Monday, October 5, 2015


There are several varieties of Paulownia in existence.  They are all similar in that they are generally drought resistant.  They are different based on their ability to grow where they are native and in that the color and patterns on the flowers are different.

They usually grow quickly.  The leaves are an excellent fodder for many different kinds of livestock.  They also are capable of quickly decaying in an anaerobic environment to provide excellent fertilizer for other plants.  Trees from this genus are capable of growing over 10' in a single growing season.  Varieties that have been bred specifically for biomass production generally branch more, while varieties that are grown specifically for lumber production usually grow quickly up to 20' tall and then gradually grow thicker and thicker with leaves that gradually get smaller as the tree ages.

Lumber from paulownia is capable of being used in some building applications, but it is usually used in fine carpentry, by wood-workers who are familiar with it's particularities.  Lumber from paulownia is capable of curing in the open air, without kilns.  It is lightweight and silvery colored.  Torsional strength is low, but it could have some applications in lightweight vehicle manufacturing (with some kind of structural consideration such as a rigid outer film, or solid core). 

Traditional japanese carpenters and woodworkers especially value specimens that are grown slowly, as a tree would in it's natural habitat.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hippophae Rhamnoides

Otherwise known as seaberry, or sea buckthorn, this plant is useful for many purposes and grows well in a variety of weather and soil types.  Not only does this plant produce nutritious berries which are quickly becoming popular as a sports drink ingredient and seed oil which is already popular in areas where it is indigenous, it is also useful for mitigating erosion and for improving soils that have high salt content and/or poor nutrient content.

Wild varieties have a tendency to sucker.  Cultivated varieties produce higher quantities of better quality berries and generally do not sucker.

Our interest in this plant is not for it's production of berries.  We intend to produce a male only strain of this plant for decorative purposes.  Our current experiments show this plant to have decorative qualities as well as drought resistance, making it an excellent candidate for cultivation as a landscape plant in California.

Male only plants are only capable of reproducing via runner and are genetically unable to produce berries, so that the plants could be called, berryless seaberry plants.  They are also an excellent livestock fodder that grows under near-desert conditions.  Plants of this type could be capable of mitigating chemically polluted environments by locking up minerals in the soil, reducing long-term run-off into local water sources and gradually producing top-soil.  The dense foliage that is produced on these salt-tolerant plants is useful in many different ways.

Additionally, seaberry is a nitrogen fixating plant, increasing the fertility of the soil with symbiotic bacteria that make nitrogen more available to plants.

Moringa Oleifera

Moringa is a crop plant that is grown throughout the world, especially in impoverished tropical areas.

It is a tropical tree which has the capability of being grown as an annual forage crop in many parts of the world outside of tropical areas.  Because it is an emerging crop, claims about the cultivation of this plant vary wildly, but our experiments show that they bear truth.

Moringa is capable of producing at high densities and is extremely nutritious.  As such, it has potential as a forage crop for livestock including dairy cattle, where we expect a %40 increase in output with a %50 decrease in costs.  Those are some pretty extreme numbers, even if they are based on a few estimations and long-term development of markets that do not currently exist.

purple stemmed moringa from thailand

Although we have experimented with Moringa Oleifera from a variety of sources around the world, our preference is for PKM1 moringa, sourced from one of the individuals who pioneered it's development as an annual crop, capable of producing seed pods within a single year in many areas.

Moringa is capable of producing over 200 tons of biomass per acre.  Approximately %30 of that is useful as livestock feed which means intensive cultivation is capapble of producing 60 tons of feed per acre and 140 tons of additional, useful biomass.  Those are some pretty impressive numbers considering alfalfa is only capable of producing 11 tons per acre.

My goal is to produce Moringa Oleifera for livestock usage and facilitate the research and development of Moringa in actual usage for production of animal based proteins. 

Domesticated vs. Wild Goji

Goji berries seem to be everywhere these days in the fancier markets and in the health food stores.  They're putting them in energy bars and fancy $5 sports drinks.  They provide a nice deep red color and are supposed to contain a high ratio of plant based protein as well as other nutrients like beta-carotene that are important for health and wellness.

Here at Silverleaf, we are experimenting with two different types.  Our research indicates that these two varieties are known as Lycium barbarum, or Ninxia goji, and Lycium chinense which is a wilder plant, called chinese boxthorn and is grown for it's foliage as well as for the bright red berries which adorn both types of plants.  We will refer to Lycium barbarum as goji and Lycium chinense as boxthorn.

Goji (domesticated)

Goji is grown commercially in the Ninxia region and in the surrounding area for it's berries and has proven effective at reducing run-off and erosion in these areas.  It is a highly domesticated plant and we purchased our genetic material from a vendor who called it the supergrade variety, most likely due to it's ability to produce higher quantities of berries that are capable of achieving the highest grade for goji of the same name.

The domesticated variety was developed in the 70's in order to produce fruit which was more useful commercially.  The result is a plant which has proven to be an amazing plant which is capable of producing a wonderful product with minimal inputs and has proven useful at mitigating erosion in degraded soils.

Boxthorn (wild)

Also known as wild goji, Chinese Boxthorn is a plant which survives in the wild, both throughout China and here in the Americas wherever Chinese immigrants lived and worked over the past several hundred years.  The leaves are wider then the commercial varieties of goji and the fruit is softer, with a 'more interesting' kind of flavor.

Wild boxthorn is a varied type of plant that grows all over the world in various forms, including the US, both imported varieties and a variety in the southeast, known as The Christmas Berry.  Perhaps because the berries tend to remain on the vine until well into Christmas in North Carolina, where it is native.  

This plant is also the Fructus Lycii that is spoken of in the ancient chinese medicinal texts, although most of what is currently sold in asian markets as Fructus Lycii is actually the commercial variety of goji berry and not this heirloom type of variety.  The leaves, flowers and even the root of this plant are used in traditional medicine.


Goji plants are capable of surviving extreme drought, both because of their ability to send down roots deep into the soil and because of their small leaves, which will progressively die back when water becomes scarce, protecting the parent plant's water supply.

Our experiments show that Goji is capable of growing in complete shade and even tends to thrive without direct sunlight.  It also makes an excellent houseplant.

Goji is being used currently all over the entire world to fight back against desertification and to reclaim arid soils.  Goji can be an effective food source under a great variety of conditions.  Actual nutritious content of goji berries varies greatly depending on the growing techniques used and the quality of soil.  Goji berries are delicious dried, or as they are currently being produced in eastern europe, as jams and jellies.


Yomogi, or japanese mugwort is a very hardy plant.  It tolerates drought and has attractive green foliage with a fuzzy underside.  It tolerates all exposures from full shade to full sun and actually appears to be able to thrive under those various conditions assuming nutritious and well-drained soil.

The flavor is woodsy and clean, and is reminiscent of rosemary mixed with wormwood (slightly bitter).

We have had a variety of foliage types, from broad leafed with spiky boarders to almost completely lanceolate.

It grows readily from cuttings and spreads via rhizome.  As such it grows similarly to peppermint, taking over an area where it is planted to the exclusion of less competitive plants.  It's decorative usefulness is limited by this aggressive behavior, although it can make a striking addition to your landscape if contained by a deep border or grown in a large container.

One thing is for sure, it will survive where other plants perish and it makes a excellent pot-herb, cutting through heavy/greasy flavors with a clean/sprucy sharpness that refreshes.  It is a member of the artemisia family and as such should not be used excessively or for long durations of time due to the possibility of thujone poisoning, which effects the liver.  To the best of my knowledge, no studies exist related to the presence of thujone in yomogi.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Worm Farming

Good quality worm castings require a healthy feedstock for the worms.  In order for the end product to have all the essential minerals required for healthy growth, they must be present in the feedstock.  Our multi-step process includes the following ingredients in order to ensure healthy activity and growth of the worms and bacteria and ensures a balance of nutritional components in the end product:

  • Composted Landscape Waste - Provides humic acids and is packed with bacteria that are actively breaking down the woody materials.
  • Composted Fruits and Vegetables - Sugars, enzymes and nutrients in vegetables and fruits are excellent at speeding decomposition of the feedstock.  Also, sugars and plant based lipids present in this ingredient make a healthier environment for the worms.
  • Partially Composted Paper Products - Commonly used as a bedding for the worms, cardboard and other unpigmented paper products give structure to the bedding and are also consumed in the process of generating worm castings.
  • Oyster Shell Flour (0.36/0.00/0.00) - Packed with calcium, magnesium and zinc, oyster shell also buffers the acidity of the soil and provides micronutrients.
  • Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (FGDE) - FGDE is fossilized algae and it reduces insect activity in the compost, including flies and any creatures with an exoskeleton.
  • Mineral Rock Powder - Provides a broad spectrum of micronutrients and secondary minerals required for growth.  Sourced from volcanic ash, or glacial rock dust, this ingredient provides micronized silica and a
  • Fish Emulsion - Although it is expensive, it does provide a positive balance of NPK in an easily available format, which speeds decomposition of the more complex forms of the nutrients by feeding the bacterial activity which is involved in their breakdown.
  • Molasses - Complex sugars and vitamins present in molasses are an integral part of the fermentation process that we use to prepare the compost for rapid decomposition.
  • Granite Dust - Provides a phosphorous in it's elemental form and trace elements.  It also improves porosity and texture during the composting process.
  • Bio-active Clay - Clay contains high concentrations of silica and other minerals with a microscopic particle size which increases bio-availability.
  • Bone Meal - High in potassium and calcium, bone meal is highly digestible for the worms and keeps them healthy and productive.
  • Blood Meal - High in nitrogen and iron, blood meal is beneficial for the worms and helps with the decomposition of the lignans in the woody materials by providing nitrogen which the bacteria use to break down the more carbon rich forms of protein in the feedstock.
By using natural sources that are compatible with the bacterial processes involved with composting and are easily digestible by the worms, we are ensured that the end product will have a good balance of the three major elements of growth (nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous), all secondary elements (calcium, zinc, sulphur, iron and magnesium) and even trace elements such as manganese, boron and copper.  Additionally, the nutrients in the final product are primarily water soluble and are easily absorbed through roots and leaves of growing plants.

The Process

We begin with a lactic bacteria culture containing a variety of bacteria commonly used in agriculture to ferment silage.  We cultivate colonies of the microorganisms in an anaerobic environment using agricultural molasses.  Once the colonies are fully activated and at their maximum populations, we combine the bacterial culture with macerated fruits and vegetables and return it to an anaerobic environment. This process improves digestibility of the vegetable matter and reduces occurrence of uncontrolled aerobic growth once the feedstock is introduced to the well-aerated environment that the worms prefer.

After the secondary ferment is completed, the feedstock is mixed and aerated.  Previous batches of compost provide additional bacterial activity, which further accelerates the decomposition process.  This step consists of the actual composting of the material.

Once the bacterial processes pass peak activity, which usually only requires a few weeks, the worms are added and the mix is kept well aerated and with appropriate levels of moisture for maximum worm activity. 

Some benefits of this approach

All nutrients are available in the exact form that they are found in nature, and in the precise quantities that the plants require them.  In our operation, this allows us to use a completely inert growing medium, which reduces the likelihood of a soil borne disease or pest infestation.

Beneficial bacteria and chemical compounds present in worm castings are also protective against pathogenic microorganisms and diseases.  Stronger, healthier plants are more resistant to disease and more capable of producing fruit under adverse conditions.

Additionally, we are converting waste products from various industries into an incredible product for plant enthusiasts and for people who enjoy delicious fruits and vegetables or who admire beautiful plants.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Artemisia Varieties

The genus Artemisia is an extremely diverse family of plants.  The USDA agricultural research service lists over 1200 different ascensions from around the world.  They are generally hardy, herbaceous perennials and are usually silvery, or at least at little sparkly in the morning dew because of small hairs on the leaves which help to reduce loss of water through respiration.  Many members of this plant family are known for their medicinal properties, usually due to aromatic oils produced in their leaves.

Fringed Wormwood

Within this family are:
  • Mugwort - A common roadside plant in some areas, sometimes used to improve the digestibility of heavy meals, and sometimes used as a fumigant due to the pleasant, mellow aroma of the smoke which is produced during smudging.
  • Sagebrush - A large group of plants which appear in arid and semi-arid plains.  Plants in this group are generally slow-growing with soft, silvery foliage and a camphorous aroma, which is repellant to many insects and tends to reduce grazing on their foliage by most livestock.
  • Wormwood - Plants in this group have a bitter flavour which was once used similarly to hops in beer making.  There is some pretty extreme diversity among most species in this group, and even within each species.  Some are feathery and silver, while others have single pinnate leaves and some even appear as small trees in their natural habitat.
  • Sagewort - Also known as Sweet Annie, this annual member of the Artemisia family is currently grown to produce anti-malarial drugs in third world countries.  
  • Southernwood - A woody perennial, southernwood is slightly more delicate then many of the other artemisias, and has a soft appearance due to the fine, needle like foliage.  
  • Tree Wormwood - One of the suspected parents of the popular 'silver mound' artemisia, tree wormwood is hardy, silvery and has finely cut foliage.
  • Redstem Artemisia - A biennial, this strain is known in TCM to be used against 'damp-heat'. 
This family of plants usually prefer full sun, and although many of them tolerate some shade once established, they will usually not show any appreciable growth without some direct sun.

  • Seed - Almost all members of this plant family propagate readily from seed.  A single plant can produce over 50,000 seeds in a single season, which is a common natural mechanism used by plants growing in arid areas.
  • Cuttings - Plant material taken from softwood or hardwood cuttings usually root rapidly without any special treatment provided sufficient leaf material has been removed to prevent self-desiccation (drying out due to excessive respiration).  This method is used exclusively for most varieties used in current landscaping practices.
  • Root Division - Many plants in this family (usually not those used for landscaping purposes) readily self-propagate rhizomatically, or by growing roots which in turn produce new growth above ground.  This is usually considered an invasive mechanism.
Specific strains currently under development:
  • Powis Castle - Artemisia arborescens (hybrid)- 
  • Silver Mound - Artemisia schmidtiana
  • Fringed Wormwood - Artemisia frigida
  • Wormwood - Artemisia absinthium
  • White Sagebrush - Artemisia lercheana
  • Wyoming Sagebrush - Artemisia tridentata wyomingensis
  • Black Wormwood - Artemisia genipi
  • Mountain Sagebrush - Artemisia tridentata vaseyana
  • Dwarf Sagebrush - Artemisia arbuscula
  • Yomogi - Artemisia princeps
  • Big Sagebrush - Artemisia tridentata tridentata
  • Silver Sagebrush - Artemisia cana
  • Tree Wormwood - Artemisia arborescens