Saturday, July 31, 2010

WOW!

Now, this is what I call huitlacoche!

I've seen lots of cool stuff in our maize research fields, but this is definitely this year's highlight so far! Some of the diversity panel landraces are particularly susceptible to corn smut, but none can hold a candle to our sweet corn varieties. This specimen was wrapped in a husk twice as big as any actual ears.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Down with Lawns!

Lots of anti-lawn buzz on my reader today...

Just came across the Lawn Reform Coalition. It looks interesting...

I especially like their listing of alternative, more sustainable species. Personally, I prefer grass that goes brown in the winter. It's more seasonal and reminds me of my former homes out West. At any rate, I signed up for their newsletter and will be keeping an eye on them.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Farming on Luck

Well, we got our green beans harvested last Friday. I was in the corn fields at the time, but I heard they were able to pick up about 1,300 lbs of beans from a total yield of about 1,800 lbs.

A fair number of plants were heavy with recent rain and sagged under the reach of the harvester. We could have waited for the field to dry some, but thanks to weather forecasting we didn't - more rain was on its way over the weekend. The next chance we could get into the field, we'd likely have found the beans woody and inedible.

Still, not a bad donation to the food bank!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Community Supported Fishing?

Like a CSA, except each week you pick up a box of sustainably-harvested seafood.

Awesome!

Identifying Small Grains

Small grains (wheat, barley, rye and oats) can be distinguished by leaf morphology.

culm - the stem
leaf sheath - the part of the leaf that stays wrapped around the culm
leaf blade - the part of the leaf that sticks out (and looks like a leaf)
ligule - a thin collar on the base of the blade that wraps around the culm
auricle - projections from the base of the blade that may wrap around the culm

Ligules and auricles in particular have taxonomic value for small grains...

Friday, July 16, 2010

The People's Garden: part II

Well, all the plants are in the ground in our food bank garden.

It was pretty fun listening to all the real horticulturalists hash out the details to our plan, with frequent reference to the classic Knott's Handbook, which is definitely now on my wishlist. Those guys really know production ag - especially through their professional and familial ties to our local upstate farmers.

So here's our acre: It was winter cover-cropped in rye, the farm crew tilled it in, built up beds and lay plastic mulch (picture 2 x 200' strips of black plastic garbage bags) over granular fertilizer. We decided to take our chances and skip the irrigation tape. The whole thing was split into four blocks - each containing the appropriate number and width of rows to allow a tractor with 20' booms to reach everything. Each block needed to be limited to one crop family in case we need to spray pesticides later (which are regulated by crop family).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Recycling means it never happened - a rant

The NY Times has a great article about environmentalism in the Fashion & Style section: "Buying into the Green Movement"

Basically it describes a trend I've gotten very tired of - people using "eco-conscious" choices to justify indulgent consumption.
  • It's not good for the environment to throw out perfectly-good item A so that you can replace it with more efficient and eco-friendly item B.
  • Composting food does not mean you didn't waste your leftovers.
  • Buying "biodegradable" stuff is worse than meaningless.
  • Recycling doesn't magically mean that you never consumed that item in the first place... *cough* reduce, reuse *cough*
  • Using cloth grocery bags is pointless if you're just going to buy plastic bags to throw your garbage and recycling in anyway
  • Bottled water is stupid unless your town has a specific problem with contamination. You weren't too good to drink out of the hose as a kid, why are you too good for a faucet now?
  • You can't justify burning jetfuel on overseas vacations because it "helps people from different cultures understand each other."
The best I've heard recently? A new "biodegradable" kitty litter made from a wheat product. Awesome. So now we're also turning something inherently valuable (food) into something for cats to pee on. Thank god our subsidies make food so affordable!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Uniformity.

Uniformity is important in agriculture.

It can make the farmer's life pretty tough when plants in different parts of their field ripen at different times. You can't wait forever for every last plant to ripen - you need to harvest before bad weather sets in or you have to plant your next crop. Inevitably, some plants will fail to ripen (or over-ripen) by the time you get in to harvest.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Fall, foreshadowed

A welcome sight after another sticky night:

Velvet points running through nearly-ripe grain.

Summer won't last forever.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Perennial Grain Links

Progress in perennial wheat?

I know it's a tough problem, but another 10 years sounds like an eternity.

It seems like people have been working on this problem forever, but I suppose to an early career scientist, "forever" isn't a very long time...


I'll have to tide myself over with "Small-Scale Grain Raising," which ironically, and inexplicably became available on my library queue after mouldering forgotten for over a year...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tobacco!

Humans sure love tobacco. It's the world's most widely-grown non-food crop (117 countries) and exists as 1500 varieties in the USDA database alone.

It's also one of the most-studied and best understood of all plants. 3,000 chemicals have been identified in the plant itself and 4,000 have been identified in its smoke!

Nicotiana tabacum is the main commercially-grown species and is thought to be descended from some combination of wild species such as N. sylvestris (the gardener's woodland/night-scented tobacco). Many of these wild Nicotiana species, which are found around the world, are also able to accumulate nicotine and related alkaloids just like N. tabacum.


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