Azolla is a native water plant with some seriously exciting attributes for anyone looking to develop closed-loop cycles for organic animal feed. It’s high in protein and minerals, fixes nitrogen, is palatable to chickens, pigs, goats, ducks and cows, and can be grown on any closed body of water.
Azolla is an excellent aquatic green manure plant, and was until recently used extensively in Vietnam, China and other parts of Asia in rice paddies, where it would cover the surface of the water in the paddy and out-compete weeds while the rice grew, fixing nitrogen and contributing fertility as it went.
The great thing about Azolla is that not only is in a high value feed for animals and a great option for adding to compost and to the market garden plantings, but that it grows itself without taking too much fertility from the system. It’s a little bit like free energy, and highly regenerative as a system component.
The growing of Azolla is very easy: put some in a dam or pond, and watch it grow. It fixes nitrogen from the air and minerals from the water. It does deplete the nutrient content of the dam, so if you were trying to grow other things in the dam that you wanted to flourish (lotus, water chestnuts etc) I’m assuming you’d want them somewhere else, unless that dam has a seriously high nutrient load.
Within a permaculture system, if you have a series of dams and swales you would probably want to grow Azolla in the lower parts of that system, to make the most of nutrient concentration that is going to be greater at the bottom of such a system.
– Hosts a symbiotic blue green algae Anabaena azolle, which is responsible for the fixation and assimilation of atmospheric nitrogen.
– Can double in size every several days under optimal nutrient and water temperate conditions
– Green manure plant for paddy agriculture for weed suppression and fertility (used extensively in organic duck and rice systems)
– Nitrogen and mineral source for compost making
– 25-30% Protein, and low in lignin with makes it digestible to many animals, as well as nutritious
– Rich in essential amino acids, vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin B12 and Beta- Carotene), growth promoter intermediaries and minerals like calcium, phosphorous, potassium, ferrous, copper, magnesium etc.
– On a dry weight basis, it contains 25 – 35 percent protein, 10 – 15 percent minerals and 7 – 10 percent of amino acids, bio-active substances and bio-polymers.
– Palatable to: ducks, chickens, pigs, cows, goats, sheep and rabbits (and probably lots of others too)
– Can increase milk production in cows by 15-20%
– Azolla is a nutrient feeder and prevents Algal blooms in farm dams as a result, keeping water more usable for stock
– Can be easily harvested with a scoop net, or grown in enclosed, floating rings which can be pulled to the edge for easy harvest
– After initial collection/purchase, you get a lifetime supply!
Downsides of Azolla:
– Being as it is a water plant, Azolla can clog up water lines and pumps coming from farm dams if that dam is fully colonized with Azolla.
– Dead Azolla in a body of water can reduce the waters’ oxygen content for a time
– Given its growth rate, do check if Azolla is considered invasive where you are, if adding it to a body of water it could escape from to others. If so, devise a plan for cultivation (bathtubs?) where it can’t get away.
As you might guess from this glowing report card, there are much interest and active development in Azolla as a low-cost, organic and nutrient rich animal feed around the globe from various institutions, in addition to the cultures that have been using it for centuries.
Now, here’s a video which presents the potential of aquatic farming with the fresh-water fern Azolla. Through its unique capabilities, Azolla can provide new business to marginal lands while at the same time replace existing resources for food, feed, chemical and biofuel industries. Azolla provides an innovative way of sustainable, renewable farming. Press play and see what Azolla farming can do!
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