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does anyone burn sunflower stalks for fuel?

 
Thekla McDaniels
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The title says it all. I have a pellet stove, and they told me when I bought it that burning anything that grows in only one year is not good fuel. I figure if it'll work ok, like maybe in a rocket stove, someone on Permies will know!.

I grow lots of sunflowers, and the goats don't eat the stalks, and they don't compost very well in my desert climate.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think they said it isn't good fuel because it doesn't contain much energy, but I think it would be ideal for quick starting of more energy-dense wood.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Gosh I feel dumb for not thinking of using it/them as kindling!
 
R Ranson
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I've seen it suggested several places that in Russia and Mongolia, they use dry sunflower stalks for 'cooking fuel'. These sunflowers they are talking about are huge. 10 foot heigh of more. I grew Mongolian giant last year in hopes of drying some stems, but things happened, and the rain go them. Going to try again this year. The sunflowers needed to be harvested by ax. Very dense, very thick.

Here's a bit about Russian mammoth

Also known as Large Russian Sunflower, this old variety was introduced from Russia prior to 1870. In those days it was extensively planted for feeding poultry and horses. The large stalks were also used as fuel in areas that did not have many trees. According to the 1891 D. M. Ferry & Co. Seed catalogue, "This is much superior to the common sort, as it forms a single, large flower, and the seeds are larger and richer in oil." The large seeds are one of the best for snacking. Ht: 10’ or more.


That's the first time I saw about the stems being used as fuel. It looks like something worth experimenting with.

I wonder if it would need a special kind of stove to get the most out of burning these.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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do you suppose this is the same as the "russian mammoth" sunflower I see so often?
 
R Ranson
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I think russian mammoth grows about 10 foot high plus, whereas mongolian giant grows 12 foot or taller. The seeds are a little bit different shape apparently.

I had a few mongolian giant grow over 20 foot last year, with no irrigation, in a drought year. I was very impressed. Although it was tough going trying to cut them down for harvest. Some were thicker than my arms... they needed the ax not the hatchet.

One of these days I would like to see what a cross between the Russian and the Mongolian sunflowers are like.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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You could likely build a house with the dried stalks! Or, well, use them for the top of a shade structure for people or livestock, or a tripod trellis for beans or morning glories!
 
R Ranson
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:You could likely build a house with the dried stalks! Or, well, use them for the top of a shade structure for people or livestock, or a tripod trellis for beans or morning glories!


I was wondering about a yurt. It might need treating somehow, but maybe...

Another experiment for me to try.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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using the sunflower stalks to make the wall with the criss crossings?
 
R Ranson
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Thats the thought.

Mongolia is home of yurt, therefore mongolian sunflowers might make yurt wall... I know, pretty far fetched, but then again, we make walking sticks out of kale. It's worth an experiment at least. Those sunflower stocks were pretty darn strong.

Another amazing use for sunflowers stalks that I'm eager to try is to use them for textiles. Apparently there is a bast fibre in there that can be retted out. But again, like the cooking fuel thing, this seems to be folklore as i can find no indication of HOW it might be done.

But imagine, if sunflower stalks could be used as cooking fuel...seeds for oil, stalks for cooking. What an amazing plant. We could grow it companion with runner beans, as these giant sunflowers are tall enough to use as support. I'm also thinking about making a living 'fort' for some kids that visit our farm. Plant the sunflowers in a 'house' shape, maybe three or four rows deep so that the kids can hide in the middle and play.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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yes, sunflower house, plant the sunflowers, and a little later seed the morning glories. some people tie strings to encourage the morning glories to make a ceiling, or at least a shade.

i know a man who really enjoys making "Native American" flutes. (Do you call them First Nations Flutes in Canada?) Anyway he makes flutes out of all kibnds of wood, out of PVC pipe, and he makes sunflower stalk flutes.

It seems like the sunflower and the yurt coming from a region that is more desert than forest, why wouldn't they have used the stalks for the structural members ?
 
Dale Hodgins
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Sunflower stalks weight about 1/8 as much as cork. Rather than using them in the fire, they might be better used as insulation. A clay slip mixed with ground stalks, could cover whole stalks, to form a rigid insulation.
 
R Ranson
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I finally found the stove I was looking for.



My friend has one like this and it works well with sticks. When I grow my sunflower stalks this year, I hope to borrow her stove and see if the stalks will work well in this kind of stove. This is what I imagine they mean by 'burned for cooking fuel'
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Interesting stove.

When I read "burned as cooking fuel" that reminded me of something I read on the Auracacia essential oil site I've been studying. They have written that one of the criteria they use when choosing suppliers, is how sustainable they are. Then they go on to say that in the case of essential oils from wood, that after the oil has been extracted through steam distillation, the spent wood is burned to fuel the next batch of essential, which leads me to think they are somehow using small pieces of wood or redried wood shavings as fuel.

Maybe "in my spare time" I'll see if I can find more out about that.

In the mean time, if anyone wants an invitation (I get nothing,) the site has information about the essential oils what to use them for, (how to make cleaning products and self care products out of simple ingredients like bkg soda, borax, castile soap, etc) you can access after you listen to some of their fairly innocuous corporate intro, you know, "who we are" "our values, history, etc" I can send one. Just PM me I guess.
 
Nick Boutros
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Wow. This topic has really been great food for thought for me. Though I don't know if it would work in New England where I live, in Missouri or somewhere south or west, giant Mongolian sunflower could be planted with buffalo gourd and some kind of bean to form a 3 sisters kind of partnership that provides oil, protein, fuel and/or ethanol system stock. (Seeds and fuel from the sunflowers; seeds, biomass/forage, and roots from the gourd.) I'm not sure what the best bean would be, but a prolific bean (scarlet runner?) could be added for nitrogen fixing and more productivity like R Ranson suggested. White clover could be added as a lower level ground cover and N fixer, and comfrey for extra nutrients (and forage/ethanol stock)--and, frankly just to have something interesting before August/September. If you could take the thorns: mesquite, honey locust and/or osage orange could be added as tree and overstory for extra pods/seeds and fuel wood/building material.
In New England, I don't think buffalo gourd would do so well--does anyone know? I've not tried it here yet. I may do this and just grow butternuts because the rest (minus the mesquite option) would work fine here.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Yesterday I tripped on a stump next to the pathway again. I was able to kick it hard enough to get it to break off from the ground. I had forgotten about this thread, so I did not photograph it, but maybe I can find it today. It was 3 inches in diameter, had about a 1/4 inch hole up the center. the green tissue, cambium I suppose, had deteriorated, and this base of last year's sunflower stalk appeared to be "all" cellulose. It looks like it would burn readily, once dry from the very wet spring we are having. If i can find it, I can also weigh it, and see how much air might be incorporated in it. I don't know that i can estimate a volume on it, so it will just be a guesstimate, but I'm thinking about Dale's suggestion / recommendation as insulation.

I have a ceiling I need to insulate (the rafters are 2x6), and a milk room. I have an abundance of dried sunflower stalks in the fall, more than I enjoy dealing with or looking at, but possibly I could go ahead and encourage all possible sunflowers to grow to great proportions, and next spring have a large amount of insulation material.

If I didn't want to use them as insulation, I could burn them to can my apricots. And that seems like something I don't want, insulation that could substitute as fuel wood, I guess I could soak the sunflower stalks in a borax solution and dry the material, and then use the chipped and clay covered stalks as Dale suggests.
 
R Ranson
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a couple of sunflowers blew down in the wind so I cut up the stalks to a length that would fit into my stove nicely and am drying them down. 



I wasn't sure how well they would dry whole, so I split some with a knife lengthwise.  It was really easy to do fresh, but I imagine it would be difficult when the stems dry down.
 
Alder Burns
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Life in a firewood-scarce region has taught me to get really creative about feeding my woodstove.  Basically anything stout that can't compost pretty quickly is fair game.  Stalks of artichokes, kale, broccoli (which all survive several years in this climate, so they can get pretty fat), peppers and eggplant, pine cones....  I also roll up most of the scrap paper and cardboard that comes onto our site, tie off with a bit of wire, and use these too. 
 
William Bronson
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This could sound horrible given the food value of them,but it occurs to me that the sunflower seeds could work in a pellet stove.
Like burning corn, but unlike corn, the sunflowers are not resource intensive, so maybe not such a horrible idea?
 
R Ranson
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William Bronson wrote: This could sound horrible given the food value of them,but it occurs to me that the sunflower seeds could work in a pellet stove.
Like burning corn, but unlike corn, the sunflowers are not resource intensive, so maybe not such a horrible idea?


This triggered an interesting thought.

With the Piteba oil press we press the sunflower seeds in the shell.  The oil comes out and we use it for food, but what to do with the oil cake (the stuff left over after oil extraction).  If it was pressed with the shells off I can see using it for food or feeding it to the chickens, but shells on?  What about shape and dry the oil cakes and use as cooking fuel?
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Well, I could be wrong on this, but I looked into getting a big oil press about 10 years ago and my memory is that the big industrial screw presses press sunflower with the shells on.  And they feed the "cake", the everything but the oil to livestock, and it is considered high quality feed.  Possibly they feed to ruminants who could make use of the cellulose in the shell.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
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