Organic Tomatoes = More Nutrition

TomatoesDo you have your tomato starts started? If you need motivation, here’s the latest. A study published last month in PLOS One, the international, peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal, showed what a lot of us always suspected: organic tomatoes contain certain more nutritional factors than conventionally grown tomatoes.

You can read the study here. Don’t let its title — “The Impact of Organic Farming on Quality of Tomatoes Is Associated to Increased Oxidative Stress during Fruit Development” — discourage you. What it boils down to is that organic tomatoes contain more Vitamin C and more phenolic content than chemically fertilized, pesticide-dependent tomatoes.

You know what phenols are, right? Okay, neither really did we. From the report: “a large range of secondary metabolites in fruit and vegetables as phenolic compounds act as elicitors that activate Nrf2, a transcription factor that binds to the antioxidant response element in the promoter region of genes coding for enzymes involved in protective mechanisms.” Shorter version: they’re compounds that deliver antioxidants, otherwise known as phytochemicals. (more…)

Permaculture: Local and Sustainable

Permaculture LifestyleYour friendly and optimistic Planet Natural Blogger has more than once declared — rather grandly — that organic gardening can save the world.

Actually, it might take a little more than that, though local, personal and sustainable organic food production is playing a huge role in human health and the conservation of our resources. Many of us — suspicious of agri-business, unhappy with the poisoning of our environment in the name of corporate food production, upset with private control of energy sources, and wishing independence from as many facets of wasteful consumerism as possible — want to take charge of our own sustenance and well-being. The permaculture movement, dedicated to natural ecosystems, small-scale sustainable food and energy production, and ecologically-friendly living spaces, is that larger picture. (more…)

What are Hybrid Seeds?

Bulk Garden SeedF1 hybrids, plant hybridization and your home vegetable garden.

It’s been pointed out by astute commenters and concerned blog readers that the term “hybrid seed” can mean more than we might intend it to. “Hybird” and the verb “hybridize” can mean both natural and man-assisted processes that combine traits of two genetically different plants. But “hybrid” is mostly used specifically as seeds and plants that are the result of first generation cross-breeding raised for commercial purposes. To avoid confusion in the future, your detail-oriented and anxious-to-please Planet Natural Blogger promises to identify those hybrids as commercial or F1 hybrids.

A hybrid plant results from a genetic cross. Hybridization can occur naturally when wind or bees or other insects carry pollen from one plant to another resulting in plants that can best survive in the particular environmental conditions where they exist. In this sense, all plants are hybrids, having evolved genetically over centuries to obtain their particular characteristics. (more…)

How To Grow and Cook Shallots

ShallotsFolks who do a lot of cooking at home frequently run into recipes that use shallots instead of onions. Because they’re so expensive, shallots are sometimes seen as the rich man’s onion. But that’s an unfair comparison. While shallots are in the onion family and resemble their cousins — though when you start to separate them, they look more like garlic cloves — shallots are distinctly different. If you’re one of those people who find onions sharp tasting and too strongly flavored, consider growing shallots for their milder, almost nutty -flavor. Most shallots have a different, almost sour tang than a pungent onion and most will cook up a little sweeter than onions. They’re perfect for creaming, combining with white wine or using sparingly in Asian stir fries.

The best way to assure an affordable supply of shallots is to grow them yourself. It’s not hard. Shallots are grown in a way similar to onions. The hardest part might be finding organic starts. We seldom see organic shallot starts available at local nurseries, but their are plenty of mail order sources, usually not the major seed companies, but smaller outfits that specialize in organic seeds. (more…)

Farmer vs. Monsanto, David & Goliath

Occupy Our FoodThe Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments in the case of Monsanto, manufacturer of genetically engineered — or GMO — soy beans, and 75-year-old Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman who over a period of years bought seed stored at his local grain elevator for a risky, second season planting of beans. Some of the beans that area farmers had deposited at the elevator were Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready seeds for which Monsanto holds the patent.

Monsanto discovered that the seed Bowden was buying contained some seed harvested from RoundUp Ready crops and sued in 2007, winning a judgment of $84,456 from a small farmer who works some 300 acres.

The corporation’s patent policy prevents farmers from saving or reusing their seed for planting. Monsanto claims that they have rights no matter how far down the line their seed is planted. The irony here is that Bowman bought Monsanto seed legally and used it according to the corporation’s dictates for his first crop. (more…)

Recipes from the Root Cellar

Root Cellar VegetablesThis is the time of year when a visit to the root cellar, or the basement, or wherever you store your “keeper” vegetables makes you realize… it’s time to get cooking! The carrots (or turnips or parsnips) are sensing spring and are sending out a few white hairs thinner than grandpa’s beard. The eyes on the potatoes are starting to bug. The rinds on the winter squash are still hard, but have lightened in color. You worked hard to grow these delicacies… so let’s not waste them. Here’s a pair of recipes — organic and non-GMO, of course — that we’ve found are good for those late season items that won’t last in storage forever. To the kitchen!

CARAMEL CARROT SOUP

This is a great way to boost the sweetness of late season carrots. There’s no caramel involved (unless… well, see below), instead we caramelize the carrots. But the kids like the idea that there’s caramel coming with the carrots. You can also use turnips or parsnips (or some combination) if you have them, but add an extra teaspoon of sweetener. (more…)

Grow Sprouts: For the Health of It!

Growing SproutsWe get cravings for greens this time of year. Sure, you lucky gardeners with indoor growing systems or hot houses may be eating home-grown kale or lettuce or spinach here in the dead of winter. But what’s a renter without his own garden patch to do? Grow sprouts.

Sprouts are one of nature’s most nutritious foods, full of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids as well as a great source of roughage. Lentil sprouts are 26% protein; soy bean sprouts, as you can guess, even higher. Radish sprouts contain large amounts of vitamins C and A as well as being a good source of calcium. Sunflower sprouts have lots of vitamin D. Clover sprouts are a good source of cancer-fighting isoflavones and alfalfa sprouts contain phytoestrogens needed for hormonal balance. If you’ve been scared away from sprouts because of contamination incidents with store -bought products, there’s a simple solution. (more…)

Farmers Concerned Over GMO Wheat

Genetically Modified WheatGenetically-modified or GMO wheat may still be several years down the pipe. But it has some Washington State farmers worried. Their concerns, expressed earlier this week at Senate hearings on the state’s proposed Initiative 522, “The People’s Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” shed light on a seldom discussed but important argument against the use of GMO crops: loss of international markets.

The warning from wheat farmers came at the end of this article in the Seattle Times. They pointed out that the United States practically stands alone in acceptance of GMO crops. Over 60 countries banned the use of genetically-engineered crops for human consumption, and those countries won’t accept GMOs for import. Tom Stahl, a wheat grower in Douglas County, told the hearing, “I farmed all these years just fine without any GMOs. But I cannot farm without my markets.” Some 85% of the wheat grown in Washington state is exported. (more…)

Spring & Summer Cover Crops

Green ManureEveryone knows the value of cover crops or green manure: they add valuable organic matter to the soil, they prevent erosion, smother weeds, and help maintain soil moisture levels. The ability of pea or other legume crops to fix nitrogen makes them especially valuable as a soil addition. Most cover crops are planted in fall, given time to overwinter, and then turned back into the soil in spring. But is it possible to plant a cover crop in early spring and still reap benefits?

The answer depends on where you live. High altitude locations or those in zones three, four and higher are at a disadvantage. There’s usually only a short window between the last frost (or snow!), something that can happen as late as June, and the heat of the growing season. But zones five and above, especially those at non-mountainous elevations without micro-climate extremes, allow for a spring cover crop when specific conditions are taken into account. (more…)

Worms and Global Warming

Worms and Global WarmingThe more we learn about worms, the more we marvel at the necessary role they play in our gardens, our environment, and the planet at large. We all know that earthworms digest organic material in soil making it more readily available to crops. We know how they add nitrogen and valuable minerals to the soil, how they make soil more porous and allow for more valuable oxygen and other gases to be available for plants, how they help soil retain moisture, how their digestive tracts serve as incubators for beneficial microbes, and on and on. Now, a new study suggests that — when it comes to global warming — worms are more culprit than solution.

The study comes from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the only university in that country (so they claim) that focuses on “healthy food and living environment.” A PhD candidate there looked at several earthworm studies and decided that worms “have an unwanted effect on GHG (greenhouse gases) emissions.” The frightening conclusion as stated by the author of the study? “Earthworms may help us to produce more food through improving soil fertility, but by doing so they also contribute to global warming by increasing GHG emissions from soils.” (more…)

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