Peta Wakan Tipi, a 20 year old nonprofit organization, operates the Dream of Wild Health farm in Hugo, Minnesota. The Dream of Wild Health (DWH) is an American Indian agricultural and educational program. We have a rare collection of 400 indigenous heirloom seeds gifted to us by elders, reservations, and seed savers around the Upper Midwest. Our purpose for this project is to explore the process and cost of growing and protecting the integrity of indigenous heirloom food crops. Specifically, we will regenerate up to ten varieties of near-extinct indigenous corn in order to serve the rural American Indian communities in our area.
DESCRIPTION OF WORK ACTIVITIES
Recommendations from the previous year that the corn be planted earlier were unable to be incorporated into this year’s plans because of the threat of frost through the end of May. On June 5th, 2007 nine corn varieties were sown directly in the field into a sandy loam soil at the Dream of Wild Health Farm. The number of seeds for each variety planted are shown in Table 1. The night before planting, the seeds were taken into a sweat lodge in accordance with cultural tradition. The varieties used were seeds from the same varieties grown by Dr. Bud Markhart of the U of MN Department of Horticultural Science during the 2006 growing season. Pre-plant soil tests indicated low nitrogen. The soil was amended with a 9-0-0 organic fertilizer derived from corn gluten meal at 2oz/sq ft and then tilled before seeds were planted. All plants were grown using organic methods and materials.
The pollination method used was hand pollination. This consisted of bagging the tassels of each individual plant when pollen drop began and cutting aback the silks before their emergence. After the silks were cut back, they were also bagged and stapled shut for one day. After on day, all available pollen from the variety being pollinated was combined and then used to pollinate the silks that had been cut back the previous day. The silks were pollinated up to three times each. After successful pollination, the two most promising ears of each plant were selected and the rest discarded to maximize ear growth and seed production.
The seed provided by Dr. Markhart germinated very well (Table 1) and was significantly better than the seed provided to Dr. Markhart in 2005.
Table 1: Seed variety, number of seeds planted, and percent germination.
Variety, Number of seed, Percent Germination
Chip Amber, 10, 90%
Cree, 3, 67%
Mandan Blue, 20, 75%
Red Lake Hominy, 20, 95%
Quapaw Red, 10, 90%
Lenape Blue, 10, 100%
Cherokee Flour, 10, 100%
Mandan Red Clay, 20, 90%
Bear Island, 20, 60%
Our seed stock was increased for all varieties. The Mandan Red Clay, Mandan Blue, Cherokee Flour, and Cree varieties saw a very significant percent seed increase while the remaining varieties saw a more modest percent seed increase.
Table 2: Peta Wakan Tipi Indigenous Corn Seed Increase
Variety, Seeds Supplied, Harvested dry Weight Grams, Weight per 10 seed grams, Approx Harvested Seed, Percent Seed Increase
Chip Amber, 2343, 413, 2.0, 2046, 87
Mandan Red Clay,
429, 348, 2.0, 1746, 307
Mandan Blue, 201, 262, 3.3, 793, 295
Bear Island, 1104, 172, 1.5, 1156, 5
Cherokee Flour, 550, 286, 1.7, 1633, 197
Lenape Blue Flour,
649, 185, 1.9, 986, 52
Quapaw Red, 453, 98, 1.2, 803, 77
Red Lake Hominy,
698, 273, 2.0, 1364, 95
Cree Corn, 10, 281, 1.9, 1448, 14380
Extreme drought conditions and high temperatures reduced plant growth and altered normal development patterns in many of the corn varieties. For example, the Cherokee Flour and Mandan Red produced pollen before their silks were ready, resulting in pollination occurring at a late date in the growing season. This did not allow for the full maturation of all pollinated ears of corn. Plant height and growth varied greatly between varieties. The Chip Amber, Mandan Blue, Mandan Red Clay, and Bear Island saw poor growth, while the remainder saw average or greater than average growth.
Table 3: Plant variety, average height at three dates
Variety, Height, June 29th; Height, Aug. 12th; Height, Sept. 14th in Inches
Chip Amber, 18, 33, 34
Cree, 35, 45, 49
Mandan Blue, 17, 25, 26
Red Lake Hominy, 29, 49, 51
Quapaw Red, 49, 61, 66
Lenape Blue, 33, 50, 53
Cherokee Flour, 44, 64, 66
Mandan Red Clay, 23, 29, 31
Bear Island, 19, 25, 26
All of the plants were hand harvested on September 14th, due to a killing frost predicted for that night. Most of the varieties had not yet dried on the stalk; all were hung in the greenhouse to continue drying. As of October 12th, 2007, complete drying of the kernels has not yet occurred, and an analysis of dry weight and percent seed increase has not been determined (Table 2).
1. Extreme weather conditions hindered our ability to maximize production of the corn varieties. To obtain a longer growing season next year, it would be advisable to start half of the corn in the greenhouse and then transplant it into the field 7 days post germination and sow half of the seed directly in the ground.
2. Pest and disease conditions also were problematic. Corn borers were found in one in ten ears of corn. To resolve this problem, plants should be treated with a Bt spray as necessary throughout the growing season. Most corn varieties also showed symptoms of common corn rust, which exacerbated the negative effects of the drought. However, the percent seed germination of each variety increased significantly this year.
3. Seeds should be stored in a cool (4-8 degrees C) dry place over the winter.