Beekeeping, Small Farming, and the Environment

Bee HiveLessons from the hive about pesticides, organic practice, and sustainability.

We’ve been reading environmental activist and author Bill McKibben’s new book Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist (here’s an excerpt) and finding it entirely fascinating. It’s the story of McKibben’s life in 2011, the year he and his organization 350.0rg spent time protesting the XL Pipeline that would carry tar sands from Canada to the refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

You don’t have to be a strong opponent of the pipeline or even actively engaged in fighting global warming (or even worried) to enjoy this book. True to its subtitle, it tells how McKibben, an environmentally supportive author from Vermont, became educated in the ways of politics and activism during a year that preceded a national election even as the country experienced a crippling, almost nation-wide drought and record shattering heat. (more…)

Overwintering Plants Indoors

Overwintering PlantsTo keep potted plants alive through the winter, know your plants, know your conditions.

Friends that read this blog are always anxious to offer criticism, point out mistakes, and otherwise find things I’ve said that just might not be true in every case. Rather than get all defensive, we’ve learned to engage our fact-checkers, address the questions and, more often than not, learn something in the process.

So when a couple of longtime gardeners began taking exception to some of the things I said in “Overwintering Potted Plants,” I paid attention. Much of what they commented on wasn’t about out-and-out mistakes. Most of the corrections and considerations my friends made were of the “not true in every case,” and “you failed to make the distinction,” and, best (or worst, depending on your point of view) “you promised the moon” sort. So let’s start with the moon.

Overwintering plants is an imperfect art. Success is relevant to the conditions and, let’s face it, most seasons present a day or three of special conditions. In general, conditions are changing. It’s not unusual to lose plants that you bring indoors; in fact, it should be expected. Success, measured when those plants are taken back outside and then thrive, is an achievement and should be celebrated. Failure is the way you learn to be successful. (more…)

How to Make a Succulent Frame

Succulent FrameAn attractive, hardy succulent garden to hang on your wall like fine art.

The more we learn about and grow succulents, the more we love them. They’re compact and beautiful, with fleshy “fat leaves.” Those thick, engorged leaves come in beautiful paddles, tight rosettes, and a variety of other attractive, snaking swollen fronds. Succulents do well in arid areas and are tolerant of heat swings of the sort you might find in a desert (as long as it doesn’t freeze hard). It doesn’t take much to grow them as long as you remember a few succulent principles. Never over water; succulents carry their own. What do you think makes those fat leaves?

Give them the right growing medium. Soil can be too compact and will smother their roots. Cactus soil, with plenty of organic material works better. A combination of gravel, vermiculite, or perlite with some organic matter is ideal. Why? Succulent roots need plenty of space. That’s because the roots don’t drink water, they take it from the air. Gravel, like crushed granite, makes a good base ingredient because it doesn’t absorb water. If your planting medium provides lots of space between granules and a bit of organic matter to absorb and slowly release moisture, you’ll make your succulents happy. (more…)

I-522 Defeated, GMO Labeling Battle Continues

GMO LabelingEven as big, out-of-state corporate money triumphs, the struggle to spread the truth about GMOs continues.

Those of us who live one time zone later than Washington State woke up this morning to disappointing news: I-522, the Washington State initiative to label foods containing genetically-modified ingredients is going down to defeat and by a sizable margin. While votes are still being counted as of this writing, it appears that the difference won’t be made up. At one point in September, polls showed the initiative was ahead by 45%. How did it end up losing by 10%?

If we can quote a line from one of our all-time favorite movies on politics, follow the money. Those allied against the initiative broke state records with the $22 million it collected against the measure. As the Seattle Times reports, only $550 of that came from Washingtonians. The rest–let me do the math for you: $22 million – $550 = $21, 999, 450 — came from out-of -state businesses, corporations, and shell groups designed to hide the names of the actual companies fighting the initiative. (more…)

GMO Labeling Initiative I-522: Down to the Wire

I 522 GMO Labeling InitiativeThe voting is on in Washington (tomorrow is election day there) and it’s time to take a last look at I-522, the GMO labeling initiative, before the results are decided. Final results in fund raising? The No forces have raised $22 million shattering the all time record. Meanwhile, funds raised in support of the measure total $6.8 million, not a bad take in a race like this. But then look who they’re up against.

Surprisingly, not all the big corporate donors that contributed to defeat the California initiative have dumped money into Washington. Speculation is that some of the corporations who have healthy, natural product lines don’t want to be seen on the wrong side of this issue, like Lever Bros. who now owns Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Here’s a fine Seattle Times interview with Phil Bereano, professor emeritus of technical communication at the University of Washington, on why he supports I-522. He gives straight-forward rebuttles to many of the anti-labeling and pro-GMO arguments. Read it; you’ll be glad you did. (more…)

Voters Swayed On GMO Labeling Initiative

GMO LabelingCorporate Money, Deceit Threaten Washington’s Initiative 522

You friendly Plant Natural blogger likes to remain cheerful! upbeat! and optimistic! Today? Not so much and with good reason. A recent public opinion poll in Washington State shows that support of the GMO Labeling Initiative that would require labeling of foods containing genetically-modified ingredients has changed a negative 41% since the big-money interest ads attacking the initiative were rolled out in September. The momentum connected to such a swing suggests that the initiative, still favored by plus 4% of the public, is in danger of being defeated. The initiative enjoyed a 45% lead just six weeks ago.

The amount of money allied against the initiative breaks a record in the state which has seen its share of expensive initiative battles. The Center for Media and Democracy reports that all of the money for No on 522 came from the Grocery Manufacturers Association and five chemical and biotechnology corporations: Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer, and BASF. The total is at least $17.1 million. Of that over $17 million, how much was given by individual contributions to fight the initiative? $550. (more…)

Cooking With Kids: Nutrition, Health, Gardening

Sylvia's TableA new cookbook, SYLVIA’S TABLE, talks about growing and preparing food with children.

Sylvia’s Table: Fresh, Seasonal Recipes From Our Farm to Your Family isn’t your ordinary cookbook. Sure, it’s filled with great recipes, all of them using fresh, often home-grown ingredients. But its designed with kids in mind. In addition to the recipes, it features essays on the various foods that author Liz Neumark harvests and prepares. It also gives glimpses into the practice of sustainable farming and organic gardening, including growing tips. And it has useful suggestions on cooking with kids, including such things as how to safely teach children to use kitchen knives for slicing.

The book’s emphasis is on healthy, natural foods. But that doesn’t limit what you’ll find here. How does Kale Crisps, Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Hearty Winter Beef Stew, Butternut Squash Bread Pudding, and Caramelized Peach and Ginger Crisp sound? If you know someone who has children and loves to cook as well as garden, this book would make a wonderful present. (more…)

Quick Efficient Composting

Compost TumblerGetting the most from your compost tumbler.

Our correspondent in Santa Fe, New Mexico writes in to tell us of an encouraging sight he sees. One of the city’s schools is flanked by a number of raised garden beds where the students grow vegetables in the spring and summer. Nearby are a half-dozen compost tumblers into which he’s seen students loading the remains of those gardens as well as leaves and kitchen scraps. This extends the students’ lessons that start with simple seeds. Not only are they learning about plants and other aspects of biology, they’re learning about recycling waste, building healthy soil, and the science behind decomposition. Imagine the possibilities.

The main thing this sight brings to our New Mexican friend (he admits) is jealousy. He only has one compost tumbler and he wishes, like the students, he had more.

The benefits of compost tumblers make them perfect for most home gardeners. They keep their contents neat and contained. Not all of us think that a compost heap is a beautiful thing (right, dear?) but even those who see a pile of decomposing leaves and grass clippings as an eyesore can’t slight the sight of an efficient compost tumbler. The best thing about them? They make accomplishing the act of composting much easier. Why spend time with a garden fork turning over a heavy and unruly heap every few months when a few cranks and turns mixes your compost and provides the aeration it needs to work effectively? (more…)

The Great (Heirloom) Pumpkin

Pumpkin PatchVarieties of pumpkins for carving, eating, or both!

Who isn’t familiar with Linus from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip and his belief in the Great Pumpkin? Linus believes that on Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys for all the children. This wasn’t just wishful thinking on Linus’ part. He truly believed in The Great Pumpkin, and did so year after year.

We also believe in great pumpkins; in fact, we don’t know of any pumpkin that isn’t great. Sure, we love pie pumpkins, field pumpkins, and giant pumpkins, just like everybody else. But we’re especially attracted to the unusual varieties. And many of those are heirloom pumpkins. (more…)

Contaminated Chicken: Thoughts For Organic Gardeners

Chicken ProductionSalmonella outbreak emphasizes importance of small producers and homegrown vegetables.

No doubt you, like us, have been following the recent news about contaminated chicken. No need to go into the details. But for those who need to catch up, Portland’s The Oregonian has done a good job covering the story and food-issue columnist Mark Bittman over at The New York Times has provided not only background but insight into the story behind the story.

The closing during the recent government shutdown of the Centers For Disease Control’s PulseNet system, which monitors food poisoning outbreaks and pinpoints causes, certainly hindered the tracking and tracing of the problem but wasn’t the reason for the problem. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (F.S.I.S.) of the Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.), shut down or not, doesn’t seem to be acting in consumers’ best interest. As Bittman puts it, “This is not a shutdown issue, but a ‘We care more about industry than we do about consumers’ issue.” (more…)

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