Inside a greenhouse at Astarte Farm, garlic seedlings are growing in small containers, each filled with compost supplemented with biochar, a material designed to maintain the moisture and nutrients of the soil and to improve the quality of the plants that will eventually be sold at the River Valley Co-op in Northampton.
“We’re pretty excited by the results we’ve seen from this,” said Dan Pratt, the Astarte farm manager at 123 West St., pointing to a five-gallon bucket filled with the deep brown, finely ground biochar.
“In a six-week period last year with no rain, two inches down (in the soil) we would see moisture. In untreated soil, we would have to go six to eight inches down” for moisture.
At the same time that other area farms were scrambling to find water, Astarte did not irrigate, said Annalise Clausen, the farm’s production manager. “Other farms were running out of water,” Clausen said.
The biochar used at Astarte comes from NextChar, an Amherst-based biotech startup, established in 2015. Its founders envision creating a high-end product, using patent-pending technology, that will improve crops, while providing renewable heat energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions associated with wood debris.