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

Saturday, July 2, 2022

New Digs

ECO-Tours of Wisconsin, Inc. is moving to a new location. We will be near the shore of Lake Michigan, just a half-dozen miles from the premier tourist area known as Door County. Our first concern is to make the home on site liveable and to add two bedrooms for travelers and guests who come for classes and tours. After that, we will begin documenting the natural ecotones on site and putting effort into a large classroom space so in the event of inclement weather, we can still teach our biochar classes. By the coming Spring, we will be actively reforesting and adding to permaculture management strategies, getting the fruit trees and vines back to their prolific state and infusing the land with many, many more perennial food and medicinal crops.
For our supporters and friends, it may seem odd that we have drastically pared back the size of our new center, but in light of rapidly escalating prices for everything, not just energy, we want to place our home base in a more central area, so that we can serve a greater number of people at drastically lower cost. Instead of asking our guests to treck many hours into the Northwoods of Wisconsin, we are locating just a day's bicycle ride from over a million potential guests. The air quality is much better than where we were located and the night skies are much more full of stars. Although it may not be the remote backwoods experience that "Up North" has to offer, we are within about an hour drive of one of the state's dark skies parks and can arrange transport and camping expeditions to that location for stargazers and those who have not yet seen the Milky Way or Northern Lights. Kayaking opportunities abound and as we are located about a day's walk from the Eastern Terminus of the Ice Age Trail, those who want to hike have ample chance to find peace and quiet there as well.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

What is the Nature of Soil?

One of the most fundamental ways of looking at soil is to determine what the main ingredients are. Some soil contains rocks and gravels and it has been determined that anything bigger than 2mm is just a contaminant in soil. Rocks, stones and gravel are considered by soil scientists to be too large to be considered. So, first we have to screen soils through a 2mm mesh to see what portion of the ground beneath our feet is really soil and how much is just a contaminant. I have tried growing a garden on gravelly ground and the plant that did best there is purslane. Sadly, at the time, I didn't know it as a nutrient dense food crop, but I did know that it composted easily and turned it into compost for years, until I could build enough soil to grow other plants for food. Like most living things in soil, which I will discuss later, I have the tenacity to not give up, not give in to pressure, but to hold out long enough for conditions to improve. I put forth as the primary nature of soil to contain and express the deepest level of tenacity our human brains can fathom. Let's not get ahead of ourselves... The most important information to get about soil is what on earth is making up the mass? Luckily, the simplest and most profound question can be answered with a simple and profound test. Take a handful or two of soil, put it in a clear container that is taller than it is wide, fill the container with water, put a lid on it and shake. let it sit overnight or up to several days or weeks until the water has cleared and you will see three separate and distinct layers in the vessel. At the bottom will be sand. These are the largest soil particles, so they fall out of suspension first. The middle section will be silt which ranges from as small as two thousandths of a centimteter all the way up to five hundreths of a cm. Finally the topmost layer will be clay, particles smaller than two thousandths of a cm. I recently heard an interesting way to think about these relative sizes. tiny numbers really don't tell the story, especially when you get down to sizes we can't even see. Think of it this way, if the smallest particles were the size of BBs or marbles, the middle sized particles would be the size of basketballs or beach balls and the large particles would be the size of a chair. Typically, these three ingredients make up over 95% of the soil.
Of course with any hard and fast rule, there are major exceptions. Organic material in the soil, which is often seen as bubbles on the surface of the water used in the previous test, can become a large percentage of the soil, but then it is either called peat or muck. Peat being derived from mosses and growing organic sources and muck being from lake sediments, or detritus (like the waste bin of nature)Across most of the developed world, many soils have been tilled so agressively that no organic material is left in them, less than one percent organic material is frequently seen but it is an extremely dangerous condition for soil. At that point it is more accurately called dirt. It will easily erode with either wind or rain, without a thick mulch layer or some growth and living roots to hold the material together and protect it from rain and sun. Each component of soil is good for some things and terrible for others, so having a good mix is best. If you have a single material dominant it raises management issues but any soil can be worked with. My own personal preference is clay, but the management of that type of soil is just as quirky as would be a predominantly silt or sand soil.The difference is that I have learned to respect the limitations of my clay soil. Sand drains like crazy, which is normally very good, but it presents a problem in that it drains so easily that it is hard to keep soil misture even enough to get plants to grow well.sand also very seriously flirts with contaminating surface and ground water because any nutrients applied to the soil can be washed away because the matrial drains so freely. It can also be a challenge because many organisms will find it difficult to stick around when the soil routinely goest through extreme wet and dry cycles. This also can mean huge variations in surface temperature as well, especially if mulch cover in not maintained.
Silt provides much more surface area which can be available for the soil microbiome to flourish upon and although it drains more slowly and provides more opportunity for life to thive than sand can, it can also be threatened by tilling or not enough nutrients. Most people hate clay because mor ethan likely they inherited poorly managed clay, as I did. It had been seriously compacted through consistently poor management and in large areas it was just lifeless. Although clay can provide the most habitat for soil microbes of all the soils, any land manager who has to deal woith them needs to understand their limitations as well. Most often the limiting factors are the ability to get air and water down into the soil. If water can't even penetrate the soil, it can only run off and it will take some clay particles and nutrients with it as well. The best thing in all three cases mentioned above is to add either compost (or other organic material) for organic carbon or mineral carbon with microbes in the form of biochar. I make the distinction betewwn the two because material that was once living releases most of its carbon over the course of about four years, ninety percent leaves the soil. Mineral carbon is not a food source for any soil organism, nor will it break down if eaten and excreted by soil dwelling creatures. It remains unchanged for hundreds of centuries, continuing to provide habitat for soil organisms. This small but vital part of soil, organic and inorganic carbon are what allows soil to be healthy, well-drained and able to withstand drought. The living and dead roots, provide some large structures that increase porosity, but it is the living organisms and th edead organic meterial they eat, as well as what they excrete that make soil vital and healthy. In soil the tiny percentage of living organic material does most of the work feeding the plant roots and providing smaller structures that allow air and wate rto be available enough under the soil surface to create a rich habitable zone within which millions of other life ofrms co-exist. The most true nature of soil is to be the ultimate team player, providing opportunity and the synergy that comes from diversity and abiding by terms of the give back or give away. When soil is treated badly enough, it often just goes away.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Shameless Plea

We are getting ready to preserve nearly two acres and transform it, like we did our last two properties, into a permacultural wonderland of native, edible and medicinal perennials, pollenator gardens and habitat for a variety of creatures. On our second walk-through at the property, we frightened a muskrat who looked fat and happy but for the fact that he was awakened and had to run a long way for cover. We would definitely improve that critter's habitat! Our earlier goal of saving 80 acres remains our ultimate goal, but this property has an established caretakers home and two greenhouses. We would have to raise four times as much money to build in all those improvements on 80 acres. Not to mention the infrastructure needed to even set up such a facility. As an added bonus, instead of being 3-5 hours from major population centers, there will be a million people within bicycling distance! Talk about offsetting carbon footprints!Even more interestingly, we will be just of fth eIce Age Trail and will be able to offer no trace camping to through hikers!
Trouble is, I'm not going to sugar coat it, money. Due to covid-19, it has been two full years of less than half my normal professional gig that allows me to fund the work that ECO-Tours has done. We are adept at soil restoration and teaching about how to make and use biochar. Spreading seed and re-establishing native cover. There have been many events where contributions have covered gas or lunch, but often not both. We can afford to operate on exremely small budgets, whether we are tree planting, seed collecting and dispersing, teaching classes or doing intrerpretive programs because our labor and management have always been 100% volunteer. It took us our first ten years to do, but we planted 60,000 tree seedlings across Northeast Wisconsin and we raised less than six thousand dollars a year during those years.
We were able to do it because we got creative. One of us would wait around, until after pick-up hours at the annual Department of Natural Resources tree seedling distribution event, many years hundreds of trees came home with us that otherwise would have been thrown into the compost. In fact, the year before the first year we put in our order, I had been walking past the greenhouses at the County Extension Offices. Out back I found over 2,000 tree seedlings in their compost. We took them home. potted them up and it took a while, but we got nearly all of them set out into permanent and appropriate places, their forever homes, within that first spring and fall. After I found that treasure, I went and asked why they had thrown them out and they said that every year, when they did the DNR tree seedling sale, some live plants would not get picked up and they didn't have any way to store them or hold them for later pick up, so they just put them in the compost pile.
I made sure after that to always show up at the beginning of the day to help set up, then to fill my order as late in the day as possible, so I could help after they shut down. After two or three days of getting people paired with their orders for pick up, everyone woul dbe pretty tired and the idea of taking a hundred or a thousand trees home ot plant is too much for anyone to think about, unless you are someone with friends who will help pot them up and eventuqally come help plant them out on another day, which we did. Inevitably there would be at least a few dozen left over seedlings. Most times there were many hundreds and once or twice over a thousand free trees to help keep our costs down. The real value was in all the loving hands that helped pot them all up and those loving hands that came later and lovingly placed them in the ground. Indeed, the loving hands of those who pulled competing weeds were also necessary to have the thousands of sucessful trees, spread across many hundreds of acres that would have never grown without the participation of many hundreds of people who care.
The reason that I mention this is to point out that rather than contributions being eaten up by administrative or fund-raising costs, our dollars flow with power and immediacy to what needs funding, not advertizing and gala events for megadonors. Give what you can. If you would like to stay in the loop about our events, which are mostly centered around Wisconsin let us know at: or if you would lik eot purchase a class, We can teach you everything you need to know to make top quality biochar in just a few hours by phone or online through zoom or fblive. Any contribution of fifty or more gets you a class if you would like to start sequestering carbon forever. If you are having trouble with our paypal link, you can go there directly and use our account number, or, you can go to our gofundme page and contribute to "Save 80 acres of Wisconsin for outdoor school".
These trees were some of the first we planted and this image is from ten years ago. The last time I was past the farm, they were taller than the house! They are also large enough now to shade the west side of the house from summer sun and winter wind. The energy savings alone is like offsetting carbon use that is now unnecessary. In very real ways, we continue to prove that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is today!
Again, please contribute what you can.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Imbolc Blessings

The proverbial back of Winter has been broken this week. The Sun is on the way back to our hemisphere. The "Flaming Arrow" of our shared human spirit is on her way back from the underworld. This spirit, more recently described by the name Brigid, has a corollary in Persephone. Fertility, renewal, inspiration and crafts all flow from the burnig fires she brings forth after she has been impregnated in the dark. Her feminine aspect going, during the dark time, to the deep, mythic subterranian realm. As the days quicken, nights grow shorter and the sun angle continues to rise, higher and higher, the promise of Spring's arrival, no matter what a select rodent might think, will come in about six weeks. In the Celtic Calendar, this was the New Year Celebration a feast day, a night of bonfires, reflections on th epassing of last year's struggles and re-commitment to what is coming so quickly upon us. In preparation for Summer's flush, the season was determined mostly by the birthing of young livestock, the coming in of the milk for the herds. Modern humans may not want ot admit that they feel these stirrings, but we had an unbroken rhythm to our lives back to our earliest ancestors that ran by the intricate workings of th eseasons, not just a mechanical clock and a raster of days. The punctuation of life was that every six weeks or so, throughout the year, some sort of reason to get out, be amonst the neighbors and to celebrate were the touchstones of time.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Conscientious Vandal

I made a copy of the Earth Charter. It is a meaningful enough document that I wish everyone would read and understand it. You can jump to their site by follwing the link In any effect, I copied the document and cut each section and subsection into small slips of paper. Each of the tiny slips of paper had one recommendation from the Earth Charter on them. Then, when I wanted to leave a mark, I would just glue one onto a bathroom stall, a sign post or bus stop, picnic bench, tree or table etc. Wherever people are stranded in one place for a minute or three, they can at least read up about positive steps we each can take to live in harmony with the planet. After showing a friend my idea, he branded me Conscientious Vandal. We had been joking about how odd it is to see so many breasts and penises rendered in spray pain in public spaces. Interestingly, some of the most profound words I ever read were scrawled on a wall in Milwaukee. "Death is the greatest trip of all, that's why they save it 'til last." was what it said. The older I get, the more I hope those words are true. I've had so many great trips in life, I truly hope they are topped by my exit. I remeber back when I was a young man in highschool, I had gotten a contract to help paint a mural on a local, concrete structure that held the mountain back, so it would not collapse into the street. Like a massive terrace, the three sided structure was trapezoidal, having two giant triangles on either end and a broad, more than twenty foot wide central portion. The triangular ends sort of buttressed against the weight of the hill, pushing back against gravity's pull. When you stood back even three or four blocks, looking across form th eother sid eof th evalley, you could see the giant wall. Looking back, maybe that's why I feel like I have had my fill of painting on concrete.
I tried to get a friend to help with the painting, a giant pod of whales with one whale appearing to swim right out of the wall, my friend, who has passed away now said he would not deface concrete because some craftsman made that wall, over a hundred years before and that the guy who finished the concrete had done such a great job that he could feel th epride he took in that surface. His legacy was perfect concrete and it woul dliterally last forever, if left alone. He felt that our artwork was stiull graffitti, degrading it for the sake of a fleeting moment of proving your own passing. I suppose both interpretations are valid. The local arts council had money to spend though and it kept us from getting into trouble. About a dozen people all pulled together and painted it over the course of several weeks and it certainly brightened the neighborhood. Where there had been a dingey gray slab, a pop of color and destination for people to recognize was created for not much more than the cost of the paint. I think the regional artist who designed it got a grand for his art, and for transferring it to the wall in a line drawing and the two leads they chose to guide the volunteers got 250 each and we were primarily there to paint and make sure that different areas of color, as laid out by the atists matched the original work of art. I suppose, even back then I was being a conscientious vandal.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022


This is where things get tricky. Life requires several things and to be healthy it needs all of them in relatively equal measure. Habitat is a biggie because there must be several things for optimal growth and reproduction. The char provides that. Like a condo complex for soil microbes, the habitat is there, all fourteen acres of surface area per handful. Resources include food and moisture, a place to be safe, to reproduce, to consume nutritious materials and to excrete waste and exchange gasses. The more air and water you can keep on and in the char, the better. Again, without pooling water and ideally, warm enough for microbes to multiply. When conditions are right, it will keep you busy stirring the material three or more times a day. When weather turns cool, you may only need to mix the material once a day, or even less if things freeze up. Some bacteria can colonize and exponentially grow and reproduce in a matter of hours, and folding them through the vast surface area in char requires presenting many hundreds of chances for the surfaces to be jumbled. Since microbes are pretty much immobile on the scales that exist in the char, you will be required to spread the microbes physically turning and mixing the material. The fastest I have been able to transform char into biochar is about six weeks. The conditions were optimal and it was during summer when I paid close attention to it several times each day, stirring, adding more minerals, adding compost and/or moisture and other nutrients and micronutrients during the maturation phase. The key is getting the right materials in the right quantities as well, but the bottom line is that it takes time to populate the char with microbes, and the more balanced the mix of inputs, the more rapidly you can colonize the char with microbes appropriate to your site. In situations where people don't want to pay much attention to the process, I have seen them just put a layer of moistened and mineralized char in their compost pile and mix it in the following spring. I don't garden on those sites, but the people who do say that it has been effective too. It just depends on what your situation is and what you want to accomplish with your particular application. My own uses are for gardening mostly and we have alkaline soil, so I typically mineralize with granite dust to help buffer the Ph toward neutral. If you have acidic soils, you might want to mineralize with lime, just remember that changing the Ph is not always practical and if you get soil microbes who cannot handle the conditions of the soil you introduce them to, you will be killing off the microbes you sought to introduce. As my biochar gets closer to ready, I typically add a few, up to ten percent local soil, to help buffer the mixture between the mixture that I jade and the existing conditions. That way, when I finally till it in, it is not such a shock for the soil microbes. I have had beds enriched with biochar that continued to improve both soil tilth and production for several years after being amended the first time and beds that, although they have been amended do not really come into vastly better production for a few years. Perhaps this is in part based on how "ready" I had gotten the biochar before adding microbes. Obviously, a full dose of well made char is best for production right out of the gate, but if there are less than spectacular results in making it, moisturizing it, adding minerals or nutrients, adding microbes or maturation, nature tends to fix them pretty quickly. Keep in mind though, quickly for nature could be several years or a decade. I typically don't like to till the soil very deeply, or very much in fact, but if there is biochar in them and they are not producing optimally, I do try to tousle the material several times to help spread it through the existing soil microbiome. One old-timer told me that his family would burn, and immediately incorporate the blackened and charred, woody material into the soil. The following year, nothing would grow, but after there had been a year or two of poor production, those soils would improve drastically. Nature will always take her course, but my interest is in making good things as fast as is practical. Maturing the char into biochar requires time and the energy of turning the material. you don't want to stir it like a blender would, or violently stir it either, just folding it in and on itself, lifting the bottom layers to the top, etc. as you become proficient in biochar making, you will feel the material change. At first, when it is just a collection of resources, it will feel like you are stirring a container of wet glass shards, but when the microbial community is well-developed, it will feel fluffy and soft. Because we inhabit a range of scale that takes for granted our large size and ability to zip across the globe, it can be difficult to think in the scale of the char maturation process. When tiny bits of char, under 2mm maximum size, as you can see from the SEM images, are like a thousand straws, each can be thought of as a cave in which a bacterial colony might inhabit. In fact, even though these tubes are microscopic, many different microbes could exist and thrive within a single tube! To them, the housing is very roomy. In a cube 1cm on each side, about a third of a sugar cube, of pure char, there is as much square footage as a soccer field. I have tried for years to understand this, but I find that it is virtually unimaginable.
When the char has fully matured, it loses the clean, crisp smell of something absorbing everything it can. It gets the rich fecund smell of soil, that is one way to tell it is done. When you stir it, it feels very light and "airy". Almost like you were stirring a lighter version of marshmallow fluff. In my initial flyer, covering all six parts of the process of making biochar, I wrote, about maturation, "Biochar can be made by adding char to compost heaps, animal bedding, or other agricultural wastes. In fact, many large industrial agriculture operations use char for odor control, however, when we wish to create a balanced, healthy, ecosystem, using organic components, keeping the material moist and aerated, adding organically derived nutrients as well as minerals and allowing nature to take the lead in maturation creates a product more valuable than gold, the best biochar. Because char has such vast surface area, it is like a 3-D petri dish. Allowing time for microbes to multiply, diligently stirring them through the material repeatedly and taking care to maintain an optimal moisture level, speeds the processes that, in nature could take many years. Growing and distributing microbes throughout the char cannot be rushed." Once again, let me say, I love and care about everyone and that is why I share these, most recent posts. I have said many times that biochar is more valuable than gold. Every person that has worked with it agrees, biochar has worked for them as advertised. One even said that if our culture collapsed tomorrow, this might be the most important technology to know about, understand and utilize in an attempt to survive. One friend who is a grower, completely reliant on her soil for her living, calls it her "secret weapon". she has said that it is the only thing keeping her in business. Collectively we can use biochar to literally heal the Earth, sequestering carbon for geologic time, doubling crop production, conserving both surface and ground water, reducing the need for irrigation and off site nutrient inputs. We also would grow far healthier plants and be able to eat healthier food if we used char on all productive soil. We all know what happens when you do that! Some of us still remember when they taught us in school that "You are what you eat." It is time for us to learn that important lesson. Making soil healthier makes us healthier as well. Please share this info. With anyone you might think would be interested. Anyone you know, who grows any crop at all, can benefit from this simple ritual. It is part of our birthright as human beings, your ancestors developed it, share it! How do you measure the value of doubling production forever? when you begin to understand what it means to you, please send me something of value as a thank-you. My Paypal account number is: if you want to contact me directly with questions or concerns, please do so, my e-mail is the same... To help one to understand the truth behind the saying "Think globally, act locally.", check out my other blog,, specifically... Get an Apple...


Again, we need to start with an object lesson. Imagine a cow and her calf, on an acre of healthy soil. Science has calculated that the microbes on this same acre of soil have about the same mass as Bessie and her calf. I have heard the claim that billions of organisms live in a tablespoon of healthy soil as well and I'm sure that the scientists are right, even though I can't see things that small and I will never be able to see a germ, flagellate or bacterium no matter how good my eyesight is! In my "initial contact" flyer, I have this to say about microbes, "The biochar ecosystem provides all that soil microbes need, security, moisture, air and healthy food. Microbes can be added by using compost, or healthy soil. Waste products of microbes that live in soil, often as many as billions per teaspoon, actually feed healthy plant roots." Microbes can be added by including some compost or compost tea in the mix. Some commercial mixtures are available that tout themselves as compost starter, etc. but the truth of the matter is that spores and bacteria are on the wind. It may be difficult to get a representative sample large enough to really get the char to transform into biochar, but in theory, time is really all that is necessary to get the microbes to take up residence there. I typically start to see insects hanging around my char after it gets minerals and nutrients added to it. Whether they are trying to eat some of the bits of rotted food, or harvesting smaller organisms that I cannot see will have to remain a mystery. I certainly don't shoo them away, because I see them as vectors for getting more beneficial microbes into the mix. To make compost tea, you just need an air pump, like you would find in an aquarium, some tubing you can weigh down with a rock , a five gallon (20L) bucket of water, and a quart or so of compost. Set the bubbler up so that there is a constant stream of bubbles in the bucket, then add the compost and let it go, bubbling away for 24-48 hours. The air is essential to getting a healthy representative sample of microbes. Adding some of the resulting water to the char after it has been made, micronized, moistened and mineralized will allow the microbes direct access to the territory that has been prepared for them. Of course, there are far more idiosyncrasies and special circumstances to deal with than a short post can include, but for the most part, in the vast majority of locations, you can utilize local resources to make highly effective biochar. Jumping back to the previous post, "Minerals", nitrogen, an important soil constituent, can be added to char through the use of many different ingredients. Some of the best char I have ever made began as 75% grass clippings by volume and 25% char. Another excellent batch started by moisturizing it first with pure, fresh fallen snow. Once material breaks down or concentrates, less is needed. Most of the nitrogen in the batch I mentioned got a lot of moisture and loads of nitrogen from moist grass clippings. Additionally, I added urine every time it dried out enough to soak it up. Nitrogen can come from blood meal, bat guano, fish emulsion, urine (urea) and virtually any manure or offal. As you can imagine, the bacteria which break down these materials are typically present, if not common in soil. When needed, they proliferate quickly and die out after their food supply disappears. Remember though, even dead microbes feed the next generation, it is the cycle of life. Whether you make biochar with manure or urine is not as important as the fact that microbes can grow on either, or both. If animals are fed anti-biotics, this is less so. The goal is not so much to culture a specific set of microbes, but a flourishing, diverse community that utilizes all wastes, from all the different microbes, their predators and competition as well. In diversity there is balance. I often think about how much better off we would be as a civilization, if we accepted this, or at least understood the need for diversity among our human population also. Char itself helps to moderate extremes as do the organisms who live on and in it. So does the water that it holds. Mitigating and ameliorating change is helpful for the whole soil biome. Instead of trying to give crops what they need for just one season, or rotating crops periodically to help the soil stay healthy, utilizing biochar requires us to take a much longer view of soil health and conservation. Once we put all the time and effort into healing the soil, building up the soil biome, we are loathe to abuse it or let it blow away. My county here in Wisconsin Brown County, holds the state record for the most soil lost to erosion each year in our entire state. Perhaps if people decided to value this finite resource, we would get true conservation started. Understanding that healthy food leads to healthy humans is perhaps a stretch for some who sit behind the wheel of a tractor, but we can't continue living as if it did not matter or we threaten our very existence. Just as we have become aware of the micro-biome in the human gut, we need to also become aware of the science behind the micro-biome as it relates to soil health. Estimates of the value of the gut bacteria in our health range up to claims that 80% of our immunity comes from the gut. In soils, there can be billions of microbes in a tablespoon and millions of types and strains can live in close proximity to or atop one another. Like the unbroken forest that we hear, used to cover the Eastern United States, in which a squirrel could travel branch to branch, without touching the ground from the Atlantic Seaboard to the Mississippi River, microbes inhabit healthy soil, cheek to jowl upon each and every soil particle. Biochar exponentially expands the amount of surface area upon which they can thrive. Microbe habitat waiting to happen. Atmosphere is automatic, moisture allows life to flourish, organic material, minerals and nutrients are needed by all life, even microbes. Meeting their needs is paramount to growing healthy soil. Remove just one necessary resource and life gets stunted or fails to thrive. Boutique biochar, such as I teach people to make, transforms soils immediately and lasts for geologic time. Valuing a technique that more than doubles crop production, forever, has an infinite value. What is this knowledge worth to you? Please remunerate me for my efforts and sharing with capital. You can send money through Paypal at account number: which also happens to be my e-mail. If you would like to contact me that way, I have brochures that you can use to spread the word about this ancient miracle in your local community. I can even Skype in on fire pit parties where you would teach others the same sort of class that I do. Humans must emulate natural processes and seek a state of peak evolution by mimicking nature's way of stacking function, producing nothing considered waste, just recyclable materials anxiously awaiting their chance to face the crucible of change. In soil, every trophic level can serve as top predator. This layers multiple levels of living carbon, inhabiting these surfaces, covering them with a micro climate that is warmer, because of metabolism. That warmth is held because soil air has a bit more carbon dioxide than the air we breathe a result of microbe metabolism. All good things for the rest of the community. Just as we have 75% water in our bodies as newborns and it slowly dwindles as we age, down to fifty percent water when we are elderly, microbes have a high percentage of water within them as well; like us, over time, they begin to desiccate, even though the cell walls try to hold on to moisture, it inevitably reduces with time. Up to 75% of the water in soils can be bound within the cells of microbes. This moisture allows metabolism within the cell, but also makes the exchange of gasses possible, helps stabilize soil moisture and moderates temperature. Building the base of the soil food web invites heterotrophs and macro-invertebrates. Microbes that can not be seen with the naked eye are difficult to explain or understand, but the most important thing to remember is that less desirable ones tend to make dank, musty or off smells. The less desirable microbes also are more tolerant of conditions that have limited amounts of oxygen. 85% of bacteria are either innocuous or helpful to humans, many lend their aroma to healthy soil. You probably know what good, healthy soil is supposed to smell like, so too our body is able to sense bad organisms by smell too. With the pathogenic ones, typically you can overcome them with creating conditions favorable to beneficial organisms. Being careful to not let stagnant water develop, aerate more, stir the biochar more often and be careful to balance the amount of nutrients available and the amount of minerals and detritus as well. some less composted material is not bad either. Typically, I have found that in making good char about ten times more nutrients, especially nitrogen are needed by weight when compared to the amount of other minerals. If there is too much moisture, dry powdered minerals can help absorb it. Worm castings can also help absorb excess moisture. Balancing the moisture level so that the biochar never dries out, but never gets too wet is something that you will develop a feel for. The typical make up of soil, as stated in previous posts, is 25% Air (soil atmosphere has more CO2 in it, from microbe respiration) 25% water, 40-45% minerals, 5-10% organic matter. Subdivided, this last 5 to 10% is 80% humus and ten percent each of roots, (both dead and alive), and organisms. Adding biochar, even at 1%, would provide habitat for more organic matter, most of which would be living creatures. These organisms are only 10% of that tiny 5% sliver of soil that is referred to as "organic matter" typically. The carbon matrix upon which biochar is designed and the pyrolysis process rendering it vitreous makes it both mineral, but immune to break down and able to foster microbial life indefinitely, growing habitat for these beneficial microbes, perhaps exponentially. This burgeoning microbial habitat helps stabilize soil moisture, holds minerals and nutrients and creates micro-biomes of better drainage, stucture and retention of moisture when it is available. It also raises soil temperature slightly as a result of microbial metabolism. All these benefits and carbon sequestration! This is where all of the water that passes through and by me, into the Great Lakes wants to flow. The microbes life, health and well-being depend on moisture. Just like we humans how much water they have inside their cells will determine how well they can function.
I realize that the discussion is currently about microbes, but the amount of habitable surface area the char provides depends on making the char a fine powder (see "Micronize") with the largest pieces being smaller than 2mm. About the width of Eisenhower's ear on a dime. The structure inherent in char unleashes massive amounts of surface area, the smaller you crush it, the more available surface area, the smallest powders we are typically able to produce are still cavernous for a microbe. Sorry for the repetition. There is much for us to learn when we build soil this way. One of the most important things to understand is that all soil microbes are interdependent. When any overpopulation occurs and death of one group of organisms occurs, it is not a horrible loss, because others pick up the slack and pitch in to return the soil food web to balance. This interdependence and alliance of all in the community to work for the betterment of conditions for all other organisms is something human creatures need to take to heart as well. The complex interdependent relationships that occur naturally in soil need to be emulated and used as templates for layering functions withing our own lives and the human community as well. I wish you all a future of security and abundance and when we realize that it is unnecessary to deprive some "other" to take care of ourselves, many problems, many traumas and untold destruction will be avoided.

Mineralizing Char

This is the part where I utilize non-scientific analogies to try to convey cold hard science. Minerals constitute typically, a full fifty percent of the mass of soil, almost half of the rest of the material we call soil is either air or water. With a tiny sliver of not-yet composted plant material and of course, the soil organisms. We need to understand and respect that when we add compost to soil, 90% of the carbon in this form leaves the soil profile in just four years. It leaves in many ways, because it is essential to the lives of other creatures. It is consumed, broken down, used up, turned into something else, given off in the form of gas, organisms eat it and leave, or the plants it grows are taken away to be consumed, elsewhere. I drew the carbon cycle by diagramming the hexavalent relationship between the points of the carbon molecule, which also echo their relative abundance in these multi-variant forms. Six lines, forming a hexagon make up the skeleton of the diagram: The soil and Earth itself is the bottom bar, the atmosphere is the top one. The two sides represent the plant and animal kingdoms, lower and higher trophic levels. One excellent analogy of the Earth processes is that the soil actually breathes, high pressure conditions are like the soil inhaling and when the stormy lows happen, the earth exhales. Strangely enough, the opposite holds true for the moisture balance. Typically when the stormy lows are present, it drinks moisture, that holds dissolved nitrogen flows in and displaces some of the gasses. Atmospheric nitrogen is taken in to healthy soil, during high pressure, fair weather conditions.
Minerals are also required for proper cell function and minerals represent a hefty percentage of soil. when nature produces soil, bedrock is broken down by processes within to the soil, it helps to keep the soil biome healthy and feeds life the pure mineral upon which it sits. Because we are creating massive amounts of surface area, we also need to add mineral components and nutrients the plants and soil organisms will utilize to keep the soil healthy long term. This involves the big N nitrogen. Typically it can be found in fresh green grass clippings, the atmosphere, as I mentioned, in urine, manures of all types. Basically anything from the yard or garden or farm that smells strong has lots of nitrogen in it. Making the char hold a lot of this nutrient takes time. The pores are so excellent at holding this nitrogen that as they absorb the smelly nutrient, they fill, eventually, when we add too much, beginning to smell. The minerals from local soil are often best, but if there is a desire to temper soil that is either too acidic or too alkaline, the type of rock dust might be different. Granitic rock dust will help increase acidity or reduce alkalinity. Limestone powder would reduce acidity and make soil slightly more alkaline, but changing soil chemistry can be a very long term issue and it is often best in acidic soils to just grow what likes it there and in limey soils to find the crops that do best there. Not everyone can grow blueberries, no matter what the nursery tells you.
What we are attempting to do is make sure all of these forms of life have not only food for quick energy, but that will have staying power, typically in good soils, minerals that are present in the local subsoil is best. If your soil is being limited by being too acidic, you could add limestone for buffering it to a bit more basic. Likewise if your soils are pushing the limits on the basic side, it may be prudent to add granitic rock dusts. Remember, each of these trophic levels depends on all of the other ones flourishing. Mutualism is key to proper functioning of the whole. Sometimes whether an organism is predator or prey only depends on th esize of the competition or if one is sick or dead. The clean up crew is pretty indiscriminate about what they will eat. Also, this is a good time ot add the idea of the biological processing that goes on with carbon. When organic materails are consumed, they typically go through the bodies of three organisms before they have had all their nutrients digested away. The pure carbon that is left, less than 1% of the original mass, becomes humus, the building blocks nature uses to buils structure in soil. If there is a lack of nutrient-laden material for the microbes to consume and thrive upon, their numbers will reduce, so for proper soil health, new detritus must be added to the surface routinely.

This USDA diagram is for educational purposes only. There are many other nutrients that you could add, especially if you have gotten a soil test and understand what needs to be added, but typically, nitrogen is the most important. It is far more rare to have deficiencies of the other two macro-nutrients, phosphorus and potassium, but it happens. When choosing materials to add to char, one of the most important things to understand is the numbers on fertilizer packages all have three numbers on them. Representing N-P-K the numbers represent the number of pounds of each of those nutrients in 100 pounds of the material. high numbers are not necessarily good. Worm castings have very low numbers, but the plants can absorb that form of nitrogen very efficiently, so the functional value is better than more concentrated forms which may not be as easily assimilated by plants. Blood meal and urea are very high, but break down is required for the plants to take full advantage of that form of nitrogen. Typically, our compost has a little bit of everything we grow in it and I do import compost from within carrying distance when I can get good clean organic yard waste. When you begin to see your soil as a large sponge, giving you a tiny percentage of nutrients from the vast trove it holds, like a "nutrition battery" might do, you begin to understand how critical it is to feed that soil as well as harvest from it. In very real ways, the energy we put into the garden comes back to us, like winding up the rubber band on a child's toy airplane makes it fly. I have been told many times by landowners, "Yes, this field is healthy, it has had nothing but hay grown on it for decades." as if he removal of tons of biomass could never deplete the soils. Without inputs, no matter what you grow and harvest, you will eventually deplete available and necessary/essential nutrients, minerals and soil life which is supposed to thrive in it. Understanding the needs of the microbes, we culture the char with, is important. It helps us to know how to prepare the char for the addition of the microbes. Typically, the nitrogen and rock dust are first in, but then I add tobacco and other herbs, especially ones I might use for my own health and healing, hoping to increase the variety of substances available to be broken down. Finished compost holds a wealth of nutrition for soil microbes. Loess, or wind borne soil particles add much as well. Many of the best soils that retain fertility were created when dust settled upon the surface periodically. I try to add at least some to every batch of biochar I make. If you can cut and chop any local plants that grow in un-tilled or "waste" areas nearby, adding that will also help boost the organic content in and around the char. At this point, you could add a variety of mineral rich preparations, kelp or other amendments and any of the biodynamic preparations to really help charge the char for the addition of microbes, but again I find myself jumping ahead.

Micronizing Char

It sounds odd to say it, but the smaller the particles, the more habitable surface area the char will contain. The International Biochar Institute (IBI) has found that particle sizes less than 2 mm are best. These tiny bits are made up of many tubes which are the vitrified plant cells. Turns out, heating coals 'til they glow is like firing pottery. Not only does the material turn into something like glass, the particles lose half of their size as well. (The charring process shrinks parent material by half as the hydrogen and oxygen, tied up as carbohydrates, are driven off.) When the carbon is heated to between 450 and 500 degrees F (230-260C) in the absence of air, it is transformed forever. See the entry: "Making". This small particle size also allows earthworms the ability to consume the char and have it come out the other end enriched with worm castings! This is what the structure of a particle of char looks like once turned to powder. This image is a scale model of what a 0.1mm (0.004 inches) piece of char would look like. This is still massive compared to most soil microbes. Many refer to char as being like condominiums for microbes. The moisture, nutrients and minerals we add to char are akin to stocking the refrigerators, mini bars and pantries of this massive complex for life. Try as I might, some people just cannot comprehend this living zone under our feet. I understand that it will forever remain invisible, but we can understand what goes on there if we know how to look. I have developed soils that were over 8% organics and when organics in soil get high, many weeds do not grow optimally, especially peculiar is quackgrass, which gets large underground systems that can't even put up a single leaf. It is almost like it is trying to grow toward poorer soil before it even tries to grow anything above ground. Remember though, 90% of the carbon added to the soil as compost is lost in one way or another, within four years. Fully half of what we call soil is either air or water. Soil air, or soil atmosphere as some call it, has slightly less oxygen and nitrogen than above ground air and many times more carbon dioxide in it than air we breathe, again, a result of soil microbe metabolism. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is 0.04%. in soil it can be 0.25% In any case, depending on the water holding capacity of soil, saturation levels, and compaction, soils can range up to ten percent more air, or water, at intervals, it swings back and forth around 25% of each. Most of the remainder is mineral. Up to half of the material is just "dirt", a mineral complex waiting to become habitable. One might imagine parent rock as pure mineral without organic material added in yet. Often it is referred to as bedrock. Fertile soil, on the other hand has this once living carbon component that is residue of life. Soil tilth comes, in part, from this. Fungal hyphae exploit it and turn it into structural elements within the soil complex. The microbes who feed in, on and around these stored reserves flourish and give rise to other trophic levels. Looking at just the tiniest section of the pie chart, the 5-8% which represents the organic carbon, dead plant roots, dead plant residue, dung, dead microbes and other life, etc. we see a community made up of billions of organisms per tablespoon. healthy soil is completely different than dirt. Just considering the tiny fraction of the soil we can control, component by component, further investigation reveals this: Soil microbiome in healthy soil is diverse and contains all these interactive elements. So many epiphitic and filial relations exist between members of the soil community, it is difficult to diagram them all. Each trophic level can concentrate minerals, nutrients and, sadly toxins, to tenfold increase above background levels in their tissues. All parts of this system provide vital resources for other trophic levels. Unlike above ground life, every creature or plant can feed on the others, making them top predators. I was challenged by a friend to create a diagram of the carbon cycle and this is just my first stab at it. Soil carbon as I have diagrammed here, is mostly living or recently living. The tiny bit of carbon biochar adds is less than a single percentage. The rest of the life that goes on, the biome, the active living tissue of billions of microscopic organisms per tablespoon of soil, once consumed or used as resources for sustaining amoebae, ciliates and/or flagellates, however these same soil organisms can feed on the tissues of any of the representatives from any and all other trophic levels.
90% of organic carbon added to soil leaves within the first four years, so if you compost, never wait five years to add it to your garden beds or crop producing fields. Soil life depends on dead roots, dead leaves, manure and other organic matter, typically the sorts of things we throw into our compost bins, typically food that would smell bad within a few days. This is exactly the kind of stuff that soil microbes love. without a constant supply of nutrients, like us, they wither and die. What makes biochar different is that vitrified carbon, pyrolized carbon, lasts forever. The organisms who use it for housing don't eat it or digest it, they just use the surfaces within it for habitat. That is, why making the surface area available, by making tiny particles, is worth the effort. Unleashing the power of char takes place when the material is crushed to powder. If you ever see a charred log in the woods, it is almost always virtually sterile. Nothing will grow on it. When the particles are tiny, it becomes possible to saturate it with nutrients and food for life. In a large chunk, there is comparatively little surface area exposed to air, water and nutrients. My feedstock for making char is primarily sawdust. I live in a forest products state and have virtually unlimited amounts of it free. It is expensive to transport away. Making char from sawdust yields small bits that do not need to be crushed to powder or small grains. Perhaps you think it lazy, but really, it is efficient. If there are agricultural areas near sawdust anywhere on Earth, the highest use for them is char production! Get on this human beings, let's make this happen! This is NOT how to do it. Tiny chunks, smaller than gravel are best!
When I heard that a cubic centimeter of char has equal surface area to a soccer pitch, my mind was completely and utterly blown. Looking at it another way, a handful of the stuff has fourteen acres of surface area. Again, mind-blowing. I'm nearly ten years in to my experience with biochar and my mind is still blown when I consider it! When you factor in the ability of microbes to flourish in and on the char, it has even more power to transform soils for the better. Water holding capacity is increased not only because char holds six times it's weight in water, but once colonized by the microbial community, that amount increases because the microbes hold water in their cells as well. When I began, I tried everything to crush the nuggets of char I made. In addition to being dusty as all get out, there were no good ways of doing it. I drove a large vehicle back and forth across a big burlap bag, lined with a plastic bag to catch as much of the char powder as possible, after about twenty times of driving over it, about a quart of use-able char was produced, the rest remained big pieces. I tried a hammer and made some small bits, but many bigger chunks went flying. I even tried a large mortar and pestle, which worked, but is not nearly as romantic as it appears in those movies they show in anthropology class. There is a reason that mills figure greatly into most local lore. Once you didn't have to pound or grind wheat to flour, by hand, things were golden! The tool of choice that I have settled on for smaller areas, garden beds and smaller, is to use a hand grinder for coffee. You can change the fineness of the grind and sub 2mm is easy enough to get with it. You just have to slowly feed chunks into the feed auger, which requires paying some attention to, but, if you are the person cranking the handle, you should not hurt yourself too badly. Please, please, please, do not breathe the dust! Finally, for larger acreages, you can utilize a hammer mill to crush char. Especially if you have acres to enrich, but only logs and large chunks of wood to char. It can be done, but do not breathe the dust! Always wear a respirator if you are going to be around char dust! Another caveat of the hammer mill that is if you try to use water to keep the dust down, the workings will get gummed up. Always remember, what seems tiny to us is cavernous to the microbes we are helping to thrive in the soils we are building. Posted by Bioneer: Tony C. Saladino

Moisturizing Char

Once made, char needs to be moistened. Moisture is critical to making the char come alive. The best material I have found for that is rainwater, or urine. Char can be extremely hydrophobic, resisting water. Sometimes amazingly so. Super pure char can be difficult to get wet, but when it does absorb water, it can hold six times it's weight in H20. Typically, when adding water to char, it is well to add some of the nutrients you want to be held in the microscopic pores at the same time. Dilute bat guano, urine or fish emulsion will add nitrogen as well, as moisture but I am getting ahead of myself. See the post called: "Mineralize Char" The moisture that char absorbs helps reduce the amount of dust that is generated when dealing with dry char, especially when stirring or crushing it to powder. Char dust is dangerous! Do not breathe it! If you are around char powder dust, wear a respirator! Rock dust was the first carcinogen discovered, char particles are vitrified to emulate porous stone. Moisture is the source of all life and the mixture we are creating as a precursor to biochar is based on water. The microbes we eventually introduce are like us in that their cells are full of water. Remember as well that activated carbon, the exact same thing we just made, to remove chemicals and fish waste from fish tanks, they use it to purify drinking water and to remove odors, but we want to fill all of that filtering capacity with organic nutrients and minerals that will encourage microbes to thrive upon it later on. The best moisture level is one that allows the char to feel like wet sand with no ponding or puddling, no water in the bottom of whatever broad low container you work it in. When wet, the char will have a glassy texture at first and almost squeak as the shards of material pass by one another. The tiny pores and fissures have enough surface area to allow hundreds of billions of bacteria to have space on which to grow. If the tubules get too long, there cannot be adequate access to fresh air and water inside. For the most part, the smaller the particles of char become, the more surface area becomes available for life to thrive upon. Again, this will be covered more in other installments, specifically the post entitled, "Micronize Char". So, when we add a ton of char per acre, it can hold six tons of water, so handling larger quantities presents some specialized challenges as well. For fun, I checked the figures to see how much six tons of water is, since I typically urge folks to add a ton of char per acre, the amount of water it holds makes biochar heavy. Char itself is super light, but when we prepare it for life and inoculate it with microbes, it gets many times heavier. A ton holds six tons of water alone to be exact. I resorted to my Old English rhyme, a pint is a pound the world around, so 12,000 pounds equals as many pints. Two pints to a quart, so 6,000 quarts, divide by four, makes 1,500 gallons. I continued trying to imagine just how much that would be, nearly thirty fifty-five gallon drums (exactly 27.2727etc. of them) to be exact. The way I like to measure large volumes is by Olympic-size swimming pools, especially when measuring liquid. I is about 1/40 of an Olympic sized swimming pool. Held by the char applied to each acre! Add to that the organisms that inhabit the char surfaces hold additional water in their cell walls and that would hold moisture above and beyond the capacity of the char itself, perhaps much more! As we broaden the base of the soil food chain, it kicks everything into high gear, but again, I get ahead of the process. Imagine though, before we get back to moisture proper, a simple doubling of the soil microbiome. See the post entitled "Microbes". Getting back to the moisture part, doubling from a single ton of microbes per acre, to two is more than likely, there might be three or five (perhaps many times more than that,) fold increase in microbial activity when the soil is very rich, extremely fecund, fully carbonized with biochar and nourished long term with healthy mulches and green manure. I have even seen pictures of plants growing in pure biochar, although for most of us, that would be prohibitively expensive. These further tons of microbial creatures are all holding nutrient and moisture as well, moderating and stabilizing changes in the soil climate and ecology.
Just remember that you do not want the char to become anaerobic. To cultivate the healthiest microbes, the char should be as wet as a wrung out sponge, much like compost. They also need air and being moist together give the organisms to give the organisms the best chance of survival. Underestimating the needs of these microscopic creatures is a common problem. Making sure they have plenty of resources to get their needs met is the primary focus of the charmaster. I can help get you over some of the most difficult hurdles to making excellent char, but your active participation in the process will help you develop an affinity for what your biochar needs. Again, local conditions will dictate what is best for your biochar. Exponential growth of the community of organisms is normal and natural, we just have to content ourselves with not being able to see the miracles we are able to create in the char.

Six Steps Making Char

Six steps required to make the best biochar. Alternjatively, this could be called, "NO Time to Wait!"
The short answer is making, moisturizing, micronizing, mineralizing, microbes and maturation. The next six posts will review what is meant by each of these terms. If there are editorial comments or questions, please let me know. It will make a lasting difference. Always, always, always, remeber that quality works by example and invites reciprocation. Making Char This first step in creating of biochar. In essence, all you do is heat dry plant material to between 450 and 500 degrees F (230-260 C), basically making it glow, without allowing air to get to the reaction site. This process is called pyrolysis. When the material glows, it changes form and makes it like more like fired clay, than wood or dirt. when vitrified, ut becomes permanent in the environment and not subject to degradation. Charcoal has been made around the world, throughout human history. When human beings learned of the power of char, and how it is turned into biochar is still a mystery. It is well established that as recently as 2,000 years ago, humans were making it and some tribes and cultures still use this practice in modern times. It is sad that intact cultures are referred to as primitive, because they are often far more scientifically advanced and sophisticated than that term implies. Utilizing biochar is one of the indicators of a highly advanced agriculture. My tool of choice in the matter of making char is a retort, a basic scientific instrument designed to allow heating and vapor release, without introducing oxygen (air). Typically, the retort has but one opening to allow gasses to escape, mine actually has three, but they can be closed during cooling. Here is a schematic view of a retort. Below is picture of my old retort in use and I have made other types of charring equipment as well. It is important to understand all the ways to do this step, so you can pick the one that suits your needs, available resources and needs. In my classes I discuss at least five types of charring techniques, the pit or flame cap, build and bury, similar to how much char was made before the fossil energy revolution and the current infatuation with liquid fuels; retort, of course, because it is my preferred method, the can within a can (which pretty much explains itself) which could also be called a retort in a chimney, and the TULD, Top Lit Up Draft. The method you choose varieties depends on how much you are making, what materials you have available and how pure you want/need to make your char. In addition to teaching facts about biochar, making and using it, I try to get across a feeling, or attitude of appreciation and the desire to teach and share with others the ancient miracle that is biochar. Making char requires nothing more than a basic popcorn, cookie or cracker tin. Just pop a few holes in it to release the gasses and fasten the lid on with self-tapping pan head screws, then char away. You can even use dry garden clippings, woody yard waste or herb stems, any dry woody debris will do, as long as it is completely dry. Typically, I just put the whole container right in the fire pit while enjoying a camp or bonfire. At first, the container smokes a little, but then the flammable gasses come off, making pure clean flame. When that flame dies down, and disappears, even if you shake the container around, it is finished. Lay it on a surface that won't burn with the holes you poked facing toward the ground to smother off as much air as possible from getting into the container. When it cools, it is ready to start processing. Beware though, wood and sawdust, or organic material is a good insulator, so the coals may stay warm for several hours or more depending on how large a container you use. This retort is made from a Cornelius keg, it holds five gallons of material (I prefer dry sawdust) and reduces to approximately one kilogram of material. Making char from sawdust eliminates the need for micronization, because the pieces are small enough to be used without further smashing into powder. A typical firing of a retort like this takes about three hours with dry sawdust used for the feedstock, or parent material. The value of this will become evident in later posts. (see Micronizing) As in nature, stacking functions is the key to increased efficiency.
I did not have a big enough fire pit to roast the material in this retort, a sealed 55 gallon drum, with conduit to direct the gasses out the bottom. Although it worked well enough to produce the flammable gas, it was just not enough to help warm the drum. Had I been able to build a larger bonfire, it would have been able to make over ten kilograms of finished char. That would be enough to amend a ten foot wide bed forty feet long to a depth of three inches. If you are not able to make a fire for some reason, you can use high end charcoal that is readily available at grilling outlets. Typically it has names like natural charcoal, cowboy charcoal or lump charcoal. Essentially it should appear like burned wood. If it has been compacted into uniform briquets, typically it will have contaminants and binders that reduce the quality of your finished product. In this case, I must admit that I am a bit of a carbon snob. The goal is to get the open grains of the wood's cellular structure, binders, paint, stain and other foreign material can close the ends of the pores and render the finished product either contaminated or useless. If you had a scanning electron microscope, tiny particles of the finished product would look like this: It is really that simple. Dry organic, woody material, the cellular structure of the plant is what gets preserved at approximately half size. As the material is heated, the gasses liberated are nearly pure oxygen and hydrogen, these flammable gasses must be able to leave the retort and they will readily be burned off during the process. The nice thing about the retort is that when the gasses stop coming out, you know that the char is done roasting. After removing the retort from the fire, loosely plug or cover the hole(s) to keep air out and let the char cool. Another way to tell if the char is done is to feel the weight of the container. When finished, the char is very light and when you touch finished char, there will be very little black carbon that sticks to your hands. Incompletely fired or poorly pyrolized char will still have oily soot-like residue. It gets your hands dirty when you handle it and it will smell or taste of creosote. A good way to tell if char is finished is to smell or taste it. There will be no taste or smell. The best char, is pure carbon. After it cools, if you stir the pieces, it will almost sound metallic or like broken glass shards, especially after it is moistened, but that will be covered in the next post. Poorly made char can degrade as it breaks down in soil, so take care and do whatever it takes to make the best char possible, it will reward future generations, many times over, not only for seven generations, but for geologic time.
There are other ways to make char and they include something called a flame cap burner, basically a container that does not allow air in either the bottom or sides. In this method, you have to build a rick. (a rick is like a log cabin, but the logs are layered from side to side like a nearly solid floor on each level, but to maximize air flow, room is left around each log, stick or branch, not like a solid floor of wood, but a lattice in three dimensions.) A small fire is built atop the rick and when the material burns down, you will notice that the fire only exists at the top of the vessel, where air first contacts the hot gasses. Material inside will just glow, but not burn. Keep adding material until all that is left is the glowing bed of coals, when the flame cap stops burning, the gasses have all been released, the char is done and has to be quenched with water or have a loosely fitting lid ready to cover the vessel to keep air out. This method is great if you do not have strict burning regulations because it gets smoky if you put too much material on at once. The ideal rate for adding material to the flame cap burner is evidenced by the absence of smoke. You want a very clean burn, if you get any smoke, either you have put too much on at once, the inside of the container is not hot enough, or the material is too wet to char. This can even be accomplished by just digging a hole in the ground and building your fire large enough to fill the pit with glowing embers. Quench or smother them out with the soil that remains from digging the hole. It is "primitive", but if you know what to do and how to know it is done, it can work beautifully. The TLUD (Top Lit Up Draft) burner and the vessel within vessel method are also useful if you have the materials and metal-working skills to make them. First, for the vessel within a vessel technique, you would need a small, sealing, steel container and it would need to fit within another larger steel container, I have seen them made from a 30 gallon drum inside a fifty five gallon drum. Holes are made in the bottom of the thirty gallon vessel 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) up from the bottom, to allow gasses to escape. This container is then filled with the material you are going to char and sealed. The larger drum also has holes in the bottom and is kept up off the ground at the start to let fresh air in when lighting the fire, but since they are in the bottom, when the burn is complete, you can pretty much seal them closed by simple lowering the container to the ground. The larger drum also has a lid, but it needs to have a hole prepared to accept a stovepipe. About six feet of stovepipe above the penetration in the lid, to keep all the smoke up and away from people. This device is very smoky upon starting as can be the TLUD In any case, the large drum gets propped up off the ground to start the burn, the smaller vessel, once filled with material to be charred and the opening of the drum is sealed, it goes into the larger vessel, atop a bed of tinder and other fire starting material, vent holes down. The inner drum is propped up off the bottom as well. The space under the smaller vessel holds the kindling wood and helps air to flow upward during the main burn. The next step is to be to fill the space around the inner drum with dry, burnable material An easy way to start the burn is to make ready some coals, like you would use for grilling, dump them down into the tinder and quickly fill the drum with the wood, quickly capping it and installing the stovepipe. As the outer wood burns, it begins to heat the inner drum and as that happens, flammable gasses begin to escape making the fire hotter. Eventually the smoke stops as the outer sleeve of wood goes to char, then ash, but by then the additional heat, from the escaping gasses leaving the inner vessel, continue to burn, also heating the inner vessel. This allows it to finish the process. As the material finishes, less and less gasses are produced until there is no more flame, just glowing coals within the inner vessel. At that point let the outer drum drop to the ground, sealing out the air. Some people like to throw a "seal" of sand around the edge, or do that and then moisten the sand to help keep out the air that could get in the bottom. I have not worried about it and done well, just getting a good solid seal on flat ground. To reduce the updraft of the chimney, which could draw air in the bottom, you could add a flue damper. The TLUD kiln is similar to the flame cap, but the flame essentially working its way to the bottom, using up all the available oxygen before it can burn the char all the way to ash. I'm not completely thrilled with this technique because some creosote residue might be deposited on the finished char. I have not fired one myself and it requires one to not have to worry about making lots of smoke, again when you get it started, it will smoke to beat the ban, until the flame front gets established. In a TLUD kiln, it works like the flame cap, but the air coming in the bottom is severely limited, and the flame actually advances down from the top, as it goes toward the small amount of air, it uses up all the oxygen in the process of burning and the hot material left behind is hot enough to continue to give off gasses. In this sort of kiln, typically, they run a stack with an afterburner to burn off the gasses when they finally get out into the air. These can be impressive and may bring to mind a fire breathing dragon! To my understanding, having the material loosely packed in the kiln is crucial to success, you can't pack the material in the kiln because the air flow, although small, is crucial. When packing the TULD kiln, the feedstock needs to be about as dense as a natural sponge, so air flows around and through the material, rather than if it were packed tightly, or irregularly, it would choke off the air flow, burn unevenly or only partially char. I plan to make one of these and try it for myself. The people who use them swear by them. You can put any vessel over fire, as long as you have somewhere the flammable gasses can escape. When the gasses stop coming off, if you stir the material and the flame does not continue, or flare up, pull it from the fire and put a loose fitting lid on it, seal it with the ground, or quench it out with water, because as it contracts, air will make it into the retort, but the goal is to not have it touch any glowing char that has not yet cooled below 400 F, otherwise it could continue to burn when oxygen gets in. I have had batches where the integrity of the seal was compromised and the char continued burning for over ten hours, without me even noticing. I went to sleep and in the morning, the container was still warm, opening it revealed the embers had consumed almost half the char! When making char in any sort of retort, it is important to wait until the material is fully cooled before exposing it to the air. If you do not, it can reignite on contact with air. The still warm char gets wasted when it turns to white ash. Keeping this white ash production to a minimum in all but the most acidic of soils and getting the highest percentage pure carbon as possible is the goal. It is critical to getting the most from your effort. The most important thing to remember about white ash, is that it is very alkaline, lye is made from fully burned ashes. DO NOT USE white ash. It is no longer carbon, even that gets burnt. Once burned to white ash, only minerals remain. We want the carbon, that is what benefits the soil, when it becomes fully pyrolized. Wood that has not fully charred will decay and lose carbon as well, so make sure that you fully char the material you use. The embers must glow and completely, lose all their hydrogen and oxygen. Pure, vitrified carbon will remain fixed in soil for geologic time. Once prepared this charred material has fourteen acres of surface area per handful. All that surface area needs to be nourished to become a healthy precursor to soil. That is whay the next five posts will cover. Basic science rules those phases, but for now, keeping with the title of this post, making char is easy, if one has some simple tools, a fire and patience to make sure your woody material is fully finished before you remove it from the fire. I will cover more about the golden ratio of minerals and nutrients, in the post "Mineralization" If you choose to make a retort, vessel in vessel, TULD burner, or use a flame cap method, the only requirement is to have complete pyrolysis without either un-charred material or white ash. The best tests for quality are look and feel, smell and taste. It should be ultralight and the darkest black you will ever see. Occasionally it may have a rainbow oxidization, but the predominant feature is to be super black (the best char sounds a bit like glass when pieces are touched together. You will hear a hollowness to the pieces and they will be very light) Testing char quality by smell, (should smell fresh, not like creosote or smoke) Char is a great deodorizer. There should also be no taste; again, smoky or oily flavors are evident straight away. Material not thoroughly heated for long enough will smell like smoke. Excellent char will not taste like anything, in fact, the predominant sensation is that it sucks moisture from your tongue. Truly an anti-taste. This material is so much more valuable than gold, I cannot begin to tell you. This beginning ingredient, char, when treated and processed properly will double crop production when added at the rate of one kilogram per cubic meter of soil, or roughly two pounds per cubic yard. If anyone ever needs help determining how much char they need, please contact me directly. My land line is nine twenty, double 8 four, triple two 4. Mornings in Wisconsin (Central Time) are the best time to reach me. Best wishes on your journey. When you use your char and see the benefits, think about who taught you how to make it and send a token of thanks. Think long and hard about the principles within sustainability, which urge us to equitably distribute the abundance. That is all I ask. Ubuntu as they say in Africa, namaste' as they say in India. We are each incarnations of the godhead and without a single one of us, all would be diminished. I truly am, because of you! Appreciatively, Tony C. Saladino

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Wannabe? (the Rube Goldberg of Life)

I have tried to understand why so many of our hopes and dreams are based on trying to get to, acheive or become something we are not. Sometimes, we spend so much time living in an imagined future that we neglect where we are and potentially things that actually need to be attended to. Struggling to get to a better place, planning for it, putting off being happy for a future expected benefit seems to be nearly universal in our culture. The word wannabe has the solution to the angst created when we do not acheive our hopes and dreams embedded right in it. BE. I occasionally speak to the phenomenon most of us have seen played out in the natural world. Wild creatures, as far as we can tell, spend all their time in the state of be-ing. Although I have seen squirrels fall out of trees and they immediately look around to check to see if anyone (other squirrels) saw them fall. That is the most self-conscious activity I have seen out of many thousands of wild things I have seen and interacted with. I once had a fish that had been hooked badly, and he knew that it was not possible to get food through the smaller opening it left in its jaw, but that is just knowledge about a gross abnormality. It was difficult to ascertain whether it understood that not eating would eventually lead to death. I operated on the fishes mouth and it lived for many more years, healthy. It was not at all sure about letting me catch it in my hand, but after I had cut off the offending piece of jaw bone, with a wire cutter, he healed quickly, ate voraciously and always wanted to be on the same side of the tank as where I would stand or sit. So, how would our lives be different if we managed to just be together without internal,sometimes unconscious forces that push us to feel that we don't have enough money, enough space, enough education, enough food or enough love? Instead of operating from a belief in our own lack, if we just understood that everythng we actually need is not too far away or even, provided in abundance? How do we step away from th ehouse of cards we build to give us comfort in a desired future state and learn to BE in the NOW?
We have had a long history of not reaching our opitmum potential. We even thought we knew why.
Now, we are beginning to realize that some of the things we thought were impotant are not and other things neglected or ignored are the things we should have been paying attention to all along. One interesting example of that I have noticed is that after pushing the idea of getting children into academically challenging pre-K and Kindergartens, somthing well-meaning educators thought made sense fifty years ago, research is finally proving that idea to be wrong. For generations we have been trying to do good for our kids, but the opposite has happenned. Children that young need less academic training and more free play, stories, music and active movement. They need time to grow and develop make and develop social connections and learning skills that have nothing to do with letters and numbers. Their brains actually have no way of integrating those abstract representations of quantities, quantities and sounds. Their perceptual apparatus is attuned to something else that our culture underestimates the value of. Brain research confirms the same effects from too much and too early academic work leads to the same problems as getting too much screen time when you are young. Pediatricians have stated unequivocally, no child should ever be exposed to screen time before the age of two. The results are developing fewer social skills, less gray matter, less and shorter memory, lower reading and comprehension skills during High School and College. If there were benefits in the first grade, by third grade they were more than offset by these deficiencies. Parents don't want to have their children have lives with all the same issues and problems they did, but when we find something we tried to do to help our children actually hurts them, it may be a good time to stop. Real change is differnt than just going with the flow. Not everything we thought was true is actually correct.
Covid-19 has offered us an opening to change how we live. For decades ECO-Tours of Wisconsin Inc. has had play at it's heart. Digging in the earth to plant a tree is work, but when you do it for fun, it is, or can be, serious play. We use those openings to help our guests and bioneers have a more intimate relationship and interaction with nature, with the soil itself. With the landscape and the wildlife whose homes we are intruding upon. Many of the wild creatures who see us lugging buckets of trees into the remote areas we help reforest, must not understand what is about to happen, but more than once, a bird has come to a sedling we had just planted minutes earlier, landed on the tiny sapling tree, then, did their part and helped fertilize the new neighbor with a squirt of waste before flying away. None of us knows the ultimate result will be when we wannabe something or someone else, but we can all be sure that there will be different problems and concerns when we get there too. Many will completely blind-side us when we get close to fulfilling our dreams and aspirations. Accepting what is, instead of remaining distracted by what may come to be is what has allowed us to plant tens of thousands of trees with very little money. The desired future is slowly taking shape, but we can change the world for the better by remebering to "just" BE. When we shift our perspective, both foreground and background are fundamentally changed.
We often build twittering machines of sub systems to make our way through our days. Because we are living in such an un-natural state, out of the moment, trying to get ahead, make ends meet or keep up with our neighbors. It is easy to forget that truly seeing, truly listening and settling down to appreciate what we have may not even make it onto our radar. Like a mobile, the separate parts of our lives seem never to cross or bang into one another and each sub-system is like a constellation of it's own, moving in circles, centered on themselves. So many of us have built devices that help us to do all of the things that need to be done, but they are often held together with bubble gum and baling twine. These often disjoint sub-routines all have to click together in just the right ways to make it possible for us to survive. That creates it's own kinds of stress, an extra tax as it were on our energies and it adds up to inefficiency and eventually feelings of lack that take their toll. We have been doing things this way for so long that it has become second nature, but if any of the sub-systems get just slightly out of balance, our side hustle dries up or the lady doing day care gets sick, it can turn into a feedback loop of perturbation, aggravation, ever more frustrations and it can lead to collapse, exhaustion and bad decisions in other parts of our lives. Stress can kill and we have been keeping so many plates in the air for so long that we often forget, every once and a while, the frenetic spinning stops and the whole apparatus can fall.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Efficient Next Steps

We are facing a rapid draw down in both life expectancy and birth rate. This alone will reduce our carbon footprint, but not nearly fast enough. If we add in increasing efficiencies that continue to be available across a wide spectrum of products, the reductions will begin to get more serious. When I first began getting interested in solar as a viable option, the cost of installed solar generation was over ten dollars per kilowatt. The cost today is below two dollars, less than 20% and the panels today are vastly superior in that a smaller size can produce more power. Advancing technologies continue to bring costs per unit of production down. As important are the demand side avenues which avoid having to grid tie systems or, in fact, use large quantities of electricity at all. This, in turn brings the costs of remote systems down considerably. This in turn feeds allowing deeper penetration into the market. In many resort or remote areas, the cost of ice is typically high, but in times of too much Sun or wind on a non-grid-tied system, making ice would go a long way to using available energy, converting two abundant resources, to reap rewards longer term, from excess production.
Thinking of all the ultra-wealthy interests who will be buying carbon offsets as soon as it is possible to do so, purely to continue to pollute makes me feel ill. Will we be surprised when they get stared down by a general public already aware of the attempted sanitizing of horrible production methodologies? The public is quickly coming to understand that carbon is the culprit and buying some to shove in the ground just to cancel out continuing emissions won’t help, we need to not only cut emissions, but fix carbon, in soil, the way we have for at least nine thousand years. Many of our preconceptions about ancient humans are skewed by words like “primitive”, which humans have not been for many millennia. Imagine, living your entire life with the fire pit at the center of your life. One thing you would know inside and out, like the back of your hand, would be fire. It would not take long for a sentient being to understand that there is still residual energy in black charcoal and once it turns white, that energy is gone. It also would not have taken long for those of our ancestors who paid attention to figure out that by adding manure or urine to the black material and crushing it to tiny grains, that agricultural land could be enriched and that benefit would last, season after season, as long as they could measure or conceive of…forever. If you would like to know how to sequester carbon and double crop production, please let us know. We can always be reached by e-mail to arrange classes.