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.

Properly preparing gardens for winter can have huge 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 Year Round

Fresh HerbsGrowing basil and other herbs, in pots, inside, for kitchen use.

“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. (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 BulbsHow to grow garlic? Give it the right soil and weather conditions.

Fall 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…)

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