ECO-Tours only purchases trees and dirt to plant them in...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fourteen Acres Per Handful

Much of the time I feel like Jack, the poor little lad from the English fable that we were all told when we were young. Jack and the Beanstalk Jack, poor lad whose mother told him to go sell his beloved cow at market Jack, that boy who returned with magic beans, but was belittled Jack. The boy who climbed above the clouds and brought home a bag of gold coins on his first trip, the goose that lays golden eggs on his second climb up the stalk and ultimately the golden harp which plays by itself. The Giant, who "owns" all three of these treasures is killed by the boy when he cuts down the magical beanstalk, ending the threat from this over-sized beast. You may remember the refrain..."Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of and Englishman. Be he alive, or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread.", a variant and elaboration of what was originally written by Shakespear (from King Lear, act three, scene four) When Jack traded his prize cow, who had gone dry, for a handful of beans, his mother thought him daft. She flew into a rage and thrust the magic beans to the ground outside their cottage. Overnight the beanstalk grew taller than the clouds.

In my own time I have had many valuable resources that have run dry. I routinely had to sell off all of my prize possessions so that my mother could move the family cross country in search of her fortunes, or in fact, even her whims. My own magic beans were the bits of information that I was able to glean. some came from research and study, others came from strange old men, mystical yet intrigued by my rapt attention. There were even some magic beans that I found within my own psyche, but they were all tossed out the window by the adults who raised me. Instead of growing into a mile high beanstalk overnight, the tendrils continue to grow and the length of their magic is infinite. I have spent my life climbing up and down, bringing back treasures.

Unlike Jack, I have not raised the ire of the giant. I keep it on the down low, only taking what the beast thinks is waste. This has not always been a pleasant occupation. Once, when I found enough sash cord to make a person-sized nest of tangled asbestos laced string, I got deathly ill from untangling the mass and making skeins for use as art material. The skeleton that I created with the waste nearly killed me, but the resource was distributed into a safe finished product that keeps the asbestos contained. In slides yet to be transfered I have a few photos of the skeleton that I fashioned. A masterwork done entirely with rope, string and twine, woven and wrought into human form.

Making biochar is a perfect example. I live in a part of the country where wood products are big business. Finding pure sawdust, without glues or chemical treatment of any kind is easy. Most producers of this kind of waste would rather give it away for free than pay to haul it off. Turning that liability into value added product (char and bio-char) is relatively easy and although it takes energy to get the process to completion, it can be done with minimal equipment and a campfire, which allows folks to get together and participate in the char-making process.

Understanding the value of char requires seeing several co-mingled aspects of the material. First and foremost, it holds six times it's own weight in water. Areas that are drought prone can be stabilized by using biochar. The water holding capacity alone is only a tiny fraction of the benefits that accrue by using this amazing substance. The entire surface, on a microscopic level are covered with fissures, craters and micro-topography that provides habitat for soil organisms. Anywhere char exists in soil, with air, but without direct sunlight, billions of beneficial organisms can exist in a single tablespoon. These organisms hold additional water within their cell membranes, increasing water holding capacity many fold more than the char itself. Biochar is inhabited by organisms that provide the interface between compounds that exist in the soil and the plants themselves. Just like the bacteria in our gut, the soil microbes inhabiting the char help create easily absorbed and adsorbed nutrients. The life that biochar holds in the soil is perhaps more important than the amazing water holding capacity of the material.
This is the char making vessel that I have been using. It creates just over one gallon of char per three hour burn.

If you are not yet questioning how this miracle substance can be flying under the radar, read the last two paragraphs again. It is easy to explain why. Money. No one and no corporation can corner the market on bio-char. It is best when created locally with as little transportation cost as possible. There are a handful of people in the country who can teach about this material, but anyone willing to look into it themselves can learn the ancient technology, experiment with it and start to comprehend the art and science of creating healthy soils. Monsanto cannot patent it, no corporate welfare could make sense if we all have the knowledge of how to make and use char. When mid-sized small commercial char generators are utilized, the costs of adding biochar to an agricultural system can be as low as $90 per acre. Home gardens can be enriched for a few dollars and half a dozen hours worth of home brewed biochar. Full details for home and small commercial scale materials, devices and enrichment methods can be obtained through our state not-for-profit. donations of fifty dollars get you access to our full seminar notes, ideas book and glossary of terms. Interested parties are asked to write ECO-Tours directly to find out about having seminars in your area. Fourteen forty-five Porlier street, G.B.WI 54301-3334 USA. Or just stay in touch by leaving comments here.