Inbreeding, outbreeding, cross pollination, hybrid regression, organic, inorganic, disease, pests, cultural practices, seed storage – AARRGHH, can’t someone else deal with all this? What ever happened to me just sticking seeds in the dirt?
Well folks, I’m taking some time off later this week to go fly fishing with my son before he heads back to that cultural indoctrination institution known as college. As a result I’m going to take the easy way out this time around and mostly address some of the comments and questions from my first post.
I sent our host an email detailing why I’m doing this (sharing) and my thoughts on personal integrity, I don’t know if he will share that or not. In case he doesn’t I want to share a portion of that here.
I believe if you are going to share information that could affect someone’s life
– you need to differentiate between fact and your opinion
– you need real world experience to back it up
– you damn well better have technical proficiency in what you are sharing
– you need complete transparency regarding your motives and objectives
– everything better be verifiable
As to fact or opinion, all I can do is share what we do, our successes and failures, how hard we have to work to do it and what problems or bottlenecks we run into. If that differs from what you know or believe all I can state is, if I write it, it is because we are doing it and I will let you know when I move from fact to opinion.”
Finally, we are deadly serious about our food growing. We literally depend on what we grow for our very existence. If we don’t grow we don’t eat, it’s that simple.
Ok, with that out of the way –
None of the following is directed at any individual, as such no one should personalize it.
Square foot gardening and raised beds
Our copy of Jim Bakers Square Foot Gardening has been on the book shelf for many, many years. This is an interesting approach and for folks with limited space and a small garden, something that works really well. It does not however, at least for us, scale well (opinion). This is the same problem raised beds have for us. Once you get past a certain size garden square foot gardening and raised beds just aren’t practical. I guarantee if you intend to have a self sustaining garden you will exceed the size where it works well and the reason it doesn’t work well is time.
Organic gardening requires twice as much land or more for same yield.
Our personal experience is different than this. I have stated we grow nearly our entire years supply of food. That is a fact. We currently do this with little more than half an acre in production at any given time. That is a fact. This only applies to garden truck. The meat and poultry are not included in this space.
The two biggest factors in organic production are environment and soil condition. If you feed your soil it will feed your plants and they will feed you. Our compost piles are eight to ten feet wide, three to five feet tall and fifty to sixty feet long. I have three of them going all the time. Talk about a hidden factor in gardening, try turning one of those without the benefit of power tools. We have done it just so we know what we are in for.
Organic vs. modern farming
I don’t want to turn this into a shit storm about which way is better or whether chemicals are harmful to your plants, you and/or the environment. I’ll just put it this way, once it all goes to hell in a hand basket where are you going to get your inorganic chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides? Where is the fuel going to come from to run the equipment?
We have performed comparative analysis of manual vs mechanized performance of several garden tasks. The two biggest time hogs are initial soil prep and irrigation. It doesn’t matter which methodology you use to garden, the need for irrigation is the same and once you don’t have cheap and easy energy available to pressurize your irrigation water you have a lot of work facing you. It takes us the better part of three man days (no I’m not politically correct) to hand water half our garden. In our environment we need to water at least three times a week. You can do the math.
The time to become proficient with a skill, ability or resource is before your life depends on it. If you have to learn as you go, under the pressure of trying to stay alive, you most likely are going to fail. I’ll say it again, if you aren’t already organically gardening you need to start now.
Different plants have different nutritional requirements. If you grow the same plant in the same place year after year you run the risk of depleting the soil of the nutrients it requires and its performance will suffer as a result. You need to rotate your plants through your different plots.
Another problem with growing the same plants in the same place is disease. Potatoes for instance are what I call a particularly dirty crop. They suffer from and transfer lots of problems to the soil.
I’ll tell on myself. One year I had this phenomenal red potato harvest. Better than thirty percent of the crop was so big I could barely cup half the potato in my hand and I have good sized hands. We noticed maybe five percent of the harvest suffered from a light case of potato scab.
Considering the incredible harvest we had, and me being lazier than shit, I decided to plant in the same place the following year hoping for the same result. We lost over eighty percent of the crop to potato scab that year. Peeled they were still usable but they had no storage life.
On the topic of crop rotation there are a lot of crops you don’t want to rotate on top of one another. Potatoes can suffer from verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt. These are diseases affecting the vascular system of the plant and block its ability to uptake water and nutrients. If you plant next years tomatoes where the potatoes were, you’ll most likely end up with the tomatoes contracting the same problem. The same goes for your peppers and eggplant. There are over a few hundred host plants for verticillium wilt so once you get the pathogen in your soil it’s almost impossible to get rid of it. The pathogen can remain viable for seven or more years in the soil. You’ll you need to find non host plants to rotate through the area hoping to get rid of it.
Whole tomes have been written about bees and I won’t bother to duplicate that effort here. I will agree with the comment that having bees will improve your garden output. We realize as much as a forty percent increase in yield with having bees on site. One other thing, if you set up a beehive, set up two. Having two lets you compare their performance and if something is going wrong you’ll pick up on it quicker.
Right now, having power, we refrigerate and freeze our seed. We have found the order to be important. They will go in the refrigerator for about a week. After that we put them in a freezer and hold them at about five degrees F. We place them in paper envelopes, then in cardboard boxes with partitions. Then we cover this with a black trash bag that is not closed tight.
I had fairly good germination results this year with seed that was from 2004. Even with proper storage seed viability will vary by species and age. If the power ever goes out then we’ll go with the dry, cool, dark place and will not be able to store seed for as long. Do not store your seeds in small zip lock bags or any container that is absolutely air tight, your seeds are a living organism.
Cross Pollination and Inbreeding depression
Cross pollination occurs when the blossoms on one plant are fertilized by pollen from another. Cross pollination is a benefit and great curse when it comes to your garden efforts. Most plants will benefit with better and larger yields when they are cross pollinated.
Cross pollination of heirloom or open pollinated plants, with the same species of plant, is good for you.
Cross pollination of said plants with a close relative might yield undesirable traits in F2, F3 and so on offspring (F1, F2, F3… refers to subsequent, sequential generations). An example is a sweet pepper crossing with a hot pepper. This years yield (F1) will still be a sweet pepper. Plants grown from F1 seed however may not breed true and the yield from these plants may have undesirable traits. Plants grown from F2 seed may exacerbate the problem.
Not all cross pollination of different species is bad, that is how we develop hybrids (which is different than GMO’s).
Monoculture planting is an effective means of dealing with undesirable cross pollination, the problem with this approach in small size operations is many plants will cross with close relatives. Do you really want to only grow one variety of pepper, either sweet or chili or only one variety of tomato in your entire garden?
Inbreeding depression, in this context, is a different issue. Inbreeding depression occurs when you collect seed from a narrow spectrum of your plants. Now when you grow plants using this collected seed, you most likely only use only a few seeds.
When mature, you then collect seed from only a few of your plants again. This cycle, repeated over time, continually narrows the genetic variability of the parent plants and subsequent offspring (yield). Unchecked this narrowing of genetic variability can increase the odds of problems ranging in severity from germination issues to total crop failure.
We carefully control the pollination of our seed plants utilizing hand pollination and isolation bags. These bags are made from summer weight floating row cover material and vary in size from very small (individual chili pepper) to quite large (corn plants). Think of pillow cases of varying size with a curtain loop sewn in one end. We put a small ribbon in the loop and pull it tight. In some cases we will bag an entire plant and tie the opening closed around the lower portion of the stem. This prevents insects and wind blown pollen from getting to the blossom or plant.
Have a good week, I might even share some fishing lies, err, I mean stories when I come back.