The Waukee Innovation and Learning Center (WILC) in Waukee, IA, where Waukee APEX programs are housed.
The Waukee Community School District is a public school district located in Waukee, Iowa. It has been named a “District of Distinction” by District Administration magazine and offers career and technical education programs. Biochar is relevant for a school district like Waukee, which has agricultural programs and community gardens. Waukee’s Aspiring Professional Experience (APEX) program already has worked in seed germination and worm composting. The school is equipped with a Biosafety Level-II (BSL-II) research lab headed by Principal Investigator Jared Almandinger. The Research Lab with Waukee Apex partners with local researchers, labs, and businesses to design, perform, and publicize any research needs that fall under the categories of medical and bioscience research.
Jacob Hamling, junior at Waukee High School, adds Biochar to a sample in preparation for testing.
Research contributors (From left to right) Kassandra Ruelas, Mathijs Timmer, Jared Almandinger, Connor Christman, Ellen Keul, and Mercedes Del Campo pose in front of the completed research poster.
The Waukee Community School District is committed to collaboration, bringing together education, business, and the community. This is achieved through partnerships with experts from various fields who contribute their knowledge to develop a dynamic and authentic curriculum. Additionally, Waukee APEX students benefit from these partnerships and bring value to their business partners by contributing their skills, creativity, and perspectives. This teamwork produces a mutually advantageous learning environment that equips students for future employment success. The collaboration with ARTi was an opportunity to inform on biochar and support education and research, while the students had the chance to learn about sustainable practices and conduct hands-on experiments.
Kassandrea Ruelas, junior at Waukee Northwest High School, measures out water to be added to each growth sample.
The Effect of Biochar on Plants and Soil Quality
Biochar has shown progress in improving soil pH, preventing compaction, improving plant growth, and water retention. Lettuce is a common plant that is grown in farms and home garden settings. For this experiment, buttercrunch lettuce was used as it is easy to grow and tolerable to many harsh conditions. Buttercrunch lettuce grows in neutral soil and is best in well-drained, loose soil. Buttercrunch lettuce was grown in neutral soil with a pH range of 6.2-6.84 as this is typical for lettuce. Biochar is a charcoal-like substance that helps prevent compaction, promote root growth, and retain water in soil, and was found to improve soil in terms of compaction, pH restoration, and plant growth characteristics.
Waukee APEX associates visting ARTi Headqauters in Prairie City, Iowa
ARTi’s biochar product was used to raise the pH of poor-quality soil. The pH of one test was artificially lowered by adding citric acid, whereas the second test used a sandy soil. Additionally, biochar was utilized to evaluate how plants responded to various biochar additive levels. To assess how much the soil compacted after watered, various biochar application rates were used. Our findings exceeded expectations and supported the original predictions. The data showed a strong correlation between the regulation of pH when biochar was added and the amount of water needed for a plant to grow healthy. The data also showed a slight correlation between the amount of water needed for a plant to grow healthy and biochar being mixed with it. The experiment also showed that when a higher concentration of biochar is added to soil, it will shrink significantly less over time. However, there were a couple of improvements that needed to be addressed to have more accurate results, ARTi was glad to collaborate and guide Waukee’s students to get initial insights within the biochar world.
The completed research poster, hung and presented at the biannual Waukee APEX Showcase, hosted at the WILC in Waukee, IA.