Group offers free workshop on how to improve soil

Josh Pennell
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Anybody blaming a less-than-green thumb on poor soil may have to find a different excuse. The Common Ground Community Development Corp. (CGCDC) is offering a couple of free public workshops that might help people make dramatic differences to how fertile their soil is.

The workshops have do with biochar, an organic soil amendment made by baking organic matter. Lori Heath is the corporation’s executive director. She says things such as yard and agricultural waste and even some things destined for the landfill such as cardboard and wood can be used to make biochar. The material is burned at a low temperature in a low-oxygen environment so that instead of producing ash, it creates a porous charcoal. This is added to the soil.

“(It) is an ideal haven for micro-organisms. It can retain moisture very well and retain nutrients, as well,” Heath says.

The biochar changes the soil makeup so that farmers require less water and less fertilizer.  This helps reduce the cost of farming. Biochar can also dramatically increase yeilds, says Heath.

It isn’t just for the benefit of the farmer.

“Biochar is also getting a lot of attention all around the world for some of its pretty profound environmental benefits,” Heath says.

Producing biochar and adding it to the soil traps carbon that would have been emitted into the atmosphere.

Heath adds that it’s biochar harvested in a sustainable manner that can make an environmental difference.

“We’re not talking about going out and just chopping down trees and turning it into biochar and putting it into soil.”

Presently there is nowhere on the island where consumers can buy biochar, but part of the workshops being offered will teach people how to make their own. The biochar can be made and used on a large or small scale.

Heath says it can even be made in an empty soup can.

Despite that many people may not have heard of biochar before, its use is hardly modern.

“There are researchers who are discovering that indigenous people in South America were adding biochar to their soil for many thousands of years and, in some cases, creating very fertile soil with dramatically increased yields in areas where the soil ordinarily would be very poor,” says Heath.

The workshops take place Nov. 8-9 and will involve some world-class experts on biochar. For more information and registration call 738-7542 or email

Geographic location: South America

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