The Sonoma Biochar Initiative (SBI), in collaboration with Dr. Cecile Girardin of the UK Big Biochar Experiment, the Sonoma Valley High School Earth Club, The Sonoma Ecology Center, and Sonoma Compost Company, is spearheading a Biochar Citizen Science Project to gather data on the use of biochar in local gardens. You can check out out our web page here: http://www.sonomabiocharinitiative.org/citizenscience.
Biochar is a solid, charcoal-like material obtained from the carbonization of biomass using a process called pyrolysis. Biochar has been shown to increase soil fertility, improve water retention, reduce soil emissions of greenhouse gases, reduce leaching of nutrients in the soil, and reduce soil acidity. Biochar also has appreciable carbon sequestration value and may one day be considered as a major mitigation strategy for climate change.
Conceived in England by Dr. Girardin as a way to generate data on how biochar affects plant growth in different soil types around the UK, The Big Biochar Experiment currently has over 300 participants. Comprised of regular citizens from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the study was started in the Fall of 2011 and is only now starting to gather results. SBI heard of the effort, contacted Dr. Girardin, and asked if we could collaborate with her, promising to add our results to her study. She is also working with groups in Asia and Australia, making this the largest international study of biochar yet undertaken, and the only study using a large number of “citizen scientists” to gather the data.
SBI and the Sonoma Valley High School Earth Club are looking for 50 gardeners in the Sonoma Valley willing to take part in the project. This could include individuals, school gardens, community gardens, or even nurseries. Participants will be supplied with free biochar and compost and given instructions on preparing 2 – 1 meter square plots, planting, and harvesting according to a set of guidelines. Participants must be willing to photograph the plots and record leaf, stem and root weights at harvest. All of the data will be gathered by SBI and sent to Dr. Giardin at the end of November.
Please contact Raymond Baltar at firstname.lastname@example.org by April 19th if you are interested in taking part in this pilot study. Distribution of the biochar/compost will be done on April 21st. We are hoping to secure a grant to ramp up the number of gardens to 300+ next year.