Location: Josiah’s Front Yard in Pahoa, Hawaii
The Biocharista: Someone who specializes in the art and science of blending biochar
Josiah transforms scrap lumber from a local saw mill into a powerful soil amendment inspired by "terra preta," a rich soil found in the Amazon basin. He says: “The wood becomes black after a few hours. Instead of quenching it with water and harvesting it, I allow it to bake under the soil for 3 to 5 days at high temperature. As the embers slowly breathe through the porous soil, the biochar’s molecular structure is further refined, like grape juice becoming fine wine.”
Biochar improves soils by providing habitat for microbial life. It retains water, and sequesters carbon, making it a promising tool for climate mitigation.
How to make “Hawaiian-style Open Biochar Pit”
1. Dig a pit where large fires can be made
2. Start a fire in the bottom of the pit
3. Feed it as fast a possible while still maintaining a clean (virtually smoke free) fire. Be sure to use larger pieces of wood first, as they will take longer to burn
4. When all the wood has turned to char, cover with dirt for a few days, then moisten and remove.
BE CAREFUL! Biochar fires can burn for weeks.
Introduction to Soil
When first attempting to unravel the mysteries of soil, inquisitive minds were able to reduce it to a series of physical and chemical elements. The recognition of individual chemicals and the roles that they play in the growth of plants and animals was instrumental in providing a platform for humanity to expand into the world we now know.
Not far behind came the realization that we could selectively kill plants and pests with chemical compounds that were increasingly easy to create. Worlds opened in front of us. Freedom from the chains of weeds and disease seemed within grasp.
It was only later that the repercussions of these new practices became undeniably evident.
Our instruments for scientific research have advanced and so too has our understanding of soil. It is nearly akin to realizing that the world is not actually flat; soil is very much alive and is far more complex then ever illustrated before.
There are three basic aspects from which the characteristics of soil can be viewed: physical, chemical, and biological. Unveiling the mysteries of the biological aspect of soil is the exciting new frontier. These three aspects are pillars of a system in dynamic balance. If there is a change in one, the entire system adjusts to a new balance.
A reductionist approach has allowed us to see the separate pieces for what they are, and now a more holistic approach is allowing us to put them back together to help provide pathways towards a sustainable future.