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Responding To Paul Wheaton's comments on compost and biochar

 
Jeff R Hodgins
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Paul Wheaton says don't make compost because carbon and nitrogen will be lost to the air. He says feed waste to animals. That may have some small effect on the gasification rate compared to composting but ultimately when the animal dies it still gases off. I liked what he said about putting waste under mulch, that would potentially have a nitrogen storing effect but the carbon would still gasify somewhat rapidly. He also says that he's not a fan of biochar. I'm wondering if that is because of the emissions produced when making the biochar or because of potential misuse of biochar resulting in crop failure.

Even though gases are produced during pyrolysis these gases are less than what would be produced if the wood where left to rot. Also by adding the products of slow pyrolysis to the soil more nitrogen can then be stored in that soil.

I don't even believe in the whole CO2 based climate change theory but I can see why if you did believe that you would like the idea of biochar if you truly understood the chemistry of it. Also biochar works if you do it right. Loading it with nutrients once it is made, using slow pyrolysis with some extra wood ashes mixed in with the wood that is to be pyrolysed, in order to promote the formation of larger molecules and reduce phytotoxicity.

On our home farm they/we have been making charcoal for use as fuel periodically for 30 years or so. Some of the Charcoal is lost in the soil and the results are obvious. The only negative result I have seen from char is one time we left a lot on the surface and the growth was retarded for a time until the PH/ N returned to normal. The land there produces copious amounts of every fruit and herb and we also get fodder for 6 sheep all from less than 1 acer. Biochar has amaizing potential for nutrient storage and the hydroxyl anions hold water and may help to draw water from the air into the soil and retard evaporation.
 
Meryt Helmer
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Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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the Marin Carbon Project http://www.marincarbonproject.org/ actually has fairly recently proven that by adding compost to the top of soil plants can permanently sequester carbon from the air back into the ground. they also are proving that compost can be made without losing carbon. i think though that what they are finding is you want to make compost without turning the pile with a fork and you want it to be a very large pile that will get hot in the middle. but basically the gist of what they have discovered and proven with 'science' is that the healthier your soil is and if you don't till your soil then you the plants growing there will work with bacteria (and i think also fungi but they never told me that when I went to a talk) will permanently sequester carbon back into the soil in a permanent way. it is pretty exciting stuff. they have found that you can just leave cow patties (only really works if the cows are not being wormed) on the soil and let it degrade on it's own slowly and it will also add carbon back to the soil but it is much slower and if you over graze or till your soil then you are putting carbon into the atmosphere.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Hi Jeff. I think your moist soil in Mexico can benefit more from bio char than dry soils do. Where leaching is an issue, a nutrient trap has more benefits. Some of the production methods displayed on YouTube are a ridiculous waste of time and highly polluting.
 
Michael Cox
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Hi Jeff. I think your moist soil in Mexico can benefit more from bio char than dry soils do. Where leaching is an issue, a nutrient trap has more benefits. Some of the production methods displayed on YouTube are a ridiculous waste of time and highly polluting.


Dale - can I ask how you would make it then? I posted a thread here precisely because I was looking for something better than the time consuming contraptions seen elsewhere.
 
Michael Cox
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Dale - i think something went wrong with your last post?
 
Jeff R Hodgins
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Meryt Helmer That was an interesting link, I wouldn't say that they proved permanent C sequestration though. Lets imagine that I take some land that they treated with compost and I cut the hay from that land year after year. Or even better the land gets hit by wild fire 3 years in a row. After a decade or so the carbon levels would drop off and so would the production. If they had used biochar they could spray the place with glyphosphate every year for a decade and the soil would still have a lot of the original carbon in it. I really like what they are doing there at the Marin Carbon Project, I'm just pointing out that their results are based on increased growth and sufficient grazing. They are using a carbon source that is highly biodegradable (volatile) where as charcoal is more stable.
 
Meryt Helmer
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Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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well they proved that the soil now has carbon that was in the atmosphere ten years ago and a year previously that carbon was not in the soil. I don't understand everything and I have not looked at the whole web page. I went to a lichen dye workshop on the premises and there was also an hour long talk about the carbon project. I don't remember everything he said but he seemed certain that it can be permanently sequestered and claims he is working with the 'top scientists int he world' i don't know what makes a scientists the top int he world though and honesty i imagine a bunch of scientists having a potato sack race and the winner being the top in the world. i am excited about the research he is doing though because it seems like what he is 'discovering' 'scientifically' is what plenty of people have known for thousands of years which is that the healthier the soil is the better off we all are.

he is also working with all the main stream farmers in California to get them to stop tilling soil and to start adding compost to their soil to help it retain water. and this guy is 'afraid of permaculturists' so yeah there is problems there but I am very excited by what he is doing and it gives me bit of hope.
 
I think I'll just lie down here for a second. And ponder this tiny ad:
The stocking stuffer game for all your Permaculture companions
http://www.FoodForestCardGame.com
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