Marc Flora

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since Jan 20, 2010
Helena, Montana
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Recent posts by Marc Flora

I don't know if my experience will help - but take it for what it's worth. I've had LGDs for about sixteen years. For the last five years I've had two acres fenced in the middle if a 160 acre ridge-top parcel that is part of a much larger nature preserve on the east side of the Rocky Mountains in Montana. Within the 2 acres I have an edible food forest - or the start of one - planted. I also keep chickens, ducks, turkeys, and geese within the two acre zone. For a year or so I housed sheep in the two acres. We also keep goats (obviously outside the food forest). Within the two acres all the poultry is free range all the time. The dogs also patrol freely in this space. Several garden beds within the two acres have exclosure fences around them to keep out the poultry. Put another way, the two acre enclosure contains permaculture zones 1, 2 and 3.

As of now we have not lost a bird or sheep or goat to a predator. These dogs have run off a grizzly sow and cub, big black bear, wolves, and numerous coyotes and fox. In this last year three neighbors have lost livestock to mountain lion attack. One neighbor was stalked by a juvenile lion. A 175lb lion (one lb shy of the state record) who left his tracks in the snow within a hundred yards of our sheep was shot a mile away after killing several llamas. He had made a circle in the snow around our place but the dogs kept him off. The worst threats have come from a psycho neighbor's sled dogs - that's because they can come at my goats or sheep several at a time - but they've all been run off.

I'm aware that some pyrs will not show an interest in hawks - but that is not the case with my dogs. Any large birds including ravens (ravens can be hell on chicks or ducklings) is not tolerated. This happened because of stale bread. Really. My wife traded eggs for bags of older bread at a local bakery. We would scatter out the bread for the poultry. Well our old pyr (a rescued dog) likes old bread. She doesn't mind sharing with her birds but the damn ravens can't have her bread. So, the dogs trained themselves to to run off any raven or raptor that comes around. It's quite the game- guarding the bread from the ravens. However, the ravens are part of the reason we have so few raptors around here. The ravens have a nest close by and will not tolerate raptors in the area. If you feed your dog outside it will learn to protect its food dish from jays, crows, etc. which should also get them used to raptor control.

Hen turkeys with poults - at least the ones I've had- don't like the dogs getting too close and will leap at the dog's face to keep them back. This is also true for geese. Actually, because the geese act as a family, with the male pitching in to protect the goslings, the dogs give them a wide space. Of course, the pyrs may be curious but they aren't there to go after the birds at all. Recently I had a banty hen hatch out three large eggs. I put her in a small fenced bed that had a rose bush, some herbs and a lot of volunteer orach. Well, the younger pyr got herself into the pen. Not to hurt the chicks though. When I heard the hen fussing I looked and the dog had a chick against the fence licking it. She loves the little ones.

The first year we kept turkeys they wintered in a shed. But since then they have roosted in trees all year. Some breeds are a lot better at it than others. I think it is not a great idea - I'd rather they roosted in a building in the cold weather - but they insist. In the wild it does keep them out of the reach of most predators.

If you have your ducks around a pond the mothers will take the little ones into the water at the first sign of trouble. This deters the ravens, hawks etc.

The geese (American Buff)are great guardians as well and often alert the dogs to trouble.

When I have to have young birds without a mother bird then, of course, I need to be more protective. I'll put them in covered pens and keep them where I can see them from the house - but really the dogs do the work.

The dogs had never been around sheep before I brought five Churro home. I housed the sheep in a pen next to the dog house. In a very short time the dogs were completely used to the sheep and could be let in with them.

Although coyotes will try to draw off the LGDs, mine have always run off the threat and then returned. Of course when they are confined in the two acre pen this is not a problem at all. But, even on those occasions when they have been with the goats and me in the backcountry (I used to run a string of pack goats) I've never had to go looking for a dog, lost one to a predator or lost a critter because the dog was busy chasing a decoy.

In the winter we have deer arrive that hang out with the goats and clean up after them. They learned to do what the goats do when predators are around. Even though the goats are outside the 2 acre zone the dogs have access to, they press up against the fence nearest to the dogs and wait for the threat to pass. So, if a pack of coyotes - or something bigger - howl nearby, there are the goats and deer up close to the fence near the dogs. Kinda cool.

Hope this is of some value to you.
6 years ago
Another wonderful book on the subject is : Livestock Protection Dogs, Selection Care and Training by Orysia Dawydiak and David Sims. 

We have LGDs and have used this book extensively.
8 years ago

Too bad you can't grow alfalfa.  I would recommend clover.  I have white and red clover planted in the 2 acre EFG along with alfalfa and some volunteer yellow clover and black medic.  The birds keep the medic and clovers mowed down.  I have neutral soil here but have had good success with clovers in very acid soil.  A good feature of the clover here in this cold location is that it is green very early and late in the season.

All the fowl - geese, ducks, turkeys and chickens are getting alfalfa and grass hay this winter with their grain.  The eggs are great and the grain bill is lower.

My chickens have never had trouble finding grain or grass seed.  (They will do anything for kamut- of all the grains it is the only type I've grown that they simply will not leave alone.) They nibble the docks and other broad leaf volunteers - especially early in the spring.  For a shrub you might try Aronia (chokeberry) - it stays fairly short and stout.  The berries are a big hit with the birds.  It yields at a young age.

They suck down the Caragana seeds but they are small.  Since I use the Caragana as windbreak/snow fence and as a nurse plant for young trees, the chicken food is a bonus.

Haven't gotten a yield of berries yet from the Sea Buckthorn so I can't give you a report on that - but I hope they don't show too much of a fondness for the fruit as it is intended for human use.  They do not show an interest in the SB foliage -even though the leaves are high in protein.

We grow orach here - and although it is not a perennial it readily self seeds, volunteering everywhere.  All the birds like it.

I've planted numerous trees (Siberian Pear, Hawthorn, Manchurian Crab, wild apple) and shrubs that have a yield intended for the birds. But, they've only been in a couple of years and I can't tell you how the chickens will respond to the fruit.

Hope this is of use.

8 years ago


Perhaps my experience this last year with turkeys will be of some help to you. 

I started with 15 birds and 13 made it to maturity.  We have a short green season here.  The turkeys ranged over the two acre edible forest garden.  We strung some low chicken wire around the important veg beds and had wire wrapped around the baby trees.  So, the turkeys had access to about 1.75 acres.  Much of this is in native grass.  The turks ate plenty of the grass when it was tender and then dined on the seed heads as they matured.  I've planted alfalfa and white clover throughout the EFG.  They really enjoyed the clover and alfalfa, keeping the place mowed.  Of course, they were on the hunt for grasshoppers all the time and had a dramatic impact on the bug population.

My recommendation would be to plant legumes for your birds.  You'll build soil and they'll love them.

I had a small patch of corn planted in white clover living mulch.  When the corn (variety with very short stalks) was about two feet high I let the turkeys into the fenced area.  They ate the clover right down and barely touched the corn.  In the process they got the hoppers out of the corn.

The turkeys got into a hulgulkulture I had planted with a variety of stuff.  They ate the onion tops and potato greens but ignored the fava beans and the miners lettuce.  They ignore grapes.  They like - it seems - broccoli over other brassicas.

The turkeys that survived the harvest are getting hay in their diet every day - a mix of alfalfa and grass.  It cuts way down on the grain - and it gives them something to do.

The EFG is surrounded by 8 ft. graphite deer fence which the turkeys flew over easily.  They would forage for bugs and then fly back. 

Unlike the geese, the turkeys showed no interest in consuming the baby trees.

I hope this helps.

8 years ago
I thought this might be an interesting approach to those of you concerned with the compost/ biochar/control question.  These are folks doing studies in test plots being built  in Seattle.  This is from the PNW Biochar List.


Hi folks. I am working with Art and Sue Dickson in overseeing the
plots that Art has alluded to in recent previous posts. Below is a
brief summary of our status. As a general status report I would say
6-8 weeks we will begin to have some interesting soils data, and the
crop growing and being measured.

Last summer Seachar established 16, 15' X 15" plots on the south side
of campus by the cell tower. To these 16 plots were applied 4
treatments, 1) control, 2) dry biochar at 160 lbs per plot, 3) air
compost at 340 lbs per plot, and 4) compost and biochar together at
trt 2 and 3 levels. In the fall, a winter cover crop of mixed rye and
vetch was applied to all plots.

We have had much discussion with our technical advisors (USDA, WSU,
IBI) this winter on next steps. Our first question will be to
understand how the covercrop when tilled in (this past weekend!) is
affected by the initial treatments in terms of nitrogen release. To
our understanding this question regarding interactions with a
covercrop has not been addressed in the literature.

Before tilling we took samples that represent a foliar sample of a 1
meter square area from each of our plots, as well as 0-6" deep soil
samples in the plates (we also have soils data from last year, pre-
trt). For the foliage samples we are taking both an initial wet
followed by a dry weight for total biomass incorporated, and full
nutrient analysis of these (including the soils) at USDA. We let the
covercrop late into the spring based on WSU Puyallup data that
indicated this would improve crop productivity.

We will continue to take soil samples every 3 weeks until sometime in
July to watch the nutrient dynamics with the tilled covercrop. I
should add our "soil" is very poor as you might expect of glacial
till and construction tailings. It is a rocky, 3-4% organic matter
loam. We are hoping to involve the school in designing and installing
a irrigation system for the plots this summer as part of one of their
classes. Our intention is to continue to study these plots for 5
years, as early research indicates the benefits often only accrue
after the first year.

We have decided to grow sweet corn this summer because it is a known
nutrient hog which should allow treatment effects to be seen. We hope
to plant the corn around June 1, and with experience from Puyallup
research labs, to time the growth of the corn to when the covercrop
maximally providing nitrogen. We tilled in 25lbs of lime per plot
weekend to bring the pH up into the corn range. We had much lively
discussion with the advisors on other supplements, specifically K for
the control and char only plots (the compost provided quite a bit),
but in the end decided not to confound the trts by differential
application since while k stuck out like a sore thumb for deficiency,
it is likely not the only nutrient factor that will influence growth
of the crop between + and - compost plots. In this sense, while we
have 4 plots, we really have 2 head to head comparisons....... a poor
soil with and without char, and a compost amended soil with and
without char. As this group has been discussing, the compost
comparison pair will most likely be the most interesting to follow.

We are a small group of citizen scientists. We want to provide
information on biochar as an urban gardener starting a new pea patch
might wish to understand how biochar technology could be used to
sequester carbon while improving poor urban soils to provide local

Hope this provides some additional insights on what we are up to in
West Seattle!

9 years ago

Your comment was funny and did point out one of the ironies of the situation.  Sorry I missed the humor and irony on the first read.  This is why they don't let me out much. 

From the soils I just worked with planting trees I can say that the soil with heavier concentrations of char retains water more than surrounding soils.

You are also correct that a fire at ground level would put any char that is on the surface at risk - but of course more bits of char are also created.  To be honest, if a major fire comes through here the fate of any char that has been spread will probably not be at the top of my list of concerns.

Joel -

I agree that there is a future in small- scale pyrolysis systems that produce liquid fuel.  As of now, I 'm not aware of anything affordable.  So far all I've seen are systems so expensive they couldn't pay for themselves in my lifetime - and some of them haven't even been built yet.  This is one of the reasons the Pain compost system appeals to me - the cheap harvesting of usable methane. 

As liquid fuel becomes more expensive I expect more effort put into small scale pyrolysis development.  Right now it seems more attention is being devoted to larger scale and the associated grants - that is just my perception.

One application method that may work better than broadcasting on a thinned area is to broadcast some char on the forest floor immediately before it is thinned.  The thinning process we've used here results in a layer of shredded and chunked material left on the ground.  In some places it is too thick and will be picked up as feedstock.  If one spread the char before the process begins it seems to me that under the layer of material that is left it is less likely to blow and/or wash away.  One consideration is that the best time to do the work is when the ground is frozen with a little snow - much less soil disturbance.

I also agree that a good way to inoculate char and spread it would be to mix it into sheet compost.  It's just a question of scale.

Given the worsening fire danger I've decided to finish the pond before building the kiln.  I hope it isn't much of a delay.  The pond hole is done.  I need to finish putting a used carpet underlayment under the membrane due to the sharp rock here.  Then I can install the liner and turn the hose on.

I woke up to six inches of new snow this morning.
9 years ago
Upon reading this before sending it I realize I've gone very long again.  I hope I'm not breaking the rules  (Okay so breaking rules happens to me all the time)  My apologies if I'm stepping on toes - especially given the state of my boots.


Sorry I didn't respond sooner.  I've been completely immersed in planting trees, and shrubs and am just now coming up for air.  At the end of each day I wonder if I should just mulch my clothes or hang them outside and plant strawberries in the pockets.

The question of adding flammability to the forest by spreading charcoal is interesting but not a real issue here.  The explosive fire danger with true catastrophic potential now exists in the surrounding forest that has not yet burned or been thinned.  If I took you just beyond the line where we stopped thinning you would be surrounded by dead trees brown pine needles extending from 2 - 60ft. above the ground.  That is the real fire danger.  The char will -by one method or another- be distributed in areas that have been thinned and are much more likely to produce a ground level fire when they burn.  This is a huge difference from hundred foot flame lengths moving at 40 miles per hour.

This is a die-off on a massive scale.  The question of what to do with the millions of tons of dead and dying biomass from Mexico to the Yukon is immediate and of a scale difficult to wrap one's mind around.  At least this mind.  There are no "solutions" to this.  The landscape is changing forever.  I believe there are many approaches that communities and private land owners can take.  Many factors will influence whether certain actions or lack thereof will work in a given area.  By no means would I trumpet char as a panacea for energy, carbon sequestration or soil rehabilitation.  I don't put it in smoothies either. It is one tool in the box - I believe a valuable tool.  However, time will tell.  There is so much we don't know about this stuff and the best ways to produce, distribute and use it.  Or, in this case, how will the char produced here compare with char made from other feedstock?

Regarding using the biomass directly for energy production:  Good idea.  So far I've been unable to find a home/permie scale unit - lets say1- 2 kw.  I sure think someone could devise a burner that would either run a Stirling or a steam generator on that scale that isn't cost prohibitive.  When you can sell power back to the grid on a domestic (retail) scale the numbers work pretty good for alternatives in general. I did find a 5kw curtain burner that looks wonderful, but is extremely expensive and would require larger scale equipment to feed,  just bigger than this place needs.  I'm not interested in bigger machines that run on even more diesel.  That's the opposite of what we do.

On the slightly more industrial scale, it  still doesn't quite pay to turn biomass directly into energy.  There are mills in Montana that would gladly convert to energy production from woody biomass if it paid.  They are closed up now and local officials are doing back-flips to try and get funding for biomass to energy projects. One reason char appeals to folks investigating this from a business perspective is that you wind up at the end of the energy production process with another valuable product. 

All these equations are subject to change as fossil energy becomes more expensive and difficult to obtain.

The energy costs of transportation are prohibitive when moving biomass far for energy purposes.  "Far" is a concept that will change as liquid fuel prices rise.  I can give you a permie scale example.  I can cut enough wood for all the heating and cooking (and some of the hot water) needs of this house for a year using at, most, about 3 gallons of gas and a jug of bar oil (It's possible to use vegetable based oil for bar oil).  I don't have much in transportation to get the wood to the house - perhaps another gallon of gasoline that I could do without in a pinch.  If I run the same amount of wood through the little sawmill it takes about the same amount of gas to cut the sticks into larger dimension lumber - small boards take more cuts.  However, gathering and skidding the logs into a deck for either purpose takes more fuel than processing by far - maybe double depending on the average length of the skid.  Much more significant though is moving either lumber or firewood off this property.  Repeated trips in a pickup to supply friends and neighbors uses MANY times the amount of gas that goes into cutting their firewood.  The transportation costs have always been the bottleneck with biomass. This is why - in my opinion - the future for using this biomass will be intensely local - very short haul distances and mobile processing units.

Handling large amounts of biomass in a time of energy decent gets me thinking about beasts of burden - but that's another topic.

I agree that broadcasting char on forest ground - especially sloped forest ground doesn't sound good.  If you can suggest an application method that doesn't require more fossil fuel or soil disturbance I'd really appreciate your suggestion.  By broadcasting on the surface I worry the char may be flushed in a big storm and wind up unevenly distributed down the hill. 

So, here is what I will try.  We have some aspen that are not doing well.  A few small remnant groves of trees that are small and not healthy.  I've thinned around them and directed some road runoff to them but they still don't look good a few years later.  Root disturbance is good thing with aspen ( to a limited degree )  so I will dig a small swale on contour along the upper edge of one small grove to catch, spread and sink runoff.  Immediately above this swale I will mark out one tenth of an acre and broadcast a ton of char.  The slope is 8 - 10%, representative of the rest of the place.  I figure that if the swale winds up catching a lot of char we better look for another application method. 

I just planted about 175 stems in the EFG using char in many of the holes.  I had two piles of topsoil that came from burning slash piles that were from decades-old logging.  One I just burned a few weeks ago, the other I burned last year.  I've gotten about ten cubic yards out of each.  These piles were loaded with char, rotted wood and lots of organic material.  I used this stuff in filling the tree holes since the subsoil here is basically rock.  (I've considered re-naming this place Pile-O-Rocks Permaculture) .  I also imported some topsoil - spoiling myself a little.  I tried to get a good mix for most of the fruit and nuts, but took a different course with a few trees.  I planted three each of Hawthorn, Manchurian Crab, Siberian Pear, and Wild Apple.  In one of each I tried in turn the new char soil, the year old char soil, and imported soil.  A few trees got a pretty heavy dose of char.  Any trees that die or fail to thrive will be dug up and the roots and soil examined.  ( I always do this)  If any trees do noticeably better than their neighbors we'll take a little core of the soil to see how much char there is.  Primitive - but I have to start somewhere.  Besides, primitive is what I do best.

The remnants of the two char and rotten wood soil piles are heaped into a berm about 20ft. long and 3 -4 ft. high.  the berm also has many old sticks in it.  Yup. Hugelkulter.

I would like to try in the next couple of years to build a Jean Pain style compost pile for hot water and methane.  He used hardwood slash from thinning - so I am not sure how the coniferous material here will work.  His pile used about 40 tons of double chipped material.  That is a small percentage of the biomass standing dead here - but still a huge project for an aging permie - and as of yet the perma pixies have not arrived to get this stuff done.  I'll put it off until the era of interns arrives here on the Redtail.

I must apologize for going long again.  Too much coffee.  We've had two bear - grizzlies - in the area for the last week or so.  Not entirely unusual for this time of year. My LGDs kept them out of the fenced area and away from the goats, but they hit paydirt at a neighbors about a half mile away when they found 50lb. of sweetmix horse feed.  Having gotten a food reward they have every incentive to hang around and have been reported to  Fish - Wildlife by several folks in a five mile radius - on both sides of this ridge.  This makes a guy a light sleeper, hence the extra coffee.

Back to work.  Hope you are all well.

9 years ago
Sorry it took me so long to respond.  I've been tromping through the snow most days, dealing with a new wave of dead trees - trying to assess the situation and adjust the Pc design accordingly.  The evenings leave me feeling like a tired old guy.

One of my partners runs a non-profit that is currently distributing Adam Retort licenses/plans.  Sustainable Obtainable Solutions is providing these without charge to serious people willing to take part in a study, share information, provide samples, etc.  I believe they have 4 or 5 left.

The plans are pretty clear, and now that there are some being built I believe there will be more advice, collaboration and innovation available.  Someone considering the project would need to have a fairly consistent supply of feedstock to make it worth their while.

Costs for materials in the US seem to run about $1,000 - $1,500, depending mostly on builders' choice of materials.  You need to figure on several days of labor for several people, a skilled mason being requisite.  My own costs may be double that. I am going to have two steel baskets made that can be loaded into the kiln by machine or block and tackle and a primary stack that has a water pipe and plenum built in. ( for heating a greenhouse)

As of now there seems to be a large gap between kilns available for the small woodlot/backyard scale operation (a great thing to do!) and the much larger kilns capable of handling tons of feedstock per day.  Chris Adam's design fits in that space.  The Adam has a simple design and is easy to operate, having been designed for use in the less affluent areas of our world.  Under normal circumstances the Adam would be a good size for this property.  Now however, there are many hundreds of tons of dead feedstock here.  At about a thousand pounds of feedstock per load, and 30 hours run time per load you can see that I could use a larger kiln.  The prices though, of the larger kilns currently available are astronomical by comparison and quite often require chipping or pelleting of the feedstock, and much larger (more energy consumptive) support machinery. 

I will keep a photographic record of the construction and - I hope - some useful notes.  I'll be happy to share any and all.

I claim no expertise when it comes to the Adam Retort or biochar - I'm just the guy with the trowel and chainsaw.  However, you can contact Gloria at and get the real skinny.

Regarding the innoculation of the char, I do not have a large scale solution.  On the garden scale (besides adding it to poultry bedding) I will do what others have suggested, keep an outdoor pee bucket full of char and feed beds and trees with manure tea strained through char.  On a slightly larger scale I will be importing some soil mixed with cow manure from a neighbors ranch - perhaps 20 cu. yards - and I'd like to try tossing in a substantial amount of char when mixing in seaweed, bone meal etc.  Also, I plan a mushroom bed using a heavy dose of char.

When it comes to application on forested ground on any kind of scale I just don't know yet.  I'm still trying to figure out a means of application on sloped ground that won't lose too much char to runoff.  We know it retains moisture and holds phosphorous, but what else can it do if there is a way to easily and cheaply inoculate it with some good stuff on a large scale? 

There I go droning on again...
9 years ago

I am new to this.  I've been skulking around the corners for a little while.  My intention was to stay quiet for longer.  However, this is a topic with a great deal of urgency for me.

I'll be as brief as I can and still address some of the comments made regarding biochar and its place in the permaculture toolbox.

I will be building an Adam Retort Kiln for making biochar as soon as the ground warms up.  I have at least 100 tons of material currently stockpiled.  This is all beetle-killed pine and budworm-killed Douglas fir.  On our property there is at least another 2,000 tons of biomass standing dead.  The mortality rate among the ponderosa pine is at least 85% and could get worse.  This is a recipe for explosive, catastrophic wildfire.  While the challenge of building the world's largest hugelkultur has appeal, I would not live that long.

Conservative estimates put the acres of forest in Montana devastated by insects (climate change) at 3 million.  This is also happening from the Yukon to Mexico.  This winter in this bio-region has not been - to this point - nearly severe enough to kill the bugs.  We did have weather here in late September- early October that took temperatures from 80+ degrees to +2 degrees in 4 days.  That hurt everything, so hopefully slowed the bugs somewhat.  However, I've seen plenty of the critters still alive in some of the down logs.

In short, this landscape is undergoing rapid, profound transformation.  Nothing like this has happened in recorded or traditional memory.

I first learned of biochar via The Permaculture Activist  a couple of years ago in an excellent article by Kelpie Wilson.  Given the burgeoning problem at that time, I was searching for ways of dealing with the situation and hopefully turning the problem into the solution.  What I discovered upon doing further reading excited me enough to get my colleagues involved.  I am neither the brains nor beauty of this outfit.  I just get dirty.

Their research far exceeded my own in both depth and quality.  Rick Freeman who's a Phd consulting forester and Gloria Flora who runs a not-for-profit devoted to public land issues now spend part of their time in biochar related work.

I am not qualified or capable of writing about the soil science.  But, there is plenty of it out there.  Cornell U has done some good work on biochar in temperate climate soils.  The Aussies are very excited about the stuff because of the positive effects when applied to drought stressed soils.  Organic farmers in my area want to try char because it holds on to phosphorous so well.  Those interested can check  or  You can find the numerous papers and presentations that have been given at the various conferences.

As Permaculture designers we need to put our own projects, methods and tools into the context and perspective of our bio-region.  This bug kill may seem to be only a problem in the mountains and ridges above Missoula, Helena, etc.  But, not only is it an extreme fire hazard, when the trees go the water will follow.  The feedback loop will get tighter.  It effects everyone one of us in this part of the world.  In order for our permaculture designs and projects to stay adaptable and resilient we need to consider and value all of the tools available to us.  We carry with us to every design the same ethics and principles.  However, after that things get pretty site specific and generalized absolutes become dangerous.

I just can't see hugelkultur, biochar and planting trees as being in opposition to each other.  They are complimentary.  In April I will be planting over 200 stems - fruit trees, nut trees and  shrubs into the EFG.  My planting mix includes biochar and aged bits of wood.  I have a hugelkultur- surrounded by trees - that contains quite a bit of char.  As soon as the kiln is operational, the garden beds will get char at the same rate as the forest test plot, 10 - 12 tons per acre.  Roughly a 1/2 lb. per square foot.

Using biochar to help build soil is cutting edge.  So is permaculture.  The edge is where the action is and where permies belong.  Will biochar do well in this shale-based soil?  How will the same char at the same rate compare in the granitic soils a few miles away?  What about the silt laden gravels near the river?  Will some crops benefit more than others?  Will char made from pine have comparable benefits to that of other feedstock?  Douglas fir?  Will either produce more gas and oil?  These and a hundred other questions.  We don't know yet - but we'll find out.

In this arid climate wood does not decay fast enough to make hugelkultur a possibility on a large (acreage) non-irrigated scale.  When we first started to explore this place ten years ago, brush piles and logging debris from the 1950s were still in evidence.  We have some wonderful wild currants that are growing out of 60 year old slash piles on a north slope.  Very little deterioration in the dead wood has occurred.  Of course, with additional water all that changes.

A few quick points and I'll get out of your hair.

I intend to capture as much heat from the kiln as I can using both water and hot air directing it toward the greenhouse. 

The very first thing I am going to do with the next batch of available char is spread it in the chicken cave.  I did this on a very tiny scale last year with some char from a laboratory  and it seemed to have a great effect.  Once the chickens tilled it in the air sweetened up because the char absorbs so much.

An obvious question about the economics.  Since the pulp mill in Missoula closed there is no market based option for dealing with this dead biomass.  The cost of thinning, grinding the small stuff and decking the big stuff is about $600 per acre no matter what the end use is.  If I want the hazard removed from the property it would cost me a $300 tipping fee per load on a local rancher's land out in the sagebrush, plus the expense of loading and hauling - probably at least another $300 per load.  Being dry, it will probably weigh about 30 tons per load.  The rancher will open burn the pile - a huge bonfire.  Some property owners are basically forced to do this.

Which brings us to the pollution question.  I expect the kiln operation to put about 70% less crap (technical term) into the air than open burning the same material and much MUCH less than wildfire.  Modifications may improve this.  There are kilns which are more efficient with nearly zero emissions.  They are considerably more expensive, as are the large mobile kilns with comparatively huge capacity.

To answer another obvious question:  I already supply five households with firewood, have milled my own lumber for the house and will continue to mill for the rest of the construction projects.  I've also stacked logs for use as landscape timbers here.  I still have hundreds of tons of dead trees that need attention before the fires take it all.

If anyone is interested, PETCO and other places that sell a lot of tropical fish throw their used filter charcoal in the landfill.  This stuff is packed with fish manure and ready to feed the soil if rescued from the dump.  They might save it for you at the store if no one has beaten you to it.

Sorry for the length of this reply.  Back to work.
9 years ago