Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Farm Kilns Complete

Umpqua Community College Welding Department has been fantastic! They have made every kind of kiln we have asked them to, and done a beautiful job. Here are the latest kilns. These are heavy duty versions of the light-weight forestry kilns. They have fork pockets so they can be moved around with a tractor. They will be most useful on a farm or other large property where brush piles are dispersed, but reachable by a tractor. A farmer can bring the kiln to the brush pile, char it, and then pick up the whole kiln full of char and take it to where it will be used.

New heavy duty kilns. All four kilns have fork pockets, and one kiln also has a tilt-dump mechanism and a "milk carton" spout for pouring

Bottom of a kiln showing drain and fork pockets

Hinge mechanism on the dump kiln

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Duchess Field Trial Harvest #2

Biochar field trials are challenging because biochar often does not show its full effects in soil right away. It's best to follow a trial for more than one year to see the results. For instance, this important study from Australia - Biochar built soil carbon over a decade by stabilizing rhizodeposits - monitored a biochar trial for ten years to learn that biochar not only added carbon to soil, it helped to stabilize additional soil carbon.

At the Duchess Horse Sanctuary, UBET volunteers helped to establish a long term field trial with researchers from Oregon State University. The trial is now in its third year and our team showed up to harvest biomass and take soil samples from the plots. We will share the results once the OSU researchers finish analyzing the materials.
Taking a soil sample at the Duchess Horse Sanctuary biochar field trial

Biochar in the Rabbitry

Grant Scheve and Oregon Biochar Solutions came through for us again! Grant donated another tote of biochar to use in Don and Judy Atchison's rabbitry. Don and Judy raise prize-winning Rex Rabbits. We hope the biochar will improve the environment for these beautiful animals by absorbing ammonia from their manure. John Livingston of Tierra Buena Worm Farm uses the rabbit manure in his worm beds. We are testing his worm castings for potential pathogens, and we will see if adding the biochar to the manure helps reduce fecal coliform bacteria in the worm castings.

Monday, June 19, 2017

More Biochar Barns

At Michaels Ranch, the winter barn was cleaned out about a month ago, and the manure was piled. Last year, we made two piles, one that was plain manure, as usual, and one that had high carbon boiler ash (about 40% char) mixed into it during the cleanout. When we measured the pile temperatures last year, we found that neither pile got much hotter than 90 degrees F. So the manure did not really compost properly.

This year was different! This year, the high carbon ash was added to the barn at the beginning of winter, so it was well mixed into the manure by the action of cow hooves. It was also in place to capture nitrogen from urine that might otherwise have volatilized and been lost to the atmosphere. Lo and behold - the piles are getting hot! We measured 130 degrees F - definitely thermophilic compost.

Manure pile with high carbon ash well-mixed

Piles are getting hot - 130 degrees F.

The consistency of the pile is very nice - it is well mixed and nicely granular. It should flow well through the manure spreader.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Willow Witt Ranch goat barn cleaning day

Today was the day for cleaning out the goat barn at Willow Witt Ranch. The farmers had been adding small amounts of biochar to the bedding for odor control during the winter, but there was not enough biochar (about a half a cubic yard of biochar made last year) to make a big difference, although the workers reported it did help with ammonia smells. Due to the extreme wet winter, we were not able to make much biochar this year. Luckily, our friend Grant Scheve of Oregon Biochar Solutions decided to donate a 2 cubic yard tote of biochar to this project. Not only did he deliver the biochar, Grant even helped out with the barn cleaning!

Some of the biochar available from Oregon Biochar Solutions
Grant Scheve helped us shovel out the old manure pack. When you walk into the barn, the ammonia smell is not so bad, but when you start digging up the pack, a lot of ammonia is released and the smell can be overwhelming.

As we dug up the manure pack, we sprinkled biochar on top and the effect was immediate. Farm workers told us that in the past, they would wear respirators while doing this job, but the biochar really made a difference and we could do the job without respirators. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Biochar for Arborists and Tree Service Professionals

One of the objectives we have for developing the Oregon Kiln is to see if it can work for arborists and foresters working on private land. In our region, many people have trees or small forests on their land that need management, including thinning and brush disposal. Often, professionals are hired to do the job. How can tree service businesses use the Oregon Kiln to make money?

Here is a list of things to think about if you are wanting to start a business turning people's burn piles to biochar:
  • Price for chipping - $200/hr
  • Price for biochar burning - $200/hr
  • Separate firewood from small branches & brush
  • Customer gets biochar made from small brush, valued at $250/cy
  • Arborist gets the firewood to sell
  • Or you could do it the other way around - maybe the customer wants the firewood and has no interest in the biochar - then you could take the biochar and sell it.
  • No expensive chipper to maintain
  • Burn permit is required
  • No smoke to bother the neighbors
  • Customer gets biochar carbon sequestration bragging rights

Biochar carbon sequestration bragging rights: 
  • Half of the carbon in the wood will be sequestered in the soil as biochar for thousands of years. 
  • If the wood had been left to rot on the ground, most would be back in the atmosphere as CO2 within several years if it is small branches, a little longer for bigger branches. 
  • Wood chips decompose even more quickly. 
  • Biochar is a great way to sequester carbon from wood long term. 
  • The only other ways to sequester carbon from wood are to use it in buildings (but there is a lot of sawmill waste) or sinking large logs in water or burying them deep underground.

Jeff Meier processes brush on a job, using the Oregon Kiln

Jeff made about one cubic yard of biochar in two hours. With another kiln, he could have made twice as much.

Steel fabricator Brian Vicklund (L) sold a kiln to Michael Burns (R) who will use it in his brush disposal business

Finished kilns in Brian Vicklund's shop in White City, Oregon

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Field Trial Results

Four biochar field trials are now established as part of the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant. Three of them are pasture, but one is a 60-foot bed of bok choy. The first harvest was on Friday and the produce was sold at the Cave Junction Farmer's Market.

Captain Charcoal at Glide Elementary

Here is Don Morrison at the Glide Elementary Plant Sale. The event was at the school garden where each teacher has a raised bed. We built a compost pile with biochar from Oregon Biochar Solutions. It was a pleasant morning talking with interested folks.

Oregon Kiln Travels to Utah

On May 17, Kelpie Wilson delivered four Oregon Kilns to Utah State's extension department. She also gave a workshop including 90 minutes of classroom information on biochar followed by a hands-on demonstration of the Oregon Kiln. This simple kiln design is starting to catch on and we are excited that Utah State will be training forestry workers and firefighters in how to use the kilns. The kiln is an open source design and we hope that people will make many of them and use them to make biochar from forestry and fuel reduction waste.

More info on Utah's program and pictures here:

Here is a video of the biochar demonstration:

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Field Trial at Daisy Hill Farm

Field Trial at Daisy Hill Farm. This is a pasture establishment, converting from an old vineyard. We rototilled and planted with a diverse polyculture.