Skip to comments.Clemson's first harvest of ancient Southern wheat exceeds expectations
Posted on 06/20/2016 10:37:51 AM PDT by Red Badger
Clemson University scientist Brian Ward and his team harvested about 145 pounds of Purple Straw seed, which was grown from less than half a pound. Credit: Scott Miller / Clemson University
The first step of an ongoing-process designed to bring a valuable heirloom wheat back from the brink of extinction has been completed with flying colors.
Last month, Clemson University scientist Brian Ward and his team harvested about 145 pounds of Purple Straw seed, which was grown from less than half a pound. Purple Straw is the only heirloom wheat to have been cultivated continually in the South from the Colonial Period into the last quarter of the 20th century. It remained a crop wheat until the 1970s, when it was then abandoned and replaced by more productive modern hybrids.
"Thus far, it's been a complete and total success, even better than expected," said Ward, who planted and nurtured the wheat in the nutrient-rich organic fields surrounding Clemson University's Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston. "The panicles (loose, branching clusters) turned out really great, we didn't have a problem with insects or disease. Everything worked out perfectly."
Ward planted the small amount of Purple Straw seed in late 2015. He will follow up with a second, larger planting in early October of this year that should produce more than a thousand pounds by the time it is harvested next May. He again will use a sophisticated process called System of Crop Intensification to generate those yields. After a third harvest in 2018, Ward should have several tons of seed.
Purple Straw is the only heirloom wheat to have been cultivated continually in the South from the Colonial Period into the last quarter of the 20th century. Credit: Scott Miller / Clemson University
"By then, we'll have enough to dole out seed to growers who will become curators of the seed," said Ward, who recently revived another heirloom crop, the African runner peanut, in a similar fashion. "And these growers will then be able to supply the wheat to chefs and distillers. The hope is Purple Straw will eventually become widely grown across the country."
Purple Straw's fall into disfavor almost five decades ago came not from disease or infestation but rather from the rise of modern hybrid wheats and foreign introductions that were genetically designed for disease resistance, grain size and massive production using petroleum-based fertilizers. Even if fully restored, Purple Straw will not be able to compete with these hybrids when it comes to quantity, but it will stand out admirably in terms of flavor and nutrition.
The Purple Straw bioconservancy effort has already attracted attention from a internationally recognized list of chefs and distillers who are excited about the rediscovery of such an important Southern food.
"It seems like I'm hearing from everybody," said Glenn Roberts, president of Anson Mills, a Columbia-based company that produces landrace grains on more than 100 farms across America. "But regardless of the demand for Purple Straw, the preservation of the seed must come before there can be any kind of sizable distribution. And that's the beauty of being in the orbit at Clemson University. Scientists such as Brian Ward put biosecurity above all else."
Explore further: The power of purple
Goodness how delicious, eating Purple Straw.
Very interesting-I grow veggies and herbs without chemical insect control or fertilizer, and only eat meat from free ranged livestock-so I’m very much in favor of having access to heirloom/non-GMO seeds for planting-while they won’t work for feeding the masses, they are fine for those who want to grow their own healthy food on a small scale...
The story of KAMUT® Brand khorasan wheat:
Worth a Gardening Ping?
Bountiful Gardens has several varieties of heirloom grains available. The biggest selection I’ve seen outside of the federal seed bank: https://www.bountifulgardens.org/
I ordered 16 varieties to test this year, although stuff came up and I’ll have to plant them next year instead. Some of those older varieties are kind of cool.
(Yes, I’m a plants geek.)
The interesting part was about using a System of Crop Intensification to improve yields.
Thanks Red Badger.
Hi GE! I’m seconding Ellendra’s garden ping suggestion! Pretty kewl, huh?
In a different article I read that for their efforts, Brian Ward and Clemson U. were given dibs on ALL the seed that Sustainable Seed Company had in stock. Looks that way.
Thanks for the link. I appreciate that!
Heirlooms usually have much better flavor. They don’t ship as well and and sometimes are less disease resistant so big growers will go with the hybrids. But for a personal garden they are the way to go.
I spend more effort improving my soil than anything else. Makes for much stronger plants.
There’s a veritable gold mine in those seeds’ DNA..................
There certainly is
I’m all for heirloom of whatever food crop.
But, as someone who grows a *LOT* of heirloom vegetables, many heirloom plants won’t grow in certain regions.
Thus, some areas *MUST* grow hybrid food crops.
I live on the high ground within a few 100 feet of a river, which flooded a few weeks ago leaving lots of muck and silt when the water receded. As soon as the trail dried, I went down in my 4x4 and gathered a couple of buckets of the stuff, brought it back and put it on my tomato, Serrano and zucchini plants-I noticed over the weekend that the plants have triple the number of blossoms they did before, and the tomatoes are setting 6 and more fruits at a time. I don’t know if it was the fish s*** in the river muck, but it certainly didn’t do any harm-I will have tomatoes to eat and enough to barter along with my fresh herbs for free range eggs and goat’s cheese from a neighbor...
Certainly true of tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers, chilis ...
I am a transplant to South Carolina and failed miserably at trying to grow gardens with plants suitable to Ohio. An elderly neighbor directed me to heirloom varieties native to the Carolinas. Problem solved.
That muck is probably loaded with minerals and organic matter. You can see from how your plants responded that it was a good idea.
My base soil is tough adobe clay with virtually no organic matter. I have a compost pile and a small worm farm to generate organic material, nothing plant based goes to waste. My biggest issue right now is midnight raids from thieving animals.
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