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need ideas for carbon sources in the Pacific NW

 
Jay Angler
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Hi Eric,

I am struggling to find permaculture plants that would provide lots of brown material for balancing the green material when bedding animals or composting slowly. I do collect some leaves, but in our area the leaves tend to fall after the rains come and thus are wet/moldy/difficult to store. Straw is very expensive if you can even find it locally. Hay is too high in nitrogen to be really effective for balancing urine. We do a certain amount of chipping and shredding of tree branches that have been pruned by us or the storms, but that requires the use of fossil fuels for the chipper. We justify it, not only because the chips are super-useful for paths and animal bedding, but also because as wet as we are in the winter, we are frequently at the severe fire risk level by early September, so keeping the wildfire fuel to a low level is important.

Is chipping wood the best permaculture solution for here? What other plants could meet the need for a perennial high carbon material that can be easily harvested?

Thanks
 
Tyler Miller
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I wonder how much mass you could get from cane fruits (blackberries, raspberries, etc.)? Many sources recommend removing the dead canes, although we've always been lazy and just left them.

Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) leaves behind a bunch of dry, hollow stems every year. That my be a good source. I'm not sure what their C/N ratio is, but they seem to break down fairly quickly, so they might not be as good as regular straw. It's a pretty perennial flower, a tasty spring vegetable, it's leaves are good for making tea and it's a good plant for bees.
 
Jay Angler
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When I get around to thinning the raspberries, the canes are tough enough that we usually put them through the shredder, so I was looking for something perennial that is a bit more straw-like than cane-like. Although we have something that is similar to fireweed in the area, it's no where near as tall as you describe. I will have to watch for it locally, or find someone who's going up island to bring me some rhizomes. I've hear that local bee keepers are known to move hives to logged areas when the fireweed is in bloom, but the bee keepers I knew moved away. Someone will know someone!

Thanks for the suggestion.
 
Tyler Miller
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Another one might be cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum). I grows really big stocks year after year that get dry and hollow after it dies. It's young shoots are edible, but I haven't tried them myself.

Here's a blog post about cooking them: How to Harvest and Cook Cow Parsnip Greens

Might not be the best thing to put in Zone 1 or 2 since many people have an allergic reaction to them.

It seems to like dampness and partial shade around here.
 
Eric Toensmeier
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Believe it or not I have a chapter on this in the book! These species are known as dedicated biomass plants. There are three basic categories: bamboo, coppiced woody plants, and giant perennial grasses. In your region you could try fast – growing woody plants that Reese Prout after cutting like poplars, willows, and so on. Fast – growing giant grasses for your area would include phragmites, giant miscanthus, and arundo donax.
 
R Ranson
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I live in the same region and would love ideas for this.

Kale often grows back from the root if sliced off just before the flowers open. I'm especially to discover if the Giant Kale I've been obsessing over lately, will do the same. They can make quite an impressive trunk over an inch thick and, with a bit of breeding, perhaps 12 foot tall.

Mongolian Giant sunflower grew very well on southern Vancouver Island this last summer. Planted in the middle of April and grown without irrigation during a strong drought (even for us), and most of them were over 10 foot tall, a few over 12 feet, and one 18 foot tall!

Both go through the chipper well, or rot down surprisingly fast when left on the surface of the soil over winter. I'm hoping to experiment with possible uses for these stalks before they are returned to the soil. It may be possible to create a textile from retted (control rotted) sunflower stalks something like linen. Once retted, the bast fibre (circulatory system) could be manually extracted and transformed into yarn... or that's the theory.

I hope I'm on the right track about what carbon farming is. It seems a lot like growing crops that put a lot of organic matter into the soil.


 
Jay Angler
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Oops... I should have mentioned that I live with large cedar and fir trees, so my sunshine is limited. R Ranson, your sunflowers sound awesome, but I've not had much luck with them. Eric's suggestion of coppiced woody plants is an area I've been trying to learn more about, but I'm leaning towards some form of pollarding because fresh growth down low tends to be a deer magnet. Can anyone suggest a book or link to information on developing a pollarding system?

I will research the three grasses Eric mentions. It seems they would make a good edge plant on our borders, producing biomass while discouraging nasty stuff like Canada thistle and Himalayan Blackberry (yes, those two have their places, but they're too prickly for me to cope with).

Eric are there some bamboos you recommend for biomass more than others? I'm already growing Phyllostachys dulcis, Phyllostachys nidularia farcta, a possible Phlyllostachys nigra, and a Fargesia nilida, with mixed success. Of the 4, I'm thinking that if I transplanted the Fargesia to a shady area down-slope of the brooder run (most of our chickens are in portable houses, but the brooder needs to be closer and better protected) it might soak up the nitrogen and it's a much finer bamboo than my others which I tend to think of more as garden trellis material. A finer material would be easier to chop up/compost, than bigger diameter material. Do you think I would find that if I made a point of chopping out culms more often, I'd actually encourage the plant to be more productive? Are there signs you'd look for that would tell me I was pushing the plant too hard?

English Ivy is considered invasive in this area, and there's certainly a lot of it in our forest. The local expert insists that the only thing to do when removing it, is burn it (which I have philosophical issues with). Has anyone used dried chopped ivy as a carbon source? The drying part would be a nuisance, but there's no shortage of it for me to experiment with. Does anyone have reasons I shouldn't? The expert seemed short on good reasons that burning was the only option.

I'm very much looking forward to reading Eric's new book.
Thanks
 
Eric Toensmeier
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IJ, whatever bamboos grow most abundantly would be the best ones for biomass. You could try converting ivy and so on to biochar or using it in a bio digester.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Ivy can appear dead, but still have life in it. I charge $50 an hour to go at it with chainsaws and other tools. Then, I turn the job over to a young fellow who charges $25 to keep on it until it's gone. Allowing ivy to become established is a mistake that can easily costs $50,000 per acre.
 
R Ranson
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You've managed to get bamboo to grow? Wonderful. It's too dry in the summer on our farm, for it - or perhaps I have the wrong varieties?

I am having a lot of luck with basketry willows, however. Started them last winter and some are already large enough to coppice and use for basketry. They seemed to thrive even with the summer drought.

A coppiced forest is something I'm very keen to have, but most of the traditional trees don't grow quickly here. By quickly I mean ready to coppice in the first 6 to 10 years.

We wanted to grow these for a couple of reasons. First, it replaces the conifers which are scheduled to come down... Not something I have the power to stop. Hate to cut down a tree without replacing it with a bunch of new trees. Deciduous trees will not provide winter shade either, so win-win. The second is that coppice wood is very useful. I noticed a lot of the modern garden 'toys' they sell at the farm store and garden centers are made with wood cut from large trees, whereas trellises and the like can be made from coppiced wood and require far less energy to process.

If this idea helps sequester carbon, so much the better.
 
Tyler Ludens
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R Ranson wrote:You've managed to get bamboo to grow? Wonderful. It's too dry in the summer on our farm, for it - or perhaps I have the wrong varieties?


I think it is the variety. There's a kind here which has gone feral and does extremely well even in apparently dryish sites, though it tends to proliferate along watercourses. I think it may be Phyllostachys aurea http://texasinvasives.org/plant_database/detail.php?symbol=PHAU8
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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