Homegrown Tomato Time

Heirloom TomatoesThere’s something different in the air, something that precludes the end of summer and the coming of cooler days and chillier nights. Your area may have reached that point already, a time when frost is anticipated maybe even tomorrow. But for most of us, there’s still an abundance to be had in our gardens and that means homegrown heirloom tomatoes.

The history of tomatoes, their trip from the Andes and the gardens of the Aztecs to Europe and back to America is fascinating. In his entertaining book The Heirloom Life Gardener, Jere Gettle recounts the origins of the belief that tomatoes were poisonous (they’re members of the nightshade family, as are belladonna and henbane) and how they were first grown in the Old World as an ornamental. He recounts that famous moment in tomato history where a crowd of two-thousand gathered in Salem County, New Jersey to watch Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson commit suicide by eating a basket of tomatoes. They were disappointed. Today they’re consumed by the tons. (more…)

The Stanford Study: Storm Over Organics

Organic ControversyThe controversy generated by the Stanford organic food study continues to grow. It didn’t take long for people to recognize that the study assembled data from tests for the wrong thing. But that hasn’t stopped supporters of agri-business, corporate food retailers and, yes, GMO-supporters from “we-knew-it-all-along” responses. The responses criticizing the study have served to underscore the genuine reasons we choose organics in the first place.

Worst of the anti-organics responses (“Organic, shmorganic,” it whimpers) comes from columnist Roger Cohen in The New York Times. It’s an obvious appeal for GMOs based on the logic that GMOs are better capable of feeding a starving world (not true, as studies have shown). And it also derides those who seek to protect their families from pesticides which the Stanford study suggests contaminate 37% of commercially-grown fruits and vegetables. And it bemoans the cost — “Organic is a fable for the pampered of the planet,” Cohen writes — while ignoring the fact that subsistence and small-farms make modest livings raising competitively-priced, pesticide-free produce while preserving — nay, improving! — soils, unlike large commercial food operations that deplete soils as they over-use pesticides and fertilizers that are harmful to our waters. Scroll down to the comments section of Cohen’s article and note what people have to say: there’s the “ha-ha” of organic detractors and then there’s the thoughtful arguments of organic supporters who mostly say that Cohen, by focusing his attack on nutrition and price, misses the whole point of organics. Also view The Times letters section addressing the Stanford study. Good stuff! (more…)

Organic Food: New Study, Bad Reporting

Organic VegetablesIt’s all over the news. The New York Times headline blared “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt On Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce.” “Organics Not A Healthier Food Choice, Study Finds” trumpeted The Chicago Sun-Times. Even the page at the Stanford University School of Medicine website, where the organic food study was conducted, starts out misleadingly: “Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods, Stanford study finds.” That’s unless, of course, you feel that avoiding high levels of pesticides on your fruit and vegetables isn’t a benefit.

Some headlines seemed confused: “Organic not necessarily better for you: A large review found very few studies that systematically compared the health outcomes of eating organics or conventional foods,” says the Discovery Channel’s Discovery News website. And some sources seemed to run contradictory stories. While The New York Times piece reported that the researchers found no obvious benefits to organic meat, they did report that organic chicken and pork were less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Another article run the same day in The Times detailed that the overuse of antibiotics in meat and dairy has resulted in hyper-resistant super germs. (more…)

Composting Big

Turning Compost PileLike it or not, here comes autumn and its bounty of leaves, garden refuse, and other compostable materials. If you’re just getting into composting — or your bin or tumbler won’t hold all of fall’s organic bounty — it’s time to think big. A large compost pile or bin — and a little patience — will reward you down the road with more compost. And that means more benefits for your lawn and garden.

Large compost bins need to do more than just hold vast quantities of compostable materials. They need to breathe, provide easy access for turning, and be located close to where you’ll be using your compost. And it must be remembered that large amounts of materials will take a longer period of time. We like to think in terms of threes, since, in our experience, these really large heaps take three years, more or less, to turn to a rich soil amendment. The three-bin compost bin, often left open in the front seems perfect. Fresh materials are put in the first bin and are turned into the second after several months. The half-way materials in the second bin are then turned into the third bin where they can be harvested as needed. (more…)

GMO Crops, Roundup And Big Money

GMO Corn FieldVia the Nation of Change website, we learn that Monsanto has contributed $4.2 million dollars to defeat California’s GMO labeling initiative. Makes sense. Monsanto holds the patents on a number of GMO crops, many designed to be resistant to Monsanto’s widely-used herbicide Roundup. It’s a slick way to double sales; you can use all the Roundup you want without hurting your crop if your crop is grown from Monsanto genetically-modified seed. Except… Super Weeds!

And speaking of Roundup… here’s a report on a study that found the active ingredient of the product — glyphosate — could cause birth defects. Do we really need genetically modified corn that’s resistant to a product that might damage fetuses in the womb? (more…)

Garden Tool: The Camera

Taking PicturesNo doubt your gardens are at their best now, full to bursting with plants and vegetables, draped with flowers and struggling ahead of the coming frosts to seed and put on growth. Come the dead of winter, we love to recall them this way, in all their green glory. And often, as we plan our next garden, we struggle to remember the details of their opulence after the garden has been put to bed and mulch and snow cover everything. Just where did we plant that row of peas?

We’ve often promoted keeping a record — a garden journal — that records weather conditions on a semi-daily basis as well as documenting the growth and harvest success of various vegetable plants and landscape shrubs, flowers, and ground covers. Do as we say. But if you’re like us and end up doing what we do — in other words, not keeping our journal as current and as detailed as we should — there may be a simpler solution. Take pictures of this year’s garden with a camera. (more…)

Free At the Farmers’ Market: Advice

Farmer's MarketOur wonderful, year-round Farmers Market here in Santa Fe, NM is at its peak. Strolling around its grounds and inside its LEEDS-certified market pavilion is a visual adventure and an education in Northern New Mexico farming and gardening practices. All of its produce must be locally grown and no reselling is allowed. There are more than 150 active vendors offering everything from produce to home-baked breads. Northern New Mexico small farms are an important part of its history and culture. It’s reassuring that its small-farm heritage is alive and well — even booming — in this age of industrial agriculture and processed food.

Like many of you, I attend farmers markets wherever I go. I’ve attended markets in Grand Junction, Colorado; Eugene, Oregon; Santa Monica, California; Burlington, Vermont; White Bear Lake, Minnesota and dozens of others in cities from Fargo to Portland. The midwest — America’s bread basket — is full of seasonal farmers markets this time of year. One of my favorite markets is in my former, beloved home of Bozeman, Montana where the growing season is short but the gardeners are enthusiastic (they even have a winter market despite the often-nasty Montana winters). (more…)

Worms In the Garden

Garden WormsEveryone knows how great worms are for the garden. They increase your soil’s porous qualities by tunneling, they cluster around decaying matter consuming fungi, bacteria, and nematodes and excreting them as vermicompost or worm castings, one of the most potent soil amendments there is. You’ve gone to great lengths to attract earthworms to your garden by adding compost and other organic matter to your soil or maybe you purchased worms to add. (Garden worms are different than composting worms. If you do have a source of garden worms, make sure your soil is “worm-ready” with plenty of organic material or you’ll lose them). But what happens to worms in the garden as soils dry?

Worms, of course, need adequate moisture to survive. You’ve probably used mulch and kept your garden soil moist enough to sustain them. But what about your lawn, now that it’s dormant, and you’re doing what you can to save water? What about the worms? (more…)

Who Supports Labeling GMO Foods?

California’s Initiative 37Those following the battle to pass California’s Initiative 37 — the bill that will require labeling GMO foods (do we really need to tell you what GMO means?) — will be interested to read The Cornucopia Institute’s report “Agribusinesses Owning Natural/Organic Brands Betray Customers: Fund Attack on GMO Labeling Proposal in California.” Some of those organic food product companies we all love (sorry) and (maybe) trust have joined with the anti-Prop 37 forces to defeat the initiative. Guess it’s the end of a beautiful love affair.

Some other interesting info in the report: 70% of the public supports GMO labeling (a good thing); “new contributions to fight the measure [have] rolled in from the biotechnology industry and food manufacturers, totaling over $23 million, according to the California Secretary of State. This dwarfs the approximately $3 million contributed by proponents of GE labeling” (very bad news). The post has a chart that graphically shows who the players are. And if you scroll down a bit, on the right margin is an illustration that shows which politicians and government office holders (otherwise known as “public servants”) have direct connections to Monsanto. Sad fact there is it’s not so surprising. Anyway, go read the report. Knowledge is power. (more…)

Late Season Garden Planting

Fall PlantingAugust is the time of year our garden would turn chaotic. Trailing plants like cucumbers and spreading plants such as squash would take over wide swaths of ground that were formerly occupied — if our spring planning was any good — by spinach, lettuce, kale and other greens which, if not harvested would be doing their best to go to seed. These we would pull and throw in the compost… we didn’t care about lettuce seeds compromising our compost and usually the seeds hadn’t dried enough to survive the process. Then, anywhere there was space, we’d sow little squares or circles of late season vegetables, things like mache (corn salad), kale, spinach and arugula, especially arugula, or anything else we had left in our seed bin. If there was some bare ground under one of those big shady squash leaves, we’d stir in some seed under them. The worst thing that could happen is that we’d be turning them back into the soil. The best? Picking a salad just before the snow arrived. (more…)

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