This weekend Hunt Country Vineyards is hosting a workshop on making and using biochar. Kathleen Draper is with the Ithaka Institute and Finger Lakes Biochar.
“Biochar is a cousin of charcoal. You can make it in similar ways. The way I describe it as different from charcoal is it has a lot more uses. So, you’re taking any kind of organic matter and carbonizing it. You’re taking all the water out of it and you’re using it to improve soil fertility as opposed to charcoal, which you generally use for heat and for cooking.”
Biochar is a new term for a relatively old concept. In recent years, people like Draper have been studying biochar not only for its benefits in agriculture, but for carbon sequestration and as a means of controlling water runoff. These multiple uses caught the attention of Hunt Country Vineyards’ Suzanne Hunt along with the fact that its scalable.
“Anyone with a match and some wood waste can make it. You really don’t need a lot of complex equipment. It can get complex. Say, an almond producer who has hundreds of tons of shells that they need to dispose of, they might go with a large, industrial scale more complex pyrolysis unit. But for home gardeners and for farmers they can literally use materials that they have at home.”
Draper says biochar can be used alongside other techniques for sustainable growing such as composting.
“The nutrients that often leach out of compost are more tightly bound into the porous carbon structure of the biochar. You get a longer lasting carbon, it’s not going to go back up into the air like most compost does after a few years. So, it’s longer lasting, higher carbon and it can actually speed up the composting process and it can make the temperatures in the composting piles higher so that you’re burning off more pathogens than you might normally in regular compost.”
For Hunt, the biochar workshop is part of their overall effort to operate and demonstrate an environmentally responsible agriculture and energy in the Finger Lakes.
“It’s just one more piece of a multifaceted, sustainability effort. So, we’ve got the geothermal up and running to heat and cool the buildings and we’ve got the solar up and running to power everything. My brother has the compost cooking up on the hill and so it’s just another thing we can do and another thing we can share with the public.”
Hunt Country Vineyards’ biochar full-day workshop is Saturday, April 28. The event includes demonstrations and hands-on workshops as well as lunch. More information is at the Hunt Country Vineyards website.