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I'm really happy that I have found this topic, but information overload from knowledgeable people. So much I can't keep up with it.

I will be giving some of these great ideas a try, especially the tea in Jandtaa's last post.

My little plot that I potter around in has not been too successful as the soil is so poor, so all these great ideas will be very useful, I'm sure.

My soil is like clay in places and very hard like concrete if allowed to dry out and very dense if wet. I've been digging in cow dung and compost, but not to much effect as yet. As you know, using kitchen and garden waste for composting, it takes a long time to get any volume. I have bought some bagged compost, but it is rubbish. Has bits of clay and not fully composted.

I know charcoal is good for the soil and the locals make charcoal here. Where they make the charcoal there remains small charcoal splinters and dust and I have mixed this with the soil and it certainly improves the texture. I've only tried this in a small area as I'm concerned that it may also contain harmful chemicals released in the charcoal making process. Does anybody know if this dust is likely to contain anything nasty? The grass does grow back over the areas where they make the charcoal eventually, so I don't think that there are likely to be any long term problems.

I don't know, so I'm hoping that somebody here can offer advice.

On another note..

I was so happy some time back to discover worms in the garden. When I first dug over this plot, I didn't see one!

Now, hardly see a worm again. The ants have moved in big time and are everywhere.

How much of a problem are ants? Are they good or bad for the garden?

The things that I do know are bad..

They often steal newly sown seeds

I don't know the name of the insect, but they are white colour and the ants farm them the same as they do aphids. This is a problem on tomatoes in particular, but I have found that the ants for some reason prefer to farm them on zinnia, so I grow zinnia as a decoy and that does help with the problem. I also enjoy the flowers, so a bonus.

Thanks.

Loong

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The Ideal Soil v2.0 (second edition) by Michael Astera is now available.  http://www.soilminerals.com/Ideal_Soil_Main_Page.htm A "must read" for all farmers and gardeners. State of the art soil s

Likely to be "damping off" disease.  search that term for more information.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damping_off

Agreed Dr. T. Unfortunately something that has many causes and few cures. It seems that prevention is the way to go. Attached is a video which explains the problem and uses vermicompost as a means of

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Hi folks 

As I mentioned yesterday there has been a thread running on something called biochar thread which some of you may have read. It's also pertinent because Loong has raised the question of is it safe to use charcoal ? I've been doing a spot of research and come up with the following;

First to answer loongs query

"Can I use commercial charcoal as biochar ? absolutely. While the bio-oil condensates in biochar definitely play a role in soil fertility, charcoal without bio-oil condensates has been demonstrated to produce excellent results.Although it is normally advisable to avoid industrial charcoal briquettes because the binders used during manufacture can add undesirable constituents"

obviously your charcoal contains no binder and as long as the locals are using raw timber and not treated or painted wood I guess you've got the all clear.

 

" What are the benefits of using biochar ??

The following benefits occur with additions of biochar

Enhanced plant growth

Suppressed methane emission

Reduced nitrous oxide emission (estimate 50%) (see 5.10 below)

Reduced fertilizer requirement (estimate 10%)

Reduced leaching of nutrients

Stored carbon in a long term stable sink

Reduces soil acidity: raises soil pH (see 5.01 below)

Reduces aluminum toxicity

Increased soil aggregation due to increased fungal hyphae

Improved soil water handling characteristics

Increased soil levels of available Ca, Mg, P, and K

Increased soil microbial respiration

Increased soil microbial biomass

Stimulated symbiotic nitrogen fixation in legumes

Increased arbuscular mycorrhyzal fungi

Increased cation exchange capacity"

heres some links that explain biochar and its uses;

A good general overview and very readable biochar

an article on biochar in  Thai rice growing black soil - green rice

loads of good info and links pus some video biochar - home production and usage

FF was asking about rice straw so here's one for you ( more about producing on a commercial scale but I'm sure a man of your calibre could put it to use, bit scientific I'm afraid ) technologies for the energy use of rice straw

also a happy coincidence bearing in mind my recent post  

"Biochar enthusiasts generally agree that raw biochar needs to be processed further prior to being added to the garden. Composting, or soaking with compost tea, is commonly used to charge the pore volume with beneficial organisms and nutrients. Soaking in a nutrient rich solution (examples are urine or fish emulsion) prior to composting is accepted practice."

 Finally heres a PDF on building your own kiln as used in the Philipinnes to produce biochar from rice hulls on the farm

Farmcarbonisationmachine.pdf

There's loads of info out there on the net and biochar can also be used as a fuel . Many hope it could be the answer to save the planet and there's plenty of ongoing research !!

happy carbonisation folks !!

Jandtaa

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^ The best areas for growing on our property are those that were used for fires. The soil is loose and dark, with plenty of charcoal. I've just planted on another area, it has leaves and straw as mulch, also planning to add some coconut husks and compost. Any further suggestions?

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Hi smithson

yeah I came across some photos showing pasture regrowth on strips of land where there had been fires and it was certainly improved. Again and again I come across the fact that its all about building up your levels of soil organisms. This article sums it up quite nicely :

"When farmers and gardeners gear up for another growing season and review soil test results and recommendations along side what they witnessed in the field, they are often disappointed and confused by the outcome. Purchasing soil amendments and crop protection products based on lab reports alone does not give the grower the whole picture by any means. The common soil test is a single chemistry snapshot in a fast changing system of variable and exchangeable reserves which are potentially there to be utilized by the crop. It represents a narrow view of the soil’s savings account, not all of which can be drawn on, and in many soil systems, only a small percentage becomes available depending on the capacity of the soil to function. The role of micronutrients and trace elements is also underestimated. As science catches up with nature it has become evident that well over 60 elements are key players in soil and crop nutrition. At the heart of soil nutrition is soil biology, (the cooks in the kitchen).

The recipes that are applied to the soil are for the most part biologically dependant, especially if they are mineral amendments that are relatively insoluble.

The microbial community that resides within soil is often referred to as the rhizosphere or ‘soil foodweb’. It is a complex system of organisms working as direct trading partners or as second or third level participants in nutrient cycling. With mycorrhizal associations, almost all plants, except rather primitive ones, produce carbohydrate exudates (sugars from photosynthesis), which are exchanged with their fungal house- guests for extra water, soil enzymes and microbial digested minerals that the plants can’t reach or decompose for themselves. These beneficial fungi, with their far foraging web of hyphae serve to extend the feeding range of crops significantly farther than by themselves and increase the nutritional spectrum that can be assimilated. The web-like structures of these soil fungi leave in their wake of activity a soil aggregating substance known as glomalin, which may be responsible for the bulk of what we know as true soil organic matter or humus. (Raw organic matter must be converted by bacteria and fungi) before it becomes supportive of crops and soil structure as humus. The greater the percentage of humus a soil has to work with, the greater the water, air, biology, and exchangeable elements it can deliver. It is also much like a deep cycle storage battery of the Earth’s electromagnetic field, which significantly influences all soil and plant life. Humus is a result of biological carbon sequestration, (condensing atmospheric CO2 into the soil system through photosynthesis). 

Along with the beneficial fungi, we have dense colonies of diverse bacteria that directly feed on the plant exudates and soft dead matter, which are in turn consumed by larger protozoa, nematodes, micro-arthropods and earthworms. These release ‘micro-manure’, a tremendous source of ammonium (AN), and eventually nitrate nitrogen (NN), which are the primary electrolytes that allow the flow of energy to develop between elements of different electromagnetic charge and is responsible for all cell division in plants.

Almost all crops that we value grow best in the aerobic zone, and almost all of the microbes responsible for good soil quality and crop nutrition are oxygen dependant aerobes, with a smaller group being facultative (living with or without oxygen). 

Modern agricultural practices are rather dependant on traffic and frequent tillage, which means compaction and collapse of soil structure and the disruption of microbial colonies, especially the delicate and critical fungal portions. Without good atmospheric flow in the soil (gas exchange), the oxygen breathing aerobes (our cooks and cooperators) are suffocated, leaving vacancies for pathogens, (many are anaerobes-no oxygen), to fill the gaps. Crops in these conditions are living on limited nutrition and facing trouble without adequate immune systems. Anaerobic or low functioning soils cannot build adequate humus to support crops that are mycorrhizal dependant. Plant roots and their microbial trading partners drown in non-exchanging gasses or trapped stagnant water and no matter how good the chemistry tests in the lab, it is not necessarily what the plant experiences. 

In order to maximize the effect of soil amendments and make your dollars count, the needs of aerobic soil life must be addressed. Reducing tillage and compaction, especially in wet soil conditions, is critical yet easy to over look. Clay and silt loams are more sensitive to this damage than sandy or coarse soils yet have greater nutrient holding capacity. Cease or reduce using products that harm the soil foodweb, especially chemical fungicides and herbicides, organic growers can get into trouble with this too! Work with more diverse soil and plant inoculants, composts and compost teas to shield the plants from pathogens with competitive microbial partners.

Get into the practice of composting rock powder soil amendments before they go on the ground. Grow and mineralize cover crops aggressively to build humus and aerobically structured soil efficiently.  

Provide a mix of fast and slow microbial foods for generating high populations of diverse soil aerobes. This would mean simple and complex microbial foods such as fish and seaweed products, alfalfa meal, blood meal, feather meal, or any other sources of volatile bypass products that bacteria can utilize as a complex energy source along with molasses, humates or humic acids, which are sometimes used as carbohydrate binders to pelletize,(prill), some rock powders.

Any volatile source of fertilizer that has NN or AN in it is a more effective microbial food and plant nutrient when a carbon source is added to stabilize it. This begins the formation of peptides and amino acids that ultimately become proteins. Carbon sources that act as barrier reefs for almost all beneficial microbes can be found in humates or good quality finished composts. In fact all inert or mineral amendments are more effectively activated and delivered if combined with a microbial workforce and it’s easy food supply.

A clear example of what this would look like: Layer a manure spreader with all the dry amendments between composts or manures. Top off with extra traces, inoculants and liquid microbial foods as a full spectrum package. If this is a cover crop recipe, then add the seed so that it is also coated with microbes and their food supply. Disk or rake in slightly at the onset of rain. Save some for side dress as crops develop, (this is called ‘split applying).’ Common sense says protect the biology from UV and drying conditions, spread your recipe on overcast cool days or in the evening.

In Review; making conditions for beneficial soil life comfortable, well fed, watered, and aerated, will make those soil numbers more effective and keep your amendment dollars close to home. " 

cheers Jandtaa

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Re charcoal - I find this interesting

Reduces aluminum toxicity

Obviously we do not get rain for most of the year and so I have to use water from the tap. The water here is red and pumped straight from the river. It is treated with Aluminium sulphate (I think that's what it is called) to coagulate the solids. The problem is that it is not given time to settle. I know that using this water is not ideal, but have no other choice unless I dig a well or cart the water from the village pump.

We had a few downpours a week or so ago and it has made such a difference, the plants are so much happier with rainwater.

So this could be another benefit of using charcoal.

I bought the things I needed today and will be starting the tea tomorrow. Couldn't locate molasses though. Maybe raw cane sugar will be suitable?

Yes Loong

I have used both unrefined brown sugar and palm sugar in my brews

Jandtaa

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O.K. just had a little look into the effects of aluminium sulphate on soil (Still raining so at a loose end )

turns out it's frequently used to lower the Ph of soils ,not something you're gonna particularly want if you have tropical predominantly clay soil !! All the more reason to consider rainwater harvesting although I don't know what quantities remain in the water after the flocculation process. Appears to be concerns about it raising aluminium levels in the body when used as an additive in food (used in baking powder) something I wasn't aware of so I've learnt something new as well !!Here's some basics on altering your soil ph ;

" Let's get all scientific for a moment and learn what pH is. In chemistry pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline a solution is. Okay chemistry lesson over. Basically soil pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline your soil is. Soil pH is measured on a scale of 1 to 14. If your soil has a pH value of less than 7 then you have acidic soil. On the other hand if your soil has a pH value of greater than 7 then you have alkaline soil. A pH value of 7 is neutral, meaning you have neither acidic or alkaline soil. 

The Effect of Soil pH on Plants

Knowing the pH value of your soil before planting is very important as it has a direct influence on the health of the plant. Each plant has its own recommended soil pH value range. The reason for this is that soil pH effects the availability of nutrients within the soil and plants have different nutrient needs. For example the nutrient nitrogen, a very important plant nutrient, is readily available in soil when the pH value is above 5.5. Similarily the nutrient phosphorous is available when the pH value is between 6 and 7. If a plant is placed into the wrong kind of soil it will be lacking in nutrients that it needs which will promote disease. In general the best pH value range for soil is approximately 6 or 7 as this is the range in which most nutrients can be readily available. 

Finding Out pH of Soil

Finding out the pH of soil is usually a trivial matter and the kits to do so should be available at most good garden centres. Usually a pH testing kit will include a small container / test tube, testing solution and a color chart. A sample of soil is taken from your garden, placed into the container / test tube and a few drops of testing solution are added. The container is then shaken and left for a certain period of time. The color of the sample in the container is then compared against the color chart to determine the pH value of the soil. Note that if you want to determine the soil pH of an large area it may be a good idea to take soil samples from many different locations, combine the samples and then perform the test on the combined sample.

A quick way to find out the pH of an area is to look to see if there are any house hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) already growing in the area. If so observe the color of its flowers. A soil pH of 6 or below will produce blue flowers while a soil pH of 6.8 or higher will produce pink flowers. 

How to Make Soil More Alkaline (Increase pH)

If your soil is acidic or slightly acidic you can take steps to make it more alkaline to accommodate the plants you want to put there. You can make your soil more alkaline (increase its pH value) by adding a form of lime. Lime is a compound of calcium or calcium and magnesium. It is usually applied in the form of ground agricultural limestone, burnt lime or hydrated lime (slaked lime). The smaller the limestone particles then the quicker your soil will become more alkaline. For this reason hydrated lime will offer the quickest performance because it is slightly soluble in water so it can permeate the soil quicker and reduce acidity faster.

Increasing the pH of your soil is not an overnight process and it is best to allow 2-3 months to allow the lime to neutralize the acidity of the soil acidity. 

How to Make Soil More Acidic (Decrease pH)

Some ornamental plants and fruit plants like blueberries require an acidic soil. To make your soil more acidic (decrease its pH value) you can use either aluminium sulphate or sulphur. Aluminium sulphate is the quickest acting as it will increase the acidity as soon as it disolves into the soil. The downsides are though that its effects can be short term and it is possible to over-apply it.

The more recommended but slower way to increase your soil pH is to use sulphur. Sulphur converts to sulphuric acid with the help of bacteria in the soil but this takes time depending on factors like the presence of bacteria, texture of the soil and moisture levels. This could take months if conditions are not ideal. 

Conclusion

Remember to always take into account soil pH when deciding what to plant in your soil. If you do not know what the pH of your soil is then test your soil and if needs be take steps mentioned earlier to change the pH value over time. Best of luck!"

Jandtaa

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Thanks Jandtaa, you seem to have all the answers.

You posted another reply while I was trying to get this bloody internet to upload.

O.K. just had a little look into the effects of aluminium sulphate on soil (Still raining so at a loose end )

turns out it's frequently used to raise the Ph of soils

Should that be lower the PH?

Hi loong yes! sorry my mistake!! acid soil (generally tropical clay soils are) has low ph and is raised with lime in its various forms (alkaline substances) and alkaline soil has a high ph and is lowered with sulphur or aluminium sulphate (acid substances). Although plants all have a preferred ph a good general guide is to achieve a ph of around 7 (neutral on the ph scale) where the acid and alkalines are balanced. I'll post more about testing and how much material to add in order to alter your soil ph later. How about some form of drainage into a buried tank (maybe sealed concrete rings ) you would then obviously need a small pump but their fairly cheap out here.

cheers Jandtaa

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Hi again folks 

here's some info regarding zero tillage systems and keyline ploughing as promised

jandtaas docs - one straw revolution Fukuoka

this is a real nice read on zero tillage "the lazy mans approach to broadscale farming" by a real groundbreaking fella (I know this site can be a bit slow at times so I'm looking at alternatives, could just be my slow connection)

no_till.pdf this PDF covers no tillage in the tropics (lots of scientific graphs ) if I come across anything better I'll repost this was all I could find in my PDF's so I'll have to hit google again !!

Keyline ploughing, as advocated by Geoff lawton in his excellent DVD "Harvesting water the permaculture way" was developed by an Australian guy called Yeoman as an alternative to harmful conventional ploughing and to manage water resources for broadscale farmers

here's a PDF explaining how it works keyline.pdf  and here is a link to Yeoman's website Yeomans plough click on the home button for a wealth of information about what he feels needs to be done in agriculture to save the planet. The guy's another great pioneer !!

this is a nice photo based site showing Geoff lawton putting it into action good shots of a Yeoman plough as well as some of building compost and brewing compost tea water-landscape compost 

hope this has provided more food for thought and hope it may be of use to those guys with larger farms. Lets see who builds the first Thai made copy of the plough :o !! or maybe were all lazy buggers at heart and will opt for the zero till !!

cheers all Jandtaa

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Thanks KBvicar, I will look out for it.

I will be experimenting with these organic compost teas as I love experimenting. The only problem that I have is that I don't write things down and when something is successful, I can't remember what I did. Age I suppose :o

One thing I do intend to do is collect sugar cane from the side of the road. This area has a lot of sugar cane and there is so much of it on the road crushed by the traffic, that I figure it might be worth incorporating this.

Charcoal dust

I have sown seeds in the black bags with different concentrations of charcoal dust to see what happens, and this time I have written it down. As long as I don't lose the list (possible), I may get an idea of the way forward.

I dug a raised bed at the beginning of february and mixed charcoal dust in half. i have sown Chinese radish, Kale, carrots, Pak choi and leaf mustard. At the moment, can't really see much difference except with the Kale. The Kale loves it. This initial area doesn't have a very high concentration of charcoal and I have incorporated the charcoal in another area and transplanted Kale seedlings and you wouldn't believe the way they are growing. They look so healthy and a beautiful green colour. I have to add that this has become more apparent after we had rain. The garden almost heaves a sigh of relief when the rain comes.

I have now dug some soil from where they make the charcoal, it's a lovely black colour and I've laid it to a depth of about 15cms and will see what happens when i sow seed directly into this.

Later in the year, I hope to post some photos of the sugar cane that grows here. Last year ( first time they cultivated this area)I was puzzled that in some areas the sugar cane was twice the height. Now I think that it has something to do with the charcoal production. If the same thing happens this year, I will get some photos.

Thanks to everyone here (esp Jandtaa) for all this fantastic info.

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Thanks KBvicar, I will look out for it.

I will be experimenting with these organic compost teas as I love experimenting. The only problem that I have is that I don't write things down and when something is successful, I can't remember what I did. Age I suppose :o

One thing I do intend to do is collect sugar cane from the side of the road. This area has a lot of sugar cane and there is so much of it on the road crushed by the traffic, that I figure it might be worth incorporating this.

Charcoal dust

I have sown seeds in the black bags with different concentrations of charcoal dust to see what happens, and this time I have written it down. As long as I don't lose the list (possible), I may get an idea of the way forward.

I dug a raised bed at the beginning of february and mixed charcoal dust in half. i have sown Chinese radish, Kale, carrots, Pak choi and leaf mustard. At the moment, can't really see much difference except with the Kale. The Kale loves it. This initial area doesn't have a very high concentration of charcoal and I have incorporated the charcoal in another area and transplanted Kale seedlings and you wouldn't believe the way they are growing. They look so healthy and a beautiful green colour. I have to add that this has become more apparent after we had rain. The garden almost heaves a sigh of relief when the rain comes.

I have now dug some soil from where they make the charcoal, it's a lovely black colour and I've laid it to a depth of about 15cms and will see what happens when i sow seed directly into this.

Later in the year, I hope to post some photos of the sugar cane that grows here. Last year ( first time they cultivated this area)I was puzzled that in some areas the sugar cane was twice the height. Now I think that it has something to do with the charcoal production. If the same thing happens this year, I will get some photos.

Thanks to everyone here (esp Jandtaa) for all this fantastic info.

Thanks loong for the kind words !!

Here you are witnessing the effect of soil Ph we were discussing earlier !! Kale belongs to the brassica family which thrive best in slightly alkaline soil ( I believe most commercial growers aim for about 7.2 but personally in my veg patch back in the U.K. (real heavy clay soil although improving every year ) after liming with dolomite we usually end up at around 7.5 . The cabbages , sprouts and broccoli (also members of the brassica family) thrive on it . By adding charcoal you have raised the ph level of the soil one of the many positives of using biochar (charcoal) and your kale is benefiting from the ammendment ! As I said earlier I will post more info on preferred  ph of various crops, how to test your soil ph  and the recommended levels of ammendments to alter it later (when working organically it's a bit of an inexact science and need to get my notes in order and check whether being in the tropics has any bearing). Great to see some living proof of an organic method bearing fruits as it were !! Looks like you're on the right track loong , keep up the good work and please be sure to let us know of anything else you witness in your garden . Observation is the key !!

I'm sure someone can tell you about sugarcane waste - Bagasse I believe it's called and it's uses in mulch,compost etc (no sugar cane round these parts so I'll leave it to someone more in the know !!

cheers jandtaa

P.S. If you're finding this thread useful please add your support to making it a sub-forum at the forum support thread located at the general forum index page if you haven't already . It's not about me, I'm not exactly running for president just want to get the info I have to the widest possible audience !!    

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Biochar for your land. Anything up to 7 tons per Rai. :o 'And that's in the top 30 cms.

For sure it will make the earth more friable (easier to work) and all the other stated benefits. Great for most of our low growing veg. But how would it effect our taller, shallow rooted crops. Maize, sugar etc? Would they be more prone to being blown over in Thailand's rainy squalls? They can be very violent at times.

Regards.

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Hi Teletiger,

1 rai = 1,600 square meters x 0.3m deep = 480 cubic meters.

If we assume the soil has a density of 1 ton/cubic meter then that is a total weight of 480 tons. (In fact, I bet your soils have a higher density, possibly up to 50% higher)

So it would be 7 tons of biochar per 480 tons of soil (about 1.5%). I've read that biochar has a density of 0.25tons/cubic meter so in volume terms the 7 tons will be about 28 cubic meters and therefore nearly 6% of the volume of soil; but this is still a relatively minor proportion so I don't think your plants are going to fall over! Also, I reckon the better root system that you'd get in the biochar-amended soil would mean that the plant would be gripping a bigger chunk of soil giving it greater stability than in untreated soil.

Perhaps your main concern should be the cost of biochar? Not sure what's the price (I'd be interested to know more) but I guess you'll need to grow some high value crops to get a decent return on your investment.

Best regards,

JB.

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Perhaps your main concern should be the cost of biochar? Not sure what's the price (I'd be interested to know more) but I guess you'll need to grow some high value crops to get a decent return on your investment.

Our neighbour bought some a while ago, I think the cost was 5.5K for a 10 wheel truck. I was thinking a mixture of bio-char, coco peat, manure, compost and worm castings would be good. Rather than ploughing or trying to improve clay soil, this could be spread over as top soil. Any thoughts?

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Perhaps your main concern should be the cost of biochar? Not sure what's the price (I'd be interested to know more) but I guess you'll need to grow some high value crops to get a decent return on your investment.

Our neighbour bought some a while ago, I think the cost was 5.5K for a 10 wheel truck. I was thinking a mixture of bio-char, coco peat, manure, compost and worm castings would be good. Rather than ploughing or trying to improve clay soil, this could be spread over as top soil. Any thoughts?

Hi Smithson,

I have often thought of doing something similar myself. I don't know how it would work out, but should be worth trying. I think you'll need to have at least 15cm depth. You could make raised beds - depending on what you're growing. It's possible that some plants will love the mix, while others may not, but my guess is that most will. Hopefully the plants will grow better but also the weeds should be much easier to pull out. Possible factors that may affect the performance of the mix may be pH and aeration and these will depend on the proportions of the different ingredients. I hope you will try it and let us know the results.

Best regards,

JB.

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Perhaps your main concern should be the cost of biochar? Not sure what's the price (I'd be interested to know more) but I guess you'll need to grow some high value crops to get a decent return on your investment.

Our neighbour bought some a while ago, I think the cost was 5.5K for a 10 wheel truck. I was thinking a mixture of bio-char, coco peat, manure, compost and worm castings would be good. Rather than ploughing or trying to improve clay soil, this could be spread over as top soil. Any thoughts?

Hi Smithson,

I have often thought of doing something similar myself. I don't know how it would work out, but should be worth trying. I think you'll need to have at least 15cm depth. You could make raised beds - depending on what you're growing. It's possible that some plants will love the mix, while others may not, but my guess is that most will. Hopefully the plants will grow better but also the weeds should be much easier to pull out. Possible factors that may affect the performance of the mix may be pH and aeration and these will depend on the proportions of the different ingredients. I hope you will try it and let us know the results.

Best regards,

JB.

Glad I'm not the only one with the crazy ideas! I was thinking it wouldn't need to be so deep, more like 5 - 10cm, hopefully all the microorganism and insects would get to work on the soil below and improve. Another thick mulch layer on top would help this and gradually the depth would increase.

Our garden in Bkk has areas that have been filled with broken concrete and rocks, a few years ago I threw down coco peat, manure and leaves. When the garden is swept leaves are swept onto this area. The plants are doing quite well.

I don't aeration would be a problem, but PH could be. We have some terrible clay at our place, I dug holes, put in a similar mix and planted papayas. Some are doing great, others not so good.

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Hi folks

As I mentioned yesterday there has been a thread running on something called biochar thread which some of you may have read. It's also pertinent because Loong has raised the question of is it safe to use charcoal ? I've been doing a spot of research and come up with the following;

First to answer loongs query

"Can I use commercial charcoal as biochar ? absolutely. While the bio-oil condensates in biochar definitely play a role in soil fertility, charcoal without bio-oil condensates has been demonstrated to produce excellent results.Although it is normally advisable to avoid industrial charcoal briquettes because the binders used during manufacture can add undesirable constituents"

obviously your charcoal contains no binder and as long as the locals are using raw timber and not treated or painted wood I guess you've got the all clear.

" What are the benefits of using biochar ??

The following benefits occur with additions of biochar

Enhanced plant growth

Suppressed methane emission

Reduced nitrous oxide emission (estimate 50%) (see 5.10 below)

Reduced fertilizer requirement (estimate 10%)

Reduced leaching of nutrients

Stored carbon in a long term stable sink

Reduces soil acidity: raises soil pH (see 5.01 below)

Reduces aluminum toxicity

Increased soil aggregation due to increased fungal hyphae

Improved soil water handling characteristics

Increased soil levels of available Ca, Mg, P, and K

Increased soil microbial respiration

Increased soil microbial biomass

Stimulated symbiotic nitrogen fixation in legumes

Increased arbuscular mycorrhyzal fungi

Increased cation exchange capacity"

heres some links that explain biochar and its uses;

A good general overview and very readable biochar

an article on biochar in Thai rice growing black soil - green rice

loads of good info and links pus some video biochar - home production and usage

FF was asking about rice straw so here's one for you ( more about producing on a commercial scale but I'm sure a man of your calibre could put it to use, bit scientific I'm afraid ) technologies for the energy use of rice straw

also a happy coincidence bearing in mind my recent post

"Biochar enthusiasts generally agree that raw biochar needs to be processed further prior to being added to the garden. Composting, or soaking with compost tea, is commonly used to charge the pore volume with beneficial organisms and nutrients. Soaking in a nutrient rich solution (examples are urine or fish emulsion) prior to composting is accepted practice."

Finally heres a PDF on building your own kiln as used in the Philipinnes to produce biochar from rice hulls on the farm

Farmcarbonisationmachine.pdf

There's loads of info out there on the net and biochar can also be used as a fuel . Many hope it could be the answer to save the planet and there's plenty of ongoing research !!

happy carbonisation folks !!

Jandtaa

Howdy Jandtaa

I tried to look at carbonisation of the rice straw but the thread really didn't have much. I did get the PDF for the Phillipine Carbonizer and it looks like a viable way to deal with the husks. I think with straw you will be constrained by the large size and the amount of air spaces in your burning (carbonizing)pile in a similar type of situation. The reduction of the straw size would possibly allow a process similar to the carbonizing of husks. I know of no way to practically cut the straw so will have to look at different ways carbonizing or just use it for composting and soil amending and look to buy some husks.

Bad news for the husk buyers out this way as there has been a HUGE Bio-Energy plant built just outside of Prakon Chai so they are buying by the 10's of thousands of tons of husks. Someone on thaivisa was saying 5000 baht for a ten wheeler delivered and that doesn't sound too cheap at all. Obviously the amount of transport is a crucial factor. Anyone else have any info on the cost of husks per ton or any other manner of purchase just for references?

Fantastic job with the sub-forum as it looks as if it has been up and running for years truly a hurculean effort and very well done. Not enough thanks could be possible and it will be truly invaluable for many. Choke dee

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Bad news for the husk buyers out this way as there has been a HUGE Bio-Energy plant built just outside of Prakon Chai so they are buying by the 10's of thousands of tons of husks. Someone on thaivisa was saying 5000 baht for a ten wheeler delivered and that doesn't sound too cheap at all. Obviously the amount of transport is a crucial factor. Anyone else have any info on the cost of husks per ton or any other manner of purchase just for references?

A 10 wheeler> That's a lot of rice husks. Do they come from a large processing plant?

Maybe your area doesn't have the small processors operating out of a shack with 1 machine. If there are any, you can usually go and shovel the husks yourself for free. Maybe we are just lucky in this area.

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Hi guys

been having another little dig around and come up with the following on possible drawbacks

Currently manufactured biochar is in short supply and is fully utilized for academic research projects. BEST Energies is purported to have a target price of AUD $200 /Mg (Mg is the same as a metric tonne) for Agrichar™. This is equivalent to USD $0.06 /lb, and would be very competitively priced.

Composting worms have been observed to be unaffected below 50% charcoal content, above which reduced worm activity could occur.

Data on the effect of charcoal on crop yields is still rudimentary – only a limited number of crops grown on a limited number of soils have been investigated. The interactions between crop, soil type, local conditions, and biochar feedstock, production method and application rate will have to be studied in far more detail before large scale deployment of biochar as a soil amendment can be contemplated. Nonetheless, there is evidence that at least for some crop/soil combinations, addition of charcoal may be beneficial

So unless you can find a cheap source of husks and make your own biochar it's gonna be difficult to apply this practically or economicaly over a large area.

I was thinking of incorporating it into some bio-intensive raised beds by composting it first with manure and rice straw etc using EM and then mixing it into the topsoil and covering with mulch. I'll build the kiln and give it a try in 6 months time when I get back.

regarding ph

Raising soil pH is biochar's most important contribution to influencing soil quality. (Source) Soil pH mostly influences the relative availability of nutrients. At low pH, aluminum toxicity is particularly harmful to plant growth. Aluminum toxicity is an extensive and severe soil problem and biochar is the most available and obvious solution that we have to combat it. Soil phosphorus availability is highly dependent on soil pH range, and thus biochar can be used to substantially increase phosphorus availability in soils that are below the ideal pH range of 6.5 to 7.0.

here's a link to a bigger kiln for farm use masonary retort kiln  

and here's a link to the bio-char field trials database terracarbon. org

It seems to be another story of an organic technique that has been used for centuries recently being rediscovered but dependant on further research and commercial enterprises investing in the building of processing plants etc . Probably good for the small scale farmer/market gardeners out here in the tropics and it's certainly worth giving it a go if you have the time and resources IMHO

cheers all J 

 

P.s. A by product of the carbonisation process is wood vinegar link to where it's being discussed in the organic pest control thread

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I'm interested as well. Unfortunately my internet is so bad today, can't check out the website too much, so don't know if there were plans or not.

If 500 Euros to build I would be very interested in sponsoring one for our village community. The villagers here make charcoal already, so a more efficient method with less air pollution would mean lower health risk for my family (as well as every other family in the village)

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Hi folks 

here's a link to an FAO site on a variety of kilns link

Here's the contact details of the guy that designed the masonry retort kiln (apparently he has worked in Thailand with them) maybe someone wants to email him ??

adam + partner 

Bahnhofstr. 13 

82467 - GARMISCH 

G E R M A N Y 

ph: +49-175 528 96 24 

fax:+49-180 5060 3360 3783

[email protected]

these are the only details I could find about it 

Details of the ICPS (Improved Charcoal Production System / adam-retort)

-which was developed in Burundi/East Africa and in South India near Pondicherry. Dimensions

may differ in other countries, depending on brick size and size of galvanized sheets available.

The size of the inner wood chamber: 2,4m x 1,1m x 0,95m height (volume: 2,5m3)

Thickness of walls: 0,07m + 0,04m(space) + 0,07m = 0,18m

The size of the outer wood chamber: 2,76m length x 1,46m width x 1m height

Length including chimney box and fire box: 2,76m + 0,4m +0,6m = 3,76m length

Construction time: about one week to ten days by a trained team of 2-3 workers.

Cost for material and labour: about 200 – 300 Euros depending on the situation in the country.

here's a link about work on kilns in Thailand by  The Royal Thai Forestry Department charcoal kiln testing

might be worth contacting them to see if they have any detailed plans.

But that's about it, most designs seem to be based on the 55 gallon steel drums in various configurations !!

Cheers for now J

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What about carbonizing kee vuar/moo/ghai/falang :o wouldn't need too much charging with "tea" :D At 100/300/400 Baht per ton, hmm. Too small particle wise? I/you/ we (mostly you) need to experiment.

Jandtaa to MIL...."Khun Yai, I need your stools to carbonize" :D .

I'm running a book on what she's going to hit him with first. :D The "golden liquid" night pot is 2/1 :D

Regards

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:D :D

TT I was considering attatching a sneaky syphon to the afore-mentioned night-jar !! If you you could pop up and give us a hand starting the syphonic action it would be most appreciated :D !!

Yeah It's gonna be a job persuading the missus about the humanure toilet I'm seriously considering installing when I get round to building the new house !! She's used to my crazy Ideas and generally supportive but this might be a bit much for her . Might just have to build an out-house in the veg patch and take to reading the morning paper out there :o !!

cheers for now J

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Hi folks

just came across this site biochar farms

really does cover biochars application in most agricultural scenarios including forest gardening,poultry rearing etc. Gives some suggested application rates observed yield increases etc but remains well balanced examining the possible downsides and acknowledges it could be decades before research is fully completed.Different ways to "charge" the biochar including the use of bio-digester methane sludge. Also a couple of different kilns here including a portable hi-tech one.

overall a good read if you haven't come across it already !

cheers J     

P.S. here's the direct link with construction and usage guide to this double barrel kiln closedlids_small.JPG  barrel2_small.JPG  kildback_small.JPG link

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  • 2 weeks later...
^ The best areas for growing on our property are those that were used for fires. The soil is loose and dark, with plenty of charcoal. I've just planted on another area, it has leaves and straw as mulch, also planning to add some coconut husks and compost. Any further suggestions?

Were these fires for cooking?

I'd just like to stress that burning leaves and other waste is not the same as carbonisation.

It's well known that the slash and burn methods of the past resulted in terrible damage to the environment. The fertility of the soil was quickly depleted and the farmers moved to a new area of forest, leaving a wasteland behind.

My little plot that I'm trying to tend has suffered years of scraping up the grass and burning it. Consequently, the soil is very poor with next to no organic material.

It takes a while to make any volume of compost, so it's been a gradual improvement to date.

I think that I may have had a bit of extra luck. The river near here was dredged out a while back and the spoil dumped on the bank. A lot of reeds, soil and vegetation. Digging into the piles, it looks pretty good. Still a lot of reeds, but plenty of fibrous organic material. I think that it will make a marvellous additive to improve my sticky clay soil.

Not easy to get to though, so will be a bucket or 2 at a time

Edited by loong
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Charcoal.

2 months ago, I prepared a small area of soil. I dug in some mature cow dung. Then dug in charcoal one half only (approx 10%, 40cm depth). I sowed various seeds and deliberately overcrowded it as I wanted to see what happens. Probably the only organic material in the soil was the cow dung.

The growth has been far superior to anywhere else in the garden that has only benefited by the addition of cow dung. The strange thing is that there seems to be very little difference between the half with charcoal to the half without. This leads me to believe that a small amount of charcoal dust found its way into the untreated side. This would mean that even a very small proportion of charcoal dust has immediate benefits.

In the half treated with charcoal, the winners are Kale and Chinese radish. I think that the carrots are doing better that side as well.

The tomatoes are doing well in both halves and are much healthier than in other parts of the garden, despite the overcrowded conditions Pak choy are doing ok, but leggy and anyway, I think the weather has been too hot.

Where I have added charcoal dust in other areas, it is looking very encouraging. I am certain that, with the addition of more organic material, the soil will be a dramatic improvement on what I started with.

I have started some seeds in bags with varying concentrations of charcoal dust, but too early to report as yet. I can only say that leaf mustard germinates at high %, but withers and dies soon after seed leaf stage.

I dug some soil from the area below where the charcoal was made. This is a sandy consistency and black.

Trying to germinate seeds in this without mixing in other soil is not good. This could be due to the high level of condensates after years of charcoal making. Grass will grow ok, but that's a survivor. The only seeds that I have manged to germinate in this soil so far are black beans, but they have only been growing for one week and so may still be using the seed nutrients. Time will tell.

I will be continuing with my experiments and let you know what happens.

Cheers

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Hi Loong, Interesting posts, im also very interested in the use of charcoal or ash, i see these big forest fires around the world and after a rain or 2 they are soon growing again,although its never reported on television.

Last year, after our tamarind trees were pruned, i dragged a lot of the dead branches onto the salad beds and burnt them, then raked out the ashes ready for the rain to do its work, after a few rains, the weeds came, Mrs said dont go to farm, they are spraying weedkiller today, they overdosed on the salad beds, anyway, 2 months ago, i dug out a 9in sq hole and planted red cherry tomatoes in compost, the tomatoes where the fires were are doing so much better than the others, So perhaps its a matter of time allowing the ash/charcoal dust to get into the soil? perhaps its to harsh to start with? I can buy huge bags of charcoal here for 100 bht, do you think crushing it into dust then apply and let a few months rain would help it into the soil?

Thanks, Lickey..

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Yeah good stuff Loong

I crushed up some charcoal to a powder and "charged" it with EM before digging it into a small patch of topsoil at about 5 kilo to the square meter before sowing up with green manure. Shame I'm not there to make observations (will attempt to ask the wife over the phone )howmuchbiochar.jpg

I've now identified the soil testing kit I'm gonna buy and when I return will build the rice hull carboniser and set up some field trials using biochar .

cheers for now J

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Hello Lickey,

It may be worthwhile talking to your charcoal supplier, if he makes it himself. It's very possible that he is left with a lot of very small charcoal pieces and dust that he cannot sell. He may well sell you this at half price. It'd actually be better than half price, because more smaller pieces will fit in a bag. He'll think that you are crazy, but money is money. It's just as well that he does think you crazy, or he'd realise that he could charge you double for such a valueable additive. Be warned though, if a lot of dust, it will be very heavy. I would also suggest that you damp it down before using as the dust can really kick up.

I've not researched it, but from what I remember, ash can be a good additive to soil, but not great. Burning waste can give a quick fix to the soil, but is not long lasting. It make sense to me - a plant absorbs energy from the sun and combined with soil nutrients creates new mass. Burning gives up so much of that stored energy as heat and is wasteful.

Some forest rely on a fire as part of its life cycle. Falling leaves etc enrich the soil over the years, but I suppose that mother nature likes to start afresh sometimes and a fire is nature's way. Some seeds will only germinate after being burned, they lay dormant otherwise.

My experiments with charcoal have been very encouraging to date, but you have to remember that my soil was very poor to start with and has very little organic matter. (also I'm no expert).

I have a few clumps of Holy and sweet basil. They were getting woody with not so many good leaves. I would have pulled them up, but couldn't seem to get new packet seeds to germinate and although the plants were dropping seeds, none would grow. I threw a little charcoal dust down around some of the plants watered (not dug) in. That must have been about 6 weeks ago. The basil treated with charcoal dust has taken on a new lease of life, good strong, vibrant new growth. There are also thousands of new seedlings now, but I can't be sure if that is to do with the time of year or not.

Everywhere that I have introduced a small amount of charcoal, I have seen positive results. Even minute amounts seem to bring almost immediate benefits.

As I empty beds, I'm now digging in organic semi composted matter from the river, charcoal and mature cow dung. For the moment, I've seeded these areas with black beans, not as a crop, but hopefully as green manure.

Also in one area, I've dug in fresh rice husks that have been steeped in compost tea. I've learnt so much from reading these threads and have started to understand the role of nitrogen etc. So it may be considered a bad thing to introduce fresh rice husks, but I'm not so sure. I have used them before to improve drainage and help break up the clay and noted that they are very slow to decompose.

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