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loong

Soil fertility and microbiology

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Still no cheese and tomato sandwich for me.

The tomatoes are from Thai bought seeds and the same as you will buy in the supermarket. But the supermarket ones are picked before they are ripe and usually pretty tasteless, with half of it white fleshy and hard with few seeds.

They are not the small toms , but my tomatoes keep disappearing and used to make sister-in-law's Som tum.

The mealy bug have found these tomatoes now, but not so many and I am able to just rub them off with my fingers. The plants are still growing strongly, but some of the older leaves are turning brown and not looking so good. This could be due to potassium and/or copper deficiency. Remember the very poor soil has only had a little cow dung and charcoal dust added, so obviously not perfect. Despite this, the plants still look a lot stronger and healthier than others I have tried to grow.

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I prepared a 5 mtr tomato bed about 2 weeks ago. Turned in 80 kilos Kee vuar, 10 kilos crushed charcoal and 5 kilos burnt riceskin. I then drowned the whole thing in an EM tea concoction I brewed. The one thing that is immediately noticeable is the lack of weeds that popped up. Normally after 2 weeks the untouched bed would be a mini jungle. Now I wonder if the tomatoes will grow. :) I decided to split the bed between Tomatoes and mini birds eye chilli. 'Or should I just put the mini chillis between the tomato plants?

Regards.

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I will be going back to England for a short visit soon, so mostly I've just been concentrating on improving the soil. Even with my small plot, it's a lot of work.

I've been digging in rice husks, semi-composted humus from the river bank, cow dung and charcoal to condition the unplanted areas. It's amazing how much it takes to try to turn this clay into something acceptable. I've been turning over these areas every few days to keep the soil well aerated.

I was unwell for a few days and then we had more or less continuous rain for 3 days, so I've not been able to get much done.

Yesterday, I was able to get back to work. I started to dig over an area that I had only introduced a little humus and rice husks and my God! It stunk. It was like a mixture of sticky water logged clay and black oil slick. Obviously anaerobic decomposition had taken place.

By contrast the areas where I had introduced a lot of humus and turned over regularly are sweet smelling and moist - not waterlogged. Most importantly, the earthworms have arrived. I couldn't believe that so many had just appeared out of nowhere. Really good news.

The tomatoes that are growing in the soil only improved by adding charcoal have done much better than previous attempts. They've not suffered too much with mealybugs and have grown strongly with plenty of fruits. However, as is usual in Thailand, the fruiting period is relatively short and they are starting to fade.

It's infuriating as I have not managed to get one single ripe tomato from them. Every tomato, as soon as it has a tinge of orange has disappeared.

As we are getting more rain now, I think that I will be starting some toms in pots at the house, under the roof overhang, so they will get the light but not get too wet. At least I may have a chance to enjoy the fruits of my labour without them all disappearing into other people's Som Tum. I may get Sum Tom for myself :)

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I've taken some photos of the sugar cane field opposite, but unfortunately the image doesn't really reflect the reality.

This land was fallow for many years and was just used for grazing cattle and some charcoal pits. So plenty of cow dung incorporated over the years. As sugar cane was thought to be a lucrative proposition the owners had a tractor plough the land once and planted the cane. As there was only one ploughing, the residues from the charcoal pits would not have been dispersed too far.

This is the second season from the initial planting, so it has not been ploughed again by tractor, just an iron buffalo between rows.

If you look at the picture below, I hope that you are able to spot the areas where the charcoal pits were. I can see better with my naked eye than I can in the photo, but I think that you will see the difference.

You may also notice that the further away from the centre of the pit area, the growth gradually declines.

This suggests to me that a high % of charcoal has better results (at least with sugarcane).

What do you think?

I will try to remember to post more pics of the same later in the growth season and I'm sure that any unbelievers will be astounded!

post-12326-1242453789_thumb.jpg

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Im agreeing with you Loong, last June many of the Tamarind trees were pruned, the labour just left big heaps of branches all over the orchard, so i dragged loads onto the salad eds and had many fires for several days, then spread the ash out and let the rain water it in, I didnt do all the beds, but the ones i did do produced significantly better red tomatoes than the other beds, and these were planted after the overdose of herbicide, they had no mulch,[ sorry, Mr Poo put some rice straw round them,which started to grow rice!!] but no real mulch, so i believe ash/charcoal is a good additive to the soil,

Mealy Bugs, the bain of my farming life here, try to keep the ant population down, mix some garlic,oinion,ginger in a blender with a small bottle of lo-cal [cheap thai whiskey] put 2 teaspoons of this in a .5 ltr spray dispenser and give the plants/root area a spray, it should deter the ants and bugs very quick,

Good Luck, Cheers, Lickey..

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Im agreeing with you Loong, last June many of the Tamarind trees were pruned, the labour just left big heaps of branches all over the orchard, so i dragged loads onto the salad eds and had many fires for several days, then spread the ash out and let the rain water it in, I didnt do all the beds, but the ones i did do produced significantly better red tomatoes than the other beds, and these were planted after the overdose of herbicide, they had no mulch,[ sorry, Mr Poo put some rice straw round them,which started to grow rice!!] but no real mulch, so i believe ash/charcoal is a good additive to the soil,

Mealy Bugs, the bain of my farming life here, try to keep the ant population down, mix some garlic,oinion,ginger in a blender with a small bottle of lo-cal [cheap thai whiskey] put 2 teaspoons of this in a .5 ltr spray dispenser and give the plants/root area a spray, it should deter the ants and bugs very quick,

Good Luck, Cheers, Lickey..

Hello Lickey,

long time no posts in this thread.

As you may realise from other threads, I've been growing black mung beans as nitrogen fixers and as green compost. I've had to move little bits of soil from one place to another as the nitrogen fixing nodules were not evident all over the garden, so had to transplant some of the necessary enzymes.

The disadvantage of trying to grow mung beans? - immediately infested with blackfly!

Advantage - the ants seem to prefer farming blackfly to mealy bug.

I've continuously planted mung beans between rows and keep cutting them back. When they are crawling with ants and blackfly, I cut them off at soil level to leave the roots and nodules and bury the stems. It really works for me.

Since I've been doing this, the eggplants have done so much better and we will see how thye tomatoes will do. But certainly, I have nowhere near as many problems with mealy bug compared to before :)

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I'm feeling a little guilty now as I was extolling the virtues of using charcoal dust as a soil additive. There is no doubt that it is a good additive, but if using dust, it should be used sparingly.

The dust is so fine that it actually fills the gaps and so oxygen cannot easily penetrate into the soil. So it is beneficial and detrimental at the same time. If you are adding charcoal dust, you need to add something like charred rice husks or sharp sand to keep the soil open.

Of the various experiments that I have tried, by far the best has been charcoal ground to a gritty consistency. Closely followed by charred rice husks.

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Hi Folks

Yesterday had my first go at carbonising some rice husks  :) . quickly knocked together a firebox out of an old biscuit tin with some nail holes punched in it and some corrugated sheet wired up for a chimney (just stuff I had lying about), crude looking but did what it said on the tin !! I used four large sacks of hulls and the process took about 7 hours. worked out really nicely with full carbonisation and very little ash. A couple of things I'd suggest is a mask when raking up the husks in the final stages of carbonisation as I found this last stage did create quite a bit of fine ash as the very outside of the pile is exposed to oxygen and an ample supply of water, it was really quite surprising the amount required to completely arrest combustion, in the end I removed the firebox and raked the husks out whilst playing the hose on them.

So now for some experiments, going to add about 10% to my potting mix, use some in making bokashi for fermenting kitchen waste and the rest I'm going to add to compost piles and also try my hand at some slow release organic fertiliser to work into the raised beds. 

biochar.jpg 

Cheers for now J

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Hi guys,

I recently acquired a couple of rai outside Chiang Mai. The soil seem like very hard and dry laterite with savanna like grass cover. There's no shortage in water (there's a big waterhole right next to us) but I'm wondering how to make hard laterite fertile. As far as I know tea, coffee, citrus, coconut and eucalyptus tolerate well this kind of soil. The only tree people grow around us is teak with a lot of added soil.

I'd appreciate any advice on laterite.

thanks,

gabor

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Hi guys,

I recently acquired a couple of rai outside Chiang Mai. The soil seem like very hard and dry laterite with savanna like grass cover. There's no shortage in water (there's a big waterhole right next to us) but I'm wondering how to make hard laterite fertile. As far as I know tea, coffee, citrus, coconut and eucalyptus tolerate well this kind of soil. The only tree people grow around us is teak with a lot of added soil.

I'd appreciate any advice on laterite.

thanks,

gabor

Hello gabor,

The term laterite can be applied to many different soils and rock, I think.

Possibly you mean the same type that I have here. When it's dry it is hard like rock, but when wet, very squishy and slippery. Here, I think that it is a very fine clay type soil, orangy in appearance, but when I wash my dirty feet and shoes, the water turns reddish brown (Iron?). Before they improved the water supply here, the water used to be red!

With this soil type, I don't believe that fertility is so much the problem as i believe that it is very fertile. The problem is that when it rains or you water, the very fine particles settle and compact, roots cannot penetrate and further rain/watering tends to run off instead of percolating down. It's the plants difficulty in forming roots that means it is unable to absorb the nutrients. I think that the excess of iron coupled with the lack of calcium in the soil inhibits the plants take up of NPK.

Apparently transplanted rice does not grow well in this type of soil and should be direct seeded. Even then, yields are not particularly good.

The lack of rice fields in this area and the abundance of sugar cane would suggest to me that sugar cane will grow in this soil type - but I am only guessing here.

Look at Jandtaa's corbonised rice husks - this would be a good additive. You will probably need to add plenty of compost and composted manure, also maybe lime or something to increase calcium levels. It may be a good idea to get the soil tested and take advice from a soil scientist.

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I wish I read read this thread months ago as it would have saved me a lot of research. I have posted some similar stuff on the Farming page. I have two pyrolysis burners like the one Jandtaa's photos show and burn 10 to 15 bags of rice hulls per setup on each one. The yield is about 50% of the original volume and a burn takes 4 hours. I am using the CRH as conditioner and also as a carbon source in composting pig manure. It soaks up moisture and traps ammonia so there is little smell even from fresh manure. I am lucky to have an endless supply of hulls and hope an endless supply of patience from the neighbours when burning the hulls.

With wood charcoal, part of the initial flush of growth that has been reported here is probably coming from the sulphur released with the charcoal gets wet. Ever noticed the yellow stain from new charcoal in water? For composters, if you heap does good anerobic then dust it with CRH then turn that in, keep adding CRH until the smell is gone.

I noticed a comment about adding rice hulls into poor soil. The hulls take a long time to break down as the lignen content is high. The more microbic activity in your soil the faster the hulls will be gone.

Hopefully testing a new compost tea brewer today. Plan is to use it for soil drenches and foliar sprays.

Isaan Aussie

Added: The compost I make is highly fungal, the fungus makes a great starter for the bokashi system, with some rice bran or cooked rice as the growth media. In a closed container and a dark warm spot and bingo 2 to 3 days later. If you want to store it then use bran and dry it out after the fungus infests the bran. So start a small manure based compost heap and collect the fungus.

Edited by IsaanAussie

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Hi folks

As I mentioned yesterday there has been a thread running on something called biochar thread which some of you may have read. It's also pertinent because Loong has raised the question of is it safe to use charcoal ? I've been doing a spot of research and come up with the following;

First to answer loongs query

"Can I use commercial charcoal as biochar ? absolutely. While the bio-oil condensates in biochar definitely play a role in soil fertility, charcoal without bio-oil condensates has been demonstrated to produce excellent results.Although it is normally advisable to avoid industrial charcoal briquettes because the binders used during manufacture can add undesirable constituents"

obviously your charcoal contains no binder and as long as the locals are using raw timber and not treated or painted wood I guess you've got the all clear.

" What are the benefits of using biochar ??

The following benefits occur with additions of biochar

Enhanced plant growth

Suppressed methane emission

Reduced nitrous oxide emission (estimate 50%) (see 5.10 below)

Reduced fertilizer requirement (estimate 10%)

Reduced leaching of nutrients

Stored carbon in a long term stable sink

Reduces soil acidity: raises soil pH (see 5.01 below)

Reduces aluminum toxicity

Increased soil aggregation due to increased fungal hyphae

Improved soil water handling characteristics

Increased soil levels of available Ca, Mg, P, and K

Increased soil microbial respiration

Increased soil microbial biomass

Stimulated symbiotic nitrogen fixation in legumes

Increased arbuscular mycorrhyzal fungi

Increased cation exchange capacity"

heres some links that explain biochar and its uses;

A good general overview and very readable biochar

an article on biochar in Thai rice growing black soil - green rice

loads of good info and links pus some video biochar - home production and usage

FF was asking about rice straw so here's one for you ( more about producing on a commercial scale but I'm sure a man of your calibre could put it to use, bit scientific I'm afraid ) technologies for the energy use of rice straw

also a happy coincidence bearing in mind my recent post

"Biochar enthusiasts generally agree that raw biochar needs to be processed further prior to being added to the garden. Composting, or soaking with compost tea, is commonly used to charge the pore volume with beneficial organisms and nutrients. Soaking in a nutrient rich solution (examples are urine or fish emulsion) prior to composting is accepted practice."

Finally heres a PDF on building your own kiln as used in the Philipinnes to produce biochar from rice hulls on the farm

attachicon.gifFarmcarb...nmachine.pdf

There's loads of info out there on the net and biochar can also be used as a fuel . Many hope it could be the answer to save the planet and there's plenty of ongoing research !!

happy carbonisation folks !!

Jandtaa

Hello,

I like to make biochar on my own in the future but as a first test I use commercial charcoal. It comes in big chunks and I take a hammer to break it down into smaller pieces. What is the perfect size of these pieces? I saw commercial biochar pellets that looked to me like 0.7 - 1 cm long and maybe 0.3 cm wide. Would this be the perfect size? By hammering the charcoal into smaller pieces a lot of dust comes with it. Besides this dust could be blown away someday (what is not a big concern to me as I have only a small garden), is the dust as beneficial to my growing soil as bigger pieces?

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Siripin,

I can only speak from my experience with clay soil.

A little bit of charcoal dust is ok, but too much and it will fill in gaps that allow air and water to permeate through the soil. I believe the ideal size is like rough grit, rice grain size or bigger.

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