Episode-1602- Gloria Flora on Small Scale Biochar

The Real Magic of Biochar is Seen Under Magnification

The Real Magic of Biochar is Seen Under Magnification

Gloria Flora founded and directs the U.S. Biochar Initiative (USBI) as a project of her non-profit, Sustainable Obtainable Solutions. Through USBI, Gloria promotes the sustainable production and use of biochar.

Biochar fits in the nexus of her work in large landscape conservation strategies, climate change action, forest health collaborative, public land sustainability and as well as her permaculture passion. Last century she served 23 years in the U.S. Forest Service, including as Forest Supervisor on two national forests.

Gloria and her husband are growing TerraFlora Sylvanculture Learning Center focused on permaculture in forested environments. Flora’s won many awards for environmental leadership and action, including having a new species of a Tanzanian toad named after her.

Join Us Today to Discuss…

  • What is biochar? Isn’t it just charcoal
  • How does biochar make soils more productive
  • Who discovered biochar
  • What kind of feedstock can you use to make biochar
  • Why should we care about biomass
  • What other uses does biochar have besides amending soil
  • How can biochar production be carbon neutral or negative
  • How can I make biochar at home
  • Can I buy biochar if I can’t make it
  • Where can you get more information on biochar

Resources for today’s show…

Note – Additional resource links will be added as soon as I receive them from Gloria.

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30 Responses to Episode-1602- Gloria Flora on Small Scale Biochar

  1. That comment about the cattle producing 50% less methane REALLY caught my attention. In all likelihood that means the carbon that would have been gasified comes out as solid or liquid excreta [well, semi-solid slop in the cow’s case xD]

  2. Would there be any benefit in using the chunky remnants of a campfire (not the ash) to amend soil? I know it’s not charged, or even biochar, but the conversation made me wonder if it would do anything positive.

    • Modern Survival

      Well first it is biochar, it is charcoal left after burning a bio mass. So yea, as to inoculation, take a leak on it as she said, hit it with some compost tea or what not. Or hell screw it, put it in the ground, nature knows what she is doing.

      • Ah, yes. Forgot about the urination marination. I’ll definitely try that next time we’ve got some good burnt-down wood.

        I was reluctant to call it biochar only because there wouldn’t necessarily be any good methods used to deliberately make it as **Biochar!!**. But I suppose it’s a distinction without a difference, especially after hearing her talk about the simple methods.

        • mountainmoma

          I use the bio char out of my wood stove, I do it intentionally sometimes when I’ve had enough heat, turn the air intake way down…

  3. To take a stab at Jack’s apathy idea, here are my suggestions:

    1) get rid of cable TV or satellite. If you want to watch shows or movies, get a Roku and a Netflix or Amazon Prime membership.

    2) never listen to talk radio. These are people who literally profit from your agitation.

    3) get off of Facebook. If you really need to have an online depository of contacts you can reach without an email address book, connect with them on LinkedIn, where you don’t have to read uncle Jimmy’s rants.

    4) force yourself to take more time to do at least one thing. Whether that’s driving slower, forcing yourself to put down your utensil between bites, or drinking coffee slow enough your cup needs to be reheated.

    5) join a real-life group of people who are engaged in something you’re interested in, but also don’t spend all of their time together talking about what they saw on Fox News or MSNBC. In fact, seek out people who probably don’t have the foggiest idea what Bruce Jenner has been up to since being on a Wheaties box.

    Nothing new here, really, but these things work…

    • USCPrepper

      @ B.E. Ward
      Great stuff, every one of these suggestions is spot on for attention based apathy. The only thing I’d add to it is a focus on financial apathy as well, in other words apathy that directly hits their pocket books. You may not have a choice in paying your income taxes, but you don’t have to pay as much in sales taxes, property taxes, gas taxes etc. For some people that may mean stop smoking, trading tomatoes for eggs with your neighbor, or getting free dental work from a friend in exchange for free car repair.
      I, personally, realized recently that reorganizing the way I invoice my clients gains me a competitive advantage through a reduction in sales taxes. It takes little effort on my part, and 100% of what I collect goes to the government anyway so I have no dog in the fight, why not reduce their burden to do business with me as much as possible?
      But, I can tell you as a business owner in California, you get to see all the expenses the government charges, not just the ones that they want the masses to know about, and it is horrifying!

      • Yep, those are awesome thoughts too. Bartering is going to make a comeback!

        • USCPrepper

          I just thought of something else that’s related to financial apathy (I’m sure you can hardly tell I’m doing the books right now)
          If you’re an employee, ask your employer for the “billed” amount on your last paycheck.
          In other words, what was THEIR cost to have you receive that check. This would not only be your wages, but benefits expenses, payroll taxes, worker’s compensation insurance, payroll expenses, HR expenses etc.
          Then compare that to the net amount you received on your check. The difference (with the exception of the out of pocket financial cost of benefits) is what you really pay in taxes to the matrix.
          Now, that’s not all the taxes you pay, but at least it’s a start. And you can figure what your real tax rate is as a percentage of your income, or as a total $ amount on an annual basis. Just make sure to think calm thoughts as you do it, because your blood will start to boil.
          But, you first need to recognize the problem before anything else is possible.

  4. Josiah koenig

    Epictetus talks about stoic apathy in his enchiridion.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/45109/45109-h/45109-h.htm

  5. Jack, Loved this most recent show. I used to work in international development for several years and had the pleasure of working with Amy Smith of MIT’s D-LAB. Amy developed the most drop-dead simple way of using crop residue such as corn cobs, peanut shells, corn stalks etc to create bio-char, which can then be used as just that, bio-char. But ,then she takes it a step further by combining the carbonized material with a binder such as tapioca flour and water to make long lasting briquettes. Perfect for small stoves. Might be interesting to try in a Rocket stove at Wheaton Labs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqI63IEg3MM

    Also…. just wanted to share this resource with the listeners as many of the topics I learned from experimenting with design in the developing world can be applied as prepper/survival solutions here at home. Appropedia is a wealth of info that I think many listeners would benefit from: http://www.appropedia.org/Welcome_to_Appropedia

    Love the show. Enjoy your vacation!

  6. I really enjoyed this show, great interview and something we all can do. I make my own charcoal and I burn only this charcoal in our Weber grill, anything that falls through the grate around 1/2″-3/4″” or less falls into the bottom then gets into the ash bucket. I keep a 15 gallon metal trash can nearby, I have a 1/4″ or maybe even smaller not for sure hardware cloth sifter in it, all the ash and biochar gets separated out.

    I then add the biochar into the chicken coop as well using the deep litter method it works really great. After a run with the chickens, it goes into a compost pile and some to my worms…Makes for dynamite compost that’s for sure…glad to hear others use it in their coops too.

    I make mine using the pit method, and burn from the top down as said. Where we live now I’m only 1/4 mile from a hardware store with nearly endless supplies of wood pallets for free. I’ve been stocking up but have yet to start making charcoal with these, I’m not 100% sure it’s safe to cook food over this sort of wood, could be any species…any thoughts on this?

    I’ also have made some in my woodstove too, quite easy in fact..get a good fire going, put on layers of wood instead of a large log. You still pack it tight but the pieces are more like 3-5″, get that roaring for about 10 minutes then cutoff the air as much as you can…I’ll do this at night or in the morning when I know I won’t need to stoke it anymore, come the next day a large portion of that looks just like charcoal…and can be used as such.

    • Modern Survival

      Most pallets are nothing but untreated hard wood. They are designed to break down in time and the wood itself will last longer than the pallet will mechanically. So unless they are painted (Wall Mart Style) or something was spilled on them it is likely fine. What I am trying to say is most pallet makers/users would see no point in treating the wood, given the life expectancy of the pallet, if that makes sense.

  7. Jonthepainter

    This interview really got me thinking about benefits of biochar on my homestead. A quick search on goofle “how to make biochar” found this article first at the top of the search http://permaculturenews.org/2010/11/18/beware-the-biochar-initiative/

    I wonder if the conclusion of this article is relevant to small scale use?

  8. My neighbors chickens will not eat store bought tomatoes. Love the ones from the garden but will not eat store bought. Makes me wonder what they do to them

  9. PowersProduce

    My proactive apathy: Dropped out of college.

    Went to one of the best Universities for Ag. Science, dropped out after 2.5 years because everything I was being told felt wrong.

    Searched on my own for alternatives and found Jack and permaculture.

    Learn from me and be more proactively apathetic when your teachers/elders tell you college is your only chance to become something.

  10. did you ever get the link for the kiln?

    • Modern Survival

      I ordered one, I will wait until I get it and try it before I send the guy a shit ton of business. Also should it pass muster this lets me hit him up for some type of MSB discount and you guys don’t miss out on it.

  11. http://bestbiocharkiln.com
    is the cone kiln link. Pretty simple to build if you have simple metal fab skills.

  12. jim williams

    the only problem i see is that 1 pound (2.2kg) of char requires BURNING between 4 and 6 pounds (9-13 kg) of wood to produce it. Granted, it is bio neutral as far as carbon goes in the long run, but air quality goes way down. look at china (pictures from the olympics there) and having to ware masks all of the time. Trees and other large plans lower the soil temp and allow better moisture retention than the char ever will.

    • Modern Survival

      When you make biochar right as we explained in this episode there is almost no smoke.

      • I got extremely fire up by this episode. Here’s my experiment with it:

        I took metal five gallon can, cut the top off and made holes in the bottom of the can, and the sides of the can, at the very bottom, near the seam. I place the metal can on three bricks, to allow air flow underneath.

        For my wood source, I’m using old fence panels. Here is DFW, you can get them for free, almost anywhere. Check Craigslist. I pull the nails out, cut the wood into 12″ sections, and light the fire from the top.

        I’ve had pretty good results. I can make a single batch in about an hour or hour and a half. That way, I can light a fire, and then work outside and keep an eye on the fire and keep the water hose nearby, just in case. After extinguishing completely, the charcoal goes in the compost heap. Haven’t used it yet on the garden or in the chicken coop, so not sure results in actual use.

        I’ve had mixed results on the smoke. Sometimes, it’s not very smoky, sometimes, it is very smokey. I’m still playing around with the loading configuration to try and determine if this makes a difference.

        All in all, a very easy way to make small batches of char at a single time.

    • mountainmoma

      Also, many properties, like mine, produce alot of waste, and it is not easy nor cheap to chip, and actually alot of it cannot be chipped, would be bad for the chipper, and the chipper is too big to get to those sections of the property, no way to drive it in, too much slash on the ground is a fire hazard, esp. where I live. So, yes, some can be used as is, or dried and stomped on, as mluch. But, mostly it is burned here, and that is big old dirty burn piles every winter. Having a use for it, burning to make charcoal, and with less pollution to boot, is a win. Not to mention, this burn style will bypass the needing to get a permit and can be done year round as it is low smoke, small fire, contained, and can easily roast marshmallows on it while it burns ( a “warming fire” or “cooking fire” being the exceptions we are allowed by the Calif Air Resource Bureau. )

  13. UnentitledMillennial

    My method for sticking to proactive apathy in acute situations where I feel like I’m getting sucked into pointless arguing over bullshit: picture the vision I have for my life.
    This is especially effective in arguments over minimum wage and college tuition and graduate unemployment. The vision I have for my life and my plan to get there doesn’t involve student loans or minimum wage work, therefore I don’t need to worry about those things, therefore I can devote that energy to my goals.

    Along those lines, ignoring the OMG gay marriage! OMG body acceptance! OMG Confederate flags! OMG bullshit social issues! And focusing on things like becoming a better mason, tea, hiking, and the awesome people in my life also does wonders for my happiness levels.

  14. Seeing some conflicting information relating to biochar from the permaculture reaearch institue.

    http://permaculturenews.org/2010/11/18/beware-the-biochar-initiative/

    Does this objection relate mainly to large scale industrialslised biochar?

    • Modern Survival

      Understand that blog publishes the work of hundreds of people with hundreds of opinions, like they even publish my work at times. I don’t speak for the PRI any more than this guy does. Seems to me he is up in the ass about claims that biochar will save us from AGW, well I don’t think it will either, but it works, it improves soil, it encourages microbes, etc. That is all I want from it. I consider the entire AGW world nothing but a religion anyway.

  15. Transcendaniel

    I could be wrong, but did anyone else think that Gloria was maybe on the AGW bandwagon? I actually hope she is because that would make this interview a shining example of Jack practicing what he preaches; forget about the dichotomist propaganda, stick with the 90% that you agree on…

  16. Rick Mareske

    I heard that the ph is high on biochar. I am trying to lower ph where I am growing blueberries. I also have a bunch of dead pine I was thinking of splitting, charring, pissing and putting in the soil. Will it raise the ph. My ph is 7 and need to lower it to 4.5 or so.