Saturday, December 31, 2011


i spent part of the morning of the last day of the year going to campus to check up on the mulch...just to make sure there wasn't straw blowing all over and that some critter or another wasn't bedding down for the winter...the gamagrass in the bottom photo has been dormant for some time as well as the intermediate wheat grass in the top one...i did notice that the winter wheat ( middle photo ) on campus is entering its dormant phase as well as the chlorophyll starts to leave the leaves ( which, like the gamagrass, will "green up" sometime in march)...a departure form the behavior of the winter wheat in the backyard ( or, perhaps, the wheat in my yard is the anomaly, since it is well protected by the two by twelves that make up the frame of the bed)...eventually that will go dormant as well...frame or no's the snow?

Friday, December 30, 2011

frankly i'm a bit concerned

admittedly it isn't very far into winter yet...but it has been disturbingly mild...the snow of a few days ago is long gone ( it's raining right now) and the winter wheat i planted in mid october continues to dormancy yet, and it's getting on to over eight inches is winter going to be back-loaded with nasty weather? could be...somewhere in here i need some snow to insulate the winter wheat from the coming cold...dry winters are no friend to the is an important part of my organic fertility and if i seem weirdly concerned, that's why...i took advantage of the day to lay down another layer of mulch around my blueberry bushes, erring on the side of caution.

"the experience of the sublime is all about nature having her way with us, about the sensation of awe before her power-about feeling small. what i'm talking about is the opposite, and amittedly more dubious, satisfaction of having our way with nature: the pleasure of beholding the reflection of our labor and intelligence in the land. in the same way that niagara or everest stirs the first impulse, the farmer's methodical rows stitching the hills or the allees of pollarded trees ordering a garden like versailles, excite the second, filling us with our power. these days the sublime is mostly a kind of vacation, both in a literal and a moral sense. after all, who has a bad word to say about wilderness anymore? by comparison, this other impulse, the desire to exert our control over nature's wilderness, bristles with ambiguity. we're unsure about our power in nature,it's legitimacy and it's reality..."
michael pollan form "the botany of desire" pp. 183-184

so is that what i'm doing in the garden? imposing my will on nature and forcing her to yield up sustenance? proving human mastery ( and ramshackle stewardship) over the earth? i thought i was trying to work through ( though manipulating) biological processes to create some sort of food security...that is why , i believe, humans turned to horticulture and create an artificial carrying capacity to feed themselves and their growing numbers of kin more fully...that this led to a further increase in mouths to feed and a stratified society and specialization of labor and the rise of priestly and aristocratic classes was largely an unintended by-product of a successful experiment that created more food than subsistence required...and it's with that priestly caste that humans were removed from nature and put in charge of it...not with the act of bending nature a bit to try to guarantee a bit more to eat...i'm still inside nature out in my back yard..just asking her to co-operate a bit...and she does. albeit sometimes grudgingly and not without reminding me who's still in charge with late blight and potato beetle'm asking here not demanding...monsanto and cargil are doing quite enough of that

Monday, December 26, 2011

kitchen garden/horticulture?

my backyard has been an anthropogenic artifact since at least 1975 when this house was built...from about 1999 until three years ago it was an artifact that had been left to biology to act on as it pleased which is why i am still in the process of clearing out russian olive bushes and locust trees and ubiquitous maple saplings and whatever else has taken root out there as i begin to manipulate the environment again...the aim is to convert at least half the yard to food production...just to see what i can do...a fair sized kitchen garden...i imagine people have been creating gardens ( as opposed to agriculture ) for quite some time and they seem fairly widespread...Buffalo-bird Woman grew sunflowers, maize squash, beans, and tobacco in her garden ( although it might be more horticulture...hers was much larger than mine will ever be ) contact with europeans increased new plants came...potatoes for instance...even though they weren't a european crop..."at first we Hidatans did not like potatoes, because they smelled so strongly!...after three or four years , finding the indians did not have much taste for potatoes and seldom ate them, our agent made a big cache pit- a root cellar you say it was-and bought our potato crop of us. after this he would issue seed potatoes to us in the spring and in the fall we would sell our crop to him. thus handling potatoes each year, we learned little by little to eat them" [wilson 1917] food culture seems to be fairly conservative...diffusion of new crops is slow because acceptance is slow...most of what i have read indicates it is change through necessity as a carpatho-rusyn granny was a european ( her name was anna czomplak, just so we can put names to both gardeners )...and a contemporary of Buffalo-bird her kitchen garden, in what was the austro-hungarian empire in those days, she grew cabbage, beets, turnips, carrots, and, just to show that there is cultural diffusion in foods ( as if you needed proof )my granny grew potatoes and sunflowers...i believe i covered some of the reasons behind the adoption of those foods so far from their point of domestication in an earlier blog...a peer of Buffalo-bird Woman in more than just time...and, i would suppose, more than just kitchen garden provided lunch today...i went out and dug up some jerusalem artichokes...i cleaned them and set some aside to use in salads and then, no doubt to the horror of purists, i fried some in corn oil...sprinkled some garlic salt with parsley on them and ate the whole plate... i may never become a self-sufficient producer of food in my yard but i'll be feeding myself as much as i can from it...more stuff as it comes up.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

post harvest III

my indoor teosinte has begun to rebound from the aphid infestation...the brew of water, dish soap and cheap cigars has worked pretty well...did in the aphids but not the plants...there is new growth in the larger of the two plants and i am hoping for more...the additional grow light i installed seems to be helping and i packed the pots to the top with mushroom compost to provide some needed nutrients...the soil in those pots has been there since last spring and is probably fairly depleted...when spring and warmer weather roll around i will be re-potting them into larger pots ( provided we make it through a winter in the basement)because i would still like to see them go to seed...i alter their watering schedule a bit...i was watering them once a week but i believe i was erring on the side of caution and not watering i watered them thoroughly a week ago wednesday and again last sunday...the plants perked up and lost a lot of the droopiness they were developing...i think i will go back to a once a week schedule but will water more thoroughly...trial and error to find the right amount and timing.

it has snowed remarkably little in this mild december which has me concerned a bit...i need some snow to insulate my stands of winter wheat here and on campus's true that the weather has been less than harsh and so there is no need to worry yet...but a dry cold winter will decimate my plants ( sorry to those of you who loathe snow ...the snow we have had has long melted and we have had some fairly significant rain in the past week so i headed out to look at the cornfields and i have found the beginnings of some erosion gullies running form the fields to the surrounding ditches...i have been looking for erosion figures for porter county but without success as yet, however all the geological surveys i have come across note that the area has soils well suited for agriculture but that the topography of the terrain ( we are located at the end of a glacial moraine ) lends itself to significant erosion...these risks can be mitigated ( but not eliminated ) by techniques such as contour of these small gullies is in the same place as the one i photographed last spring...the other is a new development so i will be driving by at regular intervals just to see what happens...particularly if the weather remains rainy as opposed to snowy...we will be sing what the spring runoff does as well.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

taxes, tithes, and new world crops

"...the plant was an ally in the smallholders ceaseless struggles against the economic and political elite. a farmer's barnful of wheat, rye,or barley was a fat target for greedy landlords and marauding armies, buried in the soil, a crop of potatoes could not readily be seized"
charles mann in "1491"

" world plants reached the old. in one direction went rice, wheat, sugar cane, and the coffee bush, in the other maize, potatoes, haricot beans, tomatoes, manioc, and tobacco. wherever they went the newcomers met resistance from existing crops and eating habits. europeans considered potatoes a sticky and indigestible food; maize is still despised in southeast china where rice still rules. but despite these entrenched attachments and the slow pace at which new experiences were absorbed, all these plants became widespread and accepted. in europe, in any case, it was the poor who first opened their door to them; and their rapid growth subsequently turned them into desperate necessities."
fernand braudel in "the structures of everyday life:civilization and capitalism 15th-18th century volume 1"

"perhaps the sunflower was ignored in the united states because it was too familiar, but in russia it was adopted for precisely the opposite reason-it was almost unknown. in the early ninteenth century the russian orthodox church issued a holy decree that proscribed a list of oil-rich foods from being eaten during lent or in the forty days before christmas. these two periods fall in the coldest months of the year when rich food is particularly comforting and sought after, but almost anything with a high oil content was forbidden.. sunflower seeds, containing about 30 percent oil, were so little known in russia at that time that they not named on the list. forthwith , sunflower seeds and their oil were eagerly adopted in russia, without fear of religious disapproval.."
jonathan slivertown in "an orchard invisible: a natural history of seeds.

little known and imported foods as a form of resistance to political and economic subservience to opposite to status foods...un-status sustenance for the poor...diffusion through necessity...a sort of corollary to cohen's neolithic population pressure as a spur to agricultural economies contract and we all relearn the cultural art of eating in season i wonder if there may be an inversion...will people rediscover native foods and the sort of horticulture ( which is pretty much the scale of food production i am involving myself with...and even that may be pretentious...more of a kitchen garden really, despite the blogs title) /agriculture that predated the industrial revolution and the development of the agricultural and food "industries"...will eating habits and food culture change? historically necessity seems to have been a strong motivator for change in this area so the more knowledge about what there is to eat locally the far for me jerusalem artichokes have been the biggest find and the most prolific producer...i have been scouring field manuals of edible wild plants and ransacking the usda databases for more plants that are or were locally edible...there are efforts going on to domesticate illinois bundleflower as a protein rich legume...sumpweed could be a source of seeds as oil rich as sunflowers...but they are small and the plants don't produce large quantities of seeds (and since they are not domesticated i imagine the harvest would be a matter of timing...gathering the seeds before the seed heads shatter...there's still a lot of research to do on what i can grow and how effective it will be in localizing my food consumption...and i still have questions about how productive my suburban backyard can be...this project is slowly moving beyond the university and the anthropological study that the campus garden represents into the realm of real life...what i find there can be to find a way to apply it to the everyday.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

milpas and maize

" a milpa is a field, usually, but not always, recently cleared, in which farmers plant a dozen crops at once, including squash and beans, multiple varieties of squash and bean, melon, tomatoes, chilis, sweet potato, jicama ( a tuber ), amaranth ( a grain plant), and mucuna ( a tropical legume)."
from 1491 by charles c. mann

i have read quite a bit about the idea of intercropping and using plants to enhance soil fertility ( hence the whole cowpea/ winter wheat experiment) and the idea of growing the traditional mesoamerican triad of beans, maize, and squash appeals to m e so i have ordered organic, non-gm seeds and i am scouting locations out back and on campus for additional problem is squirrels...i grew maize on campus without incident last season ( it's on the right in the photo...northern tepehuam teosinte is in front of the cardboard i put in to help it stand out from the wheat grass) but the squirrels nailed all the maize in my yard...they waited until it was nearly ripe and gnawed the stalks off at ground level and obliterated my harvest...about what i expected but it doesn't bode well for a traditional i have been in contact with various anthropologists whose work involves mesoamerican agriculture about a suitable substitute...i'd thought of teosinte, but northern tepehuan is an iffy proposition...and while i grew a bunch of zea diploperennis it doesn't really get big until august and the whole idea of maize is to provide a natural trellis for the beans to vine on( that and to help balance the nutritional value of the diet) i have been searching for a suitable substitute for my back yard...if i cannot use maize i at least want to keep it limited to a plant native to or domesticated in the hemisphere...two leap to mind, both from the same family...jerusalem artichokes get to be eight to ten feet tall and i have a multitude planted out back and i have a store buried from which i could seed more...but they are very bushy and produce rather a large patch of shade in their vicinity ( in fact there are no weed problems with them...they are so dense and produce so much shade no weeds can germinate anywhere near them ) which could be an issue...sunflowers pose no such problem for plants growing beneath them...the beans could germinate and the squash should have plenty of that is what i believe will stand in for maize here at home...i will try teosinte as well just to see what happens and keep things in the family so to speak...more stuff to grow and eat...more ways to get in touch with a culture...more to learn.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


aging has impacted my eyesight...i brought my potted teosinte upstairs into some natural light yesterday morning and what i had taken for some sort of dank basement mold on the leaves turned out to be wonder they're ii went out and purchased a two dollar deluxe spray bottle and a pack of the cheapest rank little cigars i could find at the corner convenience store and cooked up a nasty anti-aphid brew in the kitchen with the help of a few drops of dish soap...the soap helps distribute the nicotine evenly and keeps it adhered to the leaves and those rotten little bugs...i sprayed the leaves liberally with the mixture several times and the soil in the pots as well...i also cut off and removed all the dead leaves which went into the garbage rather than the compost...this morning when i went downstairs to check my teosinte leaves were aphid free ( sprayed them again anyway and will continue to do so until i am convince the infestation is over )aphids in the yard i look for (expect even ) an invasion in the basement didn't occur to me...i will be more alert when moving plants in form outdoors...i have been roaming the house inspecting the far no more aphids...the spray bottle is primed and there's more toxin brewing ( which won't harm the plants or daisy the cat or me or you [unless you smoke the rank cigars] as close to an organic pesticide as i can create in my kitchen)...i am ready for more bugs.

Friday, December 9, 2011

first snow

my backyard, probably inaccurate, thermometer said it was twenty-seven degrees fahenheit when i went out back to take these photos this morning...we had the first snow of the season last night...around an inch of wet snow that i don't imagine will last through the day...i'm actually hoping for more since the wheat needs about four inches of snow cover from december to march to insulate it from the worst of the winter cold...winter wheat without snow isn't going to do well...a dry, cold winter isn't in the best interest of my stands of wheat here at home or on campus so i will risk the wrath of many people in wish for a goodly amount of cannot be helped...since it has snowed i believe i will dig some tubers this weekend and have some jerusalem artichokes for a meal...more on that as it transpires.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


i acquired a couple of shelves, took out a cfc bulb and replaced it with another grow light, and removed all the improvised stands...this has put just a bit more organization into the plants that are wintering over in the basement and will help keep spring germinating a bit less chaotic as well...there is still mold accumulating on the teosinte which bugs me, but keeping a fan moving the air around has eliminated the slime that was sticking the leaves together...there is new growth on both plants and, hopefully, the addition of a second grow light will help give them a bit more of what they need...i will still be bringing them up into natural light as much as it is possible and i will trim off the dead leaves and branches as winter progresses...with work and patience i hope to keep the root system viable and repot them in the spring for a return to the would be great if i can bring these plants through a few seasons and get them to go to seed...i assume that like most rootstock perennials they don't seed for a few took both the intermediate wheat grass and eastern gamagrass a couple of years to do that...whatever happens i have received more zea diploperennis seed form the usda so the experiment in wintering over both outdoors ( i have mulched the plants on campus...hoping for new growth in the spring even though everything indicates that is a farfetched hope) and indoors will continue for the foreseeable future...basically just so i can say i did it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

apple trees in december

photosynthesis has clearly come to an end in the apple trees and since the weather is due to go south directly i took advantage of a balmy december day to wrap them up...i made some cages out of some 2 X 4 fencing we had in the basement and put one around each tree...then it was simply a matter of filling the cages ( carefully) with straw and wrapping them in burlap...protected from the worst of the weather to come and being smashed by the snow, but able to breathe and sense the ambient temperature...they'll come out again sometime in march and we'll see if my orchard continues growing for a second season.

post harvest II

it's been a few weeks since the last time i went out looking at post-harvest fields...i had questioned whether the bean field that been harvested and plowed was going to be home to a cover crop...the top two photos have the answer and i think it's can see in the top one water collecting at the top of what looks like a path taken from the upper field tot he lower on by farm also looks like the beginnings of an erosion gully down the middle of it and that will be something i'll be looking at this winter into the spring before plowing for planting erases the erosion's a bit late to be starting a cover crop now...the temperature is set to dip below freezing overnight for the foreseeable future and that will send the winter wheat into dormancy...the wheat on campus in the third and fourth photos is tillering nicely...some have three leaves and some have long as we have sufficient snow it will be fine...the wheat in my back yard has filled in and will produce enough seed to carry the nitrogen retention project into the winter of 2012...i am about to place next season's seed order, and in addition to potatoes, asparagus, and jerusalem artichokes, beets, turnips, leeks, brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi will be out there...along with some maize and a new batch of teosinte...can't wait...this looks like this weekend will be the time to button up the apple trees for winter...more on that process as i do it.