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Breeding for Dry Farming  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/dry-farm/dry-farming-collaborative

So on the OSSI forum this just came up. Seems like a good permies plant breeding forum topic as well.

What does well for you dry farmed? Specific varieties? What is on the cusp?

I'll start:

I am in a northern rockies 20 inch precipitation zone (Edit: less actually more like 14 to 16). I get good winter and spring precipitation often through June.

Can be dry farmed here:
Lentils
Peas
Wheat spring and winter
Barley spring
Garbanzo
Fenugreek
California chia
Rye
Dry mustard seed
Favas

On the cusp:
Tomatoes

Maybe:
Potatoes
Corn
Squash
Beans
Tepary beans
Onions
Garlic

I have not tried very hard yet to grow everything it is possible to dry farm. There are a lot of maybe species really.

Tomatoes- I suspect some of the wild species and interspecies hybrids we've been talking about on this forum may have even more potential for dry farming than regular tomatoes.

This ability would really come in handy if I ever want to really expand my garden. It would be far easier to say only water a 1/2 acre garden and do everything beyond that as dry farmed. It would also come in handy for years when say my well breaks and I don't have time to get it fixed for awhile. Or say it went dry or something happened like an earthquake that disrupted power supplies for a bit.

 
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I live in the coast range in nw Oregon where we get abundant winter and spring rain but very dry summers. Some years it will start really drying out mid May other years not until late June and usually no substantial rain again until late Sept.  Having a well is not possible here because of natural gas in the ground. my neighbor tried to have a well drilled and after hitting what they call "salt water"  he had the guy weld a cap on it rather than remove the well which resulted in a minor explosion, nobody was hurt luckily. Anyway we catch and store rain water so are limited to what our tanks can hold. I've been here 9 years and my gardening practices have adapted to almost no summer water. When I first started my success was very limited but has improved over the years with seedsaving, better timing, no tilling and partially sunken hugel mounds. Things that work for me...
Tomato small fruited short season varieties
Potato best yields have been from Yukon golds
Sunflowers
Egyptian walking onions
Strawberries June bearing do great everbearing not really
Raspberries red and black varieties better than golden
Kale and collards but cabbage and broccoli not very well
Herbs
Runner beans but I don't like them much
Bush beans less success with pole types because of later fruit set
Carrots
Peas
Pumpkins
Winter squash
Chives
Lettuce
Spinach
Fava beans
Really anything that will self seed then overwinter will thrive in low summer water conditions. The trick is for things to be developed enough by the time it gets dry  to chase the water deeper into the soil. Most perennials do well but the fruit will be smaller, firmer and more concentrated flavor. I usually don't mind that but last year it was so dry my blueberries dried on the bush, I'm not a fan of dried blueberries but being a bog type plant I'm asking a lot of them to suffer 4 months of drought  so limited success is ok. I've found that watering somethings deeply just once at the right time can make a big difference too.  My best results have been with hugelbeds where I dug a pit or trench about two feet deep to start then filled with either already rotting or small diameter wood until 2-3 feet above original ground level.
 
gardener
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Wheat, rye, oats, and barley would work for me in dry farming, if planted in the fall, to take advantage of winter moisture. In my ecosystem, rye is the only consistently feral grain. It is widespread in the wildlands.

Nopales could be dry farmed here, though yield would be low most years.

I could dry farm things like bok choi, turnips, lettuce, spinach, kale and similar greens if planted in late summer so that they could take advantage of the fall rains. Selecting for winter hardiness would provide the possibility of harvest both in the fall, and spring. Miner's lettuce and burdock grow feral here, under maple trees, therefore could be wild foraged or dry farmed.

Some types of alliums could be dry farmed: Egyptian onions. A short day onion like Walla Walla, if fall planted.

Some species of poppies grow feral here, and could be harvested for breadseeds.

I have occasionally had a squash or tomato volunteer in non irrigated areas. Yield tended towards one small squash fruit or one cherry tomato per plant.

With the super low humidity, and typically no rain during June, July, and August it's really hard for me to contemplate dry farming of spring planted seeds.

 
pollinator
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Although performed with only one plant species and the chosen plant not a typical crop, an interesting article on water availability and its interaction with microbial communities on plant yield:

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2018.01605/full

Abstract (my boldface added):  "Soil biota can strongly influence plant performance with effects ranging from negative to positive. However, shifts in resource availability can influence plant responses, with soil pathogens having stronger negative effects in high-resource environments and soil mutualists, such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), having stronger positive effects in low-resource environments. Yet the relative importance of long-term vs. short-term variation in resources on soil biota and plant responses is not well-known. To assess this, we grew the perennial herb Asclepias speciosa in a greenhouse experiment that crossed a watering treatment (wet vs. dry treatment) with a manipulation of soil biota (live vs. sterilized soil) collected from two geographic regions (Washington and Minnesota) that vary greatly in annual precipitation. Because soil biota can influence many plant functional traits, we measured biomass as well as resource acquisition (e.g., root:shoot, specific leaf area) and defense (e.g., trichome and latex production) traits. Due to their important role as mutualists and pathogens, we also characterized soil fungal communities in the field and greenhouse and used curated databases to assess fungal composition and potential function. We found that the experimental watering treatment had a greater effect than soil biota origin on plant responses; most plant traits were negatively affected by live soils under wet conditions, whereas responses were neutral or positive in live dry soil. These consistent differences in plant responses occurred despite clear differences in soil fungal community composition between inoculate origin and watering treatments, which indicates high functional redundancy among soil fungi. All plants grown in live soil were highly colonized by AMF and root colonization was higher in wet than dry soil; root colonization by other fungi was low in all treatments. The most parsimonious explanation for negative plant responses in wet soil is that AMF became parasitic under conditions that alleviated resource limitation. Thus, plant responses appeared driven by shifts within rather than between fungal guilds, which highlights the importance of coupling growth responses with characterizations of soil biota to fully understand underlying mechanisms. Collectively these results highlight how short-term changes in environmental conditions can mediate complex interactions between plants and soil biota."
 
William Schlegel
pollinator
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One possibility for dry farming breeding that is interesting to me is domesticating local wild species including several we have already mentioned in this thread. Miners lettuce, Showy Milkweed, and California Chia. I grow all three of these in my garden. Partially this is because I also grow native plants. To me it's just lovely when a plant can be really great for native pollinators, have wonderful flowers, and be a good edible and these three may all qualify. As might biscuit roots, opuntias, various wild mustards, and wild fruiting shrubs like serviceberry amongst potentially many others.

Miners lettuce is actually now divided into three species which hybridize and have a lot of within species variation. I have two of those species in my garden so far and they have been reseeding themselves for three and two years respectively. The first species Claytonia perfoliata has been really well behaved in terms of staying in the same place year after year. Only this year did it spread out a little. Ideally I would like it to be rather weedy in my garden. In reality I haven't gotten enough to harvest really. I planted a second packet of Claytonia perfoliata to see if that would help the genetics. The second species I dug from the edge of the road in my neighborhood where it was growing in bald spots in a neighbors lawn and is a low growing variety of Claytonia rubra. It went from two plants to a dozen plants over its first winter. I look forward to how many plants it may have in its second year. I also hope the two species will cross as they do sometimes in the wild. Locally there is also a more upright variety of Claytonia rubra and from the floras Claytonia perfoliata and C. parviflora. The ideal garden population in my opinion would be all three species and their hybrids. The commonly sold "Claytonia" that can be had from Johnny's selected seeds and other sources is only Claytonia perfoliata but in the wild state there are three species and many hybrids and varieties so potentially the diversity could be as great or at least similar to that of mixed leaf lettuces.

http://alanbishop.proboards.com/thread/8999/miners-lettuce

One way to grow these wild species is just to include them in plantings. Food forests, pollinators strips, etc. Then if any strains we like better for food appear we can save propagates from them.

Another way to breed from them is to exploit the full diversity from their range.

Service berry is a good example. In Canada they have several improved strains. Here is a Canadian source that exports some of those:

http://blueskyberries.com/varieties/

Then there is a complex of wild species including Amelanchier alnifolia, Amelanchier utahensis, and Amelanchier laevis. From these we can get important traits like local adaptation, drought tolerance, and etc. Though I have also read that breeding is difficult because of high rates of not just selfing but essentially self cloning. Where the seed is a clone. I collected a handful of berries from an Amelanchier utahensis patch in Nevada a few years back but unfortunately I lost the few germinants I obtained. I thought they might be more drought tolerant based on their habitat than the common species here Amelanchier alnifolia and do better on my dry hill side. I will try again someday. Even amongst Amelanchier alnifolia there is a lot of variation in habitat and growth habit in Western Montana.

I went to a neat wild food conference at Rancho Santa Ana Botanical garden a few years ago (2015) and at the conference they announced plans to develop improved varieties of golden current Ribes aureum and blue elderberry Sambucus caerulea. I inquired and key people moved away before it could be implemented. In the Western US those two natives are very widespread so would make good subjects as well.

I think commercial cultivation of American Elderberry Sambucus Canadensis is taking off and some improved strains developed.
 
Posts: 16
Location: Boston Mountains, NW Arkansas
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18 varieties of small tomatoes dry farmed on untilled clay soil in very hot summer, 2018.
14 varieties died or produced very few fruits.
4 varieties were very productive throughout the season. 2 wild tomatoes: Coyote and Matts Wild Cherry. 2 other tomatoes had very heavy yields: Indigo Pear and Yellow Bell.
 
William Schlegel
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Woody McInish wrote:18 varieties of small tomatoes dry farmed on untilled clay soil in very hot summer, 2018.
14 varieties died or produced very few fruits.
4 varieties were very productive throughout the season. 2 wild tomatoes: Coyote and Matts Wild Cherry. 2 other tomatoes had very heavy yields: Indigo Pear and Yellow Bell.



I like coyote, it made my top flavor list and it's pretty short season. Haven't tried the other three.

Will have to make a point of trying to dry farm Coyote tomato as I irrigated it at least a little both years I've grown it.
 
William Schlegel
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Potatoes and Jerusalem Artichoke are possibilities.

Carol Deppe mentioned dry farming potatoes in her Tao of Gardening book I just finished specifically she said potatoes but not tomatoes. My first thought was- maybe in Oregon but not here. I found a free old no copyright kindle book on amazon. It says 15 inches of rainfall for potatoes. I get about twenty if memory serves and Montana gets 15 on average. So dry farmed potatoes are possible here. I'll have to try it.

I planted a new patch of Jerusalem artichoke from my oikos tubers in 2017. Shear Total Utter Neglect in 2018 including no water. Still they lived all year but were much smaller plants than in 2017.

Though no water means different things here depending on the patch of land. Some parcels have a bit of subirrigation around here. My parents own a twenty acre hayfield close to town than my current garden. It's better land deeper soil and some subirrigation but has no garden fence or irrigation and lots of deer. Two acres of it was used by a past owner  for balled and burlapped tree production and has some leftover trees and annoying divots but would be perfect for a garden- if fenced. On my current garden land I have a fenced area, a working well, and relatively fewer deer so I can usually get away with growing some crops outside the 1/10th acre fenced garden.

Even on my current land there is variation. So those Jerusalem artichokes are growing down in a natural low area at the base of a never farmed butte  where soil and water collects- it frosts earlier there is the only downside. They also are growing in an bed I added sand mulch to which effectively deepens the soil. So even on my current land there are sweet spots where certain more water intensive crops could be dry farmed.

If you took my valley as a whole and were looking to find a new garden parcel there is a town fifteen miles away with a history of subirrigated gardening before the current irrigation system for the valley was installed. It's also where the local Amish settled. If I were looking to dry farm long term I might consider selling my current parcel and finding one there instead. Speaking of resilient gardening it wouldn't be a bad thing to have the ability to dry farm if necessary and Amish neighbors who keep alive useful technologies.

One of the major staple crops grow commercially in my valley is a bit tricky. It's potatoes! We are a major seed potato producing valley. We can get big cheap locally grown potatoes. To protect this industry they ask local gardeners to be careful to buy certified seed potatoes. This is one reason I never got into collecting heirloom potatoes. Also various guides say that we should not bother with potatoes because they are so cheap. Carol made a somewhat bold prediction on the new OSSI plant breeding forum the other day. She gives us only 5-10 years before new strains of late blight become endemic and produce long lasting resident spores something that has already happened in Europe. It is a major focus of her Tao of Gardening book but her forum prediction is much more specific. It is an incredible prediction coming from a PhD'd scientist and very non waffley. If she's trying to scare me into action it's working. Because if this happens in 5-10 years it will change McDonald's fries forever.

So a typical mcdonalds fry which is a Luther burbank russet potato begins its life in say Bozeman MT where it is cloned using sterile plant tissue culture. Then it is transported to mine and similar valleys where it is turned into giant truckloads of seed potatoes. Then those are trucked to Idaho to plant vast fields of military industrial complex potatoes. From there they become McDonald's fries or cheap grocery store spuds.

If Carol is right my valley's seed potato industry and Idaho's spud production and mcdonalds special fry taste are under grave threat.

Don't worry- we will still have spuds. The system can and will adapt to blight by adopting more of the blight resistant genetics already used in Europe and other parts of this country. However endemic spores and a more diverse blight will mean that the potatoes and tomatoes we will be growing in the future will be highly blight resistant strains as they already are in europe.

So what it really does as an amateur plant breeder is make me more aware that I should be seeking out and including blight resistant tomatoes and potatoes in my true potato seed stash and my tomato breeding project. It means that if we want to easily work with non-blight resistant strains we may have only 5-10 years to cross them with blight resistant strains before continuing to propagate them becomes a PITA. So I may be trying to buy some certified seed potatoes of a highly blight resistant strain in the hopes of getting a TPS crop from them. As well as getting some blight resistant tomato hybrids to dehybridize and add to my tomato land race now because having them crossed in may be important a few years from now. Unfortunately most blight resistant tomatoes are annoyingly long season. So I will want to not just dehybridize them but cross them with my short season tomatoes. This blight problem deserves it's own thread but is not really separate because say breeding a good strain of dry farmed tomato or potato is not enough- it should also be blight resistant. Which makes breeding projects more complex. Of course many folks in other parts of the country would love to have 5-10 more years of blight free gardening. Honestly they may also have an easier time than me breeding blight resistant stuff- because blight actually kills their non-resistant plants now. Still it's a good call to arms for solanaceous crop breeding.
 
pollinator
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Bobb Quinn in Montana is dry farming squash, potatoes, corn, and other vegetables, even watermelons. His town of Big Sandy gets 13 inches of precipitation a year. It is a little cooler on average than Denver, CO, but not by much.

http://bobquinnorganicfarmer.com/dry-land-vegetables/

https://www.bigsandymountaineer.com/story/2018/09/05/news/bob-quinn-and-a-30-pound-watermelon/2214.html

I'm going to give it a try this year.
 
William Schlegel
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Bobb Quinn in Montana is dry farming squash, potatoes, corn, and other vegetables, even watermelons. His town of Big Sandy gets 13 inches of precipitation a year. It is a little cooler on average than Denver, CO, but not by much.

http://bobquinnorganicfarmer.com/dry-land-vegetables/

https://www.bigsandymountaineer.com/story/2018/09/05/news/bob-quinn-and-a-30-pound-watermelon/2214.html

I'm going to give it a try this year.



I was reading about that / following Bob back before I left facebook. Very interesting to me and inspiring because I garden in Montana also. My parents have my grandpa's old farm in Eastern MT leased out, but it's still in the family. It's rainshadow though so a little worse situation precip wise than Bob has. Dad told me they dried a dry garden once when he was a kid- picked a wetter spot. He said it didn't do very good but still it's interesting. Will have to have him show me the precise location sometime when we are both out there. They used seed from a famous but long defunct company in North Dakota back then the Oscar H. Will seed company. Modern equivalent would be Prairie Road Seed Company- long term Ruth Stout Gardeners also.  

Copied and pasted part of the Big Sandy Mountaineer article below:

"We moved on to dry land vegetables. "There is only one thing to worry about and that's water. So, you need to have three times more space. They will produce about the same as irrigated gardens, you just need more space. But we have space in Montana."

He was really proud of the Carnival Squash that tastes like sweet potatoes and will store for months and months.

He raises lots of different squash. Cantaloupes, Okra, Eggplants, beans from Israel, Spaghetti squash, and a new one Angel Hair spaghetti squash. He planted 5 varieties of potatoes. He started out experimenting with 42 varieties but has determined these five are the best varieties for a dry garden; Huckleberry Gold, Yukon Gem, Purple Viking, Redless Soda, (not sure I got that right) and Red New Orleans. He grew 10 different varieties of tomatoes, and I tasted them. "Flavor is really good. They have a more intense flavor." He grew three different onions that grew just fine, but can be miss-shapened.

I asked what he was going to do with all the vegetable. "I'm going to eat them for heaven's sake. And I do have lots of friends." He laughs again. We now come to the reason I wanted to visit him. He grew six different type of watermelon's "These leaves when it was a hundred degrees, the watermelon leaves, never even wilted." He has Yellow, Small Red, Sugar Orange, Red, Sugar Baby which are about 10-12 lbs. and from Israel. All different kinds of watermelon."
 
William Schlegel
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Also just found a used copy of winter gardening in the maritime northwest for $1.09 at a thrift store. Useful for this even where I garden because it's stuff that can be planted early long before it dries out. Like how Joseph plants favas in March instead of fall- same deal. Worth testing stuff though, some stuff can be fall planted here. Not used to planting anything in the fall though. Raring to go in March but planting garlic and such in the fall is hard to remember to do when not in the habit.
 
William Schlegel
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http://mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/kufm/files/styles/x_large/public/201805/montana-avg-precipitation_MT-State-Library.jpg

I don't have as much precipitation as I thought. This map puts my land in a 14 to 16 inch zone and my grandpa's farm in a 12 to 14 inch zone. Which is about right for other figures I found online.

I read somewhere that 15 inches is about the cutoff for dry farming potatoes. That could mean that potatoes could be dry farmed here most years and on grandpa's farm only in high rainfall years. Though breeding and just simple trialing might find varieties that are reliable every year.

Another limitation is that my topsoil on my land is not that deep- supposedly averages 7 inches. Though, it's definitely deeper in places and shallower others. It might not be what Solomon considers a proper soil for dry farming. Though where I have added sand might be fine and the dips in the land where the soil is deeper might be fine.

The area where I had my 2018 large direct seeded tomato field is very variable in soil quality. It ranges from sand amended to some of my shallowest clay soils. Tomatoes really varied in performance and teasing out the genetic component was not possible but I thought most of the observed variation was due to micro site not genetics.

My 2017 direct seeded tomatoes were down in a dip in the land with deeper soil. They did better in many respects.
 
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You might find some helpful ideas in Gary Paul Nabhan's book Growing Food in a Hotter Drier Land which has many lists of specific dryland varieties, and for details about increasing moisture in the land, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands Volume 2 by Brad Lancaster.
 
William Schlegel
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Tyler Ludens wrote:You might find some helpful ideas in Gary Paul Nabhan's book Growing Food in a Hotter Drier Land which has many lists of specific dryland varieties, and for details about increasing moisture in the land, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands Volume 2 by Brad Lancaster.



Growing Food in a Hotter Drier Land is definitely interesting. I got some Pinon seed after reading it. Also want to experiment with Hardy agave after reading it. I have a copy, will have to consult it further. I know many Native Seed Search varieties are extremely drought adapted from Gary's writings.

Not sure if I want to employ rainwater harvesting techniques (at this time), mostly interested in breeding potential. I have a decent well, I don't really need to grow an unirrigated garden at this point, I just want to do it as an experiment to learn what can be grown that way.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Rainwater harvesting earthworks can greatly increase the moisture available to plants.

 
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Bobb Quinn in Montana is dry farming squash, potatoes, corn, and other vegetables, even watermelons.



Watermelon doesn't NEED a lot of water. Certainly not as much as we try to give it. In the middle east they're planted before the spring rains and that's all the water they get.

Last summer I did watermelons in sand, under deep mulch, with 5 minutes of overhead watering once every two weeks, and they thrived. The Hopi Red (drought tolerant) was actually struggling with too much water even at that level. It almost died before I pulled the watering schedule back to every two weeks. I think that one could easily handle once a month watering and might be a good option for someone to try with a real dry farming test. Jubilee and Ali Baba also worked well under those conditions.
 
William Schlegel
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https://soilseries.sc.egov.usda.gov/OSD_Docs/R/ROUND_BUTTE.html[br][br]Here is a long description of my soil. It says I am in a 12 inch precipitation zone or thereabouts. I want to try some dry farmed techniques next year. Perhaps on a very small scale depending on time available. [br][br]https://soilseries.sc.egov.usda.gov/OSD_Docs/P/POLSON.html[br][br]This is my parents hayfield soil. I think it's a better location for a dry farming experiment. It's subirrigated AND supposedly a 16 inch precipitation zone despite being only 4 miles apart (closer to the mountains to the east, prevailing precipitation usually from the Pacific to the West). Mountains probably causing a bit more cloud dump at the hayfield. [br][br]https://soilseries.sc.egov.usda.gov/OSD_Docs/P/POST.html[br][br]Here is another soil series in an area 15 miles away where I know local people did some historic subirrigated dry gardening about 100 years ago.

In 1902 at the heyday of dry gardening in my area 20900 bushels of vegetables were produced. I converted that to 2.5 cubic yard pickup truck loads and got 385 pickup truck loads. Folks didn't use pickup trucks in 1902, however the population was about the same then as just my town has now. So 385 pickup truck loads worth of veggies would be quite a bit for my town. In a good squash year I get a couple or three. If we still grew vegetables that would be quite a bit. They also had 27,000 head of cattle and 120,000 bushels of grain. They probably fed quite a bit of grain to their horses and oxen though. I think the veg was for local use but hard to say if any surplus was sold.

I may not have time for much of a dry farming experimentioned in 2019 but a small test plot just for tomatoes could be done in the time I have. I'd like to do several reps of Oregon Dry farm Collaborative 5 x 20 foot beds. To do just one 100 square foot rep in grass though I would need to lift the sod further I think so that sod ends at what would be the center of the next row. That requires another 2.5 feet of sod busting all the way around the 100 square feet. Or essentially 250 square feet for a sodded in rep
plus a fence around 250 square feet. Would like to do three reps. Thinking hand removal of the sod might be best to avoid sod weeding nightmares.

I was away from home for about a month. Potted tomatoes were not watered. Most of the wild species were unphased but the domestics suffered greatly. So wild tomatoes and hybrids thereofmight be even more capable of being dry farmed.
 
William Schlegel
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https://www.ndstudies.gov/gr4/north-dakota-agriculture/part-2-production-agriculture/profile-oscar-h-will

The dry farming, subirrigated farming period in my area overlapped the existence of the Oscar H. Will seed company for many years.

The Oscar H. Will seed company was still in existence and a good source of seeds regionally when my parents were kids. They offered lots of regionally adapted, Mandan, Arikara, Hidatsa, and three tribes of the upper Missouri descended varieties like banquet squash. They are the seeds that my father's family would have used for their own dry gardening experiment back in the 1950s. Many old Oscar H. Will and three tribes varieties can still be obtained especially of Squash, Corn, Beans, Tomatoes, Watermelon, and sunflower.
 
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