I want to grow plants that are the best of all worlds. Delicious and high yield and beautiful, and drought tolerant and pest resistant. As I mentioned a couple posts ago writing about resilient crops, there are often tradeoffs for crops between attractiveness as food for people and degree of scrappiness and resilience.
Quick review — if it is juicy and delicious for people, it will be for pests, too. And if it’s juicy and delicious, and quickly grows lush and huge, it’ll wilt up at the first sign of drought. Best bet for something tasty? Grown in a greenhouse, watered every day. Best bet for tough? Something leathery and bitter that doesn’t care about a month without water. So there is a balance to be found between wildness and domesticity, and balances take wisdom.
I take a lot of inspiration from Masanobu Fukuoka. One thing he emphasized was letting nature make decisions as much as possible. The ability of organisms and ecosystems to find balance is far above what our ability to intellectually find balance ever could be.
My application of that idea here is to have nature find the balance between resilience and my desires for tastiness, yield, ease of harvest, etc. In my garden, I’ll do some breeding and selection for those conventionally sought things. And I’ll have patches of land where I simply scatter seed and neglect it henceforth, and what grows, grows. Periodically – maybe every year, maybe every five years, I’ll plant some of the feral seeds in my garden, and scatter some garden seeds in the feral patch, and let them all crosspollinate and compromise.
The two patches won’t ever agree with each other all the way. There will always be a tension. But over enough time, the garden plants will be as tough as possible given the traits I want to see in them, and they will have high genetic diversity. And the feral patch will have as much of the traits I want as is possible for to have while growing wild.
It’s basically a system of checks and balances. It’s not perfect, but it’ll fundamentally anchor my domesticated plants in some kind of external reality, and give them high genetic diversity so they can adapt quickly to changing conditions. This “feral anchoring”.