How strange, and how natural, that after a delightfully prolonged, pleasantly moderate autumn, (with an unusually late frost kill date of 20 November) the first day of winter produced the first wintery day. Winter has been with us since!
The jet stream is dipped strongly southward. This day’s high is predicted to be 37 degrees F. A good day to connect with the activities of hundreds of thousands of generations of elders and ancestors: sit by the fire, and have a seasonal “slow down”.
Our workhorse wood stove of the past 32 years, an All-Nighter, has been replaced by a much more efficient and clean burning Jotul 500 Oslo.
With its secondary burn design, we reap the benefits of more heat produced (energy efficiency), as well as a much cleaner burn (ecological efficiency). To our delight, the air wash system does indeed keep the window clean, and we sit mesmerized by the ethereal blue flames hovering above the glowing embers.
The time between Winter Solstice and Christmas is my seasonal baking time. I love baking Panetone, (a sourdough yeasted Italian holiday bread) for my neighbors, friends, and loved ones. This year’s quadrupling of the recipe had me hand mixing 16 pounds of brandy-soaked dried fruit studded dough. Enough to produce six 2 pound “rounds” and seven 3/4 lb. rounds.
Our own, lone loaf disappeared much too quickly. Not wanting to wait another year before we once again taste toasted, buttered Panetone, I plan to take advantage of this cold dark time, revive the sourdough, raise up a dough, and fire up our Irish wood cook stove (a Waterford Stanley).
With our Barefoot Permaculture garden mostly in dormant phase, what better use of my now undemanded time…
A Very Long Term & Powerful Soil Enhancement
One of our permaculture design guidelines is referred to as “stacking functions”. Another way of saying this is “reap multiple benefits from any one action (an outcome of good design).
As an example: I teach 3 different 6 day natural food cooking classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC. In all three, I keep the wood fired bread oven in operation, as we make pizzas, foccacias, flatbreads and artisanal breads. These well built and wonderful ovens must be cleared of active embers immediately prior to baking (otherwise, within 2 minutes the loaves are severely blackened).
I remove the embers and place their white-hotness into an outside metal trash can, and immediately quench the embers with water (to arrest any further burning). This gives me charcoal.
The breads we eat! The charcoal we transmute into Bio-Char! (Bio-Char is one of the most important “discoveries” of the 20th century. (If you are not familiar with the term, google it, better yet, purchase Albert Bates’ “The Biochar Solution”)
Charcoal is very slow to breakdown (in the thousands of years, perhaps). As a carbon soil additive, it’s great. What makes it into Bio-Char is charging it with liquid nutrients, via lengthy soaking. Once nutrient charged, it provides a stable soil fertility for upwards of hundreds -if not thousands- of years.
For the charging, we mix a thin slurry of manures, fish emulsion, kelp and other seaweeds, compost tea, urine, and sometimes chopped comfrey and nettle. On average, I soak each 2-5 gallon bucket around 6 months.
When finished, I separate the liquid by straining. This is biologically and nutritionally rich. We dilute this with rainwater and use as liquid fertilizer.
The charged charcoal gets broken up into smaller pieces (powder is fine), then dug into the top 3-4 inches of soil.
For an experiment, I used roughly a gallon of bio-char in a 10 gallon pot, and planted a Cherokee Purple Tomato (our own saved seed). The tomato went wild! The largest was 1/2 oz. short of 2 pounds; 8 other fruits were around 1&1/2 pounds; and 10 more were close to 1 pound. Lots of delicious yum!
In addition to acting as a very long term fertility storage, Bio-Char also sequesters carbon in the soil. As scientists scramble to find ways of slowing the release of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, Bio-Char is attracting attention, and will most likely be revealed as a major player in carbon storage.
As an added benefit, we get healthy. fertile, nutrient rich soil. Plants grown in these soils transfer health throughout the food chain.
Talk of stacking functions!