While doing my weekly dig through the LIFE archives, when I came across these eye-opening photographs of an “Atomic Garden Exhibit”, photographed by Frank Scherschel in 1961, and opened a whole new can of worms for myself. The exhibition appears to be encouraging ordinary citizens and green-fingered housewives to buy irradiated, “atomic-energised” seeds and essentially experiment in the field of radiation-induced mutagenesis in their very own backyards.
Have you ever seen a strangely misshapen tomato growing in your vegetable garden? A uniquely pigmented plant in your backyard that’s just not like others, able to thrive even in the harshest of seasons? There’s a very good chance that it could be an atomic heirloom from a forgotten atomic garden of the 1950s and 60s.
But of course, finding the offspring of a 1960 atomic-energized tomato in your backyard is not the only way atomic gardening has ultimately broken free from laboratory control and out into the world. Irradiation of seeds and plant germplasm has resulted in creating many of the most widely grown strains of food crops worldwide. Gamma-mutation is in fact quite common in the foods that we eat on a daily basis. Most of the vegetables and even the meat we pick up from the supermarket aisles actually have a long history of irradiation and genetic manipulation that’s just been swept under the carpet.
In 1960, a dentist by the name Clarence J. Speas obtained a license for a cobalt-60 source to begin selling atomic products to the public and producing seeds in a backyard cinderblock bunker. He founded Oak Ridge Atom Industries, which you’ll notice in the photographs under the ‘atomic’ plant labels.
Irradiation of seed and plant germplasm, first discovered by Lewis Stadler at the University of Missouri in the 1920s, involves “striking plant seeds or germplasm with radiation in the form of X-rays, UV waves, heavy-ion beams, or gamma rays”. (Stadler died of leukemia in 1954). Interestingly, the UN has been an active participant in irradiation through the International Atomic Energy Agency. It’s also commonly used to prevent the sprouting of certain cereals, onions, potatoes and garlic.
But this was all so loosely documented that no one really knows who bought them, how many people experimented with them and more importantly, where these forgotten atomic backyards may be. Nor does anyone really know exactly how Mr. Speas irradiated his seeds and what kind of equipment he used back then. The site of backyard bunker in Tennessee no longer exists today, incorporated into a flood plain as part of a river project long ago, and there are no known documents revealing what happened to the source.
She highlighted examples such as mint oil from the peppermint plant which is found in most chewing gums and toothpastes. Hundreds of thousands of peppermint stems were irradiated at the Brookhaven National Laboratory from about 1955 onwards, to make them less susceptible to a fungal disease that caused stunting and plant death. This disease-resistant cultivar, known as the Todd’s Mitcham’s cultivar, now produces most of the world’s mint oil today, “with an estimated market value of around $930 million USD”. But of course, “the exact nature of the genetic changes that cause it to be wilt-resistant remain unknown”.
They thought it would end famines and prevent wars, and experiments were initially only conducted in national laboratories in the US, Europe and some Soviet countries. Gamma gardens were set up in controlled grounds, which arranged plants in a circular pattern with a retractable radiation source in the middle. The plants nearest the centre usually died, the ones further out often featured “tumors and other growth abnormalities”; and then there were “the plants of interest”, possessing strange new mutations.
The lack of control in the ordinary citizen experimenting with this stuff is slightly alarming.
How Does Your Atomic Garden Grow? H ave you ever seen a strangely misshapen tomato growing in your vegetable garden? A uniquely pigmented plant in your backyard that’s just not like
Atomic Northern Lights Strain Reactions – Image Powered by marijuana.com
Atomic Northern Lights’ wonders do not cease with its THC levels and appearance. It extends to its astonishing aroma and flavors as well. For one, it has the inviting smell of the outdoors with musky overtones of wet soil and notes of pine. Grinding or breaking the buds tell a different story as it reeks of hash and incense, hinting at its Afghani heritage. The smoke comes as pungent and skunky with a sweet undertone when inhaled. Upon exhale, it leaves a fruity aftertaste.
A strong strain that can withstand indoor and outdoor environments is a vital piece in the garden. To this end, Atomic Northern Lights offers a sturdy stalk and short stature for easy maintenance. Not to mention, it has a fast flowering phase that entices home and commercial growers alike.
Atomic Northern Lights Strain Medical – Image Powered by leafly.com
Atomic Northern Lights’ versatile growing capabilities add to its charm. It can survive both indoors and outdoor conditions, along with a variety of unpredictable factors like strong winds or fluctuating temperatures. For instance, its propensity for a cold environment allows it to thrive in the northern hemisphere. As such, it flowers early from the last week of September to the middle of November with each plant producing at least 125 grams of buds per plant.
Pruning is necessary when growing indoors. The plant, which is naturally bushy, can sometimes harbor moisture in between its crevices. By removing leaves and branches, it improves light circulation and airflow. In this way, it will also distribute nutrients to healthier budding sites.
In doing so, it reduces stress levels and calms the overwhelming dread one feels as a result of work or school. While excessive dosage amplifies anxiety, a moderate amount mellows out the effects of fast-paced worries. Through a similar mechanism, it manages symptoms of mental health issues like depression and PTSD.
Gradually, a body-numbing buzz begins to crawl down from the temples. It crushes tension away and kneads the muscles into mush, possibly enabling a deep slumber as well as extended hours of rest. Some, however, experience the psychoactive effects differently. Rather than a heaviness in the limbs, it is primal arousal that prepares users for a sweet night of romance.
Used with friends, it can ease the flow of conversations and boost enough confidence to help users socialize comfortably. Although one should remember to use the strain within limits as there may be times of visual and auditory distortions.
Northern Lights was later picked up by Dr. Atomic Seeds and backcrossed with its Afghani and Thai Haze parents after arriving in Canada from Holland. This experiment gave birth to an exceptional strain now known as the Atomic Northern Lights.. Read our full strain review for all info.