Tag Archives: gardening

From Books to Garden Plots, Gifts of Love

Dec. 16, 2011
Garden plot to books: Give a truly organic ‘gift of love’

Looking for a quick Christmas present? Why not give the gift of good, wholesome, nutritious food!
All you need is a little elbow grease, some simple tools like a shovel and willingness to dig.
Like last year, I’m suggesting that if there’s anybody you can think of who can no longer fend much for themselves and would appreciate it, such as an elderly neighbor or family members, that you give them a gift certificate for a “Jim’s Plot.”
That is, offer to put a 4-by-8-foot plot of ground in their yard, perhaps by the kitchen in a sunny place, where simple greens or vegetables can be grown – and then keep it tilled and planted throughout the year.
Call it a gift of love. What could be more loving than the gift of health?

Books are good gifts, too. And also for treating yourself with when relatives give you a check or gift certificate for your Kindle, Nook or iPad – or bookstore!
Here are a few books I’ve written about in the past year:

Classics:

Looking for an “edible yard,” or swapping your lawn for an edible landscape? Pioneered by Rosalind Creasy, with The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques (Sierra Club Books, 1982, and several other books since then), and boosted by other such popular books as The Edible Landscape by Tom MacCubbin (1998), shifting yards to make them into foodscapes has become a national movement.
Check out Eliot Coleman’s classic: The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener (Chelsea Green, 1995, $24.95).
Or Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses (Chelsea Green, 2009, $29.95).
For unique views on farming, check out: The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer by Joel Salatin (Polyface, $25)
Or, to learn what’s really going on with your yard or pasture, see: Weeds: Control Without Poisons by Charles Walters (Acres USA, 1999, $25).
Or take a “hands-free” approach to growing: The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming (New York Review of Books Classics, $15.95, 2009).
For a classic on permaculture, see Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (2000, updated 2009, Chelsea Green, $29.95).
Like healthy foods you can make during the winter? See: Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green, 2003, $25).

Classics to be:
Brad Kessler’s book is one of my favorites, a “must” read for anyone who longs to “go back to the land” and raise goats: Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese (Scribner, 2009, $24).
Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe, by Maria Rodale, (Rodale Books, 2010, $23.99).

Homesteading:
The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals by Gail Damerow (Storey, 2011, $24.95).
Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan with K. Ruby Blume (Skyhorse, 2011, $16.95).
Modern Homestead: Grow, Raise, Create by Renee Wilkinson (Fulcrum, 2011, $26.95).

Good reading:
The Wisdom of the Radish: And Other Lessons Learned on a Small Farm by Lynda Hopkins (Sasquatch Books, Seattle, 2011, $23.95) is a sweet, sometimes humorous and sometimes bittersweet tale of a young woman learning the joys and heartaches of growing food for others.
Eat Naked: Unprocessed, Unpolluted & Undressed Eating for a Healthier, Sexier You by Margaret Floyd (New Harbinger, Oakland, Calif., $16.95) is an eye-opening book about eating raw food; it’s not naughty but gives the straight skinny on nutrition!
Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and All Seasons by Felder Rushing (Chelsea Green, $29.95); not organic, but our local horticulturist has some great ideas!
Honeybee: Lessons From an Accidental Beekeeper by C. Marina Marchese (Black Dog & Leventhall Publishers; $14.95), details a woman’s education from knowing nothing about bees to becoming a master “beek,” with lots of culinary and medicinal lore learned along the way.
Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting America’s Bees and Butterflies by The Xerces Society (Storey Publishing; $29.95).
Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs by Tammi Hatung (Storey Publishing, 2011; $19.95).
The Cooking Light Gluten-Free Cookbook: Simple Food Solutions for Everyday Meals (Oxmore, 2011, $21.95).

Online: Want a quick gift? Give a donation in someone’s name to the International Rescue Committee: http://gifts.rescue.org.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Advertisements

Secret to winter greens in the picking

Dec. 9, 2011

Secret to perfect organic winter greens is in the picking

The secret to growing perfect organic winter greens is quite simple: In addition to good soil, and keeping plants covered when it’s frosty, is to be selective in picking.
It’s tempting, when looking at a profusion of greens, to just pick the biggest leaves, but that’s ultimately self-defeating. Greens such as mustards, collards, lettuces and various brassicas, grow from the center out. Consequently, the older leaves are on the outside.
If you look carefully at your greens, say your collards, you will notice there are probably several wilted or unhealthy looking leaves either close to – or lying on – the ground and are still connected to the plant. Pull them off.
Just toss them away, so they decompose back into the soil, but not so close as to keep bugs that aid in their decomposition near your plant.
Go through your patch and start picking from the bottom. Some of these leaves will be perfectly fine for eating. Others won’t, but that’s OK. We’re wanting to get back on track with keeping plants healthy and thriving.
Think of it as pruning a plant, like a rose bush or other ornamental. You are carefully removing leaves that sap the vitality of the plant. Remember to pick using your thumbnail and first finger, pinching off the leaf cleanly. That helps the stem to quickly heal, allowing the plant to put energy instead into new leaves.
You will quickly find that in previous pickings you probably overlooked most of the leaves on the outside of the plant. That’s OK. Greens are quite resilient.
What will happen once you remove old or diseased leaves from the outside and bottom of the plants and continue to pick the leaves from the outside, is that the plants will put their energy into producing new leaves from the center even more vigorously.
If all goes well, you will notice the greens are growing tall, thick stalks, and the leaves from the center are growing more quickly and are larger than before. The plant is getting more established (going down, up and out) and is concentrating its energy on producing leaves – food for you!
If you’re lucky, the plants will continue to produce into spring before warmer temperatures prompt them to bolt – or produce flowers and seeds for regeneration.
This way of picking greens is not the way big agricultural outfits do it. They plant the plants, then when they reach a certain size, they just cut them all down. That’s why you see stalks as well as leaves when buying greens in the grocery.
But if you want to have sweet, tender, prolific greens all winter, be selective in picking: a leaf here, a leaf there, thanking the plant for providing you with nourishment. The plant will reward you, gladly!

Great book, just out: I recently received one of the best garden books I’ve read this year: The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm by Peg Schafer(Chelsea Green; $34.95). It’s subtitle tells why I like it so much: “A Cultivator’s Guide to Small-Scale Organic Herb Production.”
Not only does the book give great descriptions and photos of herbs, but short histories of them, ways to grow them, good companion plants, medicinal uses (not limited to Chinese medicine but Ayurvedic and other), along with garden tips and recommended reading.
Schafer writes that she became a commercial herb gardener by accident, literally. After a minor auto accident, she started having acupuncture to help her heal and taking Chinese medicinal herbs. But she found that the holistic approach was not only healing her physical injuries but other longterm issues. Her acupuncturist suggested she grow her own herbs, since she found them so healing, and so she started out as a “backyard farmer.”
That developed into the 10-acre Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm of Petaluma, Calif.
The book is the fruit of her knowledge, so to speak. It’s a great gift.

Foodies, online: Just out: If you want to impress your foodie friends with a truly unique holiday gift, try a gift basket of Muir Glen Reserve tomatoes. Yep, a “reserve” canned tomato! Each year chosen in secrecy, produced under a chef, hand picked, hand sorted, organic California tomatoes with limited amounts offered during the holiday season. ($10 plus $5 shipping.) Check it out: http://www.muirglen.com

The 2012 North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar by Maria & Matthias Thun is now available for those who like to plant by the moon.
This original biodynamic sowing and planting calendar is now in its 50th year. It shows the optimum days for sowing, pruning and harvesting various plants and crops, as well as working with bees. Great gift for gardener who has everything. Price: $13.95
It’s available from the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association: http://bit.ly/uOCs7B

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Fair Trade group to weaken small farmer alliance

Dec. 2, 2011

Fair Trade group aiming to weaken small farmer alliance

As if it weren’t bad enough that the state is ending the certification of organic farms, putting a burden on local small farmers, now Fair Trade USA, the U.S. group that certifies small farmers for the Fair Trade designation, is aiming to bend its rules to accommodate large plantations and corporations.
As we reported last week, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce will no longer certify farms organic in the state starting Jan. 1 due to budget cuts.
That’s not likely to affect corporations or large farmers who can afford out-of-state certification, but it could price small farmers out of being certified.
Now, it appears, big corporations and large plantations will be getting a break on Fair Trade certification in America, too.
For those who have long supported Fair Trade goods, it’s seen as a turnaround from the spirit of the movement (much as many believe the increasing use of the  certification by large industrial farms and importing cheap “certified organic” fruits and vegetables from foreign countries is out of keeping with the
original organic movement).
A little background: Fair Trade began in the 1940s when a few small North American and European organizations reached out to poverty stricken communities to help them sell their handicrafts to well-off markets.
The movement to support impoverished farm workers – particularly in the Third World with coffee growers, banana pickers and handcrafters – grew and since the 1990s, it has become a global movement. Having a Fair Trade symbol on a product, such as organic coffees found at the grocery, ensures standards are followed
regarding working conditions, wages, child labor and the environment.
Such commercial giants as Walmart and Starbucks now proudly display the Fair Trade logo, which is reserved for goods that are certified as Fair Trade, either by Fair Trade USA in America, or the international Fair Trade organization, which has a different logo. (Mississippi has a Fair Trade store devoted to certified products at the Rainbow Natural Foods mall on Old Canton Road in Jackson.)
Fair Trade has had a powerful impact. As intended, it raised living standards for the poor and promoted building of hospitals and schools. And it put money in the pockets of a larger segment of the population in
impoverished countries, rather than the wealthy and multinational corporations.
Now, the rub. According to The New York Times, Fair Trade USA says it will cut its ties at year’s end with the main international Fair Trade group and will start giving the Fair Trade designation to coffee from large plantations, which were previously barred in favor of small farms.
It is also proposing to place its seal on products with as little as 10 percent Fair Trade ingredients (current standard is 20 percent; it should be raised, not lowered!).
Fair Trade USA defends its action by saying that it will benefit even more small farmers and workers – those employed by large plantations. But that claim is not selling well with others who complain that some companies will now be Fair Trade certified not because they have changed their business practices but because the
rules have been changed.
The international group has also rejected the changes, saying it refuses to “water those principles down.”
Given the uproar, we’ll have to wait and see if Fair Trade USA continues with its proposed changes. But it reinforces the fact that consumers must pay attention to the labels of the foods that they are buying.
Buying locally can promote the local economy. But if you buy imported goods, it doesn’t cost a whole lot more to look for the Fair Trade label to support schools, hospitals and better working conditions. Some American consumers, however, may now be looking for the international symbol – or Institute of Market Ecology (IMO) “Fair for Life” certification – rather than that of Fair Trade USA.

Online: The New York Times article: http://nyti.ms/s3aujv
Also, see: A Betrayal of Fair Trade: http://smallfarmersbigchange.coop.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Four-seasons gardening

Nov. 4, 2011
Hoop houses extend organic garden to 4 seasons
Some hardy growers, no doubt, are wondering how to extend their production into the winter.
Four-season gardening is a pastime that’s growing nationally, and you don’t have to live in a tropical area to do it.
Locally, the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service has been experimenting with hoop houses, and Bill Evans has produced some great results.
That includes producing succulent, red tomatoes when there’s frost outside. This is not from a “hot house,” or heated greenhouse, but from plastic hoop houses outdoors.
Hoop houses, also called high tunnels, work by using layers of plastic to trap warmer daytime air inside and minimize heat loss from the system at night. They don’t have to be big or towering affairs. You can bend plastic pipes over metal rebar spikes pounded into the ground and covered by plastic.
For details, visithttp://www.dafvm.msstate.edu/landmarks/09/spring/25.pdf. Or, Google high tunnels and frames and look at the photos.
The key to winter growing is recognizing which plants will grow in different conditions.
For example, my wife Annette planted carrots in our cold frames, which are glass or plastic boxes outdoors that use sunlight during the winter to stay warm. Just make sure and vent the glass during the day. At night, keep the cold frames closed and they’ll retain heat.
Carrots are slow growers when the days are short (the hours of daylight makes a bigger difference than temperature for some plants); so we’ll – hopefully – have lots of carrots this spring.
Withstanding a freeze: Some plants will grow quite well even in bitterly cold conditions.
For example, last year, I was digging turnips through January and harvesting mustard greens. Some days, the plants would be bowed over and covered with a glaze of ice. Surely they were dead, I thought. But no, once the sun came over the trees, the ice would melt, and steaming in the sunlight, they would straighten up.
Kale for example, can survive cold down to about 20 degrees. Brussel sprouts, cabbages, radishes and beets – along with mustards and collards – can survive cold temps because they actually have antifreeze proteins that allow them to survive below freezing. But they have to get roots established and develop hardiness first.
Winter growing is limited by this fact: Greens require 28 degrees to grow. So, if you’ve got 10 weeks or so above 28 degrees, you can grow greens. (See: http://msucares.com/crops/comhort/greens.html.)
Beyond that, if you have a hoop house, high tunnel or cold frame, you can extend the season.
One trick we learned with our unheated greenhouse is to plant the greens, then when temps go down, cover them in Agribon. That way, they get the benefit of the trapped greenhouse heat, as well as protection from frost within the greenhouse.
This way, you can continue to grow down to about 22 degrees. Below that, you have to provide heating.
A good book on the subject is The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses by Eliot Coleman (Chelsea Green, 2009, $29.95).
High tunnels: Mississippi State University sponsors workshops on building high tunnels. For details, visit http://msucares.com/crops/hightunnels/news.html or contact Dr. Mengmeng Gu at (662) 325-1682 or mgu@pss. msstate.edu.
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Antibiotics in food not an ‘organic’ problem

Sept. 15, 2011

Antibiotics in food a ‘conventional,’ not organic, problem

Now that you’re diligently planting your fall garden, the question arises: How do I fertilize it in an organic way?

The easiest way is to use compost. That’s simply allowing vegetable table scraps, and other natural materials such as grass clippings, old coffee grounds and filters and egg shells to decompose, then applying them.

This rich material spread 1/4 inch deep on top of the soil, or used as a dressing for each plant, goes a long way.

In addition, you can use purchased materials such as nitrogen-rich organic fish emulsion or kelp meal, or blood meal. All are sold in local garden supply stores.

What you put into the soil results in the quality of what you pull out of the soil as food.

Reader response: I thought that it’s not OK to use commercial bagged manure because it has antibiotics in it from industrial agriculture and CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).

Some inputs are not suitable for “organic” use, while they may be widespread in “conventional” agriculture. All manures for organic crops must be composted.

Additionally, some certifying agencies recommend against using poultry litter because it contains arsenic from feed.

You can look up brand names of sold manures to see if they comply with the National Organic Program at www.omri.org. They do not contain pesticides, hormones or synthetic chemicals.

Astoundingly, some obviously ignorant people have called organic unsafe for using manure when only organic farmers are regulated for safety in using manure while “conventional” agriculture is not.

The USDA announced Monday that it would begin testing pork for antibiotics. It’s a good first step, along with its plans to begin testing ground beef and beef scraps for six E. coli varieties.

Of course, this ruling dances around the central question of what is causing disease outbreaks. It’s not the E. coli, which is a natural bacterium, but factory farming that’s the culprit.

These pathogens are in the colon of cattle that when fed corn in feedlots and CAFOs are multiplied in number and virulence. When cattle are grassfed and finished (not corn), both E. coli numbers and acid resistance (ability to sicken humans) diminish.

“Conventional” agriculture: Certainly, antibiotic use in “conventional” agriculture should be sharply curtailed from the standpoint of public safety.

In a recent study, almost half of meat in groceries sampled was found to have drug-resistant bacteria – with CAFOs the suspected source (The Los Angeles Times, April 15: http://lat.ms/eL4Fap).

Regarding contaminants in soil from CAFO manures and other sources: Pharmaceuticals in the Environment: Sources, Fate, Effects and Risks by Klaus KŸmmerer (Springer, 2004) says chemicals in human sewer sludge (used in some “conventional” agriculture, euphemistically called “wastewater residuals” and “biosolids”) are the most long lasting in soil and water, and can persist for years, followed by swine runoff.

Drugs and chemicals in beef appear to be the most short-lived, dissipating within days or weeks.

Tested tetracyclines in chicken waste dissipated at varying rates, in as little as 30 days, with an average of 180 days.

Oxytetracycline in fish farm sediment generally lasted 120 days.

Organic standards call for a three-year moratorium on fields that have been used for conventional agriculture before they can be used for organic farm production.

Online: Farmers can sell or donate hay for farmers in Texas to help them feed their livestock during historic drought conditions. See:www.gotexan.org/HayhotlineHome.aspx.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Greens easy to grow for winter

Sept. 9, 2011
Greens easy to plant now for organic produce in winter
If you haven’t planted your fall garden yet, it’s not too late. For example, scuffing up a plot for greens is simple and will last until deep frost.
Just cut the old plants in your 4X8 “Jim’s Plot,” rake it up for your compost pile, and scatter mustard and turnip green seeds, and water.
Even a simple organic garden like that can keep you fed with fresh greens into the cold weather – maybe until January.
When frost comes, just throw a light blanket over it. (For more sophisticated gardens, it’s worth it to invest in Agribon, which comes in various weights, down to 6-8 degrees below frost.)
If you add collard greens, kale and cabbages to the mix, it’s possible to carry on picking greens even later.
Many swear that collards taste better after a frost with the purplish hue that signifies that on the leaves as a mark of distinction.
Last year, we had some plants – such as radicchio – survive into the teens, along with some beets (the leaves grew back and were delicious as greens). The radicchio, however, became quite bitter as time went on.
It doesn’t hurt to experiment.
We’ll continue this dialogue as the season progresses.
For now, have fun! It’s a great time to plant as the temperatures cool, and it will be even greater when you can pick fresh produce when the cold winds blow.
Reader feedback: My son is building me five 4×8 “Jim’s Plot” raised beds in our backyard and I seek your recommendations on what we should use to fill these beds. The beds are actually 24 inches off ground level – as he is using two 12×2 inch boards to build them.
You can buy topsoil at some of the local yard and garden stores in bulk by the yard. For a 4×8 plot it doesn’t take that much: for example, one cubic yard equals 27 cubic feet. It’s mostly ground up vegetative debris, so it’s not going to be really fine or fertile. But it will fill up your bed. You’ll only be using the top 5 inches or so of topsoil for most plants, so that’s where you want to concentrate.
Don’t feel like you have to actually fill the beds to the top. Start composting. When fall comes, rake and pile leaves for composting. Consider these beds as a beginning that you will add to over time, building up compost.
BTW: When you spread compost, only a quarter inch on the top is needed when it comes to fertility; any more is overkill. As it adds layer upon layer, it will develop the way you want.
Let me add, that five 4×8 plots is very ambitious. That would translate into tons of organic matter.Better to think small, and over time.
Till the ground in the beds and then add what you can to a 4-5 inch depth. Rotate your beds. Plant, say, one or two 4X8 plots for a fall garden, and fill the others with leaves, cover them with black plastic over the winter and let them compost down.
That way, you’ll have a deeper base to work from in the spring. Enjoy!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Deer in the garden, and ‘Tomatoland’

July 29, 2011

Deer hate ‘talk radio,’ love organic gardens, and vote Green!


A reader was lamenting his problems with deer eating his garden produce, but said he thought he had found just the ticket for a deterrent.It’s a motion-activated device you connect to your garden hose so that that when set off it squirts the deer with water.

Sounds good to me! (I found one online called the Contech Electronics CRO101 Scarecrow Motion-Activated Sprinkler, list price $50. Ask for it at your local garden store.)

We’ve had problems with deer off and on over the years. Our philosophy is to generally plant enough to share and consider it doing your part to help the local wildlife. (I could go on and on about deer encounters in our garden. But how can you get upset with a momma and her fawn nibbling at your lettuce? Just plant more!)

But, if it becomes a problem, there are a couple of things you can do.

Foremost, build a tall fence. That’s the only surefire method.

But, in our little corner of the universe at ShooFly Farm, we’ve found that deer hate talk radio.

When we had a problem with deer eating too much, we tried putting a battery operated radio out there. Symphonic music seems to have no effect. They may even have liked it. They didn’t seem to like rock music much. But talk radio really kept them away.

Of course, it could be the political viewpoints that explain this phenomenon. I imagine a deer, if given the chance, would pull the voting lever for more wildlife preserves and cleaner air and water with their little hooves.

Some of them might even be more radical, intent on passing local zoning laws requiring all gardens to be organic, thus pesticide-free and purely tasty, and ban tall fences around them.

Yes, I’m sure, deer, if given the chance, would vote Green!

But I suspect it’s probably the radio set low, not blasting, giving an erratic modulation of human voices that scares them away.

I’m told that if a barber will allow you to take swept hair cuttings from the shop’s floor to sprinkle around the garden, that will do the trick, too.

But, for me, I’ll stick with talk radio! For the deer, anyway.

Reader feedback: A reader reports that following organic methods, his turnips from last fall reseeded themselves in his corn field where they were kept cool in the stalks’ shade. He has the best of both worlds: Summer corn and fresh turnip greens!

Sizzling summer reading: For more reasons to grow your own tomatoes specifically, and all veggies generally, read this summer’s hottest food book: Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook (Andrews McMeel, 2011, $19.99).

It’s subtitle explains why: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit.

Some of the book’s topics I’ve outlined in columns, such as why storebought tomatoes taste like cardboard (due to hybrid varieties to survive shipping, etc.). But a lot is grim news, too:

•The lengths to which industrial agriculture will go to produce “food” that’s saleable but perhaps not nutritious or safe;

•The truly frightening working conditions that are endured, including documented cases of actual slavery of farm workers, making a compelling case for better laws, more enforcement and implementing fair food practices.

For anyone interested in our food system, Estabrook’s book ranks right up there with Fast Food Nation, Fair Food and the Omnivore’s Dilemma for insightful, relevant food reporting.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Homesteading, canning, grilling

July 22, 2011
Homesteading, canning, grilling offer garden allureWith the summer heat and crops coming in, a lot of folks start thinking about what to do with all this organic produce.
Perhaps you’ve given as much as you can to relatives, neighbors friends, maybe, up to and including strangers on the street.
I’ve actually heard of people who wouldn’t leave their cars unlocked because they were afraid friends would leave bags of produce on their seats.
The solution, of course, is canning and pickling.
Just about everybody has a neighbor, mom or aunt who knows how to do this, and they often may even invite people over to have a big “can-a-thon” for preserving fruits and vegetables over the winter.
With this in mind, there are some books on the market that help with what in former years was considered just home living, but today is called homesteading – or “making do” with your garden, two hands and elbow grease.
One with a great canning section is Modern Homestead: Grow, Raise, Create by Renee Wilkinson (Fulcrum, 2011, $26.95). It’s chock full of down-to-earth instructions and plans for skills as diverse as preserving foods to building a chicken coop to caring for goats.
Filled with beautiful photos and illustrations, Wilkinson tells pretty much everything anyone needs to know to get started in sustainable living, especially in urban and suburban areas. It’s a compact resource that should be kept handy, with a valuable index for looking things up.
Another good book but more geared toward city dwellers is Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan with K. Ruby Blume (Skyhorse, 2011, $16.95).
A little “edgier” in tone, from Oakland, Calif., Urban Homesteading gives the basics of homesteading, but beyond that, it goes into areas such as ways to more efficiently heat and cool one’s home, retrofitting houses and grounds (including “cob” structures of dirt, water and straw) and even building top-bar Kenyan bee hives (more natural and inexpensive do-it-yourself versions).
It’s great for sparking new ideas for looking at your own homestead afresh.
If you are looking for more in-depth information regarding animals and homesteading, there’s yet another book that fills that bill: The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals by Gail Damerow (Storey, 2011, $24.95). It’s subtitle tells all: Choose the Best Breeds for Small-Space Farming, Produce Your Own Grass-Fed Meat, Gather Fresh … Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, Pigs, Cattle, & Bees.
A great book, totally informative, Backyard Homestead will have you staring out the window wondering if maybe a few belted Galloway cows might actually improve the looks of the place, even – and maybe especially – if you don’t have a big spread.
With these three books, one could make a good start at “making do” with modern homesteading.
Canning workshops for farmers market sellers Thursday in Jackson and Aug. 2 in Hernando:The Acidified Canned Foods Training for Farmers Market Vendors is a one-day workshop to teach the basics of food safety and regulations for processing acidified foods.
This training will qualify you for processing acidified foods that can be sold in local, certified farmers markets in Mississippi.
A General Farmers Market Food Safety Training will also take place afterwards.
To register or for more information, see www.fsnhp.msstate.edu/farmersmarkettraining or call: Anna Hood, (662) 325-8056; email: annah@ext. msstate.edu.
Grilled Veggies: For a tasty treat, and to keep the house cool, try grilling vegetables outdoors. My favorite is grilled okra, peppers and tomatoes! (Try okra alone; it’s not “slimy” but with a dry texture and smoky flavor.)
We use a grill wok (stainless steel square with holes everywhere; we bought ours at Walmart) to create great stir fries with veggies that would normally fall through an outdoor grill.
From my beautiful wife Annette: You can grill a cheese sandwich or panini if you lightly brush oil on the exposed bread, cover with a small plate and weight it with something heavy (like a flat rock).
We marinate meats, chicken and fish to greatly reduce HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and other carcinogens caused by grilling (veggies don’t produce HCAs).
Be sure to use anti-oxident rich ingredients, such as rosemary, turmeric, ginger, garlic, onions, red wine, balsamic vinegar and marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Or brief pre-cooking in a microwave (one minute) brings HCAs out with the “juice,” which should be discarded before grilling. Grilled chicken has the highest HCAs, and fish also develops them.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

‘Farm on Wheels,’ nematodes, ‘greenhorns’ helpful

July 14, 2011
‘Farm on Wheels’ offers hands-on organic food outreachRecent graduates of the Mississippi School of Math and Science have converted a school bus to biodiesel and turned it into a sustainable “Farm on Wheels.”
Based in Oxford, it’s a rolling greenhouse, chicken coop and more that will serve as an educational outreach tool.
The Farm on Wheels made stops in Jackson, Starkville and Hattiesburg in recent weeks. It plans to travel throughout Mississippi and the South and return in time for the fall school year so Mississippi schoolchildren can take a look.
The Legislature this past session passed legislation to study alleviating “food deserts,” or areas in the state where no fresh produce is available. This Farm on Wheels could be a great tool for outreach so people in underserved areas can be reintroduced to self-sufficient living by growing their own food.
I say, “reintroduced,” because within the living memories of many Mississippians, growing vegetables and having a few chickens was the norm. But, unfortunately, since World War II, the mechanization of farming, the use of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, and elders having died off, too many rural people have lost the knowledge of how to grow for themselves.
The surging popularity of Community Supported Agriculture is one helpful method, where farmers obtain subscriptions for growing food for others by selling shares in the crops, thus raising needed money upfront to be able to afford to plant.
That is bringing fresh, nutritious, organically grown foods to ever increasing numbers. Community gardens are also springing up in urban areas of the state; for example, at Tougaloo College, operated by Rainbow Natural Foods Co-op in Jackson.
Where it’s not economically feasible to run full-time stores in rural or urban areas, such community oriented ventures can fill in the gap.
They are a benefit to everyone and are becoming popular across the Magnolia State, along with ever more local farmers markets being created under the auspices of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture & Commerce.
For more about the Farm on Wheels, see: http://msmobilefarm.com/Or, on Facebook: www.facebook.com/farmonwheels.
It’s getting a little late in the season for it, but some bug issues can be solved by using beneficial nematodes – roundworms that live in the soil.
Nematodes can be a “bad” thing – some spell death for tomatoes, for example. But others only attack insects that prey on plants.
They are most effective when ordering by soil type.
Arbico Organics (www.arbico-organics.com) sells a variety for use on sandy soil that attacks armyworm, artichoke plume moth, Asian cockroach, beet armyworm, black cutworm, bluegrass weevil, codling moth, corn earworm, cotton bollworm, cucumber beetle, fall armyworm, fly larvae, fruit fly, German cockroach, leaf miners, mole crickets, tobacco budworm, wireworm and more.
Other varieties are for lawns or high clay soils, and even attack ticks and fleas.
They can be ordered for garden sizes up to fruit growers’ orchards and full farm sizes. Check it out. If nothing else, it could disrupt the cycle for next year or help with fall planting.
•Online: Here’s a blog for young people by self-described farming Greenhorns for Greenhorns, with links to farm-related blogs by and for young people getting into farming:http://thegreenhorns.wordpress.com/
•Online: In Kansas City, there’s a food truck called The Beans and Greens Mobile to combat local food deserts; see: http://bit.ly/lQNlAc.
•Online: Farmers markets beat supermarkets on affordability:http://tinyurl.com/ylzpkwv.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Beneficial insects, bug database helpful

July 8, 2011
Beneficial insects, bug database can help organic gardens
In midsummer, the number of blights, pests and other issues that can plague the organic garden can seem overwhelming.
There are two resources we’ve used to address some of them; first is adding beneficial insects to control pest outbreaks; second is a computer database that can instantaneously diagnose the various symptoms and offer certified organic solutions.
Ladybugs are the most popular beneficial insect for the garden. We bought some to control an aphid outbreak the year before last and they are still prolific; we have also bought praying mantids.
According to Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, which sells ladybugs, they are capable of consuming up to 50 to 60 aphids per day and one ladybug can consume many as 5,000 aphids in its lifetime.
They also eat a variety of other insects and larvae including scales, mealy bugs, leaf hoppers, mites and various types of soft-bodied insects.
Typically, ladybugs are sold in large numbers; 70,000 ladybugs per gallon, or 18,000 per quart. Use one gallon for up to three acres. In orchards, use one gallon per acre. Grain crops may require as little as one gallon for every 10 acres.
For melons and cucumbers, use one gallon for every 15 acres.
Next year, you might consider the praying mantid. It eats aphids, beetles, flies, mosquitoes, moths, caterpillars, wasps, generally, any insect it can catch. The praying mantid’s egg sac can contain up to 40,000 eggs. They usually hatch in spring.
You can buy live ladybugs and praying mantid egg sacs online (even Costco sells the latter). We bought ours from Peaceful Valley, Box 2209, Grass Valley CA 95945, phone: 1-888-784-1722, or: www.groworganic.com. And, yes, praying mantids will eat ladybugs. So, you might want to stagger them out a bit.
If you are finding strange plant symptoms, here’s a handy online resource for finding safe, organically OMRI approved non-toxic pesticide solutions at the Organic Pesticides /predators Database: http://bit.ly/g6Eqgu.
The service is provided by National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Box 3838, Butte MT 59702; phone: 1-800-346-9140.
Treat your kitties: Try growing catnip in your garden, or in a pot. It’s easy to grow (it’s a member of the mint family) and comes back year after year. Just take a few leaves, chop them or crumble them up, and put them on the floor or in a sock or kitty’s favorite place (not in food).
Catnip also makes a nice tea for humans. It contains nepetalactone, a natural sedative, and is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and muscle-relaxing. (Not recommended for expectant or nursing mothers.)
Fresh produce: Just a reminder for those looking for fresh fruit and veggies: The Mississippi Farmers Market, located at 929 High St. adjacent to the fairgrounds, is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information, call (601) 354-6573, email FarmersMarket@mdac.state.ms.us or visitwww.msfarmersmarket.com.
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

‘Tilth’ helps hold soil moisture

July 1, 2011
Check ’tilth’ in organic garden for soil moisture
I guess weird weather is the “new normal” now, with weeks of no rain, crops fried in 100-degree days, then rain falling finally, blessedly, but perhaps too little too late for many this season.
Given the heat, now’s a good time to check the moisture holding capacity of your soil. If you have adequate tilth (loamy material) and regular watering, you should have only a light crust on the top but can push in your finger without a great deal of effort.
But if it’s too hard for a gentle push of the finger, don’t despair. It can take years to build up the soil. We’ve dumped tons, literally, on our plots and they break down rapidly with acidic, sandy soil.
Remember, with organic gardening, the soil is everything, but it’s a moving target. It’s a constant balancing act between biomass and soil digestion activity.
Take this as an opportunity for future growth: Just keep adding more compost and, in fall, more leaves or other vegetative matter to build up your tilth.
By the way, old folks used to put sawdust in their gardens. That’s fallen out of fashion, as it tends to eat up nitrogen breaking down. But if you are using foliar feeding – spraying kelp or fish emulsion to feed nitrogen for it to be absorbed through leaves – I believe sawdust could help hold soil moisture. That is, as long as it’s not chemically treated wood.
It was good enough for our Mississippi forebears and Helen and Scott Nearing – homesteaders in 1930s Maine (see their book: Living The Good Life). So, if you’ve got it, I’d use it.
Growing tip: You can grow your own natural sweetener using leaves from the Stevia plant. It’s not too late to plant to get some leaves by fall.
According to WebMD, it is useful for those who suffer from obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and other weight-related medical problems.
The leaves contain the sweet glycosides stevioside and rebaudioside, which are 300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). Seeds are commonly available and can be purchased from Burpee, if not locally. It grows prolifically, like mint.
We grow it and use it. Tastes great. I like it in my tea instead of sugar.
Summer reading: I recommend: Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All by Oran B. Hesterman (PublicAffairs, $24.99).
Founder and head of the nonprofit Fair Food Network and a former agronomy professor at Michigan State University, Hesterman is quick to point out that he is not writing about our broken food system from the standpoint of a chef or journalist, but as someone who has experienced it from plow to plate.
The observations he makes are similar to the popular notions of journalist Michael Pollan and chef Mark Bittman, but his methods are more direct, from developing locally profitable food distribution systems in urban and rural “food deserts” to joining corporations such as Costco in developing transnational fair trade supply trains that ensure living wages for producers and reinvestment in local communities.
Fair Food is a serious book about a serious subject. It offers ideas for local communities, as well as suggestions for local, state and national policy makers (I hope members of the Legislature read this book!) It should add immeasurably to the national conversation about fixing our food – and world! – for the better.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Permaculture, Organic, Slow Gardening

June 24, 2011
‘Permaculture,’ ‘organic’ and Felder all provide surprises
A reader asked, “What you do, this ‘deep or pure organic,’ is more like permaculture, isn’t it?”
I’d have to say that’s a pretty good stab at an explanation, but only part of growing organic.
The term “permaculture” was coined by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, one of his students, to incorporate two concepts: “Permanent Culture” and “Permanent Agriculture.” Mollison said the concept came to him in 1959 while watching two marsupials browsing in the rain forests, seeing how flora and fauna worked together to be sustainable.
Since then, the term has grown to include a lot more than agriculture or gardening, embracing even political activity and international problem-solving.
One of the leaders in the field is Portland State University Professor Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (2000, updated 2009, Chelsea Green, $29.95) which I highly recommend.
So, what is a permaculture garden? Let me say that, the clearest way of understanding the concept would be to consider alternate phrases that essentially mean the same thing, such as eco-gardening, or creating an ecological or biodiverse garden with few human interventions.
Many of the practices of organic farming, such as nurturing natural insect, fungus and bacterial life in the soil, promoting vegetative decomposition and encouraging beneficial insects to keep balance in the garden, are elements of permaculture.
But, while organic gardeners may attempt to till the soil as little as possible, disturbed ground is anathema in permaculture, since it allows nonnative invasives (or opportunistic plants) to spring forward altering the ecosystem.
In our organic garden, we rotate crops, add amendments, and are constantly working the soil with compost to return the nutrients lost in crop production.
But in permaculture, the goal is to recreate dynamic, vibrant landscapes found in nature, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem with little if any human intervention.
So, they share some processes and aim toward the goal of sustainability and natural balance, but differ in degree and kind.
It’s not “all or nothing,” however. One can incorporate elements of permaculture in one’s food or flower garden.
See Hemenway’s book for photos of some wonderful garden designs that can incorporate permaculture in your backyard.
Felder’s book to be a classic! Speaking of good reads, our own fellow local garden columnist Felder Rushing has a new book coming out in July titled Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and All Seasons (Chelsea Green, $29.95).
I was sent a review copy, and I’m going to tell you the absolute truth: What a great book!
It covers everything a beginning – and expert! – gardener would need to know, including such “exotic” items as growing a “green” roof, creating a backyard wildlife habitat, secrets of fertilizing and more.
Perhaps the greatest gift of this book is that it lays gardening out as not a hard-to-do chore or activity of “experts,” but something everybody and anybody can do, without much fuss or muss. The purpose of gardening, as Felder points out, is to have fun. How often we forget that!
The photos are incredible, the book laid out well, with large type, and lots of
easy-to-follow instructions. It reads like an old friend, sitting on the porch, rocking, sharing ideas.
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Gadgets for organic dads

June 17, 2011
Organic ‘gadget’ dads can check their ERGs, ORPs, Brix and sap!
Father’s Day is Sunday and folks looking for something for Dad might consider some gadgets.
I’m not much of a “gadget guy,” but even I find myself mesmerized by some devices.
Some call the Baker Creek Seeds catalog, with its full-color, glossy photos, “vegetable porn” because the depictions are just … well, any gardener would lust for such plump ripeness! Peaceful Valley, for gadget guys, must be similar.
Just looking at the catalog (www.groworganic.com), I find myself wanting “stuff.”
I mean, what garden gadget guy could do without an Oakton ERGS Meter ($79.99)?
What’s an ERG? Why, glad you asked: that’s Energy Released per Gram of Soil – “the amount of energy available to the growing crops and microorganisms,” the catalog helpfully explains.
A reading above 1,000 means a salt problem and potential for root burn and nematodes; below 200 indicates no crop growth.
Now, presumably, you’ve got your pH level ascertained, via a soil sample, but they have meters for that, too.
But who could be without knowing how his ORP is doing?
Don’t know what an ORP is, you say? That’s Oxygen Reduction Potential (or available oxygen) in the soil. ORP and pH readings, together, provide an rH value. That Redox Value (rH) can determine the ability of humus building for the soil, or with a high reading, loss of carbon.
So, I guess you need your ORP Tester ($159) and possibly pH Test Kit ($14.99) to ensure that you’re not accidentally adding to global warming!
And, if you really want to be a hotshot, and show how your organic produce is measurably better than the cardboard stuff on grocery shelves, you need your Sap Extractor ($39.99) along with your Refractometer ($69.99) for measuring Brix.
High Brix indicates adequate nutrition, fertilization success and good immune systems in the plant; sugar content measures maturity. Take that, industrial agriculture!
The only problem with all this is that if I bought all of this “stuff,” I couldn’t afford to buy any seeds!
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Organic practices lessen E. coli threat

 

June 9, 2011

Organic practices lessen threat of disease

The news this week that a deadly outbreak of E. coli bacteria in Germany was from an organic farm raised flags with me, as much for its improbability as for its deadly nature.

Since those first reports, the German government has backed off its claim that an organic farm produced the outbreak.

While it’s possible for any farm – including an organic farm – to have produce infected by the bacterium, and consumers should always wash produce from the grocery, regardless of source, it’s less likely for organic produce for a variety of reasons.

First, the incidence of virulent strains of E. coli is a direct result of conventional (not organic!) farming of beef, where animals are “finished” on corn.

Ruminants are not naturally equipped to digest corn and it leads to bacteria (E. coli among them) being excreted from the gut. When coupled with the common practice of conventional agriculture (not organic!) to feed antibiotics to farm animals, virulent strains resistant to treatment are formed.

These bacterium are found in the manure of conventionally raised farm animals (not certified organic!) and that manure is often used to fertilize crops.

Here is where the possibility of E. coli can enter the organic food train, depending on the producer:

In certified organic vegetable crop production, strict manure handling is required.

Specifically: The U.S. regulations for organic production require that raw animal manure must be composted unless it is applied to land used for a crop not intended for human consumption; or is incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion has direct contact with soil; or is incorporated into the soil not less than 90 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles. See 7 CFR 205.203 (c)(1) and (2).

Residual hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, disease organisms and other undesirable substances can be eliminated through high-temperature aerobic composting.

So, presumably, E. coli would be eradicated in certified organic crops – if manure is properly composted or incorporated.

Again, I’m not saying it cannot occur, but, for producers of organic crops, the likelihood of transmitting E. coli is much smaller.And, for those (such as in our case, for example) where only composted horse manure or composted grass-fed or organic cow manure is used, not “raw” manure, or from industrial agriculture confined and corn-finished herds, the likelihood drops to virtually zero.

Me? I say: Eat organic, eat local! Know your farmer. Compose your own compost and manures from known – or OMRI verified – sources.

For the home organic gardner: Anyone who is actually growing his or her own food and uses manure would do well to read the book: Holy Sh*t: Managing Manure To Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon (Chelsea Green, 2010, $17.50).

Online: For more on manures, see Organic Trade Association Q&A: http://bit.ly/eW35Gb.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Heat, drought hard on organic garden

June 2, 2011

Be nimble to adjust to hot weather in organic garden

This hot, dry spell we are in can wreak havoc on plants, so here are a couple of suggestions tailored for the organic garden.

First off, if you are having to water a lot, remember that city water treatment chemicals can build up and also stunt microbial life in the soil. So, it would be worth your while to invest in a chlorine filter. It screws into your garden hose. Filters are available at pool supply stores or online. If you don’t have a pond that’s untreated or rain barrels, this is the next best thing.

Second, frequent watering leaches nutrients from the soil. The best and easiest way to replenish the soil short term is by a top dressing of worm castings. Just apply a thin layer at the plants’ roots.

Third, the high humidity and cool nights with blazing heat during the day is stressing plants so that many may exhibit powdery mildew or blights, especially on tomatoes. You can remedy this organically by using Serenade Garden Disease Control. It is OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed, approved for certified organic crops. It is not a chemical or poison but contains Bacillus subtilis, a soil-dwelling bacterium that controls leaf blight, black mold, powdery mildew and many other diseases.

Nothing beats rain water, but these steps can help your 4×8-foot Jim’s Plot weather the drought.

Another tip that may not endear you to your neighbors, but helps, is allowing the weeds to grow between your plants. In this heat and humidity, the weeds trap moisture in the soil and shade the plants’ roots. This goes against the fencerow-to-fencerow monoculture industrial farming scenario, but it works well on small plots.

Allowing buffer zones, also, that is tall grass weeds to stand between rows or at various junctures, also encourages beneficial insects and gives cover to helpful fauna, such as toads, birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

While we’re at it, don’t be afraid to allow a planting to “go bad.” For example, we had some pretty expensive lettuces we planted in early spring that were almost immediately attacked by insects. But we waited to see what would happen and were rewarded to find that the bugs went for the lettuce but left our chard, carrots, beans, peas and other plants unmolested. The lettuce patch became what’s called “a trap crop,” that is, a patch specifically set aside for bugs to feed on, so other patches are left alone.

The main thing in growing organic is to allow your crops to discover their “feet,” and come into balance. You’ll win some and lose some, but by encouraging good soil and soil nutrients, and supporting helpful methods, rather than poisoning or destroying, allowing growth will be beneficial for you and your garden.

Reader response: I planted clover as a cover crop and now it’s taken over my garden!

Boy, that’s a problem I wish I had – and am actually trying to achieve with one of our fields!

For a cover crop, we planted a mix of New Zealand white clover and strawberry clover that’s supposed to be heat tolerant and withstand drought, while also crowding out weeds. It also provides 110-165 pounds per acre of nitrogen, which is sorely needed in our field.

To “solve” the clover “problem,” just till your crop strips about 3 feet across with 3 feet or more between the rows, and cover the strips with either newspaper, WeedGuard paper or cardboard. Poke a hole in the cover and plant your seed there. Next year, repeat the procedure 3 feet over, sliding your cardboard or redoing your WeedGuard or newsprint (both of which should have biodegraded).

In this fashion, you are allowing the clover to grow except where you are directly planting.

You also are constantly replenishing the soil in old areas while also enriching next year’s plot – essentially labor free. It’s also great for honeybees!

Organic Ag Grants: On May 24, the USDA released the Request for Applications (RFA) for its Organic Transitions Program.

The goal of the program is to support the development and implementation of research, extension and higher education programs to improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers, as well as those who are newly adopting organic practices.

The deadline is June 30. For more info, see: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/organic-research-rfa.

Food desserts: Gov. Haley Barbour recently signed into law a bill to establish a panel to study “food deserts” – that is, rural and urban areas in Mississippi where there are no outlets for fresh produce.

They might consider what local folks in Nashville are doing. In cooperation with Vanderbilt University, grocers, local farmers and health care professionals have started a mobile market. It’s essentially a walk-in trailer with healthy, nutritious food.

They identified the major issues as distance, time, childcare and transport. So, it travels to food deserts with produce for sale and is operated by volunteers.

Good idea! For more information, visit www.nashvillemobilemarket.org.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Better food, a better planet

May 26, 2011

Growing organic makes for better food, a better planet

I had a nice email exchange with a reader about organic gardening, in which he essentially said he “sort of” did it.

As I wrote to the reader, back in the 1980s and ’90s, I was doing as he is now, planting hybrids (Better Boy tomatoes were my faves) and lightly using chemicals. I thought that if I just limited the amount of synthetics, that would be “organic” enough, and I reasoned, what was wrong with hybrids, anyway?

It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, that I found that even a “smattering” of chemicals destroyed the delicate balance of organisms that make up a truly organic garden. By using chemicals to change one issue, such as blight, or bugs, or using harsh, synthetic fertilizer, necessitated even stronger artificial methods in a self-perpetuating cycle. And, all the while, I was destroying the delicate microbial life that enriched the vegetables, ensuring nutrients were going from the ground into my body.

I had no idea that when I occasionally threw a handful of anhydrous ammonia into the compost or soil, I was killing the unseen universe that supported abundant, nutritious, healthy produce.

Further, I had no idea that by relying on hybrids that I was voting with my dollars to decrease planet’s biodiversity.

Every year, between consumers not planting rare seeds and giant Ag Biz conglomerates buying up seed stocks and either converting them to genetically engineered products or discontinuing those lines, we’re reducing food plant diversity.

What happens when we no longer have access to diverse seeds? We set up our food seed supply to be owned by a handful of private multinational corporations and open the way for potential famine when a pathogen inevitably mutates to attack those few lines of patented seeds. And, by the way, do you think that entire nations will calmly starve to death when crops fail and there are few commercial seeds available except those genetically vulnerable to disease?

So, I changed my thinking and behavior to true organic. This is the path I believe is something of a “back to the future” approach, away from petrochemicals and artificial fertility and working toward restoring the earth and bringing balance for healthy crops – and people!

Grow organic. Cultivate heirlooms and rare seeds. Enjoy the rich bounty of the earth. And know you are doing your part for better food, a better planet, for future generations.

Reader response: Ratio for applying compost?

A little bit of compost goes a long way. Apply 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch on your garden. That translates to 1-4 cubic feet of compost for 100 square feet. Incorporate that into the the top 2-4 inches of soil by digging or raking or tilling. Apply more thickly to poorer soils, more lightly to richer soils.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to lay it on more thickly if you have it. Just work it in the soil. At ShooFly Farm, we have several 50-gallon “spin” composters that we use, and they digest down to about 1 1/2 to 2 cubic feet every 90 days. We just keep filling them in sequence, so we generally have compost routinely available. You can also use windrows; that is, pile up the material and turn it from time to time until it’s digested into dark, rich matter.

Author Michael Pollan makes fun of organic gardeners’ fixation with compost, but it’s for a reason: The plants you put into your body contain the nutrients that are in soil. If your soil does not contain the full array of minerals and trace elements, along with the proper beneficial bacteria that allow the plants’ roots’ efficient intake of them, then your food and your body will be lacking essential vitamins and minerals.

It’s called “full belly” syndrome. You can buy processed food, or vegetables grown in depleted soils, and fill your belly, but won’t receive all that you need for strong muscles, bones, hair and teeth. Nurture your compost. By saving such waste as food scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, melon rinds and yard clippings, you are turning trash into gold. Your compost is like money in the bank – in the coin of health for you and your family!

Reader response: I have a big problem with fire ants taking over my raised beds. How can I control them organically? There is an OMRI-approved fire ant bait called Garden Safe; it’s sold at some Walmarts. You may have to order it online. Although it’s OMRI approved for certified organic gardening, we usually dump coffee grounds on the mounds if they are in the garden per se, then use the Garden Safe around the garden. The active ingredient is Spinosad, which is a bacterium. You can also pour boiling water on the mound.

Online. Plants looking bedraggled? Clip this out and save it: Common symptoms of soil deficiencies: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/nutrient-deficiency-problem-solver.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Reality and ‘myth’ of organic

May 20, 2011

Consumer must sort out reality from the ‘myth’ of organic

As hard as it is for me to say this, and as much of an advocate of “organic” as I may be, there’s a lot to be desired in the genre.

In fact, since the U.S. Department of Agriculture has commandeered the name “organic,” and now defines it, a lot of small, organic farmers are at a loss as to how to describe themselves.

For example, at our little corner in the earth, we don’t use pesticides or herbicides. Period. But there are a number of such chemicals that are allowed as USDA certified “organic.” (For a list, see: http://www.omri.org.)

The USDA also allows a lot of other practices that small farms tend to reject, as well (especially regarding confinement of animals, preferring instead to allow chickens free range and cows to have access to pasture).

I got to thinking about this after seeing an ad on Facebook for Cascadian Farms, which touted itself as “organic” since 1972.

It may have started out as a “pure” organic farm back then, but it’s now a division of cereal giant General Mills.

Yet, here are thousands of people on Facebook “liking” part of the Big Ag industrial food machine because they think it’s something it’s not – part of the “myth” of “organic.”

When people see the word “organic,” they probably think it’s from small, independent farmers, who care about what they eat and grow. And they may even envision old hippies or young idealists or at least “salt of the earth” types who enjoy farming for its earthy pleasures and honest values as much as making a buck.

But, increasingly, they would be wrong. It’s part of the “myth” of organic that Big Ag organic seeks to promote.

Most of the “organic” produce you see in the supermarket is not produced by small farms – unless you deem tens of thousands of acres as “small.”

It’s shipped from far away factory farms – even other countries. For example, Cascadian Farms buys its “organic” fruits and vegetables from China and Mexico, among other countries. U.S. Silk soy milk, for instance, is made from “organic” soybeans bought in China and Brazil.

Consumers looking for the safest and most nutritious foods buy organic. That remains true. And the “myth” of organic is not truly a myth, in there are local organic farmers across the nation who are growing pure, fresh, healthful food without chemicals. The reality, though, is that there are factory farms that dominate the market and most of the certified organic food in grocery stores is produced by these farms.

The reality is also that many of these large conglomerates are cooperative arrangements whereby small organic farmers sell to the big operations to distribute their food nationwide.

So, while the “myth” of organic is the idea that its driven by the small independent farmer, the reality covers the range from the folks (like my wife and I) making the myth a reality to the large corporate food giants that make mockery of the myth. Truth is within the myth, but diffused and often distorted.

It’s up to the individual consumer to make reality from the myth, and you, the reader, can choose the reality you prefer by your choices.

You can create a better reality than the myth of organic by using these buying criteria.

•Good for you: More fresh produce.

•Good for you and environment: Organic produce.

•Good for you and your community: Any local fresh produce.

•Best for you, your community and the environment: Local, fresh, organic produce.

And, finally, the best of all possible worlds in my view anyway: Growing your own fresh, organic produce and sharing it with others – either friends, family and community members – through gifts or creating and selling through community supported agriculture where they buy “shares” in the produce you grow for weekly delivery, or selling to the local store, farmers market or fruit stand.

The bottom line is that without the myth of the small organic farmer being the one supplying the produce at Walmart and Kroger, the giant “elites” (industrial agriculture with a designer label) couldn’t exist; without the giant elites spurring the demand for their products, the consumer wouldn’t even be aware there was such a thing as organic pesticide-free farming. And without both united against watering down strict organic practices (including rejecting genetically modified seeds and sneaking in toxic chemicals), small farmers wouldn’t have the market they do and a growing demand.

Certified organic is better than “conventional” chemical farming. But increasingly, what is deemed “organic” accommodates the factory farms which can vastly underprice the hand-grown methods of small farmers.

The big farms do, however, have pretty labels and lots of advertising that promotes the “myth.”

Eat local. Know your farmer. That’s the way to go. Or, better yet, grow your own!

For a list of supermarket “organic” brands and the corporations that own them, see: http://bit.ly/i6zF44.

In Mississippi:

•There are only about 25 USDA certified organic growers. Most that sell locally list themselves with Local Harvest: http://www.localharvest. org.

•Not all farmers who grow organically are USDA certified. A few Mississippi farmers are Certified Naturally Grown, see: http://www.naturallygrown.org.

•Locally, some organic farmers sell at the Jackson Farmer’s Market on High Street on Saturdays and at Rainbow Natural Foods on Old Canton Road. Check the Mississippi Department of Agriculture & Commerce website for farmer’s markets statewide: http://www.mdac.state.ms.us.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Heirlooms are heirlooms for a reason

May 13, 2011

Heirlooms prove their worth in organic gardens

There’s been something of a backlash in national gardening circles about heirloom varieties, which I suspect is being egged on by seed suppliers.

You may recall that an heirloom variety of a plant is one that has become traditional, such as in our neck of the woods the Arkansas Traveler tomato (bred in Arkansas for its ability to withstand heat and humidity) or the Marion tomato (which was the staple of south Mississippi’s truck farming tradition).

In late March, there was a rather heated debate about heirlooms in The New York Times, of all places (“Heirloom Seeds or Flinty Hybrids?,” March 23), the gist of which was that if heirlooms were any good there would be no hybrid varieties.

Modern seeds, which are generally hybrid crosses, produce a “more vigorous plant, better resistance to diseases,” said the owner of Johnny’s Seeds, for example, noting in a car analogy: Why not buckle up in a 1936 Oldsmobile coupe?

Expecting a sound retort, I was surprised that the article went downhill from there, the consensus being that heirlooms are outdated, susceptible to disease, don’t produce well and generally ought to be discarded in favor of the more “modern” hybrids. By the same token, some commented that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) take that a step farther. After all, they are products of Science and can even include animal genes in them to take on Nature!

Well, needless to say, as an organic grower, I was stunned by the whole tenor of the piece, and its commentary, but have since seen its premises knocking around the Internet like an echo chamber, with the article serving to legitimize those points of view.

I could almost buy it, if I didn’t know better. It’s astounding to me that anyone with any knowledge of actually growing plants could swallow such inorganic manure.

By its very nature as an open pollinated plant (as opposed to a forced hybrid – or GMO – that can only produce once, then die, along with its unique mix of selected genes), an heirloom adapts to changing conditions in its environment.

If there’s a drought and only a few Arkansas Travelers make it, for example, then save those survivors’ seeds and the next Arkansas Travelers you plant are likely to be drought resistant.

Diseases? Insects? Fungus? Odd growing season? Save those seeds, and the next editions will be tailored to survive those conditions.

As opposed to hybrids – or heaven forbid, Frankenfood GMOs – successive heirloom generations adapt to the conditions where you live!

The reason heirlooms are heirlooms is because they are so desired and adaptable with consistent qualities that people want. That’s the definition of heirloom: A valued possession passed down through succeeding generations; in this case, a plant of enduring value.

So, I guess folks can have heated debates in the Times and on the Internet about how “outdated” are heirloom varieties.

But seedsavers and folks who actually grow what they eat and eat what they grow know better. Heirlooms prove their worth in the organic garden again and again.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Mother’s Day moms can get naked in garden, grocery

May 6, 2011

Mother’s Day moms can get naked in the garden, grocery

Stumped for something useful and unique to give Mom on Mother’s Day on Sunday?

Why not give her some tips on how to get naked in the grocery store or garden – the organic garden, of course! – and get healthier while she’s at it.

There’s actually a new book scheduled for release in June: Eat Naked: Unprocessed, Unpolluted & Undressed Eating for a Healthier, Sexier You by Margaret Floyd (New Harbinger, Oakland, Calif., $16.95).

Of course, the title doesn’t refer to actually getting nude, but rather the dos and don’ts of processed foods, and regarding organic and sustainable farming practices and how they relate to the foods we eat.

In it are all manner of facts that tend to get glossed over; for example, most folks know that soy is a great protein source. But what Floyd points out is that soy also has in it enzyme inhibitors that make it less than ideal as a food source. Preparation can make soy more useful to the body, such as through fermentation, she notes.

Floyd outlines other issues that affect nutrition, such as gluten intolerance, “good” and “bad” fats, best ways to eat nuts and seeds, along with meat and fish facts (it’s not strictly vegan or vegetarian).

She even has a checklist not only for shopping, but “How Naked is My Dinner?” including: “Is it made from fresh ingredients? Are they organic? Are the veggies local? Is the meat from pastured animals or industrial? …”

It’s a fun title for a sound book on food and nutrition. Since it won’t be out until until next month, you can clip out this article and hand it to her on Sunday along with a gift card for your local bookstore and a note: “Run free, Ma!”

If Mom already has a handle on how she grows, eats, and shops, how about how she views food, farming and gardening and the ethical responsibility of consumers in shaping food choices?

For an interesting read, see: Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe, by Maria Rodale, Rodale Books, 2010, $23.99).

Folks my age will remember her father, Bob Rodale, who died in a car accident in 1990, and her grandfather, J.I. Rodale, who died in 1971, and were among the founders of the modern organic movement.

Maria Rodale is following in their footsteps, although, some might say that, despite the rather aggressive title of her book, she’s a bit “soft” on industrial farming and latitude given Big Ag in adopting the “organic” label.

The fact is, as she notes, her father and grandfather would be astounded that organic was now “mainstream.”

Nonetheless, the book is “must read” in the current state of the evolution of organics and offers great insights into how modern farming is being transformed – and areas in which greater transformation is needed.

As she notes, the consumer is dictating the future of agriculture through food choices, requiring sustainability, accountability, transparency and safety. The challenge is to keep organic standards rigorous and reliable.

Finally, if you’ve wondered how young moms or moms-to-be may be faring in agriculture, there’s a wonderful book about a couple of 25-year-olds starting their own organic farm.

The Wisdom of the Radish: And Other Lessons Learned on a Small Farm by Lynda Hopkins (Sasquatch Books, Seattle, 2011, $23.95) is a sweet, sometimes humorous and sometimes bittersweet tale of a young woman learning the joys and heartaches of growing food for others.

I found myself sadly shaking my head in agreement and wishing some things were different; such as the harsh realities of the marketplace, the hard work involved for little pay. But it remarkably outlines the optimism of young people going into farming, a trend called The Greenhorn Movement, and speaks with love and tenderness toward the magnificent calling that is being stewards of the earth.

A great book. I won’t tell how it ends, but it does surprise!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Try ‘kitchen’ garden, vegan fertilizer

April 29, 2011

Try organic ‘kitchen garden,’ vegan fertilizer for tasty food

While you are in the planting mood this spring, you might consider some “specialty” gardens such as a kitchen garden.

Annette has planted a wonderful kitchen garden outside our back door where a peach tree stands. For years, the peaches have fallen to the ground and mixed with leaves to form a rich loam.

She turned the ground up and planted a variety of herbs, shallots, onions and a couple of tomato plants.

It’s about the size of a “Jim’s Plot” – 4×8 feet – although kind of winding around in a lima bean shape.

Now, when she’s cooking, she can just reach out the back door and grab what she needs!

Some common herbs that can be grown are oregano, cilantro, stevia (a natural sweetner for those who want to avoid sugar), mint (but watch out, they can propagate!), basil and lemon verbena.

You might also consider a Three Sisters Garden, which is to create mounds of earth and plant a corn stalk in the middle of each one, with squash and beans radiating from the mound. The corn provides a trellis for the beans, while the squash grows outward shading the roots and holding moisture.

Native Americans farmed this way and it’s sustainable, as the beans add nitrogen to the soil for the corn. You may wish to add some fish emulsion, too.

Reader response: Are there any vegan fertilizers? Yes.

Some people reject the idea of using animal parts or residues in their gardens when growing organically.

Commonly, fish emulsion, blood meal and other animal products are sold separately or included in fertilizers.

However, for vegans, Peaceful Valley Garden Supply sells Vegan Mix 3-2-2 fertilizer: $9.99 per 6-lb. box or $29.99 for 25-lb bag. See: http://www.groworganic.com or call 1-888-784-1722. It’s made with no animal products or byproducts, and contains soybean meal, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, rock phosphate, stonemeal and greensand. Of course, you can purchase the ingredients separately and mix it yourself from any available source.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.