Monday, December 27, 2010

expectations and disappointments

i haven't been to the garden in a few weeks...mostly because there isn't much to do ( and the campus is actually closed for the holidays...well...i was only there for about three minutes....put a quarter in the meter just to be legal anyway...i don't think anyone noticed me)...not alot going on...but i had the day off and i wanted to check on the mulching to make sure it was alright...the snow frustrated that also provides another layer of insulation so i will assume the asparagus and yams are fine ( i will never worry about the jerusalem artichokes...they are virtually indestructable and infinitly permanent...the gamagrass should be fine as well...both indigenous to the area...both adapted to the climate)...alas the larger apple tree is is in its final days i fear...don't know quite what happend...i kept them watered and kept them in a rotation of grow light and dark so i wouldn't overdrive them like i did the teosinte last spring ( we will be taking a much harsher approach to toesinte in the spring...working with northern annual...and planting it directly in the beds on campus and at home just before the last frost....more on that as it develops)...perhaps daisy ( the cat) stepped on it...maybe growing apple trees in december was an act of futile optimism...then again...since i pulled the errant grass out of the pot with the smaller tree it seems to be doing well...not as tall as the domed one but still with six leaves (leafs?) and brilliantly green...even if that doesn't come across that well in the photo....i am looking for apple tree answers and will save the one if i can...i refuse to give up hope...i have expectations to live up to with this project.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

water, ethanol, and corn

i've been reading again...."Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture" by wes jackson...the national corn grower's association action alerts and their propganda about ethanol production...u s weather service rainfall average reports and some information about groundwater use from the ogallala aquafier so lets see if i can make sense of some of the data...a corn crop generally needs 24 inches of mosture during its growing season....that's two acre feet per acre ( the ammount of water it would take to cover an acre to a depth of one foot is an acre foot ) those two acre feet represent 651,702 gallons of water for an acre of corn...a bunper harvest from that acre would be 220 bushels of corn and that corn would translate into 104.940 gallons of ethanol at a rate of 2.77 gallons of ethanol per bushel...that's about 6461 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol ( you have to wonder how much water goes in to hot pockets or mountain dew)...indiana's annual precipitation averages ( there are wetter and drier parts of all the states i'm listing) is 40 inches...illinois 38 inches...iowa 35 inches...nebraska 23.6 inches...kansas 27.84...obviously in bad years or even normal ones some states are going to have to irrigate...nebraska and kansas overlay the ogallala aquafier which this year has had 26.1 cubic kilometers of water removed from it...more than the discharge of the colorado river...a serious overdraft of a water source that will dry up with continued use at those level...kansas and nebraska may go out of the corn business over water...we could talk about g m crops...but then we'd be getting into energy use and petrochemical based inputs on the farm to protect crops that are more vulnerable than those created by old fashioned domestication and i'm not dealing with that right now...just the water use limits corn as a viable source of alternative energy...the corn hacks at the national corn growers will tell you different because they like the way ethanol drives corn prices up...but they are just as biased as i may be and i don't trust them...the figures i find tell me a different story...and as an afterthought, is this more water than is involved in the current production of petrolum based fuels? i know the bp/ammoco refinery in whiting dunps alot of benzine into lake michigan as part of the distilation much water passes through that plant per gallon? more rsearch...stay tuned.

Friday, December 24, 2010

storage eve tubers

happy christmas from the garden!!
it has been below freezing most of two weeks since i last dug out any tubers and i was concerned that it might not be possible...however the spading fork had no trouble getting through the five inches ( or so) of frozen fround above the tubers which are about twelve inches down in soil that is remarkably cold for not being frozen...i retrieved fifty tubers ( which gives me a total of two hundred and ten that i've taken out since i buried them) and made up a casserole with them, some yukon gold potatoes, some smoked sausage ( sorry captain but i live with meat eaters), and about a pound of medium sharp cheddar cheese...all swimming in campbell's cream of mushroom the organically grown tubers are utterly corrupted... all in about an hour and forty minutes...but the storage system still bad tubers today...i used them all and the peels are going on the compost pile to feed the asparagus or the jerusalem artichokes or the yams in the raised beds...the winter wheat out in the yard is under snow so no photos of that...i believer i will go to the garden on campus monday and have alook at the mulching there to make sure there are no issues since i haven't been in a while...there is rotten news on the apple tree front...but that will wait for the weekly update...enjoy your holiday and stay safe...peace.

Monday, December 20, 2010

four weeks of apples

four weeks under the grow light and things are coming along...i moved the grass growing with the runt tree to another pot to await a positive id because i just didn't think it was doing the tree any good having that much competition so early in its existence...that was last the last week neither tree has achieved anything noticable in the area of heigth...however the bigger tree has begun to develop its fifth and sixth leafs( whic is the proper plural...leaves or leafs? or are they interchangable?) and the runt has fully developed there has been growth, just not much in the vertical...i have been keeping them well watered and both seem robust when you consider the time of year...i shouldn't be surprised i can be fragile but it's also tenacious...and it seems to make the effort even when the odds are against it...i will do my best to provide their needs.

Friday, December 17, 2010

road trip

" in 1977 the cropland base was 413 million acres. according to the natural resource inventories nearly one-fourth if this acreage, 97 million acres, has eroded in excess of five tons per acre per year on average...globally nearly one-third of the land devoted to farming has been lost to erosion since 1960, and continues to be lost at a rate of some twenty-five million acres per year."
"consulting the genius of the place: an ecological approach to agriculture" by wes jackson. pp.129-30

the top photo is what the field in the second photo looked like this morning...last summer it was all green and it's stubble and was bare through most of november and it will be uncoverd and exposed to the wind and rain from sometime in march until late april or early may when the anhydrous amonia goes on and the monoculture of field corn or soy beans goes in and the field turns green again for a few months...but even that's's not like there's going to be masses of roots binding the soil fact probably more of the field will be bare than covered even at the height of the season because farmer brown is going to apply healthy doses of herbicides to keep the vegitation beyond the monoculture from taking between the rows will be bare and exposed to all the elements...and because whatever is planted will be an annual the roots won't go down to deep so even the residual abillity of the crop to bind the soil together after harvest will be minimal...another reason why the focus of the garden is perennials...i'll post some photos of root systems i took at harvest sometime to show the difference even in perennial root how renewable is the topsoil that millenia of perennial grasses produced?

deep river park is just down the road and around the corner from the field i have been using as a model of monoculture all year so i drove over and took a few shots of the river and the mill in winter... the only thing i lust after more than rustication is riparian rustication so i visit the river when i can...i like it.

and just as an odd note i notice that all the pioneer seed signs disappeared when the corn was harvested...not one to be seen...i suppose pioneer hods patent rights to their signs just like they do for their seeds.

Monday, December 13, 2010

the orchard's third week

into the third week in the peat pots and the apple trees are okay...he larger of the two ( and the one with no competitioin) has now produced four leaves and is early three inches tall...half an inch in a week...not bad for an arctic ( exaggeration...but the weather has been wintery in the week before quincey would be in his element...but that's a different blog
and an entirely different set of issues) december...the second tree has also produced four leaves...but it does not seem to have grown a bit...its pot companion had topped the phtographic scale and so must be at least seven inches tall...i see no signs of bunching or tillering so it is too early to make an exact identification beyond its pure grassiness ( too early for me anyway...someone more schooled in plant identifcation may hazard a guess but young grasses look an awfully lot alike to me )so i will wait a bit to determine if it is a species i want to cultivate or if it is a noxious weed screwing up my tree...patience is a virtue i am told...i hope i can aquire some someday...meantime we wait...but what will we do while waiting?

Friday, December 10, 2010

storage III

it's been at or below freezing for several days here, although today it is pleasantly warm, so i thought there might be some issue getting at the tubers in the backyard...not so...the ground is frozen to about five inches instead of the three or so that were solid last week, but i got the shovel in and the sunchokes out...i had to open a new trench today...seems my last two culinary experiments had pretty well depleted the original one...i got twenty jerusalem artichokes out of the first and took another forty out of the second to fill the sink again ( i will be taking a careful survey of the original trench in the spring...and possibly the next time i'm out there...don't want to leave any behind...that bed is has gamagrass in it already and will be home to spring wheat, some peppers, and, if i am fortunate, some northern tephuan teosinte...i don't need rouge jerusalem atichokes taking over)...i reprised the cheese casserole because any number of family members expressed a fondness for it and the sixty tubers made a much more satisfying ammount ( half of which is already gone less than an hour out of the oven)... since i opened another trench it was a two hour time frame from putting in the shovel to pulling the casserole out of the bad ones this time at all...firm and crisp and still a royal pain to peel...this is the third week in a row for a sunchoke cookoff and i think i'll wait a couple of weeks to see if there will be any real issue with frozen ground...i suspect there will be at some isn't even winter yet...somewhere along the way the weather will seal me out of my storage space...the apple trees and their grass buddy are doing fine incidently...enjoying the grow light...a photo update on them monday.

Monday, December 6, 2010

what the...

well...two weeks into the orchard and life hasn't stopped with surprises...the larger of the two trees is up to 2 1/2 inches and sprouting new growth...doing fine...the runt has reached 1 inch...a quarter inch in a week...not bad for an apple tree in december i suppose...but what is that growing with it? i don't recall that in last week's photos and it's over 6 inches...what's a grass and no mistake...i learned how to differentiate grasses from other plants this past season...and the apple tree is a grass as well so they're related, if only distantly...but what kind of grass? could be teosinte...there are alot of loose seeds laying around the basement and one could have been hiding in the soil mix in the bucket in the basement...or it could be barnyard grass...they both look strikingly similar as sprouts...i have had little good fortune with teosinte so far and will not get my hopes up...but i will look for tillering...that will tell the tale...barnyard grass is a bunch grass and will look like it's tillering, but that will turn into sperate shoots growing out of the ground...if its teosinte the tillering will break the soil surface and turn into it's barnyard grass i will pull it out to leave the peat pot to the runt tree...i don't need more barnyard will come about of its own volition...if it is teosinte the drama begins...what to do? teosinte i want...but i want the tree as well...let them develop and try to seperate them later...stay tuned...this project has never been dull...the surprises just keep rolling along.

Friday, December 3, 2010

jerusalem artichoke storage II

i was going to wait a few mare days before i tried to dig more sunchokes has been seasonably cool here but i wanted to give the ground more time to freeze to try and gauge the difficulty of recovering these tubers in of the reasons for growing them is to see how they might do as a staple food like potatoes and part of being a staple is storability ( if that's not a word it is now) and access...but it's supposed to snow tonight so i decided i'd get one more culinary experiment in just in case next weekend proves's been below freezing the last few nights but the ground is stil only frozen to adepth of about three inches...i dug out sixty tubers today...they filled the sink nicely after i washed them but once again peeling the little devils took its toll as you can see by what's in the collander...almost an hour of peeling...i clarified a stick of butter and added a cut up yellow onion and a clove of garlic with the coarsely cut artichokes, covered over a low heat and let them cook stirring occasionally for about half an hour...good stuff...i found only one bad sunchoke in sixty so, so far so good on the storage end...more on the subject as i continue to work at it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

apple tree update

a week in and they seem to be quite happy in the basement under the grow light...the runt ( unless it's only one there's always a runt...i have an asparagus plant oncampus that emerged late and never grew much...which is odd because the other seven did well and the asparasgus here at home went berserk...the one i am holding in my profile photo [well...what did you think that was?] is over five feet tall...or was before i cut them back this autumn) is about 3/4 of an inch tall and the other tops out at a bit over two the nacent orchard is doing fine so far...there may be a virtue in mealy apples after all.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

jerusalem artichokes: storage pit to table in 90 minutes

these jerusalem artichokes have been in the back yard pit for four weeks and i decided today was a good day to see how they were i got out a recepie for sunchokes gratin a friend sent me a while back and got to work....after i got past the first three or four inches of frozen ground i could easily dig around for tubers ( bloody cold soil though) ...i pulled out what i thought was enough, recovered the tubers, and went in to clean them up...the recepie called for peeled sunchokes and let me catagorically state that peeling these things is what took the most time and their irregular shape caused considerable waste, even with a sharp paring if your recepie calls for peeled jerusalem artichokes be prepared to buy or grow more than any recepie says you need...after i peeled them i boiled a pot of water and dumped the tubers in, cooking them about ten minutes after the water came back to a have to watch them carefully, they turn to mush if overcooked...i drained them and cut them into slices and put them in a bakingpan coated with butter...i dotted them with butter and tossed on a cup of fresh, grated parmesan cheese...into a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes and they were far storing them in the ground seems to be working...they were crisp and fresh as i peeled them...nothing withered or rubbery about them...i'll keep trying new ideas until i can't get them out anymore and then do more in spring before i have to clean them out or suffer the is easy...access may be another story.

Monday, November 22, 2010

trees are perennials, right?

a soggy and unseasonably warm november evening in the garden ( what climate change? take your denial elsewhere)...not much going on...but i needed to look in anyway just to be sure not much was going on...stuff happening at home though...a couple of weeks ago i had a really mealy apple ( that i bought at the produce department at strack and van til's) for breakfast along with some sunflower seeds...when i got to the core i found a couple of seeds that looked alot like they were germinating so i put them in a damp paper towel in a baggie on my desk and left them until i remembered them today...that's them in the middle photo... i brought them home and put them in peat pots and they're under the grow light right now...perhaps i can nurse them through the winter and plant some perennial apple trees in my yard this coming spring...stay tuned on this one.

and i still miss kathy...she was the fire under the boiler

Friday, November 19, 2010


since this will actually be my house in a few years time i don't feel as compelled to concern myself with apperances as i am on campus...neatness counts i have been told even if nature is anything but neat at times...but that is there and their opinion matters there...this is i dispensed with the artificial neatness of landscaping fabric and mulched my beds with all the yard waste i could find and put down some compost to keep it in place...fits my personality and nature both more closely...the top photo is an asparagus bed i mulched wirh straw and composted manure...inelegant but effective for keeping the asparagus happy this winter and giving it more to feed on in the spring...all i have to do is dig down where the stakes are to allow the relatively weak asparagus shoots a way up ( unlike the elephant garlic or yams or jerualem artichokes which will defy most anything to stop them ) and backfill as they grow...the bottom photo is the bed with all the defiant ones in it...mulched with straw, dead jerusalem artichoke plants from campus ( neatness counts...i hauled all my waste that isn't waste home to use), the dead asparagus plants from here, old cowpeas, leaves, and compost...anything that came to hand that will feed the worms come i'm done ( pretty much) with the physical work of the season...the mental work goes on although the paper about all this is coming along okay...still a lot to read and try to make sense of...alot to try to make sense of ...can't help it and won't burden you further...there is still the jerusalem artichoke storage experiment to keep tabs's been almost two weeks since i buried the last ones and i think i'll make something for thanksgiving with some of them...found a recipe for sunchokes au gratin that looks interesting ( cheese only serves to make most things better) and the gang will all be getting together...time to get moving...who knows how long things will last.

Friday, November 12, 2010

the second mulching

it's been a tough week...but the garden doesn't know that...its awareness is focused on the fact of autumn...there were things to be done...and since, in an academic sense, this project is about the beginnings of agriculture, domestication, artificial selection...human intervention in the lives of was time for me to intervene...the yams and asparagus needed to be mulched for winter...which is what the series of photos covers...the straw and landscaping fabric process worked so well last year i decided to reprise it this time, along with the additon of some composted manure since the asparagus plants are heavy feeders and it won't hurt the yams at i hauled the materials out to campus, cut back the asparagus, and had at it...about nintey minutes of work ( it is a small garden on purpose) and the garden is ready for winter...except the winter wheat which will need water until it goes dormant...with the physical work of the season pretty much over i can map out next season's plant placement, finish the paper i'm writing about this year, and refelect a bit...try to find some answers.