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My Corn Went to an Atomic Bomb Test

I was reading Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson last night when I came across some information I just couldn’t believe.

The book is about how the wild plants eaten by our hunter-gatherer ancestors came to be the cultivated vegetables we eat today. It discusses, among other things, how we’ve bred out many of the nutritious elements and taste in favor of high sugar, starch and oil levels.

I was reading the chapter on corn when I came across the following information.

“Then  in 1946 the genetic researchers seized upon and even more surefire way to mutate corn seeds, blast them with an atomic bomb…This bizarre series of experiments took place on the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands as part of Operation Crossroads…A secondary goal was to study the effects of intense radiation on plants and animals…[A] week before the detonation, biologists ferried goats, pigs, and sacks of corn seeds to a few of the ships that were anchored far enough from ground zero to stay afloat but close enough to be bombarded with radiation.”


Blue Mexican Sweet Corn: non-irradiated, high in nutrients

“The results of the experiment are spelled out in government document AD473888, entitled “Effects of an Atomic Bomb Explosion on Corn Seeds.” Although the report was written in 1951, it was not declassified until 1997…[S]amples  of all the viable kernels were collected and sent to a central seed bank called the Maize Genetics Cooperation Stock Center for future research.”

“Our modern supersweet corn came out of this collection of misbegotten seeds. One day in 1959 a geneticist named John Laughnan was shelling an ear of mutant corn from seeds he had ordered from the Maize Genetics center… Laughnan absentmindedly popped a few kernels into his mouth and was startled by their extraordinary sweetness…Lab test showed the strange-looking kernels were ten times sweeter than the so-called sweet corn of his day.”

Illini Xtra-Sweet Corn: from Irradiated seed, high in sugar

Illini Xtra-Sweet Corn: from Irradiated seed, high in sugar

“Laughnan was a geneticist, not a plant breeder, but he changed overnight into an avid entrepreneur…In 1961, Laughnan began to market the first of his supersweet corn varieties…Consumers fell head over heels for the sugary corn…Old-fashioned sweet corn, the beloved corn of our parents’ and grand-parents’ generations was about to be pushed off the market.”

As a result of this info I’ve decided to grow my own sweet corn this summer, which I generally don’t do because corn takes up a lot of space. I just don’t like the idea of eating corn developed by hard radiation. And I’m going to grow varieties a lot more nutritious than ordinary sweet corn.

I’m only about 1/3 of the way through the book but I think it’s great. I’m reading it as fast as I normally read fiction. The info is very easy to understand and despite what I’ve quoted above, it’s not a doom and gloom book. It also tells you how to get the most out of veggies you eat by giving you info on varieties to buy or grow and how to store and cook them to maximize their nutrition.

In case you were wondering, I highly recommend Eating on the Wild Side.


Lessons 2013- The Good

Another growing season has come and gone, though I still have kale that’s ready for harvest so I suppose it’s not really over, but it sure feels that way. As usual I’ve learned, observed and made some conclusions I’d like to share with you.

I always experiment with some new vegetables and this year was no exception. I actually tried to grow ginger a few years ago and was not successful. I wasn’t terribly surprised as ginger is a truly tropical plant, but I had some ginger in my kitchen this spring that was starting to sprout so I decided to plant it. I grew it in a client’s garden where there was a lot more sun than anywhere in my garden. After about a month in the ground with no sign of it, I’d just about given up on expecting any results when suddenly there were stalks pushing up out of the ground, looking like some sort of grass.


I left the plants in until the first frost and then harvested. As you can see in the picture below, the ginger just about doubled in size (the original piece of ginger is on the left). I found it very interesting that the piece of ginger I planted was still intact (unlike seed potatoes which disappear as the potato plant grows) and had not even formed any roots. Also surprising was all of the roots were on the new ginger.
Traditionally, we haven’t been able to grow artichokes in this part of the country because our growing season is too short, but plant breeders have developed new varieties which we can grow here so I decided to give it a shot.

By early September there were still no artichokes developing so I was concerned I wouldn’t get any, especially since frost wasn’t too far away and I’d read that artichokes were fairly sensitive to frost. Suddenly though, one started to form and when ready, my wife said it was delicious (I don’t like artichokes). Eventually I got another 5 artichokes though, like the side heads on a broccoli plants, all were smaller than the first one.


I planted 2 artichokes but only one of them really developed (you can see the small one to the left of the large plant). That’s probably just as well because you can see how large the other plant grew. I planted them 18” apart, but judging from the plant size, I’d say 30” is probably more appropriate.

Self-seeding Plants
One thing I’ve really come to enjoy is the number of vegetables I don’t have to plant anymore, they do it themselves. Mostly, this is because I let certain plants go to seed (go to seed means forming seeds but the more common term in gardening). Then their seeds drop and new ones come up later in the year (dill, cilantro, and mustard) or the next year (kale , amaranth, and Egyptian Walking onions). This does cause a bit of disorder in the garden, but that just doesn’t bother me.

I’ll be back soon with the more unfortunate results of 2013.



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