27 April, 2018

This Changes Things!

Corn seeds - among the first seeds I collected for SLOLA -
the ear in front looks like Mohawk Red Bread...
A friend directed my attention, while I was still on my first cup of coffee no less, to a post on Facebook that portends bad news for seed savers.  Assuming that a post in a public forum like Facebook gives consent for it to be reproduced, from the page, Corn Culture, here is the post word for word:

Corn Culture
Warning: Seeds produced using hand pollinations are not necessarily immune to outcrossing! Recently I had some seed of a new and improved synthetic tested for the presence of transgene promoters 35s and NOS. These are the two most commonly used promoters for biotech corn. Seed of this population came from USDA and universities where hand pollination was always used for maintenance. During the process of formation hand pollination was used exclusively to cross each successive generation. Even with all of that effort and money spent, the population is contaminated with 35s (most commonly used with Bt transgenes). 1. It is not reasonable to assume that hand pollinated seed is not contaminated, and 2. It is important to have seed tested from time to time even if one is sure that it could not possibly be contaminated. Frustrating!
This is very sad news indeed. It means that we can no longer grow pure corn and feel certain that we have avoided GMO contamination without testing.  
I am even more angered that we failed in having the city of Los Angeles be declared a GMO Free Zone (2013-2014) - we would have had enough acreage in the city that would have prevented crossing accidents. I fault my simple-minded and naive attempt at politics with the failure. We were also absolutely unfunded and did all the copies and paperwork on our own dime, which limited how much money and publicity we were able to pour into the campaign. Now, in hindsight, our failure then shows our impotence and inability to fight with the monied and well-lawyered corporations, without professional help and funding!! I have often thought of going back to an LA Ban on GMOs, but the money issue prevents me and I've proven I don't have good "fund raising" sense.
But, in light of this, we HAVE to find a way to reinvigorate our campaign and run it this time with professionals and money. This cannot be a penny pinching process. We need professionals and people tuned into the process. 
"More will be revealed," they say.  Stay tuned.  If you are interested in corn, here is a link to a beautiful and well written book on corn that will open your eyes to this amazing plant and how it continues to mystify researchers with its own story.  And another reason we cannot allow our corn to be bastardized by the transgenic craze sweeping through our world today. 

20 April, 2018

Mea Culpa!

I started writing my blog in January 2007 and slacked off every year since.The first year, I was doing posts at a ferocious pace. Each year after there were fewer posts. By the time we get to 2017, my contributions were almost non-existent. My record became appallingly sparse.  

Writing a blog takes place in a vacuum. I admit I had a billion doubts that anyone was even reading the blog and more doubts that it was doing any good - there are, after all, more blogs about gardening than almost any other subject this side of sex. 

I gotta bring home the dog food! 
My very best dog, Mr Tre,
oversees my work and doesn't push me too
hard, except when it's time for his walk.
A friend challenged me to get back into the blog, put up new material and reinvigorate the pages with a new look and use the blog to get my writing back on schedule. I took the challenge.

So these last few months I published more articles, and I did some blog upgrading "under the hood" and above.  One thing that really impacted me, I realized in the past few years I had not been checking my blog inbox. I opened it for the first time in over three years and I was blown away with the number of "attaboys" I was getting and the sincere acknowledgements of the blog's usefulness that was there waiting for me to just open it up.

So. First off, thank you very much. You are very kind! 

Secondly, I apologise to the many people I failed to get back to in a timely fashion. 

And thirdly, I will try harder to win your praise and your readership by applying myself more regularly and more thoughtfully to this blog. I have lots of ideas to cover and I need to look back over all the communications from those readers who have had questions and address them in coming posts.

I want let you know, that currently the book almost halfway proofed in an ongoing effort to get it published. Posts on this blog are no longer actual parts of the book, but are extrapolated from the book and will be for the foreseeable future. I am never at loss for content, but I am constantly at loss for time.

Once again. Thank you! I shall endeavor to serve you with the information you need and desire to grow food in our Southern California Mediterranean Climate! 


03 April, 2018

Hard Seed Saving

Whenever there is a seed saving class, you see seeds divided into easy, moderately hard and hard - or some variation of that.  Easy seeds are defined with the least amount of brain power and the least effort - presumably 'hard' is the opposite of that.

That aint necessarily so.

Oftentimes the difference between easy and hard is simply the willingness to observe what's happening in your garden and use that knowledge to your advantage.  In small scale seed saving, there is a minimum of tools required (which I feel is a flaw, being an avid tool collector myself) and the techniques are fairly straight forward.  Corn is not, of itself that hard to save.  But our location, throughout Los Angeles makes it hard to save; someone somewhere has corn flowering the same time yours is!  The only way to save it without doubt is to pollinate it by hand.  I intend to cover that in the near future, so stay tuned!

Corn is wind pollinated - and so it pollinates nothing if no wind blows the pollen (from the boy flowers - the tassels) to the silks (aka the girl flowers) of other corn plants. The descendents of the European invaders are very uptight about keeping plants "pure."  That's what makes corn maddening to us.  It's hard to get that wind to blow only where you want it! 

There are ways to control corn pollen and get plants pollinated with only the genes you want.  This article is not about that.

The peoples who took corn from a sad little grass plant into the culinary powerhouse it s today, had a very different view of plants and plant breeding.  Isolating a given set of genetics was the European design, but the breeders of corn took a different approach from ancient times to present day, they allowed the corn to freely cross - and they saved corn from all ears, not just the big ones.  The result is that there are hundreds of different corn varieties available for a huge  variety of different ways to cook and eat it! 

Corn unshelled on the right, bowl of Red Bread seed center and the
empty cobs, already shelled on the left.
I was gifted with some ears of Mohawk Red Bread Corn from Rowan White a few years back.  I grew it out, got a nice harvest and hung onto the seed, stored it somewhat indifferently until last month when I was asked if I had any corn for a ceremony and I offered up the Mohawk Red Bread. 

It was making a whole circle in may ways.  The corn was now going back to Mohawk country to help Eliot Cowan, author of "Plant Spirit Medicine"do a ceremony. The woman who asked for the corn seed had met Eliot through his book, which was stocked in that book store because I asked for them to stock it as it was supplementary reading for my Botany class.  Now the lot of us had come together for a ceremony that brought this wonderful corn out of California back to upper New York state.

Pulling the corn seeds out of storage was a mystical experience.  The seed was no longer fresh, so my instructions were to plant more seeds than he needed just to ensure a good stand of seed.

I didn't have time to give these seeds a "germ test" (see my other article, Are Those Seeds Any Good, Mister? for some back ground on this). 

I brought out my corn sheller and tried my best to NOT just take the good looking kernels from good looking cobs.  I tried to emulate the corn growers and I tried to shut my internal neediness for a stab at perfection.  

A corn sheller.  This one is sized for popcorn, but it
was the right size for my Red Bread Corn too!
These seeds were put into a quart glass canning jar to sit in the freezer for three days.  At that time, they'll be reintroduced to the ambient temperature and I will get a germ test done.  Here's hoping I didn't give Eliot bad seeds!