Sunday, September 30, 2012

mea culpa

an email from dr. lee dehaan at the land instittue points out a fundamental mistake i have made about what we are dealing with here...these plants are not hybrid anything...there is no hint of wheat in them...the are intermediate wheat grass ( thinopyrum intermedium ) that have been artificially selected for " yield and larger seed." he goes on to explain the reasoning behind this, " domestication doesn't have the advantage of using the genes from wheat, but we also don't have the genetic complications that result in sterility when you make wide hybrids." so, if i understand this correctly, they are trading off the quicker route of producing hybrids for the longer process of domestication that will result in a much more reliably viable seed. so we can discount my talk of hybrids and stick to the process of artificial selection that humans began with the neolithic revolution,

intermediate wheat grass hybrids

the land institute in kansas has been working on breeding perennial grain by crossing annual wheat with the perennial intermediate wheat grass ( not the only breeding project they are involved in...but the one that hold the most interest for me )...dr. lee dehaan, the plant geneticist there, has sent me a dozen plants from three different hybrid strains to work with and i have utilized just about half of the garden's square footage to accommodate nine of the twelve plants on campus ( the other form each strain, are in my back yard...both because of space constraints and as a sort of control/redundancy to backthe campus plants up in case of trouble ) i took the tools of the trade out there this morning...uprooted some of the annuals ( specifically cowpeas and the spent hopi blue maize ) and turned in one hundred and twenty pounds of compost both to enrich the organic matter and to aerate and loosen the soil for the plants' roots...i planted them to a depth that left the peat pots they arrived ( after i removed them from the plastic tray ) about an inch below the surface...i watered them well...dr. dehaan tells me that if there isn't a hard freeze for two or three weeks ( and the long-term forecast indicate there shouldn't be ) they should not need to be mulched...i am considering mulching some of them , but not others...once again as a hedge against possible disaster and as a sort of control...i will be mulching perennials late anyway and it won't be any stretch to mulch the hybrids either...i am geeked about this project and its overall ptential to reconfigure the way we do agriculture...making it more resilient and environmentally friendlier than the industrial system i rant about so much...there will be lots of posts about this...just because i am who i am mostly, but there's an off chance that some of the folks who read this blog ( a modest but dedicated group of readers and members...thanks for that ) could find it interesting as well...the other projects in the garden ( like plant morphology and its relationship to folk taxonomies ) will go on...this jsut spices it up a bit

yam prevention

i was pulling up plants and turning over soil in preparation for some planting on campus today and as a part of that preparation i picked up 638 chinese yam aerial bulbs off the ground around the vines ( and i stripped as many of those remaining on the vines off as well as i 900+ bulbs...know anyone who wants to start a plantation? almost all perennial seem to be invasive ) and put them in a five gallon that's a lot of yams i won't have to cull out of the garden next spring...did i get them all? hardly...they come in a range of sizes and i doubtlessly missed some of the smaller ones...they will become plants...and i will pull them up...part of the job.

cowpeas + rhizobia = nitrogen

went to campus to do some fall planting this morning and i had to uproot the cowpeas ( which i had planned to do ) in order to othe new arrivals...i wanted to check the roots for nodes that would indicate the plant had indeed been producing sugars to feed the rhibozia bacteria that produced nitrogen to close the loop of plant/bacteria symbiosis...sure enough the nodes were on the roots so the wheat grass hybrids i planted in that row should have a good supply for a while...more human use of natural mechanisms...the story of our relationships with plants.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hybrid wheat grass/wheat

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the teosinte, maize, chinese yams, asparagus, and wheat grass will be sharing the garden with a relatively new species of plant starting tomorrow...the hybrid strains of crossed wheat grass and wheat, representing an effort to create a viable perennial grain, have arrived from the land institute in kansas and i will be planting them on campus tomorrow ( as well as finishing the sunchoke harvest and pulling in some cowpea plants, adding some manure, and making things as hospitable as i can...there is elephant garlic to plant at home as's okay...autumn is always a busy time in the garden...and i am geeked about this...almost as geeked as the teosinte makes me.

sunchoke harvest (99%)

i went to campus this morning to look in on the iuncg and harvest sunchokes as the first step towards fall planting for next season...all but one plant had sufficiently died back ( and so only a 99% harvest) so i took a spading fork and started digging...the plants were stunted all season...only reaching about four feet in height..less than half of what i am accustomed to...and their stunted size was refelcted in the size of the harvest...305 tubers from 17 plants...compared to the 800 to 900 i have experienced in the past...true, one plant had 24 tubers attached to it at the roots...and that had radiated out on reflection of past harvests...there is still one plant left to's still flowering but it has to come out because next year's plants are here and need in the garden tomorrow...i buried as much of the organic matter from the plants as i could and carted the harvest home ( to bury for storage ) in my the skimpy harvest due to the weird weather ( read climate change ) and its impact on a native species...or is it because of a small population representing the third generation removed form the original planting stunted by a lack of sufficient gene flow? climate or genetic diversity? more planting ( next year at home only ) and more observation...this is srill a long-term project

picked clean

it seems that weeding out the covering foliage on th eggplants didn't do them any favors...the three large fruits (?) that were there earlier in the week are gone...i did a quick, unscientific inventory and found nineteen stems that were left after fruits had been bitten ( torn?) off....the plants are still stubbornly flowering ( like the squash in my back yard ) but with the official advent of autumn i am not sanguine about any significant production this season...the tomatoes and peppers are doing fine however, and the potatoes are waiting to be dug...the long shot is the iuncg at about 8:30 this morning.

Friday, September 28, 2012

backyard drought

long-term the palmer drought indices have us mired in a moderate drought and i have the back yard to prove it...fifteen days after a house fire caused the city to shut off the water in my charred home ( and so cut off the garden form all but rainfall and the water i haul in ) the plants in my backyard are in serious need of human intervention...( well, some anyway )...true, the jerusalem artichokes everywhere are beginning to die back and some in my back yard have followed the lead of those on campus..but not all...there are quite a few that are still green and seriously wilted...and so they will stay if it doesn't rain...what water i can haul will be used on the long-term ramps and ginseng roots...not everything is suffering though...the scarlet runner beans, after idling throughout the warmth of summer have finally begun to produce pods...there are sweet potatoes in the ground to harvest as well...the house may have its problems but the garden chugs along...the drought isn't normal...not yet anyway...whether it becomes a norm remains to be seen, climate change deniers the natives handle it is what interests me...they may also serve as an indicator of climate change...something i have been thinking about since last march

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

meteorological autumn

autumn in the garden...the chinese yams in the top photo have started to turn and they will be ready to harvest soon...the zea diploperennis in the second photo still geeks me much like maize that the connection couldn't be much more obvious...the jerusalem artichokes in the third photo continue their weird behavior this season...floweting and dying back simultaneously....the fourth photo is just another zea family portrait, from the left, northern tepehuan teosinte, zea diploperennis, and the pretty dead hopi blue maize...the last photo is yet another flowering proaxe on the eastern gamagrass...the season is winding down and there jsut a bit of fall planting to do for next season and a tuber harvest before the mulch goes down...have ti finish this year to begin the next.

Monday, September 24, 2012

unintended harvest

as i was watering the garden this evening i noticed that something ( someone?) has been into the i dug up the exposed ones and i imagine i will be going out there soon to harvest the remainder...they all have to come out anyway... and i will need to dig another storage pit in the back yard for the campus tubers and those i harvest at home unless i want a backyard colony...the zea diploperennis is beginning to die back for the season...i really regret seeing this since there is absolutely no guarantee it will return next season...i will hope for the best and prepare for the worst...the hopi blue is pretty much done but the northern tepehuan is chugging along...still flowering...will there be seed ears? depends on the weather...the season is winding down...still some fall planting to do and mulching in november..always a bit of a melancholy time.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


the eastern gamagrass and teosinte continue to flower while the hopi blue maize has pretty much died back...obviously the wild and weedy ancestor has a much longer season than the domesticate..planted ( or emerging, in the case of the perennial teosinte ) in march...while the maize was planted in may...and still going on after the descendant has shuffled off...human intervention in the lives of plants at work..a shorter season...bigger ears...more kernels...artificial selection for traits favorable to human needs and uses in action...all domesticate are genetically engineered...just not genetically spliced...kathy was adamant that genetic engineering was markedly different form trans-genetic gene splicing...she convinced me


i was early on a moist saturday morning and the flash kept going off giving the vegetables an odd aura and reflecting off the raindrops...all seemed to be squirrels in sight.