Tuesday, August 31, 2010

morphology. appendix I

just a photo of the tillers emerging around the base of the Zea mexicana.


personally i am convinced by all the reading i've done that teosinte is an ancestor of maize...it may not be the only one, there is some dispute about that, and that is why we included eastern gamagrass in our garden, but teosinte has me sold...the top photo is Zea mexicana growing ( with a lot of luck, even though i did plant the seeds...nature surely did the work) on the south side of my house...the next one down is Zea mays growing down county line road..take a look and tell me.

the second set of photos shows how the maize leaves all branch out from the center of the stalk..they form one above the other emerging from the center as the plant grows...now take a look at the teosinte...same growth mechanism at work...as the plant grows the leaves emerge from the center thickening the stalk as new leaves are created...a family trait.

there are differences...in the top photo you can just make out leaves emerging from the base of the plant as well...called tillers they are what i surmise to be the beginnings of the branches that mature teosinte plants exhibit...i have lived mostly in the mid-west all my life and none of the thousands of maize plants i've seen had branches...teosinte isn't very sociable either..all the planting directions i've read reccomend at least three feet between plants in all directions...the domesticated and branchless maize could be planted a bit closer, but not too close...in Native American Gardening [wilson 1917] Buffalobird-Woman says, "if the corn hills were so close together that the plants, when they grew up, touched each other, we called them 'smell-each-other'; and we knew that the ears they bore would not be plump nor large." p23...a lot of the modification of transgenetic maize by big seed producers like monsanto has gone into producing plants that will tolerate living closely to one another and still produce...a seperation of one foot is the norm , unless the mechanical planter skips and then you get two feet.

related but different in substantial ways, maize is the result of artificial selection over many generations and an accelerated genetic modification over the last few decades....the morphology is plain to see

Saturday, August 28, 2010


we have mostly perennials in the garden ( as if you couldn't tell by the name of the blog) and they reproduce in different ways, some of them seemingly redundantly..the intermediate wheatgrass in the top photo is producing seeds, but my research tells me that they do not disperse very widely, falling mostly near to the parent plant...like many grasses, wheatgrass is rhizomatous...it sends runners out underground from its main root system and colonizes the surrounding area...the crabgrass in the university lawn does the same thing, constantly invading the garden around the perimeter, and has been the biggest "weed" problem we've faced this season. the crabgrass rhizomes spread abovegroung however, and are called stolons. the eastern gamagrass is a bunch grass that does not produce runners. it reproduces soley through seeds which it will not produce until its third season. it moves slowly, but it can reach eight feet in height , and the crown can be four feet in diameter...it chokes out its competition and expands slowly but steadily.

the second photo is of the rootsystem of a jerusalem artichoke i harvested friday ( and there are some tubers down in the bottom left corner ) and the third photo everyone should recognize as potatoes...these perennials reproduce themselves by setting tubers which produce the next season's plant...the plant and roots die-back, and you can see that for a seven foot tall plant the roots didn't go down very deep...so potatoes and jerusalem artichokes are perennials, but we eat the perennial part so we have to save "seed" for the next crop...i am told i will have to be aggressive in my harvesting of the sunchokes or we will have more volunteers than we can control next season...potatoes aren't so prolific, but. left alone would continue year to year and expand their territory.

the chinese yams in the fourth photo ( on the trellis in front of the jerusalem artichokes ) and the asparagus in the fifth ( the "ferny" looking things on the left ) are rhizocarpous or rootstock perennials...the aboveground portions die-back each year, but the roots store food and will produce a new plant next season and every season thereafter as long as conditions will suppport them...in addition they both reproduce above ground....the female asparagus plants produce berries with seeds in them ( we don't have any by the way...the crowns i planted are all males...they produce more spears than the females because they are not investing energy in seed production and so are what are planted to produce asparagus ) which is how the aparagus expands its range...the yams have invested a large ammount of energy and growth into producing vines that are yards long and , from about four feet off the ground, have produced hundreds of areial bulbs to create a new generation...i purchsed twenty of those bulbs last year when i aquired the year old roots i planted in the garden...every one of those bulbs germinated and i now have twenty yams in my yard that will vine next season ( at least the ones that survuive the winter will ) the hundreds of bulbs these plants have produced reinforce the invasive classification that these plants have been given by the usda....along with the jerusalem artichokes they will have to be monitored closely to make sure they don't crowd out anything else we try to grow.

a variety of reproductive strategies in one classification of plant...some prolific, some not so much so...some that will have to be fostered, some that will need close monitoring....i have a much clearer idea of how things work after most of the first season and my plant recognition skills ( at least as far as what we have grown this year ) are much improved...i will be able to recognize and shepherd volunteer sunchokes and yams in the spring..i will try to keep plant chaos at bay

Sunday, August 22, 2010

haven't been this excited about a plant in years

okay...it's completely silly...i know ( but someone will remind me anyway ) the teosinte has grown nine inches in a week and sarah was by the house while i was out there amongst the vegatable matter...she is a shutterbug, and hey presto! i am all smiles in this one vc!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

daylight and aliens

the tomatoes seem to be stuck in rather a slow growth rate...they have gotten to be nearly two feet tall since i planted them, but they do not show any signs of producing actual tomatoes before the season ends...being that they are sub-tropical perennials and nowhere near native to indiana and i am wondering if they are having daylength issues...i was researching andean tubers at one point because i was thinking of growing some next season ( an idea that has been put aside for a more focused second season )...most of them were eliminated as candidiates because too much daylight would shut down thier productivity...the plants would grow, but the length of the days here in the growing season would inhibit their production of tubers....they want a more even distribution of light and dark than we get here in summer...i'm wondering if our tomatoes aren't suffering form the same issue...there's some time left in the year, but i'm not sure if we'll see tomatoes.

the season is just booming along...august is winding down and i will begin harvesting jerusalem artichokes soon...i will have to if i do not want them to over-run the entire garden...all the plants in the garden are busy insuring another generation...even though they are perennials they seem to be prolific procreators...i have harvested over one hundred aerial bulbs from the yam vines and they just keep appearing and i can't help but wonder what kind of impact putting all this energy into vining and bulb production is going to have on the actual yam production...we'll find out soon enough, but i am in some suspense...the wheat grass continues to prodduce new seed heads as well...awned and resembling emmer wheat, another perennial making sure there's more where they came from...there are strangers in the wheatgrass bed and i am having a bit of difficulty identifying exactly what they are...they take after fountain grass but are not tinged with purple...timothy hay is another possiblity...stockman seed sold me the wheatgrass and the tag on the burlap bag they came in says the seed is only 96.62% pure...stockman seed does sell seed for timothy hay and it's possible some stowaways arrived with the wheatgerass...but then there's the fact that the same stuff is growing in my yard and i haven't planted any of those wheatgrass seeds here at home...so more research is in order to find out what it is exactly...it is curious looking stuff, and not unattractive...if i discover it's a perennial i imagine it can stay.

my accidental Zea mexicana is doing well here at home...now nearing eighteen inches in height it shows me that i was, perhaps, indulging in some overly complicated processes in attempting to germinate and grow it...a more direct and naturalisyic approach seems to be what's called for and it's what we will be doing next year...we may never be able to get it to go to seed because it seems to like warmer weather ( it has occured to me that i may have just been trying to start it in conditions that were simply too cool resulting in the plants' demise when i took them off the heating mat )and we may not have the 155 or so days it needs to do so if it won't start until late july or early august...but i will be planting it drectly in the ground outdoors next season...i may still soak it in hydrogen peroxide for twenty minutes to break down dormancy, but i won't baby it along indoors.

8-21-2010 8:00 p.m.
i just got off the usda national resource conservation service's plant data base and i believe i have identified the intruder in the wheatgrass plot...it is japanese bristlegrass (Setaria faberi Herrm.) and it is an annual, which might make an interesting comparison for the wheatgrass, but dosen't belong there...can't use chemicals to remove it...and that wouldn't do the wheatgrass any good at any rate...so..pull it out like the noxious weed it is classified as..well...i needed something to do anyway.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Zea mexicana

my father's family has fairly deep roots in jasper county indiana, and while my paternal grandfather's generation left the farm my paternal grandmother's did not...i remeber spending time on my great uncle tom cooper's farm, and though my freat uncle floyd mccolly was a cabinet maker, his shop was in fair oaks ( before the dairy...doubtlessly the fair oaks of my childhood is long gone ) so as a child and early teen i had a fairly wide experience of rural indiana...this being so i should not be surprised at the teosinte's behavior today, but i am...when i took the top photo at 8:47 this morning the plant was around 7 1/2 inches tall...at 5;4:41 this afternoon it is about 9 1/4 inches tall...1 3/4 inches of growth in a day...you can watch maize grow in the fields around my great-grandparents old homesteads today if you have the time...i used to once...this project is bringing all sorts of roots to light.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


recently i have been contending with a multitude of mosquitos in the garden, and their numbers seem to be rising as the season progresses...i had thought this was because the foliage in the garden, particularly the jerusalem artichokes, provided a damp and cool refuge from the current august heat...my stubborn insistence on extending my ban on chemical inputs in the garden to include insect repellent ( it smells godawful and i don't care what the msds says about health factors, it cannot be good for you...might as well douse youorself in ddt) has left me swatting and convulsing as i work, doubtlessly attracting unwarranted attention to the weirdo that mutters to himself continually while weeding...but that's leading us away from the salient point here...after i got home this morning i sat down at the computer and as i idly scratched i googled mosquitos to read up on the little critters and i discovered something i had never known and which clears alot of things up...i knew that it was female mosquitos that did the biting as part of the reproductive cycle...i figured that they drew their subsistence through that mechanism as well...since male mosquitos didn't bite i was never too concerned about how they survived..just figured they had a short lifecycle and eating wasn't a high priority...this is not the case...both male and female mosquitos are nectar feeders...that explains their concnetration in the jerusalem artichokes..nectaries attract more than beneficial or neutral insects...those pesky little things are living off our flowers...you can never know all the results of your actions and there are unintended consquences all over my life ( let me take this opportunity to apologize to all of you i have unwittingly offended or otherwise harmed...it may indeed have been my fault but it wasn't intentional and intentions do count ) chalk this up as another one.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

clearly biology is smarter than i...

...probably more gramatically correct too, but that's beside the point....after my last failed attempt to grow teosinte i was fairly unhappy...disgusted, i chucked a handfull of seeds into a pot on the south side of the house as a last deperate stab at it, not expecting anything...i checked on the pot for a few weeks and when nothing happened i decided i would do some more research over the winter and try again in the spring with the seed i had frozen and forgot about it...so this evening i go out to water in the back jungle and when i came around the south side of the house to water the cowpeas and yams in the raised bed there what do i find? teosinte...and larger and with many more leaves than anything i managed to germinate indoors...humbling...all that soaking in hydrogen peroxide and time spent in baggies and paper towels on the heating mat for not much and some ( actually only one) seeds i toss out into a pot and forget do much better...it's Zea mexicana and so an annual and i don't have a clue how well it will do...but natural processes trumped all the research and networking and close attention i could muster...chastened but pleased none the less i won't do too much for it...maybe some water between rains...it is on its own...that's how it got there...i will keep you informed...maybe it just likes hot weather.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


the intermediate wheatgrass is going to seed....five plants have produced seed heads so far, and there is a family resemblance between it and domesticated wheat...personally i think it looks like emmer wheat, although an argument could be made for its taking after einkorn, or rather einkorn taking after it, wheatgrass is the proposed ancestor here...according to dorian fuller both emmer and eikhorn wheat were domesticated in the fertile crescent...emmer wheat 9800-8800 Before Present (BP) and eikhorn around 9000 BP... although grains of wild emmer wheat found at ohalo II have been radiocarbon dated to 17,000 BP...intermediate wheatgrass is native to asia minor and central europe, it was introduced into the united states in 1932, so it could be part of emmer wheat's ancestry...i used a piece of paper as the background rather than the garden to show how awned the wheatgrass is...that facet was being obscured by the garden backdrop. eastern gamagrass is another possible ancestor to domesticated crops we have in the garden...mary eubanks from duke university has done extensive research into the ancestry of maize and belives that gamagrass was crossed with teosinte to produce it. gamagrass is difficult to establish because its seed dormancy is problematic...i planted thirty seeds in the garden last november and let them winter over, which is one strategy to stimulate growth...out of those thirty seeds we achieved three plants, but those three are doing well...the two largest ones have reached almost three feet in height and they are around eighteen inches in diameter at the crown. the smaller plant has been overshadowed by the advance of the jerusalem artichokes and is quite a bit smaller, but still appears to be healthy. another perennial grass, they will be a part of the garden's second season.

we've had quite a bit of rain at the end of july and beginning of august so i haven't really had to water the garden in the last week...the standing water i found there last saturday is an indication of that...there's sand under the garden about eighteen to twenty-four inches down, so it is well drained...standing water means considerable precipitation and the cowpeas weren't really happy about it...some of the younger ones began to take on a yellowish cast from overwatering in the middle of the past week...it has dried out a bit since then though and they were recovering a healthy green cast when i looked in on them yesterday afternoon...i will hold off watering for a time.

the chinese yams are producing a prolific ammount of aerial bulbs...i have collected seventy-two so far in an effort to control their numbers...they are considered an invasive species in some quarters and with this sort of reproductive rate i can see why...between them and the jerusalem artichokes it is becoming obvious that growing these perennials isn't so much the challenge as containing their efforts to colonize the entire garden...i was expecting this but expectation doesn't always communicate the scale of the issue...there will be some aggressive harvesting of jerusalem artichokes to go along with the vigilant policing of yam bulbs if i am going to retain adequate space to plant pulses next year.

finally there are signs of siginificant movement in the perennial tomatoes....they are sub-tropical and i thought there might have been a daylength issue in their refusal to budge...however they have reached a couple of feet in height and the largest of the plants has flowered so we may get some fruit yet...there are a couple of months yet for them to produce in.

this season has move by quickly and it will be time to bring in the rest of the harvest soon and begin preparing for winter...after a late crop of spinach when the weather cools.