Mike Musialowski

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since Mar 02, 2016
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forest garden solar
Grew up in NYC with Polish parents. Double master degrees and 10 years teaching HS science and math sent me running to escape to rural NM and a 1 acre dream spread of self-designed house/orchard/garden and lucky do it with a wife and new baby!
Taos, New Mexico at 7000 ft. - Zone 5
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Recent posts by Mike Musialowski

Yes we do! Our orchard is chaos. Alfalfa pops up often. This year, for the first time, I seeded in certain patches where N-fixation was needed. We've sown sainfoin all over since planting the orchard 7 years ago. It inevitably goes to seed in some spots and then pops up elsewhere. Sainfoin blooms earlier than alfalfa and then they overlap. This is nice for the insects to stay fat. . Feel free to keep in touch and let us know how your project progresses. This is such an important topic. Cheers!
9 months ago
Here in northern New Mexico (7000'-2100m, 12in-30cm annual precip, alkaline soils, flood irrigation from acequias, very compacted soils) sainfoin does great! Epic flower production, tap roots, perennial, usually starts from seed when raked into the ground and slightly mulched (soak in water 24 hours first). Caragana does just fine here (arborescens and microphylla) but dwarf peashrub (fruticosa) and leadplant (canescens) both need more water. Arborescens doesn't grow as fast as most references claim, but is tough as nails and eventually grows to 10'-3.3m. Finally, since you have more water than we have, I suggest you try "wild blue indigo" (Amorpha fruticosa). It has a wide habit, grows as tall as Caragana arborescens, and is a survivor. It does better in partial shade where we live, but at 2100m the UV light is really intense. Depending on your location I suspect it'll do better where you are. As a more cover-croplike N-fixer, hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) is our go-to plant. It starts absurdly easily from seed (soak for 24 hours first, then rake into soil, slight mulch), spreads in mats, dies back in hot dry June and July, but comes back and lasts into November! Pops up in March, no questions asked. Amazing. Finally, alfalfa (medicago sativa) is absurdly drought tolerant here. It's the main feed crop for livestock. Ranchers flood irrigate once or twice a year and harvest bale after bale 2-3 times a year. Epic taproots, bees go crazy, blooms for long periods. I think it belongs in any semi-arid food forest. We chop'n'drop sainfoin and alfafa when it starts to go to seed, and they always come back. By the way, we innoculate EVERYTHING with "mycogrow" bacteria and fungus from fungi.com. Good luck! I'm curious to hear how it goes as you are a kind of Euro-analogue for our location.
10 months ago
I think this is a great research question! Sorry, I'm a scientist by training and think this way. I love the idea of trying to synergize methods... very permie-ish, like stacking functions.

I'd look at how each system works separately and then see if they're likely to synergize or compete:

- Pit works by utilizing the relatively stable temperature of the earth
- Geothermal greenhouses work by circulating ever colder nighttime air and putting it into contact with relatively warm, say 50 degree F, earth a minimum of 8' below the ground.
- Climate battery (I spent 2 days a CRMPI with Jerome Osentkowski and saw them work magnificently) has a dual method of working: 1) daytime warm air in the greenhouse is put into contact with cooler soil by circulating it through perforated pipes buried in the soil. Intake is up high where air is warm, return is down low so cooled air (after soil has sucked away some of that heat) can be re-heated. 2) The soil must be damp... water has three times the "heat capacity" of concrete and is superb at storing heat in the soil itself. This is even more ridiculously multifunctional because warmth is delivered directly to the roots!

So... I think the first two of these strategies reinforce eachother... they're using the same approach.

But I worry that mixing the climate battery with geothermal might compete. My logic is all about temps. Somebody already mentioned that heat transfer is proportional to temperature difference. During the daytime, the climate battery and geothermal accomplish the same; they actually cool the air down to prevent crispy leaves. But what happens at night? The climate battery fan continues to run, trying to use heat stored in the soil to warm up the air. I've not done enough research to know what the output temp is at night. But, if you take that heat out of the soil and send it down into the ground which may be colder, at least in the earlier part of the night, that may leave the heat ... in the ground? I suppose if the climate battery outgoing temp is colder than the geothermal air, then at least you'll experience less warming from the earth and the latent heat in the dirt surrounding those deep buried will last longer. The bottom line is that this tries to mix warmed air with warmed air.

I suppose you could just try! And... from an engineering perspective, isn't sometimes simpler more elegant and effective? I think you'd get more bang from your buck by choosing either the climate battery or the geothermal. Both of these systems require separate operating fans driven by electricity. Both require significant labor to install. The geothermal requires either endless hand digging (8 feet down!) or heavy equipment. I had a fantasy at one point about digging a 4 foot pit and digging 4 feet more with a "ditchwitch" to get the 8 feet. But I think that pipe needs to snake around and be long. I have irrigation issues that preclude this, but it might work for you.

I'll leave you with a personal note: I am a workaholic, and I tend to overbuild. Jeez it's exhausting! How nice it would be to put in effort, get decent if not stellar results, and not go crazy. Some refer to this as the "Law of Diminishing Returns".

You can always ask Jerome and his architect partner Michael Thompson. They're at ecosystems-design.com. Good luck and thanks for sharing your question and vision!
2 years ago

Kyle Neath wrote:I have found starting most perennials from seed to be very difficult, but I'm not sure that has much to do with the seeds or genetics. It's more than I'm new to seeds that require stratification / scarification, and it's a good bit of a learning curve to figure out a successful strategy. To me a lot of this comes down to the path of least resistance and the timeliness required. For example, last year I spent an incredible amount of time researching the plant's needs, collecting hundreds elderberry seeds, cleaning out the fruit, scarifying them with sulfuric acid, cold stratifying them, then trying to start them. None of them sprouted. This year I spent about 5 minutes taking cuttings in the fall, and all but one of them have buds opening up now. I haven't given up on starting some from seed, but it's clearly a no-brainer for me at this point to use cuttings to get more elderberries.

Out of your list, there's a few that I wouldn't hesitate to buy root cuttings / crowns for. Comfrey, Asparagus, Onions, Sunchokes, Horseradish, and Strawberry. If you can't afford to buy the number you need right now, plant the ones you can afford and split them up next year. It's all very possible to start these from seeds, but the return on effort is going to be through the roof with cuttings.

Great, yes, propagation by division seems indeed to be so much more efficient! Query: when you use cuttings of elderberry, do you plant them with any rooting hormone? Willow juice? or just straight in the ground? :-) Thanks for your help.
2 years ago

leila hamaya wrote:theres a few there i dont have any knowledge of but the only one that pops out as being difficult from seed is comfrey.

I will assume you want to grow "true" comfrey, which is the only kind you can get seed for, and i understand it to be very difficult to start.
bocking (several different "bocking" types )
and most of the russian comfrey types do not make seed and are sterile. comfrey spreads so easily by roots, that its actually something of a blessing that it doesnt also spread rapidly by seed as many cultivars are sterile.

but anywho that might be something to get as live plants and /or root divisions...especially if you want one of the Bocking types as they do not make seed.

horseradish is also generally started from plants/roots...and walking onions are generally started from bulb, even the "seed " of walking onions is a tiny bulb.

chamomile and strawberry both must be surface sown, do not cover the seed, just press them on top of the wet soil and keep the top of the soil moist.

the rest are pretty straight forward...at least the rest that i know about.

Right about comfrey, duh. I've been told a 1/4 inch of root will grow a new plant. Comfrey does so well here that this is a no-brainer. Thanks!
And yes, I have read about certain perennials needing sunlight to germinate and to surface sow, so thanks for adding that to my list of helpful hints! :-
2 years ago

Anne Miller wrote:I have read to follow the instructions on the seed packet which is what I do.

From your list these are the ones I have experience with:

Yarrow - mine came up in the garden from seed.  Not a good germination rate though.

Lemon Balm is one I could not get to germinate, so after several tries I purchased a transplant.  Try using the wet paper towel to see if you get germination then plant the seedling.

I didn't have any luck with loveage but that could have been my seed source.

echinacea (purpurea) - I used the wet paper towel method then put in peat pots.  This variety doen not need stratification.

I don't have experience with these though I suspect that they need stratification.  Try putting the the fridge for a month or follow the planting instructions:  chickpea/cicer milkvetch (Astragalus cicer)
Groundplum milkvetch (Astragalus crassicarpus)
Lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia)
wild strawberry (Frugaria virginiana)

Thanks! I've seen my wife do the wet paper towel method, so I'll try it. That's feels similar to the jar method of starting sprouts. Is there any reason to not do them like sprouts so you get more starts? I know that some of the fragile seedlings get damaged as you try to pull them out of the jar. You know I've had lovage and lemon balm growing here the last year and I've hand-shredded the seed heads (whatever was left of them after an autumn and winter of wind) to disperse seeds near by. I'll see what sprouts this spring. .  I'll try it all.

2 years ago

Su Ba wrote:Mike, I have zero experience growing in your region. But I do grow a number of the plants in your list, and start them from seed. BUT, I start my seeds in a greenhouse, not out in the open soil. So I can't say which would germinate and survive by simply sowing and raking in. But it would be a good experiment to try a small patch and see how they do. Personally I wouldn't sow a lot of seed until I knew which varieties the method would work with. I guess I'm just a seed miser and hate wasting seed and garden space. Thus I start my seeds in flats and transplant the seedlings into grow-on pots before transplanting outdoors.

Thanks sooooo much for the reminder to start small. I'm a workaholic by nature and tend to overbuild any project I begin. And yes, I plan to try starts in flats, either indoors or in cold frames. Thanks!
2 years ago

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

Egyptian walking onion: Typically sterile, therefore planted as bulbils.
Jerusalem artichoke: Unlikely to be able to buy seeds of improved varieties. Recommend rhizomes.

Perfect, thanks, makes sense for most tubers/bulbs. thanks!
2 years ago
Our "Slice of Paradise" food forest is about to get the last major planting to attempt to fill the understory. We have 35 fruit and nut trees scattered about the property with 25 or so species of herbaceous perennials but I want more. I've mapped the hell out of the tree basins and planned where species can go. Now that the planned planting volume is 200+ seedlings, I can no longer afford to purchase all these as starts from local or other nurseries. This will be the first time I've planted "starts". I've been warned by my wife that it's not always so easy. I've already encountered info on seed packets about scarification that seems daunting. I read that a bit of sulfuric acid might do the trick and I'm comfortable with doing that, but how much? The question becomes, which species should I not even dream of growing from seed? I've done some research, but I could see this taking days and I'm already beat from mapping/planning/sourcing all winter. I assume the super weirdos I'm better off getting as tubers/seedlings, etc. But what about all the others? I also know about some in my list are self-sowing annuals and therefore should be growable by broadcasting and raking into the soil a bit.

So...the info I could really use is: Which ones are a no-go (purchase seedlings), and for those that are doable... seed depth, seed prep needs, to cover or not, unique germination needs, varieties you like that might do well in the high desert. So consider those the columns of my info grid... and here's my list of species (the rows of my info grid). What advice/resources might you have? Thanks in advance y'all!

nettle                   rumor is easy to grow from seed




lemon balm         because a mint, yes?


violets                 self-sowing annual so yes?

welsh onion

Egyptian walking onion

borage                self-sowing annual so yes?

prairie cinquefoil

German chamomile      self-sowing annual so yes?

edible hosta


nasturtium                  self-sowing annual so yes?

echinacea (purpurea)      

good king henry

groundnut (Apios americana)

Chinese artichoke (Stachys affinis)

Turkish rocket (Bunias orientalis)

Chinese mountain yam

earth pea (Lathyrus tuberosus)

sweet cicely


cream wild indigo (Baptisia bracteata)

basil                           self-sowing annual so yes?

jerusalem artichoke


cilantro                       self-sowing annual so yes?

sweet woodruff




miner's lettuce           self-sowing annual so yes?

chickpea/cicer milkvetch (Astragalus cicer)

Groundplum milkvetch (Astragalus crassicarpus)

Lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia)

wild strawberry (Frugaria virginiana)

2 years ago
Thanks all! My instinct based on your replies is to not risk it. Someday I may try a part of the land that's isolated from the rest. Purlsane is just too risky.
2 years ago