Many Benefits of Sensory Gardens

Child GardenA sensory garden is a garden environment that is designed with the purpose of stimulating the senses. This stimulation occurs courtesy of plants and the use of materials that engage one’s senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. These types of gardens are popular with and beneficial to both children and adults, especially those who have sensory processing issues, including autism and other disabilities. To get the maximum use from a sensory garden, it is important to take into account for whom the garden is primarily intended. It is also important to understand what plants and features will best achieve the atmosphere that is desired.

Kids who have sensory processing disorders tend to have extreme reactions to sensory stimulation in that they are either stimulated too much or too little. This can be caused by a number of factors, such as autism, brain injury, and premature birth, to name a few. (more…)

Organic Vegetables vs. Conventional

Organic FoodMore nutrition, less toxins from organically grown vegetables.

A study to be released next week states that organically raised vegetables have less incidence of pesticides and more nutrition, including 69% higher antioxidant content, than crops grown with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Heavy metals — cadmium, mercury, lead — were 50% lower in the organic crops.

As reported in Newcastle, U.K.’s The Journal, the study, done by Carlo Liefert, a professor of ecology at Newcastle University, surveyed 343 studies to arrive at the definitive conclusions. It is the “most extensive analysis of the nutrient content in organic versus conventionally-produced foods ever undertaken,” writes The Journal. A previous U.K. study done in 2009 that vaguely concluded there was little difference between organic and conventional crops used only 46 studies in its conclusions. (more…)

The Truth Behind Food Labeling

Food LabelingThere’s a movement to make organic and natural food labels mean something.

In our world, words like “organic” and “natural” are pretty clear-cut. But that’s not true when it comes to their use on food labels. Use of the word “organic” is controlled by laws and regulations. Some of those rules don’t make sense. The rules that do make sense, the necessary rules (like no pesticide use) aren’t often enforced. Globalization has complicated the issue. Has anybody checked to see those walnuts from Kazakhstan are really organic?

Peter Laufer has. His book Organic: A Journalist’s Quest To Discover the Truth Behind Food Labeling raises some troubling questions (and some troubling answers as well) about the global organic food trade. We’ve plugged it before. (more…)

Diatomaceous Earth and Bees

Honey BeeThis effective, organic pest killer (it’s not a poison) won’t hurt bees if used wisely.

Who hasn’t been bailed out by diatomaceous earth, basically a powder made of fossilized diatoms millions of years old? Keeping armies of slugs at bay, drawing a no-roach line between our apartment and our neighbors’ apartments, protecting seedlings from early season grubs and maggots. I’ve known people who’ve rubbed the stuff into their dog’s coat to stop fleas and heard that’s it’s a common big-city cure for bed bugs. (more…)

Save Water On Your Lawn

Watering the LawnTips for using less water when city restrictions demand it.

The drought, widespread and persistent, continues across great swaths of the United States. The effects of climate change and heavy demands on water use have seen formerly reliable supplies dwindle. Cities and counties across the nation, from Williams, Arizona (natch) to Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, from the St. Johns River district in north central Florida to Chanhassen, Minnesota and all across California have put water use and watering restrictions in place. What’s their most frequent target? Watering of lawns.

We’ve frequently considered the water spent on lawns and have advocated replacing them with native grasses or something altogether different. But let’s face it. Kids like lawns, dogs like lawns, and we like lawns too for family activities. We’ll cut back on lawn as the kids grow up. But for now . . . badminton! (more…)

GMO Labeling and Barcode Apps

Barcode AppIt’s time for honest nutritional information on all food products.

News this week from the Aspen Ideas Fest that Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilask suggested some day consumers might have an app on their smart phones or a barcode reader that would reveal a trove of nutritional information about the products it scanned, including whether or not it contained genetically modified ingredients. (Video of his complete and wide-ranging discussion with former ag secretary Dan Glickman is here.)

In a follow-up interview, Vilsak said, “The F.D.A. and U.S.D.A. could help coordinate the compilation of information. That way you wouldn’t create a misimpression about the safety of a product, which could happen depending on how something was labeled.” Shoppers would use their phones or scanners at the store to read the codes that would reveal all the information gathered on their make-up and nutritional values. (more…)

Organic Control of Aphids

Aphids and AntsOne of the most destructive pests in the home garden, aphids are also one of the most fascinating. Understand them to stop them.

Aphids seem to cause us problems both early and late in the growing season. We’ve found curling, yellowed leaves on chard within weeks of the plants emerging from the ground. Further examination revealed ants coursing up and down the stems. Looking carefully at the undersides of the forming leaves revealed why the ants were there: aphids! Clusters of the green and brown critters could be seen tucked away where the chard leaves created little pockets for them to hide. (more…)

Organic Brewing

Organic HopsHome brewers are growing their own.

Making beer at home is equal parts chemistry, hard work, and American tradition. We’ve been fascinated by the stories of homebrewers who grow their own hops and, if they have room, their own barely for malting.

Home made beer always carries a certain “terroir,” that oft-used term to describe wine and other foods’ local flavors, coming from soil and climate conditions, even the space in which it was brewed. We’ve met homebrewers who used fruits and berries, herbs, and chiles from their own organic gardens to flavor their beers in ways that made them especially unique. (more…)

Mulch Hits the Big Screen

Back To Eden FilmDocumentary film on master gardener Paul Gautschi’s got the spirit.

In the battle over what constitutes healthy food, it’s no longer surprising to see the documentary film as an effective weapon, most often deployed on the side against corporate agriculture and for public health and well-being. Films including Food Inc (watch it here), 2004’s Supersize Me, a month of nothing but McDonald’s, and most recently Fed Up which implicates a government-corporate collaboration to promote and reward refined sugar, are all convincing, visual arguments of the dangers of the commercial food culture.

Broadly about food, these films are specifically about processed foods, organic and locally raised farming, the health consequences of certain refined foods and fast-food diets. Related films include GMO/OMG , a study of the corporate takeover of farming through seed production, GMOs, and related pesticides. Now even documentaries championing organic gardening are getting into the act. (more…)

Growing Community’s Common Discourse

Social MediaReason, passion, civility in the (online) organic movement.

We’ve been thinking about what it means to be part of the organic movement these days and came to the conclusion that a lot of understanding was required. That means understanding of all sorts: from how we grow organic, why we grow organic, why its good for health, why it’s good for the environment and for the economy. But it also means understanding each other.

This came to mind after an email exchange with one of this blog’s readers. The results were surprisingly reassuring. (more…)

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