Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Breeding Time In The Cornfield!

Isn't that a lovely corn breeding apron?  Only in California!
On a day when the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange 2011 Catalog arrived, I was out bagging my corn.  

This is significant because it was Southern Exposure that sold the bags I put on my corn. 

I noted their catalog has some things in it that one cannot find in other catalogs; they have the best selection of okra I've ever seen in a catalog, colored cotton (no shipping to California, however), a nice selection of edamame, and a good collection of open-pollinated vegetables, flowers and herbs.  

But what causes my interest in Southern Exposure Seed Exchange's catalog is in their offering of seed saving supplies and especially the tools a person needs to breed corn.  The white bags in the photo are 'shoot bags' - they cover corn ears and - especially - the silks, which are the female flowers of corn.  The brown bags are 'tassel bags.'  These cover the tassels of the corn and I hope I got them on in time to catch the pollen.  Tomorrow AM, I will be at The Learning Garden sometime close to 7:30 to open the tassel bags and will pour the pollen onto the silks. The silks are then covered with the pollen bags and, if I've done my job correctly, all the kernels in these ears will have parents from this stand of corn only.  This is the first year of this job that will need to be repeated for several more years before this is a stable corn.

Already noted about this corn is that each plant bears multiple ears, and it is extremely vigorous and early!  Some one asked me the other day if it tasted good.  I don't know.  That will have to be answered later.

I'm really excited about the possibility of making a difference in how people eat.  I'm really excited to be growing what will become a whole new variety of corn!  And we'll eat the ones that don't conform so it isn't like anything will be lost!

Stay tuned to this station for more stories from the crib of corn sex!


Monday, August 29, 2011

Monsanto Corn Plant Losing Bug Resistance

This article appears in the Wall Street Journal, so it's not a "lefty rag" telling us about how frightening the Monsanto plan for humanity is and how unintended consequences could be what ultimately take down our agriculture. We still don't know what we don't know.

Although I do not think the WSJ will appreciate my doing so, I am posting the entire article, in case it falls behind a paywall after today.

Widely grown corn plants that Monsanto Co. genetically modified to thwart a voracious bug are falling prey to that very pest in a few Iowa fields, the first time a major Midwest scourge has developed resistance to a genetically modified crop.

The discovery raises concerns that the way some farmers are using biotech crops could spawn superbugs.

Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassmann's discovery that western corn rootworms in four northeast Iowa fields have evolved to resist the natural pesticide made by Monsanto's corn plant could encourage some farmers to switch to insect-proof seeds sold by competitors of the St. Louis crop biotechnology giant, and to return to spraying harsher synthetic insecticides on their fields.

"These are isolated cases, and it isn't clear how widespread the problem will become," said Dr. Gassmann in an interview. "But it is an early warning that management practices need to change."

The finding adds fuel to the race among crop biotechnology rivals to locate the next generation of genes that can protect plants from insects. Scientists at Monsanto and Syngenta AG of Basel, Switzerland, are already researching how to use a medical breakthrough called RNA interference to, among other things, make crops deadly for insects to eat. If this works, a bug munching on such a plant could ingest genetic code that turns off one of its essential genes.

Monsanto said its rootworm-resistant corn seed lines are working as it expected "on more than 99% of the acres planted with this technology" and that it is too early to know what the Iowa State University study means for farmers.

The discovery comes amid a debate about whether the genetically modified crops that now saturate the Farm Belt are changing how some farmers operate in undesirable ways.

These insect-proof and herbicide-resistant crops make farming so much easier that many growers rely heavily on the technology, violating a basic tenet of pest management, which warns that using one method year after year gives more opportunity for pests to adapt.

Monsanto is already at the center of this issue because of its success since the 1990s marketing seeds that grow into crops that can survive exposure to its Roundup herbicide, a glyphosate-based chemical known for its ability to kill almost anything green.

These seeds made it so convenient for farmers to spray Roundup that many farmers stopped using other weedkillers. As a result, say many scientists, superweeds immune to Roundup have spread to millions of acres in more than 20 states in the South and Midwest.

Monsanto became the first company to sell rootworm-resistant biotech corn to farmers in 2003. The seed contains a gene from a common soil microorganism called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, from which crop biotechnology has been used to mine several genes for making insecticidal proteins.

One of the genes Monsanto developed makes a crystalline protein called Cry3Bb1. It rips apart the gut of the rootworm but is harmless to mammals, birds and most beneficial insects. Competitors, which use other Bt genes to attack the rootworm, estimate that roughly one-third of the corn grown in the U.S. carries Monsanto's Cry3Bb1 gene.

Monsanto said it generated world-wide sales of $4.26 billion from corn seed and biotechnology traits, about 40% of its overall sales, in its last full year.

Until insecticide-producing corn plants arrived, Midwest farmers typically tried to keep pests like the corn borer and the rootworm in check by changing what they grew in a field each year, often rotating between corn and soybeans. That way, the offspring of corn-loving insects would starve the next year.

Some farmers began to plant corn in the same field year after year. The financial incentive to grow corn has increased in recent years in part because the ethanol-fuel industry's exploding appetite for corn has helped to lift prices to very profitable levels for growers.

According to Dr. Gassmann, the Iowa fields in which he found rootworms resistant to the Cry3Bb1 toxin had been producing Monsanto's Bt-expressing corn continuously for at least three years. Dr. Gassmann collected rootworm beetles from four Iowa cornfields with plant damage in 2009. Their larvae were then fed corn containing Monsanto's Cry3Bb1 toxin. They had a survival rate three times that of control larvae that ate the same corn.

Dr. Gassmann found that Monsanto's Bt toxin still had some lethal impact on the larvae from the problem Iowa fields, and that the bugs were still highly susceptible to a rootworm-resistant corn plant from a competitor that uses a different Bt toxin, called Cry34/35Ab1.

Scientists in other Farm Belt states are also looking for signs that Monsanto's Bt corn might be losing its effectiveness. Mike Gray, a University of Illinois entomologist, said he is studying rootworm beetles he collected in northwest Illinois earlier this month from fields where Monsanto's Bt-expressing corn had suffered extensive rootworm damage.

The government requires that farmers who plant the genetically modified corn take certain steps aimed at preventing insects from developing resistance. Farmers are told to create a refuge for the bugs by planting non-modified corn in part of their fields. The refuge, which can be as much as 20% of a farmer's field, is supposed to reduce the chances that two toxin-resistant bugs mate and pass along that trait to their offspring.

Dr. Gray said the confirmation of toxin-resistant rootworms in Iowa could force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revisit its policy of allowing the size of these insect refuges to shrink to as little as 5% of a cornfield as crop biotechnology companies begin to sell seed for corn plants that can make two different rootworm-killing toxins.

Part of what has attracted some farmers to Monsanto's new SmartStax corn line is that it allows them to plant a smaller refuge. But one of the two anti-rootworm toxins in that variety is the Cry3Bb1 protein at the center of Dr. Gassmann's study.

The EPA said it is too early to comment on any implications arising from Dr. Gassmann's paper.

Write to Scott Kilman at scott.kilman@wsj.com

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why Urban Farms Will Save the Economy and Lives

No longer are we preaching to the choir!  The word is out and people are piling on the bandwagon:  urban agriculture is in and will empower us to move forward into a new paradigm where food is grown within a few miles and not a few thousand miles of where it is consumed. 

We are on the tipping point and our world is changing.  This article sums up nicely what we've been saying for years now! We are grateful to see this kind of encouraging news in print!  


Thursday, August 25, 2011

The President And The Seed

Does this look like a monopoly to you?
..."The President should know that growing economic opportunities in rural America will take confronting the concentrated market power (and thus political and legislative power) in several agricultural industries. It will take fulfilling a campaign promise to fight for family farmers and ranchers by ensuring fair and transparent markets.

The President couldn’t have picked a better spot to make this point. His venue, Seed Savers Exchange, is home to a trove of genetically diverse seed. It is the perfect counterpoint to the alarming extent to which ownership of this vital resource is privatized and concentrated. The top three firms, for example, account for more than 75 percent of U.S. corn seed sales."...

All of the above came from the Organic Seed Alliance blog and you can read the rest of it via this link.  


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why she joined SLOLA!!!

What a delightful blog post "Front Yardening" (click here to read) wrote about why she decided to join SLOLA! Here's a taste--read the whole thing at the link!

Gardening as Resistance: Why I Joined SLOLA

seed library of los angeles, slolaPart of why I decided to plant a kitchen garden was to empower myself. It has become all too clear that the corporations and government entities responsible for our food supply do not have our best interests at heart (not to mention the best interests of future generations). In addition to supporting local, sustainable farmers, I thought it made sense to educate myself about growing some of my own food. I started slowly – first just with lettuce seedlings, then a few other crops. For the past ten months, I’ve purchased almost all of my seedlings from a grower at the Culver City Farmers Market (my tomato seedlings came from Tomatomania). Lettuce, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, summer squash, tomatoes, eggplant, basil, mint, sage, parsley, cilantro, and dill: I’ve grown it all, some with great success, and some with little. I’ve learned enough to know that I have a lot more to learn, and the experience has been wonderful, though largely solitary.
Recently I’ve found myself thinking about seeds and community. As enjoyable as it is to grow a small kitchen garden in my front yard, I never intended or expected to stop there. I know that to become a better gardener, I have to learn about seeds: how to grow food from them, and how to save them. I also know that I will learn more and faster if I connect with other growers, both beginners like myself and longtime masters. (continued; go to link at top of page)

Monday, August 22, 2011

National Corn Day in Mexico

The Yellow of Sunflowers Standing Tall with the Corn
Campaña Sin Maíz, No Hay País which translated to English means "Without Corn, There is No Country Campaign" is the name of a Mexican organization that works to fight climate change and GMO's in their country.  Their website can be accessed in English using Google Translate and gives you the list  of their organizational goals, which align, I'd say, pretty closely to SLOLA's. They are calling the 29th of September Día Nacional del Maíz; National Corn Day.

Corn, like all other plant, has no recognition of national boundaries - I'd like all Angelenos to say a prayer for corn and eat something made from corn on that day.  Take a moment to read this page with it's references to the importance of corn to the historic peoples of the area we call Mexico.  

Better yet, read The Story of Corn by Betty Fussell - a great read that I tore through a couple of years ago.  She shows the history of corn is as much spiritual as it is gastronomic and tells a fascinating story in hard to put down kind of read!  

Corn, like no other, is the plant upon which our country's economy is based and, with ever increasing genetic modification, covers thousands of acres with a uniform, not diverse, genetic population. Which means it is all susceptible to the same pathogen.  All it would take is one pathogen that likes those genetics and our all dinner plates suffer.  Think of the damage to our economy for one corn crop failure!  Would make the bank's collapse seem like a bad day at the office.  Real value is our ability to eat.


Right Now, Because You Don't Have To Yet

Diversity Helps Prevent Disaster
The Seed Library of Los Angeles is growing by leaps and bounds!  Already our membership stands just below 200 and we have a palatable cash reserve for an organization so young.  We are on the verge of adopting a set of bylaws that will govern the Library and lead us towards our own non-profit status. All in all, it has been a very exciting 9 months.  

We had "seed-mobile" excursion, patterned after the 'book-mobiles" of book libraries, Sunday evening to the Millagro Allegro community garden.  Megan Bomba of SLOLA's Best Practices Committee gave a 45 minute talk on saving seeds and showed the easiest seeds to save.  David King, SLOLA's Chair, brought out a selection of winter seeds to share with those who joined SLOLA or were already members.  

We hope this is a first of many similar trips to the community garden's of Los Angeles.  From the very beginning, SLOLA has considered it part of their mission to serve the entire greater LA area.  Ideas abound on how to do this, but one of them is the seed-mobile.  We would like to find funding to create such a thing and make economically viable.  A seed mobile needn't be the big van that books are carried in - in fact, a bicycle could do the job, although not if we expect me to do the pedaling!  A small vehicle with room for a 2 x 3 foot box of seeds and some paper work would do the trick.  

In conjunction or not with the seed mobile, we also envision a host of neighborhood libraries that are affiliated with the library we have established at The Learning Garden.  It is part and parcel to our vision that not all our seeds are stored at one location - every single variety of seed that is a part of the library's collection should be stored in at least two locations.  This kind of redundancy spreads the risk of losing any particular variety.  

Eventually, we believe that SLOLA will become the repository of choice for valuable heirloom seeds that exist here in the suburbs and barrios of Los Angeles.  And over time, the popular varieties of seeds that we are importing from across the United States will become adapted to our Los Angeles soil and climate and will become even more productive for us here.

In addition, we encourage our members to go about creating open-pollinated varieties of vegetables that will do better here and perhaps elsewhere as well.  Many of us foresee a time when the agricultural model for the modern US food production will fail and, because of the peculiar nature in which it has been structured, when it fails, it will fail massively.  We would like to see agriculture in the city of Los Angeles so advanced that we can ramp up and provide food for that part of the country that is now our breadbasket.  You know, those vast fields where multi-national corporations have created a vacuum of common sense and a chemically-induced sense of reality that is more warped any drug trip an individual has ever been on.  Already we see super weeds that are Round Up resistant and know that Monsanto is working on Round Up 2012 to combat them.  Sadly, it never ends.

While the pervasive use of Round Up and its damage to the environment is bad enough, it's not the worst of it.  The varieties corn or soybeans, upon which the vast amount of our United States foods are based, are few. If a pathogen gets into one of those varieties with any kind of virulence, the damage done to our food supply could be enormous.  As one author pointed out, the Irish already did this experiment (the Potato Famines of the 1800's) and it didn't turn out so well for them.  Intelligent men and women are still persisting in the illusion that those rules don't apply to us.

We call that folly.  Sadly, it is a folly that when realized has a devastating potential.  Join the Seed Library of Los Angeles and begin to do something about saving our food crops now while we don't have to so that when (not if) this failure occurs, the damage can be mitigated by you and your little garden.  It is very important what you do today because you'll be able to show others what to do when the time comes - and your little garden will be multiplied a thousand full!  

That is powerful and the power is yours right now!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

GMOs to Blame for Problems in Plants, Animals

Michael McNeill  doesn't look like a hippy and his credentials clearly show him as an expert in his field with a Ph.D in Quantitative Genetics and Plant Pathology from Iowa State University.  So when Dr. McNeill testifies that "scientists are seeing new, alarming patterns in plants and animals due to increased use of the herbicide Roundup," it's time (past  time?) to pay attention. 
 We found this article in the Boulder Weekly, a Boulder, CO newspaper and found it interesting.  

It's the nature of  progressive thinking in our society.  It takes concerned citizens that become convinced something is not right with what we are being told.  They are ridiculed as being activists, commies, pinkos or whatever the current insult might happen to be.  Eventually, people with families begin to see things like the radicals and the ranks of dissent swell.  This is the point we are now at:  Finally the experts, the learned who's bread is buttered by the evil-doers, finally realize that the status quo is not just harmful, but is harmful to them and their families as well.  

And then government suddenly wakes up and says, "Huh?  There's something going on?  I better pass a law!" 

I'll leave it at that.  I can feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about passing laws....


Monday, August 1, 2011

Commercial Announcement: Join David King for a Growing Food Class This Saturday

This Saturday, 06 August 2011, The Learning Garden presents: Growing Food In Southern California with David King. This 9 to 12 workshop centers on what to do in the coming months as Southern California heads into our 'other Spring' and one of our best, and least understood, growing seasons! You'll learn what to plant and how to plant it, what varieties go best here and why and all about getting the best garlic you will ever have! Dress to get into the garden and get dirty, The Learning Garden can be cool even in August, so dress in layers. Coffee and garden-made mint tea will be served please bring your own cup! Email greenteach@gmail.com or call 310.722.3656 for more information. No need to RSVP – class goes on no matter what!  $25 at the gate...