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Enrich fields with recycled paper

Drought resistance!
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Post consumer waste paper is nice clean cellulose. It is dry and so denser than ag waste, plus it is very flat and so packs densely was well. Ideally it would be recycled. This is most cost effective in large population centers where there is a lot of paper generated in proximity to sites for recycling / shipping. But what about the boonies? They have paper too, but not as much, and shipping to recycling facilities is more energetically expensive because of distance. Many of these areas are agricultural.

I propose that an attachment much like a paper shredder be devised for tractors. Dry waste paper in a hopper would be pulverized then added to fields during tilling. The tiny paper shreds would help retain water in the soil. This would be a good use of waste paper in that it would capitalize on availability / density / cleanliness and reduce ag water use. This would be best for semiarid areas in industrialized countries, which includes essentially the entire American midwest and west.

bungston, Jul 24 2009

"black is the new green" http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tierra_negra
[pertinax, Jul 26 2009]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_preta [goldbb, Jul 27 2009]

Underground Methane Farm Underground_20Methane_20Farm
Primordial carbon. Biologic nitrogen. Earth. Water. Fire. Air. Action! [bungston, Jul 28 2009]

[link]






       I like the idea of copies of "Monsanto's GM monthly" being ploughed into an organic farm's furrows.
xenzag, Jul 25 2009
  

       It may be better to turn the paper into charcoal (biochar) first before burying for the following reasons:
-the chemicals used to bleach paper may leach into the soil, whereas biochar would no longer contain these chemicals
-1kg can be converted into 250g of charcoal (and 60% of the volume), thus cheaper to transport
-by turning the paper into charcoal, energy could be extracted from the paper before being buried
xaviergisz, Jul 25 2009
  

       xavier, aren't you releasing heaps of CO2 into the atmosphere by burning it.
po, Jul 25 2009
  

       the C/N ratio of paper makes for a poor soil amendment due to the fact that it can dry up the available supply of nitrogen by driving it into soil biota.   

       However, if you peletized or compressed it somehow so that it was a reservoir that was not rapidly broken down it might provide a small hydroscopic buffer. Charred paper would be readily broken down and should not be considered in any soil where there isn't excess nitrogen.   

       If you want to contemplate the effects of adding pulpy carbon mulch to soil then you can look at the research done on the various methods of tilling used in grain crops. Incorporating mulch isn't always a good thing.
WcW, Jul 25 2009
  

       I read this as "enrich fluids with recycled paper", and I thought that was a rather good idea. MUCH MORE FIBER FOR ALL!!!
blissmiss, Jul 25 2009
  

       I was thinking that it might make sense to compress/pelletize paper before putting it behind the tractor.   

       But I do not understand how high C/N ratio (which paper surely has) drives N into soil biota. Because excess C gives them substrate for growth? I did not think soil life could tie up nitrogen - weeds etc I could see but microflora and fungi?   

       Last re charcoal - I think it might be tricky to turn paper into charcoal. But charcoal = pure carbon which is a rare and weird substance, and not many organisms can process it. It has staying power in soil.
bungston, Jul 25 2009
  

       the ecosystem in the soil is very important for the production of crops. fixed nitrogen taken up by soil micro-organisms is not available for plant use until those organisms die which they don't until the availability of carbon rich digestables falls. this is the C/N ratio, critical in soil fertility.
WcW, Jul 25 2009
  

       [WcW], I have some questions:   

       1. Is charcoal a //carbon rich digestable//, or is it, as [bungston] indicates, a carbon-rich *in*digestable?
2. Is charred paper chemically different from charcoal?
3. How is the C/N ratio related to the much-hyped tierra negra phenomenon (see link)?
pertinax, Jul 26 2009
  

       Where I live we have a "brown bin" collection every two weeks for compostable material. We are advised to include shredded paper along with the grass cuttings, hedge clippings etc.
xenzag, Jul 26 2009
  

       We've been tipping the contents of our paper shredder into the compost bin for years with no ill effects.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Jul 26 2009
  

       Soil organisms are able to make proteins (which contain nitrogen) from carbon compounds and non-protein nitrogen sources, so it's true that adding high C/N ratio materials ties up nitrogen. I've never regarded that as a long term problem, though. In a mixed agriculture system nitrogen fixing plants become more common, since they have a competetive advantage in a low nitrogen environment, until a balance is achieved, at which point you have soil rich in humus and life.   

       I've added literally tons of paper, cardboard and sawdust to my back yard and watched the clover go berserk and then gradually settle down as the soil turns dark and crumbly.
spidermother, Jul 26 2009
  

       <giggles> //added literally// literarily </g>
4whom, Jul 26 2009
  

       However had you been engaged in monoculture grain or legume production you would have found that the dramatic swings in soil nutrient availability had dramatic effects on yield. Consider that the wheat in a field is sprouting, leafing, bolting and fruiting simultaneously. If conditions are stressful for any one of these operations in the window in which it must occur the entire crop is harmed. Your lawn and garden on the other hand are a free for all with plants in all phases of growth and you aren't likely to suffer much from brief but dramatic swings in the soil condition. Also It should be recognized that this is only a problem where soil fertility is marginal and the C/N ratio is high, in fields in this condition the farmer is already adding the additional N requirements for the crop to the soil and so feeding a few acre tons of N hungry fungi and bacteria when the crop is also needing the N is $$$ that he cannot spend sending his children to college or paying his shareholders.   

       The Nebraska corn farmer would just laugh at the references to "my garden, my compost bin". The cost of spreading a bulk soil amendment into his soil with a tractor and a spreader would solidly cost more in diesel and soil compaction then it would ever be worth in crop output. Even the most excellent organic fertilizers are simply to bulky and expensive to be used and the economics of dragging paper into the field when there is usually plenty of crop residue (stems, roots) that can be tilled or left in the field.
WcW, Jul 26 2009
  

       "I've added literally tons of paper, cardboard and sawdust to my back yard and watched the clover go berserk and then gradually settle down as the soil turns dark and crumbly."- — spidermother, Jul 26 2009   

       Clover and other (symbiotically) nitrogen fixing plants are competitive when available nitrogen levels become to low for other plants. Your anecdotal example is a perfect illustration of what happens when you add carbon rich mulch. As the aerobic culture ramped up the grasses could no longer compete with the N fixing clover and it dominated, briefly, then as the digestible carbohydrates were used up and the aerobic digesters died off releasing their nitrates the grass could once again fight off the clover. This is why crop rotation works so well, and also why adding large quantities of mulch does not. The fungal and bacterial segments of the ecosystem are competing for plant nutrients, give them too much food and they can actually make a soil infertile.
WcW, Jul 26 2009
  

       Clearly then, the problem here is monoculture
BunsenHoneydew, Jul 26 2009
  

       So piss on it first. Nitrogen issues all solved.
Loris, Jul 26 2009
  

       When turning organic matter into charcoal, very little C02 and CO is produced. Instead the main byproduct of charcoal manufacture is hydrogen which can be used to generate power. This is why it is being considered as a way of sequestering carbon.   

       Turning paper into charcoal should be pretty simple. Just put the paper in an airtight kiln and heat to 300°C. The result will be a charcoal powder.   

       I don't know if charcoal is 'digestable' by plants. I would guess that the charcoal would slowly decompose into CO2 which would then be photosynthesised by plants.   

       The benefit of burying charcoal is not to directly feed the plant, but to create better soil ecology. For example the charcoal helps retain nutrients in the soil, which would otherwise be washed away. Terra preta (the result of mixing charcoal into soil) is a fertile (pun intended) area of research, and scientists are still investigating its benefits for agriculture.
xaviergisz, Jul 27 2009
  

       How about turning paper into charcoal, grinding the charcoal to dust, mixing it with water to create a suspension, and spraying it onto the fields?
goldbb, Jul 27 2009
  

       Reducing carbon structures into carbon is known as coking, the anhydrous/ anaerobic burning of carbon. It really does trap carbon.   

       Now all you need is to turn people away from inkjet printers and to laserjet, or bonding, printers. What the printer deposits as ink could be nitrogen rich, nitrogen poor, phosphate rich (would not recommend it), sulphur rich, etc.   

       Viola! Fertiliser.
4whom, Jul 27 2009
  

       /Clover and other (symbiotically) nitrogen fixing plants are competitive when available nitrogen levels become to low for other plants. Your anecdotal example is a perfect illustration of what happens when you add carbon rich mulch. /   

       That is pretty cool. I have read about invasive knotweed leaves being hard on aquatic ecosystems for this reason as well - high C/N ratio in the leaves. I thought that the problem was that the leaves were inadequate fertilizer, but it must be the carbon excess that is the problem.
bungston, Jul 27 2009
  

       it aqueous ecosystems the aerobic/anaerobic thing is also really important.
WcW, Jul 27 2009
  

       "Adding carbon to the soil ties up nitrogen that could otherwise be used for crop growth" is true, but so is "spending on infrastructure ties up money that could otherwise be used for production".   

       Increasing carbon content is an investment in soil structure and nutrient exchange capacity. As long as you don't do something foolish, such as to try to grow a crop of wheat after adding a huge amount of paper without any means of supplementing the fixed nitrogen, this idea has merit.   

       It's also a fairly old idea. Permaculture and organic agriculture books from decades ago recommend adding large amounts of organic matter, including waste paper, and discuss the nitrogen balance issues and ways to address them.   

       My little experiment was deliberately extreme, and, as expected, plants other than legumes failed to thrive for a while, but there was only a temporary reduction in fertility.   

       I was diverting local sources from landfill to my garden, and agree that the concept may not scale well to vast farms.
spidermother, Jul 28 2009
  

       if charcoal really is tough for plants and microbes to digest/process then it should stay in the soil for many years. if so, then it would be a very good technique of carbon sequestration
vmaldia, Jul 28 2009
  

       \\ xavier, aren't you releasing heaps of CO2 into the atmosphere by burning it. —po \\   

       The process would ultimately be carbon negative and benefit the soil. And turning the paper to char is the right way to do this. As other people mentioned, it's not good to just spread paper on fields.   

       Biochar - agrichar - Terra Preta Biochar and carbon-negative land-use systems http://tinyurl.com/nfepyn
steam_cannon, Jul 28 2009
  

       so basically you should plant nitrogen fixers for a bit before using the soil for other stuff.   

       [steamcannon] take a look under the links underneath the post body, there's a "[link]" button: you don't need to inline a link, or use munged url's.
FlyingToaster, Jul 28 2009
  

       / it aqueous ecosystems the aerobic/anaerobic thing is also really important. — WcW, Jul 27 2009/   

       I was thinking about this. I understand that lots of carbon lunch for aerobes will use up available oxygen. But as regards the same carbon source, comparable amounts of respective electron donor (oxygen for aerobes, sulfate or something from anaerobes), do anaerobic ecosystems tie up more nitrogen than aerobic? I would think less, because I am prejudiced and think aerobic is the most efficient way to process carbon and so tie up the most nitrogen.   

       Thinking about carbon excess and nitrogen deficiency I have linked my Methane Farm idea, which postulates a very carbon rich but nitrogen poor deep hot earth.
bungston, Jul 28 2009
  

       [bungston] As it happens, most nitrogen fixing occurs in anaerobic conditions.   

       The nodules on the roots of legumes contain a pigment which binds oxygen so the primative symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria can work in the low oxygen conditions in which they evolved way back before all that nasty poisonous oxygen got excreted by plants (or so we were told).   

       If you crush the nodules on bean or clover roots you can see a pinkish colour, which is the pigment in question.
spidermother, Aug 02 2009
  

       [WCW], I was thinking of your comments on this idea as I read the recent idea about dredged soil. I has been adding polyacrylamide gel to my lawn with the thought of improving water retention. I accomplished this at the cost of the lawn. It occurred to me that the carbon excess from polyacrylamide might be the problem and now that looks like the case - with fertilizer (and new seeds) the treated areas are now greener than the rest. Polyacrylamide is sold as a soil amendment but I wonder if it might ultimately be counterproductive.
bungston, Jan 11 2010
  

       Perhaps a little off the main discussion topic. But as far as paper bleaches go, this is all removed from the wood pulp before it becomes paper. Subsequently, the act of turning wood pulp into paper involves diluting it to ~1% solids by mass before spreading and drying on a Fourdrinier. Ergo I would be mega-surprised if any of the bleaching chemicals reached the consumer. Also, many European pulp mills use only ozone bleaching so there would be no chemical to form a residue. That said I believe some North American mills still use elemental chlorine (which forms dioxins [of agent orange fame]) but again all of this should be washed into your local water table, leaving your paper safe and clean.   

       And biochar is a thing that is being researched, particularly over here. If you ask me it is a ridiculously convoluted way to sequester carbon; it would be a bundle-times better to use it to (slightly) offset coal use in powerplants
sneakythumbs, Jan 12 2010
  
      
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