Interesting article about how insects drive evolution in plants.  Plants were grown either with or without insecticide.  "Plant populations began to diverge significantly in response to insect attack in as few as three to four generations."  For annual plants, a generation is one year.


Plants evolved to be less tasty to the insects, and evolve to have bloom times that did not correspond to the insects' preferred bloom times.  


The authors also noted other changes in the plant plots, such as competitor plants were more successful in the insecticide-treated plots.


What this means to the home gardener (my interpretation) is that we should avoid pesticides, and we should feel encouraged to save seeds for our favorite flowers and vegetables.  That way, we harness evolution to create plants that are locally adapted and resist local predators.  That's a complete opposite to buying plants and seeds from megacorporations and big box stores, who ship nation-wide and whose plants are not locally adapted.


I don't think this is wishful thinking on the part of my old-Rodale-nostalgia Organic farming tendencies.  Genetically engineered crops have led to increased insecticide use.  Again, evolution in action, but serving the agricorporations at expense of the farmer, and completely ignoring local needs.  ""Things are getting worse, fast," said Benbrook in an interview. "In order to deal with rapidly spreading resistant weeds, farmers are being forced to expand use of older, higher-risk herbicides. To stop corn and cotton insects from developing resistance to Bt, farmers planting Bt crops are being asked to spray the insecticides that Bt corn and cotton were designed to displace."


There are some "tricks" to saving your own seeds, but it isn't rocket science.  If you want earlier production, don't eat the first of your plants to produce - those are the ones you want to reproduce for next year.  If you want insect resistance, save seeds from plants that did not get eaten by insects.  Save for the traits that you want.  Evn heirloom varieties change with time - evolution is constant.  There is effort to harness that natural law, so that heirloom varieties remain useful and relevant.  Mother Earth News.


For perrenials, trees, and shrubs, there is less opportunity to harness evolution in the conventional sense, but but propagating varieties that grow in our own yards and gardens, and rouging out (pulling out and discarding) ones that do not perform, we perform a human-assisted evolution as well.


Obviously, someone with a limited back yard can't tend whole fields of plants to adapt them to a changing world, and as heritage to those who follow.  But to save seeds from a favorite tomato, or favorite beans, or favorite marigold or nasturtium, each of us contributes in our own way to our own garden and potentially to future generations.


What I am doing, and what I plan:  I've been saving seeds from a Chinese strain of garlic chive, much larger and more productive than US strains, for 10 years.  I lost the strain of beans that I was growing, but maybe can germinate some from the original packet (13 years old) next spring.  I have some doubts about that.  I also have plants that are reproduced by asexual reproduction, so not much genetic change - some somatic mutation, maybe - but still, locally adapted and successful (figs, garlic).  I am working on growing irises from long neglected survivors, possibly 45 years old.  It is too early to decide for next year, but my current thought is to join Seed Saver's Exchange and pick a couple of varieties to preserve and, eventually, share.

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Replies to This Discussion

Outstanding information. I agree wholeheartedly about seed saving, saving for strengthening a plant and for insect resistance. Everything you say fits for me. I rejoice with you on your new acreage. You create something that live on for future generations and not deplete the Earth of its beauty and healthy diversity. 

Thanks, Sentient Biped! I'm too far behind you and Joan - I haven't got any useful information to offer but I'll try to follow your examples.

Chris, sharing your ideas, plans, actions and results will add to our body of knowledge. It is kind of like gardeners in medieval times standing around the water well comparing and contrasting their experiences and learning how to become experts. It is also the way they developed their scientific methods, not just relying on when garden elves and superstition. So, they advanced, we advance. Thanks so much for sharing your story; I will also be interested if you experience any climate change. The Netherlands is a long way away, but we are all part of this flying ship, Earth. 

Thanks Joan! I'll be at the well to share. Loop naar de pomp! Go to the pump! was an old way of sending someone away, but I know it's a good meeting place!

In 50 years here I have seen climate change, but it's rather mild. In general the winters became milder and wetter, with some weeks of night frost but in the daytime temperatures above 0 ° Celsius. Spring is often early and rather warm, summer quite rainy and cool with day temparatures of about 25 ° C and autumn is wet and windy, as it should be. Then again, this weather pattern doesn't feel stable at all - ups and downs seem to be rather violent, like the unexpected cold spell we had last winter in February - it damaged a lot of fruittrees and killed many budding plants.

When you try to see a pattern from memory, it's hard to distinguish the important facts: do I remember that correctly? was that summer really beautiful or did it seem so because I was happy?

What did you see from climate change in your area?

The first killing frost in my garden this year was Oct 4, 2012. 

Last year it was Oct. 8, 2011. 

I am in USDA zone 5. 

Chris, do you have a growing zone system in Europe? 

Joan, zone 5 is what I grew up in too.  Which probably shows a flaw in the USDA Zone system.   My Zone 5 was so hot and humid in the summer.  I think the summer there was longer than your summer.  That was near St. Louis, relatively speaking.  Plants adapted for there might not do well for you, and vice versa.  It was great country for growing corn and tomatoes, the big big juicy "beefsteak" tomatoes.  


Which also shows the importance of locally adapted varieties - using the "Zone" system does not account for nuances of local climate/microclimate, soils, insect and plant populations, rain patterns (midwest rains frequently in the summer, Spokane?  I'm guessing dry summer).  

I used to use the Sunset Magazine zone chart, but I don't subscribe any more. I shall have to take a look, again, at that system. Do you know of ones that take into account such things as altitude, soils, moisture, daylight, micro-climes? The best is knowing local growers and learning from them. You, being near the ocean and with the wind currents and moisture in the air has unique characteristics. Also, the soils around the Columbia River were impacted by volcanic activity of the region, floods from ice age melt.
Spokane was effected by these elements, also, but in very different ways. Spokane valley has a lot of flood gravels and sand bars. I live near the top of volcanic bluffs and the ice age floods left behind deeply eroded ponds in volcanic rocks. My property is on a peat bog and my neighborhood has many small ponds, remnants of the volcanic age and ice age. We have drumlins, glacial moraines, depositions of till and a lot of erratics. There are pockets of great clays, good for brick making and pottery. 
Spokane is a wonderful place for geology studies. We find seashells and crystalline caves on top of mountains. Mt. Spokane is not volcanic, but is Cretaceous granites that intruded Precambrian sedimentary rocks under great heat and pressure. It is a fascinating area to live, especially for a gardener. 

You are Sunset Zone 2B.  I am Sunset Zone 6.

What a difference a few mountains can make!

Your knowledge about the geologic forces in forming our region is impressive.  It's really interesting reading.  People tell me this area had quite a lot of Mt. St Helens ash in 1982.  So, through my plants' absorbing a few atoms from the ash, I may be eating elements from deep within the earth.  Cool!

Seashells on mountain tops.  Very interesting!

Oh! Indeed you are eating elements from deep within the earth. Have you not lived there long? Mt. St. Helens was quite an experience for all of us in her ash path. Our great Palouse country has a heavy layer of ash from coastal volcanos.

There is a part of Turkey that looks so much like our Palouse, if I had pictures of the two, you couldn't tell the difference. Parts of Turkey lie downwind of volcanoes, the soil is underlaid volcanic flows; perfect soils and moisture for grains.  They have grown grains for centuries. The field looked like ours, with one important difference. Modern women harvest grain using scythes. They dress from head to toe so that a very small part of their faces show. Keep in mind, the temperature is very much like Spokane's at harvest time and just as hot ... in the high 90s and low 100s. Here is a photo I found with Google that accurately reveals the many miles of grain fields I saw. 

Women harvesting in near 100 degree heat. 

Pamukkale, Turkey, very much more spectacular than Yellowstone, but the same volcanic processes created these magnificent sights. 


I found this  but possibly it tells you more than me....





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