Exploring the use of compost & biochar as both soil amendments and as heat sources to extend the growing season inside high-tunnels on the Pine Ridge

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $27,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Rebel Earth Farms
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Patricia Hammond
Rebel Earth Farms


  • Vegetables: beans, carrots, garlic, greens (leafy), greens (lettuces), onions, peppers, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants, ornamentals


  • Crop Production: high tunnels or hoop houses, irrigation, season extension, shade cloth, Biochar soil amendments, waste heat capture, composting and compost waste heat utilization
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Energy: anaerobic digestion, byproduct utilization
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, permaculture
  • Soil Management: composting, organic matter, soil analysis, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, persistent poverty alongside historical discrimination and mismanagement of tribal resources has resulted in less than 1% of Lakota being agricultural producers. Agricultural income disparity is high, with two-thirds going to non-natives. Mismanagement of tribal lands have left the soils degraded with little organic matter and nutrient deficiencies. South Dakota’s short growing seasons and turbulent extremes of weather require high-tunnels for crop protection. The utilization of high-tunnels have gained in momentum in recent years. Eight high-tunnels went up last year and 11 are already planned to go up in 2020. However, the season extension gained from roll-up sides isn’t as long as it could be, particular for larger scale commercial high-tunnels due to our high winds and the lack of effective windbreaks. We’ve designed a system to seal up the micro-climate of a high-tunnel and heat it using the very same processes Lakota farmers need to build up the health of their soils. The majority of this system, by design, is built around mostly local source materials: pallets, steel drums, compost, waste wood, agricultural residues and manure (for compost & biochar). This makes the system affordable and fixable for our targeted audience

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Evaluate biochar and compost to regenerate degraded soils, reduce the buildup of soluble salts inside high-tunnels.
    2. Use waste heat from compost, wood stoves and biochar generation, to heat water, pushing it through a connected network of steel drums filled with water and antifreeze in winter. Exhaust vents will be closed, fans reversed in winter to circulate the air, sucking the cover down to the ground. In summer, fans and shutters will vent hot air. Currently vented only at sides.
    3. Use plastic sheeting to create micro-growing zones based off of crop hardiness and growing season inside high-tunnels.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.