Posts tagged ‘organic’

March 9, 2012

Gearing up for starting seeds

“It’s 17 and sunny.”  the morning show host said brightly.  Did I hear him right?  Yikes!  Wasn’t it 55 yesterday?  No, wait, that was Tuesday, or was it Monday?  Oh, well.  Tomorrow is supposed to be in the 50s and looks like 60 is coming a couple of days after that.  But, basketball tournaments haven’t started yet so there’s still time for one more blizzard.

To some this may sound insane, but to those of us who live here, it’s simply called Minnesota.

Bright, sunny mornings make me smile and honestly, I prefer the 10 – 20 range more than the 20s and 30s.  Why? Because when we get into the 30s and get snow-melt the air is damp and as we say in Minnesota “it’s not the cold so much, it’s the dampness, it cuts right through ya”.  Despite the chill in the air I’m so excited to get the garden going.  In March?  Sure!  Okay, technically not outside, although you can sow seeds in snow, I’ve yet to experiment with that and this year is not the year to try considering we’ve been looking at brown grass far more than a white blanket of snow.

Snow or no snow though, it’s almost time to get seeds started inside.  Do you have everything you need?  A sunny window?  Plant Lights?  Seeds?  Seed trays?  Growing medium (soil)? Early March is a good time to get all of these things ready to go: plant lights set up, seeds ordered and delivered, garden calendar and garden journal ready.

Most warm season plants need to be started inside about 6-8 weeks prior to the average last frost.  In our area, that’s anytime between March 20th and April 3rd.  So if you haven’t gotten your supplies together, now’s the time to do it!

Seed catalogs typically start coming in the mail in January.  When they start filling my mailbox, my heart picks up a little speed, a smile crosses my face.  I immediately transport myself from a cold winter day to a warm sunny day in the middle of August, out in the garden with everything at its peak…. picking sun-ripened tomatoes, smelling the scent of basil and thyme as I brush against them on my stroll through the back yard.   And the raspberries!  Hanging there, just waiting to be plucked from their canes and popped into my mouth where the sweet burst of flavor sends tingles of happiness down to my toes.  But alas… it’s not August, it’s March.  But I can dream and so can you.  After all, it’s these dreams, these visions of perfection that get us in the spirit of gardening even when Mother Nature isn’t ready for us to play the soil just yet.

Back to seed catalogs.  If you haven’t ordered seeds… Do. It. NOW!  When perusing catalogs though and making those final decisions, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  First, make sure the plants you select are suitable for your climate, and by climate, I mean cold hardiness zone.  Minnesota used to range from zone 4b in the south to 2b in the north, but in January 2012, they updated the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to reflect recent temperature changes and shifted Minnesota into a slightly warmer zone.  Our new zones range from 5a in the south to 3a in the north.  So what does this mean?  The plant hardiness zone map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature.  What does that mean for gardeners?  It’s a tool to help us determine which plants are most likely to thrive in our location.  When looking at seed catalogs, plant catalogs or plant tags in the nursery or garden center it should show the cold hardiness for each (perennial) plant.  For example, say I’m looking through the Seed Savers Exchange catalog (one of my favorites) and as I cruise through the description for “Oregano, Greek” – I see “Perennial in zones 4-9”.  If I live in northern Minnesota, in zone 3a, I think to myself, “nope, not a perennial here” but if I live in southern Minnesota, in zone 5a, I think, “hmm… maybe that’s why my oregano came through the winter last year”.

You typically won’t see a lot of cold hardiness information noted in fruit and vegetable seed catalogs.  Why?  Because the majority of these plants are annuals.  We plant them, grow them, harvest their fruit and they complete their life cycle all in one season.  However, perennial herbs, fruits and vegetables, perennial flowers, as well as trees and shrubs, will include cold hardiness information because they will continue living, growing and producing fruit year after year in the proper growing conditions.  What if you fall outside the perennial zones?  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a shot at growing the plant, it just means you’ll need to think of it as an annual whereas other areas will think of it as a perennial.

The other thing to note, is if you will be growing the plant for its fruit, you want to make sure your climate has enough warm days during the growing season to allow the fruit to mature.  This will also be noted in the catalogs or on seed packets.  They will state “65 days to maturity”  or “75 days from transplant” (“transplant” signals that these need to be started from seed indoors prior to planting outside).  They may state “50 days”, they may state (with peas, for example) “Shell, 50-55 days” or they may state “Edible podded, 60 days”.  Basically what all of this means is that they need to have the number of days (shown on the package or in the catalog) during the growing season (average last frost in the spring until average first frost in the fall) to be able to produce fruit.  Keep in mind if you only have 75 days in your growing season you would be cutting it pretty close to not getting any fruit if you choose something in the 65+ range.  It would be a huge bummer to nurture a plant all summer to run out of warmth before you get fruit.

On to plant light stands.  If you don’t already have one, you can buy them ready-to-assemble or build your own.  Some plant light stands can be pretty darned expensive, I’ve seen them for as high as $800 for the mac daddy down to around $250 for a pretty basic structure.  However, you can build your own for just a little over $100 with hardware store materials and a little handiness.  Mine is built from PVC, which unless you like the look of white plastic in your house it’s not all that pretty, but the plants have yet to complain.

If you’ve never started seeds inside, I’d encourage you to try it.  It’s pretty fun, truly amazing to watch, can be disappointing at times, but be very rewarding and well worth the money you save versus buying transplants later in the season.  At the very least you get to say, “I grew that, from seed!”

The added bonus about starting your own plants from seed, is that if you want to eat local, organic food, there’s really no better way to know exactly where your food came from than to start with an organic seed, grow it in organic soil, provide water, sunlight and feed it with healthy, chemical-free fertilizer (a.k.a compost) until the day you harvest. It doesn’t get any more local or organic than this!

If haven’t tried seed starting and you’re not sure where to start, or if you have and ran into problems please give me a holler, leave a comment or drop me a line and I’d be happy to offer what I can to help you get things growing.


January 27, 2012

Are you having pesticide for dinner?

In a perfect world, all the food we put into our bodies would be organic, but as we all well know, we don’t live in a perfect world.  Organic food, although more readily available than say, 15 years ago, still isn’t the main supply and sometimes, depending on what the product or produce is, the cost can be up to double the cost of conventional for the same product.

In a less than flourishing economy, like we’re living in now, we all have to watch our spending and need to make sure we’re getting the best value for our dollar.  Realistically not all of us can afford to buy absolutely everything organic.  So how do you decide?  How do you choose what to buy organic and what to buy conventional?  How do you know what’s “worth it” and what’s not?

A few of years ago I ran across the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website and found the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce also known as the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists.  These lists show the results of a study done from 2000 – 2009 by the USDA which ranks pesticide contamination on 53 of the most popular fruits and veggies.

The Dirty Dozen list shows the worst foods to buy conventional due to the amount of pesticide contaminants and the Clean 15 list shows the foods with the least amount of contaminants, or in other words the safest to buy conventional. Everything else falls somewhere in the middle. You can read more about the methodology of the study on the EWG website.  I would highly recommend it because it goes more in-depth about the findings and you can see the full listing of all 53 items tested as well.

If you’re thinking “I don’t need that, I wash everything before we eat it.”  The reality is, we do need it.  The majority of the produce in this study was tested after being rinsed or peeled.

So what do you do?  If you’re like me, when I first read this study, it scared the pants off of me.  I had no idea that “the apple a day to keep the doctor away” I had been eating is the worst offender in pesticide contamination.  Great.  Here I’ve been making an effort to eat well and instead I’ve been pumping my body full of pesticides.  My initial reaction was fear.  I needed to stop what I was doing, throw out all my produce and completely switch over, only buy organic.  But, realistically, I knew my bank account would last about four nano-seconds if I did that, which is exactly why the EWG put the Shopper’s Guide together.  So instead what I do is as I make my grocery list, I check the lists.  (The EWG site has a nice pdf list you can print off and hang on your fridge or bring to the store with you as a reference sheet.)  If I need apples I note “org” behind them so I know when I’m in the store that I needto buy that item in organic.  If I’m buying bananas I either put “c” or “conv” or leave it blank so I know that I can either buy conventional or organic.  Everything in the middle (not on the Dirty Dozen, but not on the Clean 15) I leave blank as well leaving myself the flexibility to buy whatever looks good at the store.

Next, I check my packaged goods (cans, jars, etc.) to make sure that anything I’m buying in this category or is made from these items follow the same guidelines… applesauce “org”, tomatoe sauce “org”, and so forth.  The same goes for frozen veggies…

So there you have it.  A practical guideline to help navigate whether or not to buy organic produce and where to get the most bang for your buck.

Happy shopping!


November 21, 2011

Was that intentional?

I was just reading an email I got from Land Stewardship Project.  The email was about upcoming Holistic Management Classes.

As I was skimming the email to see if the class is something I would be interested in I ran across this statement, which got me thinking.

“The framework is build upon the idea that the success of all human goals is tied to the health of the ecosystem processes that support life on this planet. In other words, whether you directly manage land or not, Holistic Management can help you achieve your goals in ways that benefit you, your family, your community and the environment.”

What really struck me was the “whether you directly manage land or not”, the key word being “directly”.  Whether we directly do something, in other words, whether we intend to do something or not, it has an impact.   Everyday we’re faced with hundreds, perhaps thousands of decisions and we’re directly doing something or it’s the indirect choice not to, it’s still making a choice, which in turn makes an impact.

This can be applied to so many areas of our lives, but it really drives home the point of intentional living.  Often times we make a decision to do something but forget that the opposite of what we decide (the indirect choice) also makes an impact.  Often times these indirect choices have even more impact that the direct choice.  I’ll throw a big example out there.  Some people may make the direct choice to by conventional produce, the indirect choice is not to buy organic produce.  They may make this indirect choice without even being aware that it was a choice at all.  Maybe buying conventional is all they know.  Maybe they didn’t realize that they even had the choice to buy organic tomatoes, for example, because they are in a different corner of the store that don’t typically shop in.  Or, maybe they made the choice to buy conventional tomatoes because they were less expensive than their organic counterpart.  This choice, this purchase, has impacts in many ways that they might not have even thought about.  They may not even realize that the tomatoes they are eating or feeding their family were grown from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), in other words, altered genetic make-up.  They may not have realized that the tomatoes were sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides to keep insects and diseases away from them so the farmer could get a better yield but that those “cides” stay on the produce, are absorbed by the plant that feeds the produce and stay in the soil for years to come.  They may not have realized that the tomatoes were picked green and transported halfway across the country and were “ripened” during shipping by using ethylene gas applications. They also may not realize that by choosing conventional produce they are choosing to support conventional practices, many of which have gotten the soil and environment in the situation we’re in today.

The indirect choice, not to buy organic produce, also means indirectly choosing not to support organic or local growers who are making a conscious decision to grow their crops using sustainable methods, not using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, but instead using crop rotations and other methods to preserve and add nutrients to the soil.  In other words, making an indirect choice to support what is harming the planet and an indirect choice to not support making it a better place.

You might be thinking, “Come on!  They were just buying tomatoes!”  but that is exactly the point.  We all need to be aware of the impact of our choices, whether direct or indirect, intentional or unintentional.  I’m not saying to change everything you’re doing today or run out and buy only organic food.  And I’m not saying to make yourself crazy when shopping at the grocery store or any other place.  What I’m saying is that we all just need to be aware, be mindful and make intentional choices.