In your box:
–Celery or kohlrabi
–Garlic, “Chesnook Red”
–Ground cherries (full shares only)
This week’s newsletter has been submitted by my dear wife, Nina, who somehow found time to write something articulate and wonderful while not sleeping, feeding our 6-month old, playing with trucks with our three-year-old, and teaching middle school science in Chaska. On top of all of that, it’s really nice and now no one will want to read my newsletters any more…. Thanks Nina!
Think for a moment: What is the oldest living organism on our planet? If we are talking humans, her name is Susannah Mushatt Jones. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and celebrated her 116th birthday this year. Before her, Jeanne Calment lived until 122 in France. But look outside of our own Kingdom Animalia for some organisms that have really been around. Bristlecone pines have been known to surpass 5,000 years in age. There is a spruce at the top of a mountain plateau in Sweden that has branches that are 9,950 years old. In the Mojave Desert of California, there are approximately 12,000 year old creosote bush and yucca. But it gets even better. In 2012, National Geographic reported that Russian scientists had made an incredible discovery. During the Ice Age, a squirrel had buried some seeds near the banks of the Kolyma River. These seeds never became food for the poor hard-working squirrel, but were instead encased in ice and later dug up from 124 feet below the permafrost. The seeds were from Silene stenophylla, a delicate plant with tiny white flowers. Find a picture of it and it will draw you in with its beauty and graceful petals. But the wonder doesn’t stop with the retrieval of the seeds from this gentle plant. The astounding thing is that these seeds grew! 32,000 years old and they were able to find the strength to awaken themselves to the call of warmth and light. The feat of these tiny seeds made news headlines. But most seeds sprout without much fuss or pomp and circumstance. Seeds germinate because it is what seeds are supposed to do!
In 7th grade science right now we are growing FastPlants. These are Brassica rapa, relatives to cabbage and broccoli. FastPlants were bred for 30 years at the University of Wisconsin to develop a plant that will go from seed to seed pod in just forty days. Although it takes a lot of the patience out of farming, the magic is still there of pushing a seed down into the dirt and watching it spring up a day or two later. Some of my students have never planted a seed before. They learn how to cover it with soil so that the seed is the right depth, how to water it the proper amount, and how to not sneeze when you are planting so that your seeds don’t fly out of your hand. We do a seed dissection on a larger version, using lima beans, and they remove the seed coat on a soaked bean to carefully peel open the cotyledons and look for the “magical sporophyte.” You can try this at home! The tiny sporophyte is the young plant, all stored inside the seed and waiting to come out. It gets its energy from the large cotyledons which make up most of the seed itself and will later emerge from the soil as the first “leaves” of the plant before it grows true leaves later on.
My students were amazed at the realization that seeds are alive. They don’t look alive, do they? They have no mouths to eat, one student pointed out. They can sit in a package with no water and no light for months or years. So, how do they do it? Seeds have an incredible ability to remain dormant until conditions are right for them to grow. This means they won’t sprout until it is not too dry, too warm, too cold, or too wet. Some seeds will delay or stagger germination to account for bad weather or pesky herbivores eating one batch of germinated seeds–all of this somehow determined by the DNA inside of the tiny cells that make up the seed itself.
There is a great poem by Marcie Hans that contrasts the germination of a seed with the launch of a rocket. The edited section of the poem that was shared with me reads: “Fueled by a million man-made wings of fire. . . the rocket tore a tunnel through the sky – and everybody cheered. Fueled [from within] the seedling urged its way through the thicknesses of black, and as it pierced the heavy ceiling of the soil, and launched itself up into outer space, no one even clapped.”
It’s harvest time at the farm. We spent the weekend filling up the hay wagon with squash and pumpkins. The greenhouse is empty and has been for awhile now. The only seeds that are still going into the ground are cover crop seeds that will protect the soil and provide nutrients for next year’s crop. But even though our planting season is done, the fruits we are harvesting now are packed with seeds. Plants are hoping for the best, preparing for a future where their offspring will go on to sprout and carry their DNA on. I bite into an apple and see a seed and it gives me hope, too. Makes me feel a little bit like clapping.
Don’t forget—the fall festival is this Sunday (the 27th) at the farm from 3-6:30pm!