Want the scoop on the latest gardening tips – both indoors and out — as well as in-depth news and information on issues important to natural growers and everyone else interested in a healthy, earth-conscious life style? Here’s where to dig up the details on everything from soil amendments and organic pest control to heirlooms and safe, natural lawn care.
A friend responded to my roadside herbicide rant from our Facebook page last week, a post that (thank-you!) was greeted with scores of comments. Seems he was a hippie back in the day, politically active and, as was common there about the time of the first Earth Day, slowly gaining awareness of the complex web of environmental problems the world was facing. He took his bike out of the midwestern college town where he lived and was enjoying a pedal in the country when he came upon his county’s roadside spray team hitting the ditches hard with herbicide.
What they were spraying was wild hemp. Like much of farm country in the years ahead of World War II, farmers in his home state had been encouraged to plant the hardy crop when the Navy started to rapidly expand and the previous source of hemp for rope making, the Philippines, was threatened by the Japanese. This hemp wasn’t the sort that hippies normally liked. It’s uses were limited to what could be made of its skeins and pulp. Only a fool would smoke it. Once it was discovered during the first months of the War that the brand new compound nylon could be used to make rope, the hemp was left to go to seed. It spread everywhere including along water courses and unplowed draws, but grew best (and often undisturbed) in road side ditches. (more…)
Is it still possible to take bees for granted? Since the general population learned about colony collapse disorder, the mysterious effect that has destroyed a large percentage of the world’s pollinators in a 2007 broadcast of CBS’s 60 Minutes and the publicity in its wake, people have come to appreciate bees for the critical work they do. Before, when someone was asked to think of the first word that comes to mind when they hear “bee,” they might have said “sting” or “honey.” Now they just might say “food” or “survival.”
That’s our survival, not just theirs.
Honeybees are critical to the food supply. Like tomatoes, cucumbers, blueberries, squash, almonds, and melons of all types? Thank the bees. It’s estimated that of the 100 food crops grown around the world, crops that supply 90% of the world’s food, bees pollinate 70 of them. Without bees, there would be no watermelons, no blueberry cobbler, no marinara. It’s estimated that bees, acting as pollinators, add $15 billion a year to food production. (more…)
An article in The New York Times seems to celebrate weeds: their hardiness, their adaptability, their ability to quickly evolve. It’s overall theme? In the battle between weeds and chemical herbicides, weeds eventually and always win. And while it takes some reading between the lines, the article also draws conclusions that organic gardeners have known all along. One… herbicides can be dangerous. Two… a variety of techniques, many of them organic, are needed to actually reduce crop losses caused by weeds.
So why use herbicides? Their development (PDF format) was thought to be a tremendous breakthrough. As far back as Roman times farmers spread salt on their fields to destroy their enemies’ crops. Modern weed killers were introduced during World War II and their use skyrocketed after that. Chemical companies soon learned that herbicides meant big money. But almost as quickly, weeds began to develop resistance to the chemicals. Today, it’s estimated that at least 217 varieties of weeds have developed resistance (follow the link to see a frightening photo of giant ragweed taking over a field of Roundup resistant corn). (more…)
This year’s dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, usually around 6,000 to 7,000 square miles, might well be the largest in history. The culprit? Heavy rains and flooding in the Midwest. All that runoff from the breadbasket will make its way downstream carrying copious amounts of agricultural fertilizer runoff into the Gulf. Time magazine has the story.
The Gulf dead zone, second largest in the world, is composed of oxygen-depleted water that does not support life. The process by which it forms is known as “hypoxia.” Basically, the process starts with nitrogen and phosphorous- based fertilizers being swept in quantity through the Mississippi River basin and into the Gulf at the Louisiana Delta. The fertilizer fuels the growth of algae which eventually dies or is eaten by zooplankton. Bacteria feed on the mass of dead algae and the zooplankton’s feces, exhausting the water’s oxygen as they do.
Among other negative effects, the dead zone threatens the Gulf’s lucrative commercial and sports fisheries.
Two-breaking stories on bee decline, pesticides, and politics. The European Union has imposed a two-year ban on the use of certain pesticides linked to bee deaths. This comes after a report citing three specific pesticides from a group known as neonicotinoids as a major cause in the decline. Chemical manufacturers — specifically Germany’s Bayer and the Swiss Syngenta — fought fiercely to stop the ban. Some 300,000 people in the U.K. signed a petition supporting the ban. Even with that, the British Parliament voted to side against the EU plan.
Second story: Here in the U.S., the federal government released a study citing a variety of reasons for bee decline. In addition to pesticides, mite infestations, lack of nutrition, and genetic variation all contribute according to the study. The study was seen as a response to the EU’s banning of certain pesticides linked to bees deaths. “At E.P.A. we let science drive the outcome of decision making,” said Jim Jones, the agency’s acting assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention. “There are non-trivial costs to society if we get this wrong.” Translation: Risking our entire population of honey bees is trivial in the face of losing a few dollars for big chemical and agricultural companies. (more…)
Spring is a wonderful time of year for foraging food. Greens — dandelions, nettles, wild asparagus, miners lettuce, ramp — are especially fine this time of year and spring mushrooms notably morels, rival the mushrooms picked in the fall. Some wild plants, including fiddleheads, are edible only when they first emerge (and one should be cautious eating even these). Even though nature is doing the gardening for you, it’s important to remember that you want even your foraged plants grown the way you grow in your garden. Organically.
We’ve been amazed at the interest in wild foods that’s grown over the last few years. There’s been a plethora of books released on the subject and classes on identifying, picking and cooking with foraged foods are offered in both rural and urban locations. Even restaurants and gourmet chefs, long-time users of wild mushrooms, have gotten in on the fad, flavoring their dishes with wild greens. Ramp, that favorite east coast spring green that was once harvested by eager Italian immigrants and seen as a measure of class distinction, is now so popular now that it rates a kitchen story and recipes in a major American newspaper. (more…)
Will Monsanto take control of your vegetable patch?
By Bill Kohlhaase for Planet Natural
It’s all about seed control for Monsanto and the other corporate manufacturers of genetically engineered, GMO crops. So it’s no surprise that Monsanto has made moves to control garden seed as well. In the last several years, a number of international agri-conglomerates have consolidated their hold over the very seed and nursery starts we plant in our gardens. This brings some of the same problems — loss of seed diversity, spiraling seed costs, and general deficiencies in seed quality — that crop growers around the world face from the owners of genetically-modified seeds. And it’s happening under our noses right in our own backyards.
The last thing most organic gardeners want to do is support the corporations that have forced GMO food crops on the world through consolidation and bullying tactics. Nor do we want to support conglomerates seeking to monopolize the garden seed market. But often, that’s what we do when we buy non-GMO seed and nursery stock for our home gardens (and when we buy produce from the major supermarkets). How is it possible? (more…)
By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural
Starting plants from seed just might be the second most enjoyable act of procreation you’ll ever experience. In addition to the fun — starting seed is the perfect cure for those late-season winter blahs — raising your own plants offers practical and aesthetic benefits. You’ll get an earlier start to your garden and you’ll be able to raise vegetable and flower varieties not offered as starts by your local garden store or nursery. You’ll have plants that are healthier, vigorous, more disease resistant and ideally chosen for your personal growing conditions. And you’ll be able to choose vegetables that taste better, produce earlier and store longer. You might even save some money. Often a single start from your local garden supplier costs as much as a whole packet of seed. Plus, the satisfaction you’ll receive watching plants that you started yourself go into the garden is priceless. Your kids will love watching the miracle of growth from seeds they started themselves… and they’ll learn something as well. (more…)
Imagine growing the same fruits and vegetables as Thomas Jefferson or Luther Burbank. Imagine your garden filled with bright colors, odd shapes and a variety of foods that could inspire even the most jaded vegetable-hater to take a bite. Heirloom seed produces fruits, vegetables and flowers that have been passed down for generations for their good taste, vibrant colors, pest resistance and other beneficial traits.
Today there is a trend toward locally grown and organic foods. At the same time as mega-corporations are producing genetically altered, dyed, bland foods that are often covered in pesticides, many people are starting to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Not only is home grown food likely to be safer and healthier than commercially produced fruits and vegetables, it tastes better, too! (more…)
What GMOs mean to organic growers
By Bill Kohlhaase for Planet Natural
When U.S. District Judge for New York Naomi Buchwald threw out a lawsuit in February filed by The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) and dozens of other plaintiffs against the Monsanto Corporation, she struck a blow against organic growers, small farmers and concerned citizens across the country. The suit, filed in March of 2011 on behalf of organic farmers and seed growers by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBAT), was a preemptive measure designed to prohibit Monsanto from filing future lawsuit against growers whose fields may have inadvertently been contaminated by genetically-modified crops — known as GMOs — patented by Monsanto. This contamination can be caused by wind-carried seed, bird droppings, neighboring farmers losing seed in transport near a non-GMO field, or other unintended methods. Once Monsanto discovers its patented GMOs in a field where the plants volunteered even without the farmer’s knowledge, its legal team goes to work. (more…)