The summer has flown by! Yesterday we harvested our first batch of lost crops. We’ve been getting A LOT of rain this week, so my research assistant, Andrea White, and I took advantage of the beautiful sunny day yesterday to harvest three replications of our goosefoot experiment.
Each replication is divided into four quadrants so that we can study the effects of different plant densities on yield and biomass. One quadrant of each replication has all three fall maturing lost crops growing in it (that is, sumpweed, erect knotweed, and goosefoot — click here to get caught up on the lost crops). We think it is unlikely that these plants were grown as monocrops by ancient people, since descendant communities are renowned for their innovative polycultures. We’ll soon have data about how these species do as a community vs. on their own, which Andrea will be analyzing for her independent study this semester.
Andrea and I harvested the senesced goosefoot plants by uprooting them, then hand stripping their seeds. We’re using big funnels, paper bags, and a tarp, but if ancient people used this technique they probably used tightly woven baskets, bags, and mats like the ones that have been found in rockshelters in Arkansas. I decided to harvest the plants this way to minimize seed loss, and so that I could also measure the weight of the stripped plants as a compliment to our plant density data. We can now say how density effects plants size, and how both of these measurements interact with yield. Even though these are small plots, I am hoping this will help us reconstruct what ancient fields might have looked like.
We also timed ourselves to see how labor intensive the harvest would have been. This is one way that archaeologists have characterized the efficiency if growing lost crops in the past. Although the harvest is certainly an important job, Andrea and I agreed that it was much easier and more pleasant than the hours (cumulatively, days) of weeding we did in the spring and summer. Harvesting was actually relaxing. We enjoyed the perfect weather, bopped to some tunes, and felt a keen satisfaction from the pitter-patter of seeds raining into our bags. Looking forward to another break in the rain to get back out there!