Happy New Years,

This seems like a very auspices time to review the progress our intrepid little band has made in it’s attempt at citizen science. It seems hard to believe that it was less than 9 months ago that we secured access to a very unpromising, weed choked lot. In hind sight, it helped that we were so painfully naive. It has been a lot of work, a lot of fun and for us eager amateurs; the start of a valuable education in soil carbon management.
Well a quick review is in order. To give you a brief historical description:  This parcel of relatively flat land is at the south end of a Community College campus, which was built on top of what had been a gravel pit. The campus was leveled with construction fill. The specific area we are using was where construction equipment was parked and stored (including as recently as seven years ago when the adjacent cell-phone tower was built) When we first got the go ahead from campus (late this past February) , we first had to have grounds keeping mow the standing blackberry bramble that covered a little over half of what is now the test plot.  The soil is, full of rocks, acidic and noticeably lacking in observable soil biota or the appearance of organic carbon. In some of the photos you see the original ridge and top soil on the other side of the fence and 15′ above our plot .  In early June, SeaChar mailed boxes of 16 dirt filled baggies (+ char and compost samples) to to USDA ARS labs in Prosser Wa. and Kimberly Idaho. And, on a beautiful, sunny day in early July, we carefully measured, recorded and applied our Alterna Energy biochar and Bailey’s Steer Manure compost.
After spending most of the rest of the year trying to get ahead of the rampantly returning weeds and blackberry creepers, we planted a rye vetch winter cover crop in late Oct. (Thanks Nash’s)
As a cosmic thank-you, one Saturday in mid-November, Don Hennick, Ben Chester and I were joined by staff from the Nature Consortium and some 60 of their tree planting volunteers for a day of mulching the 250′ long x 14’w frontage strip of our plot. All done to live musical accompaniment. This begins the process of creating more plots for additional experimentation and community participation.

The layout of the test plot is as follows:

  • we have treatment block sets consisting of (4) treatment blocks ea.
  • ea. treatment block is 15′ sq., the corners of ea. are marked with permanent stakes
  • the treatment blocks are separated with a minimum 3′ wide, sheet mulched paths
  • One set consists of the following (4) treatments: a) as is unamended b) amended with steer manure compost c) amended with Alterna Energy biochar d) amended with equal amounts by volume of biochar and compost
  • the amendments were top dressed and raked in
  • the entire test plot consists of (4) randomly replicated treatment block sets, for a total of (16) 15’Sq. treatment blocks
  • no additional fertilizers or amendments have been added to the plot at this point
  • The application rate for biochar was: 160lbs. per 225sq.’ treatment block
  • the application rate for steer manure compost was: 480lbs. per 225sq.’ treatment block (an equal volume to the biochar

*BTW: find us on google earth by searching for Seachar biochar test plot

The list of people who made all this possible is to long for this email, but I can not fail to say, that without Don Hennick, James Whittaker and Vivian Scott in particular, we would still probably looking at a patch of dirt at the south end of a big parking lot. Instead we have the local component of an important international scientific effort ( coordinated by the IBI)  to study biochar’s ability to store fixed carbon in our soils as it builds soil productivity. Plus a unique teaching tool, located on a campus which now boasts class work in Horticulture, Permaculture, Sustainable Urban Agriculture, Green roofs and walls and electric vehicles, to name a few of the recent sustainable initiatives and programs at South Seattle Community College.
Another list, which is to long for this email, is the list of tools, equipment and infrastructure improvements we need to make the SeaChar SSCC Carbon Garden the valuable resource for building a new green infrastructure, that we need it to be. A partial list would include: the Adam-retort biochar kiln, a shed, green house and materials drying line, an irrigation system and proper signage.
The most important thing we need is you. It’s not just digging weeds and mulching. I want to set up a real plot team and there are some of you who I am going to ask to be on an official : Advisory Committee. We need curious people who want to design their own biochar experiments (ever heard of bokashi?) Do the science, build a community of local partners, reach out to the world, develop curriculum, build things and ,,, yes pull black berries.
Check out the photos (in the gallery): it really can be fun, but I promise I will quit calling those days “work parties”.
I hope some of you who are in the Seattle area will join a few of us down at the Carbon Garden this coming Saturday January 2nd from 10- 4 for a little weeding, a little mulching , some tea made on a TLUD stove….. the fun stuff!


Art Donnelly,