Adopt a Crop End-of-Summer Update

The thermometer is still dancing between 99 and 100 as I write in mid-October, but I’m branding this our “end of summer” update in hopes that maybe wishing will make it so.

 

Those of you Sonoran Desert dwellers know that calling this summer a challenging growing season is an understatement. Native Seeds’ low-desert grow-out site—our Tucson Conservation Center—weathered the 2nd driest monsoon season in Tucson’s history, and the cumulatively hottest monsoon season Tucson has ever seen. Add to that a new city record for the most triple-digit days in a single year, and you have a recipe for devastating crop failure.

And yet...we’re entering our third week of picking teparies, hundreds of fully-pollinated sunflowers are patiently maturing, and panic grass is putting on a show, despite the bothersome cotton rats who insist on setting up shop in its shade.

The value of the crops highlighted in this year’s Adopt a Crop is on full display in a summer and year as challenging as this has been. The diversity and genetic strength of open-pollinated, arid-adapted crops provides hope and encouragement, even in the most adverse conditions.

As you’ll see below, the results are far from perfect—pests, pathogens, and scorching heat all took their toll—but thanks to the support of volunteers, staff, members, and donors, these crops continue to yield an inspiring harvest.

 

Chiapas Wild Tomatoes

We hope our growing site at the Tucson Conversation Center can yield valuable information as well as seeds. This year, we planted Chiapas wild tomatoes in raised rows on a drip system as well as in hand-watered basins.

While we 
received an ample harvest from both plantings, the waffle-bed style basins consistently produced more, and larger, fruit throughout the harvest season. We’re eager to continue experimenting with future plantings to gather data on yield of fruit and seed in different planting locations, styles, and structures. 

 

Yori Cahui Cowpeas

Yori Cahui cowpeas sprinted out of the gate when they were planted towards the end of June. Happy climbers, the cowpeas vined their way up 5 feet of trellis and many of them needed extension wires to climb to nearly 8 feet. Shade from our pollination tent provided some relief from the sun, but the Yori Cahui, which are traditionally cultivated in a coastal climate, certainly missed all the humidity this monsoon season lacked.

Though aphids repeatedly attacked the weakened vines in the long, hot months of August and September, the cowpeas still produced a small harvest of beans for regeneration and replanting, and as a partner grower of the White Mountain Apache community recently informed us, fibrous strands useful for crafting rabbit snares.

Navajo Tail Squash

This cushaw squash took root in our gardens in mid-July, and quickly took advantage of all the space we provided, sprawling throughout our caged beds and vining up the walls. The difference between the high desert and low desert was apparent this summer, and after getting a regular taste of 115F, these squash seeds will be happy to return to their northern homelands.

Though our javelina neighbors developed quite a taste for them, enough fruit were protected to refresh our seed bank samples and make a modest increase to our seed supply. The largest Navajo Tail squash of the summer was over 14” long and weighed in at well over 7 pounds. 

Tsöqa'qawu/ Hopi Black Dye Sunflower

In a recent video update (which will be available soon), we shared some of the many reasons to incorporate sunflowers into farm fields, gardens, and planting sites. Sunflowers not only produce edible seed (which like Tsöqa'qawu can yield beautiful dyes), those seeds can also produce important cooking oils, leaves can be fodder for animals, and sunflower root systems can add organic matter to the soil and remediate soils by capturing toxins and heavy metals. 

 Several hundred Tsöqa'qawu/ Hopi Black Dye sunflowers have kept the bees of the Conservation Center busy for well over a month, and seeds are maturing nicely under the protection of remay bags sewn by volunteers. 

Williams Hickory King Corn

Corn pollen can be damaged when temperatures reach the mid-90s and killed outright when the thermometer enters triple digits. Though the William’s Hickory King corn grew prolifically throughout the summer season, weeks of 110F+ limited pollination success.

The red striping (shown below, right) shows a build up of excess sugar that would have provided energy to developing kernels, had the pollen been able to survive the high heat. 

Some seed has been harvested at the Conservation Center, and additional seed stock of Williams Hickory King is earmarked for a spring 2021 grow-out so we can give this heirloom a second chance to reproduce under more favorable conditions. 

 

We appreciate your dedication to supporting these sacred seeds. Working with them is an honor we don’t take lightly and we look forward to seeing them flourish in new gardens, farms, and fields throughout the Southwest in seasons to come.