The Genius of Jean Pain

Through the 1970s, French gardener Jean Pain was a pioneer in developing methods of using compost to generate fuel and heat water.

| March/April 1980

The warm, dry, and rocky Provence region of France is better known for its resorts than for its suitability to gardening. Yet—among that area's craggy hills—a self-taught organic gardener, forester, and biotechnologist named Jean Pain is working wonders with a new technique of composting. By removing underbrush from his woodlands and pulverizing it in a shredder of his own design, M. Pain fertilizes his incredibly prolific gardens, heats his house with the warmth created during the decomposition of the wood waste, and even runs his car on the biogas produced in a methane digester which also accepts the shredded brush.

A few months ago one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' staffers visited Jean and Ida Pain at their home in France, and discussed the techniques which the inventive agronomist has developed to overcome the hardships of the impoverished native soil and become self-sufficient . . . while restoring the ravaged forests of their area to a lushness that the region hasn't known for centuries. Since Jean's research is so extensive and varied, we've decided to relate just one portion of it in this article.

The manual labor involved in composting—if one is working exclusively to produce fertilizer for crops—tends to become prohibitive on any large scale. Therefore, the techniques for the construction of heat-producing piles with weights of up to 200 tons—like those the Pains are experimenting with—are somewhat different and more mechanized than the methods used for a simple garden compost heap. (However, Jean stresses that—despite all the necessary mechanization—the effects of applying the following information hold great potential for individual reforestation and localized energy production anywhere in the world.)

As M. Pain explained it, there are three basic steps in the preparation of the material needed for energy-producing compost piles.

[1] Thicket-trimming: While removing brush from forested areas (the Pains gather their "raw material" in such a manner), it's important always to consider the balance of ecological systems. Proper brush trimming encourages the growth of healthy trees, and at the same time maintains ample wildlife habitat and protects the woodland from the threat of fire. Depending upon the climate and soil in any given area, it's often possible—Jean has found—to remove about 15 tons of undergrowth from each acre of land every year . . . and the process will provide the remaining saplings with sufficient sunlight to grow straight and tall.

[2] Shredding: Since the underbrush that's collected may reach diameters of up to four inches, relatively heavy-duty machinery is necessary to shred the wood. Jean prefers a cutter that produces slivers rather than chips . . . since water penetrates the surface of a long thin fragment more easily than it does blocky chunks. Though the shavings may be as much as an inch long, the ideal thickness is about 1/16 of an inch.

8/16/2013 6:04:36 AM

hi how was the compost pile aerated?

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