Hybrids, GMOs: Not the Same

GMO Seed vs HybridNot an online discussion about the dangers of genetically modified foods goes by without someone claiming, “What’s the big deal? They’re no different than any other hybrid. Hybrids and cross-breeding are genetic manipulations, just like GMOs. The only difference is that they’re done in the laboratory.”

Okay, maybe that last bit is true. And there are similarities. It’s true that both hybrids and GMOs are genetic manipulations. Hybrids can occur naturally or they might be facilitated by humans. GMOs are always created in laboratories. GMOs and many F1 hybrids may both be realized in controlled conditions, but one is simply doing nature’s work: pollinating. GMOs involve gene splicing. Both are patented by the business/corporate owners (full disclosure: not all F1 hybrids are patented). What does the GMO patent mean? That you better be careful. (more…)

Soak Seeds Before Planting

Soak Garden SeedsIn most parts of the country, the process of sowing seed directly into the garden is in full swing. Either the first seeds of the season are going into the ground or, for those in milder climates, the second planting is commencing. In some northern regions, gardeners are still waiting for the end of over-night frosts and/or the soil to dry sufficiently. No matter. Everybody’s thinking of getting in their garden. And everybody wants to get a jump on things.

While we frequently urge patience on those who might plant too soon, there is a way to get quicker germination once your seeds are in the ground, a technique known to almost every gardener and practiced universally: Soak your seeds before planting. Soaking garden seeds, both vegetable and flower seeds, will swell and soften them and get their little embryonic selves thinking about coming out into the light of day. Here’s some things to consider when soaking seeds.

— First, which seeds are most appropriate for soaking? Big seeds. Wrinkled seeds. Seeds (as best you can tell) with hard coats. In the vegetable garden, this means peas, beans, corn, pumpkins and squash; even chard and beets. Smaller seeds — lettuce, radishes, carrots, and the like — are hard to handle once their soaked and don’t really need it anyway. Flower seed to soak? Sunflower, lupine, sweet pea, nasturtium take well to soaking. (more…)

Bowman v Monsanto: Company Wins Seed Patent Case

Monsanto SeedMonday, the Supreme Court ruled against 75-year-old farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman who had been sued by the Monsanto Corporation for patent infringement when Bowman planted soy seed he bought at a local grain elevator. The Court ruled that it was illegal for Bowman to plant seed harvested by fellow farmers. Monsanto’s patent controls prohibit replanting of seed from crops they’ve raised, requiring farmers to buy seed each year, thus assuring the corporation’s profit while destroying generations of traditional farming practice.

Some 93% of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered. (more…)

The Dirty Truth About Soil Health

Soil HealthIt’s a point we’ve made often: healthy soil is the key to organic gardening. Whether you’re growing vegetables, ornamentals, or a lush, durable lawn, the health of your soil is what makes it all possible.

Healthy soil is living soil, filled with billions of microbes and beneficial, microscopic fungi; nematodes, earthworms and other beneficial organisms. It’s alive. Frank Tozer, in The Organic Gardeners Handbook says that growing plants is the secondary activity of the organic grower. The first? Growing soil. Grow soil full of organic material from compost, full of living organisms, and the other necessary ingredients plants require, and growing gardens, without chemical fertilizers and the use of pesticides and herbicides to control problems,  becomes vastly easier. (more…)

Sweet Corn: Hybrid and Heritage

Sweet CornWhat’s the difference between homegrown sweet corn and store-bought? Taste!

Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger was standing in line yesterday at the grocery store — one with a focus on healthy eating and a claim that it never uses GMO products in its store-label items — when an equally friendly checker commented on the fact that we were buying ears of sweet corn. “I have relatives in the Midwest,” she said, “and they say that they put the water on to boil before they go out and pick sweet corn for dinner.”

Well, your talkative PN Blogger, raised in the Midwest, had heard this before and, indeed, had told the story himself a number of times. And having just read up on the history of corn, we felt we had to put our two cents in (though what we said was probably worth half that). (more…)

Plant Growth Regulators: Safe?

Plant Growth RegulatorIt may be too late in this season for us to start our own vegetables and flowers rather than buy nursery stock. But there’s a good reason we should at least be aware that the starts we purchase at the nursery or big-box home supply store may have been treated with plant growth regulators (PGRs). It’s also a good reason, short of growing our own, to make sure the nursery stock we buy is from a reliable organic dealer.

The term PGR has come to include many things, not all of them potentially harmful. But technically, a PGR is a spray or chemical used to treat seed or growing plants that, through cellular mutation, makes the plant in some way more desirable, often more to the seller than the buyer. (more…)

Dandelion Control

Dandelion ControlYes, it is possible to get rid of dandelions without using toxic sprays. Here’s how:

Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger has been taken to task for saying organic gardening is no harder and maybe even easier than conventional gardening. This came while addressing vegetable gardening and the context was that eventually you may have less weeding, less watering, and less problems with insects after you’ve been using organic practice for a while. The criticism came using one work-intensive example: getting rid of dandelions without using chemical sprays.

Our critical friend has a point. It’s so much easier getting rid of dandelions with Roundup or other herbicides that are designed to penetrate the length of the dandelion’s long tap root. But then you have a frightful chemical, one that’s been shown to put embryonic and kidney cells at risk, lingering in your soil. The other problem with these kinds of herbicides: they don’t stop new seed, which may have blown in from far away, from germinating. Once a new dandelion plant starts growing in your yard, it’s time to spray again. And Again. And… well, you get the picture. (more…)

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. (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…)

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