Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cattail Up Date

I have not caught up on the budding cattail culture for some time so Peggy Korth’s newsletter seems like a good place to do so.  She is testing ways to operate and gaining a lot of empirical know-how.  Google this blog for earlier posts on why this is all important.

I think that we are converging on some form of paddy culture similar to rice.  It also looks like we can harvest fodder several times during the growing season and turn it into silage.  It is certainly rich enough.

I think that the roots can be harvested in strips that take half the coverage each fall after the paddies are well drained.  That leaves a strong root base that can completely fill out the next year to the point it needs harvesting.

What we need right now is a processing facility able to take product at a fair price and turn it into useable end product.  There is obviously plenty of science here to exploit but we need a driving market to sell into. Fodder may actually work well.  There are plenty of places were hay is costly and a high production fodder like the cattail would make great economics.

Cattail Histhings

January 2011

Water Assurance Technology Energy Resources 40 Sun Valley Dr., Spring Branch TX 78070  FAX (830) 885-4827; Cell: (512) 757-4499 Email:

Hello Baby 2011 Shoots!  A recent telephone call started with excitement in discovery.
“Hello, Peggy… The dam is repaired.  Wastewater effluent is now better contained for a few hours, but we need a non-permeable surface to keep the dike from bursting again under the pressure of the release valve.”

The power and force of released wastewater is tremendous.  Keeping a small earthen deflector in place to allow the designated cattail growing field to retain wastewater for a couple of hours before it percolates into the ground has been more of a chore and expense than imagined for our cattail field farming.  Our project allows the release of effluent water from community water treatment plant to flood our cattail planting area every one-to-two weeks, depending on moisture, weather, and temperatures.  And now the news!

“Little cattail shoots are everywhere.  They are in the area that is designated for growing cattails; they are on the other side of the berm that burst from the water pressure, they are in last year’s growing area.  The seedling growth is phenomenal since there is only water available every week or two.”

The Test of Time… and Temperature: PK advises the agricultural technicians who monitor the cattail growing beds… “Take pictures.  Document everything.  Check the growth and the die back.  Try to understand the difference in surviving shoots and newly developing shoots.  300,000 seeds per seed-head mean that I planted about a million seeds in an area of 5 feet by 55 feet just under the top layer of dust and dirt.  The fact that they went everywhere the water went means that they floated along with the flow and grounded themselves in the most opportune places.  With freezing weather forecast we want to know if the fall planting is appropriate even if we plan to re-plant in earnest in the spring.”

            And so it goes…  This is what is happening in our field observations for our 4500 foot altitude desert field planting.  But… there is a lot more.  We used four different soil blends and also a number of mature plants in each section of augmented soil which are scrutinized for growth and development.

            Perhaps the most relevant observation is that the transplanted cattails show significant rhizome development during the dormant season—little fingerlings shooting out in the cold dirt.  And even better yet!!! The starch content is high!

Please let us know a little something about your observations—or are you just reading and not out there getting dirty.  Let’s see your fingernails.  If you come home with a little soil underneath, then you are among the blessed.

Planting Tips: How do you encourage and discipline a child: praise? Punishment? Reward? Encouraging self-approval?  Ok, how do you plant cattails?  Answer: the same.
  • Move mature plants with mud on the rhizomes into a new wet area
  • Hack out whatever biomass you can and move it all in a lump
  • Let the fluff fly where it may
  • Carefully move mature plants into a hospitable environment
  • Chop and re-plant into moist ground
  • Mix seeds with dirt and sand to give the seeds weight and let them stay grounded.
  • Only plant in a pond or with a crown of water
  • Nurture plants in their original environment and harvest in strips so that they can re-grow
  • Move muck and mud cattail laden goop into a new lined planting bed
  • Grow either small plants or seedlings and seeds in hydroponic containers
  • Grow small plants on floating artificial beds that can be lifted out for harvesting
  • Grow small plants on biomass sheets that can raised with heavy equipment

Each and every one of these can work!  And I have email from people who have tried and are trying variations on all of these themes.  This is not rocket science.  These cattail weeds are tenacious and often grow with greater vigor in harsh conditions.  Actually, we are finding that the more hostile the conditions (up to a point), the better the starch.

Patents by People of Interest: Whoa!  Why?  Now… take it easy and give up the greed.  Nature has all we need if only we will look.  Cattail Histhings shares much information to pique your imaginations and interests.  Yes, the research staff is close to a number of break-through processes and we give information to you with NO restrictions!  There is a loyalty to mankind to keep the populace self-sufficient and without homage to political restraints or greedy controllers.  And that is why we share so much information in our missiles.  Let’s understand that every venture requires support and dedicated people need to make a living.

            And now understand that there can be proprietary formulae and special treatment that requires on-site consultation and demonstration.  To keep on keeping on, actual one-on-one discussions about a particular project may be a ‘paid’ service by successful operators.  And we welcome those of you who are successful to toot your horn.  Thanks for sharing.  We are pleased to offer your individualized contact information when it fits the overall objectives of this non-profit news sharing—supporting clean air, clean water, and clean energy.

Has Anyone Actually Produced Fuel Ethanol From Cattails?  A familiar question…
People often email that they are producing fuel ethanol from cattails.  My mentor made fuel ethanol from cattails in his university labs.  Last year I made cattail beer with significant alcohol content without distilling.  Note: It is legal to make beer and learn the steps prior to distilling.  And now I am permitted, so I also distill. 

New Distilling Operation:  The Sustainable Technology Systems (a for-profit consulting and research company) is performing a number of cattail experiments at this time.  The Chief Science Officer, a biochemist and I are testing a number of cattail production products such as a pre-conditioner, phases of enzyme action, multiple yeast combinations, novel yeast nutrients, and environmental variations.  We also have bench-top distilling as well as an operational small-scale distillery.  Yes, we are distilling.  And we have a number of challenges to conquer.  For one thing, our beer is not clear enough.  Filtration takes time and attention.  Suggestions anyone?

Who is Graham?  Recently I was told that someone named Graham Finny in New York is selling equipment and cattail ethanol production strategies.  Great!  Will someone please share data or proof-of-concept so that we can congratulate him and embrace his success?  Return-on –investment and cost-effective operation are important to all levels of production.  Many people seem to be making claims lately.  Thanks for sharing results.  In our STS labs we stick to our research protocol and data comparisons as empirical and trustworthy.  What do you know?

Lordy, Lordy, We Finally Passed Forty: Finding 44% polysaccharides in our latest plant tissue analysis is a great impetus for success.  A larger commercial still is ready for set-up in the STS New Mexico site where we do our research during the warmer months.   New Mexico test fields are plowed and partially planted.  We are growing cattails.  Life is good.  Thank you, Lord.

The Reality of Ratios: Investigating subspecies (natural hybrids) for the ideal stalk to rhizome ratio bring a number of factors into focus.  Studying corn for several hundred years and a bushel of government funds plus academic investigation greatly increased fuel ethanol production from corn.  Our group supports all alternative and renewable fuel projects.  Additional feedstock choices can supplement any fuel ethanol production in small scale or mid-sized production.  

Fortune in a Flotilla: I am receiving more and more email about people interested in floating cattail beds.  Some are experimenting and others want to experiment.  A group out west is interested in the remediation service of a floating cattail bed.  STS provides consultation services for such projects based on experience and research.  Be cautious in assumptions.  Ponded water without flow turned into an incubator for pathogens without effective in remediation.  However water with flow and cattails was tremendous in pathogen elimination! 

Optimizing Cellulosic Science: Because cattails have such a variety of beneficial uses, many projects request combining function.  When considering cellulosic use of cattail biomass, first consider the leaves and possibly save the stalks or stems for pulp and fiber if there is abundant tonnage.  The current pre-conditioning steps under experimentation greatly influence cellulosic and lignin impact.  More  reports follow as new trials are completed during the next months….

Too Tough in the Tangle: One group of experimenters that made floating mats for cattails said that they need a very sharp slicing mechanism to cut the plants from the mats enabling re-use of the mats.  Investments in floating gardens for planted mats can be expensive.  Another suggestion from our propagation specialist is to work with additional semi-aquatic plants.  And so let’s think outside of a confined ‘cattail only’ arena.

As far as fast growth goes, the fastest growing cellulosic plants that I am aware of are duck weed and kudzu.  How can we maximize their biological propensities?  Furthermore, will the trials with algae waste prove viable once the oil is extracted? Our super biochemist who has worked in both fuel ethanol research and as an industry supplier meets to brainstorm processing of all of the above.

Starting with a usable sugar or starch seems to potentiate most any biomass into a better yield.  Needless to say, time and expense are at a premium as we all have co-lateral projects and responsibilities.  Discoveries excite us and we continue to share findings.  The yeasts are happy.  The enzymes are useful.  The preconditioning seems to be working—at least in microbial control and turning a fibrous mass into mush.  So what else do we need?  Time to collect data and the money to run trials—just like everyone else.

Talk, talk, talk….  A recent phone call discussed a well-known fuel ethanol enthusiast commenting on protein in cattails but without references.  Quoting Cattail Histhings, should accompany reference material and disclaimers.  A 2006 study from the University of Kansas on cattails as cattle feed mentions protein benefits and another academic report on cattail protein mentions breakdown as returning nutrients to the soil.  And, therefore, we recommend that before mentioning potential benefits, it would be wise to find the source so that the beneficial use of co-products is selected according to the processors needs and re-application.  When discussing protein consider benefits for nutrition or soil health.  Commercial systems to extract proteins are available.
Contact for more info.

Improve Strategic Planning: The time is right to plan your fuel ethanol projects for the spring, summer, and fall.   Steps to success start with an outline.  Smart growth can be a one-man show or involve your rural community.  Assistance is often available when your circle of interest includes more cooperative interests.  Check out the following:

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) has released a new report, “Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities,” which focuses on how to adapt smart growth strategies to rural communities. Funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, the report focuses on smart growth strategies that can help guide growth in rural areas while protecting natural and working lands and preserving the rural character of existing communities.

  • Keep up with the state-of-the-art in agriculture and food systems–based community development

  • Get background on emerging issues

  • Learn best practices in developing local and regional nutritional supplement options

  • Share your own views and experiences
Contribute to the emerging field of nutrition enhancement

The strategies are based around three central goals:

1.      Support the rural landscape by creating an economic climate that enhances the viability of working lands and conserves natural lands;

2.      Help existing places to thrive by taking care of assets and investments such as downtowns, Main Streets, existing infrastructure, and places valued by the community; and

3.      Create great new places by building vibrant, enduring neighborhoods and communities that people, especially young people, don’t want to leave.

            The report uses case studies from around the country to illustrate how local governments, states, and non-profits have successfully implemented smart growth strategies to support rural lands, revitalize existing communities, and create great new places for residents and visitors.  Download the full report or order a hard copy, visit:

Interested?  What to do next: Do you recommend any type of yeast and a place to get it?

PK Answers: Check items of interest at  It is always nice to hear from one of our fuel ethanol enthusiasts.  You seem to be on the right track by starting with something easy and then moving forward one step at a time.  It is easy to get a fuel ethanol permit.  A permit for moonshine may not be possible.  You can practice making beer before you ever get to distilling.  Of course beer making is practical with an unfamiliar feedstock.  Grains and other standard feedstock for fuel ethanol production (or any alcoholic beverage) have numerous books, articles, and forum comments to help you along the way.  If you can find a person in your area that makes beer as a beverage, then ask to watch or go to a local brew shop and sign up for a lesson.  Beer making lessons cost about $20.00 in this area.  Most often the attendees are beer lovers and that is fine.  New brewers ask good questions and you will learn the vocabulary.  Then if possible find someone who has distilled and watch what they do—preferably on a still similar to the one you plan to use.

Please Send Copies of Cattail Histhings: We get requests for previous copies of our newsletters.  A summary answer… Back copies of Cattail Histhings are printed in annual newsletter format—a sort of a paper book.  An order form is in this newsletter.  We look forward to hearing form some of you so that we can offer more interesting topics.

Best wishes,

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