Peter Hirst

Peter Hirst

Peter Hirst

Speaker and Workshop Instructor | Symsoil

Palo Alto, CA |

Peter Hirst is a founder and principal of Symsoil Inc, where he develops biochar co-composting products and methods. Peter has specialized in biochar for over 10 years, developing production technology and writing and presenting extensively. An experienced educator, he has conducted courses and workshops in Conservation Burns, farm-scale production technology, integrated organic systems and incorporation of biochar in permaculture design. He most recently presented on co-composting at scale at the USBI National Conference on Biochar and Bioenergy at Colorado State University. He is a principal author of The Biochar Revolution, and is working on his second book, on agricultural biochar applications.

Session Name: Biochar and Compost: Exploring the Synergies

Session Time: Thursday, January 30, 2:00 to 3:30 PM

Presentation Title: Biochar Co-composting: The Soil Food Web at Commercial Scale

Presentation Description: A commercial system scaling the Soil Food Web through the conditioning effect of biochar.

Soil life is necessary for preparation of biochar for application to living roots. Raw biochar has damaged living plants, and the conditioning of biochar before application to living plants has become axiomatic. The SymSoil process uses these characteristic of raw biochar, which starve young roots, to build the biology that will later feed them.

Another emerging force in biochar use is the Soil Food Web, the composting and soil nutrition principles of Dr. Elaine Ingham, who chairs SymSoil’s Science Advisory Board. Dr. Ingham’s system is gaining strength and acceptance, but has an inherent limitation of scale. Considerations of heat, aeration and fungal structure have prevented developing the Soil Food Web process to production quantities in excess of small farm scale . Until now.

Symsoil, a California startup, makes a powerful case for the function of raw biochar in the integrated, managed development of the soil biome in commercial compost, based on Dr Ingham’s Soil Food Web. This original, patent-pending model builds on Dr. Ingham’s work, integrating a variety of additional feedstocks and inoculants to build sustainable cultures from a few hundred grams to thousands of tons of robust compost, with a guaranteed biome profile consistent with the biological requirements of specific regions and crops.

Biochar is critical element at every stage of the process, from initial capture and cultivation of inoculants on substrates comprising 50%   biochar or more, leveraging cultures through simultaneous and sequential stages of increased volumes of material, comprising 20-50 percent biochar, to conditioning, maintenance and regeneration of agricultural soils with permanent biochar fractions of up to percent, or the target composition for finished soil.

The presentation traces the system through its 2018 pilot project in Vacaville and the commercial hub in Fairfield, California.

Co-Author: Ms. Katharine Hinson, SymSoil, Inc,

Workshop Title: Introduction to Biochar

Workshop Time: Tuesday, January 28, 1:00 PM – 4:30 PM

Workshop Summary: The science and practice of composting with biochar will be presented by four scientist from the USDA Coastal Plains Research Center in Florence, South Carolina, and two commercial producers of biochar enhanced compost products from North Carolina and California. The scientists will describe methods of creating and characterizing biochar with enhanced capabilities using different thermochemical and biological technologies, how “designer biochars” can be created to address particular crop and soil conditions, soil carbon, effect of biochar blends on soil microbial communities and composting biochar with worms. Commercial suppliers will discuss some of the challenges involved in creating specialized compost / Biochar blends, how Biochar enhances compost quality, benefits of composting with Biochar to boost effectiveness, and best management practices to optimize product quality. They will provide an overview of the new market opportunities for biochar enhanced compost.