Philip Small

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since Nov 30, 2011
Spokane, WA
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Recent posts by Philip Small

Priscilla Stilwell wrote:... fresh wood ash consists of a large amount of potassium, and that the potassium leaches out when it rains. ...

Note the term "spent lime" as used in this 2004 paper on CA Apple storage:

I believe the term "spent ash", like the term "spent lime" in the linked article, means the causticity has been neutralized, typically by a natural aging process whereby OH and O oxides of calcium and magnesium (and in the case of spent ash, potassium) convert to CO carbonates on exposure to atmospheric humidity and carbon dioxide. Another term that applies is mineral carbon fixation, in that atmospheric carbon is removed in the "spending" process. You can make soap using fresh ash (pH 12 or more) in place of lye, but you can't use spent ash (pH 9 or less) because the original fresh kilned causticity has been partly neutralized.

Spent ash stored outside is likely to lose potassium (K) to leaching prior to losing calcium and magnesium. At pH 9 potassium carbonate is soluble in water, calcium and magnesium carbonate is only slightly soluble. As ash pH decreases further with time, calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) become more readily soluble. Among the other mineral nutrients, you can expect P, Fe, and Mn to resist leaching, and expect B, Cl, and S to be more like K: susceptible to leaching loss during storage.

edit: corrected term
9 months ago

Michael Cox wrote:Hi Folks,
The cone kilns which were first appearing two or three years ago looked promising....

I can see the benefit of a trench pit to handle longer pieces, encourage exploring that approach. The cone kin=ln better fits my situation. Some permie friends of mine, Best Biochar Kiln, in Stevens County, Washington, USA, make shippable cone kiln kits. I have two of the BBK kilns, typically running both simultaneously in a very urban backyard setting. With two and three story apartments on the downwind side, one has to deeply appreciate cone kilns for the ease with which they can maintain smokeless runs. A cone-kiln shaped pit in the dirt would work quite well also. A big wok, there are a number of ways to get the benefit of an open pan shaped firepit. I previously relied on enclosed barrel-in-a-barrel retorts, but the smoky start up, and the smoky hand off when transitioning from primary (outer sleeve) to secondary (inner vessel / retort) gases 20 minutes or so into the run. That meant I had to choose my days and times more carefully, needing to avoiding cold air temperatures and high humidity conditions that the cone kiln handles easily. That said the cone kiln is more sensitive to wind, I avoid 5 mph and above, whereas the barrel retorts were good up to 12 mph days. A windscreen can really help.

A cone kiln can throw sparks that an enclosed retort will retain. With climate disruption, and increasing incidence of red flag fire warning days of high temperatures, high winds, and extremely low humidity, open burn methods for making biochar deserve an added measure of caution.
1 year ago

Steve Jucick wrote:Has anyone tried to reburn a load that did not turn out as well as it should have?

Separating the incompletely burned "brands" to char in the next run is pretty easy if these are too stout to run to compost. The brands are the bits not easily cut with a shovel blade, just poke away at the pile of quenched embers with a shovel, the brands feel resistant, completely different than the char bits. Personally, I like seeing a bit of brands in my finished biochar because it indicates I didn't start into making too much ash, but also because it assures we'll have some low temperature amorphous carbon structured char, non-conductive to electricity. However, only as long as I know that there also hot bits that incandesced (I mean glowed) at a orange/yellow wavelength which indicates we'll have some high temperature turbostratic carbon structure, which has semiconductive surfaces, which I think is important to soil biology. Natural and neolithic fire events surely produce both low and high temperature biochar, I want my biochar type complex like how it forms in nature. Open flame backyard biochar is best for soil biological diversity (health) because it is not uniform throughout.
4 years ago

Gilbert Fritz wrote:Has anyone put biochar in potting mix?

5-10% by volume is a common target rate for soil mixes.
Use only 2-3% if you are making the well drained soil mix preferred by some horticultural growers.
4 years ago
A vac-shredder/bagger with a metal impeller is pretty handy. The bag helps control the dust. Toro makes a little electric vac shredder with the right impeller. Stihl has a back pack gas powered one. Bob Wells, New England Biochar, uses a stationary vac-shredder to unload his Adam retorts. Note: I found out this doesn't work at all well with wet charcoal.
4 years ago

Nick Kitchener wrote:Hmmm, I see they also sand the char back to the (fire hardened) wood.
I wonder if its the wood/charr boundary that provides the protection. Everything's about edges right?

That is a good observation. Between the charred layer and the unaltered wood is a layer of torrefied wood - super dessicated and very slightly altered. This is the fire-hardened stick stuff of our paleolithic ancestors. The torrefied layer is harder, less absorbent, and more resistant to deformation than charcoal. Sounds applicable to posts.

Real charcoal you should be able to crush and break in your hands. When we make biochar, and can't break a charred limb with a shovel edge, we call these "brands" and save them for the next fire. The cores are torrefied.
That said, I have never been able to make a satisfactory fire hardened stick point using softwood.

Casper du Preez wrote:... I cannot seem to get the charcoal "gas" to ... flame. ... should I try wood instead

No direct experience, but have worried on this bit conceptually.
Maybe the charcoal has no syngas left to give? Seems to me charcoal made to fuel a gasifier should come with more BTU's left per unit volume than more-heat-distilled charcoal made for not-fuel uses, like feedstock for activated carbon, or adding to animal feed. Can you get more-assuredly gasifier fuel charcoal??

Per often repeated internet advice:
Don't use wood gas to fuel an internal combustion engine prior to taking the precautions needed to avoid seizing up the engine due to tar.
4 years ago
A PDC is being planned to be held at Heartsong Retreat Center, nr Tum Tum, WA, where we had the September 2014 Inland Northwest Permacuture Convergence. Great location, .

Timed for this Spring, PDC scheduling is pending feedback from those interested in attending.
5 years ago
Does anyone here have experience with using charcoal as an additive for poultry feed? thoughts on biochar bokashi as a feed additive? I have both straight up char and some biochar bokashi, wanted to try this with some friends' chickens, but was hoping to get some permie community insights before moving forward.

I found a permies forum post that mentions supplementing feed with charcoal: [1]

The most detailed guidance I was able to locate, excerpted from Ithaka Journal

Use of biochar in feed

In addition to its use as a litter additive, biochar, and in particular biochar bokashi, is also used as a feed supplement. Biochar promotes digestion, improves feed efficiency, and thus in particular energy absorption via the feed. Toxins such as dioxin, glyphosate, mycotoxins, pesticides and PAHs are efficiently bound by the biochar, thereby obviating any adverse effects on the digestive system and intestinal flora. The health, activity and balance of the animals will also be improved, as will meat and egg production. With animals’ immune systems stabilized, the risk of infection from pathogenic micro-organisms decreases.

The huge economic impact of diarrhoeal diseases in poultry is well-known. The causes of these diseases are often of an infectious nature and are caused by, among others, E. coli, clostridia, coccidia and mycobacteria. Of particular importance are salmonella and campylobacter germs; while rarely causing disease in poultry, they can do so in humans. Non-infectious causes of disease are in particular poor feed quality and biocide contamination of the feed, as when herbicides are used to siccate feed grain or to treat weeds during the growing of GMO corn or soy feed. The consequences are an increased susceptibility to disease, growth depression, infertility and digestive disorders.

Numerous factors are responsible for the stabilization of the intestinal milieu. Of particular importance here are the stabilization of the intestinal barrier and the functionality of the liver. Numerous bacteria such as lactobacilli and enterococci, but also non-pathogenic yeasts play an indispensable role here. Feeding biochar and biochar bokashi can stimulate the activity of these desired microorganisms in the digestive system. The benefit of the biochar lies therefore not least in its ability to relieve in particular the liver-intestinal circuit.

The charging of the biochar with specific lactobacilli to direct the symbiosis in the gastro-intestinal tract of farm animals can further potentiate the effect of the biochar. Biochar bokashis produced as ready-made feed on the basis of a fermented biochar, wheat bran and herbs are an important feed supplement for maintaining and enhancing performance in animal production.

According to studies by Van (2006), the addition of up to 0.6% biochar in the feed improves growth in young animals by an average of 17%. Similar results are confirmed by Kana (2010) and Ruttanvut (2009) for ducks and broilers. No systematic scientific studies of long-term effects exist as yet.

It is recommended to mix 0.4% – 0.6% biochar to the usual feed. With laying hens the feed supplement should be suspended for 2-3 days every 10-15 days. Biochar bokashis, such as Carbon-Feed from Swiss Biochar, should be added 2% – 3%% to the usual feed. If biochar is already used in the feed, the amount of biochar in the litter can be reduced accordingly.

Warm regards, Phil
5 years ago
Community members and Gonzaga University students will be gathering this Sunday 11/23/2014 at Greg Gordon's house near Polly Judd Park in Spokane for an outdoor biochar workshop starting at 11am.

Friends of Polly Judd Park member Mariah McKay plans to bring her kiln and share about her experiences making, crushing and using biochar in the garden and maintaining a year round vermiculture system. Phil Small will bring a Lee Pittmon cone kiln, and will review lessons learned from Biochar School in California last week. He has brought back some new biochar samples, including EM1 inoculated biochar prepped by Simran Raphaell

If air quality conditions cooperate, we will light up a kiln, and talk through the pyrochemistry of heat distillation.
Please RSVP to Mariah Rose McKay for the exact address of Greg Gordon's house. Facebook, call or email: 509-939-0015,

We have heard that there is some work (stair building, mulching) that could be done to help out the park and the Food Forest project. So folks are encouraged to bring gloves and hand tools (like hand clippers), see if we can't do some soil building and some garden community building. Phil
5 years ago