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'carbon farming' i.e., compost ... for pastures! 'Can Dirt Save the Earth?'

 
pollinator
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I think this is a great article.. hope it's been posted many other places on Permies (please delete if this is too redundant ; )  So glad the message is getting out to the 'clueless' : )

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/18/magazine/dirt-save-earth-carbon-farming-climate-change.html

 
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I really dislike it when people print "Dirt" when they really mean "Soil". Dirt is inert, lifeless, and it takes living organisms to pull carbon out of the air.  

This article is actually very good, pointing out mistakes and cures to those mistakes. I give the article a 9 and the title gets a -2
 
nancy sutton
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I think they want to attract a maximum # of eyeballs, and 'dirt' works better for the 'surprise/intrigue' value.  I think that is a very good strategy in order to spread the word to the 'clueless'  (who probably really want the clues!  : )
 
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I loved this article! One question I had, how exactly did the pasture return to a carbon banking field from a carbon losing field? I know they spread compost, but what microbes were in that compost, anything special? Bacterial or fungal? What types? Do I need to know, or will any compost work?
 
 
nancy sutton
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I wondered how that 'miracle' happened also.... but more will, apparently, be revealed with further scientific monitoring and analysis.  Good stuff coming :)
 
J W Richardson
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I hope so!
 
nancy sutton
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I don't know how, or if, this ties in some way or other with the first article, but this TED talk really thrills me.  Especially the sauerkraut juice aspect, that kind of got lost (in the biochar compost stragegy).  I think 'bokashi' is another way of pickling organic 'stuff' (including manure...maybe human manure!) with lactobacillus bacteria, so that it doesn't 'rot' until it is put into the 'compost pile' for the 'bugs' to eat it up.  Enjoy!

 
J W Richardson
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More off topic, There is this guy in New Mexico taking a little different approach to composting cow manure, and claims that the fungal community desalinates the end product, He is not turning piles and lets them sit for a year, using perforated pipe initially to get air into the pile...

http://www.ecofarmingdaily.com/compost-the-promise-of-microbes/

Here I use chicken manure for my animal inputs, and have a system where I put new hay down to cover the manure in the coop every couple of days, pretty much the same as the tedguy was saying.  In the summer everything dries, no ammonia fumes, but in the winter during long freezes the manure just freezes and then when it thaws it really releases a lot of ammonia.
This winter I am putting much more char down as a layer right on top of the manure before covering, so will see how much I need in order to capture that ammonia. In the past I have removed and composted all that, but it would be nice to not have those emissions escape, especially since they are fertilizer.
Since I make char once a year, in the fall, this works well. But where will all that char come from for an industrial sized operation? For me I use almost all berry canes and fruit tree prunings, so these systems work well for a small outfit.
 Industrial ag still needs to be reorganized into much smaller units, no?

 
nancy sutton
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I agree with the 'devolution' of agriculture, that's why I find 'Essex Farm' in NY so interesting.  Re: scaling biochar, I think they can 'char/burn' almost any kind of carbon...IIRC.   And am excited with seeing if your char can/will capture the escaping ammonia.   And your use of canes and prunings for biochar.  I'll check the biochar threads to see if you've posted your system there,  but wonder if they only work for you when dried out... I have to make some sort of covered area to dry, I think.  

Wow, that article is ... revolutionary!!  Only 1/3 way thru, and it seems like a stationary, long term system that processes manure with fungi to produce an extremely superior compost !!   Claims our current bacteria heavy method is bad for soil... have to get back to reading it!   And the building instructions show an easy peasy 'bioreactor', i.e., compost pile!  Good stuff : )  Thanks

update... finished article 'power of microbes' - Holy Mackeral!  'Innoculation' might explain the success of OP California pasture results!!  Innoculating the seeds... and minimum applied to pastures.... might explain why the Biodynamics practice with cow horns packed with manure, and buried for.. a year? ... are so powerful.  Amazing.   (Makes one wonder what other 'new - old' stuff is waiting to be discovered!!   Monsanto (er, Bayer now?), et al, look out!
 
J W Richardson
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Re the prunings, I have posted in the biochar forum, a quick summary, I use a simple pit, and stack everything under some pines nearby that give some rain protection. After the first rain in the fall gets the surroundings wet enough, I burn. Most hasn’t had a chance to get too wet at that point. If I go slow with adding stuff that wants to smother, like canes with leaves, I can get a pretty clean burn. Not the perfect system, but easily attainable by anyone with no initial cost. Better than the traditional burn pile, haha.
 It should be a matter of biochar quantity for the ammonia, I am hoping.
 
nancy sutton
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Thanks very much for your burn description... seems feasible for me : )   Will go find you in Biochar threads....
 
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@JW - With absorbing ammonia emissions from manure, biochar will work ok, but would work better if the whole mix was submerged in water. Can I suggest an extremely thick layer of hay? Many composters use a thick (sometimes compacted and moistened) layer of mulch to 'cap off' their pile and reduce emissions. A tarp over the lot can also contain and condense some of the gasses.
Biochars ability to absorb gasses is related to the duration of high-temperature ranges in it's production. A good biochar for the soil is less ideal for absorbing gasses, activated charcoal (made at higher temps) is great at absorption, not so great for the soil.
Also, if your worried about emissions - burning wet stuff slowly, smoldering matter in a pit is about as emissions intensive as it can get. It's also quite bad for your health. It's potentially worse than a traditional burn pile due to increased dioxin and PM outputs.

That was a very decent article in the NYT. Great to read that individual states are trying to roll out soil education, carbon credits and research in this field. The soil-carbon plan for France is especially ambitious given its national scale.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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J W Richardson wrote:I loved this article! One question I had, how exactly did the pasture return to a carbon banking field from a carbon losing field? I know they spread compost, but what microbes were in that compost, anything special? Bacterial or fungal? What types? Do I need to know, or will any compost work?
 


Compost (well good compost at any rate) has many species of bacteria working both with and against each other, then there are the spring tails, nematodes, amoeba, flagellates and finally earth worms come to feast on all the previously mentioned organisms.
I suspect they created their compost from what ever plant matter that was left over and manure was added in for the minerals manure can bring.
A field can turn from loosing carbon (usually exposed soil is involved) to carbon banking just by being completely covered in growing plants.  Golf courses are a good example for this, the grass fairways, greens and rough can sequester three times as much carbon as a crop field of the same area. The reason is because the grass plants are closer together and thus keep more of the soil covered (no escape for the carbon) and there will be much more respiration going on in that golf course grass (more mass area of plant material with greater O2/CO2 exchange.

Redhawk
 
J W Richardson
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Jondo Almondo wrote:@JW - With absorbing ammonia emissions from manure, biochar will work ok, but would work better if the whole mix was submerged in water. Can I suggest an extremely thick layer of hay? Many composters use a thick (sometimes compacted and moistened) layer of mulch to 'cap off' their pile and reduce emissions. A tarp over the lot can also contain and condense some of the gasses.
Biochars ability to absorb gasses is related to the duration of high-temperature ranges in it's production. A good biochar for the soil is less ideal for absorbing gasses, activated charcoal (made at higher temps) is great at absorption, not so great for the soil.
Also, if your worried about emissions - burning wet stuff slowly, smoldering matter in a pit is about as emissions intensive as it can get. It's also quite bad for your health. It's potentially worse than a traditional burn pile due to increased dioxin and PM outputs.

That was a very decent article in the NYT. Great to read that individual states are trying to roll out soil education, carbon credits and research in this field. The soil-carbon plan for France is especially ambitious given its national scale.



Hi Jondo, not sure if you were thinking I am doing a low temp slow burn for the biochar? I am going for the opposite, a fast burning fire being fed in small amounts to prevent smothering, then water quenched as soon as the last branches die down.
 
  Hi Nancy, so far so good with the chicken ammonia, I am adding enough char to completely cover droppings every couple days, then topping with more hay, no ammonia fumes so far. I will update in a week or so, finally getting some temps warm enough to really test it.
 
J W Richardson
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So, ran out of biochar, but overall success. It had no ammonia massive release, but it could have been headed there, had a day where it started to get strong but not super bad ammonia. I went to Jondo’s idea, a really thick layer of hay as a cap, and that worked to go back to odor ‘free’.
 This will all head outside to compost once the snow melts.

 Just saw this article from Cornell-

http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2019/03/biochar-soaks-ammonia-pollution-study-shows

 
nancy sutton
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This serendipitous series of articles, and JW's practice, etc. reminds me of Thoreau's "if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams (er... theories?)  ... he will meet with a success (a Cornell article?) unexpected in common hours" : )  
 
nancy sutton
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And, hey, here's from the 'Biochar vs Hugelculture' thread in biochar forum...."The very first thing I am going to do with the next batch of available char is spread it in the chicken cave.  I did this on a very tiny scale last year with some char from a laboratory  and it seemed to have a great effect.  Once the chickens tilled it in the air sweetened up because the char absorbs so much."  It's from Marc Flora's (long) posting (2009) on how he planned to handle zillons of tons of bug-killed conifers north of Helena, MT.  
 
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