Sunday, March 27, 2011

calling it a season

i cooked the last of the jerusalem artichokes this evening for a frugal meal to mark the official end of the first season of the perennial garden project(they held up well for twenty-four hours or so in a bowl of cold water after i peeled and cut them up...cold seems to be the key here) in the nineteen months since its inception in a series of emails and discusssions with kathy forgey it has had a good deal of success and one unrecoverable loss...that's life...and it is why i am not always at peace with it...but the garden goes on...we're growing annual root crops this year to compare with the productivity of last year's perennials...that will be intersting and i want to see if my surmises are proved true...i will be writing more about what's going on in my back yard as will become an extention of the campus garden and will provide a bit more room for some different processes...i potted the last of the germinated apple seeds this evening...sixteen trees in all...if they all survive...i also have tomatoes and peppers up and running under the light...i had to add another table down there but i believe that will be the last expansion of the nursey...if the weather starts to co-operate a bit i will be unmulching the asparagus and yams on campus friday to get them going...stargazer perennials has emiled me that my seed potatoes are on the road from oregon to indiana...i will need to review the cutting, callousing, and planting procedures...the bed was prepared last friday so their home is ready...gamgrass, wheatgrass, teosinte, winter and spring wheat, fruit trees, tubers, tomatoes...the project has a fullsome population this coming season...a lot to do and to write about...stay tuned if you're interested

Saturday, March 26, 2011


well folks...that photo represents the last of the jerusalem artichokes i found after going back and gleaning all the trenches i dug in the fall to use for storage...doubtlessly i missed a few and i expect volunteers next month...i will cull them, but if they are not in an awkward place i will let them stand and deliver more tubers for the next this a success? from the standpoint of the tubers surviiving the winter in an edible condition it was...but that could hardly have failed since they winter over to grow the next generation of plants anyway...just used a natural process and that was pretty much a no-brainer...if that were the only issue involved here there would be no real reason to harvest the tubers from the parent plant root system on anything but an "as needed" basis...clearly my experience this winter has shown that access is the key...if jerusalem artichokes are going to become anything like a perennial staple ( and they could be) you need to get at them when things are frozen my storage technology has to evolve beyond digging a hole and hoping for a thaw...a few ideas are percolating through my aged synapses and they still involve in-ground storage...nobody that i can find is writing much about sunchoke storage beyond "they can be frozen and stored indefinitly"...yeah..i know...but i don't have a freezer large enough to hold what i plan to this fall i will again harvest and centrally collect the tubers to freeze naturally in soil...that soil will simply have to be in some sort of container that has yet to be defined so they can be brought indoors in batches to thaw, utilize, and return the soil to the beds...what those cantainers may be constructed from and how many i have yet to decide...that's the way my thoughts are running right now...tweak the natural system to my advantage...the story of agriculture so far...who am i to run counter to ten thousand years of experience?

Friday, March 25, 2011

a friday afternoon at home

the last of my father's day 2010 2 X 12s have become the third raised bed intended to allow a three year rotation of potatoes...according to steven brush there are local andean agricultures that use a seven year rotation which includes a fallow period for the fields...i don't think i have that much space to work with and the reading i've done tells me that if i am careful about cleaning tools and which beds i step in in which order i have a fairly good chance of avoiding a build-up of insect parasites or diseases that potatoes are sensitive to....hope so..i will simply have to watch what i do...the seed potatoes arrived on april second last year so i wanted to have the bed ready, particularly since next friday is the day i plan to unmulch the garden on campus...didn't want that and the construction of a bed on my plate for the same weekend...things are moving along plant-wise as well...two of the three elephant garlic plants are up ( middle photo)...i will be unmulching the yams in that bed soon as well...although they come out of dormancy rather later in april...not a huge issue just yet...the elephant garlic doesn't care about the mulch...obviously...some of the tomato plants have four leaves so soon it will be off the heat mat and into peat pots for them to be hardened-off and planted after mother's day...finally i have a dozen apple trees in various stages of development from seedlings to about five inches tall under the light...the one in the photos is about two months old and seems to be a pretty hale little critter...if they all do well ( and i believe i have four more germinating but not ready to be potted yet) i will be looking for homes for some...i can support a couple of them and will pass some out to relatives ( mom's back yard is a prime candidate)...the others may go begging for a far so good this year...some set-backs and the winter season is hanging on a bit...that will pass...looking forward to asparagus and jerusalem artichokes ( speaking of which i believe i will be digging some up tomorrow for lunch...need to conclude the storage experiment SOON)...still geeked about a new season.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

elephant garlic...

...and maybe some gamagrass breaking out for the season....i can only upload five photos per post so i tossed these in just for the fun of it.

artichokes and garlic mean the seasons have met

well...things are moving along here at home...i have two elephant garlic plants coming through the mulch in the perennial bed on the south side of the house and i do believe there is some eastern gamagrass coming up as well...although it's a bit early to make a final call on that's green and it's grass and it's where i planted seeds last fall...but i will hold off on a difinitive call until the season gets along a bit...i dug up sixty-six jerusalem artichokes for lunch and fried them with some onions and a few potatoes...a little garlic salt and pepper was enough to finish the is getting late...the jerusalem artichokes were up and running on campus by the middle of april last year so there is some time pressure about using them...i have noticed that as the weather has warmed some of the smaller tubers have spoiled...i had to discard half a dozen today...the other photos are of some of the larger ones ( which still seem to be holding up well) seems the larger the tubers get the more irregular their shape is...the smaller ones are shaped like large teardrops which makes the easier to peel but there's not alot to them...i am geeked...there's green out there...if that's gamagrass and the teosinte takes hold i will be a happy's good to be started.

Friday, March 18, 2011

raised bed and apple trees

with the garden on campus underway i turned my attention to the backyard project which is a sort of extention/oontrol of the campus garden because, among other things, there are minimum quantities to orders and limited room at iun...i assmbled the third of four raised beds that will be in use this season back there from the lumber i got for father's dat last year ( adult children indulging their father's increasing eccentricity is probably what you'd get if you asked them why they bought dad 2 X 12s) and planted turnips and spinach from the same batch of seeds i used earlier today...the forth bed will be for the red nordalnd potatoes that should arrive early next month...then i can rotate potatoes around the three new beds ( the forth is filled with perennials like chinese yams and jerusalem artichokes which are permanent residents) to control the build-up of pests and diseases that impact potatoes so regularly.

the adjustments to the grow light and watering schedule seem to have paid of in healthier seedlings...i potted four more seeds that had germinated this morning, so there are ten trees down there right now...i think i will hold off on germinating any more seeds until i see how this works out...if all ten take hold i will be hard pressed to find homes for them as it is...a busy day in the gardens...but productive i think...and while i am deeply interested in things like the sutainability of agriculture beyond petrochemical inputs and the impact that industrial agriculture has on soil on a number of levels form sterility to erosion ( both of which i will be returning to periodically...i have plans for my camera and my trusty corn field...a better photo essay on grass morphology for instance...especially if the teosinte pans out) it was really good to DO something.

early start

it's a couple of weeks earlier than i started last season, but the spinach i put in last april 2nd didn't hesitate so i figured it would be safe to sow supplier tells me the turnips can go in a month before the last frost...when that might be is open to question...a short perusal of websites gave average dates for the last frost here ranging from april 15th to may i ignored them and put the seeds in...if they fail i still have plenty of seeds to start another crop...this season is supposed to be annual root crops to compare with the perennial tubers' production from last year, but the rutabagas won't be going in until july so i thought i'd put in a stand of spiniach to utilize the will be over and done with well before mid far this year the garden is 200 pounds richer in organic matter as i added composted manure to the beds i planted today ( and the teosinte bed last week) as well as some i turned in on the east end of the garden because: 1) it is the low point where water pools when it rains and 2) i believe that it is where i will plant some spring wheat to go along with the winter wheat that is on the other end of the garden...encouragingly i found a number of earthworms while i was cultivating so i may not have to import them this year and i failed to find any stray jerusalem artichoke tubers....i find it difficult to believe that i gleaned them all last fall and i expect volunteers outside the are i have set aside for them this season...i will cull the herd as i go...i believe i will wait until april 1st to unmulch the chinese yams and the asparagus...the yams will not come out of dormancy until late in the month and i don't think a couple of weeks will hurt the asparagus...we won't be harvesting any anyway...that won't start until 2012 when they start their third season...that's about it from i'm heading out to the back yard to construct a couple more raised beds...the potatoes will be here in a few weeks and i want to be ready.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

annual monoculture and soil

"if we select corn as a symbol of our agriculture ( it is our top carbohydrate producer) we can say without any exaggeration that corn, as a technological product, has reduced more options for future generations than the automobile."p.18

"estimates of how long it takes for one inch of topsoil to be created under natural conditions range from 300 to 1,000 years." p18

"an iowa state university research study...estimated that the united states was losing over four billion tons of soil each year through water erosion. a typical georgia cotton farm with a seven percent slope will lose over twenty tons per acre. but when cotton is grown in rotation, the farm will lose about six tons per acre, still much greater than the rate of replacement. land devoted exclusively to corn in missouri will lose nearly twenty tons per acre, but similar land , in rotation with wheat and clover has lost only 2.7 tons per acre." p.21

from "New Roots for Agricultuire" by wes jackson.

the international monetary fund has cautioned us that we should inure ourselves to rising food costs as the dietary shifts in those living in "emerging economies" create more demmand for cereal grains due to increased meat consumption...they maintain it will take "years" to bring enough new cropland into production to bring supply into line with demmand...well...they are certainly correct about the difficulty with new in the united states what is left to open up is mostly marginal land that was taken out of production under the conservation reserve program and is subject to water erosion...there certainly isn't much of any new cropland left around here...the opposite in fact...subsumed by "development"...i am so old that i can remember when civilization along route thirty ended at the lake county reference library and didn't start again until valparaiso...that land has been paved over by subdivisions, malls, strip malls, supermarkets, car dealerships, parking lots, and some damned thing called kaboom fireworks...nothing will grow there again without a considerable could cut down the remaining rain forests of brazil...but the soil is nutrient poor ( the nutrients are all in the biomass...that's why alot of traditional horticulture in the tropics is slash-and-burn...vegiation on a plot is burned to retun nutrients to the soil which is then utilized for only a few seasons until the fertility gives out...the horticulturalists move on and the cleared area is reclaimed by native biomass and allowed to recover) and more easily eroded than soils here...lots of conservation and lots of chemical inputs don't sound like a recipie for cheaper grain to me...we probably shouldn't feed grain to cattle kills them eventually...makes them acidotic...basically it destroys their digestive systems because they evolved to eat grass not it's a race to fatten and slaughter before they die anyway...i don't eat nearly as much meat anymore...eventuallly i will lose the habit entirely...retire it with some other doozies i've put aside already...the photos are of my trusty cornfield off county line road ( is there nothing that field can't do?) isn't sloped much at all, but you can see the effects of water eorsion's pretty bare this time of year, and will remain so for a few months yet...time enough for wind and rain to erode more of it...even when it is planted it will still be mostly bare as herbicides wipe out anything that isn't genetically linked to survive it ( think bayer and "liberty-link" corn...or those "round-up ready" soy beans that are processed into something or other) will erode all summer too...changing agriculture to a more sustainable process is a necessity...conserving soil means more no till farming and that means also means a greater degree of increasingly i see an imperative to grow as much of my own food as i can so i can have a modicum of control over what i put down my throat...and utilize the neglected resources of my back yard...i am educating myself...but i am not making myself comfortable.


the race is on to use up the remainder of the jerusalem artichokes before they turn into a new generation of plants and overrun my backyard...the remaining apple trees seem to be responding to a new growlight orientation and watering regime by producing leaves ( and, i hope roots) as opposed to height...there are more germinating and perparing to go into peat pots...i will have fruit trees in my yard yet...and the first of the hierloom tomatoes have erupted fom the growth medium and into the light...along with yesterday's start on the teosinte i can finally see movement towards a new season after a rather dreary and angst ridden growth...renewal...and, if we're really fortunate, some healing and better understanding...i am pumped...geeked as kathy would say...we have a plan and we have a garden...what more could we need?

peppers and bunching onions on the heat mat... turnips and rutabegas go in the ground ( as seeds) next weekend....beets at the end of the month.

Friday, March 11, 2011

let's call it a preface to opening day

i was on campus this morning about thirteen hours after i finished my liguistic anthropology mid-term ( that there will be a grade is, i think, a foregone conclusion...what it may be is open to question) because the extended forecast tells me the weather is due to warm up and i wanted to get some cycles of cold into the northern tepehuan teosinte to break its i turned forty pounds of composted cow manure in to the old potato bed fom last year and put about half my packet of seeds in ...i saved the other half to put in here at home....after i scour the raised bed one more time for stray jerusalem artichokes...i also re-established a cordon of bird-tape over the winter wheat...i put some over the teosinte bed as well, although i can't see any but the hungriest of local birds trying to open one of those...they appear to be mostly a tough seed coat with little seed...this is a completely different approach from last soaking inhydrogen peroxide to break germinating in damp paper towels in nurturing on the heat mat in peat grow light...biological function in the great outdoors or no can't be a significantly worse season than the last would be a difference of only one plant...the true opening day will be the end of the month the mulch will come off the asparagus and chinese yams...the beets, trunips, and rutabegas will go in...and we'll see what develops...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

the trees are alright...

the adjustment to the height of the grow light seems to be working out well...i haven't seen any measurable growth since i did it which, i hope, means the trees are investing some energy into their root systems rather than trying to reach the light...i am also hoping for some thickening in the stems (trunks?) to begin so there is some added support to their it is i have hilled one to keep it upright...i have another dozen seeds in germinating and there is movement there as well...the next question is how many trees do i need?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

petrochemicals = food

whoa! yesterday wheat was trading at $330.69 a tonne...this morning it's at $337.39...maize was $303.35 yesterday and today it's $$310.14...both up ( coincidentally)$6.79 a tonne...oil is at $104.91 a barrel this ,morning...i have been watching the commodidties market as a sort of rough gauge of what is really going on in the economy since the punditry, captains of industry, and politicians all have an agenda which may or may not coincide with and food costs are reality for just about everyone on the planet...things do not seem to be improving from a consumer point of view...especially an impoverished consumer's point of view which is probably the majority right now...wes jackson calls the ever increasing dependence of industrial agriculture on petrochemical inputs such as pesticides, herbicides, anhydrous ammonia as fertilizer, and fuel for farm machinery "chemotherapy" for soil rendered sterile by longterm chemical abuse...nothing organic about dense yellow numbet two corn...specualtors or not, as long as the cost of a barrel of oil rises, so too will the cost of a bushel of wheat or corn...look for pice increases in big macs and hot pockets soon if things don't calm down...look for food riots as well...if you believe things are getting out of hand now, stick around a the cost of oil rises ( and it may go back down, but it is bound to rise again) things will become more volatile everywhere...then kick back and wait for the acute water shotages facing much of the world ( so long las vegas) to reach public awareness ( the people facing them alrerady know...most of the rest of us don't)...the times just keep getting more interesting.

Friday, March 4, 2011

halfway through the harvest...

...and, depending on your viewpoint, the season is perilously close to over...or it's just about to begin...i cleaned out ( i think...almost...bound to be some volunteers )the raised bed where i buried about half the jerusalem artichoke harvest last fall...we have eaten them a variety of ways, but fried seems to be the method of choice ( au gratin is mine...cheese)...whatever way you cut it the sixty odd tubers i pulled out of the ground this morning means we've utilized about half of what's out there...if memory serves me correctly it was last april that the parent plants of these little devils started to appear on i have about a month to eat some four hundred jerusalem artichokes or face the task of culling plants that i have absolutely no desire to see colonoize my entire yard...and they will...fourteen plants produced over eight hundred tubers...that's an average of fifty-six, or so, tubers per plant...prolific...good job they taste just fine (sweeter than apotato...not as sweet as a sweet potato)...i do have them planted around the yard and there are some on campus as well so i am expecting a fall harvest of more than a thousand ( yes i will count them...last year was actually eight-hundred and eleven)...they have held up well over the winter...i have found less than half a dozen that were spoiled...that is encouraging...although as the weather warms that could change...we'll see...the nut that needs to be cracked is access during winter...i'm kicking around a few ideas, including a root cellar, but there are constraints that may render that i am still searching for ideas...i have until next fall.

tomato day 2011

after an energizing breakfast of apples and sunflower seeds washed down with enough green tea to swamp a small boat... i took to the basement and started today's first garden project...( the weather is fine enough that i will be able to dig some jerusalem artichokes up...i suspect ther ewill be a seperate post about that...if for no other reason than i cannot upload more than five photos per blog and i am a freak for graphic illustration)...i got out the heat mat and cover, soaked some peat pellets, put a mix of compost and spaghnam moss in to some peat pots, and started twenty tomato plants....they're under the grow light now, keeping the apple trees ( which appear to be much happier plants under the new regimine) company...i'll give it a week or better to see how many take and start more if need be...i have some half-barrels i had earmarked ( is that a non-politically correct term now?) for tomatoes, but if all these take hold i believe i will be searching for some sunny spot out front to hold's legal to grow tomatoes in the front yard, right? as long as we steer clear of the lawn mower it should be fine...these are all gowing at home...the campus garden will be home to some winter wheat and annual root crops because it has more work to do beyond just producing things to eat...home will have the variety...the university will have the thought ( and the writing )...more stuff after i get all muddy digging up tubers.