Thursday, June 30, 2011

everyday food

"some basic foodstuffs stand out among the plants that came to have enormous importance in the making of the modern world: th0ose foods that were an integral part of a daily diet, such as tortillas, bread, and rice, an essential part of all meals rather than a side dish. sixteenth century spaniards called them more precisely, maintenance foods. this type of food provides the greatest share of daily calories, the energy to sustain human activity, and other essential nutrients. it is with maintenance foods that we most often associate the idea of hunger or its counterpart, a sensation of being full and satisfied...corn, or more properly maize ( zea mays ), and potatoes (solanum tuberosum) stand out among the basic american subsistence foodstuffs as tremendously important."

corn and capitalism by arturo warman.

so...what are my maintenance foods? carbohydrates without doubt and up until a few years ago probably derived form corn in some fashion...not the maize that migrated north from mexico...or even sweet corn like the plant on campus in the top photo..more like some sort of industrial preparation made from dense yellow number two field corn ( once again i cannot recommend the film "king corn" strongly enough ) when i was hungry and in a hurry ( or just lazy ) i'd nuke a hot pocket and slug back some dr. pepper both of which are as corny as indiana in july...then food and how it gets to me became a subject of intense and abiding interest...the more i learned the more appalled i became and i set about changing habitual behavior...dense yellow number two no longer has as central a place in what i eat ( do i backslide? am i human? no holier than thou please...i just had a couple of scoops of ice cream in a bowl and i bet if i look at the ingredients there's high fructose corn syrup in there...i still eat a hamburger now and then too [not form a fast food joint] and that's all corn too)...the potato patch in the second photo represents more lifelong carbohydrate consumption and an american staple perennial that is world class...i always liked a good potato and still do...especially when i can smother it in my favorite potato condiments ( more corn in the dairy products, along with antibiotics, growth hormones, and who knows what else...even working at it consciously industrial food is so prevalent it is tough to avoid completely)...the winter wheat in my backyard could become bread which used to be a staple in my diet...but no so much anymore...i find that by reducing my meat consumption i have reduced my bread consumption as well...wheat in the form of pasta is a more likely part of a meal these days ( and i have taken to making my own...a bit time consuming but not difficult..just messy like pyrohy)...that is clearly an old world plant...the bottom photo is another american starchy tuber that i have developed a taste for and am growing in force this year both at home and on campus...jerusalem artichokes are a member of the sunflower family native to north america ( and speaking of sunflowers, i find that sunflower seeds have become a daily part of my diet...especially in conjunction with an apple at's a good combination...for me anyway) and a prolific producer of irregularly shaped tubers with storage issues that i am working on resolving ( i have a rough plan that still involves a trench with a few simple refinements) it has the advantage of having a well defined season for consumption which is an idea i like...haven
t eaten one since march and probably won't eat one until late september or early october...something to look forward to...change, especially changing habitual behavior in oneself, is a slow process fraught with detours and u-turns...i am actively trying to change what i eat and why i eat it so my maintenance foods are in flux in both their sources and the form they take...occasionally aggravating but not often boring.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

winter wheat harvest

we recently changed browsers on the desktop and i don't know whether it has anything to do with the fact that blogger no longer posts photos in the order i upload them or not but this is yet another post where the chronology of the photos does not match the chronology of the will have to be imaginative...i went to campus to bring in the winter wheat...the third photo along shows the stand of wheat before i started and it is pretty clear that it was took about fifteen minute using a pair of hand shears and cutting the plants in small groups ( haven't counted them yet)the second photo along is from about halfway through the process...the top photo is the plot after the harvest and the bottom one is the harvest in one of those most utilitarian of devices... a plastic five gallon bucket...for me gardening would be infinitely difficult without them...the bird tape seems to have worked out well...i saw no damaged or assaulted seed heads...after i removed the posts the bird tape was attached to i took the wheat to my truck...when i cam back around the corner of hawthorne hall to water there were starlings in the garden ( first birds i have ever seen there) gleaning the stubble for any grain i may have missed...we'll see how well it works as the spring wheat ripens ( one wonders if i made a tactical blunder by leaving it unprotected after taking out the winter has been unguarded for the entire season thus far...we'll see when i go back friday if it was a howling error...i think back jungle has a multiplicity of birds in comparison to campus and the wheat here is intact without bird tape) plan is to thresh and winnow the grain...weigh it for produce data...and then use it to sow a cover crop on the garden after the cowpeas have run their will act as a reservoir for the excess nitrogen as well as holding the soil together...i will turn it under in the spring ( leaving a stand to ripen and use as seed for a winter cover the following season...part of this project is an experiment in organic self-sufficiency and goal is to purchase seed once for as many species as i can and produce new generations on my own ) there should be an entertaining blog post about the threshing business...winnowing seems fairly straight forward, if tedious...can't wait.

family portrait

if not a direct line of descent, then at least cousins...that's northern tepehuan teosinte on the left in front of the cardboard and maize on the left.
been reading "Corn and Capitalism: How a Botanical Bastard Grew to Global Dominance" by arturo warman...good stuff.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

kitchen garden

i was just out back doing some weeding and general maintenance...watering what needed it...looking for infestations and any other signs of bad news ( none so far ) and i took a few photos to post just in case anyone is interested in what's going on back there...the top photo is the one rational elephant garlic plant ( we will delve into that more momentarily) it's about four feet tall as are the jerusalem artichokes behind i look back at last year, on june 25th 2010 the jerusalem artichokes were topping out at five and a half feet...nothing on campus or here is anywhere near that, but it was a cold spring and everything but the elephant garlic, the spinach, and the asparagus got a late tot he right you can see a chinese yam just starting to find its way up the trellis i used last year on campus and have pressed into service here this year...the potatoes in the second photo are doing fine i expect them to be done by the end of signs of beetles or blight and i hope it stays that way...the middle photo is northern tepehuan teosinte thar's around eighteen inches big and as healthy as the individuals on campus..planting directly into the ground is the obvious method to use...that's an heirloom tomtato plant to the left and spring wheat to the right...surprisingly planting zea perennis directly in the ground worked as well...mark millard, the usda maize curator told me i might have to use the hydrogen peroxide/damp paper towel method to germinate it and then transplant it since it's touchy about germinating in a temperate rather than sub-tropical environment.,..the last photo is the irrational elephant garlic...why the would execute a one hundred eighty and a three hundred and sixty degree turn beats me...but there they are...the plant that provided the bulbs for all three of these was straight as i recall...some sort of recessive gene perhaps...or the warped environment around there it is...movement everywhere.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

toad and fertilizer

i had soaked some coffee grounds in five gallons of water to impart some organic nitrogen to the water ( about 1.45% by volume if i did it correctly) and when i began to water the jerusalem artichokes with it ( yes i do encourage them) i saw my friend the toad bolt out and take refuge under the eastern i took her portrait...i'm not sure whether it was my presence or the coffee that moved her, but when i watered the gamagrass with straight water she stayed put in the damp shade that created...plenty of mosquitos around to feast on...she has my permission to make a pig out of herself if she likes...the university isn't worried about being organic seemingly...i recall a saturday morning early last summer ( there is a post somewhere about it ) when the campus smelled like a bag of 40-10-10 fertilizer and they were at it again today...last year i folded my arms and stood them off the garden with a sullen look and my appearance...(which has been mockingly called "biker chic" or "neo-rasputin") this year i arrived too late (8:04 am) they had already made the pass by hawthorne hall and were working the outlying areas so we may be a shade less organic this morning....unfortunate, but such things will happen in a bureaucracy...i'm still willing to wager that it is the most organic one hundred and sixty square feet on campus ( with the possible exception of the area north of the parking lot and south of the river...that's probably subject to less human intervention than our little experiment)...i am content with that.

orchard II

by the sixteenth of june the three apple trees i had planted four days earlier had shocked so badly that i thought they might not survive...i had loosened the soil around the area i was planting them in and enriched it with compost and manure...on top of that i had them in the front picture window in full sunlight ( it faces west ) for thirty-five days before i planted thinking that would harden them did not and they immediately began to shed leaves, seemingly dying from the bottom up as leaves withered and died from the ground up...happily nine days later they are recovering and all are displaying signs of new and healthy growth on top as well as renewed greening of the leaves that were left form the die-off...i am relieved that i did not kill the little it is a matter of keeping them healthy and shepherding them through their first winter in one piece...i may be any number of years away from my first apples ( if i get there at all) but the experience is good...with some work i may acquire enough skill to deliver fruit.

Friday, June 24, 2011

erosion and maize

" 'we will solve the problems through technology.' this is just another form of religion. we may get some technological substitutions for the fossil carbons, such as wind turbines, solar collectors, and so on. but i'd like somebody to help me come up with a technological substitute for soil and water...cereals, oilseeds, and pulses (legumes' edible seeds) make up about 68 percent of the calories and about the same acreage. upland rice is increasingly grown on steep hills in china and indonesia, where erosion is a big problem. but even on flat land, agriculture can cause erosion, which happens after heavy rains in places like iowa and kansas...the primary killers of soil on the continent are our top annual crops: wheat, corn, and soybeans...annual systems leak, they are poor micromanagers of nutrients and water."

from "Tackling the Oldest Environmental Problem: Agriculture and Its Impact on Soil" by wes jackson.

i found a local cornfield i could hike out into and take some photos ( and i was as careful as i am in my own gardens not to harm any transgenetic corn was bent, broken, smashed, or uprooted...walked between plants, not over them...this corn is a couple of feet tall...about five or six inches taller than the maize i have planted...but i used organic seed that's not round-up ready or liberty-link )this particular field is planted in thirty inch rows and you can see the amount of exposed soil between the rows...farmer brown is going to douse this field a few times in pesticides and herbicides that are genetically linked to the corn to keep it exactly that exposed...eliminating any sort of vegetable competition that might serve to better hold the soil together with its roots...aerial photographs of farm field during the growing season may present an illusion of fields brimming with green but it is illusory...the ground underneath the plants' crowns is as bare as could be...i have posted photos of flat field water erosion already this year...and of water standing in the fields as well...this particular field was bordered on the side i entered by a strip of about eight feet of grass and weeds but the other side is bordered by the river and the field slopes down to it...i didn't have time to hike down along the river looking or signs of erosion this morning ( a field trip later on...perhaps after the next monsoon rain...if the season's climate continues in the pattern it has developed this will happen eventually )...but i am willing to wager i will find some if i look...and the river is where the runoff of fertilizer and pesticides and herbicides is going to wind up...i wonder how much of that will find its way into the groundwater and into the municipal wells here in town...i will need to find an accessible soybean fields soon to compare row widths and open ground ( no-one grows wheat around here, beyond winter wheat as a ground cover and nitrogen reservoir)more on that and any signs of erosion i run across in my rural jaunts later...i almost forgot that the last photo is of some zea diploperennis just because i am still utterly geeked that it has grown so well in a climate so far removed form its ancestral home...a convincing argument in support of the relative ease and rapidity of the widespread diffusion of maize into north america ( cultural diffusion or demic diffusion? someone have the answer?)

if you look up to the top of the from about the 25 inch mark on the tape you'll just see the support roots growing out of the stalk on a corn'll see more of that when my corn is bigger

Thursday, June 23, 2011

new growth

the asparagus spear in the top photo topping out at nearly twenty-one inches is the same spear that is in the first photo of the june twentieth post...something on the order of seventeen inches of growth in three days...asparagus is even scarier that maize in the way it seems to jump up from nowhwere...two plants have sprouted more spears since the last post so there are seventeen of them up from seven plants...conditions must be acceptable and hopefully this bodes well for next year when we start harvesting...the gamagrass is sprouting a new seed head...i surmise that the first one has broken off due to the wind ( the seeds that are left at the bottom are too green for the head to be anywhere near ready to shatter) and that there are seeds lurking in the university lawn...since i have had a success rate of only about ten percent as far as germinating gamagrass goes i don't think there's alot to worry over in terms of invasive behavior...gamagrass seems to be a reluctant pest at best...the bottom photo is the garden as it looked just before i left campus this morning...i went out to photograph corn rows in the filds along county line road to continue the discussion of industrial agriculture and erosion but a combination of rows planted parallel to the road and traffic hampered my ability to capy=ture anything i am willing to post as an illustration...perhaps after a bit i will try to locate a more receptive field of dense yellow number two to demonstrate my point about the abundance of bare soil that maize farming in the early twenty-first century exposes...i did get a photo of someone disking with a mccormick farmall...i'll post that later for sure...the apple trees i planted out back shocked so badly that i thought they were goners but they have recovered after a few days and are exhibiting new growth...i am relieved and will post a series of photos about that as soon as i can.

another photo appendix

odds and ends in morphology:
top two are zea diploperennis.
middle is maize ( zea mays)
four is northern tepehuan teosinte. bottom photo is the north yamvine cooking along and the winter wheat nearing completion.

Monday, June 20, 2011

asparagus on the move

a quick trip to campus after work revealed that the replacement asparagus spear that was about half an inch tall yesterday morning is now four and a quarter inches tall...wasting no time in continuing to feed the roots...i will be back-filling that hole soon...that's not the only one on the move...two more have sprouted new spears to take advantage of what must be good conditions...fifteen spears from seven plants so far this's hoping for a good crop next spring...a better photo of the intermediate wheat grass seed now that it is starting to ripen...i will need to time my collection to avoid letting the seed heads shatter...i would like to plant a second generation stand here at home...ripening is what the winter wheat is on about as is noticeably riper than last time i posted a photo...the bird tape seems to be doing its job...i cannot find any missing grain...yet...the yams (no photo here...not that i din't take any but they wouldn't fit in this post and i am running out of time here...more later) are coming along well the course of helping them find the trellis i have recalled an important fact...chinese yam vines spiral up in a counter-clockwise direction and any attempt to get then to cling clockwise is doomed...this recollection should decrease my yam frustration noticeably and help me get the little devils moving in an upward ( and then lateral ) direction. it's been a busy season so far with almost everything from teosinte to potatoes working well...there's still alot to do and alot to come...the successor failure of the rhyzome barriers is still an unknown...what the jerusalem artichoke harvest will be like is something of interest to me...and i have been kicking around an idea for a modified storage trench that will hopefully allow predetermined numbers of frozen tubers to be brought in to thaw in chunks of rock hard soil...still a potato harvest, cowpea planting, winter wheat, and the fate of my apple trees that shocked badly but are now showing signs of new growth...some of my teosinte here at home was pummeled badly by this morning's rains...there's that to be concerned about too...i hilled them into upright positions...the jury is still out... and there's no telling where the rest of the season may lead

Sunday, June 19, 2011

father's day jaunt

the bad news was the mosquitos early on a sunday morning...they were really the only bad news...the mowed asparagus had already produced another spear to feed the roots for the rest of the summer and i wouldn't be surprised ( but am not expecting ) to see another one pop i will desist from back-filling the soil i scooped out around it and replacing the mulch until the developments are final... i got some half-inch dowel rods for father's day so i brought a couple along and staked up two more asparagus plants to keep them from toppling over...there's one tucked up right next to the gamagrass that's more of a bush than a won't need a stake so i think that's done for this season...i put one of the yam vine trellises into place a few days ago and the vine has reached the top...all i have to do now is convince it that the mason's twine will be a fine route to take to be in the sun and distribute aerial along when the time comes...the other yam is being difficult about even using the trellis...preferring instead to wrap itself around the winter wheat...this is a poor choice as the winter wheat is beginning to ripen and won't be around a lot longer to serve as something to climb on...who knew training vines could require so much attention? last year's just took to climbing the trellis straight away...i put up some shiny new bird tape across the top of the winter wheat and festooned some in a few new places just to throw the starlings a curve...some gardeners i know swear by bird tape as a simple non-lethal approach and i think a scarecrow might be overkill for such a small amount of grain ( even though it has been suggested and i am not above manufacturing one if necessary...what would the university think?) things are still moving along...half a dozen cowpea plants are up in the old turnip bed and the wounded asparagus is on the mend...maize and teosinte doing fine and nothing will stop the jerusalem artichokes or gamagrass beyond a complete catastrophe...rutabagas go in next month and then the experiment in nitrogen retention and organic matter production with cowpeas and winter wheat ( and the whole ground cover/ erosion thing )...couple that with the larger garden in my backyard and it will be a busy season...i'm having fun.

the whole maize thing

maize in the top photo, northern tepehuan teosinte in the middle and zea diploperennis on the bottom...