Derek – Friday 26th June 2020

We are contemplating how we might open the garden to the public once more as the lockdown eases. Museums, art galleries and cinemas are opening on July 4th. Most will have a booking system to keep numbers down for social distancing. A booking system is a possibility for us too. We are less risky as we are open air, but we need to work out how to do it in terms of volunteers’ and visitors’ safety.

The sweetcorn in the cereal project is three feet high, now ahead of the dwarf maize. The latter is close to full height, knowing size isn’t everything as we’ll witness when we see its multi-coloured cobs. It’s already showing its first flowers. The teff, our Ethiopian cereal, is healthy. It just looks like tufts of grass. Which it is, of course. The rice is throwing up extra shoots in my makeshift paddy, just as well as only one seed made it. I am not sure why I had such a high level of failure, but I read there can be problems with dormancy in rice seeds. Fortunately, I haven’t a family dependent on the crop.

Reading about the grains in the cereal project, I noted that emmer wheat is tetraploid. This is an example of polyploidy, which concerns the chromosomes in the cell nucleus. Chromosomes contain the genes determining the characteristics of any organism, and each cell in the body contains the full set. But there is wide variation in how many copies of the set are included. Human beings are diploid: two copies. Each of our 23 chromosomes is a pair of strands with the same genes present on both.

Polyploidy takes the duplication further, with three copies or more. It can occur naturally, as it did in emmer wheat, or can be induced by plant breeding. In emmer the chromosomes come in fours, hence tetraploidy, seven lots of four making 28 chromosomes in all. This strikes me as quite odd, as the copies are identical which must mean there are all these redundant genes.

And then it occurred to me that maybe the extra copies made emmer seeds bigger, as most grass seeds are small, too small to be used for food. Extrapolating on the idea, maybe crab apple becoming the modern apple involved polyploidy, all these extra chromosomes resulting in bigger apples.

Alas, too simple. Modern barley and maize are diploid, and so are many apple varieties. It seems the extra chromosomes in some plants give breeders more to work on, so we get the variety in domesticated plants, but it is not as simple as polyploidy equals bigger. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, which is not much of a scientific law.

There are many cornflowers in the wildflower bed. A startling, Mediterranean blue. They were formerly common in cornfields, as the name implies, along with red poppies, until regular usage of hormone herbicides killed them off. They began coming back in the noughties with the EU policies of set aside and money for sowing wild flowers in field verges. That’s history now. Though you can recognise organic fields as they have wild flowers amidst the crop.

Along with the cornflowers in our wildflower bed, there’s borage, wild carrot, corn marigold, white campion, spear thistles, bristly oxtongue, red poppies, California poppies, mayweed and fat hen. And the bees are abuzz.

I spot a couple of blue damselflies around the pond. They could be common blues or azure damsels. Inconsiderately, they won’t land for a photo, but I wait. And I am obliged with a shot when one alights on an iris leaf. Common blues.

Keep still and watch.

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