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.”
(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
At some point a year or two ago, I had to come up with a folded packet/envelope design so I could give away the seeds that I save at farmer’s markets, scion exchanges and places like that. I like giving away seeds. I often give away too many and end up kicking myself, but it is so compelling for some reason! The first thing that came to mind was those little paper packets called bindles that cocaine used to come in back in the 80’s. Learning to fold bindles was about the only real good I ever got out the stuff. Cocaine was around a lot back then, but I had little use for it. I think I was more interested in the bindles than the coke. I did so little of it that I couldn’t remember how to make those little folded paper bindles almost 30 years later. So, anyway, no bindles. I had to improvise. I’m not sure why I didn’t just look for instructions on the internet, but I’m glad I didn’t.
I had recently come up with an origami container for roasted baynuts that was pretty nifty, so I was emboldened to the task and began folding away fearlessly. I already knew I wanted it to be a quarter sheet or smaller. The result after a few minor adjustments is this origami dubbed “seed pocket” for obvious reasons. It came out with some neat unexpected features. The back tabs lock together in a really neat way to keep the packet closed. If stuffed super full it may open at the back (though it’s still unlikely to spill seeds) but then you can just make a larger one out of a full sheet instead of a quarter sheet. I prefer to tear the paper after creasing, because the torn edges appear under the title, which looks cool and more handcrafted-like. there are also a lot of squares and half square triangles formed, so the proportions are pleasing to an OCDish person fixated on symmetry, like me. These are very seed tight and unlikely to leak even small seeds like poppy. In fact, I just packed up some tiny shirlie poppy seeds last night. I’m not so sure about super teeny weeny tiny seeds like tobacco and lobelia, but otherwise, they’re pretty dang tight!
I’ve got one laid out in adobe illustrator for each of the seed varieties that I save regularly, with names, short descriptions and a nudge in the direction of my blog to pick up web traffic. They serve a little like business cards and are very popular. It’s a lot of folding, but I actually like folding them while watching a movie or just thinking about stuff. It’s sort of addictive. I’ve probably folded thousands by now.
I’m making the Adobe Illustrator template available as a downloadable file, so if you have access to adobe illustrator, you can leave the layout (which took a helluva long time to get right, so be careful messing with it!) and just change the text and fonts to suit your own farm name, variety names, descriptions and such. You may need to download the fonts I used if you want to keep them (Copperplate gothic light, Century old style standard, Cambria and Chalkduster). Putting some text on the inside of the packet is a possibility too, and I may add seed saving instructions for each vegetable eventually if I can get my stupid printer to stop eating so much paper. I kept it pretty simple, but one could add all kinds of things- colors, pictures, gardening quotes, fold lines…
This template is for four small seed pockets per 8.5 x 11 inch sheet. I haven’t made a full sheet template, but I do use the same origami design for making an occasional large seed packet. If you use the template, I’d appreciate the small favor of leaving the blip on the underside of the flap so people can find the template and this post and my blog. Thanks!
So, save some seeds this year! If you haven’t saved seed before, tomatoes are an easy place to start. They rarely cross with each other. Just take a non-hybrid tomato that you like, squish the seeds into a bowl, let it ferment for a day or two to dissolve the pulp, wash and drain several times to clean the seeds, and dry on a piece of paper in the shade until thoroughly dry.
This is the first video of what I hope will be many. Big thanks to blog reader lars for hooking me up with a video camera! Thanks dude!
And don’t miss my one other youtube video ever, the epic guinea pig munch off!
Preface-like paragraph: I have, over many years and with a lot of intention, slowly come to see the world around me as a sort of resource-scape, that is, as a world of potential resources. This can extend to people and ideas as well as physical objects and also phenomena of energy, like wind, or sun, or the action of an animal. Having made a pretty intense study of primitive technology as well as of other subsistence paradigms, I’ve been impressed deeply by the fact that different groups of people, given similar environments, or even the exact same environment, will do completely different things there and live very different lives. While we are guided by our environments, we are also very much guided by our cultural influences and what we know, or just as importantly what we think we know is and is not possible.
So? As a result of this perspective of resource consciousness, I tend to walk around constantly looking for unseen or undervalued potential that could be harnessed to make life better, more sustainable, or to make work more efficient and certainly a little just to keep myself entertained! While this view has resulted in way more ideas than I have energy to experiment with or turn into functional realities, having that view does serve me decently well sometimes. I’ve noticed in the garden that there are numerous resources that are underexploited and can be micromanaged into great usefulness. One of my main influences in this area is Farmers of Forty Centuries. It is a long, boring ass, pedantic book from the 40’s that is probably a good 100 pages longer than it needed to be (kind of like this post probably…yawn…). It is worth reading though for a few specific items of farming practice and, more importantly, the broader message of what can be done with resources that we might not even stop to think are useful in our modern society where views of work and resources are extremely skewed away from traditional ones. The picture painted by that book makes any western gardening I’ve ever seen seem sloppy and wasteful. We are spoiled, and that’s great in it’s way, but it blinds us to the potential around us when compared with the asian cultures in that book who really had to figure out how to make use of every resource in the most efficient way they could figure out in order to survive their high populations. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. I just wanted to drop those general ideas on you before I start this specific story, because it’s somewhat relevant.
This way to geekage —> There is a long path to get to the actual subject. But bear with me. The sights along the path set the context and this post isn’t actually just about one idea. There is an idea, but it could be summed up in a few paragraphs. But that idea evolved in a context which has specific real or perceived problems, and that context has other lessons and provides a framework for learning about the world we live in (or at least the one I live in!). And, there is more to glean than the end point idea, which after all is not an end point at all, but just part of a long evolution. It may be a good idea for me, while it may fail you utterly or be totally irrelevant to your life and work; but if we view it in a larger picture, we have more places to go from here and may find modifications, or other uses and ideas branching off of this one. So hang with me if you want to, or just go read the last couple of paragraphs. Continue reading
This is sort of a vegetable review area, as well as a repository of information that people who get seeds from me can access as needed. I will be editing it and adding pictures and varieties over time.
I give away a lot of seeds, and will be giving a whole lot away in the next couple of months at the Ukiah farmer’s market and the Boonville scion exchange. If you save seed, you’ll find that you almost always have way more than you can use. That’s awesome, because then you can give away seeds too. The more of us the save seeds in our communities, the less each of us has to spend time trying to save seeds of everything ourselves. Saving seed in a community can also lead to maintaining a larger genetic pool, because can we trade for seed of varieties that we already save at home just to get some new genes or traits in the mix. Also, I’m fairly convinced (intuitively more than anything else) that gifting is part of any sustainable economy. When I say economy, dollar signs probably start flashing in your head, but I mean economy more in the old school sense of the totality of activities, interactions and resources that make up a person or family’s living, and of course the overlap that has with other people and families in a broader community.
Below are all varieties that I grow personally here, and which have found a place in the the garden by way of various virtues. I’ve grown weary, and wary, of trialing large numbers of vegetables and now only do it one vegetable at a time, on the rare year that I do it at all. Mostly I find that it ends up being a waste of money and bed space. I think it’s very important to find good varieties and that a lot of folks should expend more effort on the pursuit, but is can get expensive and complicated. It’s easy to run up a good sized bill if I allow myself to be seduced by every seed catalogue and rosy description. That rose of a beet is rarely any better than Detroit Dark Red since it has already snuffed out a half dozen or more varieties before it. It is nice to have varieties that are consistent and reliable and then every once in a while I can seek to improve something I’m not happy with, or try a variety that a friend recommends. I’ve gone through a lot of trouble to find these guys and, while your mileage may vary, they are a good place to start if just starting out, or might be worth trying in a small plot against whatever it is that you normally grow. Let me know what has worked for you in the comments.
More about saving seeds and these super cool turkeysong original origami seed pockets soon!