What’s with the black barrel contraption!!!

What’s with the black barrel contraption!!!

If you’ve been by the farm recently, it’s hard to miss the big black wire mesh barrel over by the compost pile. Everyone who sees it seems to stop, scrunch up their face, and wonders out loud what’s going on!

The contraption is a Johnson-Su “BEAM” bioreactor out of the University of California Chico. Below is an excerpt from the CSU Chico website about it.

“Adjunct Faculty member and CRA Associate Dr. David Johnson has been doing breakthrough work in regards to the efficacy of biologically correct, fungal-dominated compost for carbon sequestration and improved soil health and crop yields. His method is called BEAM (Biologically Enhanced Agricultural Management) and centers around the products created using the compost creation system he devised with his wife Hui-Chun Su (called the Johnson-Su Bioreactor).

Compost is usually thought of fertilizer, a way of adding nutrients to the soil. BEAM compost actually addresses soil health through soil biology. It replaces soil microbes in soil degraded through conventional agriculture methods. That, along with no-till practices, cover crops and other Regenerative Agriculture practices, enable the normal symbiosis between these microbes and plant roots to occur. Quite quickly, the soil starts to recover, and striking improvements in crop yields and carbon sequestration occurs.”


Here’s a few pictures that have been submitted to the CSU Chico page from successful implementations of this compost system. Take a look at their projects page for more details on the implementation in each project here!

Photo by Paul Tranfield showing the results of spraying BEAM on the ground on one side of this tree but not the other
Row showing green growth has BEAM compost from Puma Springs
Preliminary test results from Mosca-Hooper (Alamosa, CO, USA) show positive increases in microbial biomass, soil organic carbon, and harvest weight with decreases in some other aspects of soil chemistry.

This is a big experiment for us, as Dr. Johnson developed this in a totally different climate than we have in Airdrie, and we’re still struggling to figure out how to keep it wet without proper irrigation at the farm (currently using the blue barrel with drip irrigation). But since there’s so little input required except keep it wet and give the microbes a chance to do their thing, there’s a very low cost to do the experiment, and it could have a huge payoff. We’ll let you know in 2022 and 2023!

All pictures, and the entire idea for the project, come from CSU Chico’s website for the Dr. Johnson-Su BEAM bioreactor project. https://www.csuchico.edu/regenerativeagriculture/bioreactor/index.shtml

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