Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Glass Gem Corn

Glass Gem Corn 
Our story with Glass Gem corn starts late last year at a SLOLA meeting.  We had a speaker who brought an ear he had grown (talk about an early adopter!) and passed it around for folks to marvel at - truly it is one of the most beauteous of corns of all time.  I remained skeptical because everyone talked about how beautiful it was, but no one ever said how it tasted!  Beauty, as the sole reason, is not a good enough reason for me to waste valuable real estate and water on a plant.  I passed over several offers to grow Glass Gem until...

Jo Anne Trigo of Two Dog Nursery called me with an offer. She had plants of Glass Gem corn to share with SLOLA would we grow them?  It might have been in conversation with her or doing some research on the variety that I came across the fact that this is a popcorn that changed my mind. No wonder there was no mention of how it tasted!  It was a popcorn.  I raised popcorn as a boy in Kansas (sold it for 25 cents a pound) and growing popcorn remains a fond memory for me.  So we accepted the plants.

It has been the subject of other posts in other blogs, but I screwed up royally.  Being in a city, we have rodents around and our compost pile supports a small host.  We do not have rodent problems with most of our harvest however because we also are home to a Cooper's Hawk who patrols from our Chinese Elm.  My screw up came when I sited the corn too close to the compost piles.  The rats were able, once the kernels began to form, to easily slip from the compost to the corn without interference from the hawk.  Proving my theory to be sound, corn thirty feet away (flowering at a different time, I will point out just so you know both  crops could be saved for seed) suffered no predation.  

We got a pitiful amount of seed - most ears were fully eaten, only a few (on the opposite side from the compost) had much of any seed.  

Jose Miguel Palido Leon, a SLOLA member announced he had seeds of Glass Gem corn grown at the Southwest Museum garden - with many other American plants grown by the tribes in our area.  A garden that would make a marvelous SLOLA field trip some time soon!  I visited Jose and picked up a bag of Glass Gem seeds he donated to SLOLA!  

These will be available for check out on a very limited basis!  We will want to be certain that whoever checks out the seed we have knows how to save corn seed and prevent cross pollination so we can build this into a viable seed resource for Los Angeles. There is enough seed from the two groups of seed (ours from Two Dog Nursery and Jose's) for probably three people to grow them out and enough to reserve to allow for crop failures.

To whet your appetite, there are two resources on the web where you can see Glass Gem corn for yourself.  Seed is available from Native Seed/SEARCH in Tucson, AZ and their ad copy gives you a hint of the beauty of this corn. Run your mouse over the image for a treat.  

But the best shots of Glass Gem corn come from a blog post from Seattle, WA - amazing corn and amazing photography!  You can easily see why this corn has tweaked the imagination of so many people.  And for a bit of the history of this corn, check out this page that gives some history to the variety - but I want to point out, that the page also says the seed is not available while it has been available (even if in limited quantities) from Native Seed/SEARCH for about two years.

By the way, the rest of Two Dog's corn they planted at the nursery and got a much better return than we did!  

Wait'll next year - the cry of gardeners and baseball players everywhere!  We'll get ourselves some Glass Gem corn to show off...  Next year!


Monday, October 7, 2013

A Few Terms Defined

Big fat lettuce flowers getting ready to open up and show off
their yellow petals before the seeds ripen up.
The term “organic gardening” when it was first becoming a household word, took a lot of flak for being 'inaccurate' because “all of life is organic” and therefore it meant nothing, or so the critics said. Of course, whether or not it was accurate, the term stuck and today, no one would bother to challenge it.

Today, we talk about 'open-pollination' and hybrids and we have the terms slightly off-kilter. Wet talk of open-pollination as being the opposite of hybrid, but that's not necessarily the case. Let's start at the beginning to unravel these terms.

In the very beginning of agriculture, the selection of wheat strains from wild plants into cultivated plants produced immediate changes to the plant, including larger seed heads, larger seeds, and seeds that shattered – ripened and easily removed from the plant – occurred rapidly once the plants were being selected by humans. Over the years these changes became stable traits in the selected plants. Grown over time and having minimal assistance from humans, possessing a variety of genotypes and phenotypes (the genetics inside the plant and the physical appearance of the plant, respectively) these plants are called landraces. A good definition of landrace would be:
“... a variety with a high capacity to tolerate … stress, resulting in a high yield stability and an intermediate yield level under a low input agricultural system.” A “low input agricultural system”is the agricultural systems that are not the American mechanized, chemical stew, environment destroying agriculture and is the agricultural system of most of the world. Older strains of wheat are 'landrace wheat' – in Canada that is 'Red Fife,' in southwest America, 'Sonoran' wheat is the landrace as two examples. Landraces are the only truly 'open-pollinated' seeds grown.

The landrace might be selected by a farmer over and over again to arrive at a variety that is special to that farmer. He begins a process of 'closed-pollination' to ensure the cross is stable. Once he has a stable hybrid, we begin to call it an 'open-pollinated,' abbreviated 'op' although it probably isn't op – but it is the term we commonly use to indicate that this variety is NOT a hybrid.

But a 'hybrid' is just a cross of two different parents. Usually when we say 'hybrid,' though, we mean an unstable hybrid or a hybrid cross that has just been made. When two lines of plants are crossed, the first generation is called the “first filial” generation, abbreviated F1, a subsequent generation would be F2 and so on.

Still these are the terms you'll find in seed catalogs. OP means it is a stable variety. Hybrid means it is probably an unstable variety. A stable variety will come true if you save the seeds of that variety meaning that the subsequent plants will be very much like the parent generation. Saving seed of an unstable variety will not breed true – the resultant population will include off types that reflect the different lines of the original parent plants.

I hope this explanation helps a little bit in learning more about seed saving. I've been studying the new book by John Navazio, The Organic Seed Grower. Written for commercial organic seed production, in a world where no such book has existed, this is not a light-reading book, but boy is it chockful of information that has caused more thinking and a much deeper understanding of the vagaries of seed production. The copy I am using will eventually become a part of SLOLA's book library and I'll buy own copy – it's not cheap, but it is worth the money.