Thursday, December 29, 2016

Germination & Growth Tests

Winter is a good time to test some of the compost materials we made over the past year. We use small pots in a climate-controlled growth chamber. Each treatment has 5 replicates. We plant 10 cucumber seeds in each pot, water it, and add a humidity dome. We grow for 2 weeks without any additional watering. At the end of two weeks, we count the germinations and the number of secondary leaves. Then we harvest the plants and dry them in a food dehydrator for 24 hours. Finally, we weigh the biomass produced by each type of soil amendment. This gives us a way to compare the effects of different treatments on plants. Here is a collage of photos that illustrates the process:

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Visit to Siskiyou Alpaca

It was time to take some samples of compost at Siskiyou Alpaca. John and Christine Perala-Gardiner raise alpacas for their many values including fiber and the wonderful compost made from their droppings. We have two experimental compost piles with different amounts of added biochar, and control piles with no biochar.

Taking samples from the compost experiments.

Helper Nancy with Christine and John at Siskiyou Alpaca.

Current practice is to clean the barn and pile manure in windrows to compost.

These intelligent animals have the right idea about where to poop!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Making the Fungal Compost

Our gardens appreciate a good balance of helpful fungi. Good compost will help promote that balance. Don's biochar compost is looking pretty good.

Fungi (toadstools and mycelia) are growing on outside hay of my oldest pile that is currently 110-120 degrees F in the center. Mycelia in attached photo are on my recent pile started a couple of weeks ago.
-Don Morrison

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

NRCS CSP Program Biochar Enhancement

See the list of conservation enhancements supported by the NRCS CSP Program, here:

Scroll down and look for:
CONSERVATION ENHANCEMENT ACTIVITY E384135Z Biochar production from woody residue

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Report from the Field

Don Morrison reports: "The 55 gal reservoir is just the right volume for quenching the coals from the 5' kiln by raking and spraying. I also liked the ease of tipping the kiln and dumping by one person with cable attached to handle and 4-wheeler. Next I tried the dry snuff method using the lid sealed with dirt. I use a little bit of water to knock the flames down and then put the lid on. Came back the next day and there were still a few hot spots that need some water to put out. But the char was basically pretty dry. Dry char is lighter and easier to unload than wet, sticky char."

This is how we burn slash in the Oregon Kiln
55 gallon water tank was enough to fully quench this 200 gallon kiln if you dump, rake and spray
An alternative to water quench is the dry snuff. Add a little water to cool initally and then place the lid. Seal the lid with dirt and wait overnight. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

New Biochar Kiln with Turbulator is a Thing of Beauty

A new device from ace inventor Scott McKain:

I have added a turbulator to the exhaust to produce a cleaner burn. It is cut from a piece of stainless and mounted to the wok cowling. Visually it works well. Notice the feedstock is almost cordwood size. I plan to build a similar unit for radiant heat and hot water.

Here are the pics:

NRCS New CSP Program Includes Biochar

While it is not mentioned in this press release, the new CSP program includes payments for making biochar from woody waste. If you are interested in enrolling in the CSP program, contact your local NRCS office.

Release No. 2016.11.005
Todd Peplin, Farm Bill Specialist
Tracy Robillard, Public Affairs Officer

NRCS launches new and improved Conservation Stewardship Program

Apply by Feb. 3 with the Natural Resources Conservation Service

Portland, Ore., Nov. 15, 2016— The nation’s largest voluntary conservation program is getting even better this year with the launch of the new and improved Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
CSP helps farmers, ranchers and family forest owners maintain their existing conservation efforts and adopt additional activities to address natural resource concerns.
“CSP provides incentives for farmers who are already being good stewards of the land and helps them take their conservation efforts to the next level,” said State Conservationist Ron Alvarado. “The changes to the program will give participants more flexibility and choices to adopt conservation enhancements that fit their operation, plus the program will be more transparent and understandable for producers.”
NRCS is now taking applications for the 2017 CSP sign-up. The sign-up deadline for 2017 funding is Feb. 3.  Applications can be submitted at a local USDA Service Center.
In Oregon, CSP applications will be ranked and prioritized for funding within five geographic zones. Eligible applications within each zone will be evaluated based on national, state, and local ranking questions. Read more on the Oregon CSP webpage.
NRCS Oregon enrolls an average of 300,000 acres of working agricultural lands into CSP every year and pays an annual average of $6 million to program participants statewide.
Nationally, NRCS has enrolled 70 million acres of working agricultural lands into CSP. This translates into thousands of farmers and ranchers who have made the choice to voluntarily enroll in the program because it helps them enhance natural resources and improve their business operation.
NRCS has made several changes to CSP this year, which include:
•       Focus on Conservation Planning: CSP now integrates conservation planning logic from start to finish. CSP helps producers better understand what resource concerns are being addressed on their agricultural operation and identify opportunities to address additional resource concerns. 
•       New Screening and Ranking Tools: NRCS developed new tools to determine stewardship eligibility and rank applications. These tools make the application process more transparent, logical and easy to understand. 
•       Additional Enhancements: NRCS has nearly doubled the amount of enhancements (more than 200) available for producers to choose from, which gives participants more flexibility to choose conservation activities that best suit their operation.
•       Consistency in Payments: CSP payments have been re-structured using consistent, straightforward calculations. Payments to implement additional conservation activities will follow set payment schedules similar to other NRCS financial programs.
For more information and to apply, contact a local USDA Service Center or visit the NRCS Oregon website at  
For the latest CSP information and updates, visit the national CSP website.

Friday, November 4, 2016

UBET Biochar Kilns - Data Collection

A number of UBET members now have the new biochar kilns made by UCC. These kilns were made for the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant. As part of the work we are doing for this grant, we are investigating the economic costs of making biochar using these kilns. This includes recording the labor we put into the process and the biochar yield. At the end of the day, the returns from using biochar must justify the cost of producing it.

If you have a UBET kiln, or a kiln you have made yourself, please download and print out this Biochar Burn Data Sheet:

Please use one sheet for each session. Completed sheets can be mailed to:
Kelpie Wilson
PO Box 1444
Cave Junction, OR 97523

Or you can scan it and email it to me:


Monday, October 31, 2016

Another GREAT Biochar Expo!

According to UBET President Scott McKain, this was UBET's 7th Biochar Expo event. The group has learned a lot over those years. Since biochar is such new and unknown technique, it has been invaluable to have this strong learning network for discovery and sharing of knowledge and resources.

For the first time, UBET held the Expo on the Umpqua Community College Campus, and UCC biology professor Ken Carloni spoke to the group about some biochar projects his students are working on. Several students attended the expo and we hope they will continue to investigate biochar as part of their science education.

After a morning of presentations on various aspects of biochar - its impact on soils, plants and water, and the potential to mitigate climate change - we reconvened outside near the UCC garden plots to see the new kilns that the UCC Welding Department fabricated for us and fire a few of them up. We also saw some new innovative designs from UBET members Den Morgan, Scott McKain and Don Morrison.

A new TLUD (Top Lit Up Draft) gasifier design from Scott
WigWam Kiln and Ring of Fire Kiln made by UBET members.
We can make biochar in a Weber grill - perfect for small gardens in town.
A stack of brand new four foot wide kilns made by UCC Welding Department
Thank you welding students and instructors! We love these kilns.
UBET members demonstrated the two-stage method for starting the pyramid-shaped flame cap kilns. Begin by building a loose pile or rick of smaller material in the kiln. Light it on top. Keeping a flame on top at all times will burn up the smoke for a clean burn. Once the initial charge has burned down to glowing coals, add new material one layer at a time until the kiln is full. When all the flames are gone, everything is charred and you can quench with water.
Stack a loose pile or rick in the kiln with small kindling on top
Light the pile on the top. Always keep a flame on top to burn the smoke.
Let the pile burn down to glowing coals and then add more. We did not have time to fill the kiln - that would have taken several hours.

Quench with water when you are done. The new kilns have drains to let the water out.

We made some biochar!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

UBET members, together with Wilson Biochar Associates and the USDA Agricultural Research Service at OSU, conducted a pot trial last spring that compared two kinds of high carbon boiler ash with biochar and lime. We presented the results as a poster at the US Biochar Initiative Symposium in Corvallis last August. The poster is too big to print out and share, so we recently compiled the information into a document that is easier to read. You can download the pdf file here:

Pot trial using ryegrass to determine effects of boiler ash, lime or biochar

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

RESCHEDULED - Biochar Expo - October 29

We have a new date for the 2016 Biochar Expo: Saturday, October 29, 10:00 to 3:00. We will be at UCC at the PE Building, room 10. 

Directions: as you approach campus take the first left and follow the signs to Physical Education. See campus map:

Friday, October 14, 2016

Biochar Expo CANCELLED

We are sorry to announce that the Biochar Expo scheduled for Saturday Oct. 15 at UCC has been cancelled due to weather. There are too many bad weather travel warnings to ignore. We hope to reschedule this event. Stay tuned....

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Report from Mike on Duchess Plots

With 2.4 inches of rain since 10/1/16 the grass is starting to grow.  Mowed all the dried weeds and mulched dried cut grass from harvest in June.  30 year average rainfall for October is 2.73 inches, could triple that by next week. - Mike Burke

You can read the 2016 trial results analysis from OSU here:

Monday, October 3, 2016

Drew Veg Biochar Project

On Wednesday, UBET members visited the Drew Veg Biochar Project site. What a pile of material! We are all thinking about how to process it with hand crews and small kilns. It seems overwhelming, but Don Morrison and Kelpie Wilson worked out the numbers on paper and figured a professional woods crew of 6 laborers and 2 equipment operators could do the job in 6 ten-hour days. See the spreadsheet below. Here are some pictures:
The first of many mountains of biochar feedstock at Drew Veg Biochar
This slash goes on for a quarter mile of spur road.
You are looking at 15 tonnes of biochar, mate.
And here are the numbers, below the fold:

Monday, September 19, 2016


Please join UBET - Umpqua Biochar Education Team - at our annual Biochar Expo on October 15 from 10 am to 3 pm on the Umpqua Community College Campus. The Biochar Expo is a fun-filled day of learning and hands-on experience in making and using biochar for soil improvement.

Biochar is simply charcoal, that when properly made and combined with compost, manure and other nutrients, produces a superior amendment for building soil structure, retaining soil water, and supporting the soil food web of life.

UBET has held the annual expo every year since 2011 at the Discovery Garden at Forks State Park, but this year, UBET wanted to feature the work of the Umpqua Community College Welding Department on the UCC campus.

UCC has fabricated a number of biochar kilns for use in UBET's Biochar Farms and Compost project. UBET envisions a new industry in our region fabricating biochar kilns for farmers and gardeners at all scales. Abundant waste wood with no other use can be transformed into biochar with very little smoke pollution using these "flame cap kilns" designed by UBET volunteers.

The Expo will start with a morning of presentations and short films on biochar science. After a lunch break, UBET volunteers will show you how to make biochar in several kinds of simple devices. We will also demonstrate different ways of processing biochar to prepare it for application to soil.

Please note that the UCC Harvest Festival will be taking place at the same time on campus, and we encourage you explore those activities as well:

Biochar Expo Schedule
10 am to 12 noon - Classroom presentations and short films on the science of biochar and soils
12 to 12:30 - Lunch Break - bring your own or check out the food vendors at the concurrent Harvest Festival
12:30 to 3 pm - Outdoor demonstrations of biochar technologies

For more information, check the UBET website:

Making biochar at the 2015 Biochar Expo

Friday, September 9, 2016

David Yarrow at USBI 2016

Those of us who were able to attend USBI 2016 last month were very impressed with the workshop by David Yarrow (See David's 2-hour workshop was an epic journey "down the wormhole" of biochar. Wish you could have been there. However, the next best thing might be this article from the August 2016 issue of Acres Magazine:

Down the Wormhole: Customizing Biological Methods for Large-Scale Farming. By David Yarrow

Monday, September 5, 2016

UBET Presentations from USBI 2016

Here is a pdf file of the presentation that Don Morrison gave at USBI 2016 on the Drew Veg Biochar project that will use simple kilns to make biochar in the forest:

Download File

Here is a pdf file of the presentation that Kelpie Wilson gave at USBI 2016 on the UBET Conservation Innovation Grant project:

Download File

Here is the pdf file for our Poster, Pot trial to determine application rates of urea with biochar or boiler ash in an acidic pasture soil. By Don Morrison, Kelpie Wilson, Claire Phillips, Kristin Trippe, Viola Manning.

Bokashi Biochar at Willow Witt

Soils are on the alkaline side at Willow Witt Ranch, so we cultured the biochar we made with bokashi - a lactic acid bacteria fermentation. This reduced the pH of the biochar from about 8 to about 6.  Next stop for this bokashi-biochar after 3 weeks of fermentation will be the floor of the goat barn where it will soak up goat excretions, reducing odors and preventing the loss of valuable nitrogen. Barn sweepings then end up in the big compost pile for eventual application to the veggie garden.

Thank you to Southern Oregon Bokashi for donating bokashi bran for this project!
Barrels of biochar fermenting with bokashi
The recipe 
You can see white fuzz on the top of this fermented biochar - it is a beneficial soil bacteria called actinomycetes

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016

Capital Press covers the Biochar Conference

Great article on the USBI Biochar Conference in the Capital Press:

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Biochar, as multiple speakers said during a four-day conference at Oregon State University Aug. 22-25, has shown potential to improve soil pH, retain moisture, sequester carbon, filter water and clean up polluted mining and industrial sites.
Its application to agriculture is promising, especially in areas afflicted by drought and swaths of dead trees in public forests, said one of the speakers, Raymond Baltar, biochar senior project manager with Sonoma Ecology Center, a non-profit based in Eldridge, Calif.
“This should be a no-brainer, but it’s not,” Baltar said.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

USBI Biochar Conference in Corvallis

Don Morrison, Scott McKain and Kelpie Wilson of UBET attended the 2016 USBI Biochar conference in Corvallis Oregon - The Synergy of Science and Industry: Biochar’s Connection to Ecology, Soil, Food, and Energy, August 22nd - 25th.

It was an overwhelming amount of information, with great people and wonderful networking between industry, academics, farmers and gardeners. We had a UBET table inside the conference and a display space outside for our kilns.

Scott McKain of UBET and Peter Hirst of Integrated Land Stewardship in the UBET display area.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Forage harvest at Duchess Horse Sanctuary

UBET began a field trial last year of biochar at different application rates in 10'x10' plots of pasture at the Duchess Horse Sanctuary near Oakland, Oregon. Thanks again to our late, beloved leader, Jim Long for starting this project back in 2014. We wish Jim could have seen the results from this years growth. We had made another application of biochar in fall of 2015, and the differences were observable this year. Thanks to OSU-ARS researchers Kristin Trippe and Claire Phillips and their students for organizing the harvest and for analyzing the results. We will post their report soon, but here are some pictures from the harvest on June 15. One very noticeable difference: the plots with the most biochar had more fescue and other perennials. The plots with less or no biochar had a lot more weedy stuff.

The plots at Duchess Horse Sanctuary
Mike Burke of UBET and Kristin Trippe of OSU-ARS harvest a square meter from a plot
A group effort to harvest the sample squares
Barbara Long bags the harvest

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Compost Workshop at Tierra Buena Worm Farm

What a great day! We had about 30 people attending the workshop at John Livingston's wonderful worm farm and biochar workshop. Kelpie Wilson gave a presentation in the morning, followed by hands on instruction in making bokashi. Everyone got a bag of bokashi to take home. Lots of good discussion and sharing of information, topped off by the fabulous Potluck Compost Pile we constructed in a wire bin about 5’ in diameter. Below is a list of the materials that were added, in layers (thanks to Viviane for taking notes and recording all this):
  • bottom layer: greens
  • water
  • biochar in chunky form
  • straw
  • dirt for minerals (rock dust could also be used)
  • biochar (one bucket)
  • water
  • green grass from fresh cuttings
  • water
  • hay
  • more manure
  • wood chips or shavings (water only the edges because the middle will take care of itself)
  • coffee grounds
  • greens
  • kitchen scraps
  • one more bucket of biochar (20 gallons so far)
  • rabbit manure
  • hay, dry grass
  • chicken manure
  • dirt
  • green (grass clippings) -- just one inch of it or it will clump
  • manure
  • dirt
  • coffee grounds
  • grass -- for more carbon 
  • rabbit manure
  • 4' of dry grass
  • manure +grass
  • one bag of commercial biochar
  • oak leaves (but it was mentioned that they do not break down rapidly unless shredded)
  • dirt
  • hay....
Tierra Buena Worm Farm

Kelpie talks about bokashi and other things to add to biochar

We had a BIG crowd!

Carl and Coralee came all the way from the coast.

M A and Gani get hands on with the bokashi 
Potluck compost - Yum!

Many hands make light work

Monday, May 2, 2016

Biochar Compost Workshop May 28 - Roseburg

Please come on out to the Tierra Buena Worm Farm for the Biochar Compost Workshop.

Here is the poster - please print it out and help spread the word
Biochar Compost Workshop Poster to download and print

Using Biochar with Manure and Compost
Saturday, May 28, from 10am-3pm
Tierra Buena Worm Farm
8530 North Bank Rd, Roseburg, OR

Join the Umpqua Biochar Education Team (UBET) and Kelpie Wilson of Wilson Biochar Associates for this hands-on biochar workshop.
  • Learn about the chemistry and biology of biochar compost
  • Learn how to construct a compost pile with correct C:N ratios 
  • Learn how to make bokashi – a fermented fertilizer
  • Learn how to make your own high carbon fertilizers by charging biochar with nutrients and microbes

If you like, bring items for the Pot Luck Compost Pile we will build:
  • Straw, grass clippings, sawdust, shavings or wood chips
  • Food scraps or manure (please bring in closed buckets)
  • Biochar

Please bring a sack lunch and a chair to sit in for the slide show
Also, we will be outdoors part of the time and working with wet and dirty materials, so dress appropriately and bring work gloves.  More info at Or call Kelpie Wilson at 541-218-9890.

A Few Days in the Life of the CIG Project

Here are a few pictures from last week's activities working on the Conservation Innovation Grant project that UBET/SURCP is sponsoring. We are essentially creating a learning network for farmers and ranchers, helping them make biochar from waste biomass and learning how to use it to compost manure.

As part of the project, Don Morrison got some help from USDA researchers Kristin Trippe and Claire Phillips to design and implement a pot trial study of three different biochars using his pasture soil. He wanted to know which biochar was best and also whether he should add additional nitrogen to the soil. The growth part of the study was performed in Don's greenhouse, but we had help from the USDA researchers to harvest the tiny blades of grass, dry them, weigh them, and perform other analysis. On Monday last week, Don and I drove up to Oregon State University in Corvallis to work with the researchers to process our 50 small pots. Science is a lot of work! We will report the results soon.

Then on Tuesday, Don accompanied me to visit two of our ranchers, Troy Michaels and Jerry Sabol. We wanted to look at Troy's manure pile with added biochar and talk to Jerry about how to make biochar from the excess wood on his property where he has been doing oak savannah restoration.

Here is what our two days looked like:

Americorp Crew Learns about Biochar at Elkton

From Greg Flick:
Here are some photos of the Biochar workshop that we had April 28 at the ECEC, Elkton Community Education Center.  From the top:  OJ talking about his brick chimney retort kiln; brick chimney retort kiln without the chimney; flame cap kiln; and Scott McCain with a Weber kiln.  The audience was mainly Americorp volunteers working at the ECEC.  There were also about as many interested folks from the community that had heard about the workshop at the Glide Wildflower Show and the Roseburg News Review.  In total there were about 20 participants. ECEC has a big feedstock pile and is looking for an open burn or a demonstration of the Oregon Kiln in the future. Great workshop with a lot of interest generated and a lot of knowledge shared.  Posters of the May 28th compost workshop were available to the participants.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Making Biochar with an Air Burner in Ashland Watershed

We have talked and speculated a lot about whether air curtain incinerators can make biochar. Today I saw it in action on a Forest Service field trip in the Ashland Watershed. Air Burners are disposing of large landing piles of green slash mixed with plenty of dirt. Turns out the moisture and dirt prevent the powerful blower from getting to air to every part of the burner, creating perfect conditions for making biochar!

See pictures here:

Here are some pictures of one site that is finished. The biochar has been mixed into the soil and trees planted. It looks really nice.

Biochar Workshop at Frog Farm

On April 23 we held a biochar compost workshop at Frog Farm in Cave Junction. About 25 people attended and heard a lecture by Kelpie, toured the Frog Farm barns and compost piles and enjoyed a farm fresh lunch. After lunch we headed to Kelpie's biochar workshop down the street and saw various biochar compost experiments and biochar used in vermiculture.

Kelpie's presentation in the Frog Farm Gazebo

Tour of the Frog Farm goat barn

Frog Farm compost pile and screen setup

Worms love biochar!