Joseph Lofthouse

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since Dec 16, 2014

Joseph Lofthouse grew up on the farm and in the community that was settled by his ggg-grandmother and her son. He still farms there. Growing conditions are high-altitude brilliantly-sunlit desert mountain valley in Northern Utah with irrigation, clayish-silty high-pH soil, super low humidity, short-season, and intense radiant cooling at night. Joseph learned traditional agricultural and seed saving techniques from his grandfather and father. Joseph is a sustenance market farmer and landrace seed-developer. He grows seed for about 95 species. Joseph is enamored with landrace growing and is working to convert every species that he grows into adaptivar landraces. He writes the Landrace Gardening Blog for Mother Earth News.
Farming Philosophy
Promiscuous Pollination and ongoing segregation are encouraged in all varieties. Joseph's style of landrace gardening can best be summed up as throwing a bunch of varieties into a field, allowing them to promiscuously cross pollinate, and then through a combination of survival-of-the-fittest and farmer-directed selection saving seeds year after year to arrive at a locally-adapted genetically-diverse population that thrives because it is closely tied to the land, the weather, the pests, the farmer's habits and tastes, and community desires.
Joseph lives under a vow of poverty and grows using subsistence level conditions without using cides or fertilizers. He prefers to select for genetics that can thrive under existing conditions. He figures that it is easier to change the genetics of a population of plants than it is to modify the soil, weather, bugs, etc. For example, because Joseph's weeding is marginal, plants have to germinate quickly, and burst out of the soil with robust growth in order to compete with the weeds.
Joseph is preserving the genes of thousands of varieties of plants, but does not keep individual varieties intact or pure. The stories don't matter to him. What matters is the web of ongoing life. For his purposes a squash is a squash is a squash. Plant purity doesn't exist in Joseph's world, other than in very broad ways like keeping hot peppers separate from sweet peppers. Some landraces might even contain multiple species!
Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Recent posts by Joseph Lofthouse

Owen: Thanks. I could certainly cook 2-3 beans in test tubes, and cook a lot of test tubes at once.  I'm currently harvesting 1 to 3 plants at a time. It would be easy enough to harvest one plant at a time. That's starting to get into hard science. I'm doing plant breeding these days as a artist. I guess it's a good thing that I haven't found a bad tasting bean in the bulk mixes. Otherwise I would have to do that work to find and eliminate it. I want to cook a batch of tepary beans this winter, to check to see if there are any "hard" seeds, which don't absorb water during cooking. If there are, I may want to eliminate them before planting (by soaking overnight). When I was growing green bean seed, I did taste testing of every plant. That was easy, just rip up any plant that tasted bitter, or had fibrous pods.

My strategy with squash is to cook each squash, and if it tastes great, then bulk the seed with all the other great tasting squash. A single squash fruit might give a few hundred seeds, much more than a bean plant. I'll often cook 15 squash per day when I'm tasting squash for seed saving.

In most cases, I don't know which traits are dominant, and which are recessive. I just know which traits I want to keep around.

I use "normalization" in the statistical sense. Sorting the beans to get them all back to the same starting scale: 20 seeds from each variety. That's my way of keeping some of each type in the population, and of identifying new hybrids. I also plant bulk beans, intending them primarily for feeding my community. In that population, the plants that produce the most (harvested) beans end up dominating. "Balancing" the population would be another great word, that might appeal more to non-statisticians.

In my garden, common vulgaris beans are primarily inbreeding, with only like 1 in 200 crossing. Other  gardens might have up to 5% crossing. So with beans it's really easy to maintain recessive traits over the long term. Black seems to be the most common dominant trait in bean seed coat color. Over the years I have done a lot of selection against black beans.

While my beans cross at a very low rate, I sort them by hand, to try to identify hybrids. Any suspected hybrids that I find go into the stash to be planted next year. Then the hybridized-genetics are reorganizing themselves for 5 to 7 generations, so lots of new varieties can show up. Once a recessive trait shows up, and I select for it, then it's 99.5% likely to remain in the population each year after that.

In out-crossing crops like corn, it is easy to select for recessive traits, by selecting against dominant traits in every generation. It's much harder to select for dominant traits, cause recessive traits can be masked and then show up many generations later.

Many of the hybrids that I have worked with were between pole beans and bush beans. I aim for my population to be bush beans only. So I do a tremendous amount of culling for growth habit.

I have not been selecting beans for flavor. How do I cook a pot of beans, when an individual plant might only produce 20 seeds? I suppose that I could grow and harvest by type, and get enough to cook a pot of beans.

For me, the most important traits in melons are quick vigorous growth and early flowering. That is due to the short-growing season. A corollary is that smaller fruits tend to mature weeks earlier than larger fruits, so it's to my benefit to select for smaller fruits.

Because it snowed overnight. I figured that today is a great day to sort beans. Winnowing doesn't remove all of the dirt clods or broken seeds.

I do what I call "normalization" on the seeds that I'm saving for replanting next year, by saving equal numbers of every type that I can identify, and saving any seeds that are unusual or new. I do this, to try to identify new hybrids, and to keep a few types of beans from predominating. If I were growing this seed only for myself, to feed my community, I would plant bulk seed, and a few varieties would come to dominate the population (the pintos, and the little pink bean). But because this is what I'm selling as seed-stock, I want to hold onto as much diversity as possible, to increase the odds that whomever plants it, wherever they are, that some type or other might thrive for them.
Yesterday, I cleaned and winnowed seeds: Beans, corn, and sunflower. Next step is to cycle them through the freezer to kill insects. Germination testing after that.

As a followup regarding the hardy kiwi that I transplanted into the field recently. Something (mammal I think) destroyed every plant. I'm looking forward to watching the local grocery store for more fruits.
4 days ago
It's late fall on my farm. The time of year when yellow jackets can engage in extensive robbing of bee colonies. Reducing the size of entrances helps the bees to defend themselves. Reducing the population of yellow jackets helps.

Here is my simple, do-it-yourself yellow jacket trap. Smear some smelly food (such as canned catfood) onto a board, and suspend the board over a container of soapy water. I leave about 1/2 headspace between the water and the board. The yellow jackets flop into the soapy water and drown while trying to get to the food. It is very effective. I caught the first yellow jacket within 5 seconds of installing the trap. And by the next day had caught a hundred. The trap is not attractive to honey bees.
4 days ago
Chris: I guess I could be more specific. I don't know how, as a home-scale subsistence farmer, to dehull sunflower seeds in order to turn them into food that can be directly eaten by humans in large enough quantity to supply a meaningful amount of nutrition.

Tyler: Thanks. Sprouting or feeding to chickens is within my skill set and budget.
4 days ago
I grow gallons of sunflower seeds every year. I don't know how to turn them into food.
4 days ago
Su Ba:

The parsley was picked in early spring when it was still young, tender, and sweet from the chilly weather. It was blanched before freezing.

Typically, I add a tablespoon of oil, and 1/4 cup of water and saute in a cast iron skillet till it gets hot, which is about the same time that the water evaporates. Most often, I poach an egg or two on top of the greens. I usually season it with turmeric, garlic, black pepper, and sea salt.

Today's parsley was seasoned with sesame seed oil, oyster sauce, turmeric, and black pepper.  I was intending to add the photo to the thread "If a vegan friend visited you today, what could you make for them?", but since the oyster sauce dashed those hopes, I added it to a different thread. hee hee.