Friday, June 25, 2010

monoculture and us

the top two pictures of a cornfield just off county line road in porter county are a visualization of why, according to michael pollan, it takes ten calories of energy to produce and deliver one calorie of food ( in 1940s the system produced 2.3 calories of food for every calorie of fossil fuel it used)...corn as raw material to be harvested, shipped , and processed into around seventeen-thousand "food" items...from hamburger (corn fed up on acidotic cattle in cafo's'll stop eating at macdonald's) to mountain dew...almost all of questionable value...the garden stands in opposition to this philosphically ( and let me say here that i do still occasionally eat processed food...although fast food and i parted ways a couple of years ago...i wouldn't want any holier than thou crap creeping in here...i am not perfect or totally reformed..but i AM thinking about it a lot more) and is, in part, an exploration of some sort of rational, healthful, sustainable, alternative.

the last picture is of a jerusalem artichoke plant that has reached sixty-eight inches in height in about two-and-a-half months...we have been fairly successful, fortunate in our choice of plants and the weather, a lack of pest infestations and critters preying on the greens...this has been a reminder of how much work and hope go into raising food...and how unpredictable results can be...the best butress i can see against catastrophy is agriculture and beyond...there ar e a multitude of lessons to learn here.

Monday, June 21, 2010


friday's storm missed the garden ( it came out of the northwest and hawthorn hall was between the storm and the garden) but the trees around marram hall weren't as fortunate...the top one was on the esat side and got a direct lightening strike that charred and exploded it...the tree across the sidewalk from the garden lost a large limb, but probably will recover...we got lucky.

they weren't up saturday, but the cowpeas are up today...five days after i put the seeds in...that's one next to the smallest asparagus plant...fixing nitrogen already...legumes will loom large in the garden's secon season.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Vigna unguiculata

i was on campus at about 9:30 a.m. to check out the garden and to plant some cowpeas. i have put almost three-quarters of a ton of compost and composted manure on the garden from last october to the last time i hilled the potatoes a couple of weeks ago. it has been done incrementally, and has exhausted my compost pile. bagged, organic compost isn't difficult to find, fortunately, and it isn't prohibitively expensive either, so i've made up my compost pile's shortfall by going to lowes. i also plan to mulch the yams and garlic for winter with compost this year instead of straw and landscaping fabric, so that will be that much more organic matter added. i have been reading alot about intercropping lately...expanding a garden's, or farm's, growing season and protecting its productivity from drought, disease, or insect infestation, by growing a diversity of plant species. what can harm one won't necessarily harm all. included in this concept is the idea of "green manure", plants that help to increase the soil's fertility. cowpeas are one plant that is a green manure. they work in a relationship with the soil bacteria rhizobium. the bacteria makes atmospheric nitrogen available to the plant and in return the bacteria utilizes sugars from the cowpea's root system. the plant cannot use all the nitrogen the bacteria produces so the excess nitrogen remians "fixed" in the soil for future use. cowpeas and the bacteria can produce up to one hundred pounds of excess nitrogen per acre. i paid three bucks for a pound of seeds that will easily see me through the season both on campus and at home, and today i planted thirty-four of them along the margins of the garden and around and between the asparagus which are notoriously heavy feeders. the plant is an annual so i will turn them under this fall when i mulch the garden and provide more organic matter for those red wigglers i put in earlier this year. we may actually be cutting back the diversity of plants in the garden next year to take a closer look at tubers and grasses, but i think we'll keep inter cropping things like cowpeas and velvet beans to suppliment our compost use and to keep us organic.

Friday, June 11, 2010

garlic and...onions?

some interesting things in the garden this week...first up, the elephant garlic finally bloomed...i didn't know what to expect, but it looks like a big bud full of smaller buds to i will be going back to campus tomorrow to see if there are further blooms or if that is inexplicable surprise ( at least the second surprise of the season ) is the appearance of onions so late...but that IS an onion in the second photo and i cannot explain why they (i saw three) waited so long to germinate...i have no answers yet, but i am looking...i hilled the potatoes again today...they were falling over and needed the support...they should be ready by the end of next month and i am anxious to try them out...the bottom photo is the intermediate wheat grass which is about four inches high and filling in nicely...the yams are continuing to vine up the trellis and the herusalem artichokes have reached four feet in height...we're doing alright beyond the stubborness of the teosinte...i germinated more Zea diploperennis and northern tepehuan ( perennial and annul respectively) and put the ones that are ready directly into peat pots and out into the environment...i'm thinking that perhaps keeping them on the heating mat and under thr growlight last time is what led them to grow taller than their stems could support and keel over...aiming for some slower and mors sustained growth this time around...the Zea perennis is germinating but does not look like it will be ready to pot for at least another week...more on that and another garlic photo ( if it does something photographable) later.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

tomatoes II

even though the top photo is of a happy yam plant this entry is mostly about tomatoes (as if the title didn't give that away)...the yams are happy and the bigger one has reahced the top of the trellis...the smaller one is recovering from the wind damage and is catching up...if i do it right the garden will have an arch of yam vines...the other two photos are of the tomato plants i put in this morning...they are a sub-tropical perennial species (Lycopersicon spp.) and , like the sub-tropical teosinte, have been pretty sluggish about growing...they popped up on april seventh and have been hanging around in peat pots for more than a month...i hardened them off weeks ago and they've been basking in full sunlight for some time...still slow growth, which may be simply because they're prennials, or maybe they just don't like it here...i though that perhaps putting them in the garden might i did...could be that a more natural environment than my livingroom and peat pots will get them's warm enough that i don't think the move will harm them and maybe their roots just want more room ( even though they weren't pot bound )...this leaves only the teosinte yet to go in and that looks like it's still a few weeks away...if not longer...i have more seeds germinating on the heat mat and will experiment with growth mediums and ph balances to see if i can get something to grow beyond seven inches or so...and as soon as that elephant garlic blossoms i'll post a photo.

Friday, June 4, 2010


i spent an hour and a quarter in the garden this morning...i went with no specific thing to do other than water, weed ( actually i am still grassing and wondering why nothing foreign has come up yet...there has to have been something in the three quartes of a ton of compost and composted manure i've chucked into that plot...where the deuce is it?), and generally maintain things...i also took a few photos of plants to include in the folder i'm going to upload for the iun webpage...nothing special...just routine...we've come a ways since the start...the top photo is the garden as it looked on the morning of 3 october 2009 and the bottom one i took today...some progress ( and i see my truck was parked in the same spot in both photos...unusual since meterd spaces on campus are catch as catch can and i end up parking far afield usually) and more work to do...tomatoes to plant yet...teosinte to coax along...and then finding something cogent to say about it all...i ran into a kindly soul from the maintainece staff on campus today ( whose name i did not get...although i did say THANK YOU! hopefully i will run into them again this summer and we can make the formal introductions) who set me up with a spigot outside hawthorn hall so i can stop running to the washroom to fill gallon jugs and haul them back to the garden...i'l still be filling jugs to quantify how much water i use beyond rainfall...two hundred and sixty-four gallons since april the tenth this year...but this will save considerable time...the arugula has flowered and the spinach on campus has about finished its season ( spinach at home still producing because of the shade it gets...on sunny days the campus garden is all sun) ...the elephant garlic is procrastinating in blossoming, so no photos yet...i'll pass those along, as well as those of the tomato planting process, as they occur...we have been fortunate in many ways so far this's hoping our luck holds until fall...and beyond for that matter...more later.