2018 Week 34, Summer CSA Pick-up 12 of 26
I have been thinking a lot about systems lately -- intercontextuality, feedback loops, initial conditions -- when I think about the farm. The first rule of ecology is that everything is in relationship, and so while crop breeders make all kinds of notes, it is rare to learn what kind of seeder they used in their trials. Because even the seeder matters -- and spectacularly! -- when it comes to the success or failure of any particular seed, and the crop that follows. If the genetics of a plant's seed do not play well with the seeder, everything that follows is lost. Imagine, then, the interactions between soluble cations in a bare ground, tillage-based farming system versus nutrients in bio-ecological flow in a living soil, low-no-till farming system ... and the genetics involved in the vagaries of plant-"soil" interaction. That's just something we haven't even been considering in our breeding work for the last, umm, ever.
I ran a "competitive systems trial," as I'm calling it in my notes, with the dry bean varieties this year, looking, in the end, for what does well -- but also for why it does well -- in competition / future-collaboration with a perennial polyculture living mulch. And as I took notes and started to imagine various systems-breeding programs -- like the 'Shiraz' beet, bred for organic conditions; or the recent height work on the pinto bean, which had always been a low sprawler -- I laughed out loud at myself. Pole beans! Pole beans grow long, but they can twine around corn to grow tall ... like the Native Americans had them do on this continent a thousand years ago.
And so what was evident, becomes a little blatant. The farm is a system, and as I work on building success in this particular kind of farm, I have to push through a few walls of my own training. What seems solid -- bean height, or inter-species friendliness, for instance -- is fluid. And work isn't done on isolated parts, but on a constellated whole. ... I was thinking to myself. And then today, as I was listening to a podcast conversation between two Western practitioners of Eastern Medicine -- Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine -- one of them said, "We don't treat the symptom. We treat the system." Right! We're all in this together.
As a super-fast, but related aside: We grew 98 varieties of tomatoes this year, looking for what works and what doesn't; and, sadly, we found only a few that show promise. But perhaps that's as it should be. Most of what we grew were heirloom tomatoes, which are stuck in time. Viral pathotypes are constantly evolving -- because, life -- and tomatoes would naturally evolve with them if we permitted them to. Whatever we do to fight plant death, helps us to select for death! If we allow death, we select for life.
In point of fact, the last 5 years have seen a pretty remarkable increase in, and persistence of, the US-23 pathotype of late blight -- think, a new and bad flu strain -- that heirlooms would never have met a hundred years ago. Farm health exists in a system which can naturally mitigate crop 'disease' -- though this farm still has it's work to do to be that healthy -- which means that variety selection is only part of a farm's abundance. But it's a big part!
Which is why I'm really excited to try two new tomato varieties next year -- 'Brandywise' and 'Damsel.' They are the result of recent breeding efforts to combine heirloom taste with late blight, early blight, and septoria leaf spot resistance (the three main antagonists to this farm's tomatoes). 'Brandywise,' in fact, started with 'Brandywine' -- the "best ever" in flavor, as judged by a discerning many -- and the breeders added disease resistance from there. And 'Damsel' was bred under organic conditions, which as the above explains, matters a lot. There's a sucker born every minute, but after the way our 1000 tomatoes wafted off like smoke this year, I'm in line with tickets.
A few field notes: I planted a second batch of basil for when the first succumbed to basil downy mildew -- a new disease, as of 2007/2008 -- but both were looking great, until they didn't. Basil is on its way out, unless you are okay with a little black on the back of the leaves. Let me know. Also, the kale is all done for the summer, while we have six more beds to plant for fall. In the future, I may stop kale earlier, to kick the pest populations down low enough to hopefully not gap (in time) the spring to fall planting. And, yes, we got more rain! :) Nearly an inch on Sunday night. A good portion of the carrots were rotted to goop as I harvested them on Friday, though we should have enough through November. Worse can be said of the potatoes, which I have always claimed the unanimous winner of grossest-in-the-rotten-state among all farm crops. Per the above notes, 'Elba' -- by far! -- is the best yielder under adverse conditions. See how iteration makes the farm better. Next year we plant more of that! :) The blackberries are done for the year -- though, in truth, they don't actually start producing for real until next year -- but the raspberries are just beginning.
Okay, I need to stop writing,
See you on the farm,