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E Philip Small
Works at Land Profile, Inc.
Attended University of California, Davis
Lives in Spokane, WA
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E Philip Small

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WSU's site for connecting organic grain buyers with producers. We get our organic wheat flour from Montana, looking forward to the day we can get it more locally.
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The pending Yakima dairy groundwater contamination trial in Federal court will be closely followed by every industry effecting groundwater quality. The Court established in pre-trial judgement that manure not put to beneficial use is a waste regulated under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) as improper solid waste disposal (huge! precedent. Obvious, but still huge). Lagoon leakage = improper solid waste disposal.  And: "This Court finds insufficient briefing on the issue of whether the manure excreted from the cows in the confinement pens is a solid waste. As such, this issue is reserved for trial." (p 87)

Agricultural operations have been regulated by agencies covering agriculture and the environment. Solid waste drives the response to groundwater contamination to regulation by health and safety agencies, under regulations with a lot more teeth than the environmental regulations we rely on to protect groundwater from agricultural practices.

My immediate thought is that a principle of consistency would seem to require that all fugitive nutrients lost below the root zone in an agricultural setting could trigger RCRA jurisdiction. And why not cover fugitive chemicals from fracking under RCRA?

RCRA, like the Federal Cean Water Act (CWA), accomodates citizen lawsuits. Groundwater is not covered under the CWA. Frankly, the tools are in place to avoid groundwater contamination by dairies. It should never come to this. Not withapproved  Dairy Nutrient Management Plans, perennial technical support, technical feedback loops, and social feedback loops from the Feds, the states, locally controlled conservation districts, industry associations, county extension, consultants, suppliers, bankers, milk purchasers, community and business leaders. When those tools, those feedback loops, fail to protect groundwater, it is not in my soil/groundwater experience because the tools were inadequate, but rather because the system to use those tools could be gamed, and the oversight mechanisms in place to prevent gaming were circumvented. 
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Answering my consistency question. p.91  "... the excessively high levels of manure constituents in the Dairy’s agricultural fields, based on post-harvest soil sampling by both parties, indicate that Defendants had applied manure at rates in excess of what the crop actually could or did use. Specifically, samples taken below crop root zones—that is, the soil depth where no crop roots are present to use manure constituents as fertilizer— showed very high nitrate and phosphorous levels."

"Accordingly, because Defendants manure applications were not only
untethered to DNMP’s Best Management Practices but done without regard to crop fertilization needs, presumably in an effort to discard their excess supply, the otherwise beneficial purpose of manure as fertilizer was eliminated and the manure discarded."

Fugitive nitrogen loss is OK if application conforms to accepted practices. Ignoring the prescribed application is unacceptable.
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History shows: Using Charcoal in the Garden can get you Noticed and Improve your Prospects for Advancement.

[Conversation in Progress btw a lord and a gardener, in answer to an inquiry about what led the gardener to  employ charcoal in his Squire's garden and vineyard]

 " ' Yes ; you took shelter in a mews ; what then ?' 

" ' And there were two gentlemen taking shelter too ; and they were talking to each other about charcoal.' 

" ' About charcoal ? — go on.' 

" ' And one said that it had done a deal o' good in many cases of sickness, and specially in the first stage of the cholera, and I took a note on my mind of that, because we'd had the cholera in our village the year afore. And I guessed the two gentlemen were doctors, and knew what they were talking about.' 

" ' I dare say they did ; but flowers and Vines don't have the cholera, do they ? ' 

"'No, my Lord; but they have complaints of their own; and one of the gentlemen went on to say that charcoal had a special good effect upon all vegetable life, and told a story of a vinedresser, in Germany, I think, who had made a very sickly poor vineyard one of the best in all these parts, simply by charcoal-dressings. So I naturally pricked up my ears at that, for our Vines were in so bad a way that master thought of doing away with them altogether. " Ay," said the other gentleman, " and see how a little sprinkling of charcoal will brighten up a flower-bed." ' 

" ' The rain was now over, and the gentlemen left the mews ; and I thought, " Well, but before I try the charcoal upon my plants, I best make some inquiry of them as aren't doctors, but gardeners ; " so I went to our nurseryman, who has a deal of book-learning, and I asked him if he'd ever heard of charcoal- dressing being good for Vines, and he eaid he'd read in a book that it was so, but had never tried it. He kindly lent me the book, which was translated from some forren one. And, after I had picked out of it all I could, I tried the charcoal in the way the book told me to try it ; and that's how the Grapes and the flower-beds came to please you, my Lord. It was a lucky chance that ever I heard those gentlemen talking in the mews, please your Lordship.' 

" ' Chance happens to all,' answered the peer, sententiously ; ' but to turn chance to account is the gift of few.'

" His Lordship, returning home, gazed gloomily on the hues of his vast parterres ; he visited his vineries, and scowled at the clusters ; he summoned his head gardener — a gentleman of the highest repute for science, and who never spoke of a Cowslip except by its name in Latin. To this learned personage my Lord communicated what he had heard and seen of the benignant effects of charcoal, and produced in proof a magnificent bunch of Grapes, which he bad brought from the squire's. 

"'My Lord,' said the gardener, scarcely glancing at the Grapes, ' Squire's gardener must be a poor ignorant creature to fancy he had discovered a secret in what is so very well known to every professed horticulturist. Professor Liebig, my Lord, has treated of the good effect of charcoal-dressing, to Vines especially ; and it is to be explained on these chemical principles ' — therewith the wise man entered into a profound disputation, of which his Lordship did not understand a word. 

"'Well, then,' said the peer, cutting short the harangue, ' since you know so well that charcoal-dressing is good for Vines and flowers, have you ever tried it on mine ? ' 

" ' I can't say I have, my Lord ; it did not chance to come into my head.' 

" Nay,' replied the peer, ' chance put it into your head, but thought never took it out of your head.' " Sly Lord, who, if he did not know much about horticulture, was a good judge of mankind, dismissed the man of learning ; and, with many apologies for seeking to rob his neighbour of such a treasure, asked the squire to transfer to his service the man of genius.

Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening: Volume 3
 - January 1, 1862
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An extra +1 for the wonderful spelling of "forren" :)
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Very nice. You mention taking it slow and easy, but with the general shortage of biochar, and the challenge in making large quantities, for most of us biochar curious it would be hard to advance beyond slow and easy without shelling out at the market rate of $1-2/pound biochar. Slow and easy seems the most natural pace available.

Having only small amounts of biochar, one feels compelled to figure out the highest and best use.

I have been using biochar which I make from soft-wood fuel pellets using a MEGA (see youtube.com [] watch?v=5ZPvLpexXFw) woodgas fireplace which I use to home roast coffee in a skillet. After they cool off, I screen my biochar pellets down to < 0.25 inch and hydrate it with 1:4 v/v water with a little yucca extract added as a surfactant. It only takes a little - too much and it is foam city. I also add a little nutrient solution (mostly calcium nitrate) to the biochar hydration water, enough to increase biochar N by 300 ppm N03-N (I had to do some math). I use this moistened biochar up to 50 % v/v in my soil mix for making soil blocks, which means I am germinating seeds in this mix. I don't pre-inoculate the biochar, but am inoculating the soil mix by means of using 10% my compost and 10% my healthy garden soil in the mix. I also use either alfalfa meal or cottonseed meal to boost available nutrients in the soil mix itself. Once the plants are up and growing I use dilute kelp water to replenish moisture. 

When making soil blocks for garden starts, you use the soil mix to make soil blocks as soon as you combine the various soil components, and you seed into it within minutes of popping the blocks out of the blocker molds. It is a wet mix and the blocks are at the ideal moisture content for germinating seeds. 

Although you mention letting the biochar season for 14 days (and I totally understand/approve/agree) my soil block mix recipe does not use a delay period between hydrating/charging the biochar and adding it to the mix. An important distinction is that the yucca extract assures immediate surface interaction with the nutrient/hydration solution, and the overall soil mix is high in nutrients and biology. Consider the relative concern between adding a small amount of fresh-from-the-stove biochar to soil rich in nutrients, moisture and biology (you should have no problem) compared to a higher rate of the same biochar to a hungry, dry, and depopulated soil, a mere shadow of its full soily potential.

The biochar soil block mix is working well for me. I feel confident I am seeing other comparable benefits in terms of health, growth, and stem size, but have not been systematic enough to make any scientific claims. I am encouraged enough to continue to play with biochar.

The biggest visual difference between the biochar and non-biochar mixes is more abundant rooting in the biochar soil blocks. We also saw this response in a basil pot study we initiated. In the PNW, our biochar enthusiast community is wondering if this stimulated rooting may be a root defense response to trace residual wood gas retained in low temperature biochar, kind of a front end effect that may not be available once the biochar ages. And you can see how it can be a benefit at low levels of liquid smoke, but if using undercooked biochar laden with high residual liquid wood gas, the effect could go from stimulating to overwhelming. Thus the good idea generally to compost biochar if your biochar smells at all smoky, or takes soap (vs just water) to clean the black off your hands after handling the char. My biochar doesn't smell smoky, doesn't need soap, thus the thought that this is a trace effect.

On the alkalinity concern: Wood ash is used as an inexpensive agricultural liming agent. Charcoal is not. Low ash biochar has a low potential for changing soil pH, high ash biochar has greater acid-neutralizing potential. Freshly made biochar has a higher alkalization potential than biochar aged long enough to chemically equilibrate with atmospheric CO2. The example I think of is the difference in freshly kilned lime vs the "spent" lime that comes out of controlled atmospheric apple storage facilities here in Washington state. The kilned lime is spent when it can no longer absorbed atmospheric CO2. Most of the alkalinity in the ash component of biochar is similarly calcium based. So if you just lay your biochar out for the winter, all those Ca-K-Mg oxides (pH 12+) will convert into carbonates (pH 8-ish). Still alkaline, but with far less punch.

And because much of the ash is soluble, the common practice of dousing hot-from-the-stove biochar will leave behind much of the ash-based alkalization potential behind in the douse water. The counterpoint is that if you have acidic garden soils, high ash biochar becomes a very good thing, so you let your burn process go longer, you avoid the water douse to snuff your embers, and you try to use your biochar soon after making it.

I really appreciate your videos. Hope your hugelbed kicks in. Keep posting!
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+E Philip Small Thanks for sharing your substantial knowledge and experience with biochar. I really appreciate it, and learned a lot from your post. 

I'm glad to hear you are seeing results that are encouraging enough to keep you experimenting. This will be my first experiencing using biochar as a soil amendment, so it's great to hear from someone like you who has more experience.

I took a look at the MEGA wood gas fireplace. It's great that you are putting the heat to good use by roasting your coffee. I've been thinking about doing some outdoor cooking with my oven as well.

I'll be starting my tests fairly soon and will be sharing my process and results in videos as I progress. If you happen to see the videos, I would greatly appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Thanks again for sharing your wealth of knowledge!
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From Sheila Grace (Columbia Basin Permaculture - GrowRitzville.com): Hello every one. 

As you may or may not know my partner and I are practicing permaculture in Eastern Washington in an environment, that we have discovered can be extremely harsh, so harsh that only specific areas around the globe are similar, one of them being Afghanistan. 

As result of my visit to Ithaca in September and my mother's gracious invitation to teach a permaculture class to her students at Well's College I was able to introduce myself and our work (in Eastern Washington) to a visiting PhD, Mariam Raqib, the director of Samsortya.

Through this introduction we have formed a learning partnership that will enable both of us, in separate corners of the world, to well...grow healthier trees and food crops.

Mariam has an amazing project and would like to start a women's nursery next year and you can help. Please read the article that Will & I worked very hard on and submitted to Australia's Permaculture Research Institute last night! We are very happy to say the article greeted us front and center on the PRI web site this morning.
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Fermenting up some apple cider. Started with 1 gal apple juice, no preservatives, pasteurized. Poured some out to get some head space - need that head space for aerating it. Tasted pretty good! and had a spec grav of 1.048. Hydrated and pitched 5 or 6 grams of Saflager S-23 yeast good for below 60degF temps in the basement. Capped it and shook it vigorously to aerate it. 

Video is from 48 hours into it. About an hour before taking the video, it seemed that there was slightly more bubbling - the trap was cycling ev 10 seconds, slowed down to 15 seconds an hour later, but as you can see it is still going good.

Noticed minor froth accumulating at 18 hours, a few rising bubbles at 24 hours.  it started to get 
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It went so quickly, I think 6 days is enough time. If I had pitched a smaller amount of yeast or fermented at a lower temperature (say at 52 vs 58) it would take longer.
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Home!
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A great beginnining.
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Zero waste.
Ruth Stokes tells The Ecologist about an ingenious new online tool that encourages all of us, especially the yet-to-be-converted, to indulge in the free edible goodness found throughout our urban spaces
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From Sheila Grace (Columbia Basin Permaculture - GrowRitzville.com): Hello every one. 

As you may or may not know my partner and I are practicing permaculture in Eastern Washington in an environment, that we have discovered can be extremely harsh, so harsh that only specific areas around the globe are similar, one of them being Afghanistan. 

As result of my visit to Ithaca in September and my mother's gracious invitation to teach a permaculture class to her students at Well's College I was able to introduce myself and our work (in Eastern Washington) to a visiting PhD, Mariam Raqib, the director of Samsortya.

Through this introduction we have formed a learning partnership that will enable both of us, in separate corners of the world, to well...grow healthier trees and food crops.

Mariam has an amazing project and would like to start a women's nursery next year and you can help. Please read the article that Will & I worked very hard on and submitted to Australia's Permaculture Research Institute last night! We are very happy to say the article greeted us front and center on the PRI web site this morning.
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Thanks Phil!
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I appreciate this advice. I would just add regarding the ribbon test: If you hold the soil up to your ear when you ribbon, and can hear the sand grains grinding (vs silent silt and clay). This will give you a clue to the sand content, which might be underestimated from ribbon alone. The drain test - I use this at the same informal level suggested in the article. 
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Helllo Mr. Small just wanted to say that your job is awesome.
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Have him in circles
188 people
John Miedema's profile photo
Double Dog Farm ~ Shoestring Gardening on a KISS Principle's profile photo
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donald johnson's profile photo
Karen Ribeiro Inner Fortune's profile photo
Robert Merrill's profile photo
Jessica Spurr's profile photo
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Tom Miles's profile photo
Education
  • University of California, Davis
    Soil and Water Science, 1972 - 1977
Basic Information
Gender
Male
Story
Tagline
Business: Restoring soils for clean water and healthy communities
Introduction
Educated as a soil mapper, I made the transition to agricultural consulting in 1985, and that evolved to environmental consulting in 1992. Strong biochar interest.
Work
Occupation
Environmental Soil Scientist
Employment
  • Land Profile, Inc.
    Environmental Soil Scientist, 1992 - present
  • Agrimanagement
    Irrigation Services Manager, 1985 - 1992
  • Yakama Indian Nation
    Land Classifier, 1981 - 1985
Places
Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
Currently
Spokane, WA
Previously
Miller, SD - Yakima, WA - Toledo, OH - Fargnier, France - Santa Rosa, CA
E Philip Small's +1's are the things they like, agree with, or want to recommend.
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