Wednesday, October 31, 2012


it has been windy here over the past twenty-four hours with sustained winds of thirty miles per hour with gusts up to fifty…so after work i drove over to campus to see what sort of damage had been incurred and found…well…nothing much…hawthorn hall sheltered us again… the wheat grass is ifne and the mulch job on the yams held up…the zea diploperennis and the northern tepehuan are dying back but weren’t devastated…unlike the battered folks on the east coast who have been through the wringer…the pgp will be making some donations to a responsible ( both fiscally and philosophically ) charitable organization to lend what help we can…the asparagus is sending mixed signals with some dying back ( and highlighting the “berries” ) and some still green and trying to flower…a hardy plant but i will probably ne mulching it all next saturday regardless of its chlorophyll status…we’ve had our failures but on the whole the pgp has been most fortunate…hoping the good fortune holds…more as the mulch goes down.


it was vile weather and so I felt obligated to go out in it ( someone has to enjoy this stuff ) and wile i was errands like dropping off dinner for family on the afternoon shift ( veggie club from jimmie john’s ) i drove out to the bean field i was looking at a few weeks ago to see if it had been gleaned…nope…looks like farmer brown has put in some winter wheat or rye to act as a cover crop and store any nitrogen left over from the beans…but among the grasses were a lot of still uncollected beans…and a surprising number ( for me anyway ) had germinated and begun to throw out some chlorophyll..i grabbed some stray beans and a bean pod and on arriving home discovered a germinated bean among them…so i took a container that one of the apple trees i planted here at the shelter was in and put in some potting soil and compost and set it in the huge pot the acacia tree is in to await events ( right next to the container of asparagus seeds i am trying to germinate ) i had planned on growing some in the spring form beans i collected to assess second generation seed viability…but i am wondering if this late season germination in the field isn’t a cleverly engineered way to insure a second generation from licensed seed…or am i giving monsanto and bayer entirely too much credit? willing to bet your answer gives away a portion of your political philosophy…michael pollan wondered in the n y times Sunday magazine form a week ago Sunday if this was the year the food movement entered politics…doubt it …but you don’t have to read marion nestle to know food is political ( but if you do read her stuff…including her fine blog…you will get an education ) and there are definite boundaries and food views out there…i know which side i’m on ( as if the header on the blog didn’t telegraph that )…more as this gm bean does whatever it is programmed to do.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

yam harvest

the yam vines have died back to a point that indicates dormancy so i went out to campus to harvest this morning ( you can tell it was early by the dark in some of the photos…i simply didn’t realize it was still dark at 6:30 )…it wasn’t as difficult as i expected since the yams were only about two to two-and-a-half feet deep…depth wasn’t really the issue though…the yams don’t usually develop directly at the base of the root system…instead they are off to one side…but which side is what matters and it usually takes a rather large excavation to locate them…not a simple task in a small garden with plants that really need to be left undisturbed…so it is time consuming ( a bit over two hours for the haul of yams you can see in the “after” photo ) it also does not help matter that the yams themselves re nearly the same color as the surrounding sandy soil…however the harvest came off without collateral damage to other plants and they yams will not have all that stored carbohydrate energy to use on the stupefying number of vines ( and so aerial bulbs ) that i dealt with this year….i retrieved another three hundred and forty-eight bulbs that were still on the ground today which brings this year’s total to over a thousand aerial bulbs from two plants…invasive is too mild a word…these yams are used in traditional herbal medicine and aren’t a food crop ( they taste like they are medicine ) the limited amount of yams per plant and the harvest issues make them unlikely food sources ( famine maybe?) so clearly ( for me, anyway )the cultural imperatives for their cultivation lay outside agriculture yet most texts that i have read ( or own such as “food crops of the world” ) classify them as food…it must be an acquired or enculturated taste.

yam mulch

after the harvest i replanted the tops of the roots with about eight inches or so of stored carbohydrates to fuel next spring’s emergence and backfilled the harvest excavations…i marked the plants’ locations with grade stakes and then covered the area with forty pounds of composted cow manure ( i am closing in on a ton and a half of compost dumped on that one hundred and sixty square feet of ground since 2009…the worms are happy…and abundant )…i put a layer of about six inches of straw over the compost and then anchored the whole lot down with landscaping fabric and staples…this has been a efficacious method over the past two seasons and i don’t see a real need to experiment with other methods…it protects the plants adequately ( although we will see if it can preserve the zea diploperennis for another winter or if the second season of that stand was a serendipitous consequence of the mild winter last year ) and it keeps straw from blowing all over campus and getting the gardener in hot water…the asparagus is slowly dying back and i will most likely be out there again early next Saturday cutting back, marking it, and mulching away…that will close out the season for the pgp this year and leave the way open to follow the progress of the semi-domesticated wheat grass from the land institute and see how well another batch of hopi blue maize does as well as some notrthern tepehuan teosinte ( plus the yams, asparagus, gamagrass, and [i hope] zea diploperennis )…it has been an odd season…mostly, i think because of the unnaturally warm march and the early start for the perennials…because the annuals didn’t seem to have too much trouble if i kept them watered…i am curious to see what next spring willdeliver and if the warmth was an anomaly or if it is an indication of a new “normal” and how tht will impact the native perennials i have been populating the pgp and my back yard with…more as it comes up.

iuncg asparagus bed

After i was finished with the yams at the pgp i took a walk over to the iuncg to have a look around and ponder next spring…i have already collected the seeds for the asparagus i will be planting in the back corner bed…actually i don’t think it will be direct seeding…i believe i will start the seeds indoors early in 2013 and transplant them outdoors in late march…or, perhaps, when i see the asparagus emerge in the pgp…hopefully there will be room for twelve to fifteen plants in that bed, planted along the edges to allow adequate space…I have been getting twenty-five spears from the seven plants in the pgp…if that average holds up there should be between forty-two and fifty-two spears (if)…the soil in the iuncg is over a layer of sand just like the pgp and the asparagus does well there so the plants should be happy in the community garden as well…and i can mulch the plants for winter in both gardens at the same time so it shouldn’t be much more labor…the issue will be to keep folks form harvesting until 2017 when the plants will have reached their full productivity…some sort of dire warning sign that can be ignored is seemingly in order just to absolve my responsibility to the plants…while i was there i looked for the emergent eggplant Ii found last week…but the squirrels were there first…the plants continue to bloom but they have seen better days and the chances of any more fruit (?) emerging seem pretty slim…all in all i counted thirty-one swiped eggplants there this season…quite a bonanza for the rodents…the iuncg is winding down ( still lots of green tomatoes and still some green peppers though )…looking forward to spring…more on the asparagus germination as the research is done and i start to give it a shot.


when i stopped by the house Friday to check on things and photograph the wheatgrass what did i stumble on? really late potatoes…obviously i missed a couple during harvest and since that are a cool weather red the germinated when the weather cooled…they will never reach maturity but it is indicative of the possibility of multiple crops of the same strain in a year…potatoes evolved in a vavilov center in the andes ( all vavilov centers are in mountainous regions )that provided a variety of microclimates across the vertical reach of the arable land so i wonder if multiple crops were possible by simply replanting some seed potatoes at a higher elevation after a harvest at a lower one…ah…more research…time to break out some steven b. brush

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

i don't like the look of this...

…well…not all of it…i took the day off work and as part of the festivities i went out to campus to try to find some folks ( limited success but there was a fine conversation with steve mcshane at the calumet regional archives ) and check up on the garden…as i was taking photos of the wheat grass form Kansas what did i find? two jerusalem artichokes and a whole bunch more chinese yam bulbs…i have remarked before that almost all perennials seem to be invasive but this is ridiculous…i have already pulled seven hundred aerial bulbs out of the garden and will surely be culling rouge sunchokes next spring…it is a thankless task and the perennial grain represented by the wheat grass will require vigilance just to keep competition at bay…the yam vines have died back and I believe i will be out there over the weekend to harvest the yams…i simply cannot allow them to have as much stored energy this coming season as i did this year…no laziness…do the work…the asparagus continues to die back even as the “berries ripen…still an opportunity for anyone who wants to establish a bed from scratch…they will be cut back and mulched in the next few weeks…a surprise in the discovery of a couple of late season turnips…obviously they germinated when the weather cooled and here they are…alas i found no-one to give then to so they are in the fridge…the wheat grass from the land institute seems to be thriving…the weather had been warm for October…certainly warmer than the twenty or twenty five degrees dr. dehaan warned me to be on the lookout for the first three weeks the plants were in the ground…we’re past that point and hopefully they will be just fine over the winter…harvest post this coming weekend.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

irritate seed

i had a chat with rebecca ( the coordinator at the community garden ) about starting a bed of asparagus in the community garden towards the end of the garden soiree Saturday…she said she was okay with that since there was an unused bed at the back of the garden…i brought it up because the “berries” on the asparagus plants are mostly ripe and now is the time to gather seeds for the spring ( i like to try to grow everything from seed even though it costs me in time and trouble when it fails [and it does fail] because it is closer to the way an ecosystem does things…i have already put out eastern gamagrass seeds[ along with elephant garlic and Jerusalem artichokes ]and northern tepehuan teosinte at home and on campus…we’ll see how that works out ) there are a couple of methodologies out there for preparing the seed so i gathered some berries and i removed the tops of a couple of plants…the tops i hung up in the basement to dry …after which i will have to soak them in water for an hour or so to free the seeds from the desiccated berries…i also picked a handful and stuck them in a baggie and when i got home i proceeded to mash them to remove the seeds ( out of curiosity as much as anything else having never seen an asparagus seed ) the berries hold from three to five seeds which are tightly packed in some since the seeds seem to be of a fairly uniform size while the berries vary quite a bit…i washed them off and spread them out to dry and to and tomorrow they will go into the newly established seed box in the shelter’s basement along with the stash of saved hopi blue maize seeds, the eatern gamagrass seeds, and the industrial soybeans i plan on planting next year to test my “one generation of seed viability and then instant mutation” hypothesis about seed companies ( bayer, Monsanto, pioneer…take your pick ) engineering the death of seed saving by engineering plant sterility after a single crop grown under license…that should be interesting even if i am completely wrong…asparagus is a cool weather crop that starts early so i will be pulling the asparagus seeds out of the box and starting them indoors late next winter so i can get them out as soon as i see the asparagus in the pgp show itself…i want to give them the longest possible season to establish themselves…then they’ll need four years until we start to harvest…I never said perennials were a short term project…so…seed saving season is here…more on the asparagus when i start it .

Sunday, October 21, 2012

end of season soiree

went out to campus yesterday to visit with the folks from the iu northwest community garden who were having an end of season soiree…had a fine lunch and good conversation ( elements of the original epicurean philosophy as opposed to the elitist cast the term has taken on ) and met the chief of the campus police to boot…had a short discussion with Rebecca and i will be taking some of the “berries” from the asparagus plants in the pgp to establish a bed of perennials in the iuncg sometime in the next week…it will take a few years of growth before we can harvest but if we do it correctly it will produce for decades… the eggplants continue to produce as do the tomatoes and green peppers…only a killing frost will stop them…after lunch i strolled over to the pgp and found more evidence of the tenacity of annuals…the northern tepehuan teosinte has developed five more flowers and will continue to try to seed until frost does them in too…the wheat grass from Kansas on campus is doing as well as the ones in my backyard which is a good sign…dr. dehaan said that if they had two or three weeks to s=establish themselves before the temperature dropped into the twenties on a regular basis there should be no need to mulch them…i still haven’t decided on what to do…perhaps half mulch half no mulch as insurance and control? autumn is moving in on the pgp quickly…a yam harvest and a mulching party yet to come ( as soon as the asparagus gives me the high sign )and i do believe I harvested the very last of the eastern gamagrass seeds as the chlorophyll is beginning to flee the leaves…the yam vines are dying back as well…almost time to sit back and contemplate the coming season…more as it comes up.

i live in a peculiar place

i live in a peculiar place…a nexus between agriculture and suburban sprawl…close enough to the lake to be part of the milwakee to detroit megapolis but far enough from the urban center that i can still find corn and soybeans growing unfettered within ten minutes of my current shelter…the field of soybeans and the cornfield i photographed all summer represent a part of the industrial agricultural system in this country, but the soybeans grew next to a strip mall parking lot and the cornfield is bordered on the north by a walmart and a hospital on the west…all dominated by a municipal water tower…the south and east of the field are bordered by paved roads with adequate street lighting and storm sewers and, until the recent ( and continuing…despite politically expediently cooked books ) economic slump , was doubtlessly intended to be part of the suburban sprawl…so the plant geneticists continue to develop crops that allow us to subsume agricultural land with the “growth” mechanism of suburban mortgages, one wonders how long that can go on…or if there is a natural limit to unnatural manipulation…there must have been an ecosystem here once…before it was overrun by dense yellow number two and zoysia grass…bits and pieces of it crop up in my garden and in my back yard…some by human intervention ( Jerusalem artichokes and ginseng )…others all on their own ( lamb’s quarters )…there’s a lot in my back yard that isn’t native ( apple trees, Chinese yams, whet, teosinte, maize. Garlic, etc.) but they seem to get along with the natives okay…does that represent an ecosystem or is it just more human intervention? i’m incline to think the latter because it probably wouldn’t be there without me…but does that make it unnatural? does using biological processes for my own ends fundamentally change those processes or am i just providing them space? how much a part of this am i ?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

predation and a death in the family

i went over to the house for a visit and to check up on the plants out back as well as to see how much moisture there was in the ramp and ginseng beds…the wheat grass was on the agenda too ( it is fine )…as usual in the garden there was a mixed bag and some of it didn’t make me very happy…firstly ( and the most painful ) one of the three apple trees appears to be quite dead…while the other two still have a mixture of green and yellowing leaves one is just flat, dead brown…dry, crumbly leaves…a stark contrast to the other two…bummer if i may say so…admittedly they were planted too closely together and one probably would have been culled…but this disturbs me because I have no real idea what happened…the trunk ( if a two year old tree has a trunk ) was not broken nor was any bark missing…i have to wonder if something to do with the fire is at work here…but this is the tree that was farthest from the house…more research…such is the way of things…another issue ( although not nearly as serious ) is that some inexplicably late developing acorn squash is being gnawed off at the stem by predators ( once again i am fingering squirrels…daisy the garden cat has moved to the rental with us for the duration of repairs which leaves the garden open to predators more so than when she is on patrol…and daisy loathes a squirrel ) showing that the eggplants at the iuncg aren’t the only things that are nipped off prematurely…fall is here and i am pleased with that but not with the loss of a tree…I may have to invest in a decent table and another grow light to germinate another…not so much to replace the loss as to back up the remaining trees…need at least two to have fruit…nothing quite so lonely as a single apple tree in the plant world. since the photos never seem to upload in the order i choose them here's a a thriving apple tree, second wheat grass. third squash, fourth...where squash used to be, and the bottom is the apple tree casualty.