A Great Book From Acres USA

The Modern Grower's Guide to Terra Preta

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I have a collection of books on biochar but this recent book sounds like a winner for growers and gardeners.  As you may know the ancients in Latin America created what is called Terra Preta using biochar.  This created soil is still fertile a thousand years later.  Acres USA has a number of books on biochar but are promoting this one which sounds great.  Go to www.acresusa.com to buy.

The Modern Grower’s Guide to Terra Preta

Caroline Pfützner

 

$19.60 Regular price $28.00

 

Translated into English for the first time!

Author Caroline Pfützner introduces us to terra preta, or black earth of the Amazon, what is considered the most fertile soil in the world. Rightly so, because this ultra-rich, living material literally builds a permanent humus layer on the land. The true results of working with this almost miraculous substance are healthy plants and a rich harvest — without outside fertilizer inputs.

And even better, widespread use of terra preta would actively protect the climate.


This practical book by a world authority on the subject — available in English for the first time — practically guarantees success in production and application of terra preta whether in the garden, raised beds, larger growing operations, or simple balcony boxes. Practical examples from commercial-scale agriculture illustrate the true potential of terra preta.

Making black earth yourself. Learn step-by-step how to make top-quality terra pretayourself.
Using terra preta in your garden or farm. See how the author grows healthful, bountiful crops organically without synthetic fertilizer.
Practical in the extreme. Far from a cumbersome scientific text benefit from the rich, practical experience of the author.
Extensive background knowledge. Understand the deeper story — historical and scientific — of terra preta and its implications for modern times.

#7566 • Softcover • 176 pages • Copyright 2019

Great Source Of Information From Acres USA

Organic and sustainable farming

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I have gotten tremendous learning from subscribing to Acres USA magazine and buying some of their books.  https://www.acresusa.com/  is a great source that needs to be supported.  Buying books and magazines on subjects that you believe in or want to support is voting with your dollars for that viewpoint.  Charles Walters the founder and long time publisher is gone but his legacy continues and has influenced a large number of people.  He promoted sustainable agriculture at a time of chemical farming dominance.  One of the other things he railed against was unfair pricing of agricultural goods thru the commodity markets and the near monopoly grain trading companies.  I experienced first hand the disasters of being forced to sell crops and cattle based on what the commodity exchanges say a crop or cows are worth with the horrible practice of allowing speculators to sell a commodity on the exchange with nothing more than a cash deposit of a fraction of a contracts value.  Often times far more of a commodity trades on the exchange than the physical trade.  Because a speculator has to only put a small amount down they can make a lot of money on their capital with small changes in price.  Charles Walters campaigns for a full fair price for farmers and promoted the idea of a farmers union to demand them.  The problem of agriculture is so many individual farmers selling to so few that no individual farmer no matter how large has an pricing power over the often only buyer in the area.  

Here is Charles Walters bio from the Acres USA website

“Charles Walters is the founder of Acres U.S.A., and completed more than a dozen books as he edited Acres U.S.A., while co-authoring several others. A tireless traveler, Walters journeyed around the world to research sustainable agriculture, and his trip to China in 1976 inspired others to travel to this then-mysterious society. By the time of his death in 2009, Charles Walters could honestly say he changed the world for the better. He wrote a number of important books that broke the door wide open for further research on non-toxic farming methods”.

The Get Real Alliance stands on the shoulders of pioneering people like Charles Walters to try and promote their vision.  While he had the happiness of seeing the organic farming and regenerative agriculture movements gain strength we still see his term “toxic rescue chemistry” being the dominant practice in agriculture with chemical companies and their companion genetically modified seed companies reaping a large share of gross agriculture income at handsome profit margins as they have near monopoly due to patenting of chemicals and seed.  Yes today a farmer doesn’t buy a seed with no restriction as to its use but buys a bag of seed with a long legal license agreement printed on it that restricts the farmer to only growing grain for sale and prohibiting the saving of seed to replant as farmers had generally done especially with soybeans and wheat.  

I would strongly encourage you to at least sign up for Acres USA free newsletter but really to subscribe to the print magazine which is full of good information for everyone whether you are a farmer or consumer.  Today people are used to getting free information and publishing for profit which supports journalists and writers is in sharp decline.  Paid subscriptions allow publications to run articles which are important but may not make advertisers happy.  Especially those in the chemical farming area.  

Vote with your dollars by supporting the Get Real Alliance and organizations that it promotes.

Why California’s Climate Policies Are Causing Electricity Blackouts

California blackouts due to climate policy

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Millions of Californians were denied electrical power and thus air conditioning during a heatwave, raising the risk of heatstroke and death, particularly among the elderly and sick. 

The blackouts come at a time when people, particularly the elderly, are forced to remain indoors due to Covid-19.

At first, the state’s electrical grid operator last night asked customers to voluntarily reduce electricity use. But after power reserves fell to dangerous levels it declared a “Stage 3 emergency” cutting off power to people across the state at 6:30 pm.

The immediate reason for the black-outs was the failure of a 500-megawatt power plant and an out-of-service 750-megawatt unit not being available. “There is nothing nefarious going on here,” said a spokeswoman for California Independent System Operator (CAISO). “We are just trying to run the grid.” 

But the underlying reasons that California is experiencing rolling black-outs for the second time in less than a year stem from the state’s climate policies, which California policymakers have justified as necessary to prevent deaths from heatwaves. 

In October, Pacific Gas and Electric cut off power to homes across California to avoid starting forest fires. The utility and California’s leaders had over the previous decade diverted billions meant for grid maintenance to renewables. 

And yesterday, California had to impose rolling blackouts because it had failed to maintain sufficient reliable power from natural gas and nuclear plants, or pay in advance for enough guaranteed electricity imports from other states.

It may be that California’s utilities and their regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission, which is also controlled by Gov. Newsom, didn’t want to spend the extra money to guarantee the additional electricity out of fears of raising California’s electricity prices even more than they had already raised them.

California saw its electricity prices rise six times more than the rest of the United States from 2011 to 2019, due to its huge expansion of renewables. Republicans in the U.S. Congress point to that massive increase to challenge justifications by Democrats to spend $2 trillion on renewables in the name of climate change.

Even though the cost of solar panels declined dramatically between 2011 and 2019, their unreliable and weather-dependent nature meant that they imposed large new costs in the form of storage and transmission to keep electricity as reliable. California’s solar panels and farms were all turning off as the blackouts began, with no help available from the states to the East already in nightfall.

Electricity from solar goes away at the very moment when the demand for electricity rises. “The peak demand was steady in late hours,” said the spokesperson for CAISO, which is controlled by Gov. Gavin Newsom, “and we had thousands of megawatts of solar reducing their output as the sunset.”

The two blackouts in less than a year are strong evidence that the tens of billions that Californians have spent on renewables come with high human, economic, and environmental costs.

Last December, a report by done for PG&E concludedthat the utility’s customers could see blackouts double over the next 15 years and quadruple over the next 30.

California’s anti-nuclear policies also contributed to the blackouts. In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown forced a nuclear power plant, San Onofre, in southern California to close.

Had San Onofre still been operating, there almost certainly would not have been blackouts on Friday as the reserve margin would have been significantly larger. The capacity of San Onofre was double that of the lost generation capacity that triggered the blackout.

California’s current and former large nuclear plants are located on the coast, which allows for their electricity to travel shorter distances, and through less-constrained transmission lines than the state’s industrial solar farms, to get to the coastal cities where electricity is in highest demand.

There has been very little electricity from wind during the summer heatwave in California and the broader western U.S., further driving up demand. In fact, the same weather pattern, a stable high-pressure bubble, is the cause of heatwaves, since it brought very low wind for days on end along with very high temperatures.

Things won’t be any better, and may be worse, in the winter, which produces far less solar electricity than the summer. Solar plus storage, an expensive attempt to fix problems like what led to this blackout, cannot help through long winters of low output.

California’s electricity prices will continue to rise if it continues to add more renewables to its grid, and goes forward with plans to shut down its last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, in 2025.

Had California spent an estimated $100 billion on nuclear instead of on wind and solar, it would have had enough energy to replace all fossil fuels in its in-state electricity mix.

To manage the increasingly unreliable grid, California will either need to keep its nuclear plant operating, build more natural gas plants, or pay ever more money annually to reserve emergency electricity supplies from its neighbors.

After the blackouts last October, Gov. Newsom attacked PG&E Corp. for “greed and mismanagement” and named a top aide, Ana Matosantos, to be his “energy czar.” 

“This is not the new normal, and this does not take 10 years to solve,” Newsom said. “The entire system needs to be reimagined.”

 

Source: Forbes

Biochar and Forests

Biochar Forest trees

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There is growing awareness of biochar but it has yet to take off in a big way.  The Get Real Alliance is a strong advocate of biochar with its carbon sequestration program funding significant biochar creation and application.  Biochar has multiple positive aspects.  In the massive carbon cycle if we are to stabilize or reduce carbon dioxide levels without purely focusing on very unrealistic reductions in carbon emissions then we need to sequester carbon from the air into the soil and plant life.  

Carbon is sequestered in a variety of ways that are either short term or long term or nearly permanent.  To stabilize CO2 levels or lower them we need to do all ways but long term and nearly permanent are desirable.  Plant growth sequestration is either short term or long term depending on whether it is  growthof an annual plant or added growth of a long lived plant like a tree.  Making biochar from plants at the end of their life cycle permanently sequesters a good part of the sequestered carbon in the biomass.  That alone is a big benefit to making biochar but the agronomic benefits are much greater in increased water and nutrient retention by the treated soil.  

Biochar granules serve as sinks for water soluble nutrients preventing them from leaching out of the soil and making them available for soil life and plant use.  Water is a solvent that will wash nutrients that are not tied up out of the soil profile.  Biochar is uniquely able to keep nutrients in the soil in a plant available form.  

Plants can put up to 50% of the carbon compounds they create by photosynthesis down into the soil by their root system.  What happens to these compounds which serve as food for soil life depends on mineral levels and how friendly the soil is to soil life. Biochar serves as a home with its porous microstructure for microscopic soil life.  Ideally a lot of the exuded carbohydrates from the roots are converted to long lasting compounds such as humus.  Biochar by itself has no nutrients.  It has to be charged with nutrients before it is applied or it will scavenge nutrients away from the plants in a farming situation.  It is ideal to mix biochar with compost perhaps even in the compost making process for maximum benefit.  

Biochar which is plant material that has been partially burned to leave behind only a pure carbon material that represents near permanent sequestration of some of the carbon extracted from the air by the plant with photosynthesis.  Ideally this plant material is already dead so that no living tree is cut down to make biochar but only dead trees are used which are in the process of decaying which releases some of the carbon that has been removed from the air back into the atmosphere.  Currently most efforts to make biochar harvest dead wood and burn it in oxygen limiting kilns at a temperature below the level that carbon will burn.  Trees and plants are composed of a variety of carbon compounds along with water.  Anyone who has been in the woods or forest knows that there is a lot of dead wood with much standing still. 

Many north America forests have been ravaged by disease and parasitic insects leaving much of the timber dead or dying.  A healthy forest is a carbon sink that each year removes more carbon dioxide from the air on a long term basis.  Green trees don’t burn easily even if struck by lightning  but due to all the dead and dying trees in many forests along with underbrush that is easily desiccated during dry times, forest fires are a major problem and release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air.  We need a large scale program to remove dead trees and underbrush from the forest.  

One of the challenges to convert America’s dead trees into biochar is getting the trees to the biochar machine.  The solution maybe a new type of airship designed to lift up dead trees and use onboard equipment to chip the wood and burn it in an oxygen limiting way for power and biochar.  You can visit www.allpowerlabs.com for more information on such systems although they aren’t thinking about airborne systems yet!!  There is so much rugged land covered with dense forest where a large number of the trees are dead or dying that are far from a road.  Practically it is nearly impossible to remove dead timber from a dense forest even very near a road as travel thru the forest with wood would be a manual job of great expense.  

America has hundreds of millions of acres of forest full of dead trees that need to be removed often at very high tree density.  One of the reasons why forests are dying is that the soil is demineralized so a tree removal effort also needs to include adding biochar, nutrients and rock dust to seedling trees and the soil to produce fast growing healthy trees that resist disease and insects.  Currently America’s forest especially federally owned ones are just being left to either decompose or burn with no effort to replant badly damaged forests with trees that are resistant to disease and insect attack.  A trip by car or air in the west often finds devastated forests where most of the trees are dead.  

When most of the trees are dead or dying an acre of forest goes from sequestering substantial carbon in tree growth to actually being a net emitter of carbon dioxide just by decomposition.  In the upcoming  book, a carbon sequestration fund is proposed with funding coming from a tax on carbon emissions.  It is very likely that harvesting dead trees with an aerial system to make biochar will cost a lot more per ton of sequestered carbon that some other processes but there are long term benefits to restoring a section of forest to health and preventing the release of a huge amount of carbon dioxide either by decomposition or worse fire.  

In the case of making biochar from dead trees in a forest there are multiple benefits.  Much of the carbon in the dead tree is converted to a permanent store of carbon and removed from the carbon cycle.  If some of the biochar is added to the forest soil it increases tree growth and soil life.  As there is so much dead wood most of the biochar can be used on other land such as desert and other lands to enrich it and increase carbon sequestration there.  

There are a lot of good books on biochar available at www.acresusa.com that are recommended for those who want more detail and stay tuned to this blog for a lot more information on biochar, making it and  its benefits.  One of the things that the Get Real Alliance does is research on subjects such as biochar and we need money to fund research and advocate for change.  Please go to the donate page and help us further the cause.  

Remineralization of the Earth is the answer to both climate and hunger

Basalt rock dust

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Basalt rock dust removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in two ways.  Most researchers primarily focus on chemical reactions between elements in basalt that chemically combine with carbon dioxide producing  rock carbonates that permanently remove carbon dioxide from the world’s carbon cycle.  This is valuable but represents only a small fraction of the good that rock dust can  do.  Numerous studies show sharply greater plant growth especially on badly demineralized soils which exist in so many areas.  Here is a recent study that showed great results.

 

A research team within the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation led a study that incorporated finely crushed basalt rock dust into agricultural soils for sorghum. Their findings showed that this greatly improved crop yields and stored impressive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere in the remineralized soil.

“Enhanced rock weathering” is the term utilized by climate and soil scientists like those at the Leverhulme Center for Climate Change Mitigation to refer to the remineralization of soils with an emphasis on capturing carbon to stabilize the climate.

When it comes to feeding the world’s population and keeping climate change in check, few proposed approaches are as attractive as soil remineralization. Introducing the right minerals into soils provides nutrients for plants and elements that react with carbon dioxide (CO₂), pulling it out of the air and into the ground where it could potentially be stored for centuries.

Compared to plants with untreated soil, basalt rock dust treated soils revealed a 21% crop increase. The sorghum absorbed 26% more silicon, increasing the plants’ ability to fight off fungal pathogens, resist pests, and increase their stem strength. Basalt rock dust also increased carbon capture fourfold.

In the long term, remineralized plants are naturally more resistant to insect predation, but rock dust can be used in the short term for an insect infestation. Insects have a naturally waxy protective covering, which normally keeps them from drying out. When directly sprayed on insects, the rock dust interferes with this covering, gets into the segments, and disables them. During an infestation, this can restore insect balance.

This study ultimately demonstrates that enhanced rock weathering using basalt rock dust on sorghum shows prominent results in increasing crop yields, establishing insect balance, and capturing carbon.

You can learn a lot more by visiting http://www.remineralize.org and reading the articles and  watching the videos.  Remineralizing trees is of particular benefit with improved health and growth sequestering carbon over a long period of time.  Today many forests are sick and  sometimes have more dead and dying trees than vital one so instead of sequestering carbon they are emitting it from decay and worse fire.   

There is no free lunch but we  can do amazing things by increasing photosynthesis and boosting the amazing soil life to actually make the world carbon negative while we still use oil and gas.  It will take a massive global effort but will lead to a more vital and sustainable world that can support man and the animals.  If you haven’t already signed up for our newsletter and updates please do.  Donations to the Get Real Alliance will promote research and awareness to this vital solution.

Real Solar Output History

Solar output history

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The solar industry loves to talk about nameplate power output based on a benchmark solar radiation of 1000 watts per square meter.  Yet the industry is promoting solar farms in areas that will not see anywhere near that level of solar radiation. Years back, FOI Group LLC of Dallas, Texas worked on a solar energy patent that offered a way to have more reliable power. Part of the project included measuring solar radiation minute by minute in the Dallas area for over a year.

Here is a week’s worth of data from late December:

Solar input data from 2006

Note that peak output was over 600 watts for a very short time on one day but very low on three days.  Even the best day is marred by many wild dips in solar output shown by the many vertical lines on the graph.  There is only one unblemished day in this week.  Intermittent clouds only affect a small area at a time. If solar farms or arrays were widely dispersed, the short-term fluctuations would cancel out as a cloud would only pass over one solar array at a time in an area of many.  Unfortunately, solar farms tend to be large and concentrated. In such a layout, an intermittent cloud can cause loss of power to a large percentage of total solar output in the area.  Notice on the graph that there is no power most of the time, and power output is only at a peak for a short time. Much is made of the lower prices for solar based on peak output. Yet the ideal conditions for peak output are fleeting.  The data from this winter week shows only a small fraction of peak total output with three days of almost no output.  Counting on a solar energy system as a primary source without backup would mean large power blackouts.

Here is a summer week:

Solar input data from 2007

There is clearly a much higher peak output than the winter week, but the wild fluctuations in power would be a disaster as a major or sole energy supplier for a home.  The swings would be even wider farther north or in higher rainfall areas.  FOI Group LLC’s solar thermal power system would have been equipped to deal with the wide swings, but it is difficult to size a mirror array to produce high temperatures that are needed with such wide variance.  The patent can be seen at www.fullofideas.com,  but material limitations made FOI discontinue development in conjunction with these discouraging graphs.  

It is hoped that these graphs, which are not specially selected for bad results but are representative, will make it clear that we need backup power with equal capabilities to the installed solar power.  Ideally, the backup power system would consist of natural gas power plants on standby to quickly step in when needed, along with flywheel storage to fill the short term disruptions that would make a computer crash if solar power alone were a big part of the power supply of the electric grid.  

Proponents of batteries vastly underestimate the amount of batteries and charging solar arrays needed to provide continuous power.  To meet a megawatt of load full-time would take an extra 3 megawatts of actual solar power output at the average solar radiation over a six hour period. This is a multiple of the nameplate power output that is used for cost calculations.  And this only provides power for nighttime needs.  One would need four more megawatts of solar panels to charge the batteries to provide power for a cloudy day.  The costs would be large even if there were enough raw materials to make all those batteries.  

So while the nameplate power output of a solar panel results in a competitive cost with a natural gas powerplant, the actual produced power is up to three times more expensive in winter at peak times and sharply higher over the course of a day.  Adding full-time battery backup drives the cost through the roof.

It is time to Get Real about solar energy before we mandate its use by law.  See www.getrealalliance/book .org for how to order the thorough book on climate and renewable energy.