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…)

Tomatillo Time

Garden TomatillosThere’s a simple reason I spent all those years avoiding growing tomatillos: ignorance. Once I learned more about their culinary uses, once I learned how easy they were to grow, well, things changed. With all those peppers being harvested and home growers steaming up their kitchens while making salsa verde, now is a good time to talk about those husk-covered garden fruits that look like little Chinese lanterns as they mature on the vine.

Lover of Mexican food that I am, I’d been eating tomatillos for years without paying much attention. Sure, they’re an integral part of green salsas, both cooked and not. But they’re also great in chile stews where they can smooth out the flavor and tamp down the heat. They’re also good used in other types of food, such as chutneys. And tomatillos are a good source of nutrition. They have 7 mg of Vitamin C per fruit (nearly 20% of your daily requirement in 100 grams) and more minerals per equal weight than tomatoes. They’re also a good source of anti-oxidants and contain small amounts of vitamin A, zeaxanthin and lutein, things important to your visual health. (more…)

Hybridization, GMOs and Honeycrisp Apples

Honeycrisp ApplesWe don’t mind admitting that honeycrisp apples, a fairly recent newcomer to the world of apples, are our favorite apple for just plain eating. Their tartness balanced with a suggestive sweetness and the snap that comes with biting into one make for one of fall’s great gastronomic experiences. The apple, developed at the University of Minnesota in 1960 and released to growers and consumers in 1994, also helps illustrate a common misconception regarding genetically-modified organisms and those developed through hybridization.

The honeycrisp was developed by cross-pollination of two previously known apples: the honeygold, itself a cross between the golden delicious and the honeygold, and the Macoun. While this process can happen naturally by the wind or various pollinators (like bees), the honeycrisp was given help. The trees that produced the honeycrisp were hybridized, much like some of the tomato seed you might have used in your garden (though these are nearly always “sterile” hybrids which do not produce “true” seed or seed that will result in the same hybrid… but they will self-pollinate to produce fruit). (more…)

Heartened In the Heartland

Farm TownYour friendly and oh-so-curious Planet Natural Blogger has just returned from a tour of the heartland, a family trip that gave perspective to the state of midwest farming — both big and small — in an area that’s popularly known as “the bread basket.” While the trip had goals other than surveying the local agriculture scene — Mom hadn’t seen Aunt Betty up in White Bear Lake in years and, well, they’re both getting on — it did provide a (mostly) back roads look at how much of the rural landscape, despite years of housing development around the major cities, is still devoted to farming. We’ll let sociologists discuss the decline of rural small towns and their surrounding poverty. Let’s just say we saw examples of both: small towns that had found an economic niche, sometimes based on local agriculture, and others that were dying a slow death.

We traveled from eastern Nebraska through northwest Iowa and through the Minnesota River Valley of — where else? — west and central Minnesota (the Minnesota River Valley, home to the town of LeSeur and its namesake peas, is also known as the Valley of the Green Giant). (more…)

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