In the latest edition of small-scale farm tech solutions we take a look at Biochar as a way of increasing carbon content of your soils, Buckybox – some helpful software for managing your direct sales and an exciting prototype of a Smart Hen Coop using RFID tags to monitor the productivity of your flock.

Biochar can be a great way to increase the carbon content of your soils and build soil structure so it better retains minerals and nutrients. If you want to know a bit more about the science behind biochar and why it’s good for some soils, then there is also loads of information in The Biochar Journal. This stove is an extremely efficient way of making biochar: the gases given off when making the char are fed back into the stove and burnt to provide energy for heating and cooking.

biocharrocketstove

Unlike a lot of other biochar or charcoal production techniques the burning of the emitted gasses means about 70% of the energy available from the wood is utilised rather than more conventional processes which use 30%. It also greatly improves the emissions profile of the gasses given off. You can find all the documentation for constructing this stove here and a few other designs and more information can be found on the Soil Carbon Regeneration site.

If you are selling direct, distributing your products can turn into a logistical nightmare. CSAs or small food businesses can cope fine up to about 50 customers but then things start falling apart as customers go on holiday and return to rotting veg because the grower missed their email…and then they get no delivery the next week due to more missed communications.

buckyboxLetting customers down is no fun, so here are a few different softwares out there aimed at helping with this, they all seem relatively similar, the main
difference is the pricing structure and maybe ease of use. Buckybox has the most flexible pricing structure – if you are doing less than around 50 deliveries a week then it costs 2% per delivery. Otherwise it costs £45/month + 0.5% of each delivery…unless you are a really big operation and then it’s just £175/month. Other systems out there are Member AssemblerFarmigo (also good for larger schemes due to pricing model) and CSA Software from Harvest Hand.

FAI (Farming and Agricultural Institute) is a global farming research network whose programmes are governed by Environment, Ethics and Economics. They have commissioned John and Avril at ONN Studio to prototype a smart hen coop that will study the laying habits of hens. They want to know which hen has laid which egg – so they are using RFID technologies (same thing that is used in Transport for London Oyster cards or any contactless payment cards) to know which hen is in the coop and sensors to detect when an egg is laid. You can follow their progress here. The FAI started this project to reduce overbreeding and unnecessary culling of chickens in the food industry. We can only imagine that access to this data will also lead to better understanding of your hens, potential early detection of any problems and better traceability of eggs laid.

oystercardsforhens

That’s all for this month. Hope those resources were interesting and if you have any feedback please do let us know! Or if you want to know more about tools we use then check out tech.vidacycle.com and find out more about our farm here.

Til next month… Abby and team