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My first biochar burn! Itty bitty Pearl sized system!

 
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I did my first biochar burn today!
Due to messes with my health, I had not been able to even look for barrels that were not 55 gallon, and I have been way too weak to handle 55's, too heavy, too unwieldy, can't move them around. I have another thread here asking about smaller barrels, where I was told where to look for 30 gallon ones. I looked on Craigslist one day when I felt able to cope with them, and found these:



The 6 smaller ones are about 22 gallons, the 1 bigger one is about 29.  I can move them around! Itty bitty Pearl sized barrels!!

Today I did my first burns. I took sticks small enough for me to break them easily, stood them in a 5 gallon bucket until I had a tight fill, then tied them in three places so I could move the bundles around.
I set up 2 barrels to burn, with newspapers, leaves and small sticks to be a base fire. Lit one, and got it going well, then put a whole bundle in, and laid it over onto a tire rim, about 35 degrees, so it burned well. Poked the long ones in more as I needed to.





When it was close to burned well, I used 2 shepherds hooks made for hanging small plants to stand the barrel up. That worked lovely too!



Let it burn a hair more, then hosed it out. Final product is lovely, a few big chunks left, but not much ash.



I'm totally pleased!! I didn't end up with a whole barrel full, but I did end up with something that even with water in it I can still move it.  I put the second one into position, then fired it too, same thing.

I give myself an A for my itty bitty Pearl sized system that works REALLY nice!
I'm dancing happy!!!
:D

 
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Nicely done Pearl. There's always a way!
 
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Great job, Pearl!

I'm sure there are people lurking who thought that they couldn't make biochar because they didn't believe they could handle 55 gallon barrels.  Don't tell the guys in my baseball league, but I move mine on a dolly.  I move it there empty, fill it with wood, burn it and empty it of biochar before moving it back, so it's not very hard.  

John S
PDX OR
 
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Right size, right tech. You found a method that works for you and that's the important part. Welcome to the pyro club!
 
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Nice! Hope you get plenty of use out of the biochar!

This actually makes me curious how small of a fire I can get away with. I don't contain mine, but I also do relatively larger fires. And I have a long of longer material to burn. I carefully stack mine in layers, one perpendicular to the next, with the largest diameter stuff on the bottom and smallest diameter stuff on the top. Light from the top and allow it to smother itself as it burns down. Works great for the size of fires I do. Pulls in lots of air from the bottom to get a really hot (have unintentionally melted steel fencing in one of these fires), clean burn  that shoots flame about 14 feet in the air, rocket stove style. But I'm not sure how small you can go and still have this be effective. For reference, I get maybe 2-4 wheelbarrow loads of char from each burn.
 
Pearl Sutton
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John Suavecito wrote:I move mine on a dolly.  I move it there empty, fill it with wood, burn it and empty it of biochar before moving it back, so it's not very hard.  


I considered that, but I really wanted the tilted burn, I can't stand a 55 up when it's on fire, I'm not strong enough, and my dolly has rubber wheels, so I'm not leaving it on the dolly while burning it. I don't have the ...(don't have a word for it) ... homemade thing my dad had for 55 gallon drum dispensing and moving around. He had kerosene in it. It was made to tilt the barrel so you could empty it. That would have worked well, all metal and curves and skids.

Phil Stevens wrote:Welcome to the pyro club!


Ha! I've been a pyro all my life!
That's part of why I like the idea of biochar, fits well with my idea of fun
:D
But thank you for the welcome, I curtsy nicely at you :D
 
Phil Stevens
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Mathew Trotter wrote:But I'm not sure how small you can go and still have this be effective. For reference, I get maybe 2-4 wheelbarrow loads of char from each burn.



I've done piles stacked as you describe that were pretty small, like two wheelbarrow loads of wood, so about 1/10 of a cubic meter. They went up beautifully. I've also done slash piles that were 6m diameter and 4m high. That was exciting, to say the least. Top lighting is the secret sauce for sure.
 
Pearl Sutton
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Yesterday I dumped the barrel contents, water and all, into a kiddie pool, then dumped in some compost and let it all sit overnight. Today I took out the bigger chunks of biochar and put them into some garden beds. The rest of it, the excess water and small char, and bits of compost, I took to the walking onion bed, and used an old pan to pour it on the walking onions.

And me, being me, and a silly person, it occurred to me that it's mid-December and Christmas stuff is everywhere. All over the kids are watching for Santa to fill their stockings, and the young walking onions who have been good watch excitedly for the pan to pour biochar sludge on them! YAY! Biochar sludge!!
 
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Nice! I like the tipped barrel method having tried it a few times myself. A lot safer than a wide open fire.
 
John Suavecito
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After the last step, adding it to your soil, you are now really using biochar! Great job, Pearl.  

I like the composting method.  One suggestion I have is to soak it in the compost for longer.  I would want to make sure that all of that nutritious goodness and the microbes are really exploring the vastness of their new "condominiums", so they don't suck all of the goodness out of the soil you put them into for a year or two.

You are on the team now.

John S
PDX OR
 
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Nice Job Pearl!!

You made some small scale production quantity of Biochar in a setup that you could physically handle.

I actually built one even smaller based on a one gallon paint can and some soup cans I rescued from recycling.  It only produced a bean-can of Biochar, but it worked.

But yours actually produced a realistically useable quantity.  That is AWESOME!  Job well done!!

Eric
 
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Pearl Sutton wrote:... it occurred to me that it's mid-December and Christmas stuff is everywhere. All over the kids are watching for Santa to fill their stockings, and the young walking onions who have been good watch excitedly for the pan to pour biochar sludge on them! YAY! Biochar sludge!!

Oh, I can imagine your walking onions next year being taller than you!!

Yes, a little longer soak may be good, but the weather can turn on a dime at this time of year, and the biochar has all winter to settle in, so hopefully all will be fine by the time spring comes.
 
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Pearl, do you notice a reduction in sparks using the tilted barrel compared to the upright one?

I do the top-lit open fire and one of the risks of doing it is the sparks( from loose leaves) getting carried high in the upward draft. When they fall down they are still hot enough to burn holes on my fleece jacket but cool down when they reach the ground. I would find ashes raining down at least 5 ft from the pile even when the wind is still. What's why I always make sure there's no wind, no powerline or branches overhead, wet the ground around before burning and never put any paper or cardboard in it.

I am guessing it's a lot safer with the tilted barrel in the case of sparks.
 
Pearl Sutton
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May Lotito wrote:Pearl, do you notice a reduction in sparks using the tilted barrel compared to the upright one?

I do the top-lit open fire and one of the risks of doing it is the sparks( from loose leaves) getting carried high in the upward draft. When they fall down they are still hot enough to burn holes on my fleece jacket but cool down when they reach the ground. I would find ashes raining down at least 5 ft from the pile even when the wind is still. What's why I always make sure there's no wind, no powerline or branches overhead, wet the ground around before burning and never put any paper or cardboard in it.

I am guessing it's a lot safer with the tilted barrel in the case of sparks.


Mostly what I noted was the way the air swirled inside. The sparks that came out were sent in a predictable pattern, that may help you,
I wasn't burning leaves, and if I had been, I'd have put them under sticks to stop flying fire. I grew up in the desert, where everything is dry and flammable and a fire that gets out of control can burn many square miles, so I design my fires to always be under control. I don't want flying fire.
Perhaps a spark screen would help you too?
But leaves are always bad to burn, due to the flying fire.
 
May Lotito
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I don't burn leaves intentionally. There are always some stuck in the pile of vine and sticks. If I am not sure I do a small bottom-lit burn and add things continuously on the top. More ash but easier to control.
 
Pearl Sutton
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May Lotito wrote:I don't burn leaves intentionally. There are always some stuck in the pile of vine and sticks. If I am not sure I do a small bottom-lit burn and add things continuously on the top. More ash but easier to control.



Oh good! My neighbors do, often on windy days, and tend to wander off into the house while it's burning, and it just.... weirds me out. I have spent too much of my life being careful not to set things on fire unintentionally to see that without cringing.

Maybe the occasional stick layer would help keep the fly-aways down.
 
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I'm not a bio-char expert. I haven't done it yet, but have made the barrels, 55gal for outside and 28 for inside that holds the wood to be bio-char.  After burn then it is soaked in water and piss to let bacteria develop. But I thought to produce biochar it had to be contained so it cooked from the heat not just burned. What don't i understand yet?
 
Pearl Sutton
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Denzil Crews wrote:What don't i understand yet?


That there are multiple ways to do it, and as long as you get char and inoculate it, it works.

Read a bunch of the biochar forum here,  https://permies.com/f/190/biochar   People talk of many ways, I picked one that I could make work with my current strength/life limitations. It's not the way I'd prefer, but it's what I can currently do. Your mileage WILL vary!  

Welcome to permies!!
 
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Does it matter what used to be in those old barrels?
 
John Suavecito
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Not too much. Mine used to have honey in them.  You don't want something really toxic.
John S
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wendy Miller wrote:Does it matter what used to be in those old barrels?

I made my burner out of once-used oil drums. They each had about a quart of motor oil, which I collected - I'll never have to buy door-hinge oil again in my life. But the drums were still pretty oils . . . until the first fire. There is not much of any sort of chemical that can survive the heat of pyrolysis. So all the risk is really in handling the drums before the first burn.

You should try to determine what was in a drum before you acquire it, and assess whether or not you are capable and inclined to handle whatever residue of that substance may remain. That applies to any used container, actually.
 
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