Honey Bee Population in Decline

Honey BeeTwo-breaking stories on bee decline, pesticides and politics. The European Union has imposed a two-year ban on the use of certain pesticides linked to bee deaths. This comes after a report citing three specific pesticides from a group known as neonicotinoids as a major cause in the decline. Chemical manufacturers — specifically Germany’s Bayer and the Swiss Syngenta — fought fiercely to stop the ban. Some 300,000 people in the U.K. signed a petition supporting the ban. Even with that, the British Parliament  voted to side against the EU plan.

Second story: Here in the U.S., the federal government released a study citing a variety of reasons for bee decline. In addition to pesticides, mite infestations, lack of nutrition, and genetic variation all contribute according to the study. The study was seen as a response to the EU’s banning of certain pesticides linked to bees deaths. “At E.P.A. we let science drive the outcome of decision making,” said Jim Jones, the agency’s acting assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention. “There are non-trivial costs to society if we get this wrong.”  Translation: Risking our entire population of honey bees is trivial in the face of losing a few dollars for big chemical and agricultural companies. (more…)

Converting to Organic

Organic GardeningMaking the switch to organic gardening is as much an act of will power as it is work. But the rewards — feeding your family vegetables, herbs and fruits untainted by pesticides, herbicides and the residues of chemical fertilizers — are priceless. Where do you begin?

First by making a commitment. You must promise to learn as much about organic practice as you can. This is really a life-long process. But when you consider that a little organic knowledge (the basics) goes a long way and that the details bring you closer to perfection, you begin to understand how easy it is.

The second commitment is the promise never to go back. No matter how many problems you encounter — and it’s important to remember that even conventional gardeners encounter failure, and lots of it — you will not go back to your old, chemical ways. When the neighbor points out that he doesn’t have any bugs in his garden and you do, it’s time to be strong. (It may also be helpful to point out that he doesn’t have any beneficial bugs in his garden, as you do.) When he says you spend a lot more time in your garden than he does, smile. In a year or two of organic gardening, that probably won’t be true. When he says that turning that compost pile must be a lot of work, put your hand on your abs and then look directly at his belly. Or maybe stretch out your muscled arms. (more…)

Foraging Wild, Organic Foods

Foraging FoodSpring is a wonderful time of year for foraging food. Greens — dandelions, nettles, wild asparagus, miners lettuce, ramp — are especially fine this time of year and spring mushrooms notably morels, rival the mushrooms picked in the fall. Some wild plants, including fiddleheads, are edible only when they first emerge (and one should be cautious eating even these). Even though nature is doing the gardening for you, it’s important to remember that you want even your foraged plants grown the way you grow in your garden. Organically.

We’ve been amazed at the interest in wild foods that’s grown over the last few years. There’s been a plethora of books released on the subject and classes on identifying, picking and cooking with foraged foods are offered in both rural and urban locations. Even restaurants and gourmet chefs, long-time users of wild mushrooms, have gotten in on the fad, flavoring their dishes with wild greens. Ramp, that favorite east coast spring green that was once harvested by eager Italian immigrants and seen as a measure of class distinction, is now so popular now that it rates a kitchen story and recipes in a major American newspaper. (more…)

Starting A Garden

Starting A GardenWe’ve written a lot about planning your garden, which plants go where, crop rotation, companion planting, and the like. But what to do when you’re starting a garden or want to create a second (or a third) garden space?  Where is the best place for your new garden to go? What factors should you consider when starting it?

Often we don’t have a choice. Our yards are small. Everything is heavily shaded except for that one spot over there. If we put the new garden right in that sunny spot in the middle of the yard, where will we play badminton on the fourth of July? Choosing where to put a garden space is a problem a lot of us don’t have.

But if we’re lucky enough to have the space where a choice is in order then it’s important we choose wisely. It’s safe to say that we already know the principles. What’s best for the plants you want to grow? Here’s a brief and most likely incomplete list of principles to consider when starting a garden. Feel free to add things we may have overlooked and other suggestions that will assure you convenience and make your plants a growing success. (more…)

Growing Organic Fruit

Organic ApplesReading through Danny L. Barney’s new book Storey’s Guide To Growing Organic Orchard Fruits (Storey Publishing) not only got us to thinking about what it takes to grow apples, pears, cherries and other fruits without chemical sprays, but also, like a lot of things, made us nostalgic.

Your sentimental, fruit-crazy Planet Natural Blogger grew up on a small orchard back in Nebraska that was sprayed heavily every year. My father was in the pest control business and had access to the compounds and equipment. I remember him fogging the whole place in an effort to keep the mosquitoes and other insects down. Insects weren’t the problem, and needless to say the sprays did nothing to alleviate our real problem, blight and blemishes (and we still ended up with mosquitoes anyway). He didn’t wear a mask or respirator when doing this and neither did we. But we loved to run through the fog much to his chagrin (Note: Dad’s long gone but we’re still healthy).

Maybe it was in reaction to this that — like a lot of former hippies — when we took to the land, we adopted an organic lifestyle. Those of us old enough to remember the Alar apple scare of 1989 probably aren’t surprised to know that the conventionally-grown fruits we buy are still tainted with harmful substances. Some of these chemicals are especially bad for children. (more…)

Eat Organic, Live Longer

Eating Organic ProduceA recent study clearly demonstrates the health and longevity benefits of eating organic produce over conventional produce… if you’re a fruit fly. The study designed by a then 16-year-old Texas student not only won her top honors in the national science fair competition, it added to a growing body of evidence that eating organic — despite stiff food industry-sponsored denial — is indeed healthier.

The study also illustrates the value of engaging your children in family nutrition, gardening, and life-style choice discussions. The fruit fly study winner was inspired to put the organic question to the test after hearing her parents discuss the issue.

The award winning study not only won Ria Chhabra the national science fair competition but also publication in a respected scientific journal and access to nearby university labs usually available only to graduate students at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The study, as a few news sources pointed out, stood in stark contrast to an infamous Stanford study that suggested organically raised produce was no more nutritious than conventionally raised produce. (more…)

Healthy Turf — Aerate the Lawn!

Aerating the LawnSo you didn’t aerate the lawn last fall … and it needed it? It’s not too late in most parts of the country to aerate your organic lawn. And, if your lawn’s not organic, now’s the perfect time to begin converting it. And aerating is a big part of the change.

  • Why aerate? Your lawn may suffer from compaction, especially if you and your family are on it a lot (and you should be… why else would you have one?). Many of the lawn problems we blame on insects, lack of water, and poor fertilizer are actually due to compaction. The more your soil is compacted, the more likely you are to have problems with thatch. When you aerate – or “aerify” as my gardening dictionary calls it – you allow more oxygen into your soil, you help prevent run-off, and you break up grass roots, further encouraging them to grow. And you do it all without harmful chemical fertilizers! (more…)

Latest: Household Chemicals and Climate News

Household ChemicalsHousehold Chemicals in Cleaning and Personal Care Products – Think the home cleaning and personal care products are safe? Check out this opening line from an article published over the weekend by The New York Times investigative journalist Ian Urbina:

Many Americans assume that the chemicals in their shampoos, detergents and other consumer products have been thoroughly tested and proved to be safe. This assumption is wrong.

It’s a pretty shocking way to get your attention about an issue that has a pending solution. The Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 was recently introduced by U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). The Act would improve the safety of chemicals used in consumer products including household cleaners and personal care products like soaps and shampoos; increase public information on chemical safety, protect our most vulnerable populations and disproportionately affected “hot spot” communities, reform EPA’s science practices to ensure the best available science is being used to determine chemical safety, and support innovation in the marketplace and provide incentives for the development of safer chemical alternatives. (more…)

Fast (Fresh, Organic) Food

Fast FoodA reader and friend has pointed out that I seem to have an old-school view of the patience required to be a successful gardener. She’s suggested that your friendly, all-in-a-rush Planet Natural Blogger actually finds more timely gardening gratification with fast growing, quick-to-harvest greens that not only are ready in a short amount of time but also offer nutritional and flavor benefits that longer-grown vegetables don’t match.

That kind of growing for us anxious types is the subject of Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz’s The Speedy Vegetable Garden, a new book that shows the patience we’re always urging gardeners to display isn’t really necessary when it comes to some harvests.

We’ve mentioned Diacono and Leendertz’s book before in regard to growing microgreens and certainly used it as reference when talking about sprouts and edible flowers. But in a half-dozen chapters they also address quick cut-and-c0me-again salads as well as quick-harvest vegetables. (more…)

GMO Corp’s Power

Academy of Nutrition and DieteticsThose of us involved in the struggle to protect our families and the environment from genetically modified crops know one thing: the deck is stacked, the dice are loaded when it comes to enlisting political powers to our side. Even those in oversight or government organizations can face intimidation from the corporate powers that be. Here’s the latest example as reported by The New York Times, involving the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

A dietitian working on a panel charged with setting policy on genetically modified foods for the academy contends she was removed for pointing out that two of its members had ties to Monsanto, one of the biggest makers of genetically modified seeds.

Why is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (A.N.D.) important? Because it’s influential with politicians and frequently cited when establishing policy. It’s considered, and claims to be, objective. But that might just be a mirage. (more…)

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