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The Current Mess That I’m Making

August 25, 2011 Leave a comment
8n Ford with a Back Blade

8n Ford with a Back Blade

Along with the Brush Hog, and Finish Mower, the Tractor has another attachment that I thought was kinda useless. The attachment looks like a straight piece of metal attached to the three point hitch. I have seen it used in the past to level gravel, or to move snow, but I didn’t really appreciate how awesome this piece of equipment was until I got on the tractor and taught myself how to use it.

I decided that I had looked at a  few piles of top soil for too long, and that this blade might be useful in leveling out the dirt. In an hour or so, I conquered the first small pile of dirt, and was leveling the ground nearby as well. It was kinda fun to level dirt when I didn’t need a shovel and wheel barrel !

Getting Started

Getting Started

After the initial success, I decided to use the blade to knock over some brush. The brush had been allowed to grow since it was known there were chunks of metal in this area that would do some serious damage to a lawn mower. Once the brush was clear, I could see the metal pipes and cables, to which my mind immediately pictured more work then I wanted to do.

I made a calculated guess that I could pull these chunks of metal out of the ground with the tractor, but I also figured there could be a high cost if I guessed wrong, so I started small, and soon found myself ripping and tearing till the whole area was flat, clear of debris and ready for some grass seed.

Found Iron

Found Iron

I managed to pull all of this metal from about a 150 square feet of ground.  It has already been sent for recycling, and I’d guess it’s on a ship headed for China, where it will be made into the axles for toys in fast food smile meals….

Front Portion - Manual Finishing Work

Front Portion - Manual Finishing Work

After removing all of the metal, and leveling the soil with the tractor, I needed to finish the job right by using a shovel and rake to make the ground smooth as any suburban lawn. I found myself shoveling wheel barrel after wheel barrel of soil, but I attracted some unexpectedly chipper helpers. Jessica, my niece, and the little gardener made a huge contribution leveling the soil as I dumped it. As always, I couldn’t believe the level of effort put forth especially by my 6 year old helper. He has since asked me if we could do some more dirt leveling, and amazing commitment if you ask me.

Middle After Blade

Middle After Blade

After cleaning everything up to the patch of trees shown, I decided to keep going, and started leveling the ground and ripping up any iron found. With Nate’s help we removed a whole lot of old trees and limbs, and I’ve brought down my Bio-Char barrel for some finish up work. I hope to place another barrel next to the one shown, and try out a double burn. This should give me more bio-char for the amount of fuel burnt. All of the brush Nate and I cleaned up will hopefully be turned into bio-char, and spread either over the barren ground here on in the garden.

Back End

Back End

I had set out to level two hills of soil, but instead I’ve made quite a mess stretching about two hundred feet long and 50 feet wide. I need to repair a flat on the tractor, then I can continue this project. I’ve already begun planting grass seed in the first portion, and covering it with hay.

When I’m all done leveling the ground, I hope to plant fruit trees the whole length of the driveway on the right, and a wide selection of native trees by the crick which runs through the valley on the left. Some of the native trees I hope to plant include Weeping Willows, which should help trap moisture in the valley instead of it running off during dry months. I may even throw in some cherries and berries as part of the final plan, but I guess I should get my ducks in a row and get back to work starting with a tire repair on the tractor.

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Swiss Chard, Bio-Char and Haste is Waste

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment
Swiss Chard Hoop

Swiss Chard Hoop

Even in the winter, I find my self walking around in the garden. I noticed the other day that my Swiss Chard is still alive,  so I started planning how I could help these plants grow even in the cold of winter. I had two extra polycarbonate panels left over from the greenhouse, and I figured they would make a nice little hoop house for the chard.

Looking into the end of the Hoop

Looking into the end of the Hoop

After much discussion about the easiest way to make the setup work, Davie and I constructed this small greenhouse by driving stakes into the ground a foot apart, and then curling the plastic into an arch. We then tied rope to one stake, and made a loop in the other end, which would be secured to a screw on the other stake. The loop will allow me to quickly open and close the plastic without retying the rope each time.

The hoop will keep the snow from burying the chard, and should keep it warm enough for these greens to grow. When the hoop was done, it was time to make some more Bio-Char.

Cooking Bio-Char

Cooking Bio-Char

The barrel above was packed full of Tomato, Okra, Corn and Pepper stalks. I was curious to see if this plant matter would convert into bio-char in the same way that wood is converted. I used a 2 x 4 to pack the barrel, hoping to maximize my results.

Terra Preta / Bio-Char

Terra Preta / Bio-Char

When I was cooking the bio-char, I used more fuel then normal, and it was a very hot fire, so I was surprised when I opened the lid and found that about a quarter of the bio-mas had not been converted into Terra Preta. It seems my fire may have been hot, but it didn’t last long enough to fully convert the material.  I’m happy to see the stalks worked just as well as cut wood, since I’ve just about run out of wood to convert.

Pony Cart - Broke by George

Pony Cart - Broken by George

We may not be Amish, but this pony cart used to be a lot of fun for the kids to ride on. Unfortunately, George, my older brother drove over the front part where it connects to the pony. It’s just one of the many things George has broken recently, and rather then get mad at him, I’m devoting a category just to things he breaks. To see photos in the future of all the things he breaks, simply click “Things George Broke” from the Categories on the right hand side bar. I wish this was the last item I would post, but I’ve been around long enough to know If I posted pictures of everything, I’d have a whole new blog.

Lighting That Candle…

December 20, 2010 2 comments
Water Vapor Evaporates First

Water Vapor Evaporates First

Do not try this at home ! If this process is not followed correctly, bad things can happen.

I’m planning to make five batches of Bio-Char this winter, and I’m a bit behind schedule, so this weekend I decided to get my first burn out of the way. The process is very easy, but a bit time consuming. In total, I spent about 3 hours watching the fire, and adjusting the fuel to keep the barrel a consistent hot. What else is there to do on a Sunday when the temp hovers below 20 F ?

Gases are Released and Burn Off

Gases are Released and Burn Off

I had a good pile of scrap left from helping Santa this year, and used the wood to get the fire started. When the Cooker is good and hot, and all of the Water Vapor exits through the holes in the lid, then flammable gases will start pushing their way out.

Flammable Gases Burn as hey exit the Cooker

Flammable Gases Burn as They exit the Cooker

The jets of flame are pretty cool to watch, and seem to dance as if they are alive. The color of the flame changes a bit from beginning to end. In the beginning the flame appears somewhat colorful, but as the batch nears completion, it looses it’s color, and becomes a dull yellow/orange.

The End Result: Sequestered Carbon

The End Result: Sequestered Carbon

When the burn was complete, and the barrel had cooled, I opened up the top to have a look. Above is the end result of my three hours of work, one batch of Bio-Char. The devils advocate may be asking why I would burn so much wood and release so much carbon to sequester this small amount of Greenhouse Gases ? The simple answer is that the carbon would be released no matter what… If the wood was left to rot, it would release the carbon any way. The only way to take this carbon out of the cycle is to bury it as Bio-Char. The real payoff will come for the next thousand years; you see this carbon will keep the soil fertile and alive for centuries to come. How do I know this ? Bi0-Char or “Terra Preta” was produced over 1500 years ago in South America, with the soil still bearing a dark color, and very good crop yields.

So if your reading this post several hundred years from now, and you’ve got that field I used to call a garden, your welcome….

Planning Ahead with Bio-Char

November 22, 2010 2 comments
Full Barrel

Full Barrel

Kids: Don’t try this at home ! If the gases do not properly escape during heating, you will be in trouble.

Somewhere during my life, I either learned this lesson myself, or picked it up from others: “The longer ahead you plan, the greater the reward”.  I decided this weekend to plan ahead for the days when snow will fall, when everything pertaining to the outdoors will become more difficult.  I’m starting early this year by re-digging the pit where my Bio-Char barrel resides, and gathering some sticks and other burnable materials. This Bio-Char cooker is a big part of my commitment to lower my Carbon Footprint.

Above is the most basic form of Bio-Char cooker I could find online. It’s terribly simple: Place a metal barrel over a fire, with some holes in the lid. In a normal fire, the Carbon would bind with Oxygen atoms, and create Carbon Dioxide, or if the wood is left to rot, it will decompose into Carbon Dioxide and Water. By keeping the wood in the barrel it will cook all of the gases out, leaving mostly Carbon behind. The Carbon is then added to the soil, where it will be trapped for hundreds of years, and this carbon won’t contribute to global warming as CO2. It’s also very good for soil once it’s been activated.

Ready for the First Burn

Ready for the First Burn

When the gases cook out of the wood, they expand due to the heat, and they’re flammable. Prepare to see these jets of gasses burn out of the holes like afterburners on a jet. If your thinking of trying this your-self, I would recommend bigger holes in the lid !

When it’s time to light this candle (after some snow falls), I’ll stack wood all around the base, and under the barrel. The setup requires about four times as much wood on the outside which will be burned then what will be converted to Bio-Char. Even though 1/5 of the carbon in all of the wood will be removed from the carbon cycle, the 4/5 burned will make it into the atmosphere early, perhaps by a few years.  In the future, I hope to expand the ratio of Bio-Char to Carbon Dioxide by stacking several barrels, and using the flammable gases from the lower barrels to cook barrels on the top. For now, I can bury a little carbon, and at very least, lower my impact on the warming planet, while improving my gardens soil.