Knee High In Garden Corn

Garden CornCorn is our country’s great vegetable. Since its seeds first migrated up from Mexico and spread across the world, corn has served as an all-American symbol as well as one of its favorite food crops.

Growing — and eating — garden corn is the source of countless family memories. Generations have grown up watching seeds the size of their finger tips turn into towering stalks with ears. How many of us actually laid between rows on a summer night to find out if it was true you could hear the corn grow? We still follow grandma’s directions: the first thing to do when picking corn is put the pot on to boil, so not a moment off the stalk is wasted. And we remember grandma cutting the kernels from the cob so grandpa — bless his dentures — could enjoy it even if he didn’t have his God-given teeth. How many times were we told that it was hot enough to pop corn right in the garden? Who can forget the unique sweetness of fresh-picked sweet corn? (more…)

Tomatoes: Taste? Or Color?

Garden TomatoesIt’s no secret that most commercially grown tomatoes taste lousy. Now scientists have discovered the reason: a gene mutation, the one bred into tomatoes to yield consistent color. It seems that tomato breeders discovered the gene about 70 years ago and began to cross-breed it into nearly all commercial tomatoes so that they would have an attractive red color. There was just one problem. Adding the redness gene “turned-off” flavor genes, the ones that created more sugars and carotenoids, various compounds in the tomato that contribute to flavor. The result? Tomatoes that look good but taste like paper. Here’s the abstract of the studies that determined the effects of the “redness” gene. Now we’d like to see the marketing studies that motivated commercial growers to think consumers prefer perfect red fruits without regard to taste. (more…)

Who’s Fighting GMO Labeling?

GMO LabelingIt’s no surprise that Monsanto, Dupont and others are pouring big money into California to fight the state’s GMO labeling referendum which will be on the ballot November 6. How they’re doing it — through surrogate organizations — is right out of the grand American political tradition of ironically-named organizations. Front groups help hide the players behind these organizations. And what could be more ironic that hiding the identities of the companies and individuals who are fighting a right-to-know initiative?

AlterNet, the independent news gathering service, estimates that several big front groups will spend $60 to $100 million fighting the initiative. One of the largest is The Coalitition Against Costly Food Labeling. Their website lists such scary articles on topics including how GMO labeling will hurt the poor and limit your food choices. Who exactly is behind the CACFL? The names aren’t surprising. According to the article, it’s composed of the “Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), whose members also include Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta, all producers of GMO seed and related products, as well as many large food processors and supermarket chains. (more…)

Joys of Bok Choy

Bok ChoiOne of the most beautiful sights in the summer garden is the deep, rich green color of bok choi leaves, bunched like a bouquet, standing above the creamy white stalks that support them. The form and intense shades of the plant almost — almost — keep us from reaching down and cutting it off at ground level. There’s only one thing we like better than growing bok choy in the garden: the sight of this cabbage family member chopped, stir-fried (maybe with some garlic) and heaped next to a dollop of brown rice.

Bok choi or pak choi, or pak choy is a cool weather crop that does best planted in early spring or late summer. It can be successfully sown mid-season if it’s harvested very young before it has a chance to go to seed (strangely, very cool weather will also cause it to go to seed). Cabbage moths and other pests are more active in late summer so you’ll want to protect your plants with row covers. The secret to growing attractive, loosely bunched, erect choi is to plant sparingly and thin judiciously, allowing as much as eight inches between the larger varieties. The good news is that the thinnings can be added to stir-fry no matter their size. (more…)

Protect With Row Covers

Row CoversThere’s a sinking feeling that comes when you spot the first cabbage moth hovering over your garden. Traditional gardeners use some of the worst chemical sprays to control them. And that doesn’t always work, especially as the larvae eating your plants mature. (Personally, I’d rather eat worms than pesticides.) Organic gardeners hunt for egg clusters on the underside of leaves and smash them, pluck the worms that they find and even snatch the egg-laying moths right out of the air (okay, I was successful doing that once). Other natural solutions include using Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) a bacteria that attacks certain larvae. Or you can try Neem oil, which works on a variety of pests and fungal problems. (more…)

Food Pathogens: Let’s Get Dirty!

Organic SoilOrganic gardeners know that a little dirt never hurt anyone. Of course, it’s a different story if the dirt your vegetables grow in contains herbicides and pesticides. Now Jeff D. Leach, in this op-ed piece in The New York Times argues that a little dirt is crucial to our well-being.

Leach is the director of the Paleobiotics Lab in New Orleans. He’s something of an anthropologist of human biology. His take in this article and others is that our fear of food pathogens has led to a sanitized diet that no longer provides us the beneficial microbes that fought off the diseases borne by the contamination found in industrial agriculture. “Increasing evidence suggests that the alarming rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders during the past few decades is at least partly attributable to our lack of exposure to microorganisms that once covered our food and us,” Leach writes. He goes on to suggest that “reintroducing some of the organisms from the mud and water of our natural world would help avoid an overreaction of an otherwise healthy immune response that results in such chronic diseases as Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and a host of allergic disorders.” (more…)

Compost for Summer Lawns

Lawns and CompostThe arrival of summer reminds us that it’s not too late to nourish your lawn the healthy way with compost. As lawn-spraying services expand their grip on suburbia it’s important to remember that using organic practices to encourage grass in your yard protects your pets and family from harmful chemical fertilizers and herbicides. Spreading compost on lawns now — not too deep; you don’t want to smother the grass blades — will help it stay lush and weed-free by nourishing the soil beneath it. It will greatly increase beneficial microbial activity in your soil, benefiting your lawn even more. And it’s a good way to treat the spots in your lawn that are thin, brown and unhealthy. From Organic Lawns, Healthy Soil:

“Established lawns benefit greatly from a single yearly application of compost, even more greatly from two. Spreading compost on your lawn isn’t as easy as pushing your old chemical fertilizer spreader around. Depending on your lawn’s size, a wheel barrow and a shovel may be the best way to distribute compost around your yard, followed by a good raking (a push broom will also work) to distribute it more evenly. Though hard to find and troublesome to use effectively, a compost wheel or peat spreader can distribute compost across small yards though they can be difficult to push and need to be refilled often. (more…)

Oh, Oregano

OreganoWhen the abundant moisture of spring has given way to drier summer conditions, it’s time to plant oregano. Both culinary and decorative — it’s delicate blossoms will attract pollinators to your garden as well as make for attractive additions to salads — oregano is one of the most rewarding herbs to grow. It can be started from seed, but buying plants is the easiest way to get them started (they can also be propagated from cuttings or from root divisions). Oregano is hardy to zone 5 and can be overwintered in zone 4 with a thick covering of straw or mulch. It’s a perennial and will provide tasty leaves and flowers for years before it becomes too woody and sharply flavored. To encourage longevity, cut plants back almost to the ground at the end of the growing season. Often grown in containers, oregano also grows well in terraces and rock gardens. A Mediterranean plant, it likes full sun but will tolerate some shade, as I found out growing it in an old tub under a pear tree in the Pacific Northwest. Oregano isn’t fussy about soil conditions but does require good drainage. It needs little water and is perfect for moisture-sensitive xeriscapes. (more…)

Father’s Day In the Garden

Father's DayNo matter what part of the country you live in or how far along your garden is, Father’s Day is a great time of the year to step back and enjoy your work. In many areas, greens are already being harvested, peas are beginning to pod, bush beans are in blossom, and tender baby carrots and turnips come easily from the ground. At higher altitudes and in northern climates, germination is in its early stages and young transplants — tomatoes, peppers and squashes — are taking root and standing tall. Spring flowers have faded or are long gone, summer blossoms are making their bright appearance. Everything is green, healthy and striving to grow strong.

In my former home of Bozeman, Montana — elevation 4200 feet or so — mid-June was a promising, orderly time in the garden. Parade-straight rows of beans recently broken from the ground were shedding cotyledons and hoisting first leaves. Squares of mixed greens were yielding the first baby lettuces and radishes were almost ready to pull. Pea tendrils were hooking into string trellises and the spinach made you feel healthy just looking at it. The few weeds that dared show themselves in the open rows and planted spaces, were easily seen and pulled. (more…)

Mickey Hearts GMO Foods

Epcot Center GMOsFrom Natural News, a public education website anyone interested in keeping up with GMO issues should follow, comes this not-so-surprising information. Disney, at its Florida-based EPCOT Center (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) has for years been hosting biologists from the United States Department of Agriculture who have been growing genetically-modified fruits and vegetables. The story was originally broken by Susan Fehrenbacher over at Inhabitant, but it’s been no secret. The USDA announced back in 1996 in its Agricultural Research magazine that it was working with Disney “to communicate the science of agriculture. We do this by showcasing various tools — such as biotechnology…” The site, a two-acre facility sponsored by Nestlé USA, is called Living With the Land. Nestlé is one of the world’s largest pro-GMO corporations. In 2006, it obtained a patent on a genetically-engineered coffee.

In her original article, Fehrenbacher reported that she was told by EPCOT guides that some of the GMO food grown at Living with the Land is served at EPCOT resort’s restaurants. “Ever wonder where those Mickey shaped cucumbers come from?” asks Disney’s own Living With the Land web page. (more…)

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