Moringa, it’s the new Alfalfa

As you may, or may not know, alfalfa is the most widely cultivated legume in the world.  The average American consumes 1.5 tons of alfalfa per year.  How strange is that?  Have you ever eaten a giant plate full of alfalfa?  Most people would think that they do not eat any alfalfa at all, yet if you have eaten any kind of animal product, especially dairy, then yes you are most likely participating in the production and consumption of alfalfa.  It is an amazing and wonderful plant and a very important part of life in the United States of America.

alfalfa

The cost of producing animal protein products for human consumption is a major concern for people who think about such things.  Milk, eggs, cheese and meat are all luxurious types of proteins that many Americans take for granted.  I personally enjoy cheese a great deal.

moringa oleifera leaves

I believe that industrial usage of moringa oleifera has the capacity to reduce livestock production costs by %30-50, while simultaneously increasing production efficiency and improving the quality of end products produced.

There are many factors involved with making a statement like that.  Adaptability of markets, and development of industrial systems and machinery all play an important role in making an accurate estimation of production costs for a crop like this.  Other important factors are specific to exactly which animal products are being produced.

Moringa Oleifera is too nutritionally dense to completely replace existing protein sources in livestock diets.  For each type of animal being raised, there is some specific percentage of their diet that could be optimally replaced with Moringa in order to improve protein conversion rates and reduce feed costs.  Additionally, the natural anti-biotic and anti-parasitic abilities of moringa are capable of reducing chemical inputs and increasing the quality and marketability of products.

 

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How I discovered Moringa

I enjoy growing plants and learning about their growing processes.  My childhood included time living on farms, learning about plants, and I still spend a lot of time in the garden and online learning about plants around the world.

microgreens

Plants absorb sunlight and nutrients from the soil and produce all kinds of awesome stuff.  There is more to it of course, there are insects and other things that exploit their processes.  There are also other things to think about, for instance farming systems effect other biological systems, and the petroleum costs associated with mass production are a major consideration.  Economics and other social structures are also effected by farming and in turn effect farming decisions.  Farming is much more complicated then just putting some stuff in the ground and watering it.

moringa in my garden

So, one day, as was oft to occur, my browser found it’s way to a website where an Indian herb company was advertising their inventory of locally produced herbs (herbs produced on a farm in India).  This was a commercial entity that did not list any information about their products other then their name, so I was going through their inventory and researching things that they produced and became interested when I discovered a page about a farm in South Africa where Moringa was being used to produce livestock feed, and where they included some information about their experiences.

moringa leaves

The more I researched it, the more my interest grew.  What an interesting and amazing plant.  It is nutritional, medicinal and a very vigorously growing tree. Since I live in a temperate zone, I believed it was just another plant that I wouldn’t be able to grow until some mystical date in the future when I might be able to obtain or build a greenhouse. Although it is a tropical tree, I have discovered that it can be grown just about anywhere as an annual with just a little help.

Moringa Cuttings

Three years ago, I began growing it, and have since begun breeding and propagating it.  It’s really amazing.  It can help with many different health problems and can generally improve the quality of life for people.  It is one of the reasons that infant mortality rates are plummeting in in impoverished nations.

Moringa Seedling

One day, I noticed that Moringa seeds were becoming more and more common on ebay, and more articles were being written by people growing it at home, here in The United States of America.  This is significant because it has now become a common food item and is no longer just an imported novelty plant.  Because of the way the USDA handles nutritional supplements, this is important because it is now possible to legally produce nutritional supplements using moringa without having any special certification.

Moringa Smoothie

This year, I am dedicating most of my garden to it.  I am taking moringa as a protein supplement and working out and not only is moringa oleifera packed with healthy, bioavailable protein, it also helps with arthritis which I have had since I was a child.

Moringa Oleifera in livestock feed

Moringa Oleifera is an amazing plant that grows really well without requiring a lot of water.  It can also produce tons of biomass per acre if it’s managed properly.

Studies have been performed which claim that milk and production can be increased dramatically when livestock feed is supplemented with moringa leaves, but there is some conflicting information.  Here are some of the reports that seem to be the most credible.

Another factor to consider is that Moringa Oleifera grows much more intensely then traditional livestock feeds, so that even if Moringa doesn’t convert to weight gain as efficiently as traditional feeds, it is immensely cheaper to produce.  Alfalfa produces on average, around 7 tons per acre, Oats produce as much as 2.5 tons per acre and Soybeans grown with perfect conditions can produce as much as 6.5 tons of nutritious protein filled beans per acre.  With perfect conditions, and all the inputs at optimum levels, the record production of an acre of alfalfa is at 11 tons per acre.

Moringa has been reported to produce more then 280 tons of green matter per acre.  Approximately %70 percent of that total is reported to be stems and wood, which can be used for paper production or biomass power production.  Traditional feed crops require fertilizer, pesticides and weed killers, which are all expensive.  Inputs required for Moringa production are significantly lower.

Moringa leaves are packed with protein, calcium and other important components of a balanced diet for livestock, and they can be grown with much less fertilizer and pesticides then traditional forage crops.

moringa oleifera seedlings

moringa oleifera seedlings

There are many things to consider related to producing moringa oleifera on a larger scale using commonly available agricultural techniques.  Researching, investigating and experimenting with this plant is a very important part of feeding a planet full of people

Drumstick Tree – Moringa Oleifera

Moringa trees have many benefits and possible uses.  My primary interest is in their use as biomass energy production.  With irrigation, recommended spacing is 4″x4″ and they can be topped every 35 days.  Without irrigation, recommended spacing is in rows 16″ apart with 2″ spacing between trees. Wider spacing results in more leaves and shorter plants with thicker stems.  Closer spacing results in a doubling of the total biomass per acre.

Seeds germinate 10-15 days after sowing.  Harvesting every 35 days results in the highest recorded biomass yields.

Other possible techniques to increase yield:

  • Partial harvesting, leaving some leafy material to increase recovery time
  • Fertilizing with composted plant material
  • Plant closer together initially and then remove slower growing plants

This information is also applicable to use as a livestock feed.  Studies show a significant increase in milk production, weight gain and birthweight among cows fed a partial diet of Moringa Oleifera leaves.

Bibliography

Moringa Oleifera – Supertree

Just got some Moringa Oleifera seeds in the mail the other day and am sprouting them right now.  This tree is a growing machine.  It has the ability to produce hundreds of tons of biomass per acre, each year.  It is the latest of my experiments with super-plants.

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The idea of a tree like Moringa is fascinating to me for many reasons.  Here is a tree that can produce hundreds of tons of green matter per acre per year which can be converted directly to energy, or fed to livestock, or made into paper, or other things like building materials.  What an amazing plant.  It can also produce nutritious food, oil, protein and course fibers.

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I want to learn about producing food and energy for the population.  Biomass power production is one of the most viable power production methods because it’s actually good for the planet.  Although it’s labor intensive, it is safe labor, and it is sustainable and draws carbon out of the atmosphere.  The important thing to remember about biomass power production is that there are often positive side effects which need to be capitalized, whereas fossil fuels almost always have negative side effects that have to be mitigated.

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These seeds were sent to me from India.  I purchased 100 seeds on ebay for $6.  Experiments like this help me to learn more about what I am interested in, which is plants and how we use them to improve the quality of our lives.  These trees also make fantastic livestock fodder in places where they grow readily, and are one of the top plants for biodiesel fuel production.