Thirty pounds a day

I read an intriguing article in the Boston Globe (unavailable online to deadbeat surfers like you and me) about big pumpkins, the really gigantic pumpkins, 1000 pounds and more, that loll on groaning platforms as they compete for blue ribbons at the county fair. Late August is the peak growth time, and some of these monsters will pack on 30 pounds in one day (the equivalent of almost four gallons of water). The article pointed out that giant pumpkins (almost all of them are Howard Dill’s Dill’s Atlantic Giant® Pumpkin breed) are getting giant-er every year, with the record size growing at a remarkable rate. Curious? Check out (where else?) BigPumpkins.com. It occurred to me that this is a good example of how the web supercharges a community of hobbyists. Now big-pumpkin people from all over the world can get in touch with one another and instantly share their best techniques, brag in their Grower Diaries, and peek at one another’s Pumpkin Cam. I find web-induced optimization like this to be both exhilarating and terrifying. Things are moving so fast.

There are a thousand similar stories. Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire gives us another example of network of horticultural enthusiasts supercharged by the web (and other forces): marijuana. In this interview on the Borders site, A Conversation With Michael Pollan, he explains why “the drug war is probably the best thing that ever happened to the cannabis plant.”

Before the drug war, most of the pot smoked in America was very mild stuff from Mexico. The plant barely had a presence here. Then, at the behest of the U.S., Mexico started spraying its marijuana crop with paraquat, an herbicide, and President Reagan sent helicopters into Humboldt County, California, to rout the pot growers. The result? He created a domestic market for marijuana and drove the growers, and the plant, indoors, where it has thrived. The breeding work done in this country since 1980 has revolutionized the plant to the point where it is now five times more potent, half the size, and grows to maturity in two months under a high-tech regime that is truly a marvel to behold. Result: Cannabis now has a vast new habitat—the basements and closets across American where it now happily grows. When you look at the drug war from the perspective of natural history, and from the perspective of this plant, it appears in a whole new light.”

We think we have domesticated these plants; they are polite enough not to point out that it is in fact the other way around.