///Biochar, regenerative closed loop systems and the importance of growing rural economies

Biochar, regenerative closed loop systems and the importance of growing rural economies

Our kiln in action at Sacred Earth

Our kiln in action at Sacred Earth earlier this year

Sacred Earth is currently running a community share offer to increase membership and raise capital to support our five year business plan. One of the main objectives outlined in our business plan is to provide entrant farmers, rural entrepreneurs and craftspeople easier access land.

Taking on a piece of land of any size for the first time can be a real expense for many small businesses, and requires a significant time commitment just to maintain it. At our 40 acre site near Horam in East Sussex, our experience is that a combination of rural businesses works really well – we currently have three “enlightened” agri-businesses working side by side supporting one another and enjoying the wisdom, experience and infrastructure support which Sacred Earth provides.

We are planning to increase the number of rural micro-businesses based at the site, but not at the expense of the local ecology, the regeneration of which is also a priority for us. As responsible stewards of the land we have to consider all the beings who have found a home there and so we cherish our relationships with all the trees and plants, the water and the air, the largest mammals and the smallest birds and insects. They all make an important impact on the local ecology, they keep the natural balance and contribute to the health and harmony of the site.

For humans to find regenerative systems (we are beyond “sustainability” now) that support both existing life and increase both the resilience and the health of an area’s ecological systems we have to focus on balance, right relationships and good placement. We have made plenty of mistakes in the five years we have spent regenerating our Horam site, turning it from a derelict brickworks into a sanctuary for wildlife and people, but we have learned from these mistakes. This is what true learning is about, and thankfully none of our mistakes have been in any way damaging to the local ecology or environment.

As part of our permaculture design for the site we have introduced a closed loop system which has worked particularly well in our Biochar operation. Over the last few years have started to coppice and pollard our abundant Goat Willow (a pioneer species of tree which many people consider a weed) and created cants – selected areas which are cut in rotation in order to bring a quantity of wood each year into our Biochar production process. We are now in our fourth year of rotation and another cant is due to be cut this winter. The cuttings will be harvested and then reduced in size so they can be placed inside our modified Biochar kiln, which is designed to take smaller wood in quantities of around 500kg. The brush we use to make benge hedges and the rest is processed over an eight or nine hour period into quality charcoal.

biocharOnce charred it enters the next phase of its lifecycle, a biological process which involves adding it into various forms of compost, allowing waste nutrients from the leaching and composting buy valtrex online process to adhere itself to the porous char. This porosity also allows micro-organisms, mycelium and mycorrhizal to enter and colonise it and over time a piece of char becomes a healthy and balanced micro eco-system.
In the final stage (which closes the loop) one of two things can happen. The Biochar is either:

  1. Put back into our fields or planted with new trees to help support the localised soils establish the microbiology it may be lacking and hopefully over time create huge coral reefs of long term fertility in the soils by acting as a soil conditioner and storing nutrient pools.
  2. Used as a key ingredient in the advanced soil products (seed compost activators, compost inoculators, conditioners and tree care products) which are available for purchase from Sacred Earth this coming autumn.

Any hardwood charcoal we make from any offcuts from our selective felling program (and which is not appropriate for the Biocharring process) we sell as barbecue charcoal. This is an important sideline when we take into account the fact that 90% of all barbecue charcoal we use in this country is imported from locations where deforestation is rife. This is a significant incentive for people to invest in their local woodlands which can provide for a community’s barbecue needs throughout the summer months! Imagine a resurgence of all the coppicing that used to take place in Britain which helped fuel both the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions!

Goat Willow pollen

Goat Willow pollen

As bee keepers we always ensure that we leave a certain amount of Goat Willow trees to grow older because these are the first trees of the year to deliver pollen, which helps ensure healthy and happy beehives in the early spring after the cold, dark depths of winter. Of course the bees love them, yet another reason for us to also find a place in our heart for this intrepid pioneer tree, not to mention all the other trees which generate oxygen and materials for us and billions of others around the world!

Our aim at Sacred Earth is to encourage more rural economies that use these kinds of sensitive and regenerative principles and practices. Among others things we’d like to become the home of a local blacksmith or farriers forge. With many long time blacksmiths closing down and the low weald being a huge area for horse owners, this seems like it would be a good thing to do alongside our Biochar initiative and the other small businesses we support on the land – Sacred Seeds Herbal Project and Hathor Farm. With some additional woodland management and shared use of the kiln a young entrepreneurial blacksmith or two could probably flourish with a part-time job and business here too. Watch this space?

Please contact us if you’re interested in getting involved at Sacred Earth. Our community share offer is providing a powerful way for people to get involved with an organisation at the forefront of the movement towards greater community ownership and control of the things that really matter. Download our share offer document for more information.

By |2017-07-04T10:35:48+00:00September 20th, 2016|Blog, Featured|Comments Off on Biochar, regenerative closed loop systems and the importance of growing rural economies

About the Author: