"over the next forty years, temperature zones will move poleward at ( very roughly ) 5 kilometers a year, and up mountainsides at ( very roughly ) 5 meters per year. in forty years that means 80 kilometers northward and 200 meters upward. ecosystems will be following...in an attempt to escape from uncommon heat. consider what this will do to your pet forest, park, or garden." jorgen randers____________________________________________________
i had been considering the impact of climate on my garden well before reading jorgen...this entire past season was odd...at least for the perennials...i grew some annuals at home ( snow peas, runner beans, squash, beets, turnips, radishes ) and those plants, along with the annuals i was tracking at the iu northwest community garden, reached maturity on schedule and produced well even in the face of extensive predation...as i looked at the perennials over the course of the summer i began to realize that some were reacting to the heat stress differently than others...the perennial teosinte ( zea diploperennis ) behaved much like the maize in the garden and the industrial corn in nearby fields...curling its leaves to preserve water as transpiration sucked out the moisture...a good dose of water and the leaves uncurled in about forty minutes and the maize ancestor flourished...expanding and deepening its root system as the above ground plants grew to seven or eight feet in height ( and, hopefully, readying itself for a third season on campus )...the chinese yams seemed to be unconcerned about the weather as well, putting out ropes of vines and a massive production of aerial bulbs...but neither one of those perennials in native...both are foreigners i took the time ( and some trouble ) to import...there were two native species of perennials on campus as well in the form of eastern gamagrass and jerusalem artichokes...those two also exhibited different reactions to the summer's climate...the gamagrass put on a startling reproductive display compared to the year before...in summer 2011 the gamagrass plants produced a total of four proaxes with seed heads...this past season i counted one hundred and forty and collected a multitude of seeds ( and missed many more as seed heads shattered with abandon )...the jerusalem artichokes were the most unhappy of the bunch...thy were located in their traditional place on the north side of the garden and despite regular watering they never attained much more than five feet in height...a long way from the eight to ten foot plants i had produced in the previous two seasons...the harvest was disappointing as well coming in at just about half of the thousand or so tubers i was accustomed to...so was that a fluke? i had been replanting my stand of sunchokes form the previous years harvest and i thought , perhaps, the tubers were losing viability because the small population was restricting the plants' genetic diversity...so i bought a new batch of seed tubers to plant last autumn to see if that was the answer or if at least one species of native plant was suffering from the onset of a climatic shift to hotter, drier weather...expanding on that line of thought i began to populate my back yard with more native perennial species such as ramps and ginseng and i am considering going beyond food plants into other native perennials just to see how they react next season...flourish or fade...the campus garden's season is going to be devoted to wheat grass domestication with plants from the land institute in salinas kansas as the centerpiece, but the back yard of my house is going to become a laic sort of laboratory for the next few seasons to see how the natives are doing...i still will be growing food plants...there will be potatoes...but the inventory of native perennials is about to expand into test beds looking for empirical data on climate change.
" 'the upcoming year could be a challenging one for ethanol advocates, ' ncga president johnson said. 'at the same time we see many new legislators and regulators coming to power. with fewer leaders form the corn producing states, education and grassroots action will be essential to successfully defend the renewable fuels standard.' " national corn growers association corn action news jamuary 18, 2013____________________________________________________
"we should keep in mind that the energy in the alcohol required to meet the demands of an average u.s. car for one year could alternatively be used as food to feed 23 1/2 people for an entire year." wes jackson "new roots for agriculture"_______________________________________________
"measured by energy content, current world oil production is about five times larger than than world agricultural production. assuming that the conversion of food to biofuel involves a loss of some 40% of the energy content of the food, the entire world food production could not replace more than 12% of current world oil production. new plant species could raise that percentage somewhat, but if more than 12% of current world oil production were to be replaced, hardly any food would be left for human consumption." erling moxnes, university of bergen.__________________________________________________
given that farmers are a spectacularly underpaid segment of the workforce it isn't surprising that the would form special interest groups and lobby politicians to enact legislation that benefit them economically...and it isn't surprising that they would want to craft legislation that would give them the highest possible return for the work that they do...still, one of the purported functions of government is to balance the requests ( or demands ) of special interests the rest of society...( for some insight into my views on how successful politicians are at this arbitration of costs and interests i would ask you to take a look at other of my blogs...if, indeed, this holds any interest for you )...and higher prices per bushel of corn because of a spike in the need for renewable fuels for automobiles at the cost of a rise in the price of food that impacts the poorest of the world seems to me to be ethically indefensible...it also seems to me to be a profound denial of natural limits to what humans can do on the planet...and before the techno-optimists among you point to the 'new species' response as a way out let me remind you of the billions of new mouths to feed due by mid-century and point out the even the marginal land that could presently be used to produce something like switchgrass for use in fuels is going to have to be used to feed people soon enough..squirm as you will there are still limits to what can be achieved and the "education and grassroots action" are going to have to be directed towards learning some responsibility towards fellow humans rather than our economic status...to keep the record straight, yes i do drive a motor vehicle...as do all the members of my family...so yes there is some conflict here...i do make a serious effort to limit my driving...my odometer tells me that i have driven 1643 miles since november second ( the date of my last oil change) which works out to an average of 19.06 miles a day...mostly the 12.2 mile round trip to and from work...1643 mile more driving than someone from lagos or san cristobal...i am struggling with limits as well and embedded as i am in this consumerist society i will not get my motor vehicle mileage to zero until i find a method of subsistence outside that economy...since farming is all about subsistence ( "there are no post-agricultural societies"..the credit for that quote escapes me at the moment but that doesn't make it less true ) the decision about what farmland is used to grow is central to the direction we choose to go...eat or drive?
eighteen degrees is appreciably cooler than the fifty-four degrees we had two weeks ago when i discovered sprouts on the plants...i think it is safe to say there will be no more production form these plants...the stems and leaves are frozen stiff...so i harvested what sprouts i thought were salvageable and with that the season which started with the anomalous eighty degree ( well...perhaps anomalous...then again they could be a new norm and a heralding of the demise of transitional seasons...which would be sad in my eyes...a loss ) temperatures last march...ten months from start to finish and the garden has finally gone to sleep ( except for the wheat grass from kansas )...but it will be a short nap in the cosmic scheme of things...i will be out there in march putting in teosinte seeds so they can get a cycle of cold to break dormancy and waiting for the temperature to tell me to unmulch the asparagus...gardening is becoming an all weather sport hereabouts and i am planning to plant some species that would have been foolish to attempt a decade ago just to see if the usda shift in out hardiness zone is verifiable...can't wait.
the asparagus destined for the iu northwest community garden has had a population expansion with the appearance of a fifth plant under the grow light...patience as a virtue cannot be overdone when growing asparagus from seed...the new plant was seeded on the twelfth of december and has only been up and running for four days...a forty-one day gestation (?) but still just a bit over the possible seventy days germination can take with these critters...i figure i can fit ten plants around the perimeter of the bed at the community garden and use the center to grow some hopi blue maize and , if it will co-operate, some northern tepehuan teosinte just to have an ancestor/domesticate comparison...i have seeded thirty-two plants altogether just to be assured of enough plants to suit my purposes but may find myself looking for people to adopt-a-plant come april...still i am pleased at the success so far in producing food plants from seed...as soon as the weather breaks i'll be out there preparing the bed with composted manure ( asparagus is a heavy feeder and the compost i use to mulch the plants in the fall provides more than insulation ) and put in the teosinte seeds...more as it comes up.
it has snowed here enough to completely cover the winter wheat in the field by the supermarket...all that is visible is the stubble from the bean plants that populated the field last summer...i was disinclined to disturb the snow but my best guess is that the wheat still isn't dormant simply because it hasn't been that cold that long...there is a thaw forecast in the next few days so there will be an opportunity to verify my surmise soon...the wheat grass domesticates on campus haven't found dormancy yet ( the tracks in the snow tell me there have been critters in the garden...they were probably disappointed ) and if the cold moderates i am inclined to think they won't just based on last winter's wheat experience...still, the garden is a snowy place today and that is natural for the time of year even if plant behavior seems odd.
the forage variety of intermediate wheat grass still has a bit of green showing but it has mostly found dormancy...the plants from kansas on the other hand seem to be content to stay green this winter...sure there are a few hints of brown but the chlorophyll is still in most of the leaves...the weather is due to turn sharply colder with single digit lows at night so there may be some change by my next trip out to campus...there certainly isn't any snow top insulate the plants form the cold...there are some who are pleased by this dearth but as of the seventeenth of this month the us drought monitor
still has my county in a moderate drought...some snow wouldn't hurt either the water table, the level of the lake ( michigan ), or the wheat grass...something has been burrowing under the mulch on the chinese yams...these are the only tubers left in the campus garden since i removed the jerusalem artichokes to make way for the wheat grass domesticates...mice will burrow for tubers in winter if the weather allows it and now i am wondering if there will be yams in the spring...i harvested a good deal of carbohydrates from the yam plants this past autumn and if there are mice afoot i can only hope they left enough behind for the roots to sprout next may...perhaps, perhaps not...i have hundreds of bulbs in case i need to re-establish them, but those were among the first plants that went into the garden and i would really like to see how long those plants remain viable...won't know for sure until spring.
errands took me past the bean field form last summer that is now planted in winter wheat...since i had a look at the grasses on campus i stopped to have a look at some other grasses to see how they were doing...clearly they have not found a dormant state either and, like the grasses on campus they will be exposed to the coming cold in an uninsulated fashion..while i was walking ( carefully so as not to crush the wheat...it may be industrial but it still isn't my field ) i found quite a bit of detritus...not just stems and bean pods from the last crop as you would expect, but also rather a large number of corn cobs and bits and pieces of cornstalks ( you can tell it's corn by the remains of the support roots )...i would have thought that a number of plowings of this field would have turned the remains from the corn cop of summer 2011 well under...this isn't a no-till field but perhaps the farmer is using a minimal till system to plant their fields...i will have to try to catch them in the act come spring although i am not sanguine about my ability to time the attempt correctly...perhaps i should try to find out who is farming that field and jut=st ask...i'll be taking another look at this wheat after the cold snap we're supposed to experience this coming week.
of course while i was on campus on this somewhat cooler saturday i had to have a look at the brussels sprouts just to see what was up...i definitely did not harvest all the sprouts i found last weekend simply because there were some too small to harvest readily...but i do distinctly recall clearing all the sprouts from the stalks...yet today i found sprouts growing from auxiliary buds on the stalks...so what i did was to leave all the sprouts on the plants and take an inventory of existing ones ( thirty-six total on all plants ) after the single digit lows of the coming week i will go take another count to see if there is further production or if hat is there is just the residual from the season...i am skeptical of finding any additional sprouts out there...but then i did not expect to find any last weekend either...i know sprouts are a cool weather crop but more production seems like an unrealistic ( and unnatural ) expectation...whatever the case i will be letting you know what i find next weekend.
i went out to the pgp this morning to check on the kansas wheat grass domesticates ( still not dormant...see photo appendix ) and while i was there i took a look at the brussels sprouts...i picked those plants clean in late october and was surprised to find that they had continued to produce sprouts both along the plant's branches and on the stems...it was fifty-four degrees according to the thermometer in the vehicle on the twelfth of january...that aint natural...and i harvested enough sprouts to add some flavor to an evening salad...last winter was peculiar...last season was odd for the perennials...there is a mixed bag of dormancy this winter ( much like last )...and as of the seventh the usda still had my county suffering form a moderate drought that has been going on for months...i am working with as many native perennial species as i can ( jerusalem artichokes, ramps, ginseng ) and the annual lamb's quarters just to see if there is some sort of climatic impact on the plants that evolved here in terms of overall plant growth, health, and production...the non-native perennials ( like the zea diploperennis that surprisingly overwintered )did much better last season than the natives...i have to wonder what a climate shift will do to their range...i really like sunchokes and the harvest last fall was a disappointment...i would miss them if they left their original range and moved north...more on this if i ever make any real sense of the data...there is still a lot to collect.
there's still quite a bit of ungleaned corn in the suburban field out behind the big box stores...the statistics vary, but something like a third of all food produced is wasted...either by spoilage, being thrown away, or through inefficient harvesting systems...i am disinclined to call this stuff food, but the harvest season here and in the bean field by the other strip mall ( which, curiously enough, is anchored by a supermarket just like the super walmart behind this corn field...so close to one another, but how many processing steps and how far does the feedstock travel from the field by the store before it reaches the store again? ) has highlighted the amount of crop that stays in the field once the combine had moved on...more people to feed requires 1) less biofuel and 2) better harvesting techniques...there's also a lot of green between the rows of stubble...and those plants aren't evergreens...another weird winter
an industrial worker and university student (everyone needs a hobby...my hobbies have evolved and, to keep things straight, i have left my formal student career behind for reasons that are too detailed to delve into here...continuing to be a student of life however and not adverse to learning...stasis is death ) sliding down the back side of middle age...a social loner with collectivist leanings...explain that.