Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sweet Corn Pollination

Corn, Not Quite As High As An Elephant's Eye Tassels Out
Organic Seed Alliance's recent blog post, Sweet Corn Pollination Season in California, is a marvelous picture-loaded tutorial in hand pollination of corn.

Corn is a wind pollinated plant that will easily suffers from 'inbreeding.'  This means, to get seeds that will grow vigorously, individual plants must be pollinated by a plant other than itself.  Furthermore, especially in a small planting, the very light pollen will easily waft away, pollinating very little of the silks at hand.  To insure each silk gets pollinated, and by an adjacent plant and not itself, hand pollination is the preferred method.  Each kernel of corn has its own silk and that silk must be hit with at least one grain of pollen or the kernel does not develop, making it essential for good seed set to hand pollinate.  

I also found this video on breeding corn - while it does extoll the praises of hybrid corn, it is a good video on corn pollination and provides some interesting details on corn breeding.

If you want to save corn seed, this is the best way to get it done.  The tutorial's photos give a reader a good start on the methods and techniques.  I will being doing this procedure later this year as the purple dent corn, Purple Maize, begins to tassel out.  I've got my bags, a friend is sewing a pollination apron for me and I'm studying everything I can find on the hand pollination of corn.

If you like what you read from OSA, please consider sending them a couple of bucks.  They are doing excellent work and, like all non-profits, could use the dough to continue the good work.  Remember that Monsanto and the other mega-corporations that are trying to control our seed supply have billions of dollars.  It's a David vs. Goliath scenario and OSA is one the best 'David's' in the business today.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Who owns the world's seeds? Chart

WHO OWNS THE WORLD'S SEEDS?? Structure of the Seed Industry follow @WithoutMonsanto on twitter

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Essay of the Week

Monsanto Nation - Taking Down Goliath by Ronnie Cummins

"Living in Monsanto Nation there can be no such thing as 'coexistence.' It is impossible to coexist with a reckless industry that endangers public health, bribes public officials, corrupts scientists, manipulates the media, destroys biodiversity, kills the soil, pollutes the environment, tortures and poisons animals, destabilizes the climate, and economically enslaves the world's 1.5 billion seed-saving small farmers. It's time to take down the Biotech Behemoth, before the living web of biodiversity is terminated."

Read more and join the campaign (READ THE ENTIRE NEWSLETTER at link above, sign up to receive it, too!)

Let's help them give away free seeds!!​outUs.html
Hey SLOLA members and friends, let's help these folks out and maybe think of this as something we might do in the future, too - They are trying to raise money to buy fundraising software here: http://dinnergarden.blogspot.c​om/2011/07/help-us-out-donate.​html

For several years, Holly Hirshberg's family had grown fruit and vegetables in a home garden during the summer months. She had enjoyed fresh tomato sandwiches, vine ripened cucumbers, red and yellow bell peppers, fresh herbs, like basil, thyme, and rosemary, potatoes, and watermelon. The fresh pro...(read more at the link)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Join the Millions against Monsanto Campaign

Action Appeal

Help the Millions Against Monsanto Campaign Recruit a Million Anti-GMO Activists

More Monstrous Monsanto-ness

Monsanto's "Superweeds" Gallop Through Midwest

Desperate farmers are resorting to the hoe and pesticide "cocktails" to fight Roundup-resistant weeds.

...What is surely the least surprising, most-anticipated major development in the history of US agriculture, farmers are discovering that when you spend years dousing land a single herbicide, ecosystems adapt. Roundup Ready crops, meet Roundup-defying weeds.... (read more at the link)

Seed Libraries Thrive Across the Nation

Thanks to the folks at Eco18 for including SLOLA in this story!!

Whether living in a city, a suburb or deep in the woods, growing herbs, vegetables and other crops at home has become a passion for people all over the world. The benefit of at-home gardening doesn’t just stop with the food it produces; it’s also a hobby and source of entertainment for those who grow. And in recent years, organizations have started to recognize this large group of at-home gardeners and built up communities and resources centered around making gardening more accessible to anyone with an interest in the subject. (read more at the link)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) Post on Breeding Organic Vegetables

Deft fingers prepare a tomato flower to be hand pollinated.
We count Organic Seed Alliance as one of the very good guys in our fight to bring clean, wholesome food to the tables of Americans; organic food that feeds the body and the soul and doesn't wreck nature or the environment.  They have just put up an article on their site concerning the breeding of vegetables for organic farmers.  I like their attitude and program, but I wish we could expand on it further.

Breeding of vegetables used to be done by amateurs - everyone gardened and everyone saved their own seed stocks.  By the simple act of saving seeds, a gardener has selected one plant over the next and has done a little plant breeding - a little variety improvement.  So, those of us who know about seed saving already have the technical skills to breed new plants.  A little time polishing up Mendelian genetics (good ol' Gregor had a birthday yesterday!), which isn't too hard, gives you the basics of what you need for breeding.  Carol Deppe's book, Breed Your Own Vegetables is very easy to understand and in it she gives you all the tools you need to begin to breed your own vegetables - funny how the title says something just like that..  

The point is that most currnet vegetable production is for plants that will be grown in a pesticide and herbicide intensive, highly fertilized environment - not the sort of environment one finds in an organic setting, so this country need plants bred to grow organically and still produce good, tasty, abundant and nutritious food.  

I believe all gardeners should be involved in this effort.  Amateurs bred the best tasting tomatoes in a time when the average person didn't know the science of genetics from a flying machine.  Knowing what the average gardener knows today, surely, we can do more and better!  Let's get started and overwhelm the market place with home-grown, open pollinated vegetable varieties that can compete toe to toe with commercial hybrids on every count.

Not only CAN we breed better vegetables than the big guys, but we can eat our mistakes along the way and have fun doing it!  Soon we can have varieties that are bred to perform in Los Angeles climate and soils and every region will have their own specialties - much like we used to have local diners until the chains came along and served the same fare to everyone losing the individual character of the different parts of the nation.  Let's celebrate freedom from big ag and big chemicals and big science by moving to a new paradigm that involves many more of us in our food production.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

News Roundup

A non-GMO tomato destined to be a Greek salad soon.
On Facebook, via the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF),  there is the news of the Good Food Awards, something we believe is important, because good, edible food is probably one of the most important allies we have in our fight to preserve old varieties of seeds and against Monsanto and agri-biz.  Mass produced stuff will never come close to clean, local food in winning the stomachs and taste buds of people.  The more people who are exposed to wholesome food, the more folks who are willing to stand with us and pay a little more for the food that is healthier and less destructive to the planet.  

The ground swell against genetically modified organisms (GMO's) seems to be growing world wide, even as the United States government rolls over and plays dead doing anything about GMO regulation. Farmers in Hungary are caught in the middle with their crops being plowed under because they planted GMO corn. We hope something will mitigate the destruction of their crops and income, but we applaud Hungary for taking a stand against the evils of GMO plants that are wind pollinated.  

The United States Department of Agriculture head,Tom Vilsak, a former employee of Monsanto, on the other hand has all but abdicated any consumer or environmental protection according to what we read today. This is especially hard to take in an administration that many of us had assumed would be less GMO friendly and more environmentally conscious.  The approval of GMO alfalfa almost certainly means that non-GMO cattle are going to become much more difficult to grow, putting GMO's in our meats and milk products, because the GMO pollen will infect adjacent fields, the same way GMO corn spreads its pollen far and wide.  
Monsanto has lied repeatedly about pollen spreading out of the fields planted with GMO corn - their estimates as to how far corn pollen can spread have been mere wishes in the heads of accountants, there was no corroborating evidence to back it up and current studies have proven that pollen contamination is a reality.  A reality that we can't turn back.  We will all eat GMO corn from the grocery stores for decades to come even if GMO corn is permanently pulled from the farmers fields today.  If you buy prepared foods from any supermarket, including the likes of Whole Foods, you will find it is created using GMO corn and soybeans.  If you read 'corn' or 'soy' on the package, simply know it is GMO - we don't get the luxury of choosing because marking 'GMO' or 'non-GMO' on a package isn't legal and if it is from a chain store, there is not enough non-GMO corn and soy being produced to be used consistently across their distribution.

A paper in the AgBio Forum postulates:  "Another aspect of the GM debate concerns implications of GM pollen drift. Pollen drift takes place when the pollen (and, subsequently, genes) of one plant is transported, via wind, water, sun, or pollinators such as honey bees, to another plant (Dafni, Kevan, & Husband, 2005). Although pollen drift often occurs in nature and plants have been swapping genes for centuries, it has become a matter of concern in the GM/non-GM crop debate because this type of genetic transfer can lead to "introduction into ecosystems of genes that confer novel fitness-related traits…[and] also allows novel genes to be introduced into many diverse types of crops, each with its own specific potential to outcross" (Snow, 2002, p. 542). Results from this could range from minor to catastrophic and could potentially have major impacts on (a) agriculture, such as the elimination of non-GM seeds from the seed stock; (b) health, if mingling occurs unwitting ingestion of allergens could transpire, and; (c) the economy, since there may be fiscal or legal liabilities associated with selling incorrectly labeled products."

Of course, we believe that this GMO experiment will fall of its own weight - the problem is, how much of a disaster will that be when it does happen?  
There are several reasons to believe that it will be a disaster, not the least is the results of the Green Revolution which was always seen as some massive success; a film on the continuing legacy of that disaster is available here.  The problem is how measure success - and when.  If one looks into the data for the years when the Green Revolution was initiated, the success is so overwhelming that we should be able to rejoice that hunger was solved for all time - of course, we know that isn't the case.  The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides was so overwhelming that farmers laden with new hybrids could not afford these inputs and the loss of diverse plantings of their own local foodcrops (because FAO was only measuring output in commercial crops, crops that could be commodities on the world market, not crops that could actually be eaten by the farmer or traded in the local market) destroyed the local agriculture.  The result is that after a five year window, production is not only nothing near the levels we were led to believe, but the lives of the farmers are compromised.  We took independent farmers and made them slaves to the same system that is bankrupting our farmers (and has for centuries), giving rise to the lie that you have to 'get big or get out.'  The truth is a small farm (or garden) is much more productive per acre than a big farm! (Sourced from Robert Rodale's "Save Three Lives" which should be required reading for anyone interested in solving world hunger.)

Monsanto has proven, secondly, that they are one of the world's biggest and most unfair bullies.  The cases against many farmers are a matter of record at this point and are far too numerous to discount.  (I heard some Monsanto apologist deride Percy Schmeiser as being a 'scumbag,' and you can say that about an individual farmers, but after a point, how many farmers are scumbags and who's pointing at whom?  For the record, I heard Mr. Schmeiser speak once and found him humble and sincere - if he is as bad as Monsanto wishes he were, he deserves an Emmy or something.)  There are too many farmers sued or hushed up to take this lightly; Monsanto seems to follow the Church of Scientology's lead on pro-active suing of nay-sayers.  Now the Securities Exchange Commission has begun an investigation, of course an investigation proves nothing until the verdict is made.  Still, if their past is any indication, Monsanto's own ruthlessness may come home to roost.

Thirdly, the health implications to humans of GMO technology has not been investigated let alone proven one way or another. There are NO long term studies on any aspect of GMO pollution in our bodies or our world.  One has to suspect a supposed 'wonderful new technology' that has yet to be vetted in any way long term.  If our fears are unfounded, then allow long term testing to go forward FIRST and prove us wrong! 

And finally, GMOs are just plain wrong.  Even if you can find ways to wiggle out of the environmental damage they will surely create (see the BioAg paper above), they will fail because they can't do what they claim they can do. Already reports are in about failed harvests, harvests that fail to attain anything close to parity with existing crops  and now the new super weeds have arrived on the scene - weeds that are immune to Monsanto's RoundUp and that spells doom and gloom for this current formulation.  Monsanto's scientists are already working on RoundUp Two, or RoundUp 2012 or whatever they will call it, but it doesn't take an agronomist to see the futility of this conundrum; better herbicides equal better weeds and that's all, with ever increasing pollution and ever increasing questionable health out-comes for the planet and those eating the products of these seeds.  

It's apparent our government will not do anything constructive to at least gain us some sort of testing of this technology before foisting it on us.  The things we CAN do are limited, and imperfect at best, but we need to try to eat as little of this stuff as possible.  That means limiting our eating out to a very small select eateries that buy from small farmers that avoid GMO seeds and eating mostly from our own gardens and the gardens of our friends.  That, of course, means, we have to grow gardens - larger gardens and learn to garden for most of our own calories.  OK, so we can't do that today?  Move in that direction and keep moving in that direction.  Learn how to save seeds so we preserve the heritage seeds of the past that are free of GMO technology and will reproduce in your garden.  Gardening this way is the way we preserve a future and is the surest way to strike back - it's a duty to the generations behind us and it's revolutionary.  

We all need to eat.  I think I'm making myself a Greek salad - GMO free!


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Haitian Farmers Burn Monsanto GMO wheat seeds

While I take issue with the inflammatory language that is used in this article, I do agree with the very brave action these farmers took. It's too bad our own EPA and USDA are so entrenched with the forces they are supposed to be regulating, but a buck buys alot of loyalty in the game of politics and policy.

Killer Compost-not in the good sense

Since 2008, we have reported on the dangers of pyralid herbicides (including Milestone, Forefront and other trade names) which turn grass clippings, manure, or hay into killer compost or mulch that can ruin gardens and farmland for years. Despite ample evidence that these deadly herbicides are damaging fields and gardens, and despite our calls for the companies and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to solve this problem, we were angered to learn that another deadly pyralid herbicide, Imprelis (aminocyclopyrachlor), was widely sold in the spring of 2011, following its approval by the EPA in August 2010.

Invented by a team of scientists at DuPont, aminocyclopyrachlor is marketed to control weeds in cool-season lawn grasses, especially bluegrass (it is not generally sold in warmer climates, where bluegrass lawns are rare).

DuPont never denied that Imprelis-treated lawns would create killer compost. Lost in a 19-item bulleted list on Page 7 of the 9-page Imprelis label, we found this language:

“Do not use grass clippings from treated areas for mulching or compost, or allow for collection to composting facilities. Grass clippings must either be left on the treated area, or, if allowed by local yard waste regulations, disposed of in the trash. Applicators must give verbal or written notice to property owner/property managers/residents to not use grass clippings from treated turf for mulch or compost.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Seeds Of The Past... Keys To The Future

Little cotyledons on the first 'Purple Maize'
The United States government is involved in saving seeds and has been for many years - but today, few folks know about these collections - we have ordered wheat seeds from them which didn't get planted this year in time, but next year, we hope to grow out an open pollinated white wheat that used to be grown in California.  If that is successful, we might begin to experiment with wheat as well as corn - but right now, we've got our hands - and garden space - filled with these corn projects. 

We have nicknamed the current corn project - a stable purple dent corn - Purple Maize.  Most of these projects, in our private notes, have silly names.  So far, we have about 70% germination of the corn planted out a couple weeks ago.  On order are husk bags and silk bags (from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange ) and a great niece is stitching up a pollination apron!  With any luck we'll get to practice hand pollination on some of the sweet corn we have getting ready to flower out in the Garden now - and that'll make us all experts by the time my corn is ready for its controlled pollination. 

If you feel so inclined, look online at the resources offered by the USDA - they have a LOT of good stuff in storage.  We don't think we can trust the USDA with all this material for a long time - they have shown very poor judgement as regards to the proliferation of GMOs and their unwillingness to stand up for the consumer (and taxpayer) in how they allot their resources.  It seems to a lot of us, that we need to exploit these resources as thoroughly as we can now and get a lot of this material back into the hands of people who really will conserve them and grow them out lest some Monsanto-owned governmental individual suddenly dumps these seeds into a landfill at some point.  This material from the past IS the key to our future and may well be the only resource we have that will keep us fed in the coming decades.

I hope some of this blog's readers will take up the challenge and keep these old varieties of grains and vegetables alive by growing them out!


Monday, July 11, 2011

Minutes of 7th General Meeting; 7/10/11

JULY 10, 2010

The 7th meeting was our largest to date!
 Executive Committee members present: David King, Chair; Lucinda Zimmerman, Vice-Chair; Sarah Spitz, Secretary; Julie Mann, Acting Treasurer; Linda Preuss, Database; Timothy Smith, Membership; Albert Chang, co-chair Best Practices, Elizabeth Bowman, Publicity/Web/Outreach.

Secretary’s note: It was not business as usual at this 7th General Meeting of SLOLA. Today marked what felt like a whole new beginning for SLOLA, with many more people in attendance than at any previous meeting. And 40 new members joined, that’s as many people as attended our first meeting, just six months ago! We want to thank the many community organizations, ECM/TTLA, LA County Master Gardeners, Coopportunity and the LA Times in particular for spreading the word about the meeting. It was truly a vast turnout! Thank you!

Meeting notes:

Chair David King recounted his weeklong immersion in seed school and explained how and why SLOLA came to be – what it can become and why it matters.

He explained that GMO is used for commercial and large scale agriculture, where labor is used to bring in vast, consistent harvests to market. In our own home gardens, these same techniques need not apply.
Heritage or heirloom seeds are generally defined as being any open pollinated seed that was in existence prior to 1940 and has been handed down, generation after generation. These can be guaranteed as heirlooms. But these are the varieties being lost to commercial scale agriculture.

In 1970, Seed Savers Exchange was formed to PRESERVE heirloom seeds and SLOLA is a lot like Seed Savers, except that we want to share seed so it can be grown out by our members, and returned (if possible) after allowing plants to go to seed. Think of SLOLA as a book lending library, with a longer check out time.

David was at Native Seed/SEARCH (Southwestern Endangered Aridland Resource Clearing House) for his Seed School immersion. Founded in Tucson by Gary Paul Nabhan, who has written about why we need to save seeds. The seeds of American indigenous peoples were farmed in the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and these were successful agricultural civilizations. They grew successful in arid climates.

What we need to consider is, for example, the story of the corn breeder known as Radiator Charlie and his “mortgage lifter” tomato. During the Depression, this car radiator repair man Charlie Byles decided to develop a large and meaty tomato that could feed families. By selling the seeds of this tomato, he was able to pay off his mortgage.

We can breed seeds and create our own varieties. Early on, as colleges became involved in researching and growing new varieties they were working with open pollinated seed. But that’s not where the money was. Genetic modification took over and open pollinated seed was set aside in favor of breeding for commercial traits like shelf life and color, not flavor and nutrition.

SLOLA’s initial rationale was that it would be a depository for seed that would be “loaned” to a member who joins at the lifetime membership level of $10, and that the person who grows the plants would leave a plant to grow out, in order to return a like quantity to the library to maintain the seed lines with plants acclimated to LA basin soil and climate conditions.

But as the group evolves, the mission is beginning to morph a bit. There are people who will not know how to save (we’ll try to educate you at each meeting but it is inevitable that some plants won’t make it to seed stage). Therefore we need to create a structure by which a small fee for non-return will need to be assessed, so SLOL can continue to replenish seed supplies that are lost. This is still just an idea that is “germinating” and needs to be worked out in executive session and discussed with the membership.
David went on to explain that there are “flour” and “flint” corns. Flour has fat, translucent kernels that grind easily, are soft and can be used as flour. But its disadvantage is its susceptibility to pests that can easily get into these soft kernels.

Flint kernels are hard, less “toothsome,” but store longer and are harder for bugs to get into.

A naturally occurring cross pollination gives you “Dent” corn. It has the outward characteristics of flint corn, hard on the outside and and the interior quality of flour corn, softer inside; but as it dries, it loses its moisture, one side sinks, so it has a “dent” in the kernel.

The way Native Americans used to grow corn is that they’d throw all the kernels of every kind into the fields together, so there were a lot different varieties, shapes, sizes and colors of corn and within the single plant itself.

When non-native people got hold of this dent corn, they tried to breed it for the dent corn’s durable qualities, to make it more productive and stable. And in the 1820s through the 1850s, one Indiana man began a project to breed a stable yellow dent corn; by 1920 this variety, Reed’s Yellow Dent, became the most popular variety in the U.S.

But color corn such as purple has much more nutrition than this yellow dent corn. David said that after being told at seed school there was no purple dent corn seeds/kernels available, the next day a basket of corn was passed around to his class–and there was a purple dent. But it was un-tagged, meaning its parents were unknown, thus its characteristics could not be guaranteed.

David finally cajoled the teacher into letting him have some seed kernels of this purple dent and is growing it out to see if he can get it to breed true. He put 24 seeds in the ground and has had 70 percent germination rate. He’ll replant these to see if he can generate a true seed from this corn that we can begin to grow. Out of this experience, David has learned how to hand-pollinate corn, which he demonstrated on the dry-erase board (sorry, can’t replicate that here!).

Corn has both male and female parts in one plant. The tassles are male, the silks are females and when there are flowers and pollen, they need to be kept covered with bags and hand pollinated. When you see a corn cob with missing kernels, those are silks that did not get pollinated. By hand pollinating it means each ear will be maximized for number of kernels. You cut the silks off like a flat top and take a brush and run it over the pollen, then brush the pollen on the silks, and cover the silks up again. One plant pollinates another, so plant A pollinates plant B, etc.

Saving seed of other plants is not necessarily this easy (cucumbers, squashes for example) and cross-pollination can easily occur with other similar varieties that will prevent that plant from breeding “true.” We will continue to offer “best practices” for each family of plants to demonstrate how to get the most successful pollination that leads to true seed, seed that is the same genetically as its parent.

Carol Deppe is a noted author of The Resilient Gardener and Breed Your Own Vegetables. Worth reading. We can breed our own varieties. Humans have been doing this for many generations.

David believes that SLOLA’s mission is in transition: the first mission is to get seed to people to plant and grow out and return. The second mission will be to maintain these seed lines. Perhaps the more experienced growers will be responsible for this as we train more people how to save seed, so we are able to maintain more of these lines of seed.

We will need to create fundraisers to keep us in seeds, because membership at $10/lifetime probably won’t last too long if seeds aren’t grown out and returned. We do want to continue to increase the number of members but we may need to figure out a way to cover the cost of seeds not returned to the library with a modest “fine.” This is merely a suggestion and a lot has to be worked out before it is made into policy and put into effect.

In the meantime, EVERYONE should take an active role in trying to save seed. The USDA is in collusion with Monsanto, its leaders worked at Monsanto… there’s now even a GMO rye grass for lawns being developed. We must fight back in the only way we can, SAVE OUR OWN SEED.

Sarah Spitz stood up to make a pitch for new members, and new volunteers for committees.
Seed distribution and new member sign up took place following the presentations today.


Meeting adjourned.

Submitted by Sarah Spitz, Secretary