Organics Gain In Farm Bill

Farm BillLocal and organically grown foods, in demand now more than ever, get a nod from legislators.

There’s plenty in the recently passed Farm Bill that requires us to plug our noses. That’s true for nearly everyone, no matter which side of the ideological divide you’re on. Some say the Farm Bill is a hand out to corporate agriculture. Some say its a hand-out to poor families in the form of food stamps, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP. No one is happy.

The often cranky British magazine The Economist points out why folks on both sides aren’t happy. It claims that 80% of the Farm Bill spending has nothing to do with farming. At the same time, it points out that 75% of the farm subsidies the bill provides are taken by the top 10% of farm business. (more…)

Growing the Perfect Radish

Organic RadishesRadishes are great for getting kids started with gardening. Yet growing good radishes isn’t child’s play.

Anybody can grow radishes. Even a kid can do it. But growing a good radish? Now that takes a little work and a lot of attention. And really, isn’t that exactly the kind of lesson you want to pass on to your little ones when it comes to gardening?

Radishes, a cool-weather crop, can be planted early, as soon as the soil can be worked and weeks before the last frost. In our household, they’re the first scratch on the itch to garden. Let’s go to the center of the country to gauge when you can sow radish seed. The Iowa State University Extension Service’s radish page says they can be planted in late March in the southern part of the state, in mid-April in the state’s northern counties. This suggests that they can be planted early, say February, further south. And in higher elevations and along the northern tier, try putting in radishes as soon as the snow is out and the soil is half-way friable. (more…)

Cities Embrace Composting Programs

Composting ProgramFood waste as well as lawn and garden wastes never see the landfill.

Recycling programs that include composting yard and garden wastes, difficult to find 20 years ago, have become the rule in America’s urban centers. And, as of 2012, 100 American cities include food and kitchen wastes in their composting programs.

Cities that now compost food wastes include Portland and Salem, Oregon, San Francisco, California, and Boulder, Colorado. And their number continue to grow. The cities of Los Angeles and San Diego allows their waste haulers to compost food waste from restaurants and hotels. In 2013, then New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg launched an ambitious campaign to recycle the city’s food waste. This would include not only waste from restaurants and other commercial interest, but from residents as well after pilot programs discovered a surprising rate of interest among households. (more…)

Patience When Planting Peas: The Payoff

Pea PlantsWait for the right soil temperatures and conditions before planting peas.

This time of year we’re thinking peas. Peas are always the first thing to go in our garden and the common wisdom — “plant as soon as the soil can be worked” — is our cue to get into the garden as soon as the soil dries enough that it doesn’t ball up when squeezed in our fists. Peas are also a cool weather crop, doing best in spring and early summer but also planted in late summer-early fall in places where winter doesn’t jump the shark as soon as October comes around.

Not only great eating — we were all about serving curls of fresh pea shoots in salads before it became popular in gourmet, farm-to-table restaurants — peas serve another purpose that promotes well-being in gardeners. They give us something to do in the weeks (and months ) ahead of when the rest of the garden goes in.

If you’re like me, you’re chomping at the bit once March rolls around and garden season is imminent. It’s like waiting for Christmas when you’re a kid. Sometimes you just can’t keep your hands off the presents even before the big day. (more…)

Agricultural Water Use and the California Drought

Agricultural Water100 billion gallons of water, in the form of alfalfa, shipped to China. How can we use less water to grow the produce needed in this country? (Hint: small, sustainable, organic farms.)

Here’s one effect of the drought in California and elsewhere: there’s been a lot of fascinating reporting on water use in commercial agriculture. And the amounts of water that go into some crops, and where those crops are headed, has created something of a controversy. (more…)

Buy Plant Starts? Or Grow Your Own?

Vegetable Starts

How to get the best organic and heirloom vegetable starts for your garden.

Organic gardeners are faced with a dilemma this time of year. How do we obtain organically raised vegetable starts for placement in our gardens? The best answer of course is to start them ourselves. This allows us to control all the variables — the seed, the starting mix, any amendments or rooting formulas we might use — without using or having any unnecessary concern for herbicides, pesticides, inorganic soil additives, or such chemicals as growth regulators. (more…)

What’s Left In the Root Cellar

Root CellarUsing, not losing, what remains of last year’s harvest.

We were fortunate to have a root cellar when we had a small hippie homestead years ago in the Pacific Northwest. While we often think of root cellars as being underground, or part of a basement — a good thing as being below ground, surrounded by earth, moderates the cold outdoor temperatures — our “cellar” more resembled a tiny cabin. With its thick cedar log walls stacked tightly against each other and a dirt floor, we were able to keep some of the summer’s bounty — mostly root vegetables and squash, but also onions and a cabbage or two — well through the winter. (more…)

Springtime Soil Testing

Soil TestingMaking sure your garden soil has the proper pH and amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium now helps guarantee growing success.

We often talk about the fact that successful gardening, especially successful organic gardening, requires healthy soil. But how do you know if your soil is healthy? Adding lots of organic material helps assure that your soil is alive with microbes, maintains a balance of nutrients, and has good drainage. But what about its acid-alkaline balance (the measurement known as pH)? What about the nutrients that plants need to be healthy and resist pests and diseases? (more…)

Tips For Indoor Seed Starting

Starting SeedsMoisture control, proper containers, and good starting mix are key to seedling success.

We’re smack dab in the middle of the seed starting season, or maybe just getting ready to start in more northern climes. It seems like a good time to review some tips for starting seeds and growing seedlings indoors ahead of outdoor planting. And while the basics of seed starting are pretty simple, there are always some tried-and-true tricks as well as some timely reminders to make your seed starting experience a worthwhile one. First time seed starter or someone who just wants to review the basics? Try here.

Most Important: The one thing we’ve found to be most important among many important things when starting seeds indoors? Moisture control. This means not only controlling the moisture in your starting mix, but providing the proper drainage. And, in the circular, everything-is-related-to-everything-else world of gardening, this means using the right starting mix. (more…)

What’s In Your Food? GMOs, Chemicals, And Our Right To Know

FDA LabelingNew FDA labeling rules include added sugars. And why the bread on that sandwich might taste like a yoga mat.

The big food news this week is the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement that it will update its Nutrition Facts Label requirements “to reflect the latest scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.” Part of this change deals with portion size. These have been changed in some cases — like increasing the single portion of soda from 12 to 20 ounces — to reflect sizes that are more commonly consumed. We’ll agree that’s a good thing if indeed the change makes figuring what you’re getting from what you consume without having to do any extra math. (more…)

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