Thank you Agritech!
Many farms and small estates like Heligan will be needing to develop the carbon-holding capacity of their soils, as well as improving their productivity, health and water-retentive qualities. Biochar is an excellent source of all these and with the right equipment is relatively simple to produce. With a good kiln, a supply of wood and containers for activation, biochar can become a regular soil input and also be used in animal bedding, added to compost and even fed to animals.
Here are Heligan, we were delighted to receive a grant from the Agri-tech Cornwall Innovation Grant Scheme Project funded from the ERDF as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 which has partly funded a new Exeter Retort Kiln.
The proposal is to set up a small biochar production system at Heligan using a mobile retort kiln. Every year we produce a large amount of wood every year which is currently processed into firewood.
This is an ideal source of biochar and production through a suitable retort kiln is cleaner and more efficient. A retort kiln recirculates the burning wood gas in a sealed system, burning in a self-sustaining reaction, reducing pollutants by 75%. Not only would Heligan be able to develop its own biochar for use in both the productive gardens and pasture / grassland, but our hope is also that Heligan Biochar could become a new product on sale in our shop.
We are so grateful for the funding support from Agritech. This is a huge opportunity. The making of charcoal has been taking place at Heligan since the late Middle Ages. With our Exeter Retort Kiln, this traditional process will become part of rebuilding our soils and helping to secure our future
As part of this project, we are developing our relationship with the University of Plymouth and the Recon Soil project. Microbial communities and their diversity within soil are at the heart of this research and the hope is that our proposed work with biochar will be a significant addition to this research. Specific areas of pasture / grassland and in the productive gardens have been tested for soil carbon and soil biology previously, providing us with a baseline for further research on the impact of biochar.
The other important element of this project is sharing expertise with other farmers and landowners. Our new Exeter Retort Kiln is trailer mounted which will enable us to demonstrate biochar production to farmers who might be interested in soil improvement using biochar. The aim is that this will provide a tangible benefit both to local farmers and soils.