Green Roofs Sprout Over U.S. Cities

Roof Top GardensInterest in green roofs (pun warning) continues to grow, especially in urban centers. Their benefits, both environmental and aesthetic, include savings on energy use, thus reducing the impact on global warming (especially in urban areas), helping to control rain water runoff thus reducing loads on storm sewage systems, and providing locally-grown produce to urban markets. “Green roof” is a general term that includes “white roofs,” those that reflect sunlight thus saving cooling costs; “blue roofs,” those that retain water and control runoff; “solar roofs” that heat water or generate electricity, and “living roofs,” those covered with soil and planted, a practice that both insulates and impedes runoff.

Living roofs — especially those planted with edibles — may be the next big thing but the practice is actually quite old. We recall a diorama at the Nebraska Historical Society that showed a “soddy,” a home entirely built of sod. As we remember it, there was even a cow grazing on top of the house. (more…)

Landscaping With Grasses

Landscape GrassesGrasses may not be the centerpiece of your gardens but they are a great addition (see Ornamental Grasses). They provide texture and variation; their movements draw attention to everything around them and their rustling, especially when added to bird calls, creates a soothing garden soundtrack. If chosen correctly for your hardiness zone and moisture conditions, landscaping with grasses will provide year-round interest. They’re hardy, need little care and are often overlooked by pests (except deer). Many varieties are available, in both seed and transplant form (wind, erosion and hungry birds take a toll on grasses sown directly in the garden; start them in containers). They’re often the most native plants in native-plant gardens and therefore the most suited for local conditions. (more…)

Garlic Scapes

Garlic ScapesThis Memorial Day weekend, along side the greens, turnips, carrots, young rutabaga, green onions and radishes at our corpulent, late-spring Saturday Farmers Market here in Santa Fe, New Mexico (a much better tourist attraction than the area’s fabled art gallery scene) was something we didn’t see much of not so many years ago: garlic scapes. When we first noticed them at our then-local farmers market in Bozeman, MT a couple years back, we thought the vendor was exercising some creative marketing by offering a product that otherwise might go to waste. Turns out the garlic scape is a wonderful spring bounty whose harvest not only encourages the growth of the garlic it sprouts from but, when harvested early enough, tastes great, too. And, it’s good for you! (more…)

Paying Attention to GMOs

Right to Know GMOThe GMO products issue is gaining attention world-wide, a fact that can only help the cause against them. In the U.S., it’s currently focused on labeling. Should consumers have the right to know what products they’re buying has been made from genetically-modified crops? This article in today’s New York Times, centered on activists fixing GMO labels on products, serves to demonstrate just how complicated the issue is while emphasizing the forces arrayed against those demanding simple product labeling. Who is it that fears what GMO labeling might do to their sales? “…conventional farmers, agricultural biotechnology companies like Monsanto and many of the nation’s best-known food brands like Kellogg’s and Kraft.” We’re talking big money. The article estimates that tens of millions of dollar will be spent ahead of the vote on California’s referendum on labeling GMO products. Want to guess which side will have the most to spend? (more…)

Healthy Gardens, Healthy Gardeners

Garden GirlLest we forget — and it’s easy when we’re all wrist deep in soil — gardening is healthy! But you already knew that. Want to burn calories? The estimates suggest that gardeners burn 300 calories an hour, 600 calories an hour if they’re doing heavy yard work. Spading the garden burns 150 to 200 calories per half hour (the rates vary between women and men). Women burn 138 calories per half hour weeding, men 181. As Sherry Rindels of the Iowa State University Extension Horticultural Division points out in the article linked above, using herbicides doesn’t come anywhere close to burning the calories of hand weeding. And you’re not exposing yourself — and your children, pets, and neighbors to chemicals that may cause harm.

The strength, endurance, and flexibility that gardening requires is especially beneficial to the aging (and who isn’t aging?). And its been found that the kind of activities associated with gardening can reduce the risk of cancer. Not only that — as this article points out — “gardeners eat a wider variety of vegetables (rich in disease-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals), and have a higher overall intake of vegetables than non-gardeners.” If your garden is organic, the benefits are better still. (more…)

Demon Seed

GMO SeedIt’s important to remember, as this article at the Organic Consumers Association points out, that corporate control of the seed market extends right into your home garden. Important takeaway from the article: when Monsanto purchased international seed giant Seminis in 2005, it took control of a company that produced 40% of the international vegetable seed market. The chart (PDF) accompanying the article is particularly revealing, illustrating how a handful of international conglomerates control almost all of the commercial seed companies in the world (yes, Monsanto is shown to be the largest). Surprisingly, these large seed controlling companies are often chemical and pharmaceutical companies. (more…)

Weed This…

Pulling WeedsWhile you’re savoring the second most enjoyable time in the garden — planting season (harvesting would be our number one) — here’s a reminder about the least enjoyable garden practice: Weeding. The earlier you start, the better. In fact, good garden weeding practice involves getting rid of them before weeds even make themselves seen.

Over at Mort Mather’s “Happy Blog” there’s a post on the ten day weeding program. Basically, Mather suggests cultivating between rows and around plants 10 days after planting. He suggests you’ll get weeds when they’re just threads, before they start sending out spreading roots. Repeat the process again in another ten days. He claims to get 80% of the weeds using this technique. What he doesn’t say is where certain gardeners, like myself, will find the discipline to cultivate 10 days after each planting (or the smarts to keep count). (more…)

Planting Time and Soil Readiness

Planting TimeHow is planting time like opening Christmas presents? There’s a huge temptation to get started days too early. After a long winter, after planning your garden and ordering seeds, we’re all anxious — with visions of sweet corn, squash and greens dancing in our heads — to get in there and start working the soil. Let’s tear the ribbons and the paper off and get those seeds and plants in the ground! For gardeners, the days ahead of spring planting are just as difficult as the day’s before the holiday are for children… and equally filled with anticipation.

But when it comes to planting, it’s best to be patient. Is your soil ready? In other words, is it “friable”? Several factors come into play but for established gardens with previously prepared soil, there are only two: temperature and moisture content. Here’s a list of minimum, maximum and optimal soil temperatures for common vegetables. (more…)

GMOtion

GMO TomatoThose hoping for a GMO ban on crops know that the issue will only be resolved through a series of incremental steps. Labeling GMO food products would go a long way towards that goal. By giving consumers the knowledge of which foods they purchase contain GMO they will have a choice. And if given a choice, we can guess which side consumers would come down on.

The labeling movement took a big step this month in California when supporters turned in nearly a million signatures to put the labeling issue on the ballot (550,000 signatures were needed). The United States lags behind other countries in the banning, let alone labeling, of GMOs. While we wait for the count to be certified in California, here’s a citizen-written editorial that makes common sense of the GMO issue. The takeaway: (more…)

Bee Afraid

HoneybeeThe decline of honeybees in the United States — a third of the country’s hives were wiped out in 2008 — and elsewhere has been a matter of concern for a number of years. Recent studies in France and Britain now point the finger at a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. These commonly-used pesticides, which are often used to treat seed corn ahead of planting, work against the bees in two ways: by confusing their homing capability and limiting their ability to provide enough food to their hives for producing new queens. Other studies in the U.S. and Germany indict the pesticides but for different reasons. Calls for banning neonicotinoids were immediate. (more…)

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