Tuesday, December 29, 2009

this is what mentors are for

these are pictures of a Zea mexicana seed that i popped this evening. yesterday i soaked it in hydrogen peroxide for twenty minutes, drained it, and added boiling water to the container. i let them soak for twenty-four hours and then dropped them into two-and-one-half tablespoons of HOT vegetable oil. thirty seeds in all. one popped completely and two seeds tried. their cases split, but they didn't have enough mositure in them yet or the case was leaky, or they just didn't get hot enough. so ten percent of the seeds made an effort. but not half the effort dr. kathleen forgey has made in all this. she's adopted me intellectually in an effort to get me somewhere coherent, and i could not be more fortunate. we have been brainstorming, networking, reading, talking, and making failed attempts at this for a few months now. i succeeded this evening, but only because i stumbled into her physical anthropology course at indiana university northwest in the spring of 2008. thanks dr. forgey.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


three crops account for 71% of arable acreage in the united states...and the three agribusinesses in the graphic, along with bayer and my friends at archer daniels midland, probably supply most of the seed used to plant those three crops...the constraint this places on crop choice should be obvious, but what may not be so obvious is the impact agribusiness is having on plants' genetic diversity...industrial food wants as much as it can get in the way of cheap raw materials, and the folks in industrial agriculture are doing their best to see they get them...in order to do this they have been genetically modifying agricultural plants (particularly corn)...they have increased the plants', tolerance to living closer together...they've genetically "linked" plants to certain herbicides (liberty link corn from bayer for example) so the plant can withstand the application...but another trend is more disturbing...because of the abundance of pesticides and herbicides over the recent decades plant engineers have reached the conclusion that natural plant defenses are uncecssary...if there is an application that will eliminate the pest agribuisness will remove the genetic defense from the plant so that the energy that the plant would have devoted to defense will be transfered to growth [jackson 1980]...fine, i suppose, as long as the applications based on petrochemicals are abundant enough and cheap enough to do the job...since oil is finite you have to think that eventually those applications won't meet either criteria...then what? hope that human ingenuity comes up with a response as cheap and as effective a petrochemicals? maybe...but what if we don't? then you have a staple crop facing nature in a genetically weakened condition without the cover of a manmade defense...sounds like a disaster to me...unless we start to save the diversity that's left...one reason why all the plants and seeds in the garden are from organic growers and heirloom seed companies...i'll be saving seeds as well and am currently searching for area seedsaver groups and seed banks to share with.
hope you all have a great christmas and that we all weather the new year.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


the roots on the left in this series of photographs are those of the annual winter wheat....the ones on the right are the perennial intermediate wheat grass ( which we will be planting in the spring...i've got something like 120,000 seeds...there will be wheat grass at home and anywhere else i can get away with it as well)...a graphic demonstration of why perennials come back every year...above ground dies back, but the roots are deep enough to survive most cold...it's also a graphic demonstration of one possible reason why early agriculturalists anuualized staple crops during the process of domestication...a lot of energy that could go into producing seeds goes to developing the roots instead ( the gama grass we planted isn't supposed to seed until the end of its third season...until then everything goes into the root system)...so, perhaps, there were more calories per unit of work with annuals...and perhaps that made saving and preserving seeds for the next planting season an attractive alternative to a less work/ less production of a perennial based agricultural system...the folks at the land institute ( which is where i lifted the photograph from) are trying to breed perennials with the grain yield of annuals in an effort to overcome industrial farming's dependence on huge infusions of petrochemicals...i'm curious to see what they'll find. http://www.landinstitute.org/vnews/display.v