Alfred Reed Bishop and Doris William Butler

The picture above is the very tap root of Bishop's Homegrown/Face Of The Earth Seed. My grandparents shortly after moving to Pekin Indiana from Greensburg KY in 1947 where they purchased the farm that is now Bishop's Homegrown. This picture was taken in Pekin in front of the old co-op next to the old railroad depot, neither of which exist today.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

The new and true Green Revolution; part one of a two part rant (rough draft)

The new and true Green Revolution: A call to arms for all farmers and gardeners interested in self sufficiency and natural agriculture to take a stand.

The twentieth and twenty-first century have seen the rise of big agri-business by way of the green revolution, petrol-chemical agriculture, and the re-writing and destruction of historical agriculture which has been practiced for over 10,000 years. Never before have species disappeared so rapidly or completely and not only from our agricultural fields but also from their natural environments and never before has the role of supposed “ownership” and the artificial, dangerous, and untested genetic modification of plants and animals been an issue on the minds of farmers and consumers as it is today.

One of many paths to power as proven throughout history is the control of food supply. If one is to effectively control food supplies one must first control the seed. “He who controls the seed controls the feed.” as a friend of mine often says. Our seeds have been taken from our gardens and out of our hands, breaking a bond of generational knowledge and seed as saved and passed down for generation after generation often accompanied by much legend and information. Instead it has been stolen and locked up in litigation, red tape and ownership while being re-sold to the original owners in fanciful packaging for far too long now. I believe it is time we take our power back, returning it to the fields and families where it belongs all around the world.

In the responsible, sustainable, fields and farms of tomorrow we must make every effort to become more sustainable by any means necessary, and it is only by taking a stand and fighting for what we believe in that this effort will be realized. It is time for a true green revolution which will not consist of high priced amendments, petrol chemicals and false information, but instead will consist of deep spirituality, love, peace, knowledge, trade, and respect as well as firm footing and the bravado to fight for those things worth dying for. If all of these previous ideas don’t fall into line, none of this will mater and we will only further cater to corporate greed and the destruction of the very earth that feeds and nourishes us, it is indeed time to fight fire with nothing less than fiery passion!

We have watched, particularly in the United States, as our governments have made mistake after mistake while catering to the petrol-war machine and big business while driving the middle class completely out. Other countries are experiencing the same, particularly in Europe, while even others have seen far worse. Many Ideas are bandied about, most misguided, some just flat out wrong and morally unjustifiable while meanwhile around the world the layman continues to work with innovation, integrity, and pride within the basis of systems which are either completely new and innovative or thousands of years old and tested by time, never being heard or seen because they are not in a position of power to make such projects profitable for a corporation or government, often frowned upon because these innovative men and women don’t have the “required education” to be any more than a nobody in the eyes of the power brokers. While those of us who stand alone can prove a point, together we are and army and with the power to change our reality and purge our system of the evil which is infecting it.

Agriculture is but one small area, but a very important one to start with, for without food, ideas, culture, spirituality and niche roles cannot be realized.

The saving and trading of seed is paramount to sustainable agriculture and keeps many small farms afloat in a time of turmoil the world over. As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the world and the responsible inhabitants therein are raped we must stand up to those who would subdue us and cut the metaphorical throat of their bonds; materialistic desire and the cash flow which keeps their blood pumping. The unnecessary transition of material wealth coming annually from the poor to the rich in exchange for the privilege for one to grow their own garden and eat their own food without the option of saving seed is not only an insane idea but completely unprecedented in the annals of history

I am making a stand and a call that all of those responsible farmers and gardeners not only do what they can find it in themselves to do to be more environmentally responsible, but to also make it a point to show big agriculture and petrol business as well as our own governments that we are tired of being pushed around. Just like in the Victory garden campaigns of world war one and two, I call for you, the backbone of America to become more responsible in you use and treatment of the land and it’s resources as well as flying the flag of your independence in the face of those who would otherwise tread on you. False patriotism and alignments with ones own prideful sense of country will do nothing to help further these ideas, indeed they are the very reasons these ides are never cultured or seen to fruition.

It is time to implement green graffiti techniques, planting in public spaces for the good of the environment and the people, in a way that will leave you anonymous but also give you great pride. It is time to start implementing breeding projects which will give us our seed back by effectively saving, selecting and growing out F1 hybrid seeds or by using PVP type open pollinated seeds in new breeding experiments and distributing them world wide.

It is time to start the lobbying against the era of artificial genetic modification and to tell the Monsanto’s and governments of the world that we will not allow it; not here, not now, not ever. It is time to start making gardening more about feeding the earth and the family and less about feeding the rich; it is also time to make agriculture more spiritual and less mechanical.

It too is time to work harder than ever on and with a system of black market trading of seeds and the distribution thereof around the world, finding nooks and crannies into which much seed and plants can be exchanged with cultures around the world, further strengthening our bonds as responsible agricultural stewards and also as a human worldwide family working for the good of our mother, our environments, our nutrition, and our very soul and spirits. It is time to ensure genetic variability and bio-diversity while also working within regional and local agricultural systems and with the world at large. There are no boundaries other than those drawn on maps by men who set in underserved places of power! Internet technology makes this easier than ever before and should be utilized at every opportunity.

It is time to build bridges between the communities of the world and find our common ground, to work with innovative new ideas that will help solve modern dilemmas by way of forgotten technology or new options that are “Eco-Logically” sound.

It is time to encourage the youth of the world to become involved, to utilize local and regional resources to take back the land and farm the land that is too quickly being covered with low rent housing, build on flood plains and prone to disaster. Our misuse of resources, our laziness, our placidity, and the uninformed opinions of journalists who have never touched soil are slowly eroding not only our agriculture, but our very spirit and culture. The very “ terroir” of our lands has been raped and pillaged by power brokers for too long now. Pick up the shovel and put down the video games, experience reality as you never have! The youth are the key, if only they will realize what true knowledge and culture means.

Much work has been done by many dedicated people at our Homegrown Goodness site (http://Alan to work with diverse peoples, cultures and farming systems around the world to distribute and obtain seed which at times and in certain countries it is illegal export or import for fears that are solely corporately related. It is time that we all come together and shake hands, exchange culture, ideas, knowledge and seeds.

I too believe that it is time that we educate those who would otherwise not understand our passion, our beliefs and the facts about natural sustainable gardening, while instead of fighting those who would subdue us and who would otherwise become our adversaries. we shall instead prove deeply our point with sound research, observation, and hard impassioned work; sometimes one cannot wait for a door to open and instead has to kick the door down!

More to come in part two; “Bio-fuels, local agrarian living, practicing simplicity and humility, and working towards sustainable living!”

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Creating diversity in food crops through the time honored tradition of cultural mixing of seed stocks:

Creating diversity in food crops through the time honored tradition of cultural mixing of seed stocks:
A new spin on an old method as realized by many backyard plant breeders.

Written By: Alan Reed Bishop of Hip-Gnosis seed development and Bishop’s Homegrown
All writings are copy left and public domain property. Feel free to distribute!

So much of what we do on our little produce and research farm here in Pekin, Indiana finds its roots in the time honored traditions of days gone by. Of particular and keen interest to the untrained backyard plant breeder are the questions, how and where do I start. We are often asked why we spend so much time making “chance” mass crosses, something that is often frowned upon by the school and book trained plant breeders. I will attempt to give some history and background on what inspired me to take this particular road in many of my current plant breeding programs in the following paragraphs.

I guess I should start by putting forth my philosophy on life; I am whatever is, and will be, and I create reality with my every thought that is put into practical use within the third dimension and which can be proven time and again through process of spiritual evolution, free thinking, and common sense. I hope that didn’t go over your head, but that’s my creed and all of my self study into cultural, spiritual and horticultural knowledge of the past helps me to reinforce this idea. In other words, one doesn’t learn everything (and sometimes one learns nothing) that is practical within the pages of a book, taught within enclosed walls.

One doesn’t have to look far into the past to see the success, rise and eventual fall of all empires, civilizations and ideas. One also doesn’t have to look far to see the implications of a practical use of common sense. With these ideas in mind a few years back I implemented my plant breeding work after re-discovering my love for natural horticulture and agriculture by way of history and proven, time tested, methodology.

Much of my work is typified by “mass crossing” and mixing experiments. Wherein food plants of one species but of different varieties are planted together and encouraged, deeply, to cross with one another, providing myself with a wide diversity of F1 seeds and new recombination’s of genetics in the following year with which to grow out and make selections from.

A good example would be my current watermelon experiments. We have collected a number of watermelon seed types from around the world in colors of pink, red, orange, yellow, and white, in the winter after collection was done we grouped them into like types; red and pink, yellow and orange, and a separate white fleshed mix. The seeds were thoroughly mixed together in their separate color categories and then planted, encouraging crossing between the varieties with a hive of bees or by way of other pollinators (and sometimes hand pollination, particularly for planned crosses or for “selfing” a bloom for the sake of seed purity). The end result will be mixed and more often than not crossed F1 generation seed that will be bulked together and replanted and which will give rise to future selection work, particularly in developing varieties adapted to our disease, insect, and climate pressures here on the farm and in the surrounding area as well as taste and productivity measures.

You might ask why we don’t just trial a number of cultivars and pick what does best. The long and short of it is that we do and we have, however a good selection doesn’t mean you’re best or most creative, artistic, or tasty option, sometimes our “reality“ needs to be shaken up and revisited as it were (seeds are just like ideas and ideas are in fact seeds). In other words if you can find an OP of terrific quality that works well with you, it will be important to keep that variety pure and keep right on propagating it (you never know when the seed companies will stop offering it) however, if you aren’t satisfied playing the averages and you feel a little adventurous, mix it up a bit, plant the seeds and then start the selection process. In time you can, like we have, select for and develop verities of food plants and recombination’s of genetics, in a natural way, that are uniquely suited to your agricultural needs. Sounds rather tongue in cheek right? That’s the point. With a little bit of ingenuity and common sense and an eye for selection you too can explore the diversity and beauty that nature offers us and create your own variety.

Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely not a new idea. As a matter of fact this idea has probably been practiced for as long as agriculture has existed, particularly so by way of the Native Americans. We have often grown out seed types from Native American farmers which will “throw” us all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors of fresh produce all from the same plant! What the natives were able to breed into plants in diversity is absolutely amazing; a good example is seen on display nearly every fall in the form of “Indian corn“.

Often times natives would mix multiple seed lines or varieties into “grexes” or “mixes” used for planting the next year. Weather these original crosses were the results of planed variability or naturally occurring accidental crosses is probably up for debate, but there is no doubt that the natives saw immediately (common sense again!) the results of diversifying their crop types with the aid of new germ plasm which could lend to the selection pressures of their bio-regions and particular requirements. Seed trading was often a large part of communication between tribes and in this way many new seed stocks found their way into many new seed mixes. The history of most crops in the western hemisphere will prove beyond a reasonable doubt how seed can travel and at a pace that is almost unprecedented (for example, watermelon, a crop brought to the new world by the Spaniards, was being grown by the Natives in some places up to 50 years before contact from the Spaniards!) In other words, dent corn (or flint, pop, or sweet corn types) of multiple varieties were mixed together (by type; dent with dent, flint with flint, with some amount of intermixing between types) and grown together for years while making no apparent attempt to select for a crop which would mature uniformly and in a small space of time (modern plant breeders are big on those type of traits due to the modern food processing industry) leading to a wide variety of colors and shapes, and a long harvest window, important to the home gardener and in some Native American rituals. Disease and pest tolerance were probably well noted in the mind of the grower so that seed selection could be made based on the best of the best. Squash and beans, the other two pieces of the important “three sisters” guild, were also often grown in this way. To this day, squash seed, coming from the natives in the arid south west and Mexico by way of Native Seeds /SEARCH shows such diversity that a novice gardener might believe there had been a seed mix up when in fact these seeds are open pollinated, just genetically variable by way of cultural mass crossing of crops, in other words if you try to save seeds of only on type of squash off of a plant that gave you many shapes and colors, you will always get all of those same shapes and colors in the following plantings. It is pretty ingenious if I do say so myself, and a terrific way to develop genetic diversity. It is due to the work of these early natives and seed saving plant breeders that we owe most of the diversity left in our food crops today.

Beans show the same diversity even though they aren’t commonly out crossers, these beans have made chance crosses for so long, that all the varieties have become one variety, in other words, one variety may have as many as five seed types, but any one seed will give rise to all the same variations! Exciting stuff if I do say so myself.

Early plant breeding by large seed companies was often left to chance as well. Many of the older commercial O.P. types were the results of mass crossing, rare spontaneous mutations, or the results of two varieties of one crop being grown in a field together to encourage crossing with future selection work being made on the progeny, bringing the seed into a “fixed“ or open pollinated state.. Many of the very best varieties suited to regional and local agriculture have been breed in this way or by way of accidental crossing and selection pressures.

Much of this crossing led to much improved varieties, particularly within local agriculture and regional agriculture systems. By mixing up the genetics you are in effect shuffling the card deck, looking for new combinations, and constantly rouging out the “bad hands”. Sometimes you get dealt a real winner though and with a little common sense in selecting the “parent” seeds that go into the mix, one can greatly increase their odds of getting that wining hand.

Parent seed selection should be based on firm self study and research, what grows well in your climate, has disease and pest tolerance that matches your needs, is productive and tasty, can you find multiple varieties of one crop type that has all of these traits that you’re searching for, maybe a compromise must be made from time to time. One melon has taste and productivity but no powdery mildew resistance, while one has taste and powdery mildew resistance while not being drought tolerant, one is drought tolerant and productive but you don’t care for the taste, perhaps these are all vineing types and you want a bush types, with a little common sense we can track down all that we need for a mix to create a mass cross, and if one is really on top of the game they can even trade like the natives before us for all the parent stock they will need for only the price of some of their own seed stock.

From the onset of the additional crosses, the ball is in your hand to make and document your selection criteria for your own needs, perhaps you want a uniform crop where selection must be regimented, or perhaps you’re an explorer and lover of diversity in the time honored tradition of the natives and you will select for disease, pest, and taste and allow the diversity to flourish, the choice of course is yours!

Of course one should not completely rule out F1 hybrid seed either. It is by way of much commercial F1 hybrid seed tat we have made many crosses or selected and segregated out an effective open pollinated version of such and F1 hybrid. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but the beauty is that you always learn and you might just find something great!

Many of our future blogs and research articles will be based on a great many mass crosses and the segregation process that follows here on our farm. Among the many mass crosses that we have or will be working with this year are the following:

Winter squash mixes:
Acorn and mini pumpkins in all colors and variations
Mixta, Moschata, and Maxima mixes
Red cross
Yellow and orange crosses
White Crosses
Modern cherry, grape, and mini pears crossed to high sugar wild relatives in all colors
White Cucumber mass cross
And Many others!

We also make what we term pure “grexes”, where the seed of many varieties of one type of non out crossing crop are mixed and intercropped together for maximum diversity!