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John Jevons, permaculture & biochar!

 
                          
Posts: 9
Location: Hay River NT Canada
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It seems to me a hybrid system between the Jevons method and permiculture is slowly growing from people trying to learn how to grow what they need again. So in looking at the Jevons data and then adding into it the biochar factor I believe we truly could have in hand some tools to reduce the amount of ground we need for cultivation. They believe it takes about 4000 sq ft for food production per person including the carbon for compost production, but with a wood gas stove most of that carbon could be used for fuel helping to reduce wood burning (saving forsests) and at the same time increase the amount of carbon for soil creation and improvement. The biochar would also help our trees grow better and faster helping the whole system increase quicker. I'm very excited about learning how to create such a working system.

Digging
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I like a lot of Jeavons' work. I'm especially happy to see such thorough and quantitative work connecting direct needs to plant choices.

I think Steve Solomon provides a worthwhile counterpoint, by suggesting that less-intensive methods can be more productive for some conditions, particularly in the case of no precipitation or irrigation.

Dense settlements quite frequently occur on clay soil, and biochar strikes me as an excellent long-term way of improving drainage and field capacity in intensively-managed garden beds. Clay soil already has a high field capacity, of course, but biochar might improve it to the point that some of Solomon's criticisms are addressed.

I've read that the carbon crops Jeavons is most fond of aren't good feedstocks for biochar, thick tree branches are not suitable for quick composting, and of course you can't double-dig a bed full of cordwood each year. It would seem that what you've proposed works out some of the conflicts between these methods.

Ecology Action does warn that biointensive methods are not separable from one another. If you want to adapt their methods openly, you might prepare for the possibility that the force of their authority is set against you.
 
                          
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Location: Hay River NT Canada
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Yes thier work is very good on volumes of food grown and needed. As for the point you were making about bio-char there are different stoves for making char from different plants. Yes you can make a very good char from straw of various plants. http://www.samuchit.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1&Itemid=3
Also you can make simple ones in your back yard to char larger pieces of wood.

What I'm talking about is simply how I feel I can best put all the info I've learned so far to create the best system I can to produce what I need and give back to the earth more than I've taken. If I could learn to do that befor I die I could die in peace.

digging

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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It's good to hear that pyrolized straw can be good for the soil. I had read results contrary to that, but perhaps that was from people without the right technique.

I haven't used significant amounts of biochar. My guess would be that a compost pile with a large fraction of charcoal in it would need a lower C:N ratio (bioavailable C) than traditional compost piles due to absorption of N compounds by the charcoal.

But I think if you include the C in charcoal, you'll need a higher C:N ratio to feed the compost organisms. Since about half of the carbon in biomass is released in the pyrolysis process, a given amount of N in biomass would require more C overall to complete the production of compost-inoculated biochar.

I think a lot of the land area savings will be from biochar resisting soil compaction and leaching, allowing more time between double-digging and reducing the farmer's calorie requirements.
 
                          
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Location: Hay River NT Canada
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Well so far what I have been learning is that biochar can be used differently depending on the soil. You can make a char that has a high ph to help lift acid soils, but if you have base soils you can wash the char so it will not lift the ph up.
Also the char helps hold nitrogen so you will not need to add as much, so your compost would go farther. Many say to use urine and compost to activate the biochar.
As for helping reduce our land use I think it will help even more, because it can help the soil produce at it's highest yields thus reducing needed size of gardens, also I believe bio-char can replace some carbon crops that are needed for growing compost in the Jevons methods. Perhaps the Jevons carbon crops could be used for animal feeds or textile crops or planted into more forest gardens.
You see because by making and using the biochar we will end up with much high carbon levelsin our soils which is what Jevons teaches so much about. The carbon lose from the soil has been mankinds problem for 1000s of years! Bio-char can change sooooo much about how we farm etc.
Digging
 
                          
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Location: Hay River NT Canada
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Here is a great teaching link on a back yard char making stove!

http://holon.se/folke/carbon/simplechar/simplechar.shtml

digging
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I like the simplicity of that double-retort design, but I don't like the fact that the flames see more surface area toward the cold air, than toward the wood to be pyrolized. That is to say, it looks to me like that system is designed inside-out.

I also don't think it makes as much use of the pyrolysis gasses as it might.

Some day I might try out an alternate design I've been thinking about, where the fire is in the center and burning volatiles from the wood being pyrolized are used to help maintain the temperatures needed.

Currently, I use a single, small retort, and I've learned to run it in a way that's fairly efficient & clean.
 
                          
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Yes it is an outside model, but simple, you could heat water or something else.

Here is another design I want to try and build with my 16 year old son.

http://worldstove.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/EverythingNice_Stove_Instructions.pdf

digging

 
                              
Posts: 63
Location: North West PA, USA
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Personally I've abandoned biochar in favor of humus. My biochar experiments turned out to be a wash. Sometimes the plants did better than the control, sometimes the same and sometimes they did worse.

Humus is also a form of carbon that can persist in the soil for a very long time but compost does not. Additionally the soil, plants and humus have evolved together for thousands of years if not millions. So nature has already come up with a working scheme. I would choose Hugelkulture over biochar for the obvious reasons.

Presently my focus is using weeds (or grasses) to produce humus that feeds a garden for the exotic vegetables. I'm also trying to incorporate Biogas for fuel, from the weeds, and hope to have a humus like product from the digestant.  Thus reducing the loss from weeds naturally composting in the field.
 
Daniel Zimmermann
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While using the gases from pyrolysis to cook is a good use, you can use it to drive an engine or generator:
http://gekgasifier.com/forums/index.php

They have a workshop coming up in October at their headquarters in Berkeley.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Antibubba wrote:
While using the gases from pyrolysis to cook is a good use, you can use it to drive an engine or generator:
http://gekgasifier.com/forums/index.php

They have a workshop coming up in October at their headquarters in Berkeley.


The problem I have had with gasifiers is how to chop up the material into the proper sized chunks for appropriate combustion.

Any ideas?

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Ludi wrote:The problem I have had with gasifiers is how to chop up the material into the proper sized chunks for appropriate combustion.

Any ideas?


I'd say design a gasifier, and choose a species and harvesting method, that work together.

Twigs harvested from a copse, and then stripped by a goat, seem like a decent feedstock for a fairly wide range of conditions. If your system can run on bundles of twigs a foot or two in length, it would save a lot of effort.

Industrial systems, based around expensive equipment, run a lot more efficiently in a continuous cycle. I think appropriate technology would mostly favor a batch process, which takes advantage of the rhythms of biological needs. For example, the gasifier might run through the early morning inside a greenhouse, and be re-loaded in the evening when the goats are done eating. Carrying a bundle of twigs or four would be easier than rolling a wheelbarrow full of chips or wood pellets, and rather than keeping a full hopper for the machine's augur to draw from, you could just re-load a canister after it has cooled, and either light it yourself as you go to do the morning milking, or rely on a timed ignition system to get it running in the wee hours.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you very much for the bundles of twigs idea - nobody else I've talked to about this has ever offered that as a solution. 
 
paul wheaton
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bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
 
Travis Philp
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I think he means Jeavons.  http://www.johnjeavons.info/
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Ludi wrote:
Thank you very much for the bundles of twigs idea - nobody else I've talked to about this has ever offered that as a solution.   


Hm...years ago I saw an article on an "inverted downdraft gasifier" system that had a hopper in the shape of a truncated cone. It was designed to run on short twigs, nearly parallel. The flame front started out at the broad end of the truncated cone, with lots of extra room, and gradually moved to the narrow end, where twigs were packed tightly. Unfortunately, I've looked on several occasions, and haven't been able to find this again.

At any rate, I'm sure I stole the idea from that source.

 
Brenda Groth
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our property is dense grey clay with black soil and some sand, it is also highly acidic. We save the char and ashes from our wood boiler and spread it out over the gardens that don't require acid soil (keeping it away from the blueberries, etc.) and also spread it out over the pathways in our woods and the clearings in the woods, but leave the actual woodland on the acidic side.

Along those woodland paths I plant things that need less acid soil but love the black stuff, and it works quite well here on our property.

Also the ash itself and smaller char pieces are put thinly on top of the grassland/field areas as a top dressing..and it does help the grassier areas to grow stronger. Larger char is also put in when root crops are removed, such as potato, carrot, jerusalem artichoke, etc. as we have a no till hugel type food forest garden, so we don't retill or redig the beds (only those with root crops get disturbed and then those have things added at root level) the other beds all have the items added as a sheet mulch or sheet compost situation
 
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