News: GMOs, Bees and Politics

Monsanto Protection ActEnough Fault To Go Around: It’s been pointed out that the “Farmers Assurance Provision,” popularly known as the Monsanto Protection Act, was signed by President Obama into law last Tuesday. This hasn’t earned the President any fans among those resisting the use of GMOs in our foods.

As some have pointed out, the bill was mostly about the continuing budget resolution to keep the government afloat and included the Violence Against Women Act and State Nutritional Assistance Program (though neither of those was kept secret and anonymously offered as was the Monsanto Protection Act). Your politically frustrated Planet Natural Blogger — I’m sure I have a lot of company here — thinks that riders of this type should stand alone, that attaching them to budget bills is a hoodwink and/or form of blackmail. Protect Monsanto or the whole country goes down! Shame on us all. (more…)

Fertilizer Recipes: How to Make Your Own

Fertilizer RecipeThere’s been a lot of talk this season about using manures in the garden, the probability of hot manures (rich in nitrogen) “burning” seedlings and squelching germination, and the fact that many commercial manures — or ones you might get from your local farmer — contain metals or toxins not suitable for organic gardens.

Your friendly Planet Natural blogger has always liked using compost to keep garden soil healthy and balanced just the way plants like it, which means most of the manure went into the compost heap. And we were happy to use it because it came from an organic goat dairy. But what about those with new gardens or those with gardens that need amending to help keep the soil at its growing best? That’s the time to fertilize.

In fact, the best time to fertilize is ahead of planting. Of course, that makes it imperative that you hold nitrogen levels down to prevent seeds from not germinating. But most good formulas come this way, so you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. You can always beef up the nitrogen (but not too much, keep it in balance and consider the special needs of different types of plants) later in the season. (more…)

Legislative Dysfunction and GMOs

Monsanto Protection ActWhen Congress passed HR 933, the short-term resolution to avert a government shut-down earlier this month, it also snuck through an attachment that puts Monsanto ahead of the American judicial system.

The attachment, dubbed the “Farmer Assurance Act,” but known by opponents as “The Monsanto Protection Act,” limits the ability of judges to stop Monsanto or the farmers who grow its genetically modified seeds from growing or harvesting those crops even if courts find evidence of potential health risks. In essence, it precludes any court order that might be issued in the interest of protecting human well-being. Shame…

While the attachment will only be in effect for the time of the short-term resolution — until September from what your legislatively challenged Planet Natural Blogger can figure — it sets a dangerous precedent. It’s language is particularly bossy, arrogant and absolute: the secretary “shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law… immediately grant” temporary permits to continue using the seed. When? Even after it’s found to be dangerous to humans. (more…)

March Tests Gardeners’ Patience

Garden FeverWe used to call it the “fever,” as in cabin fever. Not that we were stuck indoors. (When are we ever stuck in doors?) But that grand desire — the fever — to get to the season of whatever we craved doing — ski season, high country backpacking, lake swimming, planting seed — would obsess us during this between month when winter hasn’t yet left and spring hasn’t yet arrived.

In March, we suffer garden fever. The seed catalogs have been around for a month or more and most of the seeds are in hand. In large portions of the country, the weather teases us. A few warm and dry days go by, snow melts, soil starts to dry. We think this is it, this is the year we get a huge jump on the season and once the peas are in we’ll stick in all kinds of seed: lettuce and other greens, turnips, why not take a chance with the squash? Maybe this is the year that we don’t have a killing frost once spring has sprung. Maybe we should take advantage? (more…)

Pea Trellises: Form and Function

Trellis and TendrilsYour friendly Planet Natural Blogger was at his local community farm yesterday working as a volunteer and, among all the activity, noticed the major push was putting up pea trellis. These were heavy duty pea-vine supports, made with metal snow fence poles and cattle fence. The stakes were driven into the soft, tilled soil and the volunteers putting them up kept to the paths between rows so as not to disturb the soft, fine, seed-ready soil.

Anyway, the sight of it as I chased the tumbleweeds lifted from my wheel barrow by the spring breeze, brought back memories, as many things do for your nostalgic, old-fashioned PN Blogger. Peas have always been part of our gardens and putting up pea trellis is one of the gardening season’s first tasks.

I’ve never had to string trellis down several 60 foot rows as these people were doing, but I’ve made about do with many types of trellises in gardens big and small over the years. For a big pea patch in my quarter-acre vegetable garden, I strung three-foot-high chicken wire along cedar stakes cut from scraps gathered at the local mill. Still the peas climbed up and over the fence, making for a tangle that always seemed to hide another pod — or several — come picking time. In one tiny, short-term plot, I braced an old rose trellis in the ground for the peas to climb up either side. Needles to say, they never reached the top. (more…)

Spring Pruning

Pruning Apple TreesFor some of you mild climate types, it’s already too late. For us here in high altitude Santa Fe, where the first sign of budding is just ahead, it’s last call. For those of you in more temperate, colder climates… now’s the time to do your spring pruning. Did we say spring pruning? Actually, technically, what we mean is late-winter pruning, no matter what season the calendar claims. (It won’t yet be “late” winter, let alone spring, in some northern locations come March 21.) Our job is to get the pruning done before the sap starts to flow, which, of course, depends on the particular climate conditions of wherever we are.

Spring is a good time to prune because the pruning “wounds” won’t be exposed for as long to harsh conditions now that the growing season is just around the corner. Your tree’s shape and branches are more visible without its leaves. Dead and dying limbs are more easily spotted. This makes finding what to prune easier to see. (more…)

GMO Patent To Expire & More

GMO Soybeans–It’s been known for sometime that the GMO patent on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 1 soybean will expire in 2014. As early as 2011, Monsanto claimed that it would not stand in the way of farmers who would use what will become the generic drug equivalent of their Roundup Ready 1 seed, purchased from what ever seed company would pursue making the supposedly herbicide -resistant soy beans.

Why would a company with a somewhat evil reputation for protecting its seed patent allow this to happen? First, remember that the genetically engineered soybean is resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup, the most intensively applied agricultural herbicide in the U.S. Even those farmers who choose to grow the generic, knock-off soybean presumably will still be buying Monsanto’s Roundup to spray on their crops. (more…)

How To Prevent Damping Off

Damping OffMy grandfather used to say that gardening is like cooking. You never walk away from the stove.

What he meant, of course, is that gardening requires a lot of attention. Sticking seeds in the ground and just letting them go is akin to throwing some onions in oil over a hot burner and walking off. When it comes to controlling damping off, the fungal attack that destroys seedlings before they have a chance to flourish, attention to detail can be the organic gardener’s best tool, especially when it comes to watering.

Damping off is a common problem for those starting seeds indoors. But it can also be harmful to seeds planted directly in the garden. Shortly after emerging, seedlings develop a discolored, often black color at the soil line. This rot eventually claims the plant. There’s also a pre-emergence form of damping off that rots the seed before it’s had a chance to germinate. A number of fungi present in soils will cause young seedlings to die. And all of them like wet conditions. Not all fungi are evil … some are beneficial.

This is where attention comes in. If your seeds are growing in flats or starting pots, don’t keep them overly moist. Allow the soil to become dry before watering. Make sure drainage is good. Soil can dry on the surface but be saturated at the bottom of a pot. Again, monitor conditions closely. There’s a fine line between soil reaching a crumbly dryness and drying out rock solid at which point the seedlings tender roots will also dry and shrivel. Not good. (more…)

Bird Decline Linked to Toxic Pesticides

Song BirdIt’s no secret. For years, we’ve known that bird species in America’s farmlands and grasslands have been in steep decline. The assumption was that this was due to habitat removal caused by agricultural expansion and the spread of cities into land once devoted to farming. Now a new study from Canada not only confirms the bird decline but challenges the commonly held wisdom. What’s doing away with all those birds? Pesticides.

News sources both large and small have called attention to the study. You can read it here (PDF format). A 2009 interview with the study’s leader, Dr. Pierre Mineau, can be found here. Take away quote: “What I find really shocking is when a company does studies that show significant impacts and then continues to market the pesticide around the world. Take granular carbofuran. The first time they did the tests for the EPA they found 799 dead birds of a single species (a lark) in a few fields. Other species were affected also but not in such numbers. Nevertheless, it took about 15 years for that product to be removed from North America – it continues to be used worldwide.” (more…)

Grocer Promises GMO Labeling

Whole FoodsThe natural and organic grocery chain Whole Foods Market has announced it will require labeling of all products it carries that contain genetically engineered, GMO ingredients by the year 2018. With several states facing popular movements and legislative drives to require GMO labeling, Whole Foods’ move suggests it’s seen the writing on the wall.

Whole Foods is not the first natural/organic grocery supplier to deal with GMOs. The on-line organic grocer shopOrganic relaunched it business last year and declared it would offer only GMO-free products. While both businesses claim altruistic motivations, they’re also aware of the bottom line. Says shopOrganic in its press release, “Recent studies show that more than 90% of Americans would like to know whether or not their food contains genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). (more…)

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