In Sonoma and Napa Valley because we live in an agricultural area the health of our soil is very important to our wellbeing. As the soil directly impacts the health of the foods we grow and our community, it is my thought that we all may like to know a little more about nutrient rich soil. For that reason, and to teach kids in my Sonoma Nature Club, I did a little experiment to study the effects of various microbial and nutritional additions to the soil on five different small areas of land in wine country. Healthy land and gardens are an important part of the leisure lifestyle in Sonoma and Napa Valley. In 2021, I began the research project on how soil amendments adjust the crop output and water retention of plants.
This informational and educational project included the participation of the Sonoma Nature Club (described in this local article) and Sonoma Mentoring Alliance members. It has been inspiring for kids of all ages to better understand the cultivation of soil and the growing of crops, farm to table, the endeavor has since transitioned into a valuable source of knowledge for the community. Hopefully, this will be helpful to you and your plants as they thrive through the growing season.
Here, Sonoma Ecology Center Garden Park manager Steve Carara and I enjoy some of the harvest from my 2021 organic pumpkin patch at Sonoma Garden Park.
This is partial list of what was monitored by Sonoma Nature Club:
- Growth + health of plant
- Count of pumpkins and size of fruit, plus foiliage
- Soil water content
- Soil compaction
A few members of the Sonoma Nature Journal Club carving their 2021 pumpkin crop.
This study of soil is part of the immersive agricultural experience that I have offered to kids and adults at the Sonoma Garden Park for a number of years. The focus is specifically on analysis and education about crops, soil and the land, which will be helpful to both the personal gardener and the crop grower. It has been my belief that becoming more comfortable with the land and nature is of the utmost of importance for everyone.
Biochar is simply defined as a fine-grained biomass charcoal used or found in soil. For as long as fire and plant life have co-existed, pyrogenic organic matter (biochar) has played a role in the development and fertility of topsoil. One of the findings in our Art of Leisure soil science study is that biochar does increase water retention in and around the root mass of the plant, allowing for better root development and water availability for the plant. It also helps to increase soil tilth and supports microbial communities.
It is quite interesting to know and see how Biochar is created. First, the natural wood pieces are carefully burned or heated with a minimum or absence of oxygen. When air is excluded, oxygen for combustion is stripped from the biomass, which is thus reduced to carbon bonds of charcoal. Above is a container burning at Donum Estate Winery earlier this year.
Here we see the opening of the container and cooling of the product. It will then be packaged and transported to a site for distribution. I have used this product as part of the soil science study for Sonoma Nature Club and the community. It is my belief that the foundation for soil health is in increased microbial activity in our soil.
Healthy soil that has some structure and can bring nutrition to the roots of a plant can be accomplished in a number of ways. This engaging agricultural study is helping us to better understand the process. Below is an example of a cover crop of mustard seen in the Napa Valley earlier this year. Mustard is usually incorporated into the soil later in the season, all part of sustainable agriculture.
If you have an interest in this, please feel free to give me a call anytime.