November 30, 2010

Can't argue with this apple?

photo of the cisgenic apple from: Researcher bites into forbidden fruit

Also see here for background story

A central theme of biotech public relations is, in their words to " placate the misinformed public opinion by using clever technologies to circumvent traditional unfounded criticisms of biotechnology."

Enter Cisgenics, where the industry contends that
" most of their (the public's) weak arguments are disabled via these techniques. Unfortunately, the end product is the same, maybe even less effective, than if traditional transgenic approaches were used, and it takes a lot more time and money to make it happen.

This is just one example of how scientists are cleverly working around warped public perception problems to solve real issues, and enhance sustainable production. Cisgenics will be at least a stop-gap solution in the European Union until public education and perception refocus real problems in sustainable agriculture. For now, the practices of cisgenics may be the central means of introducing traits to plants that can benefit the consumer and environment without the lengthy breeding process, and most of all without raising the ire of those that seek to stop transgenic technology.

quoted from cisgenics-transgenics without the transgene

November 15, 2010

symbiosis in the garden

I love growing covercrops, and have experimented with several over the years. I like to interplant clover in tomatoes and peppers, and have grown asparagus in a permaculture system with dutch clover. I have used field peas and austrian winter peas in a mix with oats for a summer green manure, but apart from those examples, I have not been very adventurous with legumous cover crops.

Rhizobium bacteria live in the cells of legume root nodules of and are estimated to carry out 50-70% of the world's biological nitrogen fixation.

"The nodulation process is a series of events in which rhizobia interact with the roots of legume plants to form a specialised structure called a root nodule.
The process involves complicated signals between the bacteria and the roots. In the first stages, the bacteria multiply near the root and then adhere to it. Next, the small hairs on the root's surface curl around the bacteria and they enter the root. Alternatively, the bacteria may enter directly through points on the root surface. The method of entry of the bacteria into the root depends on the type of plant. Once inside the root, the bacteria multiply within thin threads. Signals stimulate cell multiplication of both the plant's cells and the bacteria and this repeated division results in a mass of root cells containing many bacterial cells. Some of these bacteria then change into a form that is able to convert gaseous nitrogen into ammonium nitrogen (that is, they can "fix" nitrogen). These bacteria are then called bacteroids." source

In return, the microbes get high-energy carbohydrates produced by photosynthesis in the host plant. There are different species of rhizobia and they are associated with different plants: the soil bacteria that is a symbiont of clover is different than the species engaged with lupines, for example.

I have many nitrogen fixers growing wild in the pasture, and expect that soil conditions for these are better suited for my soil and climate conditions; there is vetch, red clover, white clovers and lupine for example, but no alfalfa. I expect that because these plants are thriving there is a healthy community of the soil bacteria that each of these plants require to provide the symbiotic relationship necessary to fix nitrogen in the plant. I value these natural precedents and try to take my cue from the pasture ecosystem in my garden.

Blue Lupin is good plant for nitrogen, phosphorus and deep soil
penetration. It is a very good at extracting and concentrating minerals in the soil so when the plant material decomposes it made available for the next generation of plants. Hairy and common vetch are excellent for nitrogen fixation, although they won't produce as much biomass as clover,so seeding with a mix of rye or oats will add this bulk.

White dutch clover, once established provides an excellent hardy cover for paths in the garden and will withstand foot and even tractor traffic down the beds.

Here are some great resources

Organic Ag Center; Green Manure Options
Attra Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures

November 11, 2010

traces of the past

"I haven’t seen that much of the world honestly, but from what I have seen, this area strikes me as being particularly beautiful but also haunted by its history. History that most of us are completely ignorant of – including the expulsion of the Acadians, the Micmac who were pushed out of parts of the Annapolis Valley, and the history of slavery, since the Planters brought slaves with them from New England and Rhode Island and South Carolina and that needs to be thought through or remembered. So, there’s a lot there. That landscape, as beautiful as it may seem to the naked, untrained eye, is also a landscape which hides and shrouds an awful lot of, in some cases, very negative history. And in fact, I find that one of the most compelling aspects of the Valley, in that, here again is this great beautiful landscape, but behind it or beneath it, is this incredible history of sometimes great pain and tragedy"
George Elliott Clarke, from an 2001 interview in the Gaspereau Press

I live on the lower Annapolis River. The oxbows and river inlets are still discernable on the river that was called the Dolphine then, and apart from the odd unfortunate whale nothing gets past the tidal generating station at the mouth of the river at Annapolis Royal. Click on the map from the early 1700s of the Acadian villages on the lower river. The oxbow where my old farm lies is between the names Broussard and Beaulieu, just up river from the Chapel of St. Laurent.

Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil probably grew up near here, learning Mi'kmaq, growing food, hunting, discovering and modifying the lay of a land where battles raged. Bloody creek is just up river. Beau Pre is directly across from this Oxbow. A burial ground exists on the old paper deeds but a road now goes over it, and a subdivision's common area overlays the bones which are unmarked except for marsh grass, wild plum, apple and giant ancient oak.

And then there is Beaulieu! It appears that the only record of the Acadian Beaulieu is Louis Fontaine dit Beaulieu. He was married to Mary Magdelene Roy who was Mi'kmaq and possibly African, her father being La Liberte Roy a free man born in St. Malo, on the Cape Sable census in 1681 (La Liberte la neigre) and later Port Royal.

Who were they? How did they live? Why have they been erased from the cultural and (almost from the) physical landscape on the lower oxbows of the river? Was it their interracial cooperation that threatened? Or the gentle sustainable interaction with the landscape? Or their independence? Cultural genocide is a story told in oaks with ancient limbs, in old stone wells, and pathes past old foundations to citrine laced streams. The story is yet told, waiting to get past the dam of cultural bias.