Matt Banchero

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since Jun 12, 2011
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Recent posts by Matt Banchero

So my wife and I have bought a small chunk of land and we would like to plant walnut trees out in Zone 4, the lowest and farthest point from our house. We have sandy loam soil that perks great but for several days after large rain event water sits at the lowest points on the property.

I always see in the nursery catalogs "needs well drained soil" but what does that really mean? Can roots be wet during the dormant season? This is California, it's for sure going to be dry during the summer.

Any thoughts?


BTW. The plan is to over plant a bunch of native black walnuts and train them to have straight trunks with no knots...and then graft butter nut, heart nut and thin shelled European walnuts to the most vigorous specimens about 10-12' up so we have high value saw logs too. I just want to be sure this is a viable option at all.

Matt
3 years ago
The Power pallet from All Power Labs is unquestionably the best gasifier in its power range for the money. APL is really close to having the unit just be a plug and play appliance and they are still making improvements that can be added onto earlier models. They just lowered the price for the 20kw unit to about $25k. It will run continuously at 16kw for days at a time and the units can be grid tied or paralleled for larger industrial power needs.

That kind of investment pays back quickly if you are:
a. off setting 20-30 gal/day of diesel for a 20kw diesel generator
b. already buying power at peak hours
c. having shutdowns from an unreliable source of electricity
d. you're paying for the transport and disposal of a woody bi-product (nut processing plant, stone fruit cannery ect).

I'm originally from Berkeley and Oakland so I've got a little pride.

If you only need to run your water pump at 3 hp once a week or it's for home power outage the power pallet might be over kill

Charcoal Gasifiers are also very cool, look up the crossfire.

my 2cents
3 years ago
Rub a chunk of char between your fingers if it has been "cooked" long enough you should be able to wash your hands clean with just water. If there is a streak of black grease on your palm the char isn't ready for the soil.

Also to correct some of the numbers getting thrown around here...at 165 degrees you are starting to drive off water, you can't say all of the water is driven off until the internal temperature of the wood is at or above 212 degrees f.

You will start to see torefaction of wood at about 280 degrees f. You can think of torefaction as caramelizing the wood. The lowest temperature volatiles will start to gasify, the wood will be bone dry and the wood will start to become brittle.

Wood will combust at 435 degrees unless you control the amount of oxygen to prevent the off gasses from flashing.

The "best char" for use in soils is made between 450-550c or 842-1022f

Best is determined by fully driven off volatiles, cation exchange capacity and surface area of the internal pore structure.
3 years ago
You can make charcoal or carbon black...you can not make biochar. By definition biochar has to come from clean organic biomass, wood, nut shells, fruit pits, bamboo, arguably manures. The standards have been set by the international biochar initiative to prevent big moneyed interests to char all kinds of crap and sell it as biochar.

You can make carbon black, which is used in dies and as a filtration medium, from used tires (tires are loaded with carbon), but it will never be biochar.

Matt
3 years ago
The earthpit technique is basically a Kon Tiki in the ground. Do not confuse an earth pit biochar burn with old world covered and smouldering techniques to produce cooking fuel. It's a whole other technique. Observe your burn days...don't put beans in your ears ect.

3 years ago
The lowest tech way to do it would be to make sure the material was all good and dry. You might consider restacking the pile. You'll want the pile to be as tall and peaked as possible and at least 5-6' tall but bigger is better within reason.

You'll light the pile on fire and let it burn down to just charcoal and then quench the char with water and a rake. Light the fire at the very top of the pile and let it burn down towards the ground.

The heat will radiate downwards gasifying and igniting the wood below, but the smoke created has to pass through the flames fully combusting the gases and making an almost smoke free burn.

Avoid wood much larger than 4-5", or be ready to pull out the unburned stuff and add to your next pile.

You'll know to quench the burn when the flame turns from yellow to blue and you start to get a layer of white ash forming on the char.

The Kon Tiki cone kiln is also great tech, just do a google search.
3 years ago
So after ten years of slaving away building my business and after meeting a beautiful woman with a huge heart and enough patience to marry me, we are looking to buy a house with a little land in Sonoma County, CA. I am looking at two properties that each have their own benefits and drawbacks for planting fruit trees.

The first property is on sandy loam with very low water holding capacity. Soilweb says about 10 cms available water per meter. There is the potential to take storm water off of the highway into the area I'd want to do the food forest, but our rain is highly seasonal and recently very inconsitant. The land has been a horse corral for many years and the ground it rock hard at the moment.

The second property is Laguna bottom land. It has been used as cow pasture for decades and according to the Soilweb app, is very poorly drained but it has more water available. 85 cms available water per meter.

So two properties within 2 miles of each other with vastly different soil characteristics. Which would you choose and why?

I should add that I run a tree service so I have a virtually unlimited resource of chips and wood for mulch, hugulcultures, biochar ect.

I would love to use California Valley Oak as the long term native tree in the system with mulberry, chestnut, avocado and persimmon as food baring long term elements. Then putting in shorter lived smaller trees, shrubs ect.

Thanks!!!
3 years ago
You really don't want to use charcoal intended for cooking. The process for making the charcoal is different and there is a substancial difference in what you're getting.

Lump charcoal (I won't even get into briquettes) is loaded with tars and creosotes. This is where the smoky flavor comes from. Well made biochar has cooked all of those chemicals out.

When you make charcoal you are heating up organic woody material in a low oxygen environment, (there are thousands of different ways to do this). The low oxygen environment allows for processes that wouldn't happen with oxygen because the wood would simply burst into flame. So...you apply heat to wood with limited oxygen, the "volatile compounds" will "gassify" into flammable gases and liquids. While the stable portion, the carbon to carbon bonds that make up the structure of the wood will stay intact. This is the charcoal. Biochar is free of volatiles and will have no taste or smell and you can crush it between your fingers without any oily residue. Traditional lump charcoal allows the volatile compounds to redeposit into the pure carbon. Lump charcoal is often much denser than biochar because most of the pore spaces are full of those tars. Many of these volatiles are toxic and will negatively effect your plants.

Now that this is clear as mud...do a google search for a double barrel retort or the Kon Tiki kiln to learn how to make your own biochar.

3 years ago
If you need the space or want a project then stacking wood is fine, but it's really unnecessary. Stacked wood by it's nature has less void space and thus less air flow than a jumbled pile. Also, wood gets more expensive every time you handle it. Maybe you're cutting and splitting for yourself, but how much do you value your own time?

You can put a tarp or several pallets down, make a tall pile of your split wood, tarp when raining, uncover when it's sunny, wait for 18 months if you can.

If you're using large quantities of wood or selling, make your piles in wind rows at right angles to the prevailing wind. Evaporation is largely a function of air flow rather than heat.

If you are able to cut the trees and leave them in the woods for a month or two with the branches and leaves on the wood will dry out much faster. Trees have 150 million years of evolution giving them a very efficient mechanism for transpiring moisture, be permie and take advantage of natures plan. (Be careful if you're in areas with invasive pests. Pine beetles would love to come into your wood lot if you leave trees laying around in the wrong season)

Wood will only dry to the average ambient humidity. If you live under redwoods it doesn't matter how long you store your wood it will never dry to less than 30% moisture content.

Fresh green wood is 40-60% MC depending on the species and the season it was cut. 20% MC is considered seasoned, 15% MC can really be called dry, kiln dried wood gets down to 12% MC any less than than that and you're getting diminishing returns for the energy invested in the kiln. The wood will quickly absorb water from the air again anyways.

A moisture tester can be purchased for less than $20 and is a fun toy.
3 years ago