My website in review (2013)

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 36,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Vuthisa Biochar Initiative

By Kobus Venter

Welcome to the ‘Vuthisa Biochar Initiative’ blog page. On this page you will learn more about our project and what we hope to achieve. The project officially kicked off in December 2013.

The project actually has many outcomes, but the primary goals are:

Create Employment – Up to 30 workers will be employed in year one. Unemployment is rife (>50%) in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal especially with a minimum wage now being introduced for farm workers. The feedstock for the Biochar project will be secured by ‘Vuthisa Charcoal Projects’ through a contract signed with the Department of Environmental Affairs, Natural Resource Management Programme, that pays the wages of our workers.
Eradicate Invasive Alien Plant Species and restore the Natural Biodiversity of the land - We intend to clear over 300 hectares of Wattle in this area and restore the land back to virgin grassland. The main culprit being Acacia mearnsii (Black Wattle) and Acacia decurrens (Green Wattle). Unmanaged Wattles in KwaZulu-Natal has now reached more than 300,000 hectares in extent, according to the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) report commissioned by Water Affairs, 2010. Left untouched, this alien vegetation would spread at an average rate of one percent a year, threatening water and food security.  Concerted efforts are being made to prevent the further spread of these invasives especially in water catchment areas and it is estimated that R 34 Billion ($ 3.4 Billion) will have to be made available over the next 25 years to stop this spread.


Increase streamflows and reduce erosion – The Wattle trees spreads vigorously through the seed it puts out and these typically germinate in or near river systems, reducing filtration into underground aquafirs and streamflows. At the onset of the infestation when the trees are young, only 500 mm of water is preserved within a typical annual rainfall area of 1200 mm. As the invasives spread, after 24 years only 25% of the entire potential water yield namely 300 mm of water will become part of water supply into the local catchment.


Develop Emission Reducing Biochar Kilns and reduce greenhouse gas emissions - Acacia mearnsii is a hardwood species and makes excellent charcoal.  Conventional pyrolysing tecnologies in South Africa however are less than 20% efficient.  Our first goal is to achieve a minimum of 25% wood to biochar conversion efficiency. Using more efficient methods to produce charcoal (or Biochar) has the potential to save about 100 MtCO2 per year in Sub-Saharan Africa (See  CO2 production from Emission Reducing kilns has not been quantified, but a 5 to 10% reduction in GHG’s is expected. We plan to produce 150 tons of Biochar in the next two years and we expect that 20% of this will be bought indirectly by fertiliser companies which could result in at least 30 tons of carbon being sequestered back into the soil.3-DrumRetort_inset_small

Develop Biochar Eco-fertilisersBiochar as a soil amendment will allow rural folk to improve their subsistence agriculture. Mixing biochar with soil or a good active organic compost before it goes in the soil will soak up its full compliment of water, nutrients and microbes so that it can make those available immediately to the plants as soon as it is added to the soil. Ultimate concentrations after some time of repeated applications of these eco-fertilisers (chemical free) will work up to about 8 to 10% biochar by weight of the soil content.

biochar trials

See this Google Earth map below of precise location of the clearing operation:

What is Biochar?Biochar is charcoal mixed with compost and applied to the soil as a soil amendment and has the same benefit to plants than chemical fertelizers. The act of burying the Biochar in the soil, removes carbon from the air (CO2) and sequesters carbon into the soil for thousands of years and prevents the release of Methane from harvested plant material into the atmosphere. Methane is a key fuel component to providing the heat into the retorts and in the Biochar forming process.  Venting un-burnt Methane into the atmosphere contributes 26 more times to the greenhouse effect than CO2 alone.  For more information on biochar, feel free to research the many references to Biochar on Google or read more on our Biochar web page:

Harvested IAPs ready to be charred


Biochar Retorts being primed for firing in Guatemala

Please donate to the project.

To donate to the project please get in touch with us.  We offer branding opportunities on Hippo Water Rollers, send out T-shirts and give shout outs on Social Media. Contact us here to find out more.

We accept SWIFT payments whereby money is wired into our project bank account.  Please approach your local bank’s FOREX department and request the appropriate procedure and instructions to follow to expedite this type of payment:

IBAN number (Branch code): 632005
Account name: Vuthisa Biochar Initiative
Account number: 9283826690
Bank: ABSA
Swift code: ABSAZAJJ

PayPal (pay with a credit card):

Please Donate

What will the money be used for?

Please indicate in your bank reference which activity you wish to sponsor.

We will have the following expenditures:

1 -  Water and Sanitation

Instead of purchasing large stationary water tanks to supply drinking water from rainwater harvesting, we thought it would be cool to use Hippo Water Rollers and collect water from the nearby fresh water vlei. Each water roller can hold 90 litres of water. This presents branding opportunities for companies out there, by having their name or logo printed on each Hippo Roller. Visit the website for Hippo Water Rollers here for more information: The cost of each Hippo Roller is R 1,500 ($ 136) including delivery to the site. We require a minimum of 4 Rollers and a total of R 6000 (± $ 544).

The cost of purchasing and delivering 2 x Portable toilets to the site is R 14,000 (± $ 1,272), and we’ll pay for the fortnightly servicing of the units.

[0%] of “Water and Sanitation” funded to date.

Reviewed on: 11 February, 2014

2 – Cooking Stoves

The cooking stoves we require are special portable wood- and charcoal fuel saving stoves and because we are re-sellers of this product we can provide them at cost to our workers. We require 8 of these stoves to offer the staff with a means to cook their food safely or to boil water. More information here:
The cost of delivering 8 stoves to the site is R 3,880 (± $ 352).

[0%] of “Cooking Stoves” funded to date.

Reviewed on: 11 February, 2014

3 – Protective Clothing

To ensure our workers are operating safely and are fully kitted out, we need to supply them with adequate protective clothing (PPE). These include Two-piece overalls, T-shirts, Rainsuits, Gloves, Chainsaw operator safety gear, Goggles and Masks. The most recent quotation revealed that we need R 22,560 (± $ 2,051).

[0%] of “Protective Clothing” funded to date.

Reviewed on: 11 February, 2014

4 – Tools & Equipment

The basic tools and equipment required for the project include Hatchets, Loppers, Knapsack sprayers, Combi-cans, First-aid kits, a Fire extinguisher and Spades. This will cost R 14,500 (± $ 1,318). We have already paid for 2 chainsaws worth R 11,300 (± $ 1,027).

[0%] of “Tools and Equipment” funded to date.

Reviewed on: 11 February, 2014

5 – Biochar Kilns

The specialized Biochar kilns have been developed over many years and are professionally constructed by a light engineering company in Mkondeni, Pietermaritzburg. The cost of each kiln ex-factory is R 9,000 (± $ 886) and we require 3 to start off with for a total of 27,000 ($ 2658).

[0%] of “Biochar Kilns” funded to date.

Reviewed on: 11 February, 2014

6 – Environmental Impact Assessment consultancy cost

The planned activities for the biochar project and charcoal activities will require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and an Atmospheric Emission License (AEL).  The entire process is expected to take 11 months to complete.  Cost: R 164,771.61 including VAT.

When everything is tallied up we need R 87,940 (± $ 7,995) PLUS R 164,771.61 (± $ 14,979) for the EIA and AEL.  The EIA and AEL will be funded from biochar sales, but any donation towards this cost would be very much appreciated.

[0%] of “Vuthisa Biochar Initiative” funded to date.

Reviewed on: 11 February, 2014

In conclusion we would like to thank everyone for their support and that we will do everything in our power to meet the goals of the project.

Or for more information contact us here:

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Vuthisa Biochar Trials Ivory Coast – Part 1

By Kobus Venter

Here we have Ivoire Consommation from Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) using the Vuthisa 3-Drum Biochar Retort. A concerted effort was made by Kouamé Bahfi (owner of Ivoire Consommation) to make Biochar and promote it as a soil amendment in his region. In this video Gmelina was carbonized (bought in), using twigs and bamboo as the fuel of choice to heat up the retorts. Later on however, it was found that bamboo placed inside the retorts made excellent Biochar and it worked out cheaper as well. I have it on good authority that he will be trying an Adam Retort, built from adobe bricks next. Watch this space…

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How to get people to know about your blog or website


by Kobus Venter

Just follow these basic tips to get people to find your website. I hope others that start off on WordPress finds this and keep working at getting traffic. If your stats show only a handful of visits per month, it means no one knows about your website and it’s not showing up on the first page of a Google search! I have the following suggestions:

1 – Send out some blog posts, but post from your home page if possible (unless you create a static home page) and remember to add keyword tags and categorise your posts. If you have a website for your business then create a blog page, but post at least once every 2 weeks. The serious blogger has broken into laughter at this point no doubt, but how many genuine fans do they have – and who wants to be a professional blogger anyway – I just don’t have time for that. In my opinion if you want to build a fan base, blog about things that interest you and Google / WordPress will do the rest. My rule of thumb is if you see a dip in your page visits after a few weeks, send out another blog post or post a gallery containing photos with some descriptions at least. If you write informative posts, people will link to it. No one wants to hear what you ate for supper last night – leave that for Twitter or Facebook – actually no leave that out period!

2 – If you’re getting over 2000 visits per month be grateful for this allocation. Remember that your content has got you this far, not paying towards Google AdSense, and it has been a relatively free ride. If you want to sell stuff online I would recommend against using You’ll need I found a happy medium in that I still use my account, but refer people to a hosted (D9 Hosting) site as my landing page for people wanting to pay through PayPal for products and services. I use a PayPal Business shopping cart through a free plugin (Easy Digital Downloads). If you want 10,000 visits per month, and increase your turnover well then be ready to pay $$$. For upper end websites you would need to get email lists going and get spammy, more $$$ in hosting fees and $$$ to get Google AdSense going – not forgetting $$$ towards creating a high-end shopping cart. Moving to means losing some forum support, free anti-spam and most importantly loosing keyword tags which is’s free SEO service to you, meaning more $$$ to pay for SEO. You get the picture? You want to show up on the first page of a Google search page – that’s it – and it can be done without much fuss and extra $$$.

3 – Send your post links to a blog carnival (, contribute to discussions by joining Yahoo, Google or LinkedIn groups and leave a link to your website and other Social Media accounts.

4 – Link to other websites through a Blogroll on the side widget or in your text. Whomever you are linking to will no doubt see it in their Stats page and may even link back to you. Google algorithms will pick that up and boost your site.

5 – Open a YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook Fan Page and Twitter account and maintain your colour and logo theme throughout it. When you upload a video to YouTube be sure to have links point to your website and Social Media sites. Activate Publicize on and promote posts automatically to Facebook.

6 – When you send out emails, design a footer that includes your contact details, Social Media profiles and website address.

7 – Post images often as people will often land on your page after trolling Google Images or Yahoo Image Search and lately through Pinterest.

8 – At around $18 per year you are certainly getting a bargain if you get more than 2000 visits to your website per month, but achieving that and more is possible without paying a cent more by following the above guidelines. You’re getting visits because Google thinks your content warrants being promoted to the first page.

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Vuthisa Biochar Trials Guatemala – Part 1

Herewith Part 1 of the trials and tribulations of starting a Biochar project in Guatemala. Emphasis is on manufacturing Biochar from invasive alien species in the forests of Guatemala, without creating excessive air pollution. Using a retort system means that gaseous products that are normally vented unburnt are in fact now utilised to provide the heat back into the retorts, creating exothermic conditions, providing its own heat for carbonisation. Efficiencies are higher and the final conversion to Biochar (as opposed to making charcoal conventionally) should be around the 25% mark. The ’3-Drum Retort’ system, whereby lower quality and smaller diameter feedstock is burned as fuel to provide the heat into the internal retorts is in the Beta phase and these types of testing will yield valuable lessons. There were many challenges in getting the kiln on to the farm in question. First it travelled by road on the back of a pickup truck and then by boat some 400 kilometres.


Then it had to be carried on foot to the burn site. Some innovative approaches are adopted, including the use of bamboo sticks to carry the pieces through the bush.

Other challenges we foresee would be to try to get hold of clay to seal the kiln off and this seems to be in short supply. The humidity is high and the first test burn resulted in creating torrefied wood only, so the burn will have to be extended to allow moisture to be driven off. We suggested placing wood piles close to the kiln to dry pre-dry the wood and to consider two subsequent burns: one burn to create the torrefied wood and a second to turn that into Biochar.

To be continued…

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Construct and optimize a Facebook Fan Page for your business

By Kobus Venter

I have blogged about issues of interest to me and related to my business for the last couple of years and thought it was about time to venture out into the world of Social Media Networking. The first thing I did was to create a Fan Page on Facebook, even before I had a private Facebook account. Thereafter I learned how effective 140 characters can be to communicate (tweet) with your fans. Sometimes you don’t want to say much, just share a photo or a link, and for that Twitter will suffice, but you also want to share it on Facebook, so why not link the two up? I have listed a few pointers below which will put you on a path to using Facebook for your business:

Follow this step by step guideline to set up your Facebook Fan Page:

According to Social media expert Mari Smith ( the ‘About’ section in your Facebook profile actually contains the meta description for your Page so make sure it has your keywords. Construct a nice little write-up about what your business does or how it came into being with a clickable website. Also see these useful guidelines:

If you have a Blog such as WordPress, use Publicize to send posts to Facebook:

Link up your Facebook with Twitter. Your tweets are posted as Facebook status updates and you can also install the Twitter application on Facebook to send the corresponding message as a tweet.

Post images along with links in your posts and change the cover photo of your Fan Page regularly as this will show up on the walls of those who have Liked your page. According to an informal study by MarketingSherpa (@marketingsherpa) professional image content generates 121% more Facebook shares.

If you write status updates in first person then you should sign off each post with your first name e.g. “I want to share this info with you, I believe it’s valuable. By Tom Smith (Example)”.

See Video Replay of #SMcrunchtime by @MariSmith and

Use HootSuite to manage all your social media sites in one convenient dashboard page:

Update your Facebook status outside of business hours as most people won’t have time to read them immediately. Time the post to correspond with the Time Zone of the users you want to connect with first.

See Video Replay of #SMcrunchtime by @MariSmith and
Write out your Facebook and Twitter address on your contact page or blog posts and emails along with the social media icon
e.g. (@vuthisa)

Once you have had more than 1000 Facebook Likes or Twitter followers and to truly grow your business you may need some more personnel to help manage content and do follow-ups. Appoint a content curator, full-time employee, personal- or virtual assistant to help, but still reviewing each message before they are sent out.

See Video Replay of #SMcrunchtime by @MariSmith and
Draw up an Editorial Calendar and plan ahead for the week what you want to tweet or share on your Fan Page:

Create a mailing list and spread the word about your online presence. It helps you to directly engage with your users and promote your products. You may need to offer something in return for people joining your email list, like a free Ebook.

Additional resources

Much of what I listed above I learned from watching the playback of the LIVE Webinar I attended recently hosted by renowned Social Media Expert Mari Smith: Social Media Crunch Time!

Part 1 Video Replay of #SMcrunchtime @MariSmith ~ Note 37 min mark on @Anne_McKevitt #socialmedia [pic]

Part 2 Video Replay of #SMcrunchtime @MariSmith ~ Note 10min 15sec mark on @SOULinstitute #socialmedia [pic]

Comments (1) » for bloggers and small businesses

By Vuthisa

WHAT IS is a weblog hosting provider owned by Automattic and there are over 71 million individual blogs with the service as of March 2012. With (not to be confused with you don’t have to pay for web hosting or manage a web server and once you have registered your blog you can immediately start blogging. combines ease of use with nearly unlimited customization options to change the look and feel of your blog or website. The easy nature of publishing make ideal for any manner of websites and it is not uncommon to see websites with a Blog page alongside other pages, all created by People with no experience with websites can easily start blogging and if they so wish, turn their blogs into websites with the knowledge gained. (as opposed to requires a web host and server and you are required to upload all the software needed to run your blog.


Technically is FREE, if you do not mind your blog or website (cringe!) displaying a sub domain e.g. as part of the address! In order to have the [wordpress] bit removed one has to subscribe to domain registration and mapping annually. Blogs on sub domains like or lack the credibility that blogs on their own domains have because those on domains are less likely to disappear over night or to be spam sites. The cost of domain registration and mapping is $ 18 USD per year. This is peanuts however compared to what it would cost to get a self-hosted website…and you won’t get a monkey. All the fees listed below are optional upgrades. It is my humble opinion however that in order to give the blog a semblance of uniqueness, credibility and to associate it with your personality or even branding, at least consider upgrading the ‘Domain Mapping’ and ‘Custom Design’ options, costing a total of $48 USD per year. The upgrades can be cancelled when the renewal period rolls around – but you won’t want to.

Click to enlarge

In summary:

Domain registration (e.g.


Add another domain (or when subscribing to mapping)


Mapping (e.g.


Custom Design and CSS (Customize the fonts in your theme and change your header picture)


VideoPress (Optional, just use YouTube)


Space Upgrades (Optional, not needed initially)

10GB Space Upgrade: $20

25GB Space Upgrade: $50

50GB Space Upgrade: $90

100GB Space Upgrade: $160

200GB Space Upgrade: $290

No Ads (See: (Optional)

$30 per annum

Site Re-direct (Optional)

$13 per annum

Premium Theme (Optional Once-off)

$50 per annum

Guided Transfer (Optional)

$129 per annum


I have listed the cost breakdown above first, not to discourage new bloggers or business owners wanting to turn their blog into a website, but because WordPress inexplicably does not have this cost breakdown listed anywhere, or at least in a single-page summary format. It’s very easy to start a blog and is by far the best and as mentioned one can also build a website using like I did. I looked around for a long time before starting my blog and I am not sorry I chose It is hosted by WordPress, so you don’t have to pay hosting fees as in the case of self-hosting. For self hosting you would need a account, and you do get more plugins and you will be able to monetize your blog or website through advertising etc. You can migrate to eventually, bearing in mind the increased cost of a dedicated server and the fact that you would have to pay someone to do SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for you as you cannot use tags. Tags are keywords or phrases that best describe your blog posts and show up in search engines, such as Google. My advice is to start with WordPress and slowly familiarize yourself with HTML code at a fraction of the cost of a self-hosted website, that can be costly to design, even more so when not opting for and outsourcing website design. Also remember that you’ll require broadband (or ADSL) internet connection to update info and upload large images. It took me about 6 months to understand all the features within and it is still an on-going learning experience 3.5 years on (2012).

To have your own blog you need to register a new domain name, i.e. To lose the ‘wordpress’ bit you have to upgrade to ‘Domain Mapping’ i.e. change to which will cost additional money, but this is the only money you have to spend for the time being within the first 2 months of starting your blog at any rate. I recommend that you upgrade to domain mapping from the start. Then, if you eventually move to a self-hosted WordPress blog and you migrate your existing posts and pages to the new space, the posts will have the same URLs (web addresses, like…) without the ‘wordpress’ bit which are not displayed in blog posts (like…). This is important because Google and other search engines will have indexed the content of your site using those URLs. If the page address were to change, then the value of those indexed pages would be lost. Eventually the search engines would find the pages again, but your site rank would drop in the meantime, and your traffic with it. Using your own domain name helps you retain your site’s value. As mentioned the cost for using your own domain name for your is about $12 per year, a worthwhile investment and you’ll also have to pay a yearly fee of approximately $5 per year to register the domain name.

Take note that blogs/websites do not have the ‘www’ prefix. If somebody places the ‘www’ in front of your blog address it WILL however still open. I always put the ‘www’ in front, on my business cards or email for instance, because it sometimes creates confusion. The next expense you would have to undergo is to create your own Header. This is the background picture displayed on every page of your blog. In order to upload your own header you need to upgrade to the Custom Design and CSS option which allows you to customize the fonts in your theme and change out the default header picture of the theme you selected originally. Contact your local graphic design company to create your header picture (CSS) or get some ideas by visiting the 5dollarbaby guys, pay $5 and see what they come up with ( I designed my own header with GIMP (similar to Photoshop) and eventually taught myself to upload animated GIF files within my header. You can change your header design as often as you like, although if you are planning on attracting recurring customers it is always best to make subtle changes to your header design. With the Custom Design upgrade you can choose to apply your custom fonts or custom stylesheet to any of the themes available on Some themes, like the plain but versatile Sandbox and Toolbox, are blank canvases waiting for your custom fonts, CSS and images.

Here’s an example of the changes that you can make to a Blog Theme thanks to the Custom Design Upgrade:

Before the Upgrade (Standard Header Graphic: Greenery Theme):

Click to enlarge

After Customization:

Click to enlarge

After registering, you should be able to immediately log into your profile and select a Theme. This is quite an important decision and I advise you to investigate all the free themes on the internet to see if there are any glitches or display issues. Here are a few themes: See some examples of the most popular themes chosen by WordPress bloggers below:

Click to enlarge

You need to learn some basic HTML, i.e. if you want to create tables or lists or need to start new paragraphs that simply won’t stick in WYSIWYG. All posts are written as WYSIWYG “What You See Is What You Get” and it is easy to change Font colors, underline etc., but there is a tab you can select to go into the code to make photos cling to paragraphs etc. if you struggle with WYSIWYG.

Here is an example below of what the Post and Page editing screen looks like. Note the tab on the right giving you an option between Visual and HTML:

Click to enlarge

I use this website: w3schools_examples and w3schools_try_it to preview my text or to learn HTML language. When putting up a new Widget in WordPress I preview the widget in Widget is a fancy word for tools or content that you can add, arrange, and remove from the sidebars of your blog. Widgets make it easy to customize the content of your blog sidebar but WordPress does not have a preview pane for widgets.

There is plenty more I can say about increasing traffic to your blog, but visit this blog post for advice: You’ll slowly get into it and before you know it have 2,000 visits per month. One of the best features of WordPress is the STATS page. The STATS page shows you how many visits your site gets, and what posts and pages are most popular. It also includes a bunch of nifty graphs, charts, and lists. See an example of my STATS below:

Click to enlarge

Your content can be shared to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, and Pinterest easily. See

My advice would be to send out a few posts on a subject that you love to talk to people about or concerning a subject matter you are quite knowledgeable on and start educating the world! Submit the post to a blog carnival so that it can be read by a wider audience. People use Search Engines primarily because they want to empower themselves with knowledge. If your posts are interesting and informative and crammed with resources, more people will visit your posts or pages and refer to you in their own text links or on Facebook, Twitter and the like. If you’re battling with a HTML code issue or a glitch that you’re unable to fix, ASK A QUESTION and the volunteers will gladly impart with their time and knowledge on the WordPress Forums. They are able to go into your blog and fix wonky codes for free and they have saved me on more than a few occasions.

Good luck!

Refer to the following web pages for additional assistance:




(Get WordPress on your Blackberry)

(Importing content from another blogging platform)

(Proper blogging etiquette)

(The best resource on the net – subscribe to this blog)

(If you get stuck with uploading images)

(Create hyperlinks with WordPress)

(Examples of HTML coding language)

(Input HTML code and see the result immediately)

(Preview your widget before updating it – shows up images as well)

(Take part in a blog carnival and share your post with the world)

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