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Sustainable farming with Biochar

A Biochar workshop last weekend promoted a step towards sustainable, profitable and self-sufficient farming.

Independent botanical consultant and bioprospector Dale Redpath held a simple biochar workshop last weekend at his family farm at Wairata in the Waioeka Gorge.

“Biochar is a type of charcoal used as a soil amendment because it has a huge surface area that acts like a reef in the soil providing habitat for soil microbes, while also holding moisture and nutrients that remain stable for hundreds of years,” he said.

Mr Redpath studied ecology and plant biology at Massey University and has been thinking of ways to ensure that his family can farm the land in a sustainable, profitable, and self-sufficient way.

“I learned about permaculture in 2016 and this gave me a more cohesive vision for the farm.

“I love learning and teaching as it opens your eyes to new ideas and possibilities,” he said.

Participant Glenda Smith said the workshop was excellent and the Redpath farm is a gorgeous piece of New Zealand.

“I do a lot of voluntary work, from gardening, stream planting and beach clean-ups but I am a newbie to biochar and I knew nothing about it.

“Everyone stayed long after the workshop finished because we were all excited about what we can now do and how we were going to implement this new knowledge.

“Dale as a teacher and the workshop itself is a very important resource for helping our environment.

“He is very passionate and that passion is contagious as I am still buzzing about what we learned and this is a week later,” she said.

Mr Redpath said people attended for various reasons which ranged from making charcoal for barbecues, to gardening, and orchard scale production.

“We covered the basics of the fire triangle, how biochar is formed, how to use it, tips for producing it, and things to avoid.

“We also discussed why the world has became interested in it and how it fits into the bigger picture, of agriculture and the environment,” he said.

Workshop in OctoberThe next workshop will be held on Saturday, October 13 and will cover the basics of biochar: what it is, how it benefits the soil and how biochar is formed in a fire.

It will include how to make it yourself using simple, low-tech methods with no welding or engineering necessary.

The location is at Wairata Forest Farm, 199 Redpath Road, Wairata, Waioeka Gorge on Saturday October 13 from 9.30-3pm. The workshop will be postponed if there are bad weather conditions.

Email Mr Redpath at floravitaenz@gmail.com to register.

From left: Jude Lewer, Esther Hudson and Dale Redpath make charcoal in a drum suitable for barbecue fuel (or biochar) with very little smoke. Picture supplied