this week:

  1. To deal with the pig attacks, we added a strand of barbed wire at ground level running all the way around the garden fences.  We also got a trap from neighbors, and the first night we caught a big mama pig:

    She managed to escape, but since then we’ve caught three smaller pigs.  They go to a neighbor who, i believe, fattens them up for eating.
  2. Two more biochar tests area in the ground, this time using IMOs as well as char.  Crops: popcorn and sweet potatoes.  Posted to the hawaii-biochar group.
  3. The HFU Potluck-Seed Exchange in Honoka’a last Friday was excellent, great turnout, tons of food, interesting seeds.

    If you missed it, the next one is August 14.
  4. I had a horrible fever that raged for 2 days, nausea, delirium, then a strange red patch on my leg. At the ER on Sunday, they said it’s a staph infection, put me on antibiotics and bed rest.  Sad to say, this mean little to no farm work for a week or more.
  5. In case you don’t already have Scott of Evening Rain Farm in your blog reader, be sure to read his posts Second Update on Our Food Experiment and Maintaining Food Security in Hawaii. Key insights into what food sustainability means here.
  6. The barrel tax was defeated today.  It’s a little depressing, a sign that the top-down powers that be can’t make even a little step in the right direction.  As it says, “A bill to fund food and renewable energy projects is left to die.”

Biochar update

June 29th, 2009

Biochar 2009

While i was in California, our first batch of biochar arrived, from Biochar Engineering thanks to the nice folks at EcoTechnologies Group. Yesterday i launched my very first field test, using peanuts. I have enough char to do many more tests, in the newly expanded upper field area, with other crops like sorghum, corn and potatoes. There are so many different combinations to test – varying amounts of char, different crops, use of microbial inoculants such as Natural Farming IMOs and Bobby Grime’s Aerobically Activated Compost Tea (AACT).

I have launched a mailing list, biochar-hawaii for the growing community of biochar-interested people here in Hawai’i.  If you are interested in making Hawaii agriculture sustainable and reducing climate change, come join us!

Tea and biochar!

April 25th, 2009

I’ve been studying biochar for a year now (see my biochar notes), and just this week the first major book on the subject arrived, Biochar for Environmental Management.  It’s academic, and dense with science, but totally fascinating.  Imagine my surprise in chapter 5 when i encountered a reference to this paper:

Hoshi, T. (2001) ‘Growth Promotion of Tea Trees by Putting Bamboo Charcoal in Soil’, in Proceedings of 2001 International Conference on O-cha (Tea) Culture and Science, Tokyo, Japan, pp 147-150

It even turns out to be online!  See the paper in English as pdf, and the English website which has a more detailed version (in Japanese) with pictures, which shows all the stages from harvesting the bamboo and making the chacoal, to spreading the char in the field and measuring the bushes.

A quick summary: A 10-year test begun 1998, which in year 3 the tea was already showing 20%/40% greater height/volume, using only a rather small amount of char (100g/m2 a year, or 500g/m2 once).  The composition of the harvested tea was the same, so the main benefit is reduced need for fertilizer.

For those of us trying to grow tea organically/sustainably, in poor soils like our Hawaiian clay, this is huge.  They didn’t test with large amounts of char (1-3 kg/m2 is typical of tests on other crops) so more might be even better, and it should be fully complementary to all the other organic approaches (EM, IMO, compost tea, etc.) so there is a lot of exciting things to try!

Biochar news, terroir, local ag, collapse, stoves

March 7th, 2009

A collection of things i’ve recently found fascinating:

  • International Biochar Initiative (IBI) projects, with cleaner char-producing stoves and gasifiers for all parts of the world.  Dozens of universities and thousands of farmers and researchers are busy with biochar, even though the “larger world” still hasn’t heard.  I’m dying to make or buy some char to test on our farm.
  • Peter Schmidt on Terroir, Biodiversity, and Biochar Even though this expert is talking about wine grapes, it’s very easy to see how it pertains to tea as well.  As he says, Soil is an endless science.
  • I’ve discovered mailing lists for Big Island Self-Sufficiency (chatty) and Hawaii Chickens (less so).
  • Dmitri Orlov’s Social Collapse Best Practices talk given in San Francisco.  As he says, when any society collapses (as he observed in the Soviet Union), what matters is food, shelter, transportation, and security.  The time to think about how to secure those post-peak is now.
  • I ordered a small rocket stove and a larger wood gas stove to experiment with.  Stoves are way more interesting than i ever knew.  It seems millions of us who live outside cities could be cooking this way – clean, no smoke, and carbon neutral.  Some stoves will even gasify, there are hundreds out there as research, but i still haven’t found a unit that cleanly produces char that you can just buyWorldStove looks promising – see video of their LuciaStove in Pyrolytic Gasification Mode.

Biochar – offset global warming AND grow more food

March 21st, 2008

For the past few weeks, i’ve been getting more and more excited about biochar – that is, biomass charcoal as a way of producing carbon-negative energy and improving soil. I really can’t summarize the whole field here – just take a look at the Biochar Fund, International Biochar Initiative, Biochar: the new frontier at Cornell, Terra Preta, Carbon Diversion. The article Black is the New Green, from Nature (2006) gives a good overview with pictures. This is really the closest thing to a world-saving technology i’ve ever found – and i can’t wait to try it out on our farm. I’m looking around for a source of quality-controlled char, emailing UH and asking everyone i know, spreading the word.

Despite the rapidly-increasing awareness among researchers, environmentalists and technocrats, apparently still very few people – including farmers – have heard of biochar. Global warming has reached the mass consciousness, but not any realistic solution. That may change soon.