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Home > Daily News > Circle Carbon S.L. – Producers of Biochar & Terr Llum
Circle Carbon S.L.

Circle Carbon S.L. – Producers of Biochar & Terr Llum

A Horticulturist’s dream & natural way to clean and fertilise soil.

Circle Carbon SL

My visit to Circle Carbon to meet with owner, Christer Söderberg was without a doubt the highlight of my month! Based in the beautiful countryside of Bunyola, Mallorca, I was about to embark upon the most fascinating and awe-inspiring guided walk around this wonderful project and budding business that Christer and his team have built. As we sat under a wonderful canopy of exotic green foliage intertwined with sweet-smelling jasmine, I had the feeling I had entered an enchanted garden.

Swedish-American Christer explained that he left the corporate world in Brazil exactly 20 years ago, dismayed by the amount of extractivism going on. Having set up a Swedish multi-national welding protection equipment company in Brazil for South and Central America, he experienced a mid-life crisis that caused him to question things. He soon realised, as he became more environmentally aware, that this situation was no longer working for him. So he travelled back to Brazil and helped to plant trees on an organic coffee farm where there used to be rainforest. This is where he learned about ‘terra preta’, the black soil of the indigenous people of the Amazon which was discovered about 120 years ago.

Christer: “Through recent carbon-dating methods which establish anthropocenic carbon in the Amazon, they found this soil to go back 14,000 years. For anyone who doesn’t know about soils and agriculture in the Amazon, you can’t grow anything there – you can only slash and burn. There are one or two seasons, at most 3-5, and then you cannot grow anything because there is nothing in the soil to hold the nutrients. This is because the rainy season goes up to 15 metres and washes all the nutrients away. So the theory, up until recently, has been that it would be impossible to provide food for large populations in the Amazon because the soil is so poor. But through deforestation and satellite imagery they began discovering geoglyphs – geometrical-shaped settlements. Interestingly, these coincided with the journal of Francisco de Orellana, the Spanish conquistador who sailed down the Amazon for the first time in 1542 and described enormous cities with soil as fertile as in Spain.

Eddie__Manitou

This was then contradicted by historians by saying this poor soil couldn’t possibly have provided food for them but now with the counting of these geoglyphs and the study of the anthropocenic soil around them, we can actually determine that more than 20,000,000 people lived in the Amazon before the conquistadors came. So we have this incredibly fertile soil which is known as ‘terra preta do indio’ – black soil of the indigenous peoples – which not only removes carbon but also provides an ideal habitat for essential micro-organisms to thrive. There is evidence that there is up to 800% greater productivity in these black soils compared to regular soil.

It was later discovered that this black soil exists in many places around the globe, even in the central Mississippi plains. Here in Mallorca and in Catalunya, they did something called “formigueres”, which had similar results over thousands of years. Through studying this knowledge we are now able to replicate that process of making biochar. This results in a substrate that is extremely rich in nutrients and minerals, and most important of all – micro-organisms. This is why the plants grown in the Terra Llum that we produce grow extremely well. This project was basically born out of the idea of mitigating climate change and showing that there is also an economical benefit to doing so.

Biochar

Biochar is made from biomass via pyrolysis, which is a method of burning in the absence of oxygen, and is altogether different from BBQ charcoal, even though they look similar. For it to be biochar you have to burn at between 400-800 degrees to burn off all of the volatile compounds like oils and gasses. The biochar becomes hydrophilic (able to readily absorb water) making it an extremely beneficial habitat for micro-organisms. For every gram of biochar when made properly, you will have between one and five hundred square metres of surface area – it’s an extremely porous structure. So you can imagine that micro-organisms surrounded by organic matter can all of a sudden multiply exponentially, making minerals and nutrients readily available to plants. The soil that we make is a living organism and a way of returning life to the soil. It also has the added benefit of reducing irrigation needs by up to 50%!

Agriculture over the past 50-70 years has been intent on killing micro-organisms through chemical fertilisers resulting in a loss of 10-12 million hectares of fertile soils per year! The UN estimates that we have roughly 60 harvests left at the present rate. We were starting to make headway with some of the local farmers because fertiliser prices went up 300-400% BEFORE the war started. Then the local government, out of trying to help the farmers, actually allowed what they call a disinfectant (pesticide/herbicide), Metam Sodio, which was prohibited 8 years ago for its toxicity, to be reinstated to allow the farmers to disinfect the soil and then pump it full of chemical fertilisers for a quick financial fix.”

Christer shows me a grapevine that was planted 3.5 years ago and said that if you showed it to a local farmer, they would say it’s a 10-15 year-old vine. He then went on to walk me through the huge greenhouse structures showing me a papaya that was 2 years old and I was absolutely staggered as it had three beautifully thick trunks and was abundant with beautiful huge papayas. Then there is a wonderfully tall fig tree which was planted by a bird at the very most 2 years ago and stands at 4 metres!

Christer then showed me where they make the biochar and explained how they got nine truckloads of vines from a vineyard on the island to make the biochar from – what a great use to put them to and a fantastic way of regenerating Mallorca’s soil. With Eddie the Char Master and Biel, his Deputy Char Master working the furnaces, they are able to read the flame and make sure that the correct temperature and method are used to produce the very best biochar.

Compost-Turner

Christer: “It takes nature 500 years to create 1 inch of fertile soil but we do it within 3-6 months.”

Then I get to see the most fascinating thing of all – two beds planted side by side with avocado seedlings. One of the beds was normal soil with store-purchased compost and the other bed had been dressed with a 10cm layer of Terra Llum. The normal soil avocado plant was literally half the size of the Terra Llum side, which had actually been planted 6 months later. It wasn’t just the height that fascinated me but the colour of the foliage and size of the leaves! Although most mind-blowing was that it had absolutely zero pests! Despite it being just 70cm apart from the smaller, normal soil one at its widest point, which was covered in aphids and ants, the Terra Llum avocado had no pests whatsoever! I was absolutely staggered at this and Christer explained that this is because healthy plants do not have infestation problems compared with weaker plants that are lacking something. I likened it to our own immune systems whereby if they are lowered through poor nutrition, we then keep getting sick. He explains that this process is known as trophobiosis which is a process whereby a plant that doesn’t get enough nutrients and minerals basically calls on the insect world to try and help it return the carbon to the soil because there is not enough present. If there isn’t enough carbon, there aren’t enough micro-organisms resulting in insufficient nutrients for the plant. So nature has a way of balancing things. But it is something you really must go and see with your own eyes, but also to FEEL the healthiness of these wonderful plants.

Tres-KonTiki-Pyrolysis

I also got the chance to see the other wonderful produce they are growing such as kale, kimchi cabbage, lemon grass, cabbage, peppers, aubergines and a wonderful assortment of herbs – all healthy and thriving in this wonderful soil. Banana trees with bunches of fruit along with stunningly elegant moringa trees, the beans of which Christer tells me are a superfood.

“Once our 7.500m of greenhouse space is fully regenerated we will have added 11 tonnes of biochar – which equates to roughly 35-40 tonnes of C02 removed from the atmosphere permanently! That’s the carbon footprint of 8 people in Spain! But not only does it capture carbon, it also reduces nitrous oxide emissions by up to 40%, so it’s not only a one-time benefit but an ongoing one. By capturing the nitrous oxide it helps to release nitrogen in the soil as the plant needs it. One of the big problems with the environment is the leeching into rivers, streams and the ocean of nitrates from chemical fertilisers, but by having biochar in your soil you will never need to fertilise at all.”

Christer tells me how they sponsor some local farmers and that they would love to promote this kind of sponsorship to the yachting industry. This would mean a yacht could sponsor a local Mallorquin farmer and receive some of the produce grown – what a great idea! He is also thinking of arranging events where people can go and pick their own. I said that doing a guided tour like the one I had just experienced would be a wonderful thing to open people’s eyes to the small part they could play in protecting the environment and benefitting from wonderful produce at the same time! (To enquire about sponsorship or guided tours see contact details below.)

Avocado

Now, generally speaking I’m not someone who hugs trees but I have to say that having arrived at Circle Carbon with the weight of the world seemingly on my shoulders, by the time I left I was feeling so elated, inspired and HAPPY! OK, maybe it was because Christer treated me to some incredible produce and a huge papaya to make my favourite Thai salad, but seriously, the whole experience was both fascinating and uplifting in a way I could never have imagined. I highly recommend taking a look at what these guys are doing and I will definitely be investing in some of their wonderful organic Terra Llum for my little finca, but for now, I AM off to hug a tree – a beautifully generous papaya!

Circle Carbón SL

C/ S’Esgleieta-Sta Maria

07110 Bunyola

Mallorca

T:    +34 603 81 57 70

E:    info@circlecarbon.com

W:  www.circlecarbon.com

 

Written by Lisa Thompson

textperfect@outlook.com