Dominic Muren

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since Nov 12, 2011
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Recent posts by Dominic Muren

As I understand it, the "perennial" nature of brassicas is a little different than, say, jerusalem artichoke, apple, or other rooty or woody plants that stay alive for many seasons.

The main difference is that tree collards just don't get enough dry heat to set seed ("bolt") in most of our temperate growth contexts, and because they never get the signal from their flowers and seeds to shot down, and they are cold hardy, they just keep going.

Other kale or collards will usually overwinter, and if you can keep them cool through the summer, often won't produce seed for a while, and will therefore keep making leaves. But they eventually produce flowers and seed, and that gives chemical signals to the rest of the plant that it isn't needed.

The thing I'm not certain about is where those chemical signals. I believe that they are produced by the tissues in the flower stalk/seed heads, but I may be wrong. If this is the case, pinching out the flower stalks of kale should help keep it producing (I've never tried this).

If instead, those signals originate in the roots, then grafting should have some effect.

But grafting on it's own isn't a broadly generalizable way to "combine properties" of different plants. We would need to know more about which plant tissues are sending which chemical signals to the rest of the plant.
11 months ago
Wow that's beautiful!!

On the other side of that story, if you get stung again, there's a good remedy that involves a plant that is available almost everywhere in the temperate northern hemisphere.

Plantain leaves: can be chewed into a paste, and applied as a poultice to the sting. The leaves are astringent, so they tend to draw out moisture from the skin and the sting, and so they reduce the inflammation, and can draw out some of the venom before it has a chance to cause further damage. Apparently, it works for mosquito bites too, but I've never had any luck with it.
5 years ago
I've got a "bog" planted in an old sink here in Seattle as a secondary stage of filtration for roof water which first passes through a bathtub "pond". The pond allows me to grow flavoring plants like Sweetflag, and starch plants like Wapato. The bog has various species and hybrids of Sarracenia pitcher plants, which help keep fruit flies from the nearby worm bin in check. Sarracenia have no trouble with being outside in our moderate climate, as they are native to the south and can even tolerate brief freezes. I've heard that the cobra plant pitcher plants from California can't survive well outside in Seattle where we are. I also had honeydew plants for a brief period of time, but they seem to have been out competed. I've heard of people using Sarracenia leaves (the pitchers) as a cut "flower" as part of arrangements, and I can imagine that they would get you a good price -- you would have to have a lot of plants though, as you can probably only harvest a few leaves per year without stressing them out.
6 years ago

Great to have you on the forum. The book has been on my to-buy list since the folks at Milkwood in NZ referenced it a year or so ago.

I'm a Seattle resident with a great spot for a relatively small greenhouse (probably 8X12 or so) in my yard. It gets good solar exposure, and I plan to build a rocket mass heater to boost the ground and air temp.

But Seattle is a cloudy city, and all the estimates I've read for climate change, while positive for temps and rainfall in our maritime climate, seem to suggest that things will just get more cloudy as time goes on. So, my question is, what, if any, are the options for increasing the amount of light available to my plants? I'm interested in growing some semi-hardy sub tropicals, like feijoa, kaffir lime, and maybe a calamondin, and galangal along with starts and cuttings for the garden. I'm up for reflective walls, or even grow lights. Or, does that even make sense? Maybe I should stick with low hoops on raised beds to grow more kale?

Any suggestions from you, or other folks would be welcome.

7 years ago
In Paul's most recent podcast, he and Bill are lamenting the herbicides that have been sprayed on Bill's property. Paul offered a few options for remediating the problem -- but most involved tilling to UV-degrade the chemicals, or adding additional soil in the form of sheet mulch in order to dilute the chemicals.

A third option is advocated by Paul Stemets -- using mushroom-inoculated mulch as a source of enzymes which digest the long-chain organic molecules which make up the herbicides.

This is not totally insane. In fact, in Mycelium running, Paul relates anecdotally some studies which were carried out feeding diesel-soaked dirt to oyster mushrooms to clean up an old parking lot. Other more recent examples of mushrooms eating organic molecules are here:
and here:

There have actually been extensive studies carried out in the scientific literature on mushroom's (usually oyster) ability to break down environmental toxins. One example, using atrazine, is discussed here:

Paul Stamets's strategy is simple: spread 1 inch of fresh wood chips over the site of the contamination. Wet well. Spread grain spawn, sawdust spawn, or myceliated straw or cardboard over the chips. Then cover with 3 inches of further wood chips. Don't go too deep, because the mycelium need oxygen.

Over the next 2-4 years, the mushrooms will grow through the wood chips, digesting them, and sweating digestive enzymes from their hyphae, which will then wash into the soil, where they will attack the organic molecules of the herbicide.

Be careful not to seat the mushrooms from these contaminated areas, since they will take up the herbicide into their tissue before they digest it. Also, double-check whatever mushroom species you use to see if it accumulates heavy metals, since fields with lead, selenium, or other minerals can be concentrated in the mushroom fruits.

Mycelium Running is an amazing book to get started with, and has a huge number of potentially awesome ideas for permies.
8 years ago
Another thought, based on this Google Book, Published 1840:

Apparently, cork oak can serve as a rootstock host for chestnut. I'm really excited about raw-material-producing guild members, and this could be the holy grail of material meets food

Any other interesting ideas for material + food guilds? I'll probably start another discussion on this topic.
8 years ago
American (or Chinese) chestnut is a great starch-source tree for those of us living in North America. Unfortunately, it's pretty huge for those of us living in cities. The chinkapin, a naturally dwarf, bushy cousin from the Appalachians would be awesome, but all of the stock I can find comes from the east coast, and thus harbors the Chestnut blight, making it either restricted (by nurseries who care) or morally questionable to ship it to Washington state -- Our american chestnuts are still alive because they never got blight, not because they are immune.

So, it piqued my interest when I heard that Chestnut had been grafted onto oak during the first decade after the chestnut blight ravaged the trees back east. A google book search returns multiple mentions from the early 1900s:

Has anyone had luck with this? Tried it? If so, is it possible to get dwarfing from this sort of arrangement? Cause that would be awesome!!

Any thoughts or clues would be appreciated.
8 years ago
I've got a small (1/4 acre) yard in urban Seattle, and have always wanted to grow a chestnut, well, because we can, and I feel like it's a shame to pass the opportunity up. However, being a Seattlite, I've got to be frugal with sunlight, and the prospect of planting a 60 foot tall, 30 foot wide tree seems like a ridiculous move in this regard.

Chinkapin is an option, but with three significant problems. First, it's nuts are about 1/2 - 1/4 the size of a chestnut, which is fine, but means a significant hit in production. Second, Chinkapin is a shrubbish thing which doesn't lend itself optimally to being an anchor plant in a guild (but could certainly be a part of something else useful).

Most problematically, Chinkapin can host the chestnut blight fungus, and I can't find a source for plants west of the rockies -- and I'd really rather not be the one who brings the fungus to seattle!!!

So, after reading this article and finding reference to grafting of chestnut scions onto oak rootstocks, I started wondering whether you might be able to create a dwarf chestnut through grafting. There are now many cultivars of chestnut which are blight resistant, and so can be valuable to permaculturalists east of the rockies. However, there hasn't been much exploration of variation in these awesome trees other than in producing resistance along with palatable nuts.

I'm going to do some experiments this winter with whatever saplings I can find around seattle, but if anyone has suggestions, or have had success in the past, I'd love to hear about it.
Microclimate hacking, at least in Seattle, is difficult for citrus, because it needs not only high heat during the summer, but also generally high temps throughout the rest of the year. Our long seasons of cool air temps, combined with dark winters, and long stretches of overcast (low solar income) skies mean that even if you have lots of thermal mass surrounding your plants (water or rocks) there just isn't enough energy coming in to raise the air temperature.

In Eastern WA, this might be different, since clear-skied winters mean more solar income. But, you've got lower air temps, and occasional snow to deal with.

My strategy is currently calamondin in a large pot indoors during the bulk of the year, and outside during late summer and autumn (especially this paltry summer). Also, kefir lime grown just for the leaves as a spice. Future plans include a very small, high thermal mass greenhouse (I'm in Madison Valley Seattle, with limited room) with rocket mass heater to artificially raise interior air temps through the winter. I'm hoping this will allow bigger crops of fruit.

But most importantly, I'm growing these citrus as spices, not for juice. Leaves and rinds have less trouble developing -- it's the sugars in the fruit that need heat (even straight trifolate orange rind, or unripe calamondin have interesting flavor). So I concentrate on growing these spices, and figure out other ways to get sweet fruit juices where I'm not fighting nature so hard.

For breakfast juice for example, I've had luck with apple-aronia. Has some of that sweet-tartness of oranges, as well as vitamin C and folates. You can make a bunch, and freeze it, and it keeps pretty well.

9 years ago