Saturday, June 27, 2009

Biochar II

The initial garden beds I've established with biochar are getting close to a year old at this point, and I've got a bit of data and miscellaneous observations to report. The biochar I'm using is primarily charred guava, homemade in steel drums. I've probably at this point produced a ton or so of biochar. There's about 1 pound per square foot of it mixed in jungle soil that's on the average of 8 inches to a foot deep. That may seem like a high loading to some, but very high carbon contents are key to the game and one could go twice that, I'm sure.


Immediately but perhaps not obvious: Soil is black. It gathers and retains much more solar radiation. Germination rates are higher and faster.

Initially I was pretty concerned that the biochar was having a toxic effect on growth. Many of the plants were showing what appeared to be a nitrogen deficiency, slow growing, yellowed leaves, and puny. These effects have disappeared. I can project two reasons why this may be the case.

1) The clean charcoal is in the process of absorbing such nutrients from the soil, so a temporary scarcity is bound to occur.

2) One may produce a P-K surplus or imbalance where the majority of the plant growth is dominated by root growth. The plant eventually recovers and flourishes, but initially things look rough.

I'd suggest at this point not applying biochar to the soil directly, but rather applying biochar to a composting process--and then applying the whole mix of compost and innoculated biochar. This seems to produce much greater and immediate results.

Any casual observation of the microfauna levels in the treated soil as opposed to jungle soil will leave one with no doubts about the healthy effects of the biochar. Small fungi abound, and are not present in the latter. Clearly there's a great deal of aerobic activity(odor) where the jungle soil is so anaerobic in places it stinks like sewage.

All in all the reports seem to bear true. I'd suggest one will see about a 20 to 30 percent growth yield over untreated soils. For those of us who intend to as much as possible function in the absence of(or minimal usage of) commercial fertilizers(organic or not) and follow a food forestry model, biochar is an absolute godsend and really makes it look much much more viable. As well, we've turned every invasive plant on the island into a valuable commodity.

Over the next few months my goal is to move from the "concept farm" of perhaps 10000 square feet to about an acre and semi-commercial status. Proof of concept has really been had, and I'm pleased to be able to report that this sort of concept is unquestionably a do-able, sustainable, and profitable enterprise. Table taros will be a big part of that project and finally I've enough clean planting material to make that jump. So far, the primary crop out here is U'ala Piko sweet potatoes with a few others thrown in the mix. As much as possible no-till practice. Yields at 9 months are reliably .25 to .5 lbs per square foot. No pest trouble yet to report. Topdressing only with small amounts of 10-20-20 special and trace elements. Some lime applied, as well as clean wood ash. I harvest the sweet potatoes when they're large enough to start poking out of the ground. The chickens find them for me.

. . .and meanwhile most everyone out there is bitching about the terrible economy and that "the kids here have no future". . .

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Corrupt Government:

Is there any other kind?

In light of the current blatant bullshit going on here locally, a thoughtful discussion of how to deal with the local politics issue--or whether to deal with it at all-- is timely. I in no way want to offer my thoughts as any kind of "official" view of the forum or anyone else--but I think it's really worth considering whether or not it's even possible to work for meaningful change for a better future within the "approved" mechanisms of the system. I think it's important to ask this question in a very deliberate manner. My answer? no, it's not. As I see it, politics as a completely rigged game that favors money and power, and money and power is required to play. Some well meaning people don't really look at themselves as privileged power brokers, but at the very least one must be of significant enough privilege that one has the free time to fiddle around with political sorts of stuff, and have ample enough time to sit through endless procedural processes. Face facts: most honest working people don't have this kind of time. Also, important, but not to go too Howard Zinn on anyone, these processes have largely proven to be utterly pointless. It's worth looking at the historical record to see if one can find a single damn instance where meaningful change has come from within the "approved" system. I don't ask this rhetorically. In every significant case I can think of, business as usual dominated and until the population finally got agitated enough to take to the streets with axe-handles very little happened. Otherwise, the policy of government in general is to placate, divert, or ignore the will of the people. In general, the range of the "permissible" debate is very narrow, whether right/left wing or progressive or not the whole is controlled to be palatable within the "approved" system. This guarantees again--business as usual. But that is the point of goverment as it exists: Protect the status quo. If you think that a system designed from the start to protect the status quo will allow the existence of effective mechanisms to challenge that which it's designed to protect--it's probably worth thinking that over again. And maybe once more. It's useful, no doubt, to offer mechanisms that look like they offer avenues for discourse or progress or change--as long as at long last the status quo and its interests are still protected.

"Sustainability" will become a huge human rights issue within the next decade. You will see people in the streets here as well as around the world as vested government interests protect the priviledged while steering humanity on a suicide course. Eventually, people will freak out about that, and once it gets started, look out. I've no idea what form that sort of thing will take, or whether such events will be at all constructive, but such a path seems all but inevitable. The status quo has no interest in sustainability, as that would get in the way of personal profits. It may be useful, no doubt, to offer mechanisms that look like they offer avenues for discourse or progress or change for the better-- as long as those profits are still insured. Eventually, however, people do wise up to what is going on. It can take a long time, and we're not there yet. Still that day is coming fast. Faster than many think. There will be a shooting war over these issues at some point. I'm not looking forward to any of this.

But I'm not dogmatic about all this. I can be persuaded and am in fact eager to get behind any positive cause that has real intelligent focus and inherent integrity. I'm not, however, interested in jumping out of one sinking boat into another one that has the holes arranged a bit more cosmetically. Neither am I interested in recreational legislation or meddling in other people's lives to satisfy some perverse and narcissistic need to feel like "I'm doing something for the future." Most importantly, and pointedly-- I sure as hell have no interest in getting roped into some campaign against pro-growth development interests to then replace these with other pro-growth development interests. . . This being said, I do however, see a real need for real solutions. Real solutions. Real solutions. They involve real questions: I don't see these questions being asked in any meaningful way, except by persons and individuals, who are also answering those questions in personal and individual ways. There's a lot of urgency in those people, often, because they look around and like myself, see others not asking those questions--and it's all in all getting to be more than a little terrifying.

Real questions:

1) How is Hawaii going to survive the current ongoing collapse and restructuring of the world economy?

2) How is Hawaii effectively going to survive the steeping prices and increasing scarcity of food, energy, and raw materials?

3) How is Hawaii going to preserve as much as possible of the island's ecosystem as we face a 1 degree temperature rise per decade over the next 100 years?

Everything else is trivial. Some may find my attitude contemptuous and selfish. Or needlessly combative. That's hardly the case. Personally, it comes down to one thing to get me involved--I need some convincing that there's good reasons that I should take time and energy away from planting trees or building water tanks--stuff that matters and contributes in a measurable way to a better future--to quibble about greenspace, or roads, or fast food restaurants or or shit that doesn't. God, let's get a little perspective, perhaps! Anyway, that's my take.

Still, it's not my intent to unduly bust or criticize anyone's efforts. This is simply how I see it. I also feel a strong sense of inevitability about all of this and have no doubt whatsoever that sooner or later a critical mass will wake up to what matters. If others feel that there may be some good use to participation in those processes, go for it. Please, however, be duly considerate of the fact that much of the time the only real effect of these activities is more and more complication, which has the sole result of making life more difficult for the average joe. While it's seldom the intent, too often it is the result. At this point in history, life is complicated enough with all sorts of other pointless hindrances to effective living.

So for myself, I'll just keep focusing on demonstrating effective living, the kind of living we need to adopt to squarely face our future, and do so to the best of my ability. I see no other effectual option. At the very least if the political process fails humanity like it looks like it will, somebody out there had better have done some homework. . .

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Food Forest Project Update

The view out towards the workshop. Well, let's just say this sort of farming works.