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Composting Leaves: Keeping Yard Waste From Landfills

Leaf CompostLeaves, turned into rich organic compost or protective mulch, are Autumn’s gift to composting.

We’ve often said that composting can save the world. Here’s one of the ways. During the fall, our yards and landscapes yield tons of refuse, much of it the form of leaves. Those leaves, bagged and placed on curb sides across the country, contribute significantly to the trash that goes into our landfills. In 2006, even after many local governments had instituted yard waste recycling programs, leaves, grass clippings and the like made up the largest component by weight of everything that went into our landfills. Grass clipping were the largest component by weight of yard waste but leaves were by far the largest component in volume. By 2013, yard waste had fallen to third, behind paper products and food waste. Progress!

The reason things have improved? More communities, and even some states, have rules on the books that prevent yard waste from going into public land fills. Waste 360 has the figures. 33.4 million tons of yard waste is generated in the U.S. every year. That’s over 200 lbs for every man woman and child. 19.2 million tons, over 57%, is composted. One sobering fact: the percentage amount of yard waste disposal has been flat the last several years after declining precipitously in the previous decades. And that situation might worsen. (more…)

Amazing Amaranth

AmaranthI’ll admit it right up front. I’ve never grown amaranth. But I’m going to consider it for next year (and no, it’s not too early to start planning next year’s garden). Why? We’ve always been interested in growing grains as part of a desire for self-sufficiency. And then we’ve been learning about what a nutritional powerhouse amaranth is. The biggest reason? We saw amaranth growing in a nearby garden. It’s beautiful red seed heads were one of the most striking things in the entire garden.

Amaranth is a favorite grain for those on gluten-free diets. It’s protein is near complete and easily digestible. It contains high amounts of lysine, the one amino acid that most flour substitutes are deficient in. You can buy amaranth flour in some health food stores. And you can buy the grain ready for cooking in many of them. But imagine growing the grain yourself. And then using it, usually in conjunction with other gluten-free flours. (more…)

Late-Season, Cold Hardy Cover Crops

Winter RyePlanting cover crops — green manure — early enough in the fall has always been something of a problem for me. We all know the advantages that cover crops give our soil. They blanket it over the long winter, protecting it from erosion, keeping it from hardening and preventing the leaching of valuable nutrients by rain and snow. Their roots keep the soil aerated. They protect against the dangers of a deep freeze, thus preserving beneficial microbes and other organisms that help keep your soil healthy. They help prevent the spread of weeds. Best, cover crops add green material to the soil, material that supplies nutrients as well as nitrogen. They’re one of the most valuable tools in the organic gardener’s playbook.

Those cover crops, no matter what kind you’re planting, need to go in ahead of the first frost so that they have a chance to become established before the long cold winter sets in. The problem with that is that our gardens are usually producing right up until the first frost. We’re not anxious to pull our still-productive vegetables from the ground to make way for cover crops. Is it okay to plant cover crops later in the fall? Yes, depending on the conditions. (more…)

GMO Labeling, Money, and Monsanto

Grocery Manufacturers & GMOsThe Grocery Manufacturers Association has given $5 million to the No-on-522 campaign, the Washington State initiative that would require labeling of GMO containing products. The no forces now have a whopping $17.168 million to unleash against consumers’ right to know. It’s the largest sum ever gathered in the state to fight a citizen’s initiative. The previous record — $16.9 million — was raised by the American Beverage Association to fight a small tax that was to be levied on soda pop. The money raised would have been used to prevent cuts to education. That measure was voted down.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has been accused in state court of laundering money on behalf of some major food producers. Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Nestle, Heinz, and Campbells all gave big amounts to fight the California labeling initiative. Their names are no where to be found on donor lists in Washington State and it’s suspected that their donations go to the Association. The Association has appealed for donations and suggested it serves as an “umbrella group” for food manufacturers who don’t want to be seen siding with the No forces, something that might suggest to consumers that they used genetically modified ingredients in their products (which of course, they do). (more…)

Beddy-Bye Garden Time

Fall Garden CleanupPutting gardens to bed in the fall is something like putting children to bed for the night. Both are multi-step processes. Kids need to change out of their clothes, bathe and/or wash their faces, brush their teeth, and might even need a bed time story. Gardens? They can be as reluctant as kids when its time to go to bed. It might take you weeks to get them there.

Putting gardens to bed properly and promptly can have rewards come spring time. I’ll admit I am both reticent and lazy when it comes to tucking the garden in for the winter. But prompt and considered work this time of year means less work in the spring. And isn’t gardening a four-seasons activity?

This is the time of year we follow the weather carefully. If there’s even a chance of a freeze, we break out the old sheets — our more organized neighbor has sheets of Visqueen — and cover everything that’s still showing life and the promise of production. (more…)

Smears Against GMO Labeling Bill

GMO LabelingWe’ve all read the news about how the pro-labeling forces in the Washington State GMO labeling initiative are being outspent in a huge way by the few corporations fighting to protect their obscene profits. Now, with just a month to go ahead of the vote, we’re getting a clear look at the anti-labeling’s tactics: lies, smears, and distortions.

This comes as no surprise. We saw what happened in California. The pro-labeling forces were outspent five-to-one and then narrowly lost the vote. Many of the television, print and radio ads urging voters to defeat the initiative used statistics and predictions arrived at by their own agencies, featured “experts” with strong ties to the corporations that promote GMOs, and, well, out-and-out falsehoods. Guess what? The moneyed interests fighting Washington State’s Initiative 522 are recycling some of the same ads, the same smears, that were used in California. Even their logo is almost an exact copy of the one used in California. (more…)

Enjoy Fresh Herbs All Winter Long

Fresh Herbs“Winter’s herbs are summer’s herbs, too, but they seem to matter more in winter,” writes Joe Eck and the late Wayne Winterrowd in their warm and wise book To Eat: A Country Life. The book, out earlier this year, is a celebration of gardening and cooking with the harvest, a wonderful poem, in prose, to the life-long, life-affirming relationship between growing and eating. If you haven’t picked up a copy — it will make wonderful winter reading — I suggest you do.

The chapter that’s on our mind most these autumn days is the one on winter herbs. The authors make several good points, maybe the most important of which is that fresh herbs are much more complex and flavorful than dry herbs. We appreciate our home-grown fresh herbs in the winter for the very reason that they bring a bit of summer into our kitchens. Another is that the herbs that go best with winter cooking — dishes like stews, soups, roasts, even omelets — are those that can be overwintered successfully for fresh harvests, with some work and preparation, even in Vermont where Eck and Winterrowd’s North Hill Farm was located. What are those herbs? Bay, sage, parsley and rosemary. (more…)

Social Media? Gardening!

Social WellnessWe so often focus on the benefits of gardening: the harvests of fresh, healthy vegetables, the joys of beautiful flower beds and landscapes, even the resulting exercise and time spent in the fresh air of the great outdoors. But there’s one benefit we don’t so often mention, despite its prevelance and importance: Social contact!

Whether formal or informal, gardening brings people together. I learned this lesson early, joining my grandfather in his garden plot, walking over to the poor excuse of a fence and talking to the neighbor there in his garden plot. Things were passed over that fence throughout the entire season — onion starts and extra seed in the spring, tomatoes, corn and squash in the late summer. In the middle of summer? An occasional beer. But the most important commodity that was exchanged was neighborly-ness in the form of gardening advice, talk of the weather, or just an agreeable back-and-forth. (more…)

Monsanto Protection Act Stopped; Big Money Fights WA GMO Labeling

Monsanto Protection ActThe Farmer Assurance Provision under Sec. 735 of the Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill, otherwise known as “The Monsanto Protection Act” won’t be renewed. The Senate bill to keep the government funded has dropped the vastly unpopular provision that was quietly added to another spending bill in March. The rider, which shielded sellers of genetically modified seed from legal action when GMO seed causes harm to human health or damage to crops of conventional farmers, was set to expire September 30.

House Republicans earlier this month had reinserted the provision in their continuing resolution that would have extended the rider that held Monsanto free of responsibility from any harm their genetically modified products would cause. But the Senate has stripped the provision from its bill.

“This is a victory for all those who think special interests shouldn’t get special deals,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said earlier this week in a statement quoted by The Hill. “This secret rider, which was slipped into a must-pass spending bill earlier this year, instructed the Secretary of Agriculture to allow GMO crops to be cultivated and sold even when our courts had found they posed a potential risk to farmers of nearby crops, the environment, and human health.” (more…)

Small Farming Book Hits the Big Time

Gaining GroundOne of the big literary surprises of the past summer is the success of a memoir on small, organic farming. Forrest Pritchard’s Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm, released to fantastic reviews, has been featured on American Public Media’s Splendid Table and named a top ten book by Publishers’ Weekly. It’s basically the story of a farm boy who leaves the country to find a bigger life but returns to the farm to save it. Both personal and (somewhat political) Gaining Ground give insight into the problems faced by small farmers and all the hard work and planning that it takes to overcome these problems.

It helps that Pritchard earned a degree in English. His writing is both entertaining and well-constructed. His father becomes a central figure, and dad’s declining health is used as a vehicle to explore unhealthy life styles and the medical problems that come from a lifetime of eating junk and processed food. Pritchard also writes with a sense of humor, much of it self-deprecating. The phrase so often applied to movies — “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry” — aptly describes the reading of this book. (more…)

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