Friday, October 30, 2009


good news today about teosinte. i've been searching for seeds for a couple of weeks and yesterday was the breakthrough. the united states department of agriculture's national resource conservation service (nrcs) is sending us a pound of teosinte seed because this is an educatioanl project affilliated with a university. cool! extensive searching has also turned up

a seed conservation group in the southwestern u s. i have purchased a few grams of seeds from another strain of teosinte from them to add a bit of diversity to our planting. this is the only place i've found outside the government where you can obtain seeds...teosinte does not seem to be a wildly popular plant, and there may be good reason for that, at least around here. the usda had expressed doubt that the teosinte will produce seed at this far north a lattitude. ( in fact they have asked me to inform them if we do succeed in producing any). teosinte flowers late in the season and it will take a warm late season period for us to go to seed ( this, of course, is a common reflection on my personal condition...but it has little bearing on the matter at hand except as an expressed hope for next autumn). the seeds should be shipping on november fifth and the usda has promised detailed planting instructions. i'll be posting pictures when they arrive and are planted. thanks to joe hollis at
and john shuck at gary metals. additional thanks to dr. mik stokely and dr. kathleen forgey for helping out and just being so generally supportive.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

jerusalem artichokes

the artichokes arrived yesterday and the vendor suggested no delay in planting, so i went to campus today and after i spent a couple of hours helping with setting up the indiana university northwest anthropology club book sale that STARTS TOMORROW ( it's all for a good cause) i went to the garden and planted them...the starchy juice from the bulbs got all over my hands when i cut them before is a fabulous adhesive...the soil did not want to come off my hands when i went to wash them...sticky reading further about these tubers i 've found that when freshly harvested that are rich in inulin...whuch means thet have little impact on blood sugar and so are beneficial to diabetics...or at least won't do them any harm...this is freshly harvested ones only...after they're stored for a time the inulin is lost and the artichokes become a more traditional starch...inulin is also beneficial to kidney function...the garden may be taking a detour into folk least there was no rain today...a first for this gardener in this garden

Saturday, October 24, 2009

plant mobillity

" Anderson's (1952) description of agriculture as a 'transported landscape' honors the thousands of generations of cultivators who have moved seeds and transformed the world."
"Farmer's Bounty: Locating Crop Diversity in the Contemporary World" Stephen B. Brush. p.21

so where did all this stuff i'm planting start out from? a couple of the answers suprised me...names are misleading.

arugula originates along the southern and eastern mediterranean from portugal south through turkey.
asparagus is native to europe, north africa, and western asia.
elephant garlic got its start in central china.
fennel is another mediterranean plant.
jerusalem artichokes caught me completely off guard...among other places they are native to indiana.
anyone who doesn't know that potatoes originated in the highlands of what is now peru could be in dutch with dr. forgey.
spinach was born in central and southwest asia.
tomatoes began their journey to italy in south america.
misleadingly welsh onions are from central asia.
winter savory is native to southern europe.
and anyone who thinks chinese yams are from china would be correct.

so not only have humans experimented with plant traits over the millennia, they've also done quite a bit of tinkering around with where they might adapt to and perhaps grow better than in their native range...something to think about next time i'm in the garden...which, i think, will be tomorrow since the jerusalem artichokes came in today's mail and it's been a few weeks since the garden has seen any activity...that and the fact that they have to reside in my refrigerator until i plant them, and god only knows what someone here may mistake them for...if it's in the refrigerator it MUST be food...maybe the gama grass will find its home too.

Friday, October 23, 2009

the artichokes are in the mail

i have word from winslow maine to day that the jeruasalem atrichokes have shipped and that i should expect to see the in three to eight days...good news, it means that i can finish up the autumn planting on halloween day...set the artichokes and gama grass in and, if the weather co-operates, mulch the garden for winter...then i can step back, do some more reading about organics and gardening ( Botany for Gardeners repraches me every time i see it in a pile of books...demands to be read) and hypotheses about the origins of agriculture and peice together what direction this all will take...the few months between autumn planting and the start of seed germination may seem like they'd be quiet ones but from a practical and theoretical standpoint there's too much to do to stand still.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

take a break

it's another rainy saturday and the garden and i are both taking a time out...mostly because there's not a lot to do in the garden this weekend...poor weather in winslow maine has delayed the jerusalem artichokes...i spoke to johnny's select seeds yesterday and they do have a record of my order and assure me they are due to be shipped in the coming week...with any luck i will have them before the week is out and can spend part of my birthday getting them in the ground...that will be it for fall planting...well , that and the gama grass...mulch the garden after the first hard frost and then do some more research into what to expect until i have to start germinating seeds for the spring...all the seeds are here, the only thing left to order is seed potatoes and that won't happen until next year (probably...unless i find some grower who will accept one earlier)'s been a pretty smooth ride so far...can't help but wonder what the first major bump will be...any garden psychics out there?

Saturday, October 10, 2009


the chinese yams arrived during this past week, so i took advantage of a miserably rainy friday morning to plant them. they came from joe hollis in north carolina and i wasn't sure how long they'd been out of the ground...didn't want to hesitate. when i took them out of the plastic bag the newspaper they were wrapped in was still damp so i know they didn't dry out. on top of that they're dormant, i am confident they arrived in fine shape. i planted them about four feet apart...joe tells me i'll have to dig down about three feet if i plan to harvest them, and since i'm going to have to quantify how much this garden produces i will be obligated to dig a hole a yard deep and try to avoid damaging the roots. now all they have to do is survive the winter. we will be mulching the garden to a depth of six inches, that should do the job. all that's left to plant this fall is the jerusalem artichokes and the gama grass. i haven't heard a word about the artichokes. the supplier sent me an order verification and said they'd ship in time to be put in this autumn. i have emailed them asking for a probable shipping date...we'll see. so far things have been coming together...i hope our luck holds...the skill we will continue to aquire. as part of my reading towards this i picked up a copy of Botany for Gardeners by brian capon who is a professor emeritus of botany at california state university in los angeles and from a brief perusal seems to be able to write in a style even i can understand. more as it becomes available

Thursday, October 8, 2009


so what am i doing here? basically i am asking descendants of wild ancestors who lived in heterogenious environments to come together and thrive in a more homogenious one consisting of a 184 square foot garden. true they're domesticated, artificially selected for size, color, flavor, etc. , but i'm betting they have some particular needs left over from their heterogeneous, wild roots.

The Gardener's Guide to Growing Organic Food by tanya l.k. denckla gives a general idea of what constitutes high, medium, and low water needs. plants the require heavy watering need one gallon of water per square foot per week, which equals roughly 1.4 to 1.6 inches of water. medium watering is three-quarters of a gallon per week or about 1 to 1.2 inches of water, and low watering is one-half gallon or 0.8 inches of water. using The gardener"s Guide, Growing Your Own Vegatables by carla emery and lorne edwards forkner, and information from the suppliers i noted in a previous blog i have put together a watering schedule for the eleven vegatable and herbs in the garden. (the grasses are not domesticated and so while i will water to ensure germination, after that they're on their own unless conditions get so bad it looks like they won't survive.)

arugula- low
asparagus- high
elephant garlic- rainwater only ( once again, unless it apears that without help the plant won't survive)
fennel- low
jerusalem artichokes- medium
northern tepehuan teosinte-high, once a week.
potatoes- medium until they blossom, then heavy from blossoming until harvest.
spinach- low
tomatoes- medium
welsh onions- medium
winter savory- medium, but it likes to dry out between watering
yams- medium

there seem to be some pretty low maintainence plants in there as far as water goes,and some that need more care. the next question i have ( and i see more research in the offing) is do these special requirements represent holdovers from ancestral genes not selected out during domestication, or are they purposeful interventions by people in the process of domestication to produce a final product that's larger, more nutritious, or tasty?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

King Corn

in the course of listing materials that i used i neglected to mention the excellent film by curt ellis and ian cheney about the industrial uses of corn and its detremental impact on the environment and on us...if you get the chance check it out.


this garden got its start with the reading i was doing in the spring and summer of 2008. i had just finished taking a physical anthropology course at indiana university northwest that was taught by dr. kathleen forgey. her enthusiasm for her subject matter opened up a number of new areas for me to think about and explore, human origins, evolution, and genetics among them. we also dealt with the origins of agriculture. as i recall it was a time of rising food prices and there were a number of food riots in mega-cities around the globe which put the topic of food and food production in the public eye. additionally i had been reading The Ominvore's Dilemma by michael pollan. as usual one book led to another. pollan quoted freely from works by wendell berry and so my next read was his book The Unsettling of America. wendell made some excellent points about the unsustainability of industrial agriculture, but his outlook was a bit too utopian for my taste, so i looked around for more material. there is a suprising ammount of it and my reading list burgeoned. The Story of Corn by betty fussel, Food Politics by marion nestle, Guns, Germs, and Steel by jared diamond, Farmer's Bounty by steven brush, Eating the Sun by oliver morton, An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds by jonathan silvertown ( thanks rachel!), Movable Feasts by sarah murray, Against the Grain by richard manning, The Soil and Health by sir albert howard, and The End of Food by paul roberts. this last book touched on the formation of mega slums through environmental degerdation and the destruction of traditional agriculture in the developing world because of imports of cheap subsidized food from the industrial world. this led me to Planet of Slums by mike davis which was an eye-opener about a multitude of issues. paul roberts' book also discussed the unsustainability of industrial agriculture as practiced in the united states because of its complete dependence on petrochemicals from producing fuels for machinery to the inputs for chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides ( all of which degrade the environment in myriad ways). this led to an investigation of resource depletion through, among others, richard heinberg's book Peak Everything. in the course of an email exchange with richard heinberg i mentioned an interest in agriculture and food production. he, in turn, suggested that i look into the work of wes jackson, so i read New Roots for Agriculture and aslo took a look at the website for his research group The Land Institute their work in developing perennial cereal grains had a direrct impact on the perennial garden ( as did the input of dr. forgey who has been unstinting in her support and enthusiasm). the garden was not an impulsive idea. its gestation has been rooted in reading and a good deal of thought about how we came to where we find ourselves and what can be done to change the way we think about food and food production. we have some ideas about what we're looking for and surely more will suggest themselves as we go along. we will share what we learn.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

opening day

i got to the garden at 6:50 this morning and two-and-a-half hours and 280 pounds of compost and composted cow manure i had beds prepared for the jerusalem artichokes, chinese yams, welsh onions, and elephant garlic, and the garlic and onions in the ground. the university maintainence staff skimmed the sod off the plot with a bobcat (thanks! you don't know how much my back appreciates that!) and it's a 7.5 mile one-way trip from my house to the campus...other than that i intend to invest as few petrochemicals in this as possible. there's still the fuel burned in shipping in the plants, seeds, and manure, but it's a garden of perennials so hopefully ( if i do this correctly) those will mostly be one-time expenditures. i have found some good, patient suppliers around the country whose committment to organic plants and non-transgentic, heirloom seeds have gotten me off to a good start. joe hollis at is sending us the chinese yams from north carolina. the jerusalem artichokes and the winter savroy are coming from johnny's selected seeds in winslow, maine. the arugula nd tomatoes are from heirloom seeds in west finley, pennsylvania. the spinach is from baker creek seeds in mansfeild, missouri, and the welsh onions came from j.l. hudson seeds in la haonda, california. inputs from all over, and i am sure there are many more i will come across as i shop for organic seed potatoes in the spring. i am new at prennial gardening...all my previous experience was with annuals, so this will be a learning experience on a multitude of levels...hopefully the curve will not be too long. perennials have been around a long time...longer than humans...i will trust in the plants' evolutionary history to supply the deficiencies in my knowledge and abillities...they are much better at growing than i am. i am pretty much a technological illiterate ( it is a testament to the idiot-proof nature of modern computers that i am able to post blogs...this may or may not be a good thing ) so as soon as i can figure out how to upload the pictures i am taking from the digital camera i bought ( time to dip into the instruction manual ) i will add some illustrations...until then...peace