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Making and using biochar, results too!

 
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I can't see the pictures in your post, Trace, but I would love to see them.
John S
PDX OR
 
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John Suavecito wrote:I can't see the pictures in your post, Trace, but I would love to see them.
John S
PDX OR



I have trouble posting pictures with my phone sometimes. I have to make the post, and then go back in and edit it to add the pictures. Sorry for the lag.
 
Trace Oswald
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This is how I set up my retort. This big barrel has holes in the bottom rather than the sides, so I put it on two pieces of pipe so air can enter the bottom. I put the retort on a piece of wood to raise it. After filling the retort, i tip the big barrel upside down over it. The piece of wood gives you room to reach under, hold the retort in place, and to turn everything back over. Then you fill the big barrel for the burn.
20200301_115100.jpg
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Holes in bottom, instead of sides
20200301_115237.jpg
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Burn barrel and retort
20200301_115642.jpg
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Pipes for air flow
20200301_115817.jpg
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Retort on stump so you can reach under and hold it in place
20200301_115935.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20200301_115935.jpg]
How I crush charcoal - run over with truck
 
John Suavecito
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The pictures on this post really help people see how they can make a system like this work.  Nice job Trace.  I knew I was going to make biochar, but it took me 3 years to find a system that would fit my property, getting the barrel, drilling the holes and finding the parts.  I think that your pictures and description are going to help a lot of people figure out how to make biochar.  I try to post frequently in this forum because it has made a huge difference in the quality and output of my garden, and I think a lot of people want to do something like this, but they need to see the practical steps that will get them from wanting to make it to actually making it as a regular practice.
John S
PDX OR
 
Trace Oswald
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John Suavecito wrote:The pictures on this post really help people see how they can make a system like this work.  Nice job Trace.  I knew I was going to make biochar, but it took me 3 years to find a system that would fit my property, getting the barrel, drilling the holes and finding the parts.  I think that your pictures and description are going to help a lot of people figure out how to make biochar.  I try to post frequently in this forum because it has made a huge difference in the quality and output of my garden, and I think a lot of people want to do something like this, but they need to see the practical steps that will get them from wanting to make it to actually making it as a regular practice.
John S
PDX OR



Thanks John. I hope they do help. Biochar is so easy to make, but many people (including me) are intimidated by the process. Once i did it i realized it's easy and fun. I feel kind of silly posting pictures of barrels though 😊  Next batch i make I'll try to show the whole process.
 
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Chris Kott wrote:I have read, on this site even, that temperatures in excess of 450C are necessary to vapourise all the volatiles. 250C would be much too cold, and would leave much of the porous carbon structure filled with the byproducts of low-temperature pyrolysis.
-CK



I have read that some of the remaining things left over from low temp biochar production can be used as a food source for microbes.
And that low temperature biochar has more minerals/nitrogen left over in it but smaller pores.

A question:
How did the Ancient Amazonians make it without the fancy kilns and thermometers?

They had no stainless steel and I don't think they even had iron there either. Clay pots can withstand about 1,000 degrees F to about 2,000 deg F roughly.
That theory might fit for use in a crude kiln or placing in a fire pit. But what did they do about temperature control? And timing since they had no watches?

Best I can figure is that they used a common burn pit (like the ancient people's did for refuse) and just kept feeding it.
And as the pit became larger, the previous areas were just backfilled so they could use the land.
Of course that is my hypothesis.

Where I live, any kind of open burning can be a hazard due to the wind. I wouldn't want to burn down the neighborhood!

Just 8 more bags to convert this season...
 
John Suavecito
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Kai-You might want to check out the TLUD with chimney versions then.  Mine is a good fit for the suburban neighborhood I live in.  I bring out a chair in the drive way, read a book,  and cook some vegies to make sure that everyone can see that it is a barbecue I'm having for fun and cooking food.  I have had no complaints.  Some stopped and looked, but I was prepared.
John S
PDX OR
 
Kai Walker
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I thought about that but another issue is what do I do with the TLUD once I made what I needed?
Don't think the wife wants another 'decoration' in the living room. And trying to resell something like that - well locally there is no demand for it (most have no clue what biochar is let alone want to make any).

Most people I know are just home gardeners or apartment dwellers.

Summers here are very hot and dry, windy too.
Frequent burn bans.

What would work best for me is something CHEAP, that made small batches very quickly. Something controllable in case of a fire or accident.

Barrels and related would cost me $200 (the cheapest setup).
Not to mention who is going to life that heavy inner barrel once it is done?

And then there is the problem with crushing the larger pieces (no wood pellets from about mid March till about Mid October)

I am not sure that grinding them into a fine powder with a garbage disposal is a good idea.
Hard to incorporate something like that into the soil.

Need cheap, efficient, safe, and easy way to do it.
 
John Suavecito
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Lots of people have posted in this forum on various threads about solutions to these problems.

I put my barrel in the back yard when I'm not using it.  I use it several times each year, and year after year.  I want to reuse it, not get rid of it. My wife is fine with it, especially since it makes our garden grow better and planet heal.

It's not heavy to lift, because I drench it and remove the biochar a bit at a time. The empty barrel isn't heavy.

Summers here are hot and dry.  I only burn then.  I would just burn when it is not a burn ban.

I got my barrel for free. I had to look around on Craigslist and make some calls, but it was well worth it. The other parts were about $4.

I put the biochar between two panels of plywood and drive over it when parking.  Easy, cheap, safe, efficient.

Many people have posted different solutions to their situations. I urge you to read the other threads to see which ones can apply to you.

John S
PDX OR
 
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Kai, I don't know how close this is to you but Witcha Craigslist has steel barrels starting at $10.00

After you are done with it,  you put it up for free on Craigslist,  or take it too scrapyard for recycling.

 
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Too many valid points have been made by previous contributors.

Time :

I have been experimenting with a quick tera preta guess that considers time in creation. On new terraces, I would coat with banana leaves then lined across as if flooring; banana stalk, one balsa wood stalk, and a few other trunks cut and throw style over a few days and build a quick twig teepee stuffed with more banana leaves the final say over it all with nice sun and good heat. The banana trunks still wet in the planks have started to create the smoulder rather than burn effect desired for biochar making.
My volunteer squad urinates in a urine only bathroom that we can hose to whatever location and charge the material, and further the smouldering effect as bio-char making calls for.
It´s a faster-applied compromise to the standard permaculture method.

Nothing beats healthy compost. I have found here in the tropics of Panama, rain could wash nutritents better trapped. I saw a few cement bottomed and cement walled compost areas in some gardens that looked pretty right and we have decided to do some ourself. It works well to cement bottom the compost it does seem to producer a richer compost. That being said yet a better way would to just compost on the terraces but who is really going to wait? It can be done though and I think to start the grow bed with a compost pile is just the smartest thing.

Material  :

Diversity has been the winning rule of thumb with us here and this planet overal - unarguably.

A diverse jungle material burned and charged with liquid nutrition (whatever the kind - again best would be diverse liquid charging), again, the plantain or banana tree trunks are a helpful ingredient next to both hardwoods and the result is a mere guess tera preta.

The gravity tank to soaker hose and spray hose system is great for chargin, fertilizing etc. Our farms highest spot is our soil mixing and creating station.

I really feel like if the focus stays here you can come up with some powerfull options to push production that dont take away from everything else so much ..  it took a while for us to simply and refine a working model... our soaker system is very portable  using standard hoses and the system is gravity-fed...   going from several feet of 4 inch to 3 to 2 to 1 to half inch increases output pressusre and so does the more profound angle of drop.



This is where we ended fucntionally and happy with it on this matter.


See the Biodiverse Food Study in Permaculture here in Beautiful Bocas del Toro Panama. : https://nutritionaldiversity.com/biodiverse-food-study-panama/
 
Kai Walker
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William Bronson wrote:Kai, I don't know how close this is to you but Witcha Craigslist has steel barrels starting at $10.00

After you are done with it,  you put it up for free on Craigslist,  or take it too scrapyard for recycling.



You mean this one?
https://wichita.craigslist.org/grd/d/durham-55-gallon-steel-drums/7068275640.html

All the steel ones have built on lids. I do not have a cutting device nor a welding equipment.
Not to mention the inner barrel with removable lid and such.

And thank you for helping me find a solution!
I appreciate it.

 
John Suavecito
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You can buy an angle grinder from Harbor Freight for about $15.  Yes, they are dangerous, but some people think of that as exciting. My T-shirt caught on fire while using one to make my biochar oven.  Pretty wild to look down and see yourself on fire.  No pain though.  I got it out quickly.  Totally worth it.
JohN S
PDX OR
 
Kai Walker
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John Suavecito wrote:You can buy an angle grinder from Harbor Freight for about $15.  Yes, they are dangerous, but some people think of that as exciting. My T-shirt caught on fire while using one to make my biochar oven.  Pretty wild to look down and see yourself on fire.  No pain though.  I got it out quickly.  Totally worth it.
JohN S
PDX OR



Now THAT's funny! Almost a Benny Hill scenario. Ir Red Green show.
Good thing you at least had a shirt on.

I may wait to see biochar results firsthand before investing in anything.

Seeing on youtube is not the same thing as saying 'It worked for me'.

Got a pic of your biochar oven to share?

I thought about trying to make some kind of rocket stove but it would have to be pretty big.
That and I don't want to constantly feed sticks into it for hours.
 
John Suavecito
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Yes, pretty funny.  Now that I know I 'm ok.

Check out the other threads in this forum. They're all there.
John S
PDX,OR
 
Kai Walker
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John Suavecito wrote:Yes, pretty funny.  Now that I know I 'm ok.

Check out the other threads in this forum. They're all there.
John S
PDX,OR



Tap tap tap click click click grumble grumble grumble
You mean I HAVE to do something? LOL
When I get a chance. I will try
Thanks again!

 
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I'll read through... looks like good stuff!  But want to mention this info from an Irish vlog... 'Way Out West Blowins'   Tim made a cone and uses it.. what caught my attention was the fact that one burn was with WET WOOD!!  I have lots of prunings, etc. and no good way to keep piles dry long enough to dry out until it's winter 'burning' time.  Note the other posts regarding their experience with biochar :)  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EFVEjBVh48&list=PL3_dJayH6e6hS6yKnQYNf9SHyz3oquKbY&index=6&t=0s

I can't make this kind of cone, but I think scrap sheets of metal could be 'manipulated',  and I'll probably just dig a cone or trench (see old Mother Earth N article on the trench method)... and burn WET WOOD!   Now, back to reading up line.... :)
 
Trace Oswald
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Kai, you can make charcoal in a hole in the ground.  It doesn't get a lot cheaper than that :)  You can also cut the bottom out of a 55 gal drum with a hammer and chisel or ask a neighbor or someone with a grinder to cut it out.  A friend with a cutting torch can do it in a few minutes.  Any metal shop will cut it out for you with a torch for about $5.  Point being, if you want to make charcoal, it's really easy and it doesn't need to cost much, if anything.  I got my big barrel for $12.  The small one was free.  The two pieces of pipe I had lying around.  That's all the parts you need for a retort.  A TLUD you can use just the 55 gal barrel.  If you want to use a hole in the ground, most people make it about 3 feet across, 2 or 3 feet deep, and the sides somewhere around 45 degrees.

Nancy, you can use wet wood, but it's far, far more efficient if the wood is very dry.  I make charcoal all summer as well as in the winter.
 
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Ty for your suggestions Trace.
Where I am, the property owner won't let me dig holes.
I found a barrel in craigslist but not the smaller inner one.
I do wonder how I would lift the heavy inner one though.
 
Trace Oswald
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Kai Walker wrote:
I do wonder how I would lift the heavy inner one though.



There is never a need to lift it.  When you flip the barrels, you kind of hold it in place as you tip the barrels over, but you don't actually lift it.  It's easier to do than it sounds.  After the charcoal is made, you pull the barrel out, but you aren't lifting anything except the barrel.  The charcoal stays in the bottom of the big barrel as you pull the small one out.
 
John Suavecito
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Nancy Sutton,
I also live in PNW.  Yes, wet from late fall to beg. of summer.  I wait til then to burn.  I burn in the morning in the summer because it's dry then.  Burning dry wood is so much more efficient than burning wet wood-less smoke, more biochar.  I prune mostly in the summer and fall after stuff has grown and fruited.  Then I let the wood sit for the 6-12 months until the next summer.  It will be very dry by the next summer. I also have a covered area. You could use a tarp.
John S
PDX OR
 
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Notice the size of the retort and its use in a wood stove.  This allows making char on a steady basis and using the heat generated.

When pruning trees I take a little more time to cut small pieces off from the end inward to the final cut.  The larger inner pieces are good for fire wood or char and the smallest pieces can be used as fire starter or composted. That initial extra effort saves aggravation in the long run.
 
William Bronson
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Here is a tiny bit of char I made in a bonfire that was allowed to burn out on its own.
IMG_20200316_152215.jpg
Steel toolbox retort
Steel toolbox retort
IMG_20200316_153542.jpg
This is what was left in the pit itself
This is what was left in the pit itself
IMG_20200316_153410.jpg
Retort Reloaded
Retort Reloaded
 
William Bronson
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I added the ashes and coals from the fire into the chickens deep bedding and covered them with autum leaves.
Then I started laying in a new fire.
IMG_20200316_153537.jpg
Retort in the burn drum
Retort in the burn drum
IMG_20200316_191131.jpg
The results of dousing a fire, rather than letting it burn out is a much bigger yield. I havent even checked the retort yet
The results of dousing a fire, rather than letting it burn out is a much bigger yield. I havent even checked the retort yet
 
nancy sutton
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Good info all, and special thanks to John & Hans, my fellow PNWers ;)  You know the climate I'm in, and your advice is invaluable ;)
 
John Suavecito
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Marco-
I also think you could just get a 55 gallon drum for free and cut part of the top off.  I use a 55 gallon drum for my biochar, but I make it into a TLUD with a chimney.
John S
PDX OR
 
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