This week, our friends from Purdue braved the storms and the rain to deliver the much-anticipated biochar.
Back in January, I posted here on the farm blog introducing our involvement in the Biochar Student Mentoring and Participatory Learning project with an overview. Now we’re getting into the specifics, beginning with application of the biochar.
One of the primary goals of this project is to determine the efficacy of biochar on different types of soils and crops, keeping constant as many variables as possible. Two of these variables are soil texture and nutrient levels. Consequently, in April, Purdue’s Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Scientist Tamara Benjamin traveled to each of the involved farms to take soil tests for analysis. The test results determined how much fertilizer—in this case, composted chicken manure—each farmer would need to apply to his or her fields.
So on Tuesday, when Tamara and her husband Allan came to our farm, they brought along both composted chicken manure and biochar. Dan had already prepared the 16×80 foot research area for the randomized block design, so they were ready to get to work! (And just look at that smile on Dan’s face—yay for biochar!)
Even though you can’t tell by looking at it, there are two different rates of biochar being applied on the plots: 10 tons/acre and 20 tons/acre. Why two rates? Because we’re trying to find out the proper agronomic rate, or, in other words how much biochar is needed to increase crop yields. To answer this question, we’re using a randomized block design with four plots, each containing three treatments: 1) no biochar; 2) 10 tons/acre of biochar in Year 1 and Year 2; and 3) 20 ton/acre in Year 1 only. Throughout the growing season, our intern Sarah will record data about the potato plants, such as pest, disease and weed impacts on the plants. Each of the other five interns will be doing the same thing at their respective farms, as will the future interns in years two and three of the project. The goal is to acquire data that shows how the biochar affects plant growth and health.
Now let’s get back to our field. Didn’t they do a great job?
But there’s one more stop. After saying goodbye to Tamara and Allan, Dan applied the appropriate amount of composted chicken manure (0.9 pounds per plot, in our case), then broke out his BCS walk-behind tractor and tilled all that lovely biochar into the soil. The biochar needs to be tilled into the primary root zone of the crop, since, in theory, that’s where it will provide the most benefits to the soil and crops.
That’s the biochar update for now. In a couple weeks, our intern Sarah will be joining us, and we’ll plant our Year 1 crop, Red Norland Potatoes. More on that soon!