Tag Archives: National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

Still Too Early to Plant in Central MS

Everywhere I go, it seems, I bump into people who say, “I read your blog…. Have you planted your garden yet?” And I have to tell them: No, it’s still too early in central Mississippi.

Traditionally, down here anyway, the time to plant seeds was done by the moon, and around Good Friday.  I plan to plant the week after Easter, or the weekend of April 27 or thereabouts. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Traditionally, down here anyway, the time to plant seeds was done by the moon, and around Good Friday. I plan to plant the week after Easter, or the weekend of April 27 or thereabouts. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Traditionally, down here anyway, the time to plant seeds was done by the moon, and around Good Friday. For more than 30 years, I’ve always planted the week after Easter because we more often than not have a cold spell right at Easter, and I’m fairly assured that the crop will do well if planted afterwards.

This year, Easter is April 20. So, I’ll probably plant the weekend after, or around April 27.

The past two years, we’ve had warm winters, leading people to believe they can plant earlier than normal. (Although last spring was cold and rainy which didn’t do well for early planting.) Normally, April 15 is considered an early planting time. But the year before last, I probably could have planted in February and it would have done OK.

You want to plant as early as you can past the last frost, but not so early that the soil is cold and your seeds or plants just sit there and possibly rot in the ground.

Here’s a pdf frost chart for Miss.: http://bit.ly/f8QSAb.

For all states, see: http://bit.ly/i5SmsT.

As you can see by the chart, it’s a gamble to plant this time of year. As the chart shows, on March 23, for example, for Jackson, MS, it’s 50-50 whether the temperature will drop to 32 degrees and 90 percent that it will go down to 36 degrees. It’s only 10 percent, though, to reach 28 degrees. How lucky do you feel?

Sure, we could have a warm month and  you would be fine. But we could just as equally have an ice storm. Or one killing frost between now and Easter (which often is the case).

I’d just as soon not take the risk of having to reorder all my seeds or worrying if my plants were stunted, and would rather wait a little a bit to plant. It’s true that organic growers want to plant as early as possible to get a headstart on the bugs; a luxury that people who spray poisons can avoid. But having the first tomato on the block is not that important to me; having a good, healthy stand of tomatoes is much higher on the personal scale of priorities.

Most seed packets specify the proper soil temperature for sowing. Some plants do OK in cooler soils; some don’t.

For an ATTRA quick list of U.S. organic seed suppliers, see: http://ow.ly/sSsEm

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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FoodCorps Group Tours Alabama Sustainable Farms

Went to Montgomery, Ala., last week to tour some sustainable farms, as part of our NCAT Gulf States Office mission to promote sustainable agriculture in the 5-state region. It was a bringing together of some real heavyweights when it comes to local food, urban ag and community activism.

Members of the NCAT Gulf States Regional Office, Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity and FoodCorps service members pose with EAT South Executive Director Edwin Marty (right) in Montgomery, Ala., Oct. 16, 2013. From left: front: FoodCorps Members Mariel Parman, Claire Brown and Rebecca Rosenthal; Roadmap Executive Director Beneta Burt and NCAT Ag Specialist Felicia Bell; back row: FoodCorps Director Willie Nash, FoodCorps Fellow Liz Broussard, NCAT Gulf States Regional Director Rockiell Woods and Marty. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Members of the NCAT Gulf States Regional Office, Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity and FoodCorps service members pose with EAT South Executive Director Edwin Marty (right) in Montgomery, Ala., Oct. 16, 2013. From left: front: FoodCorps Members Mariel Parman, Claire Brown and Rebecca Rosenthal; Roadmap Executive Director Beneta Burt and NCAT Ag Specialist Felicia Bell; back row: FoodCorps Director Willie Nash, FoodCorps Fellow Liz Broussard, NCAT Gulf States Regional Director Rockiell Woods and Marty. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The FoodCorps service members who went on the trip seemed to have a good time and learned a lot. I can’t say enough good things about FoodCorps. Those who are based at Mississippi Roadmap for Health Equity next to our office at the old New Deal Grocery in Jackson are top notch! I see them every day going out to the local schools helping kids and moms appreciate fresh, local food that they grow right there at the inner city schools.

I also can’t say enough good about Roadmap Executive Director Beneta Burt, who has created a food oasis in the inner city of Jackson. Roadmap is located in Ward 3, the poorest of the city’s wards. She started a farmers market, providing a place where people in the neighborhood can come buy fresh, healthy, nutritious food locally.

She put in a fitness center so that neighborhood moms and elders can stay in shape. She started a summer school program that teaches kids good health habits and the importance of fitness and nutrition. She sponsors the FoodCorps volunteers for the local public schools.

She muscled through a rule with the capital city’s school board that food service personnel in the public schools can actually get paid to take fitness classes (which, in turn, make them more fitness aware in creating the food in the public schools). She’s a pillar of the state food policy council. And more than I can ennummerate here. Suffice it to say, she’s a real powerhouse.

Now, with this visit to Montgomery, Ala., she’s seen how E.A.T. South Executive Director Edwin Marty has created an urban ag program in the inner city there. E.A.T. stands for Education, Act, Transform! The organization encourages healthy lifestyles through education and sustainable food production in urban areas throughout the Southeast.

Burt had already started such a program; she was able to see how an established program works. E.A.T. South ushers some 5,000 school kids through its site annually, offering a demonstration for local folks there on how to grow their own food.

I can’t say enough good about Edwin, either. He literally wrote the book on urban agriculture, called Breaking Through Concrete, published by the University of California Press in 2012. See: www.breakingthroughconcrete.com.

I’m honored to know and be friends with both people. They certainly are incredible role models. If every city had a Beneta Burt and an Edwin Marty this would be a much healthier, happier planet!

E.A.T. South Executive Director Edwin Marty (left) of Montgomery, Ala., is shown with Beneta Burt, of Jackson, Miss., executive director of Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity Inc. , and Jim Ewing, outreach coordinator for the National Center for Appropriate Technology Gulf States Region. (NCAT photo)

E.A.T. South Executive Director Edwin Marty (left) of Montgomery, Ala., is shown with Beneta Burt, of Jackson, Miss., executive director of Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity Inc., and Jim Ewing, outreach coordinator for the National Center for Appropriate Technology Gulf States Region. (NCAT photo)

For more, see:
NCAT blog: https://www.ncat.org/gulf-states-office-tours-sustainable-farms-in-alabama/
Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity: http://mississippiroadmap.org/
E.A.T South: http://www.eatsouth.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, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Great Talk at Alabama A&M Workshop

August 23, 2013

Just got back from Mobile, Ala., giving a talk for NCAT at the Agricultural Risk Management and Business Development Workshop.

photo

National Center for Appropriate Technology Gulf States Outreach Coordinator Jim Ewing speaks about sustainable agriculture at a workshop in Mobile, Ala., Aug. 22, 2013. The Agricultural Risk Management and Business Development Workshop was sponsored by the Small Farms Research Center of Alabama A&M University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Held at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Jon Archer Agricultural Center, the workshop was sponsored by Alabama A&M University’s Small Farms Research Center and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

I don’t think there could have been a more active, thoughtful, engaging audience. Although I was scheduled to give a PowerPoint presentation, which I did, we ended up having a discussion back and forth about sustainable agriculture, organics, and traditional methods of planting (which many in the audience remembered from their parents’ and grandparents’ times).

The speaking time period actually was extended as we engaged in a dialogue that, I think, was informative and positive for everyone. It was like talking with neighbors across the back fence. There were good questions from the audience and a lot of sharing of personal stories and recollections.

What a wonderful time. What wonderful people. I hope I get to speak there 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, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Montana Fly Fishing Trip

Aug. 19, 2013

Just got back from visiting the National Center for Appropriate Technology headquarters in Butte, MT, where members of our NCAT Gulf States Region office met with the board of directors to give an update on what we’re doing.

Had a GREAT time, visiting with other like-minded sustainable ag folk. But a big highlight of the trip was going fly fishing.

I started fly fishing about 30 years ago (am I giving away my age here?!). But since I was living in the Mississippi Delta, there wasn’t a whole lot of diversity in fishing – either bream or small bass or occasional crappie. I fly fished during the 1980s and early 1990s, but sort of fell out of it.

But when I was in Butte in June and looked around, I saw that this place is the fly fishing capital of the world. People come from all over to fish the Montana mountain streams. While I was “self taught” in fly fishing, and certainly no model when it comes to casting, fishing for trout on a mountain stream was one of those “bucket list” items. When I found out that they wanted me to come back in August, I was ecstatic!

One of the things I bought in preparation for this trip was a Tenkara rod — because Carl Little, who heads the ATTRA program (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) at NCAT suggested it.

Years ago, during the 1990s, I used to carry a portable fishing rod with me wherever I traveled. It telescoped to about 8 feet, but would collapse to about 18 inches. With a lightweight spinning reel, I fished all over with it: from the Northeast and Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Chesapeake Bay to San Francisco — I carried it everywhere. But, again, that sort of fell by the wayside.

The Tenkara collapses to about 18 inches, but the one I bought (the Amago) extends to about 13 feet. The Tenkara system is somewhat Zen – which I really like! It’s simplicity itself: just a rod and a line, no reel. And there are only three types of flies, small, medium and large. It’s based on the Japanese system of professional mountain fishermen, who used only this simple method to catch fish.

While I also have a 5-weight Orvis Clearwater rod for traditional Western style fly fishing, I only took the Tenkara rod on this trip. Here’s a video:

As you can see, I didn’t catch any fish. I got a couple of bumps and broke the line on one big one that got away, but that’s not the point. Nor is this video meant to be taken as a way to fish; I found that I couldn’t video and fish at the same time, so I just held the rod with one hand (to show what I was doing) and video taped with the other, with my iPhone, to show the scenery.

The real value as the morning. The sky. The water. The breeze. The Spirit of the Place. Just being there. It was a priceless morning spent slowly fishing along about half a mile of a mountain  stream. The video is just a snapshot, for the memory.

I’m hoping for a return trip. Next time, if I’m called in for business, I intend to take a couple of vacation days and perhaps have my son come along for a father-son trip. (He’s 26 and has a new, 8-month-old son, so maybe there are future trips for Dad, Grandad and Grandbaby, too!)

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, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Great fun at Florida Small Farms Conference

Aug. 5, 2013

OK, let’s get this out front and center: I had a blast at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference this past week.

It was supposed to be business for me, and it was, in that I had a booth there for the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and was informing people about ATTRA (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) info. But, to be honest, I had so much fun talking with people who were small farmers and interested ecofarming that it was hardly “work.”

Here’s a photo essay of the conference, which ran Aug. 2-4 in Kissimmee, Fla.

It was a matter of pride to see fellow NCAT worker Dave Ryan, an energy engineer, fill up one of the conference rooms with his talk “Powering Your Greenhouse with Renewable Energy.” Solar, compost and geothermal options were explored. For more, see ncat.org

Then, there were awards given….

Margie and Nick Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm in Homestead, Fla., won the Innovative Farmers Award at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla., Aug. 3, 2013. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Margie and Nick Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm in Homestead, Fla., won the Innovative Farmers Award at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla., Aug. 3, 2013. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Margie and Nick Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm in Homestead, Fla., won the Innovative Farmers Award (third place). They are longtime friends and it was a delight to see them! An organic farmer of many years, Margie is an encyclopedia of wisdom in ways to grow abundantly organically even in the demanding conditions of South Florida. Their farm is located near the Everglades in an area that has lost much of its farmland to residential growth. (See American Farmland Trust for more about that! http://www.farmland.org/)

Bee Heaven Farm, in my opinion, should be a national model for organic growing. The soil conditions there are only about 8 inches of “topsoil” consisting of sand, some vegetative matter, and porous limestone rock is a challenge for consistent growing. Conventional growers essentially are depleting the few nutrients in the soil and collapsing the structure so that it only hold what’s put into it.

Organic growers, like Margie, however, are building up the soil structure, building soil nutrients in the soil, encouraging microbial life and thereby actually adding to the soil medium as they grow, rather than depleting it.

The result is that organic growers like Margie and Nick are seeing positive yields and tasty crops while conventional growers are seeing ever worsening and more expensive growing conditions.

Farmers who are not taking the extra effort to rotate crops, build structure that helps hold moisture that otherwise would pass through the porous sand and limestone are seeing more expensive inputs and having to add biological agents and fight desertification (salt build up and nutrient loss through over use of irrigation).

The Bee Heaven model is one that should be seen as meaningful for sustainable farming as climate change intensifies, in my opinion.

CNG members Joseph Ballard and Paul Speros with SB Farms of Malone, Fla., also won the Innovative Farmers Award at the Florida Small Farmers and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla., Aug. 3, 2013. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

CNG members Joseph Ballard and Paul Speros with SB Farms of Malone, Fla., also won the Innovative Farmers Award at the Florida Small Farmers and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla., Aug. 3, 2013. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Since I’m a former board member of Certified Naturally Grown (and still an advisor on fruit and vegetable growing using organic methods), I was delighted to see CNG member SB Farms of Malone, Fla., also win the Innovative Farmers Award (second place). Joseph Ballard and Paul Speros offered good advice, as well, for beginning farmers. Congratulations!

Natalie Parkell and Kevin Osburn of Vertical Horizon Farm won the award (first place), also. Parkell gave an excellent talk on hyroponics for backyard or small or beginning farmers. They started out growing in their parents’ backyard, since they lived in a condo with no ground for growing — that is, until their parents told them to move, since they had dug up all the grass! So, they found a local business that would let them operate on a corner of their property. It became a big hit, especially marketing to the neighborhood. A small scale truly local success story!

I was intrigued by the prospects of hydroponics and aquaponics  as potential sustainable growing methods (especially since both are considered “iffy” when it comes to being certified organic – see earlier blog: “Organic Hydroponics: The Future of Farming?”). So, the bulk of my time when not manning the NCAT booth was attending seminars on these topics.

In pursuit of that, I went on the farm tour that included The Land exhibit at Disney World’s Epcot Center. Here are some photos:

When you enter The Land exhibit at Epcot Center, the first thing you see are gigantic fruit grown hydroponically. The growing medium is sand, infused with a fertilizer mixture. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

When you enter The Land exhibit at Epcot Center, the first thing you see are gigantic fruit grown hydroponically. The growing medium is sand, infused with a fertilizer mixture. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

As a demonstration of hydroponics as a growing method, The Land exhibit at Epcot grows small plots of grains, sugar cane and cotton. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

As a demonstration of hydroponics as a growing method, The Land exhibit at Epcot grows small plots of grains, sugar cane and cotton. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Within The Land pavilion at Epcot, actual plant research is being done to find ways to combat devastating diseases for commercial crops. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Within The Land pavilion at Epcot, actual plant research is being done to find ways to combat devastating diseases for commercial crops. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Much of the facility at The Land at Epcot has plants suspended from an automated growing system, whereby plants grown vertically are sprayed with fertilizers and the dripped overspray grows plants in the sand medium below. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Much of the facility at The Land at Epcot has plants suspended from an automated growing system, whereby plants grown vertically are sprayed with fertilizers and the dripped overspray grows plants in the sand medium below. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The sunward climb of plants on the spray conveyor allows fruit to be grown vertically rather than horizontally at The Land exhibit at Epcot. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The sunward climb of plants on the spray conveyor allows fruit to be grown vertically rather than horizontally at The Land exhibit at Epcot. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The Epcot demonstration is fascinating, but I’m not sure it’s very “sustainable,” at least not commercially as a farming method. The cost of the facilities and mechanical devices seems out of kilter with the potential sales of crops. But that may not be the point of the exhibit. Rather, the center shows how it can be done, and that it can be done. I’m going to have to think more about it before I’m convinced it’s a sustainable growing method. It certainly offers possibilities.

One of the concerns I have with hydroponics is that what you get from the produce is limited to what you give. By that, it’s like so-called “conventional” agriculture, in that the major nutrients are supplied. In such industrial agriculture models, NPK or the ingredients for synthetic fertilizer are present; but missing are the trace elements that a healthy organic soil provides. Better fertilizers would remedy that; ensuring it, of course, is the goal of organic certification. It’s an issue consumers should be aware of in making hydroponic purchases.

Regarding aquaponics, a key issue preventing organic certification, according to the farmers I talked to in Florida who practice it, is that the effluent from the fish is considered a “manure” by the National Organic Program. But, as Orange County Extension Director Richard Tyson explained, that is an inappropriate designation. First, regarding health concerns, neither E coli nor salmonella are — or even can be — present in such effluent because those only occur in warm-blooded animals; secondly, beneficial bacteria convert the ammonia waste into nitrates which are only then absorbed by the plants; so, a more appropriate designation would be classifying the effluent as nutrients, rather than manure.

In my opinion, especially when coupled with other energy saving methods such as using solar and wind for electrical needs, raising fish for animal protein and using the byproduct of that for fruit and vegetable food production in hydroponic vats is the type of sustainable methods that organic supporters should embrace.

We’ll consider more of this later.

But not all of the conference was “work.”

Rachel (right), daughter of longtime friends Nick and Margie Pikarsky, and her friend (and now my friend) Nicole Fiori, were great to be around at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla, Aug. 2-4.

Rachel (right), daughter of longtime friends Nick and Margie Pikarsky, and her friend (and now my friend) Nicole Fiori, were great to be around at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla, Aug. 2-4.

No, I wasn’t looking for beautiful young women to hang out with while in Florida, but I found them! It was most enjoyable visiting with Nick and Margie’s daughter Rachel Pikarsky (right) and her friend (and now my friend) Nicole Fiori. They were a total delight!

The fifth annual event was hosted by the University of Florida and Florida A&M.

I can’t wait to attend again next year!

For a good example of a successful, local hydroponics operation, see the Farmweek episode on St. Bethany Fresh Tomatoes on Pontotoc, MS:

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, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Wonderful Time at Holmes #SustainableAg Field Day

June 23, 2013

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

I had a wonderful time Friday at the Alliance for Sustainable Agricultural Production Field Day in Holmes County, MS.

The field day brought in people from all walks — farmers, extension agents, colleges’ staff, state dept. of ag folks, nutrition educators and from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

And, of course, there was a representative from the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and ATTRA – National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service – me!

Each month, the Alliance brings in experts to discuss various aspects of sustainable agriculture. This month, it featured Elizabeth Myles from Alcorn State University, who gave a presentation on farm marketing, and Gail Kavanaugh, child nutrition director of the Vicksburg Warren School District, who spoke on selling produce farm-to-school. (I gave a brief talk, too.)

Mattie Coleman makes a point as Keith Benson looks on at her demonstration farm during the Alliance for Sustainable Production Field Day in Holmes County near Goodman, MS, Friday, June 21, 2013. Photo by Jim Ewing

Mattie Coleman makes a point as Keith Benson looks on at her demonstration farm during the Alliance for Sustainable Agricultural Production Field Day in Holmes County near Goodman, MS, Friday, June 21, 2013. Photo by Jim Ewing

The field day is held each month at the Alliance’s demonstration farm owned by Mattie Coleman (pictured) in Goodman and is conducted by Keith Benson (also shown). The next one is July 19. I’ll probably be there.

For more information, or if interested in attending, contact Keith, at: 601-988-4999 or keithmdp@yahoo.com.

Jim Ewing is the Outreach Coordinator for the Gulf States Region for the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT.org), a nonprofit offering technical assistance for sustainable living — farming, energy, and information — to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities, and protect natural resources. An award-winning journalist, editor and author, he has served in a variety of executive leadership positions, mostly in the food, farming and environmental sector. He has been called “a pioneer in sustainability” and “a tireless champion for farmers and food” by Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi. He is a 2013 winner of GGSIM’s Sustainable Works Award for his leadership and achievements in promoting organics, environmental stewardship and sustainable living over the past 30 years. He is the author of six books (Findhorn Press). His latest is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating- in bookstores now.

 For more information, see:

His website: www.blueskywaters.com

Or, LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jimpathfinderewing

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.

Plant Dynamism

April 8, 2011

It’s official: Spring has sprung with flowering of ‘invasives’

Outside my study window, the pecan tree is leafing. The old folks say that when that happens, the cold weather is gone.

The great cold front that passed through last weekend – with a skirmish line of thunderstorms from New Orleans to the Canada border – seems to have ushered in a cold snap that has everything turning green.

It, thankfully, washed away the yellow clouds of pine pollen, and now buttercups (yes, another “invasive,” but a beautiful one!) are covering the fields.

We’re preparing to plant our tomatoes, peppers, melons and other warm weather plants in the next couple of weeks.

•Plant dynamism: In a previous column, I noted that many of the common “weeds” in our gardens (e.g., dandelions, henbit, et al.) are not “natural” in that they are “invasives,” or immigrants from Europe and Asia. A wonderful article in The New York Times, however, points out that this is a pejorative – even elitist! – view (which many fellow organic growers also reject).

In “Mother Nature’s Melting Pot,” Hugh Raffles (April 3: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/03/opinion/03Raffles.html?src=recg) writes: “Designating some as native and others as alien denies this ecological and genetic dynamism. It draws an arbitrary historical line based as much on aesthetics, morality and politics as on science, a line that creates a mythic time of purity before places were polluted by interlopers.”

It’s true that many of the immigrants are much desired, such as honeybees and apple trees, just as many are nuisances, such as tumbleweeds and nut grass. And, as I noted in the article, some insects prefer to munch on the imports over our cultivated plants, thus providing a welcome diversion in the organic grower’s garden to help beneficial insects defeat, outwit or overwhelm the undesirables.

So, like others, I suppose I should adopt a less pejorative term – “opportunistic” plants, perhaps. Long live diversity in the garden!

Reader Response: I would advise against using raw or even composted chicken litter in your garden. While using this poultry litter as a soil amendment is not prohibited by the National Organic Program (with some restrictions), there is growing concern about heavy metals – particularly arsenic – that are present from such concentrated animal feeding operations.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, arsenic from poultry litter can potentially leach into lakes or streams. It can build up in the soils with repeated applications; and rather than breaking down, composting concentrates it. (See: http://bit.ly/dSlx45.)

Food origins: Ever wonder where your grocery’s food comes from? A new organization is working to document all fruit and vegetable shipments, stating what, where, how and if any food alerts are issued. For more, see: http://www.harvestmark.com.

Only those growers who contract with harvestmark are included. But consumers can also read the little stickers on the food at the grocery to winnow some information.

If the number on the label begins with a 4, it is conventional produce and most likely has been sprayed with pesticides.

Genetically modified “food” will start with the number 8. Organic produce will begin with the number 9.

For the sake of food safety, stronger labeling should be required to protect consumers.

A New Ag: Agriculture is on the verge of a new age that, if successful, will leave all of the “modern” and “conventional” methods of relying on fossil fuels for production – insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, diesel and gasoline – obsolete.

As Wes Jackson, founder of The Land Institute in Salina, Kan., has pointed out, it was a mere accident that agriculture began with annual plants 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia.

As the Ice Age ended, pockets of fertility such as the Tigras and Euphrates Valley, emerged. The first foodstuffs readily available were cereal grains which sprouted as annuals (that is, must be planted ever year). Those seeds were readily available, abundant and were thus able to be transported to far-off regions.

But just as easily, our ancestors could have chosen perennials. Had they done so, the nature of agriculture would be far different, and easier on the environment.

That’s what The Land Institute is in the process of developing: natural seeds for perennial foodstuffs.

Imagine fields of grain that are not cut down, but picked; fruits that bear year after year from the same stalks; no more tilling the soil or spraying poisons, but planting “companion” plants that provide shade or nutrients to the soil that complement each other’s needs.

This is the future of agriculture: sustainability. Not chemicals that kill and poison, but life that complements, nurtures and produces. I hope I live to see it.

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.