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 Fall 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. (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…)

Sustainable Farming, Soil, and Big Agriculture

Sustainable AgricultureCorporate farming has disrupted an independent economic model and a way of life that was common just a few generations ago. Things were different when America’s farming economy was based on countless small, independent producers who then sold their products at rural cooperatives or directly to markets. Today, a few large food producers including Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, and Tyson, and a few large (mostly) chemical companies, including Dow Agro Sciences, Cargill and, yes, Monsanto, have a corner not only on our food supplies but the products used to raise them. This consolidation of our farm and food supplies creates huge problems, not just in this country, but world wide.

In the last few years, we’ve seen a reversal of this trend with independent, often organic farmers not only raising healthy food but being good stewards of the land. Yet the acreage involved is still miniscule compared to the vast miles of commercial farmland in the midwest, the south, and in California, where big corporate agriculture has a grip. (more…)

Compost Time

Compost PileThis time of year, as we’re reaping the rewards of fresh vegetables provided from our composting efforts (among other things), we’re also looking forward to the next harvest. No, not the future harvests from our garden patch (though that will happen soon enough), but the yields from our compost heaps and tumbler. We believe that composting is the central tenet of organic gardening and this is the time of year that the results prove it. It’s also the time of year, with our supply of finished compost mostly exhausted, that we commit ourselves to continuing the practice.

By September, we’re pretty much finished scooping the last good compost out of our number two heap and screening it before applying under our vegetables, around our shrubs and trees and across our lawns (those of you who use the three-heap method still know what we mean). Over in our starter heap are the grass clippings we’ve collected all summer, and any disease-free vegetable trimming from earlier in the season. We’ve also added a few twigs from that early summer wind storm. We may have to screen them out during final composting but until then they’ll help created air pockets that will supply oxygen to the process. (more…)

Landscape Plants For Year-Round Beauty

Landscape ShrubGraham Rice has given us a new way to look at landscapes. His book, Powerhouse Plants: 510 Top Performers For Multi-Season Beauty poses an interesting question or two. Why, when designing our border gardens and landscape plantings, do we focus on short-lived flowers? Sure those flowering plants give us beautiful color for a few weeks each year, but what about the rest of the time? Rice urges us to think long term. He wants us to consider plants that have something to offer year ’round. He asks us to consider all of a plant’s various attractions when we plan our gardens.

Consider the deciduous honeysuckle vine. In the spring, it’s loaded with flaring, fragrant flowers. These flowers aren’t only a source of scent and beauty, they attract hummingbirds and insects, mostly moths, which then attract other birds. (more…)

Why You’ll Always Have To Grow Tomatoes . . .

Homegrown Tomatoes. . . or buy them from your small, local organic farmer. This article on efforts to produce a tastier commercial tomato is, frankly, sad. We all know the problem with grocery store tomatoes (PDF): they’re bland if not completely tasteless. Compare them to the most mediocre tomato grown in someone’s back yard and that mediocre tomato shines by comparison. Compare them to any decent, heirloom tomato from your garden or a small, local, organic farmer and, well, there’s no comparison.

Not only do homegrown and small farm organic tomatoes taste better than commercial tomatoes, they have more nutrition.

So you have to feel bemused if not sorry for professor Harry Klee at the University of Florida’s Institute for Plant Innovation program. Sure, his goals are admirable: he’s trying to “build” a better supermarket tomato. That means more flavor. (more…)

Hot Peppers? Sweet Peppers!

Growing PeppersHere we are in the last days of August and peppers are growing everywhere. They’re hanging big and bright in our gardens, the produce sections boast an abundance, and farmer’s markets offer bushels of varied-colored, varied-sized peppers of types we’ve never seen. In places like New Mexico where chile peppers are deeply embedded in the culture. It’s no joke to say that as summer progresses, so does the heat, at least when it comes to peppers.

With all the attention given to hot and hotter peppers, we want to make sure that you don’t overlook those other pepper plants, the ones grown for flavor and sweetness rather than heat. They’re often called sweet peppers, and frequently limited to traditional bell peppers, the kind every gardener has grown at some point. But we’re talking about the wide and ever-expanding variety of mildly or even barely spicy sweet peppers that have been commonly called wax and Hungarian peppers, the type that do well in stir-fry, gazpacho, and pickled.

We’ve been on a binge of sweet peppers this year and find that they’re a great addition to pastas, casseroles of grains and veggies, and wonderful ingredient to include in salsas. Not only that, they’re among some of the most beautiful and ornamental plants in the vegetable garden, their sizable blossoms giving way to a host of colorful fruits in all sorts of shades. Even their names are attractive: piquillo, lemon drop, padron, peperoncino, guindilla verde, corne de chevre (goat’s horn), Basque. (more…)

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