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). 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…)

Composting Manure

Cow ManureHere’s a question we’ve been thinking about: why compost manure? It’s one of those questions we felt we knew the answer to — and we did — but that a reconsideration brought up all the variables and exceptions we’ve either learned from experts or from our own hard experience. So let’s deconstruct. Does all manure need to be composted before being used in the garden? If so, what’s the best ways to compost it? And finally, what about chickens?

We bring that last bit up because more and more people, both in the country and in cities, are keeping chickens. And chickens, er, emit some of the richest manure a gardener could hope for, high in nitrogen and phosphorous and full of other nutrients. Best is the fact that a chicken’ digestive system kills weed seeds — 98%! — that might otherwise be spread to the garden. Fresh chicken manure needs to be composted because it contains so much nitrogen that it will discourage germination of many vegetable seeds and burn young seedlings. Which ones? Ironically, it’s those that require a lot of nitrogen later on as they grow. (more…)

Celeriac: Looks Funny, Tastes Great

CeleriacMost years, your friendly and curious Planet Natural Blogger likes to plant something in his garden that he hasn’t tried before. How well he remembers that first sowing of kohlrabi back some (garbled) years ago! Now it’s a family favorite.

We’re expecting the same thing to happen with celeriac, sometimes known as celery root. Why we haven’t tried growing this classic cool weather crop previously is a mystery. Garden vegetable books always sing its praises and the words that usually attract us — easy to grow with few pest problems — often accompany the catalog accounts of this Medusa’s head of the vegetable world. Yes, she may be ugly but what sweetness she holds inside!

Then we were thumbing through an advance copy of Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd’s upcoming book To Eat: A Country Life (it’s due to be published in June). Eck and Winterrowd, the authors of several gardening and country living books, are the master landscapers behind Vermont’s North Hill Garden. Winterrowd passed away in 2010 making To Eat the team’s last book. In it, they write knowingly and poetically about what they raised at North Hill, everything from apples to wild salad. (more on this book when it nears publication). (more…)

Seed Control and GMO Companies

Seed ControlWill Monsanto take control of your vegetable patch?

By Bill Kohlhaase for Planet Natural

It’s all about seed control for Monsanto and the other corporate manufacturers of genetically engineered, GMO crops. So it’s no surprise that Monsanto has made moves to control garden seed as well. In the last several years, a number of international agri-conglomerates have consolidated their hold over the very seed and nursery starts we plant in our gardens. This brings some of the same problems — loss of seed diversity, spiraling seed costs, and general deficiencies in seed quality — that crop growers around the world face from the owners of genetically-modified seeds. And it’s happening under our noses right in our own backyards. (more…)

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…)

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