Case Study: Low carbon growing project at ECCI

07 November 2016

Run by ECCI residents Franziska Srocke and Dr. Jan Mumme in collaboration with the ECCI Green Team

The aim of the project was to increase the awareness of resource efficiency in food production, to stimulate interdisciplinary discussions on this matter, and to investigate University-derived solutions to improve the carbon balance of food production (e.g., by adding biochar to the soil).  

Two identical growing boxes were set up in the ECCI backyard in May 2016. The pallet boxes (EU standard pallet) are very suitable for urban growing projects because they can be moved around using a pallet truck and can be reused. The boxes were lined with a mesh, a layer of perlite (for drainage), and filled with topsoil (ca. 0.5 m3). One of the boxes was amended with a carbon-rich charcoal-like material (biochar), which was made from disposable paper cup waste. The carbon in the (bio)char is stored for centuries due to its recalcitrant nature. In the soil, (bio)char helps to retain water and plant nutrients and gives home to a variety of microorganisms.  

The two boxes were planted with the same plants to allow comparison of the harvest yields. We grew runner beans, beetroot, tomatoes, lettuce, parsley, oregano,  broccoli, chillies and carrots. Only organic fertiliser (seaweed extract) was used to provide nutrients and no pesticides were used.  

The runner beans, broccoli, herbs and beet root grew well; chilies and tomatoes were did not perform very well because of unfavourable weather conditions. We experienced problems with cabbage root fly on the broccoli; some plants died as their roots were eaten by the larvae. The lettuce was eaten by some other animals. Parsley and Oregano grew better in the box with char.   


No biochar:

  • Beans 486g
  • Beetroot 125g
  • Tomato 68g

With biochar:

  • Beans 278g
  • Beetroot 279g   
  • Tomato 83g  

(we have not harvested the carrot yet, broccoli was taken by strangers) 

In total £500 were spend in the project, mainly on pallet collars, gardening tools and soil. Funding was provided by SRS department through a staff project grant. This project was as a joint activity of staff located at GeoSciences and ECCI.

From our experience with this project, we can give practical recommendations for other students and staff, who would like to start growing vegetables on campus.

Franziska Srocke and Dr. Jan Mumme are researchers based at the UK Biochar Research Centre, University of Edinburgh. They are developing innovative and sustainable biochar products for versatile domestic applications. Besides promoting a healthy environment at home, the novel biochar products help to reduce waste and carbon emissions.