SEEDS, SOUND & NUTRIENTS . . .
"Rock music killed some plants," Howearth now recalls. "Funky country music did about the same." Plants seemed to do average on folk music. But music from the sitar seemed to mellow the life-style of all the greenhouse plants, and they recited their thanks by growing better than ever. That was about ten years ago. And Howearth forgot about it until Dan Carlson came along with his program of sound and nutrients.
But that is getting well ahead of the story.
Gabriel Howearth believes in native seeds, and for the past several years he had made himself a one-man army hard on the hunt for the generic materials available in the survivors. Seeds from Indian pots have been carbon dated to be 800 years old, and still some 80% of them have germinated. In fact there are records of seeds thousands of years old that have germinated.
Gabriel Howearth came by his zeal and ability quite naturally. He assembled some of his expertise while working and learning with Indians in Central and South America. Shortly before he came to the beautiful Rio Grande bottoms on the San Juan Pueblo of northern New Mexico, he managed a 600-acre biological farm in Oregon, often rubbing shoulders with Richard Alan Miller, the herb specialist and author of The Potential of Herbs as a Cash Crop. In fact herbs are never far out of mind at San Juan. Planted in rows or on the pattern of the Zia medicine wheel are no less than 140 kinds of herbs. This is fitting, for the Zia wheel – a sort of circle gardening – is the symbol of New Mexico, an embodies the central pivot concept.
The San Juan Pueblo Agricultural Project was started a year ago last summer with a modest grant. In turn, the Pueblo hired Howearth who in turn grew a small demonstration garden of 35 varieties of chile and sweet pepper. Pueblo leaders were impressed. This year Howearth expanded the operation to about three acres, and handled a biological farming class through Talavaya Institute in Santa Fe on the side.
There was a time when Pueblo her
-based Indians planted their corn and apples, bartered for other necessities, and rarely saw money. Then came WWI and jobs off the reservation. The 2,000 acres of excellent farm land, with a superb water supply available, soon ceased being farmed. A year ago, hardly 50 acres of land were being tilled. It may be a bit more this year, but weeds and scrub brush are more common than neatly handled row crops. Old timers who once kept the seed strains alive have passed from the scene, albeit not without the attention of Howearth. Whenever possible, he obtains an ear of corn grown 40 years ago, and kept in the family, his aim being propagation of seeds that rate well above hybrids, even better than surviving open pollinated varieties still being marketed by individual farmers. Indian corns have 17 to 18% protein and deliver as much as 185 bushel per acre under ideal conditions.
Of course, these ancient corns seldom grow under ideal conditions. They usually endure drought, extreme heat and the rigors of the desert – and still they produce. Howearth has made it his job to bring the red corn back, to cause the richest of the multicolors to survive. Mandan red sweet will produce an average of five ears off one seed, sometimes more. Using sound and nutrients, Howearth was able to get one such plant to deliver 14 ears of corn.
In addition to the spices, the demonstration plots viewed by Acres U.S.A. last month featured several types of amaranth, quinua, corn, beans, squash, melons, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beets, onions, radishes, potatoes, Chinese vegetables, celery, Jerusalem artichokes, cover crops, fava beans, buckwheat, vetch, peas, and more. Fruits grow well on the Pueblo acres, and during recent months the come-lately farmers have been bringing old fruit trees into production.
The soil is usually as a sandy loam (adobe loam would be more correct), low in nitrogen, calcium, phosphates, magnesium, and organic matter. Baked by the summer sun, it takes on the character of paving stone. pH is usually 7.8 or higher. Howearth has answered these deficits with compost, sulfursoil, humates, seaweed extracts, and cover crops turned in for green manure. Gentled with such kindness, the soil has unlocked nutrients heretofore believed missing, and has delivered crops that seem almost unbelievable to the untrained eye.
Amaranth, for instance, does well on its own in almost any climate. At San Juan, it surpasses the unexpected. Gabriel Howearth keeps one of Dan Carlson’s sound pulsators operative most of the time, especially when foliar nutrients are misted across the pint-sized farm. Fava beans 6 feet tall are commonplace, and amaranth plants – brilliant in the golden New Mexico sun – fix heads that seem to answer a growing world hunger problem.
The amaranth plant produces a small seed. This seed is sprouted, used whole, ground into flour for bread or tortillas, and all the while it retains a stable nutrient quality. It is the most backpacked food in the world because of its short weight and payload. It has been computed that no more than 6,000 acres could produce all the amaranth seed needed to seed the tillable hectares needed to feed Africa. A few acres of amaranth were treated at San Juan this year. One acre remained untreated. Francose Wemelsfelder, a student from Holland, was busily recording the production records from all plots when Acres U.S.A. came by. Data will become available later on.
In regular trade channels, the handlers and the law have ruled that many crops from the scene, usually with shipping and grading regulations. Therefore crops like amaranth and quinua seem to never pass the curiosity stage. Quinua in Latin is Chenopodium quinoa, the mother of grains to natives in the Andean altiplano. It is an annual of the goosefoot family and is related to amaranth and lambsquarter or pigweed in North America. Usually it grows at 7,000 to 16,000 feet in altitude, and reputedly has 25,000 varieties. It grows in various ecological niches, even in highly alkaline soils short on calcium, or brick-hard clays that are difficult to till. It has five essential amino acids. It pops, sprouts, and makes excellent flour for bread and tortillas. Grown in an environment of sound and nutrition, production doubles and even surpasses a doubled record at times.
War on Monoculture
The spectacle of Indian corn ears doubling in size, much like other exotic plants, had caught the attention of Indian leaders. Heavy unemployment among Indian youth suggests a renewed interest in farming.
Walter Dasheno, a planner with Planning and Economic Development, Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, has hopes for an agricultural comeback. Indians are taking renewed pride in their culture and in the potential of land and water within their reach. At the same time the lure of the city is turning to dross.
An early trainee, Chester Aguino, was four years unemployed before he took on a job at the demonstration farm. There his exposure has been to more than production toil. Sound economics has figured. His mentor has provided the insight.
Gabriel Howearth views Indian agriculture as having potential on two fronts. First, each Pueblo can propagate new crops that have potential for feeding a hungry world, the trades notwithstanding. Second, seeds and herbs can provide maximum profit from small acreages. War on monoculture, Howearth believes, can hold the answer. And seeds are the trump card.
The instances are too many to be included here.
Still, for instance, it is a fact that melons yield about $15,000 worth of seeds an acre, this compared to a more $3,000 from the fruit itself. An "ecologically grown" designation ups the price. Ancient seeds propagated at a time when giant corporations are trying to gain a corner on seeds via hybridization, merger, and high-dollar acquisitions, may help absolve mankind for a crime future generations are not likely to forgive – the annihilation of germ plasma.
Matchless weather, soil that can be rehabilitated and balanced, and plenty of water are being seen as hole cards in the fight to recapture some of the old values. And there is the matter of the music.
Not many farmers can identify with the concept of opening the stomata of a leaf with the music of India, but seeing is rapidly becoming believing. Mike Mizokami, president of Mizokami of Arizona, a large vegetable marketing firm, came by the demonstration plot to see if Indian lands can answer some of his firm’s fantastic demand for ecologically produced food. Mizokami believes in the basics, and he sees the basics falling into place – and the potential great. Humates are readily available in northern New Mexico, and even a substandard injection of that carbon source has turned adobe into mellow soil. Howearth figures more of the same is indicated in seasons to come.
In the meantime the sound machine chirps much "as if we were in an Amazonian jungle," Howearth says. The plants set records, either by producing added bins and bushels, or by growing in a setting where they are said not to grow. Use of Dan Carlson’s Sonic Bloom nutrients is being credited with reclaiming seeds that might not otherwise germinate. This is important to Howearth and the Project. For word has already come out of high level scientific arenas that species of plants are disappearing from the earth much faster than scientists can collect and study them. The consequences could be devastating. It is being calculated that without preventive measures, 20,000 of the 250,000 known species of plants will disappear by the year 2050. Moreover, the steady march to hybrids for control of seeds is setting the stage for world famine.
-- Acres U.S.A., November 1985
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