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…)

Edible Flowers

Edible FlowersWhen planning your vegetable garden, don’t forget to consider edible flowers. They’re not only attractive garnishes for salads and plate designs (or “plating” as chefs say) but they add an element of beauty to the garden. And they have practical benefits — like attracting pollinators — even before they’re harvested.

My grandmother was the first to feed us flowers, namely petunias of which she’d put one on the plate with our salad (she’d also put one behind her ear when her hair was pulled back but that’s another story).

We’ve been adding nasturtium blossoms to salads for years; in fact creating whole salads with nothing but their blossoms when we had an abundance. At first we considered them only as decoration. Later we learned to savor their petals, popping them into our mouths straight from the plant as we walked around the garden, enjoying their spicy, sometimes peppery flavor. Nasturtiums are easy to grow and make a great companion plant. (more…)

Lawns . . . Or No-Mow Yards?

No Mow LawnNo mow lawns are gaining a lot of attention and for good reason. In times of drought and increasing water bills, a water-intensive carpet of grass may not be practical. Some homeowners find raising their own organic vegetables where grass once grew a more effective use of space. Others find lawns just too much work and expense, especially when cared for using conventional, fertilizer-and-herbicide methods that result in harmful runoff and other environmental hazards.

Lawn alternatives are gaining in popularity what with the rise of xeriscape gardening and native-plant gardens. Evelyn J. Hadden’s book Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives (Timber Press) makes plenty of arguments for replacing your grass with landscaping rocks and paving stones, with drought hardy indigenous plants, with vegetable gardens, or with shrubs and fragrant mixes of perennial and annual flowers and herbs. But before you plunge ahead, there’s still one important thing to consider… do you really want to get rid of your lawn?

Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger, a firm believer in function over form (but a lover of beautiful form as well), suggests you consider the use of your lawn. Is it a family gathering spot? Do you use it for play and recreation? Do you have children and pets with a need for outdoor activity? Do you like to picnic and just lay out on the grass? For all or any of these reasons (especially that one about children), you have a need for a lawn. But if its just a place to admire, walked on only when you’re mowing? Maybe not. (more…)

Forcing Spring Blossoms

Forcing BlossomsIt’s hard waiting this time of year…for spring. Lots of us like to hurry the season by bringing in cut branches from pussy willow, flowering crab apple, and any other soon-to-blossom shrubs or fruit trees and “forcing” the trimmed branch to flower. Once it does, the branch — or several placed in a vase tall enough to hold them — brings us what we’re waiting for, the beautiful and often fragrant blossoms that have yet to appear out in the still- cold, early spring world.

There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on exactly how to do this. My grandmother used to bring in lilac twigs as soon as she saw signs of budding and just stick them in a jar with water. Her rule: the closer they are to blossoming outside, the better they’ll blossom inside.

But for those of us trying to get a jump on the season — albeit indoors — here’s some additional suggestions. Grandma was right about making sure there were signs of budding before bringing in any branch you hope to flower. Don’t be fooled: leaf buds will often appear a bit earlier than the buds that will break into blossoms. Learn to identify which are which (not a hard thing to do). (more…)

Growing, Enjoying Microgreens

Growing MicrogreensMicrogreens are all the rage. Professional chefs and home gourmets love them for their concentrated flavors and beautifully tangled appearance. Gardeners love them because they are quick and easy to grow … indoors! The health-conscious among us love them because they are a concentrated and delicious way to get vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.

What are microgreens? They’re basically seedlings, planted in soil, and harvested early — very early — when their first true leaves appear. The difference between microgreens and sprouts? Sprouts are typically raised without soil and harvested before true leaves are formed. Sprouts are otherwise much the same, just younger. Growing microgreens in soil with sunlight, allowing them to reach the point where they are setting leaves, gives them both a nutritional and flavor edge. They’re the miniature, fledgling form of greens and other veggies you plant in your garden in tiny concentrated form. Strong-flavored greens and herbs — things like radish, basil, arugula, beets, fenugreek and Asian greens — make the best microgreens. But almost anything you sprout or any green you plant in the garden will make delicious microgreens. (more…)

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…)

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