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…)

Sweet Season: After a Garden Frost

Frosted GardenMost of us don’t dread the coming of fall even though for several parts of the country it means the end of vegetable gardening season. (Of course, there’s always growing indoors). That first frost will yellow the cucumber vines and turn the basil leaves black. We’d better have all the corn picked — if there’s any left — and bring in the winter squash if we want it to keep, ahead of that first glistening, frozen veil. And the lettuce? Kiss it goodby, unless you’ve covered your delicate plants or the first frost is light. On the other hand, spinach may not be hurt if the frost is light enough.

But there are reasons to look froward to the first garden frost. Some vegetables not only survive it, they come out of the garden tasting even better than before. Kale and broccoli especially gain a sweetness from a light frost that can’t be matched by anything picked earlier. Other members of the brassica family — cabbage, brussels sprouts and kohlrabi — also do well with frost. (more…)

GMO Labeling Resistance: Bad Business

GMO LabelingMark Bittman, The New York Times columnist recently wrote a blog post supporting California’s GMO labeling Prop 37. Nothing surprising there (you can read his column here). Of more interest is the response it brought from Gary Hirshberg of Stoneyfield Organic; you know, the yogurt people. Of course Hirshberg supports the measure. But he makes three outstanding points about the initiative and its (corporate) detractors.

First is that what Prop 37 proposes is already law in 50 other countries around the world. Again, no surprise there; we’ve heard all the European Union countries, as well as Russia and China (!) require GMO labeling or ban GMOs outright. His third point is also one we’re all aware of, a point especially important to organic gardeners and those who wish to keep their families safe: the use of GMOs has led to an explosion in the commercial application of pesticides. If you know someone who belittles your position against GMOs (“they won’t hurt you!”) be sure they understand this consequence of planting them. (more…)

Prepare Garden Mulch Now

Garden MulchYou’ve been mulching all during gardening season, both to preserve moisture and inhibit weeds. But fall is the time to start collecting as much garden mulch as you can. Winter is just around the corner and your trees and shrubs will appreciate a good mulching to protect them from freezing. This is especially important where winter temperatures can be  harsh (I’m thinking of you, Bozeman, Montana). It’s also important not to pile mulch too high — a practice known as over mulching — around your trees and shrubs.

Mulch is also useful in getting an early start on spring vegetables. Seeds sown under a heavy layer of mulch will, even if sprouted, survive the winter with a little luck. When the mulch is pulled away in the spring — even if there is still the threat of frost — frost-tolerant plants will jump at the chance to get a little sunshine. Garlic and onions are traditionally planted in the fall and over-winter under a warm blanket of mulch. (more…)

Winter Squash For the Keeping

Winter SquashWe’ve had gardens big and small but all of them this time of year were mostly consumed with winter squash vines. Even our smallest gardens hosted a squash plant or two — or maybe pumpkins — and just ahead of the first frost the wandering vines set and their maturing fruit took over. Big garden… no problem. We’d plant a couple types of keepers (as opposed to summer squash, zucchini, patty pan and the like) and hope for a bountiful harvest that would keep us in the fruit’s sweet meat at least until Valentine’s Day. Storing winter squash that long requires some know-how. Here’s what we learned and have garnered from others, books and websites included, over the years.

When are squash ready for the picking? When it’s rind has turned a deep color and is dull, (often) gray and can’t be punctured easily by you fingernail. Be sure to leave an inch or two of stem to prevent rot from creeping in from the top. (more…)

Fall In the Xeriscape

Fall GardenWatering in the fall can be particularly problematic. Conditions continue to be dry and trees, shrubs, and lawns need water to avoid stress. Too little water during the fall and winter months can cause root die-off, something that may not be noticeable until well into the next growing season. Water stress during fall and winter can also mean that weakened plants will be more susceptible to insects and disease come summer. Too much water during these seasons can be a bad thing. In areas where there are water restrictions, autumn may require you to do more with even less.

Here’s an excellent article on watering trees and shrubs in the fall from the Colorado State University Extension Service. Some takeaways: shrubs and perennials with shallow root systems are most in need of water during these seasons to avoid root die-off. Mulch is important, not just in keeping moisture in the soil but to prevent soil from cracking (cracks allow cold to invade to greater depths, risking tender roots). Don’t water when temperatures are below 40 degrees; there’s a good chance soil moisture will freeze and damage roots. Water at mid-day so moisture will have a chance to soak into the ground before night-time freezes. (more…)

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