Category Archives: Organic Gardening

3 weeks to stop the GM apple


GE Free BC

What are you doing to stop the genetically engineered apple? The GM apple that will look fresh 15-18 days after it’s cut. The GM apple that has 2 different bacteria and 1 plant virus added to the apple DNA to stop it from browning.  The GM apple, that if approved, will lead to genetically engineered granny smith, golden delicious, fuji and gala apples as well as cherries, peaches and pears.

Get signatures on the petition now at GE Apple petition

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Covered Greenhouse Garden


Covered Greenhouse Garden

While we’re waiting for our fence to suntan before we stain it, I took on another outdoor project this weekend.

 

Yep, it’s Garden 2013! And there’s a reason for the Oregon Trail look, I promise. Since we’ve moved here, we’ve had some windy nights and some CRAZY 30 mph windy nights. On top of that, the neighbors all comment on the foggy summers. So to help my future tomatoes out, I decided to build them a little green house to protect them from the wind and to elevate the temperature during the colder days. This should also help me with the “year round” gardening Bay Area people seem so keen on.

I started out with 2x12s at 8 feet and 4 feet. (I do not recommend 2x12s as they are very expensive, and you can get the same results with stacked 2x6s.) We leveled out the dirt a bit before assembling them.

I used the pocket hole system once again to join the pieces of wood. Then, because we have some resident moles in the yard (ew), we stapled some chicken wire to the base and flipped the whole thing over.

Then we built a frame to go on top out of 2x2s and 2x4s for corner braces. This will be the base for the covered part.

 

Then we attached 1/2″ 10-foot PVC pipe to create the arches.

I put one screw into the inside bottom of each pipe (to keep it from slipping), then secured it with a pipe clamp.

 

Now I’m still not sure if this next step was necessary; I bought some wire mesh and used a LOT of electrical tape to secure it to the pipes, which was very time consuming. My reasoning was to provide more stability for the frame as well as the plastic sheeting, but I’m thinking some 1x2s screwed into the PVC would’ve worked just as well.

 

 

I stapled some 3.5 mil plastic to the 2×2 frame, which I do not recommend attempting while it is breezy outside. Plastic everywhere, suffocation, etc.

I attached two hinges on one of the short 4′ sides.

And some plastic chain on the long 8′ side. (I do not recommend plastic chain, as it bends and stretches far too easily. I bought it because I thought it would be easier to work, rust-free, and lightweight, which it is….but the stretching is no bueno.)

 

 

I’m planning on rigging up an automatic watering system for my soaker hose, so I installed this adapter in the side. The garden hose will go on the blue side and the soaker hose will come out the other side.

On the last Saturday of every month, Berkeley puts out a bunch of free compost near the Berkeley Marina. We went and shoveled some into some boxes and mixed it with existing soil from the yard and a healthy amount of pine needles.

Now it’s time for planting! I’m still working on the layout, but I’ve got my tomatoes planted and safe from the cold and wind. I’m planning on a bunch of basil, squash, swish chard, onions, garlic, and some herbs. But mostly it’s gonna be tomatoes and basil. Nothing beats homemade pasta sauce with home-grown veggies! MMmMMmmm I can’t wait.

 

SwingNCocoa: Covered Greenhouse Garden.

17 Apart: Growing Celery Indoors: Never Buy Celery Again


 

Remember when we tested and shared how to grow onions indefinitely last week? Well, at the same time, we’ve been testing out another little indoor gardening project first gleaned from Pinterest that we’re excited to share the successes of today — regrowing celery from it’s base.

We’ve figured out how to literally re-grow organic celery from the base of the bunch we bought from the store a couple weeks ago. I swear, we must have been living under a rock all these years or just not be that resourceful when it comes to food, but we’re having more fun learning all these new little tips and tricks as we dive deeper into trying to grow more of our own food.

This project is almost as simple as the onion growing project — simply chop the celery stalks from the base of the celery you bought from the store and use as you normally would. In our case, we had a particular homemade bean dip that needed sampling!

Instead of tossing the base, rinse it off and place it in a small saucer or bowl of warm water on or near a sunny windowsill — base side down and cut stalks facing upright.

We let our celery base hang out in the saucer of water for right around one week, give or take. Over the course of the week, the surrounding stalks began to dry out significantly, but the tiny little yellow leaves from the center of the base began thickening, growing up and out from the center, and turned a dark green. The growth was slow, but steady and evident.

 

 

After the 5-7 days were complete, we transferred our celery base to a planter and covered it completely save for the leaf tips with a mixture of dirt and potting soil.

 

We watered it generously and after planting in the soil, the overall growth really took off. Not only do we have celery leaves regenerating themselves from the base, but you can see clear stalks making their way up and out. It’s truly fascinating what we have not even a week after planting in the soil:

 

 

 

A few notes:

  • Change out the water every couple of days while in the “saucer” phase of the project. We also used a spray bottle to spray water directly onto the base of the celery where the leaves were growing out.
  • The tutorials we saw showed planting the celery directly into the dirt outside — you may want to go this route if you live in a temperate area or want to be able to harvest outdoors. We went with an indoor planter since it’s still pretty cold here in VA, we have limited outdoor space in the city, and the space we do have is currently unprotected from our curious puppy.
  • Continue to generously water the celery after planting to keep it thriving.

 

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Update 1: After a few more weeks of growing time in our sunny window, our celery has continued to thrive. The leaves have grown out generously and bushy and the celery stalks underneath have really taken shape:

 

 

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Update 2: Here’s how we are looking at almost 3-4 weeks of growth:

 

Find the full 3-4 week update with even more pics and details on the progress in this post.

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Update 3: Here’s how we are looking at almost 5 months of growth, still indoors and still in the same planter:

 

At this stage, we’ve been actually been able to cut off stalks as needed in recipes and the celery continues to regenerate leafy stalks from the center of the plant. Find the full 5 month update with even more pics and details on the progress in this post.

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For anyone wondering about the planter, we made it by recycling a tin of steel cut oats we’d since finished. We simply cleaned it out well, then punctured holes along the base to create drainage for the plant.

We placed a thin layer of mulch at the base to help with drainage, followed by a thick layer of dirt/potting soil mixture. After placing the celery base snugly in the planter, we filled the remaining space with more dirt/potting soil to completely cover the celery base. We kept the top to the oats tin and flipped it over to place the new planter on top of it — the lid is a perfect custom fit to the base and catches any runoff from regular watering.

As usual — we’ll be sure to keep you posted on the progress of our container celery and hope you’ll let us know if you decide to try it out for yourself! If you’ve tried this before, what other types of vegetables have you known to be able to regrow itself in a similar way?

 

17 Apart: Growing Celery Indoors: Never Buy Celery Again.

Hanging Herb Garden in Ladyguides on Persephone Magazine.


The Lazy Lady’s Guide to DIY: Hanging Herb Garden

At some point near the middle of March, I always decide that I’m “done” with winter. The sweaters and jackets get pushed to the back of the closet, the flip flops come out, and I inevitably freeze my butt off for several weeks until the weather catches up with my warm-weather state of mind. Likewise, my cravings for fresh herbs and veggies are always a little ahead of the season.

Growing your own herbs is a great way to save money and avoid buying too much at a time and letting most of it go to waste. If it’s still too cold to plant outside where you are (or if you’re short on space!) this hanging herb garden is the perfect project to get you in gear for spring.

What you’ll need: Tin containers with snap-on plastic lids (tea, cocoa, and coffee cans are a good bet), coat hangers, pliers, scissors, herbs (I bought basil, rosemary, dill, and cilantro for about $2.50 each), masking tape, coffee filters, a nail, a hammer, X-acto knife, scrap fabric or paper, and glue or spray adhesive.

Herb Garden Before

After you’ve emptied and cleaned your cans, remove the bottom of the can with a can opener. Using the hammer and nail, punch 10-15 holes near the center.

Herb Garden Can Top

Slide the bottom inside the can, holding it up from inside. Tape the bottom in place about an inch from the outer edge of the can. (You could also use a hot glue gun.)  After you’ve got it good and stuck, punch two holes on opposite sides of the can about a quarter inch from the edge. These are the holes for the handle.

Taped Top

Flip the can over. Gently press the plant into the can. This part can get a little messy, so you might want to do it over the sink or outside.

 

Herb planted in can

Once you’ve got the herb in the can, take your coffee filter and cut a small diamond in the center, with a slit extending to the edge on one side.

 

Coffee filter

Fold the coffee filter around the herb and tape the edges together. Tape it to the can so that the top of the filter is tight. This will help prevent leaking and soil from falling out when you turn the can over.

 

Coffee filter taped to the can

Using your x-acto knife, cut a hole about 1-2 inches in diameter in the center of the plastic lid. The size of the hole really depends on the size of the plant. Too big and it will leak, too small and you might not be able to get the plant through it. When in doubt, go smaller.

 

A circular hole is cut in the lid.

This part is tricky: Carefully feed the plant through the hole in the plastic lid. The best way I’ve found to do this is to grasp the center of the plant, gathering all the leaves together, and gently twist it until it’s in a rope-like shape and isn’t poking out everywhere.

 

This part is tricky.

No herbs were harmed in the making of this project. (Until I ate them.)

Once you’ve got the lid snapped on, you can glue or tape it in place if the plant is especially big or heavy. Mine wasn’t, so I just left it snapped. Next, cut your fabric or paper into strips long enough to wrap around the can completely with a little overlap. Cut it wide enough so that there’s about a half inch extra around the top of the can (what used to be the bottom). You should probably have a cat hold the fabric in place for you.

Olive is helping

“You need this? Too bad, it’s my bed now.”

Hold the fabric so one edge is even with the bottom of the can, where the plant is poking out. Tape or glue the vertical edge of the fabric to the can, then wrap the fabric tightly around the can. You can use spray adhesive, glue, or clear tape to secure the fabric. Next, fold the extra half inch of fabric or paper inside the top of the can and glue or tape it in place. Be careful not to cover the holes for watering!

 

Wrap the fabric around the can.

To make the handles, use your pliers to cut about 6 inches of wire from the hangers. Bend it into a curve, then use the pliers to bend about 1/4-1/2 inch off the end into a right angle. Poke the ends through the holes you hammered out earlier, then use the pliers to squeeze the ends upward to secure it. I also made hooks for mine to make it easier to get them down for watering.

 

Herb garden after

You can hang your plants from curtain rods, hooks in the ceiling, or just about anywhere that gets plenty of light. I hung my herbs over the sink in my kitchen so they would be within easy reach while I was cooking. So far I haven’t had any problems with leaking, but you may want to avoid hanging your plants over hardwood floors or other surfaces that don’t take kindly to being dripped on.

 

Herb garden after 2

Yes, my cabinets really are this yellow.

This project could be tweaked in hundreds of ways. I originally planned to cover my cans in wood veneer and stain them for a more natural look, but had a hard time finding it locally. Sheet metal, wallpaper, wrapping paper, collage, or paint would also be great materials to use on these. And of course, you don’t have to grow herbs: you could also use these to grow hanging vines, flowers, tomatoes, peppers… the options are endless.

Happy growing!

 

Now reading: The Lazy Lady’s Guide to DIY: Hanging Herb Garden in Ladyguides on Persephone Magazine..

Growing Lemons


I use to do this with my Da… But over the years with all its traumas and dramas, forgot. So happy to stumble over this blog!

Growing Wild

When life gives you lemons, grow trees!

If you’ve ever seen a flowering lemon tree, you’ll understand why. For those of you who haven’t, allow me explain. Their lush, dark green, oval leaves have a glossy texture that shimmers in sunlight. Their delicate white flowers bloom with a citrus fragrance and are soft to the touch. Their exotic nature provides an alluring quality. And, finally, they bear the exciting possibility of fruit!

Typically, lemon trees flourish outdoors year-round in hot, sunny regions, but they can also thrive indoors as edible houseplants in cold-season climates. At the organic food store where I work we have a healthy lemon cutting producing massive fruit in a garage setting all year. It makes for an impressive sight during the dead of a Canadian winter!

And while rooting cuttings is a sensible option for fast fruit, lemon tree cuttings are not readily available in many…

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DIY Cowboy: How to reclaim wood from pallets


How to reclaim wood from pallets

Wood is the material of choice for a lot of my projects. In an effort to keep my hobby budget tight, I’ve ventured into the world of reclaimed and re-purposed wood. I’ll often collect shipping pallets, crates, and wood that has been previously used for sheds and decking, then re-purpose it for my projects. Sometimes, this wood has been taken apart for me and I just need to cut out any rot and remove and any pieces of metal that have been lodged in it. But Most of the time, I have to take it apart myself.

The most common structure to reclaim wood from is a shipping pallet. They can be found anywhere across America. Small companies often want to get rid of these ASAP. Large companies sometimes have a process to reuse or recycle their pallets, but are often willing to give a few away to anyone who asks.

With all of the boards and nails, it can be a little intimidating and difficult to start separating a pallet. Just going at it with a pry bar and hammer isn’t going to work very well. You’ll have trouble getting the pry bar in to those tight joints and you can easily crack the wood, rending it hardly usable. Here is a guide with my steps, precautions, and techniques to help you reclaim the wood used in a pallet with maximum efficiency and minimal damage to the wood.

The tools I recommend are

  • a 4×4 piece of wood, long enough to lay across the pallet.
  • a 2 pound or heavier mallet, possibly made of rubber
  • a piece of 2×6 or similar, 1-3 feet tall
  • a regular hammer with a good claw
  • a pry bar – Stanley 21-Inch Wonder Bar
  • gloves
  • safety glasses
  • punches – 8 Piece Pin Punch Set
  • optionally, a sledge hammer and an empty jar for rusty nails

Start by

putting on your gloves and laying the pallet out on a hard, flat surface. I use my garage floor, but a sidewalk, porch, or driveway will also work well. Make sure you have sufficient space to walk around the pallet. I like to start the pallet with the heavily planked side up, the same way the pallet would lay if the shipping cargo were sitting on it. Grab the 4×4. Raise the pallet with one hand and slide the 4×4 underneath with the other. Position the 4×4 so that it is side to side with the first board you want to remove.

Once in position,
grab your mallet and 2×6 and stand it on the board you want to remove. You will need to hold it steady and can choose to hold it at an angle if you need to. Stand the 2×6 near where the pallet board contacts other boards and try to hold it so that as much of the 2×6 end is touching the pallet board as possible. This will distribute your hitting force more evenly around the nails attaching the board to the rest of the pallet, preventing cracking while still allowing you to deliver a lot of force. Hit the 2×6 with the mallet. Give it a few good hits and you should notice the pallet board slipping away from the other pieces of the pallet. Once it reaches about a quarter inch of separation, move your 2×6 to another part of the board where it is connected to the rest of the pallet and continue. Go up and down the length of the board until the board has fallen from the pallet. The more evenly you separate the joints, the less likely you’ll crack the board.

If the board is in a really hard to reach place,
use the sledge hammer. Don’t go nuts and start swinging at the board! Use gravity and the weight of the sledge hammer. Just lifting it and dropping it a few times is enough to dislodge the board from the rest of the pallet. This technique allows you to place the head of the sledge hammer sideways into a small space, then just lift and drop to get the board moving. You could use this method for the entire pallet, but this method is prone to creating more cracks in the boards.

Before moving on to the next board,
make sure to move the recently removed board far enough from your work area that you won’t accidentally step on it or the rusty nails sticking out of it. Then move your 4×4 next to another board and start removing that board with the mentioned techniques. I like to work from outer-most to inner-most boards, helping keep the pallet rigid while I’m working with it. Once finished with one side, flip it over and do the other side of the pallet.

When deciding which side of a board I want to place my 4×4 against, I choose the side with the least weight. This puts the board I want to remove in between the 4×4 and the floor, as opposed to the 4×4 and the air. I can’t follow this rule when removing the boards on the ends of the pallet, so to help keep the pallet heavy and steady against the 4×4, I stand on the pallet while making my hits. Another thing to note is that hitting too hard into a small area will cause cracking in the board. You never want that. That’s why I recommend using the mallet in conjunction with a 2×6 and only using the sledge hammer in tight spaces.

Once the boards have all been separated,
you should take the time to remove the nails. This will make your new boards safe and easy to store. I take each board, one at a time, and lay it on the edge of a work bench or flat stool. I make sure the nail heads are on the bottom side (floor side) of the board and that I’m looking at the points of the nails. I then take my regular hammer and start knocking the nails out to the other side. Keeping the targeted nails close to the edge of a sturdy table or stool keeps the board from flexing and makes each swing of the hammer count that much more. Once I’ve knocked each nail flush with my side of the board, I grab another board and do it again.

As I finish each board, I lay it on the floor, nail heads up. Once they are all on the floor, I put on my safety glasses and grab my jar and pry bar. Make sure you have your safety glasses on, because sometimes these nails will flex on their way out, causing them to fling into the air when being removed. I’ve already been hit in the face a couple of times and hit in the goggles once. I begin walking on the boards, taking care not to step on any nails, using my pry bar to pull the nails out. This is a cake walk on thinner boards and can sometimes be difficult with thick boards. Thicker boards, like 2x4s, might require you to get down on your hand and knees to pull their nails out.

Some stubborn nails
will lose their heads. To get these out, you need to get creative. If the nail hole goes all the way through the board, I take the board back to my workbench or stool and flip it over, the same way it was when I knocked the nail through to the other side. I then use a punch set to drive the nail the rest of the way out from the bottom side. If the nail hole doesn’t go all the way through, I will lay one of my punches next to the nail and us the hammer to bend the broken nail over the punch tool. Then, I’m usually able to use the claw on the hammer to get enough grip to remove the nail.

Now you’re done.
You’ll want to store the nails in a safe place, like a jar with a lid. I haven’t thought of any good uses for rusty, bent nails yet, so I just recycle them. Make sure that before using the reclaimed wood, you pass a metal detector over it. You don’t want any missed nails or staples damaging your saw blades and other tools. Also, I try to plane my wood ASAP. I do so with a lot of dust protection. The reason I do this is because some pallets get fumigated and treated with bad stuff and strong chemicals while they are being moved around the world. It’s my belief that this stuff typically sticks to the surface and doesn’t absorb deep. Holding the boards to the light, you can sometimes notice an eerily shiny surface layer. So, I plane or cut the surface layers away before storing and using this wood, getting rid of that shiny layer. I wear an N95 or better rated mask while doing this to protect myself from contaminated saw dust.

DIY Cowboy: How to reclaim wood from pallets.

Grow an Herbal Garden for Your Dog—10 Medicinal Herbs for Dogs | The Natural Living Site


©2011 Shanna Ohmes

It is well documented that animals in the wild have natural instincts for picking and choosing the herbs they need for not only the healing properties, but also to promote health. My goats would browse herbs (weeds) in the pasture and canyons when we went on our hiking trips with them, nibbling and tasting and choosing which plants were at the right growth phase for their needs.

Dogs in the wild are able to do the same thing. I’ve seen them consume large quantities of wild sand hill plums, cactus fruits and grasses.

The Gypsy people, in their many travels, became experts on herbal medicines for man and beast alike. Juliette De Bairacli-Levy learned herbalism from the Gypsies and helped many farmers and pet owners bring their animals back from the brink of death to full health.

Our dogs today do not have access to the many herbs of the field like their wild cousins, but you as the owner can learn what their needs are and grow your own Dog Herbal Garden! Herbs used in addition to a species appropriate diet, will promote the health of your dog.

Here is a list of basic herbs that you can grow in your garden. You can add many of these to your dog’s diet daily to promote health and prevent disease.

10 Herbs to Grow in Your Garden:

Garlic—Fresh garlic wards off disease and is potent enough to kill fungi and bacteria. Garlic has antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral, antiparasitic and even anticancer properties. It also regulates blood sugar levels.

Dandelion—Use the whole plant as a nourishing herb for the liver and kidneys. Dandelion is an excellent source of potassium and is used as a powerful diuretic. As it removes excess fluid from the body, it replaces potassium that is lost in the process.

Chamomile—A calming herb, chamomile is beneficial for the nervous adolescent stage of your dog’s growth. Made into a tea, it eases teething pain in puppies and can help older dogs sleep more peacefully at night, when they are prone to pacing the house. It’s a soothing digestive aid, cleanses the blood, heals skin rashes and speeds wound healing.

Calendula—A magical wound healer, calendula’s antibacterial properties work better than many antibiotics. Reach for calendula to reduce inflammation and for first aid treatment. Make an infusion of the leaves to treat itching and hot spots.

English: Purple Coneflower

Image via Wikipedia

Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)—The Native Americans revered Echinacea for treating fevers, wounds and snakebites. Purple coneflower is a popular flower in garden landscaping for its beauty, but it’s also a powerful immune system builder. Echinacea is best taken at the beginning of a fever or infection to use the medicinal properties effectively.

Fennel—Fennel seeds are an excellent digestive aid and are used for expelling intestinal parasites. Fennel nourishes and cleanses the cells and tissues in the body. The whole plant can be added to your dog’s meals to enhance health.

Parsley—Parsley prevents disease by maintaining proper pH levels. Parsley is mineral rich and also aids digestion. It nourishes the kidneys and bladder and even freshens the breath!

Rosemary—Rosemary is wonderful for the skin—it has antifungal, antibacterial and antiseptic properties. This fragrant herb also aids digestion. It makes a wonderful rinse for your dog’s bath to promote hair growth and enhance rich luster and color tones in the fur.

Sage—Sage has been referred to as a “heal-all” herb since ancient times. Sage can be added to your dog’s meal everyday to promote health. Sage has a rich history in healing the body of many diseases.

Lavender—Lavender reduces the buildup of excessive skin oil—a perfect remedy to use on greasy and smelly dogs. Lavender inhibits the bacterial growth in the greasy coat that causes the odor. Make a lavender rinse for your dog’s coat to help with skin irritations and inflammation. Lavender also heals wounds and regenerates tissue.

This year, plan to grow an herbal garden for your dog. In fact, expand the herb garden a bit and you’ll have plenty of herbs for your dog and your family too! Use the herbs daily in your dog’s species appropriate diet to prevent disease and promote health.

via Grow an Herbal Garden for Your Dog—10 Medicinal Herbs for Dogs | The Natural Living Site.

Discover the benefits of burdock root


Greater burdock (Arctium lappa)

Image via Wikipedia

Burdock root as an herbal remedy offers a variety of health benefits. This herb has been known for its healing properties for many centuries and was commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat numerous illnesses.

About Burdock Root

The burdock is a plant found in the continents of Europe and Asia. It is easy to find and identify, as it generally grows along fences and roads. In Asia, the taproot of young burdock plant is harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. It has a gummy consistency and is sweet to the taste. It is rich in calcium, chlorogenic acid, flavonoids, iron, inulin, lactone, mucilage, polyacetylenes, potassium, resin, tannin, and taraxosterol.

Traditional Uses for Burdock Root

In folk medicine, the seeds of the burdock were compressed to make a mixture that provided relief for measles, arthritis, tonsillitis, throat pain, and viruses like the common cold. Burdock root can also be used to treat gout, rheumatism, ulcers, acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Folk herbalists use it to treat snake bites and those that are afflicted with rabies. They also used dried burdock as a diuretic, diaphoretic, and a blood purifying agent. It purifies the blood by getting rid of dangerous toxins.

Remedy for Scalp Problems

The burdock root oil extract, or Bur oil, is used in Europe as a scalp treatment to help treat dandruff and prevent hair loss. Since the burdock oil is rich in phytosterols and essential fatty acids, it is also said to improve hair strength, shine, and body by helping maintain a healthy scalp and promote hair growth. It combines an immediate relieving effect with nutritional support for normal functions of the sebaceous glands and hair follicles.

Burn Treatment

The leaves of the burdock can be used for pain management and to help speed up recovery time in burn patients. It is said to impede bacterial growth and acts as a barrier against moisture.

Cancer Benefits

Today, burdock root is used in oncology for its cancer-curing properties, particularly in Russia and India. Many herbalists say burdock root can stop cancer cells from metastasizing. Preliminary research has demonstrated that burdock root has certain protective properties that may explain its cancer benefits.

Further Reading:

http://www.chinese-herbs.org/burdock/

http://fasting.ws/cancer/burdock-cancer

http://www.gentle-stress-relief.com…

About the author

Elizabeth Walling is a freelance writer specializing in health and family nutrition. She is a strong believer in natural living as a way to improve health and prevent modern disease. She enjoys thinking outside of the box and challenging common myths about health and wellness. You can visit her blog to learn more:
www.livingthenourishedlife.com/2009.

The Hidden Dangers of Conventional Gardening


A scanned red tomato, along with leaves and fl...

Image via Wikipedia

In today’s fast-paced consumer society, the demand for hassle-free items with minimal effort reigns supreme. When it comes to fruit and vegetables, what could be easier than supermarket produce? Unfortunately, today’s busy schedules have weeded out backyard gardening. Take a visual survey of your own neighborhood and undoubtedly you will find more yards filled with grass and playthings than vegetable gardens or fruit trees. And for many who do garden, there is little time for maintenance, which is why typical gardens often include an arsenal of quick fixes that don’t take the long-term effects into consideration.

 

Whether you are just getting started or already have a patch to call your own, choosing what to grow and how you grow it are important decisions. We’ll use a tomato plant as an example and consider the hidden dangers associated with conventional gardening from getting that plant from your local nursery, all the way through harvesting fresh juicy tomatoes for the table.

First off, where did that tomato plant come from? If it is not an organic or heirloom variety, is it genetically modified? There’s simply no way to tell. We do know it was grown from seed and, through recent mergers, Monsanto owns and controls the vast majority of all fresh market tomato seed. That puts the likeliness of a GMO tomato plant very high, if not now, then in the near future. It is no secret that Monsanto is a big proponent of tinkering with the very DNA of our food. What’s all the fuss if our very own FDA claims it to be safe? The plain truth is that we simply don’t know. When we consume GMO food, we submit ourselves as test subjects in perhaps one of the largest science experiments on the planet. Plus, there is no telling what has been added to the plant…even animal DNA gets used!

With any luck you will find an heirloom plant. What exactly is an heirloom plant? The generally accepted definition is a plant grown from a single variety of seed dating back 50 years or more. That means the seeds have not been cross pollinated with other plant species to produce hybrid plants and guarantees there has been no lab tinkering with the plant’s DNA. There are seeds whose roots can be traced back to early civilization! But has it been raised organically? Unless it is labeled as such, it’s a good bet the parent plant was raised chemically and the resulting seedling also shared the same fate. It’s still a better choice than that mystery plant, but an organic heirloom plant is the Holy Grail of the garden.

Now that you’ve chosen your plant, it’s time to get it into the ground. Conventional wisdom would have you tear up the soil with a tiller and put down plastic weed barrier all over the place. Believe it or not, according to Lee Reich, author of Weedless Gardening, that is the worst thing you could do. First off, you would be destroying the soil’s intricate layering and creating what amounts to a giant dirt sponge where all the water you supply quickly pools at the bottom-most layer, far from the reach of your tomato’s roots. And putting down a plastic weed barrier will slow down some of your weed problems, while at the same time leaching chemicals into your soil where your tomato will happily drink them up and deposit them into those lovely developing tomatoes.

So you’ve tilled your soil (inadvertently bringing a host of buried weed seeds up from the depths), put down your plastic (trapping in moisture and heat which will really boost your overall mold production) and set your mystery tomato plant into the ground. It’s feeding time for your tomato. What does conventional gardening tell you to do? Reach for that miraculous synthetic fertilizer to jumpstart your plant’s growth. Unfortunately, doing so takes its toll on the planet’s resources.

According to dirtdoctor.com, synthetic fertilizer production relies on petroleum, not a sustainable practice by any means. Plus, the major component of synthetic fertilizers is fixed nitrogen in the form of nitrates. Unfortunately, pumping nitrates into the soil faster than the plants can absorb it leaves the excess to enter into the groundwater, making its way into rivers and streams. Abundant nitrates in the water contributes to excess algae bloom. As algae decomposes, oxygen in the water is consumed. Eventual oxygen depletion drives away all aquatic life. This contributed to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to affecting water, oxidized forms of nitrogen are released into the air when applying fertilizer, contributing to breathing problems if inhaled and greenhouse gases as the they make their way into the atmosphere. Those same nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere contribute to the formation of acid rain, which changes water pH levels (dealing those poor aquatic creatures another blow) and leaches nutrients from the soil (counter to the goal of fertilization in the first place). Organic fertilizers are the safer choice here, ranging in a multitude of flavors from glacial rock dust to sea minerals, organic compost to natural palletized fertilizers.

Fast forward a few weeks and you notice, despite your best efforts, weeds are popping up and are growing like gangbusters thanks to all that synthetic fertilizer. And what is gnawing on your tomato? It’s a space alien caterpillar from hell! What’s a conventional gardener to do? Pull out the heavy artillery, of course, and launch a full-on chemical assault on all who dare enter your hallowed patch. But before you do, know this: pesticides, herbicides and fungicides pose significant health risks, everything from skin irritation to nervous system disorders to cancer. While you are directly at risk from application, children and pets are even more susceptible. And don’t forget that the air and water will carry those chemicals to neighboring areas risking native plants, beneficial insects, fish, amphibians, small mammals, birds … right on up the food chain. Taking the time to pull or hoe weeds manually (and putting to practice the lessons from Weedless Gardening), companion planting, attracting beneficial insects and manually removing pests all are better options.

Mystery plant … check. Soil havoc … wreaked. Synthetic plant food … delivered. Weeds and bugs … annihilated. It’s harvest time — have a little tomato with your toxins, possibly tossing in some mystery DNA on the side. Oh, and you better pile on some extra servings because studies now show conventionally grown fruit and vegetables have 40% fewer nutrients than organic produce. Bon appétit!

There is a better way. Growing an organic garden is a start. Becoming somewhat of a land steward, as was done generations ago, is the next step.

Green Promise Gardening Series, Part 1: The Hidden Dangers of Conventional Gardening.

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