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…)

Fall Is Garlic Planting Time

Garlic BulbsFall is an important time for growers of garlic. Savvy garlic growers know that cloves planted in the fall yield larger bulbs than those planted in the spring. Some garlic partisan’s will tell you garlic that experiences a winter in the ground will taste better but we’ve never been able to conduct a side-by-side taste test. That’s because all the growers we know plant their garlic in the fall.

But it is true that garlic planted in warmer regions needs an exposure to cold to grow properly. Hardneck garlics need a cooling period — two or three weeks at 40 to 50 degrees — before planting to grow properly in areas where soils temperatures stay warm.

Autumn is also a crucial time for those who’ll plant in spring. This is the time to prepare your soil so that it’s at its maximum growing potential come March and April. (more…)

Is Monsanto’s Roundup Killing Our Soil?

Roundup HerbicideWe’ve often argued against “biotech” or genetically modified crops and the accompanying use of glyphosate herbicide — trade name Roundup — because of its effects on human health, sustainability, and its culpability in creating a new class of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” that are spreading across America’s farm country. Now comes word that Roundup is killing not just weeds but the very soil in which we grow our crops.

This article in The New York Times  explains the negative effects glyphosate has on soil, effects that include compaction and resultant runoff, the killing of beneficial microbes and bacteria, and the exhaustion of necessary minerals and other nutrients that plants require.

The article also shows how nearby use of Roundup affects farmers not using the “Roundup Ready” system of growing GMO crops coupled with the spraying of glyphosate. One farmer describes how he loses corn every time his neighbor sprays Roundup and the herbicide drifts onto his conventionally grown corn. Worse, his neighbor’s fields have become so compacted that every time it rains, Roundup-laden runoff floods his conventional crops. “Anything you put on the land affects the chemistry and biology of the land, and that’s a powerful pesticide,” the farmer is quoted as saying. (more…)

Manure, Antibiotics, Compost

Composting ManureIt’s common knowledge that the commercial livestock industry stuffs its cattle, hogs and chickens with antibiotics. A new study shows just how dangerous the practice is. A review of 440,000 patient records in Pennsylvania found that those who lived near farms and areas where manure was dumped were 38 percent more likely to develop a MRSA infection. MRSA is one of the most insidious and deadly antibiotic-resistant infections confounding the medical world today. The bacteria attacks skin and other soft tissue.

The study has important implications for growers and family gardeners who purchase and use steer and other types of manures — or commercial compost containing manure–for garden use. Working with or near such manure could unnecessarily expose you to MRSA and other antibiotic resistant infections. (more…)

Saving Tomato Seeds? Ferment!

Tomato SeedsFermentation, the biological process that converts sugars to gas, acids, or alcohol accomplished by bacteria or yeast is the process that produces yogurt, sauerkraut, and pickles as well as wine and beer. In a sense, it’s a tool, one that we humans use to our advantage. One of its many beneficial applications comes when saving tomato seeds for next season’s planting.

Tomato seeds, like peas and beans, are among the easiest seeds to prepare and save. But they’re not without problems. I remember my first tomato seed saving attempts. We strained the seeds out of tomato pulp, washed them, and let them dry without heat in our food dehydrator. The following spring, we planted as many starter pots as we thought we’d need tomatoes. While we did get a few seeds to germinate, the vast majority did not. Our circle of garden advisers thought maybe we’d saved the wrong seeds, namely hybrids, that have all sorts of problems when carried over a season. We hadn’t. Most thought that drying them in our dehydrator had done them in, even though we did it with the heating element turned off. That didn’t seem likely.

But the wisest among our garden consults said that we simply needed to ferment our seeds. We had no idea of what he was talking about, so when the time came he took us over to his house to show us how to do it. But not without first telling us why. (more…)

Plant Bulbs In Containers for Spring Flowers

Planting BulbsAmong spring’s greatest visual joys is a fat container sporting thick green spears of emerging tulips, daffodils, and other flowers. And when the flowers emerge tightly circled, like beautiful eyes following wherever you go, there’s little that can compare. The time to make sure your spring will be full of beautiful flowers from bulbs is now, in the fall, to give them a chance to establish roots and to chill-out over the winter, just like most gardeners do.

Don’t get us wrong. We love spring blossoms from bulbs as they poke out from the thawing ground, sometimes even through the snow, in our borders and gardens. And there’s little that’s as impressive as a huge plot of daffodils, their bright petals announcing sunny days, turning through the day as they follow the light. But growing bulbs in containers is a great way to add spot-specific color and interest. They’re especially useful to the small gardener, even apartment dwellers with verandas, in that they provide a space for growing color where none may have existed. Best of all? Growing them is easy.

Almost any spring-flowering bulb will do for container planting. And as you plan your bulb containers, consider planting major flowering bulbs like tulips, gladiola, and daffodils with smaller flowers like crocus, snowdrops, windflower, or grape hyacinth (though the latter tends to spread and take over pots). Combinations of bulbs will give you both staggered blooms and a layered, understory appearance. (more…)

Scientific American On GMOs: Not So Scientific

GMO ArticleScientific American, the mass-market monthly magazine, has created a stir with its full-out recommendation that food products containing ingredients with genetically-modified plant sources NOT be labeled (really?).  An earlier article from this summer’s food issue (subscription required, brief only) argued that GMOs have been proven safe; end of discussion. Let’s ask again . . . really?

Both articles call into question Scientific American‘s supposed objectivity. Narrowly focused on just bits and pieces of the issues, the magazine seems to have bought in fully to the corporate, pro-GMO arguments while ignoring the impacts raising genetically-modified plants have on plant diversity, the parallel uses of pesticides and herbicides required by GMO plants, and the threats posed to the freedom of independent, small American farms. Worse, its seems to white wash recent scientific evidence that some GMOs have proven harmful to the health of livestock and humans. What gives?

We can only hope that somewhere a motivated and brave investigative journalist is looking into any connection the author of the article or “the editors” who wrote the opinion piece masquerading as fact about labeling GMOs to the corporations who champion and profit from the spread of GMOs. The pieces sure take the company line in support of the questionable technology to heart, sometimes even word for word. We can’t help but be suspicious. (more…)

Picking, Cooking Sweet Corn

Fresh Sweet CornWe’ve been offered sweet corn from a road side stand that wasn’t ready only once and that was from a couple neighborhood kids who got carried away with their picking. That experience turned out to be a learning experience for all of us.

The corn obviously wasn’t ready — the young gentleman hadn’t thought to pull back the husks to check — and we pointed out the short green silk as we bought an ear (cheap) and pulled away the cover. It was obvious. The kernels hadn’t plumped up and we showed that to the boys. We told them about testing the kernels when they did look ready — otherwise known as the pinch test — and what they would see. We pointed out that it was a shame they’d pulled all these ears that weren’t ready and now never would be.

Their father, our neighbor, was also unhappy about that. But the kids wanted to make some money and remembered their dad saying how well their corn was doing this year. Dad and I had a fatherly, adult laugh over the incident and chalked it up to the “boys-will-be-boys” syndrome that had excused both of us a time or two in our younger days. Later that season, the neighbor kids brought me over some of the ears with long brown silk and we gave one the pinch test. They already knew what to look for . . . corn milk! (more…)

Declare War On Weeds Now

Pulling WeedsSeptember is here and many plants in the garden are going to seed. Some of those plant are weeds. Depending on how carefully you kept your plots and landscapes weeded this season, you may have lots or you may have few. However many weeds you have, now’s the last chance you have to get them before the cycle starts all over again next spring. Any work you do now will make your weeding easier next year.

I know, I know . . . the best and most effective weeding is done in early season when the ground is soft and the weeds are small, shallowly rooted, and vulnerable. But it’s too late for that. And next spring will be too late to stop weed seeds from spreading now. Weeding is a continuous activity in the organic garden and one’s attitude towards it has a lot to do with seeing it as a chore and impossible task or an ongoing activity that provides exercise, fresh air, and a chance to get close to one’s garden. Part of that attitude requires acceptance. You’ll never get all the weeds (or maybe you’re one of those people with small plots who will) and it’s better just to accept some. Even those herbicides we see advertised on television as giving complete control don’t get all the weeds. Just make sure the weeds you miss aren’t the most noxious or persistent. Those are the ones to concentrate on. (more…)

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