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p r a c t i c a l How much wood would a Transitioner chop? by Suzie Webb

A community wood project in Reepham, Norfolk. Photo by Reepham Warm Wood Transition Cambridge (TC) grew out of film showings of Power of Community, The End of Suburbia and others around our warm and cosy wood-burning stove. Wood is the most carbon efficient heat source, particularly when gathered and chopped by yourself, and there is nothing like experiencing or hearing about it first hand.  This

winter TC’s energy group held an evening forum on stoves in which a householder, installer, supplier of hot logs and chimney sweep shared their expertise, answered questions and wrote a popular on-line FAQ. Over ten years of wood heating we have developed great time-saving techniques. Our first purchase was a short-handled axe. Now we have a

sharp long-handled splitting maul that is far more effective.  Our wood mountain seasons for up to four years. It’s visible on our front drive so neighbours sometimes offer us trees they have felled and children drag us the odd branch they find. Also, my husband Iain cuts trees as part of active management of wildlife sites and brings some home.  Along with other Cambridge residents, I love showing others our eco renovations through Open Eco Homes. Our heating system was designed to use solar thermal and our stove heats water. They connect to the original radiators throughout our home. We burn about four cubic metres over the winter and don’t keep the fire alight overnight.    To process wood we usually invite friends over for a chopping party once a year. It’s a high point – and essential. Our four-year-old and friends join in by carrying logs and snapping kindling. This year

we sawed our logs using a Logster Sawhorse. Most sawhorses only hold one log but this excellent innovation holds many logs up to 8 feet in length and allows them all to be sawn at once, by hand or with a chainsaw.   Once the logs are sawn to the longest our stove can fit, they’re split so they’re not too thick. Previously

“Log processing is much less backbreaking these days!” we split one log at a time, often striking them wrong, causing them to fall on the floor, wasting time. Now we use a bike tyre to hold the logs together so they don’t fall over and we don’t have to keep picking them up.   Ideally, this technique would be done on a tree stump with a wider diameter than the tyre where it can be accessed from all sides. However they are hard to find, so we made

one. We chopped our widest logs to the same height and fastened them together with a ratchet strap to make a wide, level surface (with some holes). This ‘stump’ has lasted for years and serves as a tea table, chair and climbing frame at other times. We pack logs over 14cm diameter inside the bike tyre on the stump. If there are gaps, we ram in smaller logs. Now for the best part: with no bending over, we move round the logs swinging the maul repeatedly until the logs are split. Then we wheelbarrow the logs ready to stack for winter. Any that weren’t split can be put back in the bike tyre with the next load. Log processing is much less back-breaking these days!  Suzie Webb is a mother, environmentalist, teacher, writer and a founder member of Transition Cambridge (transitioncambridge.org/faqs/ woodburningstoves).  Logster Sawhorse www.tcfengineering.co.uk

Bio-char: low tech gift of past to future by Martin Grimshaw Sacred Earth, a social enterprise which manages 40 acres of land in Sussex, is integrating education, mentoring, Community Supported Agriculture and experiments with soil restoration, inspired by ancient Amazonian ‘terra preta’, or black earth. Despite the abundance of life in tropical forests, soil fertility is very weak, since conditions don’t allow decaying matter to penetrate into the earth. For a long time experts puzzled over the origins of several pockets of terra preta in the Amazon, and have now determined that these areas of extremely productive soil are man-made, created by burying charcoal and food waste. Biochar is a method of replicating the process: ‘cooking’ woody material at a low temperature in a sealed low oxygen kiln, then returning it into the soil. Since greenhouse gases, such as CO2, methane and nitrous oxide, are mostly captured by the pyrolisis process and the carbon stored in the wood, it is carbon negative and has been hailed by scientists such as James Lovelock and James Hansen as part of the effort to combat climate change. Unlike

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most geo-engineering solutions proposed to mitigate global warming, biochar is low tech and smart. It also provides multiple benefits: increased crop yields, reduced use of irrigation and fertilisers, and is a tonic for urban, rural and ‘developing’ world economies. Philip Greenwood of Sacred Earth speaking at this year’s Transition Camp, explained: “Biochar is alchemy for the soil. Exciting and diverse applications are being conducted with impressive results, but more research and support is needed. Agricultural and problematic forestry waste such as rhododendron, laurel, privet and yew hedges, and Leylandii have been tried. “We can process sawdust and timber yard offcuts, and biochar can reverse soil acidity following commercial pine forestry. It supports micro-organisms in the way that a coral reef is a platform for ocean diversity, and stabilises minerals for slow release.” Concern has rightly been raised about rashly displacing arable land for large scale biochar forestry. However, the Transition movement promotes simple, small scale

solutions that can be replicated on a large scale, while boosting the ‘Transition economy’. Approached wisely, biochar is a worthwhile experiment we can all explore. The Big Biochar Experiment is an Oxford University led research effort enlisting citizen scientists reporting results back from their allotments, with very promising progress. If you have a garden or allotment, try adding small chunks of charcoal made from your seasonal clearances to your compost, to improve soil richness and structure. You can buy or make your own small biochar oven (there are videos on YouTube). If you are farming or have access to land, you can buy larger kilns and even harness heat, electricity and biogas or oil, as a byproduct. As a local Transition group you could establish a social enterprise, working with your council and other land users. Martin Grimshaw has been deeply engaged in the Transition movement since 2007, is a seasoned green activist, and is a facilitator, trainer and consultant at There’s Better Ways Of Working (2bwow.org.uk). SacredEarthLand.co.uk and BritishBiocharFoundation.org

Making your own rocket stove with Louise Smith (Transition Buckingham) is one of the most popular workshops at the annual Transition Camp in Sussex. Armed with tin-snippers and fortitude participants learn to make these small robust camping stoves from three tin cans and insulate them with wood ash. The efficient design of the rocket stove means it will operate using about half as much fuel as a traditional open fire, and it can burn smaller-diameter wood. For a step by step guide: www.facebook.com/rocketstove.workshops. Photo by David Spink

Transition Free Press (TFP4)  

Transition Free Press Issue 4 Winter 2013

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