Monday, September 12, 2011

Crops of Africa Attracts More Than Just Media Attention

By Tiffanie Stone, CTI Intern

This has been a very exciting week for everyone at CTI. We were on the front page of the Star Tribune which included a picture of Tom and me harvesting tef by hand. We were not sure if the tef was ready to harvest until we got the go ahead from a friend of Paul Porter who has had experience with tef. The one clue we had that it might be ready was the fact that the birds had found it and began pecking away. As soon as we got the go ahead we began to harvest. At first by hand but also with a small machine (a grain binder that cuts plants and ties them into small bundles) that Dr. Vern Cardwell was kind enough to bring and operate for us. However, hand harvesting ended up being the quickest, cleanest and most effective way to harvest. The tef was too lodged and biomass was too wet to make mechanical harvest effective.

Dr. Cardwell brought his honors freshman seminar titled “By the Harvest You Shall Live” in to help harvest tef. Small groups of students harvested 100 square feet putting the plant into bundles. The students then threshed and winnowed about a fourth of the grain in order gain perspective on the amount of seed they truly harvested.

The experience was a great one for everyone involved. It will be a couple weeks before we start harvesting the rest of the crops. I will be sure to let everyone know when we pick the dates because when you’re harvesting by hand, the more the merrier.

Birds and an early frost are the biggest concerns at the moment. All the crops except the Malawian variety of finger millet are filling seeds but we will need a moderate fall in order to insure the plants make it to maturity before the frost. 

Pearl Millet growing at CTI's Lost Crops of Africa Plot
A more immediate pressing issue is that of birds. There are hundreds, and I really mean hundreds of sparrows enjoying our African grains every single day. They especially love the pearl millet and the sorghum but we have seen them in every crop except for the peanuts and the finger millet. We have covered many areas of the plants with netting. Even with the netting the birds can still manage to get under it in order to eat the filling grain. We are trying to let the netting hang quite low in order to keep the birds out. Even so, they can peck through the top of the nets which means a small amount of damage will be done instead of the usual decimation which would occur if the nets were not there. Several weeks ago we set up a noise maker that sounds like a predator and a bird in distress. This kept the birds away for a total of zero days. 

They are fearless and we have begun to call the noise maker their entertainment. I find birds perching on sorghum right above it almost every time I visit the field.

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