Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Worms and Biochar

Wednesday, April 19 was a biochar play day at John Livingston's Tierra Buena Worm Farm. John has set up a complete system to recycle organic wastes into worm castings. He also has a well organized biochar production center. The UBET crew made 46 cubic feet of biochar in about 3 hours, using 3 kilns. And our wood was kind of wet, although dry pallets helped to get it going. Kelpie forgot to bring the propane torch so a lot of ingenuity was needed to light the piles. As usual the UBET crew rose to the occasion.

UBET's collection of biochar kilns at work.
John taught us the secrets of worm wrangling.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Burn Piles: Biochar and Conventional

Here are some pictures of burn piles on the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest, burned in December 2015. Some were done the conventional way, with the objective of incinerating as much biomass as possible. Others were top-lit and then extinguished with water in order to preserve the charcoal. You can see that the conventional method burned the organic soil layer down to mineral dirt and rocks. Nothing grows there now, and where the piles were on slopes, erosion has started.

In contrast, biochar burn piles have new sprouts of ferns, wildflowers and other plants.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Field Trials Established!

As part of UBET's NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant, we are establishing field trials to test biochar compost on several farms. The first field trial was set up last fall at Michaels Ranch. Now we have two more, Don Morrison's pasture and a new pasture at Daisy Hill Farm planted with mixed forage species for pastured poultry. We managed to grab a few sunny days between rains to get these field trials established. Here are some pictures:
Don Morrison's pasture gets a biochar treatment
At Daisy Hill Farm we mixed a biochar compost with some plain biochar

Applying the biochar compost mixture

These bins have alpaca manure with different amounts of biochar. They will be used in a veggie bed field trial at Siskiyou Alpaca. We will be planting 60 row feet of bok choy next weekend. Get ready for stir fry!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

New Forest Service Research paper

Researchers at the US Forest Service have just published a paper that includes some information about UBET's work:

Methods to Reduce Forest Residue Volume after Timber Harvesting and Produce Black Carbon

There is a picture of our Oregon Kiln, a quote from Don Morrison, and a link to the UBET website. 

It also confirms our notion that we can make a good bit of biochar just from correctly constructed burn piles. We will get to prove this concept with our Drew Veg Biochar project next fall. Please contribute!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What We Have Been Up to...

UBET members have been active! Here are some pictures from events and activities so far this spring:

IVHS Careers Field Trip:
On Thursday, March 23, Kelpie Wilson and colleagues in Takilma, Oregon led a field trip for Illinois Valley High School students to the Page Creek Project, a forestry collaborative that is sponsoring projects on public and private forest land to improve forest health. Biochar is one of the forest products we have been making. We talked to students about job opportunities in forest restoration, resource management, wildland firefighting, and tourism. We also had a great time romping in the woods, playing in the creek and making S'mores over the biochar bonfire. What a great bunch of kids!

Lookinglass Garden Club meeting:

We had a great presentation at Neil Hadleys on Thursday March 16th. We fired 2  flame cap  kilns and demonstrated the art of making biochar to the Lookinglass Garden Club at Neils wonderful digs.  UBET members: M.A. Hansen, O.J Romo, Neil Hadley, and Gregory Flick participated in the demonstration.  All good. - Greg Flick

UBET member Mike Burke has been out checking on the biochar field trial plots at the Duchess Sanctuary. Here is his report: 
A spring time view of the Jim Long Biochar Plots at Duchess Horse Sanctuary, Douglas County, Oregon.  The grass is starting to grow, up 2 to 4 inches.  Some plots show more clover than others with other broad leaf plants coming back to life.  Definitely no shortage of rain this year, since 10/1/16 to date at our place there has been 49.27 inches, 30 year average from 10/1 to 9/30 is 42 inches.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

UBET Members Giving Biochar Presentations All Spring!

From Scott: On Saturday, I made presentations to “Spring into Gardening” OSU Extension one day course. The first was building healthy soils and the second was techniques for producing backyard biochar. Steve Renquist, Extension Agent, was instrumental in both classes. The effort confirmed the idea of going to the interested audience where they live. We had vigorous discussions from the students who had deep gardening experience. I expect there are a few wheels turning as I write this. We had 28 students for the first class and 12 for the second.

More upcoming presentations:

  • Neal Hadley will present to the Lookingglass Garden Club March meeting on Thursday, March 16 at 10am. Call Neal at 541-530-3953 for more information.
  • We have Tree School on March 31 at Phoenix School. This is presented by OSU Extension. Don Morrison and Scott McKain will make the presentation.
  • Kelpie Wilson will teach a biochar class, Backyard Biochar: From Woodland to Farm, for the OSU Extension Living on Your Land – Tree School Rogue conference on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at RCC in Grants Pass from 1-2:30pm. More info here:
  • The UBET display will be at the Earth Day Celebration on April 22 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Scott and other volunteers will be there.
  • The Master Gardeners Plant Sale is May 6 at the fairgrounds. Gani and Scott will have the display there.
  • On May 12 and 13, Kelpie and UBET members will be demonstrating our kilns and open burn methods at the Southern Oregon Firewise Expo at Jackson County Fire District 3; 8333 Agate Road in White City. Join federal, state and local fire, forestry and emergency partners on Friday, May 12th and Saturday, May 13th from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fire personnel from multiple local agencies will facilitate several interactive demonstrations that will highlight how you and your family can better prepare yourselves and your home for fire season. This is a great opportunity to reach the general public. Friday is the day that a lot of school children will be there.

Josephine Soil & Water Conservation Symposium

On Feb 25, Kelpie Wilson gave a presentation and biochar demonstration at Pacifica Gardens in Williams for the Josephine Soil & Water Conservation Back-to-Basics Series for Southern Oregon Growers. 
Kelpie emphasized the value of biochar as an ingredient in container mixes. Biochar can substitute for perlite and peat, both of which are energy intensive and polluting to extract, manufacture and transport. Using one of the UBET kilns, Kelpie showed participants how they could make biochar from their own materials, on site. 

Report on Soil Health and Drought Resistance Keyline Design Workshop

From UBET Member David Maesulec:

I attended the “Soil Health and Drought Resistance Keyline Design” Workshop presented by Owen Hablutzel in Hesperus, CO from April 2-4, 2016. Over the course, Mr. Hablutzel covered a wide range of topics ranging from keyline design integration to permaculture to holistic management.
In addition to keyline design, we also covered permaculture and resilience science. These teach us that we must remain adaptable or transformable because there can always be change and uncertainty. In order to be resilient, we have to develop the capacity to react to disturbances to create a positive outcome.
Here, we must ask ourselves what the nature of our environment is. What will nature permit here? Most importantly, we must ask what nature will help us do. Too often, nature is pushed then broken. We see the effects of this in modern industrialized farming. Nature works best with human intervention, provided that we respect its boundaries.

Click here to read David's full report on the workshop. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Plant Growth Assay Reports Now Online

Plant Growth Assays testing different biochar compost materials made by farmer participants in the Conservation Innovation Grant are now online. You can read them here:

Growth Test #1 - cattle manure with and without biochar

Growth Test #2 - worm castings with char; composted biochar

Growth Test #3 - alpaca manure compost with and without biochar

You can see clear differences between alpaca compost with biochar (L) and without (R).

Thursday, February 9, 2017

New Report on Turning Shelterbelt Biomass to Biochar

Wilson Biochar Associates has completed a feasibility analysis on turning dead trees that were planted in shelterbelts throughout the Great Plains into biochar. The study was funded by North Dakota Forest Service and NDSU. You can read the report here:

The techniques discussed could also be useful for orchard removal. We relied a lot on the work of the Sonoma Biochar Initiative in developing the biochar technique called the Conservation Burn. You can learn more about SBI's work at:

Pictures: upper left - a typical burn pile in the Dakotas; lower left - a pile of vineyard prunings in Sonoma, California; right: Sonoma Biochar Initiative conducts trainings for farmers who want to learn the Conservation Burn method of converting burn piles to biochar.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

​From Mike Burke on January 12:
Here is latest picture of Duchess Plots as of this morning.  There is deer damage to fencing that I was able to mend with twine, but there is a hole in need of 4'x4' patch.  Not sure who has any of this material left over from when we put it up?