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Old-Timey Pumpkins and Really Old-Timey Farming

Posted 8/27/2014 11:53am by Judy Lessler.

Farming and Thinking: I once asked Vicki Roberson, who along with her husband Bobby, collaborates with us on our CSAs) what kind of pumpkins she was growing. She said that they were "Old-Timey Pumpkins." Not finding such in any seed catalog, when we both had more time, I asked her again. It turns out that years and years ago she asked a farmer from whom she was getting pumpkins where the seed came from. He told her that they were old-timey pumpkins and that he had been saving the seeds from year to year. Vicki and Bobby Roberson have continued this practice of saving some of the best pumpkins and using them for seeds.  CSA customers got these in our boxes this week.

For everyone,I am passing on some old-timey knowledge. I have been reading an annotated translation of Pliny the Elder's Natural History. Pliny lived in the first century AD. He has a chapter on how long it takes certain plants to germinate that fits with our experience, with arugula (called rocket in the translation) coming up in 3 days and parsley taking up to 30 days to germinate. I was impressed with this and became more impressed when I read the note that pointed out that Pliny had copied most of this from Theophrastus, a Greek who lived and wrote some 350 years before Pliny. So amazing.  

Theophrastus succeeded Aristotle at the Greek School of Philosophy called the Peripatetic School because supposedly Aristotle walked around as he lectured. This last might be an urban myth because apparently there was also a place with a similar name where the students met to hear Aristotle's lectures. We will probably never know the answer as to whether or not it is a myth.

Pliny the Elder died in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. As well as being a famous naturalist and agronomist, he was an admiral in the Roman Navy. He was on a peninsula just west of Naples and could see the clouds from the explosion. Somehow he got a message (probably through a Morse code like flag system) that a woman called Rectina, who was a close friend, was terrified of being killed. Pliny had already been considering sailing over to view the volcanic explosion, something very tempting for a naturalist, when he got that message, and it was the tipping point that made him decide to go.

Pliny was killed by volcanic fumes while there; however, many of his crew escaped. Pliny's nephew, Pliny the Younger, wrote a contemporary account of his uncle's death based on the information brought back by the crew. You can read it (in English, no need to know Latin) at this web site: http://www.macroevolution.net/death-of-pliny.html#.U_4Fu8J0yM8     

It is amazing how connected we are to those who farmed 2500 years ago.  There is a continuing thread of gradually building knowledge and those, like Pliny, who documented procedures made great contributions to this accumulation of knowledge.

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