Friday, June 22, 2012

Preparing for a Biochar Study

Biochar is basically charcoal used as a soil amendment.  It is promoted as a means of improving soil and as an approach for sequestering carbon to help mitigate climate change.  

During the October 2011 ECHO Asia Agriculture and Community Development Conference, Dr. Karl Frogner introduced the concept of biochar and demonstrated how char can be produced from bamboo (see Dec 7, 2011 blog  Prior to that, in an ECHO Asia Notes article, Biochar: An Organic House for Microbes, Bryan Hugill described the role of biochar for both agriculture and carbon sequestration.

In May, Dr. Abram Bicksler, a faculty member of the Chiang Mai-based ISDSI ( and research advisor for ECHO Asia, began setting up a planned biochar trial to be implemented at the ECHO Asia Seed Bank.  Finely ground bamboo char was mixed with ground  up, composted cow manure and set aside for a three-month long period.  During this time the bamboo char is expected to absorb nutrients and microbes from the manure.  Around September, the biochar/manure mixture will be established in select plant beds so as to monitor and compare the crop performance and soil properties of beds receiving biochar and those receiving only char or cow manure.

As with other ECHO Asia trials, we will be sharing results from this biochar study.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Moringa Variety Trial at the ECHO Asia Seed Bank

Due to moringa's impressive nutritional benefits as well as the water-purifying abilities of its seed, there is no shortage of interest in this crop.  ECHO distributes huge amounts of moringa seed each year.  However, there is still a shortage of information regarding the regional availability and suitability of moringa lines, whether those that have been selectively bred, such as PKM 1 and PKM 2, or landraces (local/traditional varieties developed mostly by local processes).

The ECHO Asia Seed Bank is pleased to host a moringa variety trial being conducted by Dr. Ricky Bates, Associate Professor of Horticulture at Penn State University.  In late May, Dr. Bates and members of the ECHO Asia team established seedlings from 20 lines of moringa.  From these selections, he hopes to select varieties that grow and perform particularly well in the sub-humid, tropical climate of northern Thailand.  We look forward to sharing results in the coming months and years.