Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Checklist for a Biochar Burn

Here's a checklist of things you need to consider when planning a biochar burn:
  • You need a water source, first of all, both for safety and for quenching the char. 
  • Several shovels and rakes for spreading and cooling the char when it's done.
  • Old steel roofing material is helpful for spreading and cooling the char without getting dirt or other contamination.
  • Dry wood. A moisture meter is helpful. It's not very efficient to use wood that is more than 20% moisture. 
  • Safety - Helpers should all have leather gloves and wear cotton or wool clothing that won't melt. These piles can put out a lot of heat! It is good for at least one person to have a fire helmet and a face shield. 
  • Get a burn permit from the local officials. 
  • Ignition - You can use a propane weed burner type torch for ignition, but all you need is a match if you have plenty of dry kindling. Light it on the top. 
  • Make sure the kindling is somewhat densely packed so it will sustain a flame and allow the flame to move down to the lower layers. It seems slow to start but pretty soon you'll find the whole pile is ablaze. 
  • Use a wind screen if conditions are breezy. Even if wind is not a factor, a wind screen will help hold in heat for a safer and more efficient biochar burn.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Biochar Burn at Daisy Hill Farm

Daisy Hill Farm owner Meadow Martell was happy that we made a big dent in a multi-year accumulation of old grape vines, blackberries and other woody waste. Meadow covered the piles back in the fall with used truck tarps from Sharp's Tarps in Grants Pass (a great resource, people!). As a result, the wood was stayed dry - mostly between 15% and 25% moisture and was suitable for biochar production. A small crew of neighbors showed up to help and share in the biochar bounty. Meadow will use the biochar in compost and in the chicken yard.

It was a misty morning down by the Illinois River in Cave Junction
We load the kilns heaping full with loose packed grapevines and light the top 
Once the initial charge burns down to a heap of glowing coals, we add more, in layers

We lit these at 9:30 in the morning. By 1:00 pm we have added the last layer 
At 2 pm the last layer has burned down and we are ready to quench

Meadow hoses down the char
Total harvest is more than 2 cubic yards of biochar

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Rabbitry Challenge

Biochar made in the WigWam has already been applied to a section of the rabbitry. Don and Judy Atchison raise these beautiful show rabbits in a well-designed facility, however, one problem is a lack of drainage for the manure pits and resulting ammonia levels are a bit high. John Livingston is working with Don to alleviate the problem using biochar and inoculation of EM-1, a culture of microbes that includes lactic acid bacteria and soil microbes. EM-1 adds acidity to the manure bed, which helps to inhibit ammonia formation.
Don with a prize-winning rabbit
The rabbit manure piles up
Manure pits with bedding to help absorb odors. Soon biochar and EM-1 will be added

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Pot Trial Using Pasture Soil

UBET has several ongoing projects looking at the use of biochar for pasture. Here's a quote from a recent Roseburg News Review article:
“Agriculture has a large economical impact in Douglas County,” said Shelby Filley, regional livestock and forage specialist for the Oregon State University Extension Service. According to the latest report, the 2012 census data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were 1,927 farms in the county, covering 382,386 acres. The total value of agricultural products sold in the county was $64,803,000, and Filley said most of that value comes from livestock, which is almost double the value of crops. 
UBET started a biochar plot trial at the Duchess Horse Sanctuary that is ongoing. Several of the farmers participating in the UBET Conservation Innovation Grant are cattle ranchers. And most of our farmers have at least some livestock: pigs, sheep, goats or poultry.

In the interest of learning more about the response of pasture soils to biochar and liming, UBET member Don Morrison is conducting a pot trial using soil from his pasture that compares three different kinds of biochar with each other and also with a lime only treatment. Half of the treatments have added nitrogen in the form of urea. OSU researchers are helping to guide the experiment.

Don carefully adds pre-measured soil to pots that will grow one ryegrass plant each
Urea added at a rate of 100 lbs/ac looks like this much when added to 25 small pots