Compost Power!

Thought the setup took a bit of doing, surprisingly little when you consider the results–we’re now looking at 3 to 6 months of almost free heat for a 200 square foot room in the barn.

The pile took 2 hours to build (shifted by hand out of the back of a trailer), and the materials for the heat transfer coils (300 feet of 3/4″ pex pipe, fittings, clamps and pump and fans) cost under $400.00. The plumbing work took about 2 hours as well. See the previous post about Jean Pain for more info and links to resources.

The system can keep the room at 70F when it’s 17F outside, with heat from a 6 ton compost pile.

Here’s the layout of the valves and inlets to the loop which make it easy to get all the air out. Just hook up a relatively powerful circulation pump and use a 5 gallon bucket for the water to circulate through, eliminating all air bubbles, when filling. I like to put the circulation pump so that any air that might get trapped in it can escape when the pump is off. The highest point in this system is an expansion tank above the ‘T’ fitting seen in the upper left hand corner of the image below.

And a few more images:

Shopping list:


PEX tubing:

When people say, ‘Honey Bee genetics are complicated’ they’re not kidding!

If you thought the ‘haplo-diploidy’ video’s I’ve posted links to here previously didn’t give enough of an indication about just how complex Honey Bee genetics are, this article of some new research in Australia will give you something more to think about!


The overview blurb in the popular press can be found here:

And a link to the scientific publication is here:

Compost powered Root zone heating references

We’re just about to implement some compost-powered root-zone heat systems for a small, indoor plant nursery and the new high tunnel.  These are the best references I came up with on researching the implementation of  compost powered root-zone heating systems for greenhouses or other closed growing environments.

Hope you find them helpful!


Cornell Small Farm’s energy research compost pile.

All of this was inspired by Jean Pain:

A french site with the most complete info I’ve found on Jean Pain so far, with some good links to videos with subtitles at the bottom of the page:

The New Alchemy Institute’s paper of a very well referenced compost powered greenhouse:

Here’s a local copy of the same PDF linked above just in case that site isn’t available in the future:
new alchemy (local copy) pdf

I really love this super low tech, simple, and practical method of achieving root zone heating:

And if you’re wondering how many BTU/hr/ton of compost you can get (1000) Cornell Small Farms did some research:

Root zone heating can provide massive energy savings:

And some practical advice for the installation of such systems:




Biochar, The Slow Burn

We’ve started producing biochar at the farm, primarily for our own use, but if you twist my arm hard enough I’ll sell some as well.  You can see our ‘how to’ video produced in October 2020 here:

I wanted an easy place to refer back to when I forget the recommended ratio to mix with compost for a good biological/mineral/nutrient pre-charge and subsequent application rates.  So here it is!

Biochar Application rates:

  • Remember that raw biochar will absorb minerals and nutrients in your soil for the first couple of years, nature will correct, so not a big deal but if you want to give your soil and immediate boost, pre-charge your biochar before application
  • Easiest way to get it ready for direct application is to mix in when building compost piles
  • Mix up to 1:1 or 50% by volume with finished compost and let rest for a couple of weeks before application
  • Or up to 1:3 or 33% biochar by volume in unfinished compost for good mineral/nutrient/biological pre-charge of the char before application (higher biochar ratios may shut down your pile)
  • Apply pre-charged biochar directly to root zone or in seed furrows at a rate of 1% to 10% biochar by volume of amendments applied.
  • If applying bulk, pure biochar directly, go for 1000 to 2000 lbs biochar/acre (raw or pre-charged)

The key to a highly productive, low tech/low cost biochar pit burn:

  • Start your fire in the bottom of the empty pit
  • slowly add material until the fire just starts to smoke
  • let the fire build back up and compact the pile/add more material before any white ash is apparent on any surface
  • frequently compacting the burn pile with a heavy poker, crushing coals off and tightening raw wood, really helps final yield
  • take care to fill in gaps which might burn too quickly
  • if you don’t watch your fire, your char will burn up
  • THOROUGHLY quench the fire with water, removing any unburned wood where live coals might be smoldering, and stir the coals until no more steam or smoke is produced
  • Let the char cool/drain overnight and dig out into your compost piles.
Low tech, low cost biochar pits can produce good char even from less than ideal wood sources if tended properly.

For our biochar pit (6′ diameter, 4′ deep) it takes about 8 hours to char 6 cubic yards of bulky less than ideal wood.  A well tended burn will yield around 250 gallons of char.

Best references I’ve come across to develop this process:

Various other biochar links:

And if you want to go deep into the science:

Though we haven’t done it yet, I’ve recently (February 2022) learned from Dr. Olivier Husson’s interview on the regenerative agriculture podcast ( that paramagnetic biochar can be produced by soaking your source material in a saturated iron sulfate solution for 24 hours before pyrolysis. I’m looking forward to trying this technique at our farm. Note: this can produce a very acidic biochar (pH around 2.5 at 400 °C, around 6 at 700°C…from direct corespondence with Dr. Husson), so how you inoculate your biochar after production may need to be adjusted accordingly.

How can I help “Save the Bees?”

I get asked this question a lot, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the answer isn’t ‘ become a bee keeper’ (there’s a lot of evidence that feral bees are doing just ok, often better than kept honey bees), and our transport of bees/honey/pollen around the world in the age of globalization has done a great job of transporting parasites, viruses, and other maladies, which have now started crossing to other species.


So you want to ‘save the bees’, then start thinking about all insects, and our use of toxins in the food system.  Here’s recent reply to a visitor of our website which sums things up as succinctly as I can:

———- Forwarded message ———
From: Peter Brezny <>
Date: Thu, Oct 11, 2018 at 4:17 PM
Subject: Re: Interest in becoming a Bee Guardian
To: <redacted for privacy>



Thanks for the note and your interest in protecting pollinators on our planet.
Sounds like you’re heavy into food systems and education.  Well done!
As I hope became clear from your reading on our website, honey bees are the economic indicator we follow that helps us understand just how much peril all insects are in at the present time.  Only 2% of insects on the planet are harmful to crops, and many of the other 98% are ‘pest’ insect predators!.   All of them are in drastic decline and pesticides (duh)/climate change are the problem.
The very best thing you can do to protect pollinators is not to become a beekeeper, but to work to create pollinator habitat, and advocate for pesticide free zones and organic farming/chemical free farming techniques.  Everyone with a yard has the chance to create a safe habitat for pollinators.
There are a lot of excellent resources directly related to this:
Keep up the great work!
Best Wishes,

Peter Brezny
Psycho Chicken Eco Farm

NCSBA Journeyman Certified Beekeeper