Biochar and a Fair Dinkum Aussie
I find it impossible to throw prunings in the Otto Bin. There has to be a way to recycle them and use the carbon storage they provide. We have a lot of trees and a lot of stored prunings in between star pickets in the yard. I needed to do something about them.
I found the perfect, easy solution for making BioChar. The hardest part, is to get the 44gallon drum (old speak) 200litre (not so new speak) and do the modification. I found a youtube video with the quintessential Aussie Bloke that will show you how to do it. He’s a farmer in North Queensland and a real gem.
Why I Like Local Information
There is a bit of hype around BioChar and that is why I was happy to run across the video from our quintessential, (representing a perfect or typical example of something) Aussie cocky. For those who don’t know Aussie slang, a cocky is a small landholder farmer. Probably any farmer with less than 10,000 acres or 2,500 hectares.
The main reason I search for local knowledge is the way they go about things and experiment to see if it really works. And then pass that information on. His channel is a mine of information.
When you watch the video, have a look at some of the other videos about how he is adding BioChar to a test section of his farm and the results he is getting.
Silky Saws and Biochar. What is the connection?
I enjoy gardens and trees. When I have the chance, I love nothing better than being there. Pruning the trees, picking the vegies, planting, and even weeding.
What made me think about writing this was that I have been storing some of my prunings from previous pruning seasons because I had been thinking about biochar and doing a bit of research to learn more about it. I also had a couple of bottle brushes to cut back aggressively (perfect for the first attempt at biochar)
The tools I use in the garden for pruning and gathering are made in Japan. They are tools that will last you a lifetime when maintained. It is the Japanese way to build quality. And in the age of throw-away, they are exceptional to use.
First cab off the rank is the Silky Pocket Boy. This small folding saw is a gem. Affectionately known as “The Little Giant”, it is often used for tasks that are much bigger than its size. Because you can.
If a Bigger Saw is Needed
When I need a bigger saw I use the Gomboy 24cm Curved Blade Folding Saw. When pruning small branches, I prefer the Silky Folding Saws. Branches up to 80mm in diameter are easy with both the Pocket Boy and Gomboy.
Every now and then you will want to do some heavy pruning. I had some bottle brush trees that were hanging over the neighbour’s yard. Time to give them a haircut, and at the same time add to the pile for biochar. My goto for branches over 100mm diameter is the Silky Sugoi 36cm blade length. What a beautiful cutting saw.
But before I could use the Sugoi, I had to bring the bottle brush down to size. This is where the Silky Pole Saw is so valuable. You stay on the ground and the Pole Saw does the work for you. Literally, the pole saw really does the work. And at the end of this page, I am going to reveal a little-known tip regarding the use of Silky Pole Saws that most people don’t know. This tip makes using a Silky Pole Saw so much easier and faster.
Okatsune Secateurs Hedge Shears and Snips
Until you use these Okatsune garden tools, you won’t understand why I rave about them. The are super in the garden. The secateurs stay sharp, it seems for ever, and they just cut so quickly and cleanly.
Always Read the Comments
The following tips for those who need a source of wood, were in the comments of the video.
Local timber yards/stores get a bunch of wood pallets. Where I get mine. They give them away. And will load them for you. Just have to cut them to fit the barrel. They do have nails, and staples. A strong magnet will pull them out of the char. I wouldn’t worry about the nails and staples. They are a source of iron that will break down pretty quickly once they are in the soil.
Of course, if you do get pallets and need to cut them up, a fine tooth Silky Saw will do the job. On dried wood or timber, a fine tooth saw will cut more efficiently than a large tooth saw. A Gomboy Fine Tooth or a Zubat Fine Tooth saw will work wonders.
What exactly is Biochar and Activated Carbon?
The theory regarding Biochar has been around for many years. In fact, it is a long-forgotten soil enhancement process. It dates back to the Amazon Indians and the quality of the soil in the Amazon. Studies indicate that the Amazon soil is metres deep with biochar and that accounts for its fertility. It is called terra preta
The source of the biochar was humans creating it by burning tree offcuts in deep pits. This stopped oxygen from being available at the bottom of the pit. The technical term is pyrolosis (The pyrolysis process is the thermal decomposition of materials at elevated temperatures in an inert atmosphere. It involves a change of chemical composition.) Being in a pit limited oxygen to the base of the fire and as the temperature rose, more wood was thrown on top which again limited oxygen to the previous layer.
At the end of this there will be some links to some rather interesting reading about biochar, Amazon Indians and terra preta.
Why go to the effort of making biochar?
Have you heard of charcoal filters. They are used in those Brita Water Jugs. The carbon filter is similar to biochar. It has a cellular honeycomb structure that captures and stores particles as the water passes through the filter.
Biochar does a similar thing in the earth only it helps the Earth to become a source or sink for greenhouse gasses as well as remineralising the soil.
Biochar’s usefulness in improving soils stems from its structure. It is very porous with a lot of surface area. This structure allows biochar to hold water and nutrients in the soil like a sponge.
Increasing soil organic carbon leads to an increase in:
- energy supply for microbes, macrofauna and earthworms
- direct nutrient supply to plants (particularly nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur)
- the capacity of the soil to retain and exchange nutrients
- aggregation of soil particles and stability of soil structure
- water storage and water availability to plants
- beneficial thermal properties
- pH buffering (helping to maintain acidity at a constant level).
Remember that Pole Saw Tip I promised
The majority of people who first use a pole saw use their arms to push it up and pull it down to saw through the branch. There’s an easier way.
Once you have made the first cut across the branch and the blade is in the cut, hold the handle of the pole against your side and rock forwards. This will make the blade go up in the cut – called the return stroke. Then rock or step backwards. This will make the blade come down and cut into the branch. Remember, Silky Saws cut on the pull stroke. This method uses gravity as your assistant.
If you use a pole saw for any length of time just using your arms, you will find you don’t want to pick it up again after ten minutes. It is worse than hanging out the washing for a family of four. Ladies will know what I mean.
The biggest advantage is that you are using the biggest muscles in your body to do the work (and giving them a workout as well)
Other Reading and Links
Dr. Elaine Ingham https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErMHR6Mc4Bk