Turkeysong

Experimental Homestead

Simple, Efficient, Cheap, Flexible Biochar Trench Video, and Frankentree Trailer

Coming next weekend!  I guarantee the actual video is less exciting than the trailer, but it is much more edifying!  This video will just be an introduction to the idea, and the benefits of frankentreeing.  I hope to put together a much more technical video in the future.

Below is my second fast motion video on the two simple biochar methods I’ve been experimenting with.  A few notes…

Fuels:  I suspect that pieces larger than about 3 inches are better either split down or charred by another method, and chips might be better done in a TLUD or some such device.  I haven’t tried either in the trench though, so that’s just speculation.  I doubt that large wood will char well in the trench because it takes so long to char all the way through, but chips might be just fine if fed pretty constantly in thin layers.  As long as everything you’re putting in turns to charcoal and you’re not getting a lot of ashes or a lot of smoke with it, you’re doing well.  I’ve done green and dry wood.  Dry is better of course.  I think the jury is still out on green wood.  The one I did mostly with pretty green wood was a very hot, large pit and the wood was brushy allowing for the ingress for large amounts of air.  It was still pretty sluggish and I’d certainly tend to let the stuff dry for a summer first if possible. Continue reading

October 4, 2014 Posted by | BioChar, Forestry, Garden Stuff | , , , , | 1 Comment

Grapes Reviews and Simple Biochar Production, a Few Videos

Yay, burn season is here!  Just uploaded a few videos.  A couple of short grape variety reviews, The pretty darn good Glenora and the excellent Reliance (of which I’m eating some right now, and they’re super tasty!).  And a somewhat long winded, but cool, video of burning a top lit open burn brush pile to make biochar (Which Kelpie of Backyardbiochar calls TLOB).  This is one of the two charring methods I’ve been messing with, the slope sided pit (or container), and the open top lit piles.  I think each has it’s merits, but probably more importantly, each might be better suited to certain materials that people commonly have.  Both can be scaled up and down in size and neither should produce a ton of smoke if the wood isn’t either soaking wet or green.  A pit burn video should be forthcoming.  Hopefully I’ll get better at shooting and editing video, learn to talk faster and develop a video personality at some point.  In the meantime, pop some popcorn and check it out.

No Guinea Pigs were harmed during the making of these videos, although some chickens were verbally assaulted.

September 23, 2014 Posted by | BioChar, Food Trees Fruits and Nuts, Garden Stuff | , , , , , | 10 Comments

Saffron Dreams: Musings and experiments in growing Saffron

 

saffron dreams header

I like to cook intuitively with what happens to be on hand, which means having a certain familiarity with my ingredients.  Recipes are just guidelines in my world and not to be taken at face value, ever.  I’ve never had enough Saffron around to become familiar with it to the point that I can use it with any confidence.  When my mom brought me a small box of quality saffron from Spain, I had a chance to become a little more familiar.  With Saffron now on my radar, I of course decided I should grow the stuff instead of buying it.  I mean if we can grow the stuff here, why import it at 80.00 an ounce?  Saffron seems to be capable of growing in a fairly wide variety of climates from England to Afghanistan.  Then I could sell the bulbs and promote the idea of growing it and start a local industry and…..

A laptop surfing safari turned up a few small scale growers focused on high quality Saffron for local consumption, but none of them in California.  Aside from these geeky boutique producers who have been bitten by the Saffron bug, saffron production seems to be left to areas where it has long been cultivated.

Saffron’s peculiarly unique flavor is subtle and pervasive at the same time.  A few threads too many and it goes from enhancing your dish to ruining it.  Fortunately, it’s intensity means that only a few threads are required and if it wasn’t so intense, no one would likely be able to afford to use it at all, nor probably bother to.  The part used is the intensely red stigma of a pretty little purple/blue flower named Crocus sativus, the stigma being the female part that receives the pollen.   The Latin name is probably pronounced like kroak-us sa-tee’-vus, or sat’-i-vus but no one really knows for sure because Latin is a dead language.  So just say it however you want to and if anyone flicks you shit for pronouncing it wrong, just follow Jepson’s advice of The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California:

“… practice what sounds good to your ear; conviction is important.”    “When someone presumes to correct your pronunciation, a knowing smile is an appropriate response.”

That’s always worked for me :D

Anyway, there are only three stigma or “threads” in each flower.  Not only are there only three, but they have to be removed by hand one flower at a time.  The threads are already small and they dry into teeny weeny little flakey things looking something like pubic hair from a redheaded elf.

soaking saffron progress

Re-soaking saffron threads for use in cooking.

Crocus carwrightianus is probably the parent of the Saffron Crocus, and is a normal seed producing plant that exists in wild seed propagated populations.  Crocus sativus on the other hand is a mutation or hybrid of some type, and it never produces seed, but can only be grown and propagated by redistribution of the underground parts.  So, Saffron Crocus is probably entirely dependent on humans for it’s survival and propagation.  Although the stigma of Crocus cartwrightianus can also be used to make saffron, it is almost exclusively made from Crocus sativus.  All of the sources I can find indicate that the Saffron crocus has either more or better flavor than C cartwrightianus, and/or that C Sativus produces more Saffron per plant due to heavier Stigmas.  Regardless, I’m interested in picking up some cartwrightianus to play with.  Cartwrightianus, now there’s a clunky name that I can never remember.  I guess if I discovered it I could name it Edholmianus.  I’m not sure I like it, and it sounds pretty dirty.

Freshly harvested saffron threads.

Freshly harvested saffron threads.  Only freshly opened flowers are used.  It is necessary to revisit the plants nearly every day for a week or two, since the flowers don’t emerge and open all at once.

Continue reading

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Food and Drink Making, Garden Stuff, Uncategorized | , , , | 12 Comments

Soil Banking With Biochar: proposition for a migrating latrine system aimed at permanent soil improvement

“The idea is to have a sort of trench system that would serve both as a latrine, and as a means of permanently improving the soil.”

This proposal is built around the concept of using charcoal to permanently improve soils.  If you’re not familiar with that idea, a little reading on biochar might be helpful. 2 3 

(EDIT: Ok, I just posted this yesterday, but the original title sucked, so I had to take action.  The more I’ve thought about this idea today, the more I’m inclined to think that viewing it as just a latrine is somewhat limiting.  A system of soil improvement like this could serve to accommodate all sorts of rubbish and organic refuse.  I always thought that if I built a nice outhouse someday, that I’d make a sign for it that said Bank of Fertility (make a deposit:).  I like that concept.  I’m going to go with the term Soil Banking for the concept of a migrating soil improvement  system using an open trench.  While making daily deposits of doodie makes eminent sense for such a system, there are so many more things that could be tossed in the mix.  All people who live in the country that don’t have access to landfills, have rubbish heaps or pits of some kind.  What I’m proposing is that we use that open pit, and the material added, to a high level of advantage toward the end of permanent soil improvement.  At this point, I can only see a big open pit, placed in the right area, to be an outstanding opportunity.  The idea of permanent soil improvement, made possible by the addition of charcoal, is really compelling.  Dead animals and parts, rotten wood, old natural fiber clothing, shells, bones, ashes, seedy weeds that are best not put in to the compost, anything else that plants or soil life can feed on that the chickens can’t eat, or that we don’t want to put in the compost for whatever reason, and of course poo and charcoal, all added as they occur.  And of course adding whatever other amendments, like lime, rock powder or trace minerals might make sense too, depending on circumstances.  Over many years, this system could add up to an ever expanding bank of super soils that will probably continue to be superior for decades, if not for centuries.  So there it is, Soil Banking.  “What should I do with this dead maggoty possum?”  “put it in the soil bank with a few scoops of charcoal and some dirt”  “yeah, okay, I was going there to make a deposit anyway!” “righteous dude, high five!”  Now back to regularly scheduled programing.)

I’ve been knocking this idea around in my head for a while.  Actually, maybe it’s been knocking me around it just want’s me to think that I’m knocking it around.  It started when I was thinking about ways to use the pit after pit burning charcoal in a long trench.  The obvious use was to bury the biochar in it instead of digging another hole for that.  After all, it’s one thing to make all that char, but then you have to dig it into the soil, which is a butt load of work.  In this climate, outside of irrigated garden beds, I think getting the char pretty deep is probably a good idea.  After june, soil moisture is scant near the surface.  If the char was buried lets say only 12 to 18 inches deep, that puts it in the zone where roots are mostly on idle for the summer.  No moisture= no root activity to speak of.  Charcoal is a great retainer of moisture, but it’s not that great.  I’m talking about unirrigated areas for orchards and perrenials, or maybe for dry farming crops.  If the char was more like 3 feet or 1 meter deep, it would be of much more benefit to plants in the summer season. Continue reading

July 29, 2014 Posted by | Garden Stuff, Uncategorized | , , , , | 17 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 221 other followers