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How to deal with a toxic mountain of plant/soil debris, Biochar? Compost?  RSS feed

 
William Aubrecht
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Hey Folks! I am here looking for some advice/contacts for longstanding problem, and am looking for the solutions...


I am representing a large scale ornamental/perennial plant nursery (50+ acres of plants). It is not organic (although coincidentally there is a team of us beginning the work of starting an organic line and transitioning the whole operation hopefully to an organic program... which believe me, would mean a HUGE reduction in pesticide applications in our agricultural area....haha....ehhhh >.<

THE PROBLEM is that for 40 years the potting soil debris (bark, wood shavings, and some sand) along with primarily all the plant clippings (which for a 50+acre nursery that grows year round is A LOT OF PLANT MATTER), have been dumped in the back of the large property in an area that is a wetland... And yes, what has not been buried is ecologically still holding on and very beautiful....

SO, on this wetland area which ideally would have been left untouched, is a 3 acre plateau/mountain of 40 years worth of nutrient rich (chemically), pesticide. fungicide, laden plant material mixed/layered with potting soil.... It is probably at least 20 ft. thick, 30-40ft in some parts... ITS HUGE, and yes, it is an ecological nightmare that nobody is "happy" about, yet it is an inherited history of unfortunate nursery practice.

WHAT CAN BE DONE with this material? It is high in carbon, and I imagine has broken down to some extent deep down. It is very compacted (tractor trailers are regularly "parked" on it overnight). It is probably quite toxic all throughout, yet full of carbon and all sorts of nutrients from all sorts of lovely chemical fertilizer pottoing soil additives and TONS of plant materials from thousands of varieties of plants....

Being a wholesale nursery slowly working towards being organic, hopefully biodynamic, we can ceertainly use A LOT of biochar and/or compost for pretty much, well, everything we sell.....
That said, my thought is that the compost would need to be seriously aerated for our use, as there are tons of weed seeds in it, chemicals, pesticides, and stockpiled diseased plant material (haha, I know, its totally awesome
We have access to and can purchase a lot of cow manure and slowly begin the work of heavy-aerating and composting the whole thing over time..

Or we thought potentially making biochar, or some bastard version of plant-friendly potting soil additive that had been "purified" by fire lol...

Any thoughts of people to contact would be most appreciated, especially people who are operating on a large scale with whatever solution/ideas they might have expertise on... The goal is to ultimately restore the wetland habitat, but to do that we are talking about getting into the nitty-gritty of 40 years of chem. ag. "waste". We are trying to re-purpose this "problem" with a solution, and are looking for large scale solutions. This is not a little backyard clean-up project, and having something to show financially for its re-use is very important for several people who need convincing that this is even a problem worth pursuing funding for.... Again, that is just the current paradigm this group of permaculture-biodynamic growers are operating within here.

Much love to you all and many blessings on your work,

William
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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It sounds like you don't really know whether or not there is anything harmful in the pile... That's probably a good thing, and it might be worthwhile to keep it that way... If you actually test the pile, and find something really toxic in it, then you become legally liable for cleaning it up. But as long as it remains "some old potting soil", then it can stay where it is, and the swamp can continue to thrive in spite of any poisons that might be buried in the pile.

Some types of chemicals might be neutralized by fire, others would become more toxic. Any heavy metals will remain in the soil regardless of whether you fire it, or compost it.

If I were doing it as a scientist, I'd want to take many core samples, and test each of them individually to determine how homogeneous the pile is, and what pollutants are in it. (Pricey.) Then do testing/research to determine which methods can deactivate which chemicals. (Even more pricey.) With such a vast array of inputs, it can sometimes be difficult to separate components enough to get a clear picture of what's going on. And if you find too many heavy metals, then the whole thing would need to be hauled off to a landfill anyway. At a bare minimum I'd think you'd want to do Mass Spectrometry for the volatile/soluble organics, and Atomic Absorption for the heavy metals. Probably best to write it off and let a by-gone age remain buried and mysterious. And rather than calling it a "toxic mountain", it might be better to say there's some old potting soil out back that might have some pesticide residues in it.
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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You could cross your fingers, compost it and put it on non-food plants.
If I didn't have the money to test it or to haul it away as a result of the test, that's what I'd do. There is a camp that believes that the composting process binds heavy metals enough to make nasty stuff safe. There are others who think otherwise.

If you have some idea of what went into the pile (talking to previous owner might help), do some guessing based on chems that nurseries use, or can see what is actually inside it (bits of plastic would still be visible), you can get an idea of exactly how nasty your pile is without doing expensive tests.

Surrounding vegetation should be an indication of toxicity, shouldn't it? If it's thriving and lush, chances are the plants are able to live with whatever is inside it.


That being said, I wouldn't go putting it on lettuce.
William
 
jimmy gallop
Posts: 196
Location: east and dfw texas
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Dependent upon your location being a business I wouldn't have it tested ,cause then you are knowingly and liable .
as long as it remains were it is and on your place I think your fine.
when you remove it is when it becomes a hazardous waste

removing probably won't be a viable option
option 1 find a place or places to bury it as you can
think back hoe 6 to 8 ft deep.
most chemicals, pesticides have a short life and plant diseases don't live long.
option 2 I don't think it would be as bad as your thinking you can treat it with bacterial and fungal microorganisms compost it and use it.
 
Scott Strough
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Location: Oklahoma
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Absolutely make compost out of it and use it. You have a valuable resource there. It will be part of your transition. For now the compost you make will not be organic certified, but over time as your waste stream continues, but from organic raised plants, the compost project will be organic. So start with this material, and develop your aerobic compost system. Later the compost you make will only get better and later will be capable of being certified organic.

In fact this is one of the main reasons OMRI requires 3 years to certify organic. They expect there to be residues from previous chemical pesticide and fertilizer use. It is figured into their certification process. As long as the chemicals that were used were all approved for conventional agricultural use, then there is no need to treat this any differently than any other agricultural waste. Compost it. Use it during the 3 year transition period in potting soil mixes. It is the right thing to do both ecologically and fiscally. They make equipment to aerate compost on a massive scale, so if the pile is too huge, rent or buy the equipment. Composting will actually solve most if not all the toxicity issues.

Now if industrial waste is mixed in it, and not just agricultural waste, it is a whole different issue.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Hi William, Welcome to Permies.

Composting has been mentioned. I think the benefits of (hot) compost are over estimated. The hot compost method releases a lot of gasses, and possibly would just gasify the toxic compounds you suspect might be there. So you might be turning loose your ground's toxicity into atmospheric toxicity. And going one step further, even when the hot compost method is used with clean materials, the decrease in volume of the materials composted represents the production of heat, water vapor and at best CO2, and if it goes anaerobic, it could be aldehydes and organic acids nitrogen gas in toxic and greenhouse forms, and so on.

I hope you will look into the mycoremediation process. It might be just the "magic" you are looking for. I think if you search around paul stamets, maybe his ted talk, you should be able to find it. When properly introduced to a new substance(s) the mycelium eventually figures out how to use the compounds present as food. They metabolize it. Weird and toxic organic (the chemical sense of the word) substances are turned into something else. So it is toxic no more, it can be dug back into the soil, incorporated in your potting mix, fed to worms. You did not mention heavy metals, but fungicides are often mercury based. If it is heavy metals, the mushrooms would not be able to change lead into something else. They are not alchemists, , though nearly! And probably you would not want to unleash the mercury on the world. I don't have any ideas on that except to maybe grow some plants on the stuff that comes off the pile, then have the plants analyzed for heavy metals.

There are mycoremediation specialists and contractors, and if you did not want to test for pesticides and other toxic molecules, did not want to know, you could hire a mycoremdiation contractor... or take a class, or both. I think both Paul Stamets of fungi perfecti, (Olympia Washington) and the guy in the Carolinas, Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain, sell spawn and teach the process, would have opinions about which fungi would be best for your situation. And how much inoculant you would need for that 3 acre mountain.

I think the first thing you would want to do, is get some air into the mountain, to bring the anaerobic proceses to an end, as they are just creating more toxic compounds.

It sounds like quite a project! Thanks for taking it on.

Keep us posted!

And I'm curious, where are you located?

Thekla
 
Mar Barak
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my new garden has an expert,
Gil Lopez
Smiling Hogshead Ranch
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Edward Borley
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Mushrooms. Everyone always forgets mushrooms. Mycoremediation Use fungus for it's purpose; breaking things, including toxins down.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Oh, COOL!
Edward found and posted the Stamets segment on the Bellingham Washington diesel fuel clean up contest. This is totally amazing, it's what I posted about. Pesticides and herbicides, every petroleum origin molecule, I think he said, can be broken down.
Thekla
 
Thekla McDaniels
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And check this out:

I'm following a thread on killing bindweed, and here were these statistics on metals accumulation by bind weed!. It's on this thread
http://www.permies.com/t/49076/mulch/Bindweed-Horsetail#394038

Re Heavy Metals:: Info from Dept Agriculture http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs144p2_053357.pdf
┬ĘBindweed is a good fodder plant. Cattle, sheep and goats eat it; however, the alkaloid
pseudotropine in field bindweed was reported to cause equine intestinal fibrosis. In India, the
root is used as a purgative. It has been used to stop bleeding, as a laxative, a gynecological aid,
to stimulate bile flow, and as a medicine for spider bites. The Okanagan-Colville people of
British Columbia and Washington fashioned the twining stems into rope. In one study, shoots of
field bindweed accumulated more than 3,800 mg chromium, 1,500 mg cadmium, and 560 mg of
copper per kilogram of dry tissue and may be a suitable plant for phytoremediation of soils
contaminated with heavy metals."

Thekla
I'm following a thread on killing bindweed, and here were these statistics on metals accumulation by bind weed!. It's on this thread
http://www.permies.com/t/49076/mulch/Bindweed-Horsetail#394038
 
leila hamaya
pollinator
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i am not a total permie purist myself, i would be looking for ways to recycle it into "new" soil.

the mushrooms sound nice, but i think i would probably use IMO, or my less technical version of IMO, by cultivating the indigenous microorganisms found from a nice fertile spot in your neighborhood/farm.

i like the OPs idea of burning it, adding biochar. also i think the first step for me would be thinking of solarizing it under black plastic for a few weeks, since hopefully theres still enough hot and long days to really solarize the material. this would at least hopefully kill many weed seeds in it, and start it to composting faster.....although it might need to be spread out so as to be effective, before putting a large black plastic sheet over it to solarize it. after that i would add biochar/burn it/ add the IMO or some kind of innoculant, add sand/amendments/manure etc and then see where youre at that point.
 
Sean Henry
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Location: Louisville, KY Zone 7
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I would set a space to use for composing then move some of the mound to actively compost it. Any large material use for biochar. When finished mix the two bag and sell it as compost for landscaping.

Also contact a few landscaping companies and see if they would buy a few loads. You could even make a deal where they would supply large woody bits to be turned into biochar.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Hey, Leila,

what is IMO?
 
David Miller
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My two cents, plant native wetland plants via seed. Do a little earth moving to get it into a pleasing for,. Ecologically speaking, is it up or down from the functional wetland? Let the plants and fungi bioremediate it for you. Smooth it out, dig some canals for edge effect and plant it, setup some sprinklers and let it become totally wetland allowing for the plants to use up the chemical fertilizers.
 
leila hamaya
pollinator
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IMO, stands for Indigenous MicroOrganism

sort of a strange source page, but its what google pointed to, and it looks comprehensive.

http://businessdiary.com.ph/633/how-to-make-imo-indigenous-microorganisms/

another:
http://sqworms.weebly.com/imo-indigenous-microorganisms.html

http://www.kalapanaorganics.com/natural-farming-with-indigenous-microorganisms/
 
William James
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David Miller wrote:My two cents, plant native wetland plants via seed. Do a little earth moving to get it into a pleasing for,. Ecologically speaking, is it up or down from the functional wetland? Let the plants and fungi bioremediate it for you. Smooth it out, dig some canals for edge effect and plant it, setup some sprinklers and let it become totally wetland allowing for the plants to use up the chemical fertilizers.


I like this idea. If you have more tools, the quicker the process. Nature will take care of things. Use the plants that are already there and are set up to thrive in whatever conditions. Use the growth for biomass that you can then hugelculture, chip or biochar...or just be there, being a wetland environment, like permaculture zone 4-5.

You could also add mushroom propagation (maybe not cultivation) to this plan and make the site super-remediate quickly. If there's water, potting soil, and some sun, it's going to go wild. I would do the earthworks also to find plastic that has gotten in there. Mushrooms have a hard time breaking down nursery pot plastic, so the more you get out the better.
William
 
Ben Broeders
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The term toxic has been used to describe the material but I am hoping it really is not toxic. If it is then I would not recommend testing it. Dry the material if wet and hall it to the land fill........ Cost of doing business.
Is the material clean from plastic and safe for the public? If it is I would say grind it into usable saleable compost or mulch. Also triple mix soil is a huge business in my area.
 
Lawrence Douglas
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:Oh, COOL!
Edward found and posted the Stamets segment on the Bellingham Washington diesel fuel clean up contest. This is totally amazing, it's what I posted about. Pesticides and herbicides, every petroleum origin molecule, I think he said, can be broken down.
Thekla


Paul Stamets' Mycoremediation method is the way to go.
Lawrence
 
Joseph Walker
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Firstly, the "stamets" solution is a very good and cost effective method. Then afterwards I would get A flock of "rescue" chickens and let them have the time of their life. They will dig threw the entire thing, and enjoy doing so, and in the end you will be left with one nice pile.
 
Jeff Rash
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Funny, I ran into the same thing in an abandoned nursery operation in Arizona. I was scrapping equipment and metals at the time and was hired to clean up a toxic mess of remnant pesticides, fertilizers and even a load of used motor oil some jerk dumped atop the manure pile. (Somebody said he heard it was useful for keeping down the dust... Arizona IS dust! It's our chief export!!!)

Well in my own experience with my horse's manure, I spread it out about a foot deep. Sun, sand, wind and heat took it from a form of really hot manure (nitrates) to awesome compost. So I tried it with this mess. I spread it out about a foot deep and came back a month later and rototilled JUST the compost, not the soil.

WOW WAS I SHOCKED! It was full of all types of bugs and the carnivorous cactus wrens were all over it, as well as crows. The sun even broke down the motor oil! Now keep in mind, this was spring to mid summer. In AZ, we get zero rain that time of year. So there was no chance for runoff of the McNasties. But yet as everything broke down, the pile generated it's own water! Water seems to be just about the chief ingredient in every manmade chemical and there was plenty of it in that pile. Well once the bugs took over, the plants were not far behind. Pretty soon it was it's own little oasis and I just left it be.

I took a sample from the soil down to the local Ag Department after the first tilling. They promised to help me, not sue me in the event it was seriously toxic- and they were shocked at my results. All the chemicals commonly used in "modern" agriculture were gone. No heavy metals, no pesticides, just fertile soil.

Sunlight is truly a disinfectant. Works with chemicals and politics, apparently. Long story short, all the chemicals in life are highly complex molecules. They are therefore susceptible to sunlight and heat. The two together seem to break down complex chemicals into their constituent parts, which are mostly water when you get right down to it. (Funny, how most of the expensive chemicals are mostly water! Makes you wonder just what you are buying!)

So spread that pile out about a foot deep. Let it sit for 30 days. Then take a look and maybe rototill just the compost, not the soil and watch it go from zero to hero!

Pretty soon ducks and crows and any other bird that likes bugs will be all over it.

Best of luck! If you have any questions, let me know. I am happy to answer anything I can. Keep in mind, it may take longer to break down in your region, due to less sunlight. However, I am forever in a state of marvel over the Earth's powers of recovery. And if you think about it, nature recovers from much bigger disasters than this. Think of all the terrible chemicals the Earth spews out sometimes. Chances are no matter what it is, there is a bug or bacteria that can break it down. Whoever designed the planet KNEW what they were doing!

Jeff
 
Thekla McDaniels
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So, I'm just thinking here, and not quoting any source or resource, but I wonder if the process which Stamets documented (in the clip posted 8-8 -15 by Edward) is very like what happened in the process on Jeff's pile, and occured with indigenous micro organisms. Why not? There are plenty of molecules there and fungi are highly adaptive whether cultivated or wild. When the stuff is there mycelium devise and create compounds that can break the bonds in the toxic molecules, and then use it as food.

I am in awe of how well things can function, can adapt to what exists, the finely tuned ways of our universe our atmosphere, our plant, our ecosystem, our own bodies.

Thekla

 
Jeff Rash
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:So, I'm just thinking here, and not quoting any source or resource, but I wonder if the process which Stamets documented (in the clip posted 8-8 -15 by Edward) is very like what happened in the process on Jeff's pile, and occured with indigenous micro organisms. Why not? There are plenty of molecules there and fungi are highly adaptive whether cultivated or wild. When the stuff is there mycelium devise and create compounds that can break the bonds in the toxic molecules, and then use it as food.

I am in awe of how well things can function, can adapt to what exists, the finely tuned ways of our universe our atmosphere, our plant, our ecosystem, our own bodies.

Thekla



It does seem that nature always has more than one way to resolve an imbalance. The planet is truly self healing. (That's not a condoning of pollution though.) Nature seems to have something there for just about any chemical element we can come up with. Even the sea itself can dissolve uranium and deal with plutonium by encapsulating it in sediments. Truly, it's a well designed planet that despite our worst efforts, eats up our messes and comes back for more. But instead of making messes for the Earth to clean, when one works with the design, wow.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Jeff Rash wrote:

But instead of making messes for the Earth to clean, when one works with the design, wow.


Oh yeah!
 
Thekla McDaniels
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So, I just learned about another micro organism for soil remediation. The Archaea, said to be the first living organisms on earth, a single cell organism with out a nucleus. They break down mineral stuff, may be the type of organism found miles beneath the surface of the earth, at the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean, all these places where there is no light, no photosynthesis, all that. I don't know about that part.

My informant tells me that - for example - when oil tankers fill up with oil and bring them to eg to North America, they need to fill their tanks with something as ballast for the voyage home to oil land. They fill the tanks with sea water, add a particular strain of Archaea, when the tanker reaches the desert nation where it is to refill with oil, they pump the liquid out of the tanks, onto barren desert and plants then grow.

I think this bears looking into. The man who told me of this has a small consulting business, and when I tried the website, I could not find it. I am reluctant to just post his name, email and or phone number. Possibly we might want more than one source for the info.

I have ordered a few pounds of the Archaea from him for my two acres, because it is said to "soften" the soil, make it more penetrable by roots, make it more something or other. I do have hard compacted layers, possibly anaerobic, possibly just the petrification process by which sand stone is formed from eroded sand stone, as that is the process that surrounds me here in Western Colorado.

At this point, a search in "growies" yields 7 posts that mention the archaea. I have not read them yet.

So, William, Archaea might be something to look into if you are going to use a biological process to remediate your pile.

Thekla
 
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