Sunday, September 11, 2011

Exciting Groundnut update: Flowering LSU variety!

I recently made the long trip across Washington state from WSU to my parent's in the Chehalis Valley and was able to see the results of many of the various experiments I had planted in the spring. I'll be posting on them over the next few weeks, but I wanted to post something interesting I noticed with my groundnut plants.

Before I begin, I should state that I'm not 100% confident this is the case, but I'm near certain it is.

Last year, I planted tubers of an LSU domesticated groundnut variety and a non-LSU northern climate adapted variety (from Frank Kiersbilck) in the same circular bed. I planted them on different sides, not thinking about how groundnut can vine and potentially travel underground.

This year, plants came up on both sides of the circular bed, where I had planted the separate varieties the year before (this was the second year of being in the ground). Nothing came up in the middle of the circular bed, so I'm fairly confident they didn't travel much, if at all.

So, onto the exciting part: as of about a week ago, nearly all of my groundnut plants are flowering. On both sides of the planter, which would include both the northernly-adapted variety (which have flowered before) and the LSU variety. LSU varieties, from what I've heard and seen so far from growing them myself, don't flower this far north. But this one is.

Here's a photo of one of the flowers:

To contrast, here's a flower from the more northernly-adapted variety that flowered last year in its first year it the ground. As you can see, the flowers are more developed:

So, how'd this happen? A few reasons, I believe. First, this is the second year for these plants, so they were already established and may have had more energy in order to flower. The second, and I think biggest reason is that the plants were water stressed. I haven't been able to water them, as I live on the other side of the state, and the garden sprinkler that was watering them wasn't hitting them enough. I noticed some dried foliage on the plants and my mother informed me the plants looked rather wilty at one point in the season.

I think that might have been enough to cause it to flower. Whether it would produce seed is another question; I doubt it'd be hot enough here in the summer to get that far, but potentially in a heated greenhouse, it might. Groundnut is self-incompatible and I suspect the more northern adapted variety might be a triploid, as many from the northern part of groundnut's distribution range are. Considering that's the only other flowering variety I have, any crossing this year would likely be unsuccessful. Next year though, I have some more LSU varieties which I plan on trying a little water stressing out on. Perhaps I can induce flowering in them and see if I can get any seed forming.

Like I said before, I'm 99% sure that I have plants of the LSU variety flowering. Unless the LSU variety plants from last year died, and the northernly-adapted variety traveled underground across the plots coming up in the same spot that the LSU variety plants were and not coming up anywhere else in the plot, I'm confident that the LSU variety is flowering.

This opens up in the exciting possibility (granted - only if seed can managed to be produced) of breeding groundnut here in the Northwest and combining the positive aspects of the LSU varieties (larger tuber size and consolidated tubers) with diploid northern varieties from New England, which would likely have greater climactic adaptation to the Northwest.

Groundnut - Apios americana

Out of all of the alternative staple crops, groundnut is one of my favorite. What excites me most about groundnut is the fact that it is both a legume and it's grown for its starchy tuber. It combines the nitrogen fixing capabilities of legumes with the advantages of starch-producing tubers, and in fact, has several additional health benefits on top of that.
It has a protein content that is quite high, at around 15%. A commonly cited figure says it's about three times that of potato. In combination with grains, it can provide proteins with balanced levels of amino acids, vital for the adequate use of dietary protein. In addition, studies on rats fed a diet of groundnuts has shown a decrease in blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Some varieties of groundnut also contain substances known as isoflavones, which have anti-cancer effects. One nutritional downside that is easily fixed are proteases - protein dissolving enzymes - found in the tubers. Simply cooking the tubers deactivates these enzymes and makes them safe to eat, although I'm not sure you'd want to eat them raw anyway. Baked, they are quite delicious and from my experience, they taste like a peanut flavored potato.

Apart from it's nutritional benefits, why would you want to grow groundnuts in Western Washington? Well, on top of it being a leguminous root crop that could produce its own fertility, the plant can tolerate very wet conditions. In its native habitat, groundnut grows in bogs. Here in Western Washington, soil conditions are often quite wet for a good part of the year, so tolerance to bogginess is a plus. It can also endure quite acidic soil pH's, which is another advantage as acidic soils tend to be the rule for Western Washington.

    For an alternative staple crop, groundnut also has a fairly interesting history. It was the major staple tuber for Native Americans that lived in its range (Eastern North America), and when the Pilgrims settled in Plymouth and found themselves having food shortages, groundnut came to their rescue. It was actually cultivated by colonists for a while, and later, it was grown after the potato famine in Ireland as a potential replacement crop. Some say the plant made its way to Japan where its still cultivated, although others speculate the plant grown there is another Apios species.

    More recently, attempts were made to domesticate groundnut in the 80's and 90's by Professor Bill Blackmon at Louisiana State University and many improved varieties were produced. However, funding was cut from the program.

    Many varieties can still be found from that program, and I had thought many were lost. However, the forty strains of groundnut that Professor Blackmon took with him when he left the program are still alive and around at Mountain State University. This past fall, I planted eight of these varieties I received from Dr. Mario Morales at MSU, who sent them to me to plant in a field trial at the Organic Farm at the Evergreen State College in Olympia. Unfortunately, being on the other side of the state, it's hard to know how each varieties are doing, but hopefully, I'll find more out when I travel across the Cascades in a few weeks.

    So how do you grow groundnut? And where can you get it?

    Groundnut is best grown on trellises, as it is a vining plant. Tubers of the plant are planted in the spring or preceding fall, and then harvested that fall or the following fall. Plants grown one year will produce small tubers in northern latitudes, while growing two years will produce a more substantial yield.

    As a legume, it needs to be inoculated by the correct nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Luckily, it shares the same bacteria as does soybeans and cowpeas, and innoculant can be gotten relatively easily.

    Tubers can be found at a few places. Oikos Tree Crops out of Michigan sells several varieties of groundnuts. Seed Savers Exchange is another good source for a few different types of groundnuts.

    This is my second year growing groundnut. The first year, the plants grew fairly well, definitely filling the trellises. I had one LSU domesticated variety and another variety I got from Europe that was more adapted to northernly latitudes. The LSU variety did not flower (something I think those varieties may have more trouble with as their adapted to warmer climates), though the variety from Europe did.

    One challenge with growing groundnut and breeding it in the Pacific Northwest will be in making crosses. Getting LSU varieties to flower here may be challenging or outright impossible, and these would be the varieties one would want to cross. Wild, northern types of groundnut from New England would be great material to cross with as well, tough unfortunately many plants in these populations are sterile triploids. However, diploids from as north as Connecticut do exist. Obtaining plants from these populations would be a good first step in breeding groundnut varieties for the PNW.

    This is what the plants look like the second year; they shot up rather quickly, and I can understand how yields could be much higher the second year. The plants are much more vigorous, though I did notice a few I had planted didn't come up the second year. I'm not sure what caused that; cold damage seems unlikely as this species is as found as far north as Quebec.

    Overall, I'd say groundnut is a species with great potential as a future important staple crop. I can only wonder what the crop would be today had the domestication program at LSU continued. For now though, small experimental gardeners like us can safeguard the improved varieties developed in these programs, as well as experiment with wild varieties. For Cascadian groundnut enthusiasts, I'd say our best chance lies in locating diploid groundnut varieties in New England that would flower in our climate. Then we could begin crossing varieties and selecting for types that do best in our environment. Or, if you have a friend further south, perhaps crosses between cold adapted diploid types from New England could be made with LSU varieties, as the weather would be warm enough for those varieties to flower and set seed.



Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Post coming soon . . .

Hi all,

     So this is just a quick update post that I will likely delete soon as I get a new and detailed post up soon. Over Memorial Day, I made the trip over the Cascades from Pullman and over to Rochester. I took a lot of photos of everything I had growing, and planted a lot of new things (lentils, chickpeas, yacon, new mashua variety, ulluco, four new American groundnut varieties, new quinoa variety), and saw the results of some mistakes (major nitrogen deficiency in wheat - oops . . .).

Hopefully, I'll be getting a lot on here soon. I've been busy with work, but am hoping this weekend to get a bunch of stuff written and posted on here.

I also realized I have some things from last year I could post on that I totally forgot about, such as proso millet and American groundnut, so hopefully more on those soon.

Also, I'm renting small garden plot in Pullman, where I'm living for school, and have some oca and mashua planted here, and will be posting on those as well.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Spring durum wheat

So a quick followup post to my last post: on March 27th, I planted the spring durum wheat varieties I'd ordered from GRIN. Here they are, photos of each of them taken on April 22nd. They're pretty small still and not much data to take at this stage, but they're pretty to look at. Names and locations are listed on the stakes visible in the pictures.

from Los Lagos, Chile

from Herault, France

From Switzerland

French variety

Australian variety, from Victoria

North African landrace

Gotland, Sweden

French variety - had little seed, so that's why there's fewer plants

French variety

Winter Durum Wheat (Pasta wheat!) and Perennial Wheat

Durum wheat is a species not commonly grown in Washington, let alone Western Washington. In fact, the species is grown primarily in hot, dry climates, and in the United States is grown primarily in North Dakota and in Southwestern states. Traditionally, in the Old World, durum wheat is grown in areas with a hot, dry Mediterranean climate, such as Italy (durum wheat is used to make pasta), Spain, Southern France, Greece, Northern Africa, and the Levant.

For those who aren't familiar with it, durum wheat is used to make pasta and is ground up to make semolina flour, which you can often find for sale in the bulk section of health food stores and food co-ops. Durum wheat is also used a lot in making traditional flatbreads, as well as in making couscous. It has a high protein content, though it lacks the right gluten proteins to make bread that will rise well.

I wasn't sure if it could be grown well here, but one day as I was browsing through GRIN (the US germplasm repository, from which you can order seeds for research purposes), I noticed there were some durum wheat varieties originating from areas not particularly associated with hot, dry climates - areas such as Sweden, the UK,  Germany, and Southern Chile. So, along with some hulless barley and hulless oat varieties (and seeds of a Danish soybean variety), I put in an order for some winter and spring durum varieties last fall.

I planted the following six winter durum wheat varieties on September 13th:
Aubaine Rouge (PI 352411) - from France
Hard Hvede (PI 361743) - from Denmark
T-356 (PI 352376) - from Switzerland
Mettes Rauhwizen (PI 190156) - from Lower Saxony, Germany
Gartons Early Cone (PI 278223) - from UK
CAR 1938 (PI 519176) - from Southern Chile (La Araucania)

They came up about five days later, and looked quite well. Then our first cold snap hit, with temperatures plunging down to 6ºF (-14ºC). Winter hardiness varied between varieties (ratings are given combining overall vigor and lack of winter dieback). Aubaine Rouge (7/10), Hard Hvede (8/10), T-356 (8/10) did well, though Mettes Rauwizen (6/10) and Gartons Early Clone (6/10) both fared moderately. Car 1938 (3/10) fared pretty badly, though had bad germination to begin with. Several more cold snaps hit, but they plowed through much the same.

Here's a picture of the plots in early December, soon after our initial hard frost. The plots in the left row are, going front to back: Aubaine Rouge, Hard Hvede, T-356, and Mettes Rauhwizen. In the right row, front to back, they are: Gartons Early Clone, CAR 1938, MT-2 (perennial wheat), and Tsistin (perennial wheat).

And thanks to my sister, here's more photo of the plots on April 22nd:
From bottom to top: Tsitsin (Per. Wheat), MT-2 (Per. Wheat), CAR 1938, and Gartons Early Clone

Bottom to top: Mettes Rauhwizen, T-356, Hard Hvede, and Aubaine Rouge

 I'm excited to see how they do this summer when they're producing grain! I'll post any pictures my sister sends my way.

Also of note, are the two perennial wheat varieties I'm growing. Well, really it's just one, since "MT-2" was decimated by our quite brutal cold snap, but Tsitsin is going strong! Very excited as well to see it as it matures.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Update & Oca and Mashua Photos

Sorry for the long delay in posting. Now that winter has finally ended, the time to plant things is coming once again. The gray cloudy winter skies are starting to give way to the occasional sunny day, and I'm getting a bit restless in wanting to grow things. In fact, I've already got peas and fava beans in the ground (as of two days ago, the peas are up!), and the winter wheat varieties (hard red, hard white, and soft white - in addition to my durum wheat experimental plots) are starting to take off as well.

Also, I won't be posting nearly as many posts this year. I've been accepted to graduate school where I'll be studying plant breeding (really excited!!!) and will be moving across the state in a little over a week. In my absence, my sister will be taking care of growing out my oca, mashua, and other crop species while I'm gone, and perhaps I can grow a couple of them in some pots in my new apartment. There may be a couple posts from when I visit home, but there likely won't be as many.

Also, I've gone through my photos and realized I had quite a few more of mashua and oca on my other computer, so here they are! :
Flowering mashua vining up apple tree

Young mashua plant in our dark volcanic ash glacial soil (Spanaway series, Andisol)

Mashua and oca around the apple tree, with trellis.

Young oca plant - I believe this is the lavender variety of oca that I got from the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bad luck and Good luck - How Not To Store Oca and Mashua and Winter Wheat as an Indestructible Cover Crop

Today, I went through my oca and mashua tubers. They were in a refrigerator and I’d been meaning to bring them out of the refrigerator for a while. The reason I’d been waiting is because mice love oca and we recently had some mice problems in the building I was planning on moving them to; plus, I’ve been really busy.

Well, there were apples in the fridge as well and ripe apples release ethylene gas. Ethylene gas makes things ripen really fast . . and it built up in our fridge. As a result, a lot of my oca and mashua has become rubbery. Most of the tubers seem like they’ll be okay and last long enough until I can plant them in the spring. But a couple, I’m going to plant now and see if I can nurse them through winter, otherwise they’re going to turn to mush and I’ll lose that variety.

So, if you want to learn from my mistake - never store oca or mashua with fruit. I should have known better, but sometimes, you space out about things when you’re stretched for time.

While it may seem I’m running through a stretch of bad luck, I also had a lucky surprise yesterday. This fall, I planted winter hard white wheat for a cover crop, but I got it in too late. I planted it in the middle of November I think, and when our hard frost came and it hit 6ºF, I thought all the wheat seedlings (literally seedlings - they only had just sent out their first roots and not shoots were visible) had been killed. Since I didn’t want the soil to be exposed to the heavy rains of winter and have my soil structure destroyed, I covered it with a couple inches of hay.

Yesterday, though, I noticed that the wheat has sprouted and managed to grow through the several inches of wet, matted hay, and it’s grown quite a bit - in the middle of December! Pretty amazing!