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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

Basically, you get what you select for, even if the selection is inadvertent.

A pepo squash that stores from August to January seems like a keeper as long at the taste and other traits are acceptable. The seeds in it that didn't sprout, are the most resistant to sprouting when stored next to a warm radiator. I used to store pepo winter squash from harvest day in September, until planting day on June 5th. On that day, I would open the squash, and plant the seeds.

I also tend to keep a seed jar of seconds. Or more specifically, I put the best of the best in a plastic bag, inside the jar containing the bulk seed.

6 days ago
If I harvest from my garden, and don't return an equal amount of nutrients, then I am robbing my garden. If I import nutrients into my garden from elsewhere, then I am turning somewhere else into a desert.

I might whine about the smoke from California wildfires, and dust from the Nevada desert. Both bring with them nutrients which enrich the soil here.

Iowa is sending us their soil in the form of corn and soybeans. The farmer's feed it to their cows, which gets distributed after digestion into our rivers, fields, and wildlands. The birds pick through the manure and bedding and spread the nutrients through the entire ecosystem. We irrigate with river water, which again spreads the nutrients all over our ecosystem.

Michigan sends us their soil in the form of cheese. California sends us their soil in the form of vegetables. Those both mostly end up in the sewer system, but the effluents from the sewer system end up on our yards, fields, and in the lakes, which again get widely spread through the ecosystem by wind, animals, and irrigation.

My gardening motto has always been "Don't throw away your wealth". What is my wealth? Minerals. Particularly, the phosphorous in bones, and the potassium in vegetables. Nitrogen can be scavenged from the air. I make a point of burying animal bones in my garden after a meal. Any random place is fine. I just make sure that is small enough, or deep enough to not cause problems during cultivation. My wealth includes urine, feces, and crop residues.

People say that corn robs the soil. My personal experience is that corn enriches the soil a lot! Because I do not allow people to haul off my corn stalks. They get returned to the soil right where they grew. They take a couple years to fully decompose, releasing nutrients and sheltering soil microbes the entire time. The soil under last year's corn crop tends to be the richest on my farm.

1 week ago
My most successful food forests have arisen through a process that I think of as guerilla gardening.

For example this fall, I scattered/planted hundreds of Carpathian walnut seeds into an existing forest. In 20 years, some of them may have grown tall enough to break through the canopy of the existing maple forest. The forest is huge, and my seed stash was small. I planted the seeds close together (100 foot diameter) so that they will have a better chance of pollinating each other. I expect to scatter walnut seeds into the area for as long as I live. I also planted perennial and annual food species into the same area. Eventually, they might get established.

When the canals were built 160 years ago, the workers buried their apple cores in the freshly dug earth at the edge of the canal. Today, feral apple trees grow along the entire length of the canals. Because they are seed grown, each tree is a unique variety. I haven't found any that are unpalatable.

Asparagus grows wild along the ditch banks here. They are remnants of asparagus that was planted before anyone now living can remember.

Apricots, pears, and plums grow in the wildlands, and as weedy trees in town. They were planted intentionally, or volunteered. They are generally not cared for. They produce an abundance of great food year after year.

There are a lot of purely wild species of trees, perennials, and annuals that grow around here. Harvesting them for food, is as easy as paying attention to their life cycle, and where they are growing.

I plant oyster mushroom spores onto likely logs, then visit them during appropriate times of year.

To me, growing a food forest is more akin to foraging than it is to farming.

1 week ago
I'm attending the Utah Farm and Food Conference on Jan 13-15th. I'll be speaking, signing books, and bringing seeds for the seed swap. We'll be filming for my new video course about landrace gardening.

Here's a trailer for the course:

1 week ago
The book has been selling well. It's currently available in a number of formats (paperback, hardcover, large print, frugal student edition, kindle, and Chinese). Thanks for your support and reviews.

Today, we published a video course to go along with the book.

A trailer for the video course is available on Vimeo.

We will be doing more filming this week at the Utah Farm and Food conference in Cedar City, Utah.
1 week ago
Deep winter here. I let the tomatoes in the greenhouse freeze. Still surviving inside it are lettuce, spinach, bock choi, and mallow. I ate some of the mallow for breakfast on Christmas. What an amazing species!

The Chinese language version of my book, Landrace Gardening, just showed up at the Internet book seller sites, and I got author copies to share. The title of the book translates back into English as: "Gardening with Local Varieties: Guidelines for food security in permaculture using biodiversity and cross-pollination".

It's a race to see if the Hindi or Spanish translation will get completed next.
2 weeks ago
The Chinese language version is now available, as a standard color paperback:
使用當地品種園藝 (Landrace Gardening), ISBN: 9781737325031
It's at Lulu, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and many other bookstores and libraries.
I have 5 author copies that I could autograph and ship within the usa.

Also available on Kindle as text only.

An interesting thing about the foreign language translations, is that Landrace Gardening is getting translated as "Gardening with Local Varieties". That works for me.

2 weeks ago
The place I would start, is to pay close attention to what is already growing in your town. Focus your nursery on plants that thrive in that ecosystem. Cactus? Palms? Visit nurseries. Observe what they are selling -- ghaf, acacia, vitex, techoma, citrus? Which herbs do your neighbor's grow?

In my ecosystem, asparagus seeds fall on the ground in the fall, they germinate where they fell, and grow into new plants. A year or two later, they may be transplanted to permanent beds. Around here, they have gone feral, and are self-propagating. I think that asparagus would not thrive in UAE, because it wouldn't get enough cold weather.

Propagation is also a matter of observation. Watch what happens to a plant's seeds, then mimic that in your nursery. Do they fall on the ground in the spring or fall? When do they germinate? Mimic that. You might put netting or something over them to protect from seed predators. Does the plant touch the ground and sprout new roots where it touched? You might propagate by cloning.

3 weeks ago
I grow lots of a varieties of wheat. I don't distinguish between them based on things like hard/soft or white/red. I can't tell that it makes any difference in the kitchen. My breads, cakes, and pancakes are "country breads". By that I mean that they are simple, and are welcome to have different properties from day to day. I don't value the uniformity that a commercial bakery might desire.

The people that cook with Emmer rave about it's good flavor.

Because I am planting, weeding, harvesting, threshing, and cleaning by hand. I recommend plants that are about waist high. Taller plants out-compete weeds better, and are easier to harvest without stooping. I recommend only growing hulless grains. That makes them easy to thresh. I am not a fan of Einkorn, because I cannot thresh it with the tools that are available to me.

Wheats that are planted in the fall, get an earlier start in the spring, are more productive, and earlier to harvest than spring planted wheats. Some types of wheat are not winter hardy at my place.