Sugar Is Sweet; Let’s Make A Pumpkin Pie!

Heirloom PumpkinsWe finally had our first hard freeze here in Northern New Mexico, two weeks late of the average. Now, I’m sure most of you, including those in my beloved former-hometown of Bozeman, MT, are well beyond that point. Anyway it got me to thinking about how closely we’d be listening to weather forecasts in the fall, watching the patterns, and waiting until just the last moment to get in the winter squash and sugar pumpkins. Usually a light frost would first do some damage to the vines, warning enough that it was time to go out with a short, sharp knife and get them in. But sometimes a hard frost would just descend from the sky — like it did here last night — and, well, if caught napping it might mean the loss of one’s valuable crop. (more…)

Resisting the Anti-GMO Labeling Blitz

GMO LabelingOur friends in California report a barrage of anit-Prop 37 ads on their televisions, thanks to the big money donors who are so afraid that people might be honestly informed about an issue important to them and their families’ well-being. But despite their best efforts to nip this food-awareness thing in the bud, California’s Proposition 37, the GMO labeling bill, is starting to gain more national exposure, not exactly what Dow, Monsanto and the other chemical corporations fighting the proposition want. And that publicity focuses on what’s the most important issue to fans of organic food and gardening: the use of pesticides — the over-use of pesticides — in the fields that produce our basic crops.

Last Friday, Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stoneyfield Organic, author of the new book Label It Now: What You Need To Know About Genetically Engineered Foods appeared on the HBO series Real Time With Bill Maher. He did a great job explaining the GMO labeling issue and why it’s important, especially regarding the increased use of pesticides. We’d link but HBO knocks down videos of the discussion on YouTube almost as soon as they appear. And your concerned Planet Natural Blogger would never link you directly to HBO… they can do their own advertising. (more…)

Turnip, Parsnip and Rutabaga

Root VegetablesOr maybe that should be Rutabaga, Turnip, Parsnip as rutabaga and turnips are closely related in many ways (in post Revolution America rutabagas were called “turnip-rooted cabbage”, according to Jere Gettle) and parsnips — bless their sweetness — are quite different. But all three are root vegetables and we love them this time of the year because 1) they’re easy to grow, especially in the late season (well, maybe not parsnips that usually need a long season to mature); 2) they’re well adapted to cool and short growing season (even parsnips); 3) they taste even better after cold weather and frosts have set in; and 4) they keep well, sometimes for months in a cool basement, root cellar or refrigerator.

Then why do I see you out there holding your nose? Is it because they have that cabbagey twang (well, not parsnips) that gets your mouth vibrating like a guitar string when you take a bite? Get over it! My sense is that if you like cabbage, you’ll like turnips and rutabagas. It’s the texture, I believe, combined with that taste, that puts most people off. (more…)

GMO Labeling News: Not Good

Genetically ModifiedCalifornia’s Proposition 37, the GMO labeling rule which will appear on the state’s November 6 ballot, registered a nearly 80% approval rating in early polls. But no longer. The Los Angeles Times reported on two polls that show the support for the proposition has slipped, in one poll to 48% favoing and 42% disapproving with 11.5% of voters still undecided. The reason? Can you say big money advertising blitz? You can see the results of the Pepperdine University/ California Business Roundtable Survey here (scroll down to see Prop. 37 charts).

We’ve already reported on where the big money spent to defeat the proposition is coming from. You can visit BallotPedia’s Proposition 37 site to update the information (again, scroll down for donor lists). So what are the anit-37 ads saying? That there are too many exclusions. That alcohol will be excluded from labeling. That dog food will be labeled but meat for human consumption will not. That, that… Well, you get the point. Savvy voters should always be suspicious when the forces seeking to kill a ballot measure claim it should be defeated because it doesn’t go far enough. In this case, they seem to be arguing that we need even more GMO labeling would be a better thing than some (which means “most”) GMO labeling. Of course, what they really want is no GMO labeling at all. (more…)

Gleanings, Seedings, Weedings

Autumn ColorsHere’s a few short items pulled from the web this fall, most related to gardening news previously addressed, one even fresh plucked. Feel free to suggest links and add further information to any of our posts (and don’t forget corrections!). Help make this a conversation. And thanks to those who have!

A local worm rancher responding to our post on the uses of straw bales in gardening, says we missed one. He suggests that bales make good worm corrals in the winter, keeping your worms working, if ever so slowly in the cold weather, and keeping them from burrowing out of the pile and into the ground. Bales make good insulation, no doubt about it; these days, they’re even used to build green homes. As the bales break down the following spring and summer, they can just be added to the compost pile or used for mulch. We looked into it further: some gardeners build complete worm systems out of hay bales. Hay bales… the gift that keeps on giving. (more…)

Gardening with Straw

Hay Bale GardenThis is a great time of year — when farmers are looking to get rid of old ones (something that happens in the spring as well) — to pick up one or two staw or hay bales. You might also be able to buy straw bales at your local nursery or gardening store but they’ll probably cost more. They make great seasonal decorations … put a trio of various shaped pumpkins on one (or a stack of two or three) in a strategic place visible to passersby, balance a sheaf of cornstalks against it if you have them and voila: Autumn’s great visual symbol of harvest. Then, when the season is over, you can break them up and use them in your garden and compost pile. Or can you?

The problem with straw is that it often contains seeds. Hay, in our experience, is even worse; it contains more seed than a nursery in March (not everyone makes the distinction between “hay” and “straw” … see this article for the difference). The best straw for gardening comes from wheat or oats, if you can get it. Most of the seed has been removed depending on how effective the farmer’s thresher is and how much weed has grown in his field. But I still wouldn’t put it in your compost heap unless it’s hot enough to destroy the seed. (more…)

Precautions When Canning Tomatoes

Canning TomatoesFor years, we canned tomatoes and homemade tomato sauce the way grandma taught us: using the water bath method. This involved packing sterilized jars with hot (cooked) fruit or tomatoes and boiling for a designated amount of time, usually an hour or more for tomatoes. That’s not true anymore. In this age of increasing food contamination, you don’t want anything bad to come out of your kitchen. What could happen? Listen to what Renee R. Boyer, Assistant Professor, Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech; Julie McKinney, Project Associate, Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech…

… high-acid foods prevent the growth of spores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can’t be killed by boiling. Foods with a pH more than 4.6 allow the spores to grow. If spores of C. botulinum are allowed to grow, toxin will form, and consumption of C. botulinum toxin is deadly. Symptoms from the consumption of this toxin develop within six hours to 10 days and include double and blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, and muscle weakness. Paralysis of breathing muscles can cause a person to stop breathing and die unless mechanical ventilation is provided.

Didn’t mean to scare you. But this is serious business. Take precautions. (more…)

Fall Garden Cleanup

Garden Clean UpStop Next Season’s Plant Disease… Now!

Of all the mistakes I’ve made growing vegetables — and I’ve made plenty — the biggest (or right up there) has to do with not taking the time for a good fall garden cleanup. I can barely bring myself to tell you.

One year, like most years, a fall frost hit the garden and I didn’t bother to get it covered. It withered squash vines and wilted the late plantings of lettuce and spinach. I should have been out there right away, removing all the dead vines, pulling the spinach (some of the lettuce made it back) and not given disease a chance to get a hold in the weakened plants. But I didn’t. And then, after a wet snow, I just let it all go, not putting the garden to bed until well into November. I didn’t know it yet, but by then my lack of action guaranteed that my spinach and chard crops for the next year would be compromised and keeping my squash vines growing would become a battle. (more…)

Newspapers Take Stand on GMO Labels

GMO HarvestAs the election approaches, more and more news sources are taking an editorial stand on California’s Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of GMOs. Not surprisingly in a state in which corporate agriculture is such a big part of the economy, many California newspapers are coming out against the initiative. The attacks often follow the usual anti-initiative strategy, that its general purpose is a good one but that the proposition itself is badly written. The papers admit that knowledge is a good thing (the initiative will require products to reveal if they are genetically engineered or if any genetically engineered products are used in their making) but that passage of the proposition will encourage frivolous lawsuits against retailers, not producers (something of an assumption) from almost anyone who suspects that GMOs are included but not labeled in some product. In other words, a technicality, with the bogey-man of expensive, anti- small-business legal action (questionably) attached. Really? (more…)

Monster Pumpkins

Giant PumpkinWe’ve never quite gotten into the notion of competitive gardening. For us, gardening has always been a community effort, a share-the-knowledge and help-your-neighbor kind of thing. Of course, that hasn’t stopped us from bragging about snap pea yields or tomato harvests (or the excellent things we do with our harvests once brought to the kitchen). But contests for monster pumpkins? We haven’t had the garden space — the University of Illinois Extension division recommends that even for regular pumpkin vines you need 100 square feet per hill — or the necessary growing season and conditions to try it. But there’s a lot of gardeners that do. There’s even communities of gardeners dedicated to the giant beasts.

Currently, the record giant pumpkin weighed in at over a ton, a quarter ton increase from just six years ago. (more…)

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