Solutions for Self-Reliance

Personal Biochar Kilns, Portable Factories, DiY Septic Tank Cleaning, and Guerrilla Grafting


I’m currently busy trying to finish this month’s (and the inaugural) issue of the Resilient Communities newsletter.*

It’s coming together nicely, I think you’ll love it.

While the economic depression grinds on and the BIG financial reset gets closer, there are lots of great things going on at the ground level, where it counts.  So, in the meantime, here are some things that will get you thinking.

Biochar Kilns and Portable Factories

The first is a portable factory project by a team called re:char.  This team is working on ways to help farmers in Kenya produce biochar from sugar cane stalks, rather than simply burning them.

NOTE:  Biochar is organically inert solid that is produced by smoldering (low heat) biomass.  Why should you produce it?  Biochar is an amazing soil amendment that can last thousands of years. When mixed with existing soil, it improves water and nutrient retention as well as increasing the population and activity levels of beneficial microbes.

To do this, the team came up with a design for a biochar kiln (it is technically a low cost pyrolizer) that uses a 55 gallon oil drum.  They sell their “climate kiln” in the US for $290 (including shipping) if you are interested.

NOTE:  Each purchase donates a kiln to a Kenyan farmer.

They didn’t stop there.  The re:char team found that the tools and equipment they needed to quickly make “climate kilns” wasn’t available in the farming communities that needed the kilns.   So, to scratch their itch, they came up with a portable factory that fits into a shipping container.  Field testing has proven it to be successful (here it is in Kenya).

This entrepreneurial team has packaged this factory for sale at $50,000 (including training and shipping).  Or, you can build your own (here’s a list of parts they used).    What’s in it? See the list of tools it has built into it below.


DiY Septic Tank Maintenance

I recently had my septic tank pumped (my town was settled in the 1600s, so no sewage system).

Since I have a lot of people living in my home, I typically need to get it pumped once a year (and it’s expensive, ouch!).

While it was being pumped, I took the opportunity to hang out with the septic technician and ask a lot of questions.   This in turn led me to do more research on the topic.

The best book I found on how to maintain a septic system is the Septic Systems Owner’s Manual by Lloyd Kahn.  It’s a nice addition to any DiY library.

Here’s what a healthy septic system looks like and a clogged one.

It includes two tanks and a leach field (not pictured).  There are three layers to the sewage in the septic tank:  scum, liquids, and sludge.

The system gets clogged when either the scum layer at the top or the sludge layer at the bottom gets too thick.  Needless to say, you DON’T want a clogged system.

If you can’t get it pumped (can’t afford it, not available, etc.) and you aren’t squeamish (I’m not, I’ve shoveled quite a bunch of manure while cleaning cow stalls), you’ll need to be able to measure when it needs to be cleaned.  Here are two tools you can make to do that.

Based on my research, the layer that will cause you a problem is the scum layer (particularly if you use pumps to get to your leach field).  That layer gets thicker faster.  Fortunately, it’s also the layer that is the easiest to remove.  So, if you measure it and it needs to be removed, you can pull it off in sections as a mat (it floats).

Again, this is only if you have the stomach for it and you can’t afford to get it done for you.

Guerrilla Grafters

How can you improve the productivity of your community even if the officials are against it?

One way is through resilient disobedience.   For example, there’s a group of gardeners in San Francisco that are spreading organic graffiti across the city.  How?  By grafting branches from fruit trees onto ornamental trees that have been planted along sidewalks and in parks.

They are using a very simple tongue in groove splice that’s held together with annotated electrical tape.  Good luck to them.

Well, that’s all for today.  Get ready for the newsletter.  It’s going to be amazing.


Resiliently yours,




PS:  Here’s what is currently included in the re:char’s shop in a box:

  • A CNC table, working envelope 4’x4’x6”, capable of running a plasma torch or wood-cutting router.
  • Solar panels + batteries / inverters adequate to power the shop during prototyping / design (computers + 1-2 hand tools).
  • Generator adequate to power the shop during production (usage of welders, plasma CNC, etc.).
  • Transformers capable of scrubbing irregular grid power to a state where it is safe for use with shop-in-a-box.
  • 2 plasma torches, one for CNC use and another for hand operation. Each is capable of severance cuts up to 3/4? and sustained cutting in any thickness metal from 1/2? down to 22-gauge.
  • Full MIG, TIG, and oxyacetylene welding setups for joining a wide variety of metals.
  • Electronics prototyping, centered around through-hole components and arduino microcontrollers.
  • Desktop 3d printer.
  • desktop, aluminum-capable CNC router.
  • A wide variety of smaller tools: hand, power, and pretty much everything else you’d expect in a well-outfitted garage.
  • DVR with 4 cameras, mounted to easily capture and share all details of project builds.
  • All computers and software necessary to support the shop.

Further, the goal of the team is to build an API for the factory.  That means that once a design has been built in one of the factories, it can easily be build in all of them.


* For those that are interested, in one of my earlier careers I was a fairly successful technology analyst (after I was doing tier one special ops and before I started to build companies and write books).  As a measure of success, the research I wrote for Forrester sold $5 million in the first year of publication.  A better measure of success was that my clients loved it and it was so influential that Bill Gates personally tried to get me fired once (to the extant that success is sometimes measured by the enemies you make along the way).


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