Appreciation to everyone who organized, attended and taught at Swallow Valley Biochar School last week in Valley Ford, CA. Toby Hemenway gave a great talk on carbon structures, chemistry, elemental biogeochemical carbon cycles, and carbon's place in the history of the cosmos, certainly one of the highlights. Simran Raphael, Regenerative Earth, showed up with a couple of yards awesome EM1 inoculated char. Josiah Hunt (Pacific Biochar) brought yards of his straight up California Black Lite char. It is among the highest quality chars we have seen. We learned how to operate latest Bob Wells' Adam Retort design, which makes a very high quality char, but which is ultimately very different from Josiah's higher temperature California Black Lite char. We build and operated various other types of kilns, and tried-and-true, such as Hawaiian pit method (Josiah), open field stack (Peter Hirst), J-Ro and Estufa Fuca (Art Donnelly, SeaChar), cone kiln and Pyramid Kiln (Michael Wittman, Blue Sky Biochar), and more (Kelpie Wilson, Paul Anderson). Josiah, Simran, and John Miedema taught biochar-based fertilizer formulations. I taught biochar characterization using common shop and kitchen tools. Gloria Flora, USBI, gave us the big picture and inspired us on. What was missing this time, will be included in the future is application and plot sudy design.
The school was geared to the interests of permies and small farmers, and that worked well even for thise that didn't quite fit those tags. This approach to sharing information was so much more engaging than the academic biochar sessions I attended in Long Beach, CA the previous week, although we (desperately!) need that too, and I will continue to loyally attend. It is just that learning hands on that a metal impeller in a Stihl shredder vac is a sweet way to grind biochar is inherently more gripping than learning it by powerpoint.
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