Upstate New York is having some pretty warm weather as of late. That is quite unusual, relative to the pre-1970s; however, it follows the trend of global weirdness in regards to weather in our modern times.
Some call it global warming. That isn’t exactly how it works. If it did, then every year would be warmer by the same degrees. What “global warming” is really causing are drastic changes in weather patterns. We are seeing that everywhere in the world with flooding, giant storms, huge amounts of snow, drought, warmth, extreme cold, lack of snow, etc..
One of the responses to this situation will be Mother Nature attempting to adjust to it. How so?
Using genetic variability.
What the heck does that mean?
I will attach some pictures of flowers from my yard and garden that I took on December 14, 2015. (Normally we would have a foot or more of snow) You will see dandelion blossoms, broccoli flowers, and arugula blooms. However, if you were to look around the area you would notice that not all of the dandelions or arugula plants are blossoming. In-fact you need to look hard to spot the ones that are. With that being said, nearly all of my broccoli plants are in bloom. Is anyone curious as to why?
Because of genetic variability in seeds.
EVERY seed is unique in that its genetic “recipe” is completely different than any other seed. A genome (genetic mold for an organism) may be identical within a species, but the values in the mold (genotype) are different. If genotypes are similar (but not identical), then the phenotype (the way it appears) may look identical unless you look VERY closely for the finer points that would differentiate it from other plants that look like it.
Therefore… we can see that Mother Nature has created some seeds (that are unique) that created a plant that will flower in warmer winter weather. There are only two dandelion plants that I found in my entire yard that had flowers. That tells us that the dandelions in my yard are more genetically inclined for “normal” weather and will bloom en masse in the spring. The two plants that are blossoming are genetically inclined to blossom in “different” weather. Now, if the weather continues to favor the two that have blossoms in December, then eventually the dandelions in my yard will be nearly all like the two outliers after many years.
The same holds true for my arugula. The arugula that is growing and blossoming in my garden self-seeded itself this summer and germinated in the fall. Actually, there were literally hundreds of seedlings that were self-seeded. However, only ONE grew extremely vigorous and had blossoms. Only ONE had the genetic code that thrives in this weather. The rest of the arugula plants are growing and I am harvesting them daily, but none grew like this one outlier. I also have detected some genetic variability in the shape of the leaves on most of the plants. If I wanted, I could select for leaf shape and eventually create a new arugula variety based on a particular leaf shape. (I am actually working on a leaf shape project with Mulberry trees)
So… what about the broccoli blossoms?
My broccoli has been genetically engineered by me to grow very well in my environment. I started many years ago. I made this variety so that it would give me loads of little broccoli shoots right up to the beginning of winter. And that is why it is blossoming. I did the work for Mother Nature and created a plant that would push through cold weather and still create blossom buds. (That is what a broccoli head is)
Why do I even bother paying attention to all of this? Because it is important for our future. I hope to teach people how to help Mother Nature when it comes to selecting plants that will eventually feed us in the future. Unlike Monsanto, we do not need to gene splice. They are trying to take short-cuts to create new varieties of plants (over-night) for commercial purposes and to make a ton of money doing it. Their plants are Genetically MODIFIED Organisms. (GMO) Note the world “modified”. They take pieces of genetic material from one organism and splice it into the genome of another to make a new variety. They bypass Mother Nature. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Who knows? It could go either way. Time will tell us.
The world has been doing its own genetic engineering for millions of years the old fashioned way. And that is the way I intend to do mine. I want to teach people to work with nature instead of circumventing it. In order to do that, we must pay attention to the finer points of nature so we can identify those outliers that might be the next best development in vegetables for the changing climates. Are we “really” genetically engineering plants? Not really. We are simply helping nature to find beneficial plants and to focus their breeding in a fashion that helps us to eat.
Plants have been genetically engineering themselves since the beginning of time. That is how they get their seeds dispersed and assure that their species will survive. They keep changing genetically until an animal finds their “fruit” nourishing enough to eat it. And by eating the plant or fruit, the animal may drag the fruit or plant around to feed their young or to bury for later use. Eventually the seeds move around and start more plants with that genetic code for being tasty to a particular animal. WE are one of those animals that Mother Nature has adapted to over millions of years.
I took another picture of some vegetables that I picked today. It is a pot of arugula, kale, and mustard. It seems crazy to be picking fresh greens in upstate New York in mid-December. Some of the mustard leaves are actually about a foot long, but are on the bottom of the pot. I have been letting the mustard plants seed themselves in several locations within my yard over the past several years. By doing that, I am creating “yard” vegetables that are adapting themselves to my environment and that are now hardier than when I first planted mustard seeds from the store.
On the surface it appears that creating "yard" plants is a good thing to do, however, there are some drawbacks. If I do not intervene occasionally to cut away inferior plants before they blossom, I may eventually get scraggly plants that do not taste good nor grow in a productive way for food. In other words, they may become annoying weeds that naturalize and "reverse evolve" to become wild plants like their ancestors. Sometimes these yard plants can out-compete with native plants. With that being said, sometimes that is a good thing when faced with an extreme change in climate. Eventually you will see a shift in plant species that will occur naturally. It is Mother Nature’s way of adjusting so this world survives for as long as possible.
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