Kids and Cabbage, Exploding Cows & Global Warming

Farmed and DangerousNews items on student gardening programs, marketing food by resisting factory farms, and the complications of climate change.

Learning about gardening one cabbage at a time:  Let’s start with some good news. Bonnie Plants, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of plant starts, has announced the winners of its 3rd Grade Cabbage Program. A winner, randomly chosen from each state, will receive a $1,000 savings bond to be applied to the student’s future education.

While only one winner gets the savings bond, there are no losers in this program. Bonnie supplies millions of cabbage starts around the country to classrooms that choose to participate. Included with the starts are lesson plans that help teachers teach the fundamentals of plant growth. That the students learn their lessons well can be seen in the pictures of the cabbages they’ve grown. (more…)

Wide Row and Intensive Gardening

Intensive GardensGetting the most from your vegetable garden while saving space, water and work.

I give my grandfather a lot of credit when it comes to teaching me the craft of gardening. But he wasn’t right about everything. Or, at least, not all of his techniques were the most productive. Like grandfather demonstrated year in and year out, I started off planting vegetables in neat-lined rows, one plant following the other. I did this for everything: carrots, beets, lettuce, corn, even squash and pumpkins. It was just the way he did it and always had.

Circumstance eventually changed my thinking. Given a tiny front yard, I began spacing plants together in enclosed, raised beds. As long as I could reach the center of the beds, everything was fine. (more…)

Ladybug or Ladybeetle?

Ladybug Eating AphidsWhy this gardener’s friend is better than pesticides.

Lady beetles aren’t really bugs. Be that as it may you won’t find us correcting any child singing, “Ladybug, ladybug fly away!” These loveable creatures are actually insatiable carnivores, able to consume quantities of aphids, mealybugs, scales, white flys and mites. Often thought of as a sign of good luck, lady beetles or lady bugs (whatever) bring luck to the gardener who has them in her vegetable patch.

When an infestation of juice-sucking aphids strikes any plant, lady beetles will feast, making quick work of the pests. A single lady beetle will eat up to 60 aphids a day, some 5,000 over the course of its life. (more…)

Dangerous Herbicide, Dangerous Business

Water FaucetResearchers looking into atrazine targeted by its maker.

Last week’s blockbuster article in The New Yorker about flamboyant researcher Tyrone Hayes and the crusade to discredit his research on the herbicide atrazine has refocused attention on a controversy that’s been brewing over the last decade. Atrazine, banned in Europe, is the second most frequently used herbicide in the U.S., second only to glysophate, also known as Roundup. It’s commonly used on farm crops, on golf courses, and by professional lawn care services.

Atrazine has been around since 1958. In the last several years, its affects have caused alarm among water managers and the general public, so much so that some 40 water systems from six different states sued Syngenta, the European-based conglomerate that manufactures the compound, in an attempt to get them to remove the herbicide from their water supplies. (more…)

Indoor Winter Gardening Revolution

Winter Garden IndoorsMore and more gardeners are growing inside their homes.

One of the highlights of our Superbowl Sunday — we won’t let on who we were rooting for — had to do with gardening. Our friend, the gourmet gardener, had invited us over for the game. The feast, as it often is at his home, was the best part of the day. But before kickoff, he showed us something he was extremely proud of: a crop of baby greens growing under fluorescent lights hung from the cupboards above a kitchen counter. I started thinking freshly picked salad.

Well, that wasn’t to be. The lettuce in his two grow trays probably wouldn’t have been enough for the seven of us that had gathered to watch the game. And our friend, not the selfish sort at all, probably wanted to enjoy the labors of his work with his wife… who can blame him? But just the sight of those fresh greens bathed in that soft light was somehow satisfying. Forget the snow cover and the brutally cold temperatures outside. Our friend was (nearly) ready to harvest! (more…)

GMO Wheat and Drought

Genetically Modified WheatAdvocates for genetically modified wheat make questionable claims.

The most recent skirmish in the battle for and against genetically modified crops is being fought over GMO wheat. And the weapon the GMO supporters are using is drought. In a recent New York Times opinion piece entitled “We Need GMO Wheat”, GMO advocates Jayson Lusk and Henry I. Miller make seemingly reasoned arguments worthy of any high school debating team in favor of developing drought-tolerant wheat. Look closely at the arguments and they start to come apart.

The article generated over 400 responses before comments were closed. As always, they’re worth reading — no, we’re not suggesting that you read all 438 of them — because they demonstrate the strong feelings coming from both sides of the issue. But they also underscored some of the fallacies that Lusk and Miller proffer. (more…)

Eggplant Requires Heat, Patience

Garden EggplantTime eggplant starts to go out when soil temperatures warm.

Funny how almost everything that comes up this time of year can get you thinking about gardening. A friend who writes about food was recently extolling a dish he had at one of those Asian fusion restaurants: pot stickers stuffed with a savory blend of walnuts and mushrooms set on a bed of cubed, roasted eggplant. Now those pot stickers — Chinese stuffed pockets that resemble ravioli that were, in this case, pan-fried — sounded great. But what our friend raved about was that roasted eggplant. It’s mild taste showed off the high-grade oil it had been roasted with as well as the earthy flavors of the pot stickers’ stuffing. Its texture, at once firm and springy, contrasted with the melt-in-your-mouth filling inside those pockets. (more…)

Facing Drought

Drought in the GardenWhat should gardeners do in the face of water shortages?

We don’t have to tell you. The news from many parts of the west is all about drought. You can find accounts of what’s being faced, including the potential for cutbacks and rationing, here, here, and here. And the forecast for the coming months doesn’t look good.

No matter if you believe that drought is just a part of the natural cycle (it is) or is a product of global warming (we don’t see this as an easy either-or question but think both factors could be in play), dealing with a lack of or more expensive water is something that gardeners frequently face. Even as a back-to-the-land, ex-hippie in the 19(garbled) living on the edge of the rain forest in Washington State we had summer months without rain some years that meant the buried reservoir that collected water from our spring filled more slowly and even ran dry when we watered our rather large garden. That’s the problem with water: you run out just when you need it most. (more…)

New Threat From Genetic Modification

RNA InterferenceRNAi genetic modification may be more dangerous than existing GMO crops.

Is there another, potentially harmful genetic modification in the works about to be slipped past the public and scientists concerned about human and environmental health?

That possibility was announced this week in the pages of The New York Times ahead of a meeting held Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency on the potential risks of the new technology. While the Times article promoted the benefits of the new technology known as RNA interference, it also noted that several experts had serious questions about its use in the world outside the laboratory. (more…)

Old Seed? Or New?

Seed ViabilityHow long seeds last depends on the type of seed and the conditions in which it’s stored.

Your thrifty Planet Natural blogger has had good luck storing leftover seed (PDF) he’s purchased from year to year … except when he didn’t. Not too many years ago, we stocked up on spinach seed for all the repeated planting we’d planned. There was plenty left over — that summer was cool and damp, so our first crop took longer than we expected and our second crop barely leafed out before the first frost arrived. We stored our leftover seed as we usually do: inside its packet in a tightly sealed glass jar down in our cool basement.

When spring came around, we planted the seed we bought the year before, just as we’ve often done with the previous season’s extras. And even under near ideal growing conditions — we know because we kept track in our journal — we were rewarded with poor germination. The seed that did germinate didn’t do well, its leaves small and stunted. We wondered if we had too much nitrogen in the soil. Too much nitrogen often inhibits early germination of greens. But the lettuce we planted nearby, some of it from saved seed, did just fine. Could it be that spinach seed doesn’t keep as long as lettuce? (more…)

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