Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Corn Harvest

The corn from the biochar experimental plot established in November has been harvested! We  are incredibly excited to have our first data on the biochar experiments here in Villa Carmen.

Some data was easy to collect in the field, such as wet weights of the stalks, and the corn itself. In order to get data on percent of spoiled grain, and dry weights the corn had to be degrained. This was a labor intensive process (3 days) and everyone left with blistered thumbs but in high spirits.

A few of the corn degrainers at the end of 3 days of hard work!

The corn was then able to be weighed, good grain separated from bad. The cobs were also weighed apart from the grain.

photo credit: Jessica Suarez

The final step was to dry the biomass in a rustic biomass dryer we have here at Villa Carmen. Biomass is reported in oven-dried weight in the literature so the grain, cobs, and stalks were dried for 48 hours until constant weight.

Villa Carmen biomass dryer

The data has yet to be analyzed, but all in all the hard work of the corn harvest was a success!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Don Anacleto and Kiln Improvements

Don Anacleto will be taking charge of biochar and compost operations. Anacleto has been part of the agriculture team for the last year and we're very excited to have him working on production and maintenence of biochar!

In December, biochar production was briefly stopped for the holidays and to do maintenance on the machine. Most importantly, the floor, which previously was cracked and holding a lot of water was replaced. The biomass carts have also been redesigned and some insulation has been replaced. Around the time that all repairs were finished in January, the power in Kosnipata went out for about 25 days. Last week, the power came back on and we're back in the business of making biochar daily!

Monday, February 9, 2015

The corn that was planted in November has grown quite tall. We are about a month and a half away from harvest and we’re excited to have our first round of data on growth and yield related to the treatments we applied to the soil. 

The plátano has also grown quickly since it’s planting in October. We’ve begun taking measurements on the crops with the help of students from the Instituto in Pilcopata. Measurements for plátano include height, stem circumference, and number of leaves. 

Pineapple is the slowest grower of the 3 crops that were planted. Pineapple measurements include plant height, number of leaves, and the length of the longest leaf. These measurement data for the various crops will provide some preliminary data to start analysis on the effectiveness of the treatments

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Collecting Seeds

Don Julio and I spent some time earlier this week collecting seeds of a few common timber species of the region. Don Julio is a Kosñipatino (born and raised here) and spent much of his career in the timber industry. He has a wealth of knowledge about which species are popular for timber, where to find good seed trees, and when these trees are producing seeds or saplings.

Above is an image of seeds from the yanay tree. We had to walk quite a ways off the trail to find this particular tree. The seeds were buried in the leaf litter on the forest floor so finding them was a bit like a treasure hunt, but in the end, we ended up with about 25 viable seeds.

We also collected sapling of two types of laurel - "laurel of the mountain" and "laurel of the beach." The former was much more abundant and we planted close to 40 saplings while we only found about 12 laurels of the beach. All three species were divided into three groups and planted in bags of either pure biochar, pure compost, or a 50/50 mix biochar/compost.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


COP20 is the 20th annual Conference of the Parties. It is an international political response to climate change which sets a framework for establishing action to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions. The group was established in March of 1994 and now has 195 parties. Last year's conference included over 650 members of the media, more than 4000 government officials, and almost as many UN representatives. This year's conference was held in Lima, Peru and also drew a large number of participants.

To learn more about COP20 please visit: http://unfccc.int/meetings/lima_dec_2014/meeting/8141.php

Several reporters from various countries, including Brazil and Egypt, visited Villa Carmen with goals of learning more about sustainable agriculture and biochar. It was great to have the opportunity to talk to reporters about the biochar project here at Villa Carmen. They took photos and video of our biochar projects, kiln, and the quenching process. They even interviewed Yhilbonio and I about our involvement. Check out the pictures below!

Saturday, November 22, 2014


This week we planted our third biochar field trial - 1/2 hectare of yellow corn. The corn will be ready for harvest in 4 months providing us with relatively rapid results, in comparison with pineapple and plantain.

The sustainable agriculture staff teaching me how to plant corn. 

The biochar was ground to particles no larger than 1cm and the biochar-compost mixtures were pre-mixed and applied to the field in parcels, using the same methods as the pineapple field.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Cart Upgrades, Wood Waste Biochar, and Signs



The biochar carts were in need of some repairs. The wire meshing intended to keep the biochar in each cart has deteriorated over time - which is no surprise considering we've completed over 100 burns at temperatures around 800C! The new design does not include wire meshing but rather metal posts that we hope will be able to resist the heat. 

We recently completed our first burn using waste wood. This biochar isn't ideal for planting crops for consumption, however we are sure we can find other uses for it. As seen in the bottom of the two photos, nails and other bits of metal remain even after burning.

Volunteers at Villa Carmen helped out the sustainable agriculture and biochar programs by making signs to identify biochar treatments in the field. These signs will hold up through the rainy season and make periodic measurements and harvest a breeze.