Tuesday, May 31, 2011


maybe it's the anthropology...or, perhaps, i'm just reaching an age that finds itself compatible with the sedentary pursuit of growing plants...or a combination of the two ( or more) factors...but i am completely geeked by what's going on out there...the top two photos are of the same teosinte plant ( Zea diploperennis) at an interval of about thirty-two hours...i am not sure how well the change comes across in the photos but that plant is about an inch ( exaggeration? don't know...forgot the photographic scale) taller and the greening it has undergone is not an exaggeration...growing like maize...the third photo is of a another teosinte plant on campus...the fourth one is maize i have coming up in a container outside the house, and the bottom one is younger Zea diploperennis in my backyard...the family resemblance is unmistakable to me...i will be taking photos every day somewhere just to keep up comparisons as the plants mature...fore-warned is fore-armed...i will be posting alot of them.

Monday, May 30, 2011

annual monoculture and erosion

it's been rather a wet may in northwest indiana and you can see that by the ammount of water that is still standing in the fields around county line road ( i don't recall gulls as typical denizens of cornfields...but there they are in the top photo)...but as you can see by the bottom photo the crops of dense yellow number two are going in...bayer and pioneer both recommend a row spacing of 30 inches for their corn ( they have specs for 15 inch rows and something called twin 30 inch rows [ basically instead of planting rows at a thirty inch spacing, plants are staggered four inches off each side of the thirty inch row line effectively doubling the plant population while still allowing the use of standardized thirty inch row farm machinery....ths statisitics i've read show that productivity isn't greatly enhanced...it increases it around fourteen bushels an acre more than standard thirty inch row planting, but that's not enough to call it the corn planting wave of the future...according to monsanto's website thirty-six inch rows actually allow more yield by giving plants more resources to draw on rather then incresing yield through more plants...the corn in the bottom photo looks like it is in standard thirty inch rows but i didn't hike out into the field with a tape measure] as well as 36 inch rows...by their figures 30 inch and 36 inch rows have higher yields and 30 inch is the norm) so that leaves us with a base point to do a bit of math...an acre has no real fixed dimensions...any size trapazoid or rectangle that encloses 43,656 square feet is an acre...a square acre would be about 208 feet 9 inches on a side...that leaves about 8 rows with 30 inch spacing in a square acre...say a row of mature corn covers an area 2 feet wide...2 feet times 8 rows times 208 feet leaves the corn covering an area of 3328 square feet out of 43,657 ( bear in mind these are ballpark figures meant to provide some basic visualization of the spaces involved in industrial monoculture )...far more of that square acre is open than covered by vegetation and farmer brown is going to use liberty or round-up or some other herbicide to ensure it stays that way...that's why the united states loses so much top soil every year and one reason i am inclined to permaculture as an eventual end for the garden...but there is a problem...scroll down to a photo of the garden and you'll see i'm not doing a whole lot better at the moment...one reason is the annual root crops i'm growing as part of the academic side of the garden, but another issue is tubers...i'm growing tubers because; 1) i like them, 2) they are perennials, and 3) beyond potatoes, other tubers have potential as staples...the down side is you have to dig them up to harvest and most are plant/ replant perennials...so you have to disturb the soil every year and leave it open to erosion...at least for a time...i've been thinking about using a ground cover like okinawa spinach, or new zealand spinach, or water celery ( you could use sweet potatoes, but then you're back to digging to harvest...but it's still a possibility) along with cowpeas ( green manure) during the growing season, then turing it all under at the tuber harvest and the replanting a cover crop of winter wheat over the garden ( and the beds at home) to hold things together over the winter...then turning the wheat under in the spring and starting the whole process over again...it would fix nitrogen in the soil that the winter wheat would recover and hold for the next spring and add organic matter to the garden to feed the worms and make the plot self sufficient...or, at least, immune to chemical fertilizer...nothing particularly original in this...but i am intrigued by using natural processes rather than industrial ones.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

head for the hills

the potatoes have done well this month...i've already raked some loose soil up around the bases of the plants...but since the weather is about to warm up again and they will be taking off i decided to be proactive and hill them today... i took that bag of straw from last winter's campus mulch that i've had quietly rotting in my yard since march and spread it around the base of each plant and then covered the base of each plant with compost...it will serve a number of purposes... it will stimulate the plants to produce more tubers...since the tubers grow close to the surface and exposure to sulight causes a build-up of alkaloids that "green" the potatoes and can make them unfit to eat it will block the light...it will also help the plants retain mosture and damp down weeds...it took a bout an hour's worth of effort to hill all thrity-nine plants...i will doubtlessly be hilling them again before july...using more compost will help speed up the straw's decomposition and add more organic matter to the bed...after harvest there will be cowpeas followed by winter wheat as a cover crop since i am trying to make my yard as self-sustaining as the garden on campus... i can move outside the narrower parameters of the campus garden back there and experiment with ideas i run across out there on the interweb or in the reading i am still doing...a time-consuming project for my dotage.


went to campus this morning to collect some turnips that were done...six altogether...there are more but it will be a few more weeks before they're ready...a total edible weight of 799 grams ( i got to officially use the food scale i got for christmas for its intended purpose )...i used some cowpea seeds that i harvested from the plants i grew last season to start the second generation of green manures with the idea of not adding any more organic matter to the garden beyond what i grow there...no more outside compost ( well...beyond what i use to mulch the yams and asparagus in thr fall...around forty pounds or so )...as self-sustaining a plot as i can make it with a rotation of green manures and cover crops ( winter wheat most likely)...the gamagrass is doing well although i culled a jerusalem artichoke from the bunch closest to hawthorne hall today...that's eighty-one of those devils and counting...that puts the actual total of last year's tuber production at over nine hundred...solve the storage issue and you have a staple that cannot be stopped...bottom photo is of the jerusalem artichokes taking hold and begining to rise over the spinach ( which i believe i will let go to seed so i have some for next season or perhaps a fall planting) there's movement because the dialectic says there must be...the changes will fly by all season.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011


the weather here has been changable from the nineties to the forties...dry...wet...windy...name it...most of the plants are taking it in stride...the teosinte seems a bit confused by it all but that could just be that the beds in the back yard are a bit more shady than the campus garden which has full sun all day...and that the ones out back were only planted after the ones on campus came up so aren't quite as well established yet...they will, i think, be fine...the top photo is of a bed of mostly perennials...the three elephant garlic plants are flanked by winter wheat...if you look between the two front garlic plants you can just see a volunteer potato...those are jerusalem artichokes at the back...i have been contemplating being a courteous neighbor and installing some rhizome barriers at the back of that bed and in a few other places to prevent the sunchokes from colonizing my meighbor's yard...i'm looking for 1/4" sheets of uhmw palstic but have only found it on line...menards perhas...the second photo is of winter wheat in a half barrel...doing every bit as well as the campus wheat and i have a larger population here spread out all over...perhaps rutabagas in the half barrel after the wheat is done...spring wheat is in the middle photo, in a bed that is mostly grasses...gamagrass, teosinte, wheat, and an overflow tomato plant...the potaoes are doing just fine and it will be time to hill them this weekend...that will be fairly simple...i have some rotten straw from last winter's campus mulch...that and some compost will do just fine...if they keep this pace of growth up i will be hilling thwm again in june...adding more organic matter to the bed won't hurt...they will be done in july and then i think it will be cowpeas as a green manure and then winter wheat as a cover crop for winter to keep the nitrogen in the bed...i will need to rotate something else through that bed for the next two years until the potatoes return...something to ponder in the off season...my inclination is toward permaculture, but a three bed rotation for poatates dictates some annuals too...that's okay, most ecosystems feature a mix of annuals and perennials...it's a matter of choosing carefully among compatable plants...the bottom photo is one of twenty-one thriving jerusalem artichoke plants out there...i look forward to a harvest of thousands of tubers and i have been thinking furiously about storage..plundering the internet for articles by gardeners and anthropologists and anyone else that might spark ( or provide) some ideas...a root cellar is impracticasl so some sort of storage conatiners filled with soil and stored above ground outside to be brought in and thawed before use is where i am leaning...we'll see if anything else comes up that's better as the reasearch moves along...it's a process and there's time to let it develop...but not that much.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


we had a healthy rain today so after work i went out to campus to check on things...i found my eightieth rouge jerusalem artichoke of the season and a toad basking in the sun that had finally emerged...i can only hope that this amphibian makes itself at home and gorges itself on the mosquito population that will only blossom with the jerusalem artichokes later in the season...last yeat i had mosquitos, monarch butterflies, bees, and dragon flies...this is the first campus toad however ( lots in the backyard here )...there will be lots of damp, shady places for toads to hang out in over the oourse of the summer...a few more wouldn't hurt...one yam has already sent two vines out to the trellis...the other is up and green, but no vines yet...i wonder if it is geting too much shade from the winter wheat...that will be done in a month, but i don't want the yam to get too far behind the other...the gamagrass has gone form greening up to being green and growing...it is about two-thirds of the heighth it was at the end of last season already...a mature bunch of gamagrass can be four feet tall and up to six feet in diameter...that will be next season when it begins producing seed...the seedheads on the winter wheat are still green and intact...the challenge will be to preserve the ripened grain...stay tuned on that one...the last photo is of a well watered garden about five'o clock this evening...plenty of work to do and alot more growth ot come on campus and at home ( more on the home fornt tomorrow...the potatoes are doing well...in fact it's about time to hill them...and so is the teosinte out there ) it will be a fine season if early events are a good indicator.

Monday, May 23, 2011

bird tape

since i dicovered seed heads on the wheat yesterday i decided to be a bit proactive about birds today...stuck in a couple of four foot tall stakes and festooned a couple of strands of bird tape over the top...a scarecrow was suggested...perhaps later if this doesn't work well... i am assuming that i will have to change the arrangement from time to time since the birds will acclimate to the tape if it stays in one place...that's fine...as long as it works...the Zea diploperennis is coming along well...it will be at least a week before the maize i planted on campus and at home germinates...since i have been photographing the teosinte since it came up i will be able to upload some comparisons to highlight the relationship between the two and to have an amateur look at morphology...it's late may and th egardens are busy places...soon the turnips and spinach will be done and the rutabagas and green manures will be going in as i proceed with this season's adgenda...adding in the yams, teosinte, maize, beets, and jerusalem artichokes there will be lots to do...i, for one, am curious about the final total on the sunchoke harvest and just exactly how i am going to store them for somewhat easier access

Sunday, May 22, 2011

wheat II

i was on campus yesterday to plant some Zea mays and either i am ageing badly eyesightwise or the winter wheat developed seedheads overnight...either way there they are and now the birds become competition for the limited crop....it will ripen over the next month and i will be putting up bird tape in an effort to deter predation ( how anthrocentric is that? if it were goldenrod seeds i'd call it bemeficial...agriculture makes people posessive...agricultural surplus creates social stratification...so did we start down this road as a species because we had to to support a growing population or did someone figure out they could manipulate the system to their advantage? probably a combination, no?)...i have grown some here at home so i am prepared to lose at least part of this argument...but i would like to harvest some...the yams ar egrowing so i put up part of this season's vine trellis which will be lower and more longitudianl that last season's vertical mishmash...easier to keep track of how many vines which plant produces...the garden is coming along nicely ( and thanks to the university ground crew for the hose...no more toting gallons of water out of hawthorne hall!)

Friday, May 20, 2011

a new parcel of rouges

after culling seventy-nine unwanted jerusalem artichokes from various locations in the garden, i had hoped to be done with rouges...but i had forgotten that almost all the perennials i planted last year are classified as invasive...colonizers that move in relentlessly unless vigilantly controlled...my memrory was refreshed by the two rouge chinese yams (one in the top photo)...i collected nearly five hundred aerial bulbs from the vines and the ground around the yams over the couse of last season...obviously i missed at least two of them and they are growing far too close to the asparagus to be allowed to prosper...another facet of human intervention into the lives of plants endemic to agriculture...i read an interesting article by daniel zohart called " unconscious selection and the evolution of domesticated plants" in which he maintains that by providing an environment free of the competition and and disease that comprised selective pressure in wild plants humans unconsiously substituted othere selective pressures that modified domesticated crops as much if not more than the conscious selection for things like larger seedheads and resistance to shattering...we cannot know all the consequences of our acts ( and speaking of evolution, can someone tell me what possible selective advantage could be represented by allergies? i am in hystamine city)...the Zea diploperennis is doing well too (photos two, three and four), as it is here at home...i am planting my own corn to provide some photos to contrast the morphology of corn and its ancestor...i have heard from mark millard, the usda maize curator who has given me some suggestions on what to do with the Zea perennis if it doesn't germinate in the beds...many thanks to him and hopefully we will get another strain of teosinte up and running this season...the bottom photo is a shot form the west end of the garden about 10:00 this morning...asparagus, intermediate wheat grass, and winter wheat are prominent...later in may and everything is up and running...the complextion of the garden will change as the spring crops end their season and new plants take their place in the rotation... autumn root crops will be planted in mid-summer and green manures are on this year's agenda again along with the addition of cover crops to retain the nitrogen through the winter...learning as i go and tweaking the system so it becomes more self-sustaining...how much more fun could i ask for?

more photos

the gamagrass in the top photo is just fine, on campus and at home all six plants are okay...the middle two photos are of chinese yams where they are supposed to be..the one in the third photo has already put out a second vine, perhaps compensating for the mole damage it suffered earlier this spring...the bottom photo is a view of the garden form the south side about 10:00 a m today