We have a weekly tradition of trading projects in the Village, where one family chooses a project and others chip in. This week, we built biochar ovens (sometimes called kilns or retorts) out of 55-gallon steel barrels. Using a plasma cutter, it was a breeze cutting and assembling these ovens. Weather cooperating, we plan our first biochar making session this Saturday. We invite Villagers and visitors from the local community to join us.
Biochar, also known as Tera Preta, was discovered in the Amazon Jungle a few years back. Apparently biochar production and use as a soil amendment was practiced by a lost pre-Colombian civilization. The discoverers noticed that in a patch of cleared jungle land, the rich, black soil was incredibly productive where the surrounding soil was dead. Upon excavating, they discovered that this black soil was also amazingly deep, having been artificially manufactured over generations.
“The burning and natural decomposition of biomass and in particular agricultural waste adds large amounts of CO2 and CH4 to the atmosphere. Biochar can store large amounts of greenhouse gases in the ground; at the same time its presence in the earth can improve water quality, increase soil fertility, raise agricultural productivity and reduce pressure on old-growth forests.” – Wikipedia
Our soil tends to be acidic, so the addition of a ph raising amendment, like biochar is a big plus. In addition to sequestration of carbon and other minerals beneficial to food crops, biochar is also noted for its tiny nooks and crannies that provide habitat for beneficial bacteria that enhance soil quality and structure.
The process of producing biochar from wood also releases clean syngas, that can be used as fuel in internal combustion engines. We make electricity using a generator fueled by wood gas. So many benefits from one process!
There is still much to be learned about how and why biochar works as a soil amendment. But, as a community, we decided it’s well worth testing, contributing to the body of knowledge, reaping the benefits in our small farms and creating another source of green revenue by producing it in reasonably large quantities.
Here is a video that explains the system we built. Have fun with this. We are.
BTW, if you’re someone who enjoys being self-sufficient, building things, and the company of other creative, industrious folks, you might want to join us permanently. We’re a community of interesting, accomplished people who care about each other. Contact us here.