A Teosinte Christmas in Colorado

So, i know I’ve blogged a bit about experimentally growing Teosinte in my post about growing prehistoric corn and also in my post about differences between teosinte species. Both posts have gotten quite a bit of traffic over the years and have brought people to my blog who are interested in Teosinte specifically.

For those of you who don’t know Teosinte is a progenitor to modern Corn (Also known as Maize), which is still able to interbreed with Corn. Some teosinte is annual, while others are perennial (or maybe bi-annual). There are many people who are interested in breeding perennial teosinte with corn to make perennial or bi-annual corn.

The major problem with trying to grow Teosinte in a moderate climate as here in Colorado in the United States is that it is adapted to grow in the climate of mexico and our growing season just isn’t really long enough. Even more so since Teosinte is day-length sensitive and does not even start to tassel, silk, and pollinate until the days get short and the sunlight shifts deeper into the red spectrum. By the time that happens here it is usually around August and often we get snow by September or October. Definitely not enough time for Teosinte or Corn seeds to mature and dry down for saving. …Or is it?!

Well, this year it just happened to turn out just barely long enough. I’m calling it my Christmas miracle! haha. I think it was a combination of it being a La Nina weather year with an unusually warm fall with no snow until here in December. But also with the fact that i dug up my clump of teosinte plants and put them in a pot in the garage. Though they were a bit unhappy in the garage and were touching the ceiling.

Still i was able to keep them in there long enough to hand pollinate them. But to be honest i thought i had again failed to get viable Teosinte seeds. But when the plants were dead i went out and happened to find some! Above is a picture of what i believe to be seeds of ‘Zea mexicana’ teosinte seeds.

If there is one moral of this story that you should take away it is this: Never give up even when everyone else thinks you are crazy or tell you that what you believe is impossible. I learned this in gardening from my friend Joseph Lofthouse of Utah. He has had success with so many of his unusual crops that no one else in his valley of Utah is able to grow. He often starts with many varieties of a plant as possible and grows as many as he can. Often more than 90% of them die or fail to produce seeds. But he only needs a few that do. Once he gets seeds he can start to effort to plant them year after year and adapt them to his climate. If they still fail to thrive he lets them die or culls them off himself. But he has a variety of unusual crops, such as Landrace Watermelon adapted to Utah (and by extension Colorado), Landrace Cantaloupe, Landrace inter-species hybrid squashes, Tomatoes that are self-incompatible and are highly attractive to bees (modern tomatoes are not at all and are highly inbred), and more.

 

On the left here is a photo of one small cob of a teosinte hybrid (zea diploperennis-corn hybrid from the USDA) pollinated with what i believe to be flour or field corn pollen. On the right is the same teosinte-corn hybrid cob line but i believe this one was self pollinated with its own pollen. It seems to have popcorn heritage as the seeds show popcorn / flint corn characteristics.

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Here is another strain of day-length neutral teosinte (decended from Zea mexicana) that a collaborator Joseph Lofthouse of Utah is growing and having success with. I believe he got the seed originally from NativeseedsSEARCH in Arizona. He decided to test if it makes good popcorn.

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Here is my Teosinte clump in the summer of 2016.

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Here is the same spot with snow on it now in winter.

If you’d like to follow the discussion about growing teosinte in places it is not normally supposed to grow (or other unusual crops) then visit the Alan Bishop Homegrown Goodness plant breeding forum here!

Bitten by the Electronics Bug

So recently I’ve been bitten by the project bug again. And quite a bit by electronics hobby-type stuff again in particular, though not exclusively. More blog posts and updates to come soon.

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On the left is my old homemade DIY arduino based avr high voltage programmer made on old Hewlett Packard Engineering Protoboard based off of Jeff’s original design that i made in 2011. On the right is my brand new updated model named the AVR HV Rescue Shield 2 from MightyOhm.com. It’s main function is to help reset the fuses on AVR chips when you program them wrong. My old one came in handy and has saved a few chips from time to time. The new one obviously is better, mostly because now that i’m tinkering more with attiny85V chips i now have a High Voltage Rescue shield for them too, though it also does not require an external 12VDC power source as it has some sort of built in surface mount step up voltage chip.

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So as briefly mentioned above i’ve been tinkering with trying to program attiny85v AVR chips. I’ve dug out my old trusty USBtinyISP AVR Programmer and I’ve recently gotten a Sparkfun Tiny AVR Programmer.

What i’m really intending to do is make a shrunk down version of my old Mystery Project by re-purposing and reprogramming my Adafruit TV-b-gone kit. I just need to get the frequency right. I’m starting by seeing if i can compile and upload the tvbgone AVR/arduino code to a blank attiny85 first. If i can do that i can work on changing the code. So far though i haven’t gotten the AVR fuses correct yet to use the tvbgone’s external 8mhz oscillator, though i think the program has uploaded correctly. That’s why i needed the HV Rescue Shield 2 mentioned above.

In addition, i finally ordered the parts to finish my DIY Arduino MENTA boards. They are cool Adafruit designed Arduino compatible boards that fit into an Altoids mint tin.

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Some of the other items I’ve been tinkering with have been Raspberry Pi’s, including various Linux-based Operating Systems including Raspian (a debian based distro), Octopi (debian running Octoprint – 3D printer software), and RetroPie (an emulator to play old roms for NES, SNES, Playstation, Atari, Gameboy, and other popular gaming systems). The tiny $5 Raspberry Pi Zero. Tinkering with automatic plant lights and a gardening moisture sensor. And my fancy new SparkFun Vernier Interface Shield an upgrade to interface my Vernier sensors with Arduino. More on that in another post soon!

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I also recently ordered a USB cable in order to salvage a scrounged barcode scanner that my brother saved from the Barnes And Noble dumpster. The USB cable works! Now i just need to figure out a use for it. Not bad for a $10 cable on ebay to a functional $200 value barcode scanner.

Gardening with Conductive Helical Coils 2016

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So despite the blog and my internet presence being quite mute as of late i actually have been up to quite a lot. My homemade Lulzbot Mini 3d Printer this summer was a success, amd i have constantly been improving it. At some point i will take some photos of it’s final progress. A few of my pea breeding crosses from last year were successful, including one i’m excited to grow again which is a cross of the Purple Passion dark purple seeded pea (which is a small genetically weak pea variety) with another stronger pea variety. That should produce something really cool in the coming years. And this fall and next spring i’m experimenting with school by going through a Precision Machinist course and am learning how to use milling machines, lathes, and CNC equipment to produce Aerospace quality components. Not sure if that’s something i want to do long term, but they are skills i’m interested in and can use throughout my life. So that’s new.

Anyway though, as a throwback or a revisit to my post in 2010 titled “Do Plants Really Need Sunlight?“, which has actually been one of the most visited posts on my blog over the years, i finally got around to building a few of those coils that sounded so interesting.

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Conductive Helical Coil around the stem of a plant

So the basic premise or idea behind using a coil of wire with electricity is that it produces a small amount of electricity or a magnetic current through the air. This is the same idea Nicola Tesla was after all those years ago when his imagination was captured with the idea that everything could have wireless electricity. And in many cases his dream has come true with an ever increasing amount of technology these days using induction to wirelessly power or heat things. The basic premise of applying this technology to plants comes from an article i read once that talked about how researchers were able to measure a small direct current from trees in a forest by placing nails in them. They then had ideas about placing nails in many trees and hooking them up together to power small electronics like a battery or cell phone charger, or a smoke alarm. Basically all plants (and maybe all living things) produce a bioelectric field of energy. If one can tap this field to harvest electricity, then why cant we tap into it and feed these plants with extra electricity to help them grow.

One question i asked in my old blog post was if plants even need sunlight at all as long as they are getting some form of energy to grow. I still haven’t done an experiment to test that idea, but it’s still an interesting question. Because it makes me wonder if there are ways plants could be grown in complete darkness.

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Regardless, this summer i finally built a prototype plant coil. I built it rather late in the season, so i really wasn’t able to give it a good test. My original plan was to plant 3 or 4 genetically identical tomato plants near each other in the relatively same soil with at least one plant being the control. I was then going to observe over the course of the summer f the tomato plants within the coils had larger and better growth than the control. That was plan anyway, i just didn’t quite get to it.

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You can see here we were trying to use a volt meter and another coil to see if we could detect that our coils were working. We weren’t having much success with the meter in the beginning and i don’t remember if we did later after increasing the power supply a bit. But in theory you should be able to measure with a second coil.

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I placed it on three smallest tomato plant clusters in the very late planted tomato patch. Interestingly enough, the three plants it happens to be on might be the only three blue tomato genetic varieties that survived my haphazard tomato disasters this year. Since placing the coils on these plants i have noticed an improvement in them and they have since catched up to the growth of the other tomato plants in that spot. Although at the same time i did also make a furrow and started watering them more. But even so i’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that the coils did help them go from “runt” status to catching up to the others. I may yet get a few tomatoes from the larger two before winter hits. Thanks to Gilbert for providing the motivation to actually build this project. And a thanks to the Homegrown Goodness plant breeding forum where i get so many of my adventurous gardening and plant breeding ideas. You guy’s are the best and a continual inspiration to me. Read more: http://alanbishop.proboards.com/thread/8623/breeding-tower-potato-ideas-wanted?page=13#ixzz4LoiDtFZE

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So, while my experimentation was a bit haphazard this year i think i still did ok. It was a fun project that went from an interesting patent to a cool project idea in my head and at the back of my mind, to a fully functional project / prototype. Plus i think these coils look cool. haha.

But it makes me wonder what other cool patents are out there that i can exploit, reverse engineer and build to experiment with. One of my next projects i think will go the opposite route and will be heavily steeped in Open Source as i think i will try and build a “Food Computer“. Basically it’s a small climate controlled aeroponic grow box. It should allow me to continue my plant breeding efforts even in the winter which is really what i want. Plus it will allow me to learn more about this “urban gardeng”, “vertical gardening”, and “aeroponic” stuff. I can’t wait to get back to pea, bean, and tomato breeding even though the summer and fall are waning fast. I think i’m going to repurpose my 2ft x 2ft t-slot frame that i was intending to turn into a large 3D printer and/or CNC mill. But it’s still going to be a long time before i finish that project, so i figured hey why not actually use it for something useful in the meantime! So.. that’t the plan.. 😀

 

 

Orange, Yellow, and Red-podded peas.. oh my!

Sorry for not posting anything about plant breeding lately. I’ve been rather busy this year. But i still have a few plant breeding projects (mostly from last year) that i dedicated garden space this year  for. These include my Colorado bred / adapted Watermelon Landrace, which did quite well last year (even a racoon thought so and ate one that was overripe). My Wild Pueblo squash from Utah. An attempt at a sweet potato growing / breeding project. A mass tomato growout / trial. Some perennial teosinte-maize hybrids. And my various pea variety growouts which includes: Salmon-flowered pea and crosses, mummy-white and crosses, mummy-pea, Biskopens and hoped crosses, Joseph’s red-podded peas, Joseph’s yellow podded peas, Orange-pod, Virescens Mutante, Sugar Magnolia, Sugaree, Green Beauty, Purple Passion, Dwarf Grey Sugar, Spring Rose, Canoe, Mighty Midget. I also finally made one successful cross this year between Mighty Midget and Purple Passion. That should eventually give me a super dwarf with purple seeds and also improve purple passion to have stronger stems as it’s normally a very spindly plant.

This winter, i think in February i  experimented with making a small cold-frame and using it to plant some of my peas super early. You can see it here where i watered it with snow and then a few weeks later the pea seedlings emerging but it still being rather cold outside. It worked great though. This particular cold frame is more suited for super dwarf or extra dwarf peas or lettuce or something. If i had a greenhouse i’d totally experiment more with growing vegetables in the winter.

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A nice segregating yellow pod from the red-podded breeding line. Very nice.

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A nice yellow and red mottled pea pod. The contrast is what makes this one really stand out! A line to keep an eye on for sure.

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A remnant from Dan Quickert’s purple snow pea project. This is one of the few that didn’t die off a few years back, so this one must have had much better genetics than it’s siblings. A nice example of a purple snow pea, which are still quite rare. This one is called ‘Midnight Snow’.

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And some of the orange-pod gene peas (orp) i’m growing from the Gatersleben gene bank. These have an interesting orange color on the inside of the pod. I hope to use these to make better yellows and better red podded peas in the future.

‘Wild Pueblo’ Squash Variety (2015)

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Wild Pueblo Squash, Loveland Colorado 2012

I feel somewhat bad that i haven’t done much with plant breeding posts or other projects like my homemade Taffy Machine, or chemistry. I had some of those projects listed on my website. Unfortunately my website has been neglected my me and is currently down and redirects here. Perhaps by next year i can work on it again. Until then, i will try my best to diversify my blog and post some of it here.

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This year i was able to grow some squash. In particular i was able to grow a few plants of my ‘Wild Pueblo’ Squash. Cucurbita maxima ‘Wild Pueblo’. Wild Pueblo is the name i have given it after both of our native pueblo ancestry. The woman who was kind enough to give me seeds was originally calling it Wild Hopi. But since i do not know if this is specifically a squash grown by the Hopi i decided to rename it. In any case it seems to be an Ancestral Puebloan variety of squash that is very old.

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Photo by Bobbi HolyOak, 2011, Moab Utah

In the past i never really cared that much about squash. Probably because i always had the attitude that all squash are the same. But, since I’ve been trying to find my own crops that are personal and thrive in my climate (even resorting to breeding some from scratch), I’ve decided that it would be incomplete without my own squash. In fact i think my squash are becoming my favorite thing to grow. I have a feeling that squash are going to be my favorite crop. There is just something special about seeing a squash plant growing from seed. Almost sacred and special. It’s hard to explain. Corn has a similar effect on me, but even more so with squash.

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Wild Pueblo was originally recovered growing in the wild of southeast Utah somewhere around the Monticello area. Close to the famous Newspaper Rock historic site. It was said to be found off the beaten track growing behind an old somewhat hidden pueblo ruin. Next to the ruin was a small stream. Growing next to the stream was a large squash plant with several large ripe squash fruit. I estimate that it is possible that it could have been growing undisturbed in that area for over 150 years! If so, this thing could have some awesome genetics. I’m doing my best to grow out the seed and preserve this variety.

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Wild Pueblo Squash, 2012
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Wild Pueblo Squash, 2012, Loveland Colorado
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Wild Pueblo Squash on the left. Hopi White Squash on the right.

I suspect Wild Pueblo is an older variety of squash which may be related to a landrace which may have been used to breed the variety called “lakota squash”. according to reports…

“The Lakota squash, a mid-1990’s open-pollinated introduction developed at the University of Nebraska by Dr. D. P. Coyne. Dr. Coyne experimented with crosses and selections to assure more uniform pigmentation of this beautiful squash before making it available to the trade.

Lakota squash was developed from seeds obtained by the University from Nebraska’s Fort Robinson, once a prairie Cavalry post, later an agricultural site, now a National Park. The variety it was derived from is no longer in cultivation. It had been grown by Native American peoples along the Missouri Valley for centuries before the arrival of Europeans to the continent. This indigenous squash was also cultivated by the troops stationed at Nebraska’s Forts Atkinson and Robinson, and by early Nebraska settlers.”

Edit: after talking to someone at the University of Nebraska who worked with Dr. Coyne with the original germplasm of the non-hubbard parent landrace of squash i am told the fruits were actually oblong. Still might be worth trying to grow out that accession of seed before it’s no longer viable and available… i will see if i can get some seed…

I have only grown this variety twice, but even so it has some incredible diversity which i find absolutely fascinating. In time i think i can do some great things with it, perhaps even selecting it to grow even better.

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Photo by Bobbi HolyOak, 2011, Moab Utah

This year was a very odd year to grow things. Perhaps the El Nino weather was to blame. I don’t know. All i can say is that my squash took all season to grow anything at all. I only got one plant that grew big and produced a large squash, the rest were small, but contained seeds. Next year i will try to plant more and do better.

Like i said before, it has a LOT of diverse genetics!

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All i can say for now is that it is good to be home.

Calculating Growing Season – Revisited 2015

Several years back i investigated using locally available weather station data to average weather data and to speculate (hopefully accurate) weather patterns and more important to me an estimate of the length of time i have to grow things in my area and climate. In a sense it worked, but it was limited by my relative lack of long-term data over a number of years. This past spring i decided to try it again and use more years if possible. These graphs are what i came up with:

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Growing Season graph of Northern Colorado

The first graph is basically a line graph. In reality i used about 5 years years worth of weather data, but to make it easier to see i simplified it to 3 years and an average line. The average line really helped because as you can see each year had some significant differences in spikes of heat and dips of cool, but the overall pattern is the same. It’s the pattern i’m interested it. Because in theory it should be relatively stable and should provide an accurate estimate of my growing season and when the best times are to plant and best times to harvest before fall frosts.

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Growing Season Graph of Loveland, Colorado

Graph number 2 is actually better and easier to read. Instead of using a line graph it uses a bar graph type to display the data which is easier to read and use. Both graphs i used a (cooling) growing degree days base of 50F.  50 degrees Fahrenheit is the stated lowest temp that warm season crops like squash will grow at. To help increase accuracy of my growing season i drew an arbitrary line at the 20 degree mark above the base temp of 50F, so that would be 70F?, i think. Anyway, this gave me a rough estimate that i could plant warm season crops as early as April 22nd-ish and that my season would end about October 28th. It turned out my end-of-season prediction was fairly dead on this year as i think we got a frost on October 27th. The beauty of not simply setting a base of 60F or 70F and cutting anything below that off is that it gives me a rough estimate of my growing season for cool season and frost-tolerant crops as well. According to this i possibly could have planted peas, radishes, etc around March 11th in spring and in fall possibly as late producing as November 18th. Interesting. I have never planted anything as early as March 11th, even cool season crops. …Maybe i should…

…so yeah.. anyway it seems fairly accurate for my uses. I have yet to graph good rain data yet. But this graph is a rough estimate for the growing season in Loveland Colorado, Fort Collins Colorado, Greeley, and any other nearby places. But if at all possible please use the weather data from your nearest weather station.

www.degreedays.net/ (download “cooling degree days” data)

Wunderground.com (direct access to your local mini weather stations)

Originally inspired by Joseph Lofthouse. The original thread that started it all: http://alanbishop.proboards.com/thread/5337/corn-breeding-heat-units-charts?page=1

Project Updates November 2015

80/20 1020 Extruded aluminum t-slot y-axis 3d printer bracket
80/20 1020 Extruded aluminum t-slot y-axis 3d printer bracket

The first update is that i’m still steadily designing new parts in solidworks for my custom 3D printer. This photo is one of two y-brackets that will hold the 1020 size t-slot extruded aluminum (from 80/20) y-axis beam. It looked good in Solidworks, now it just needs to be fabricated (3d printed) into a real-world working part (as with many other parts).

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Y-axis bracket for custom 3D printer

It’s really fun designing parts and then seeing them become real functional parts. Recently I’ve even been looking into a local program for CNC machinist training as a job. Apparently there is a large shortage of qualified CNC machinists in my area along with a booming and returning engineering and manufacturing hub here in the area.

While i was designing new parts and fitting them together i found a few minor problems with a few of my old designs being off and not lining up properly with the 1020 extruded aluminum. So i spent some time fixing that and cleaning them up a bit. Good to find those errors on the computer first than after i make the parts.

I received the prototype PCB’s for the XYZZY Motor Controller 1.0, The downside is I’ve found numerous errors that i missed, so I’ve been trying to fix those. But then to compound those problems the main circuit itself has a problem where the HIP4081A h-bridge chip circuit is only driving a motor (in this case a test load LED) in one direction. At first it was shorting out the other direction, but now i think it just loads the current down and does not activate one side of the hbridge. It’s actually driving me crazy trying to fix it and find the cause of the problem, but it’s still quite a mystery. Perhaps electronics is just not my thing. Perhaps i really should give up on that project after never being able to have good success. But i don’t know.

In plant breeding news: i was able to harvest three corn cobs this year. Two were decent sized purple husked corn cobs, the other was a good multi-colored flint. The third one had lots of kernel color diversity, it even had several speckled kernels, and chin-marked ones, and even some that had both speckles and stripes! I recently found purple sweet potatoes at Whole Foods and i will be trying to sprout one and grow my own slips for next year.

I was also able to grow a few good squash this year, some good progress on the pea breeding, and an excellent year with Joseph’s Watermelon Landrace. Sorry, i didn’t get good photo’s of the watermelons, but i had some excellent red sweet watermelons and some good yellows as well. Especially for Northern Colorado, the watermelons are the plant breeding project i’m most excited about and ironically having the best success. Can’t wait for next year! And all this despite it being an incredible difficult and strange gardening year!