Tag Archives: organic farming

Great Time of Year for Urban Homesteaders

Sept. 7, 2012

Urban Homesteading: Planning for Winter

Those who practice “homesteading”—or self-sufficiency—are busy preserving or “putting up” the produce they have grown this summer. But urban homesteaders who may be limited in the amount of land available to them aren’t left out in the cold. In fact, they have a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables available to them—as close as the local farmers market.

As always, now is a great time to buy what’s available. At this time of year, most farmers are wrapping up their traditional growing time and looking forward to a final fall harvest and a winter season of rest.

The amount of available fresh foods lull consumers who may not be buying as eagerly as they did early in the season—many may even be burned out on local crops. This all works to urban homesteaders’ advantage, because a customer who wants to buy in bulk can usually obtain a bargain.

A tip: Go to the market just before closing time. While some of the items may be sold out or picked over, farmers are usually more than willing to sell the remainder at a huge discount just so they don’t have to haul it back and compost it or give it away.

Another tip: No matter what time of day, you can usually barter down the price of a bruised or picked-over item. In fact, some farmers could throw in the damaged items for free if you buy others in quantity and offer to take them off his hands. You can cut out any bad parts of fruits or vegetables without harming the taste. And remember: If you are dicing them for canning or making preserves, it doesn’t matter what they look like.

Lastly: Quiz farmers over their growing techniques. Organic is the way to go.

Some local farmers aren’t “certified” organic (the Mississippi Department of Agriculture ended its organic-certifying program in December due to budget cuts), but they may still be using organic methods. Most farmers will be more than happy to tell you how they grow their crops. If they don’t—or won’t—don’t buy.

Canning and Preserving Food

The Mississippi State University Extension Service has publications on how to safely preserve food and other issues of interest to urban homesteaders, including: “The Complete Guide to Home Canning” (http://www.msucares.com/pubs/publications/p1152.pdf) and a library of articles grouped under Living In a Recession (http://www.tinyurl.com/clldul3).

Seminars on Agritourism, Growing Fruits & Vegetables

Did you know that agritourism is a growing field in the state? Or that you can hobnob with fruit and vegetable growers to learn from them directly? The Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and the Mississippi Agritourism Association are holding seminars for the public at a conference in Jackson Nov. 28 and 29 at the Hilton Hotel on County Line Road. Early bird registration ends Sept. 15. For more info, http://www.visitmsfruitandveg.com or email info@msfruitandveg.co. You can also contact Candi Adams at 662-534-1916 or cadams@ext.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.

Plant now for cool weather delight

Reaping Cool-Weather Rewards
Mississippi,  along with the rest of the South, is blessed with a long growing
season, and now is the time to plant a fall garden so that you can enjoy  fresh,
leafy organic vegetables often until Christmas.
Good  fall plants include mustard greens, spinach, turnips, beets, broccoli,
cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, kale, various lettuces, radishes  and
You  don’t have to overdo it. Even a small “Jim’s Plot,” only 4 feet by 8
feet, can provide lots and lots of salads. (In fact, you might consider
building a few of them for elderly family members or friends so that  they can
harvest some fresh food, too.)
It’s  hot now, but as temperatures cool, these greens will take off. Some
thrive in colder weather. Many swear that collards taste better after a  frost,
for example; the purplish hue that the leaves take on is a mark  of distinction.
Some  plants—such as radicchio—survive when temperatures drop into the teens,
along with some beets. Their leaves grow back and are delicious as  greens.
If  you already have a Jim’s Plot, just turn under the existing vegetation  for
“green manure,” allowing the plants to decompose in the soil. Add  compost to
return fertility to the soil lost from harvesting crops. You  can also apply
liquid fertilizers in spots to the started plants to give  them a boost. (Use
organic fertilizers only; synthetic fertilizers can  kill earthworms and
microorganisms in the soil.)
If  you are just starting out, you can buy topsoil at some of the local  yard
and garden stores in bulk. Better yet, find a tree-covered spot  behind a garage
or next to a fence where leaves have fallen and  decomposed over the years
leaving the soil nice and loamy. Then find a  sunny spot with southern exposure.
Put down newspapers or cardboard to  keep weeds out of your garden, and cover
with the soil. Start a compost  pile with vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and
eggshells—no meat! Use  the compost to keep your soil fertile.
How  late can you plant? For a general guideline, count backward from first
frost. Here in central Mississippi, we usually have first frost around  Nov. 1,
and the first killing frost Dec. 1. So, you can expect 60 to 90  days of growing
if you plant now.
That’s  not a hard-and-fast rule. Frost can come early. I remember one October
when the weather turned bitterly cold. Or, like last year, we could have  a warm
winter where the problem was keeping the plants from bolting  (going to seed)
rather than dying from frost.
Plant  now to have wholesome, organic produce later. There’s nothing better on
a cold winter day than steaming cooked greens with cheese, onions,  garlic and
hot sauce.

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.

New York Times Blows Smoke on Organic Food

Organic produce is most nutritious when eaten fresh after picking. Local and organically grown food remains the best choice for consumers.

Aug. 5, 2012

‘Times’ Blows Smoke on Food

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

The New York Times printed a study (actually a study of studies) on Tuesday that implied organic food is not more nutritious than conventionally (read: chemically) grown food, which has raised quite a hubbub.

Specifically, the article reported: “Stanford University researchers concluded that fruits, vegetables and meat labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts.” (To read the article, see: http://ow.ly/du0KN)

The study itself is deficient, but unfortunately, it was printed under the even more dubious headline “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce,” which is demonstrably false.

You know the saying for computer results, “garbage in, garbage out.” That goes for studies (or studies of studies), as well.

The basic flaw of the studies is that increasingly organics is not about locally grown, fresh nutritious food as it is about chemically free food. That’s a big distinction that is lost in the analysis.

Organics today is big business. Most of the organic produce you buy in the grocery is trucked thousands of miles from where it was grown (or even flown in from other countries).

Moreover, most of it is grown, treated and harvested under the same conditions as “conventional” farming by giant agribusinesses using industrial farming techniques with the sole exception of not using synthetic chemicals or genetically modified seeds.

So, the question here is: Why wouldn’t it be different in nutrition? If all factors are the same, except for the absence of chemicals, then wouldn’t the produce be the same except for the absence of chemicals? Well, uh, yeah.

As Marion Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, points out in her blog in response to the article (http://ow.ly/du1CH), the point of organic food is to be free of chemicals and hormones — precisely as even the study on studies supports.

But here’s the garbage part: To conclude that organic food is less nutritious than conventional food removes a few essential factors — such as soil fertility, plant hardiness, climate, and most important, freshness — that vary according to source both for conventional and organic farming.

A key difference between any food harvested from the soil may be less the method of growing (except for the potential for toxic chemicals) than how fresh it is. Food that is grown and harvested locally is more likely to be fresher and hold its nutrition longer between field and plate than any produce that’s shipped thousands of miles.

This is not to say that people should not buy organic, even if shipped across the continent or flown in. Organic still results in demonstrably lower levels of dangerous chemicals and toxins — as the study on studies itself reports. Rather, the best of all possible worlds is to buy local organically grown produce.

That is, if you care about health, nutrition and chemically free food.

In the final analysis, this study is more smoke about food that plays on people’s fears, is subject to misinterpretation by the media and perfect for exploitation by vested interests afraid of losing even more market share to organically grown and locally sourced food.
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.

Food Deserts: Oases of Pollution?

Aug. 29, 2012
Food Deserts: Oases of Pollution?

News  reports of late have attempted to debunk the existence of “food deserts”—areas of the country where there is no easy availability of  fresh fruits and vegetables.
Within  a couple of miles of almost any urban neighborhood, “you can get basically any type of food,” said Roland Sturm of the RAND Corp., lead  author of one of two studies that appear to contradict the food-desert  theory, The New York Times reports.
The  studies seem to fuel conservative sentiments, as the Times puts it, challenging “an article of faith among some policy makers and  advocates,” including first lady Michelle Obama, who has led the charge  for fresh fruits
and vegetables for children in schools.
The  misplaced conviction that perhaps there aren’t any food deserts, after all, seems a bit off-putting. As in: Does this mean that inner cities  are actually teeming with fresh fruits and vegetables? That poor people  who
struggle with obesity are actually, in fact, responsible for their  plight? That the Obama White House is nothing but a fraud when it comes  to concern for the poor and healthy choices? You get the drift.
But there are studies, and there are studies.
The  method used to come up with this anti-food desert theory isn’t an  actual polling or investigation of food outlets. Instead, it uses U.S.  Census information to determine the number of fast-food restaurants and  convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods.
Guess  what? Poor neighborhoods had nearly twice as many of these establishments as wealthier ones, thus, supposedly, disproving the “food desert” theory.
But what about the food quality? Can anyone with a  straight face claim that fast food is healthy, nutritious food? Laden  with salt, fats and sugar, it’s the antithesis of quality food. Does the  abundance of cheap, unhealthy food negate the reality of food deserts?  Hardly.
Moreover,  the studies did not define the quality or the price of produce offerings at the convenience stores they claim dispute the food-desert  theory.
When the convenience store’s jacked-up price of an apple costs  an hour’s labor in minimum wage take-home pay, does that mean that  there’s plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables? Or are the available  offerings old, wilted and rancid, as is often the case?
A  more realistic, firsthand view of food available in inner cities would  note the widespread availability of rancid food, outdated products  (including cereals infested with weevils), dented cans, “seconds,” even  opened products cast off from food chains, ending up on the dusty  shelves of discount food stores. Perhaps food desert isn’t such an apt  term as polluted oasis. Sure, there’s plenty of “food” there, but it’s  poisonous.
Foods  that cause diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular and other diseases are abundant in impoverished areas. Just as troubling is the absence of  healthy, nutritious, affordable fruits and vegetables that separates  people from life.
That’s  the real killer in food deserts — attacking not only the body but mind and spirit, as well. It sends the message that one’s economic standing  is the only measure of worth that counts — that lower-income people are  worthless, or less deserving of quality food and quality life. It’s a  message that gnaws at one’s integrity and self-esteem as achingly at  hunger itself.
It’s  compounded by the fact that many of those who live in poor  neighborhoods are minorities bombarded with pop culture idealizing the  thin, white and rich. What’s a person of color living amid bad food in  poor circumstances to think? That it’s unattainable, and I am worthless?
Providing  substandard food for poor people is both a way of life — and death — in  America. Maybe America needs a “Black Like Me” for food to wake up the  status quo. We are engendering spiritual hunger in a generation. As  Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel observed, it’s not  hate, but indifference that
is the epitome of evil. For  people to mock the poor — and the sincere efforts to recognize their legitimate need and provide good, fair, healthy food in impoverished areas — feeds that evil.

For a realistic view of food choices for the  nation’s poor, read “The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart,  Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table” (Scribner, 2012, $25) by  Tracie McMillan.

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.

Why Calif.’s Prop 37 Matters – To Everyone!

Aug. 24, 2012

Why Calif.’s Prop 37 Matters – To Everyone!

If you care about food safety, human health and the environment, and if you haven’t heard of California’s Proposition 37, yet, please read on.

Prop. 37 seems innocuous enough. It simply requires that all food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) or genetically engineered ingredients should say so on the label.

Why do the giant food and agriculture companies fear this so?

They allege it would be too costly to label products differently for only one state. Some companies would simply not sell in California—and limit those citizen’s consumer choices, they protest—and “it will cost jobs!”

That’s a straw-man argument. California is home to 37 million Americans—the largest state in the country by population (and the second largest “state” in the western hemisphere). If big companies don’t sell in California, they won’t stay big for long. As California goes, so goes the country.

If Prop. 37 passes, it’s more likely that companies will simply label foods containing GMOs instead of increasing costs and creating non-GMO product lines in an attempt to capture both markets. This is already happening with soy milk and cereal products in groceries that stock organic foods.

The real reason ag and food giants don’t want labeling is because they don’t want to give up market share, spend money to develop new products or spend more for non-GMO ingredients. In other words: It’s all about short-term profits.

Labeling GMO foods will likely accelerate the already phenomenal growth of organic food purchases away from “conventional” foods, brought to you by pesticide-laden, synthetic chemical farming, which makes food far cheaper to produce.

Polls repeatedly show that 90 percent or more of Americans want labeling of GMO foods. Why? No one has shown that GMOs are safe. Under a quirk of U.S. food-safety laws, the U.S. considers GMO seeds, crops and foods safe without any independent testing. No one knows what the long-term effects will be on human health or the environment.

Because of this, European countries, Japan and other countries require labeling on food products containing GMOs—which come mostly from the United States—and have outright bans on GMO seeds and crops.

Why does Prop. 37 matter to the rest of the United States? If the proposition passes:

• Big companies will change their crop purchasing to non-GMO. This, in turn, also could boost organic farming, which bans GMOs.

• More “conventional” farmers will turn to organic farming where prices are higher, especially if big companies are willing to sign contracts for organic products.

• Seed companies, which are being bought up by giant GMO producers to limit competition, will promote more heritage, heirloom and non-GMO seeds for farmers due to increased demand and loss of GMO market share.

• Because there will be fewer GMOs—which producers genetically engineer to withstand spraying with chemical pesticides and fertilizers—less chemical spraying is likely, which is good for the environment.

• It may be possible to halt or reduce honeybee colony collapse disorder. Experts suspect the causes of bee population decline to be certain GMO corn varieties and some pesticides used with GMO crops.

• Fewer potential human-health and environmental risks could arise from the unknowns of growing GMO crops, as the market for GMO dries up.

Overall, labeling GMO is an attempt to wrest control of food choices from the big ag, seed and Food conglomerates and put it back into the hands of consumers—where it belongs.

Read about GMO myths and truths at http://www.earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58 Find out more about California’s Proposition 37: California Right to Know Campaign (http://www.carighttoknow.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.

Saving Our Planet One Seed At A Time

Aug. 24, 2012
Saving Our Planet One Seed At A Time
As summer continues to blaze, some of our early-planted varieties will start to bolt, or produce seeds. This offers an opportunity for organic gardeners not only to save the seeds but share them with others—and help save our planet.

Giant transnational seed companies are buying up small seed companies globally and discontinuing their lines of stock in favor of bioengineered seeds they can patent. As the 2008 documentary film “Food, Inc.” noted, with the development of such genetically modified organisms (GMO), for the first time in history, these biotechnology giants are becoming the architects and “owners” of life.

With seed “ownership” and fewer natural, openly pollinated seeds being sold, food-plant biodiversity suffers. Couple this with conversion of open land to farming monocultures (where farmers grow only selected plants such as GMO corn or soybeans and use herbicides to kill all other plants), and loss of habitat thanks to urban and suburban growth, and extinction of whole plant species is under way.

Seedhead News reports that of all types of commercial veggies grown at the turn of the century, only about 4 percent still exist today. Just three grain crops—rice, wheat and corn—make up more than half of all the food consumed globally. By contrast, when Europeans touched foot on North America, Native Americans used up to 5,000 different species of food plants.

Food’s future is not bright unless we reverse these trends. Practicing seed saving, sharing seeds with friends and neighbors, and supporting seed-saving libraries that conserve local and native species are a few of the ways we can do that. Not only will you help the planet by collecting your organic, heirloom and nonhybrid, open-pollinated seeds, but you’ll improve your own garden over time.

Drought? Blight? Insect damage? Keep the seeds of the plants that survive, and they’ll likely pass that resistance to their offspring.

Who Owns Food?

• America’s seeds are owned by a handful of corporations that have bought up the seed stocks for food. Here’s a chart complied by Mother Earth News: http://bit.ly/KQZ22o.

• An iPhone app called ShopNoGMO helps consumers avoid buying genetically engineered food. Find it in the Apple iTunes store.

• Seed Savers Exchange offers an online database on how to collect seeds from various wild and domestic plants, including fruits, vegetables and flowers. Visit bit.ly/JWTfJp.

Here are a few seed resources:

• Seed Savers Exchange: seedsavers.org

• Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson, Ariz., publishes Seedhead News: nativeseeds.org

• Learn how to start a seed lending library: richmondgrows.org, search for “seed lending” if necessary.

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.

Food and Health Should Be Synonymous

Aug. 20, 2012
Food and Health Should Be Synonymous

Healthy and nutritious food: sort of goes together, doesn’t it? Like soup and sandwiches.

Mississippi leads the nation in obesity. Yet, how strange it is that we don’t know if our food is safe, much less actually nutritious, or if the food we put into our bodies is even good for us.

If we want nutritious food, then we must pay attention to the labels on the packaging—even ostensibly healthful fruit and vegetables. We should know whether they have been sprayed with poisons, what kinds and how much.

Buying organic should be a given if you want safe, healthy, nutritious, poison-free food. Better than that is buying local organic food. But even that’s not enough to ensure good health. Only so much food is organic, only so much is local, only so much is unprocessed.

What you put into your body has enormous impacts on your health. Environmental factors can play a large role–beyond your body and even your lifetime. Earlier this year, a report by Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center concluded that the toxins your great grandmother encountered in pregnancy can increase the risk for breast cancer.

But just as unhealthy food and toxins can cause cancer and other diseases, so healthful food–especially local and organic–can have positive health effects. In fact, according to the World Cancer Research Fund, one-third of cancers in West could be prevented through nutrition.

We should consider “good food equals good health,” particularly regarding cancer, as part of a bedrock understanding of food. Proponents have promoted vegetarian diets as the healthiest form of nutrition for hundreds of years; Benjamin Franklin was a proponent of a meat-free diet. However, since the 1950s and the development of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Food Pyramid,” America’s diet change to put meat squarely in the center.

This happened to coincide with the rise of industrial agriculture, including harmful chemicals used to produce vegetable foods and animals as industrial “inputs,” herded into confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). This industrialization of farming, and the subsequent promotion of fatty foods, incidentally, also coincides with the higher incidence of cancer and other food-related illnesses. For more information see Livestrong.com.

As nutritionists will tell, meat alone is not the culprit for food-related ill health, but careful selection of food can lead to greater health.

Jackson is lucky this month to have a panel of experts speak on the role of food selection as well as other practices in good health, specifically regarding cancer, at the “We Are The Cure Cancer Prevention Conference” Aug. 25 at the Russell C. Davis Planetarium (201 E. Pascagoula St., 601-960-1550) in downtown Jackson. Rainbow Whole Foods Natural Grocery sponsors the conference, along with Pathways to Wellness LLC and Thermography Advantage.

The conference starts at 2 p.m., and admission is $20. Featured are five physicians who will address cancer prevention strategies–including complementary medicine therapies that can support conventional therapies. For more information and to register, visit mscancerprevention.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.

Earth v. Eaarth: We Need a ‘New Story’

Aug. 17, 2012

Earth v. Eaarth: We Need a ‘New Story’

Competing Visions of Anthropocene and Ecozoic Eras

The late philosopher and theologian Thomas Berry gives an uplifting vision of Earth in his writing in which he posits that a new age, the Ecozoic Era, could be upon us.

This “New Story,” as Berry called it, would be marked by “a period when humans would dwell upon the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.”

As Berry explained in the October 1991 Eleventh Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures in Great Barrington, Mass.:There are only two other moments in the history of this planet that offer us some sense of what is happening. These two moments are the end of the Paleozoic Era 220 million years ago, when some 90 percent of all species living at that time were extinguished, and the terminal phase of the Mesozoic Era 65 million years ago, when there was also very extensive extinction.”

He laid out six conditions for an Earth community to be engaged in this Great Work that are required for this New Story to unfold and thereby save the planet and humankind.

“The biggest single question before us in the 1990s is the extent to which this technological-industrial-commercial context of human functioning can be made compatible with the integral functioning of the other life systems of the planet,” Berry warned.

Bill McKibben seems to have answered that in the negative with his book, Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough, New Planet (2010), explaining that climate change with its attendant problems isn’t something that’s “going to” happen, but is already here. The planet that we have now is not the planet we had before, and the technological-industrial-commercial context that was destroying natural systems has worsened and shows no indication of abating.

In fact, there is a growing movement to name a new geologic era, the Anthropocene, to reflect the cumulative ill effects of human impacts upon Earth — or, Eaarth.

Berry later refined his conditions for ushering in the Ecozoic Era that broadens the abilities of humans to make positive change in the world (see: Twelve Understandings Concerning the Ecozoic Era, www.ecozoicstudies.org). His vision remains a powerful challenge to humankind to change its course, from creating an Anthropocene Era to an Ecozoic Era, away from a worsening Eaarth to a wholesome and life-sustaining Earth.

Central to Berry’s New Story is that ecological spirituality hold a special place as one of three “key building blocks.” This “presence to the primal mystery and value of nature and to Earth as a single sacred community, provides a basis for revitalizing religious experience and healing the human psyche,” Berry says. It’s central to the New Story that it “invites new cosmological reflection on meaning and value and the role and place of humans in the universe process.”

And that concern for ecological spirituality is closely allied with the third key element: “Bioregionalism,” that cares “for Earth in its relatively self-sustaining geo-biological divisions, reorients human activity in developing sustainable modes of living, building inclusive human community, caring for the rights of other species, and preserving the health of the Earth on which all life depends.”

Significantly, many who support the vision of declaring an Anthropocene Era say it began 12,000 years ago with the birth of agriculture, rather than, as some contend, with the Industrial Age. Indeed, rather than manufacturing alone, if one were to reverse course toward Eaarth, much of the application of Berry’s principles would require changes in the way agricultural policy is conducted.

Practical ways could include:

— Federal subsidies or grants for rural redevelopment, much as “healthy cities” initiatives by past Congresses helped urban areas. These could include bond mechanisms such as GOzone (Gulf Opportunity) bonds that were offered in the Gulf Coast to rebuild infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.

— Farm Bill subsidies or grants supporting local and organic growing, promoting small ecofarms both rural and urban for fresh fruits and vegetables. This would directly address the problem of “food deserts,” areas where fresh food is lacking. It would help address spiraling health care costs.

— Public distribution network funding would help farmers and promote farming by reducing the bottleneck between producers and processors/distributors who dictate low prices. This already is in place in limited fashion by the promotion and certifying of farmers markets; but if regional hubs could be developed for distribution of local organic and heirloom varieties, small farmers could find larger markets for their crops and biodiversity could be supported. This would boost local communities, as well as the bioregionalism of the areas.

As Berry and others have detailed, the growth of the industrial megafarm relying on fossil fuels and chemicals has devastated rural communities by producing commodities for shipment overseas or national food processing giants, instead of local food, hastening jobs to the cities, and making states food importers rather than food exporters.

In his book, Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community, Berry outlines that accepting a New Story is a rejection of the industrial mindset that leaves Earth as wasteland.

While the forces that are propelling destruction of Earth are large, collectively, the individual power of human beings is great, as well. The power to create is as great as that to destroy. As Berry so persuasively argues, building a sense of awe for the universe and its beings as sacred can change the course of humanity and planet. It’s up to us, each, individually, to enact this New Story.

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.

The Challenge of Growing Tomatoes

Aug. 3, 2012
The Challenge of Growing Tomatoes

A favorite of home gardeners—urban, suburban or rural—are tomatoes.
Yet, to be perfectly honest, it can be tough to grow perfect tomatoes,
especially in Southern climates.
Often,  the problem is uneven irrigation. Too much water, and you can get  fungal and root maladies. Too little and leaves wither, fruit fails to  develop or grows unevenly (with split skins, though some varieties split  more than others). Add high heat, and the plants can just shut down on  fruition.
Here are a few hints for growing tomatoes in problematic conditions.

Tomatoes Shut Down?
Mississippi’s  high heat and humidity play havoc on vegetable crops, especially  tomatoes. But you can extend the production of your plants by using an all-natural plant hormone, kinetin, that keeps blossoms from falling off  when the heat index soars.
The  active ingredient is kinetin, but it’s sold under a variety of brand  names, the most popular being Blossom Set Spray. It’s available at local  stores, or visit tinyurl.com/c5w98q5. (Cytokinins are OMRI-approved for organic
growing as a type of fertilizer.)
When  your tomato plants flower during high heat and humidity, just squirt a  little mist in each one. Essentially, the spray keeps the flower  attached long enough so that bees and other pollinators can do their job  fertilizing the
plant. And fertile flowers become tomatoes.

Blossom End Rot
Another  common tomato malady is blossom end rot. There’s a popular spray on the  market that is essentially just calcium chloride (available at local  stores). It’s not OMRI-listed, so I can’t recommend it for organic  growing.
However, blossom end rot is usually an indicator of a lack of  calcium in the
soil. You can remedy that by adding bone meal or egg  shells.

Tomato Blight
Unfortunately,  tomato blight pretty much spells doom to tomatoes. It usually appears  after heavy rains or toward the end of the growing season. In the South,  blight often isn’t a matter of “if,” but when.
The  best solution to blight is to rotate your crops; don’t grow tomatoes  where you had tomatoes the year before. That’s good advice for any crop,  not only to fight the various viruses and fungi that live in the soil,  but for insect control, as well.
Blight  can be treated, but it’s difficult. First, always wash your hands after  touching a blighted plant, and never put blighted plants in your  compost. Keep plants mulched and open so that air can pass between the  plants reducing humidity.
You can use some copper- or sulphur-based fungicidal sprays. Visit tinyurl.com/7f2j8yd for some examples on the Ohio State University website.
VeggieGardener.com also offers some homemade, natural remedies for plant maladies on this page: tinyurl.com/7l9ymw5.

Don’t overwater
Overwatering  is the cause of many problems, along with poor soil conditions. Just  water thoroughly every week or so and allow the soil on top to dry out.
Well-tended soil will hold moisture and stay springy (lots of “tilth”),  while poor soils will harden if dry. Work on your soil after you harvest  your plants by plowing under vegetation and adding compost. Work your  soil year round to
make growing in the warmest season easier.

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.

Urban Homesteading: Grow Your Own Sandwich

July 12, 2012

Urban Homesteading: Grow Your Own Sandwich

You don’t have to have a large  garden spread to grow your own organic food. In
fact, you can grow  plenty of food to supplement your diet in a small space.
While  growing enough grain for bread might be a challenge in, say, a small
apartment or tiny yard, you can grow nutritious grain sprouts anywhere  to add
to your sandwiches.
Start  with one to four tablespoons of food-grade organic seeds. Put them in a
wide mouth jar, and cover the jar opening with nylon mesh or tulle  cloth from a
fabric store and affix it with a rubber band. Add water,  swirl it around and
drain. Repeat the water, swirl and drain cycle twice  a day for three to six
days, and you will have sprouts ready to eat.
A  word of warning for growing sprouts: Use only food-grade organic seeds,  as
some seeds are poisonous. Also, non-organic seeds could be  contaminated with
food-poisoning bacteria. Several online companies  offer food-grade organic
seeds specifically for sprouting, including  Johnny’s Selected Seeds
(johnnyseeds.com) and Peaceful Valley (groworganic.com).
Good  sprouts to grow are lentils, garbonzo beans, mung beans, red clover,
sunflowers, radish, rye, winter wheat, alfalfa, arugula, broccoli,  buckwheat,
canola (non-GMO) and adzuki beans.
For  those who are more ambitious — and have more room or access to a  community garden plot — you can grow your own sandwich. With 100 square  feet (a 10-foot by 10-foot plot), you can grow enough amaranth, barley  or rye to bake bread twice a month for a year.
You will have to buy (or rent) a grain mill, or find someone who grind grains in
small quantities. Peaceful Valley (groworganic.com), offers a hand-cranking
grain mill for $149. A bread maker would be nice, too.

Bread From Your Garden?
If you’re interested in growing  grain in your garden, a good book on the
subject is “Homegrown Whole  Grains” by Sara Pitzer (Storey Publishing, 2009,
As  Pitzer notes, in a 10-foot-square plot, backyard farmers can grow  enough
wheat to harvest 50 pounds in a single afternoon—and that can be  baked into 50
loaves of fresh bread.

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.

Irrigating The Organic Garden

Proper Irrigation Helps Keep Plants Disease Free

July 12, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere….

People who jump into organic  gardening without any preparation often start off
on the wrong foot by  overwatering or not watering properly. They may have
stereotypes in  their minds that are hard to erase. One is the image of lawn
sprinklers  casting long arcs of water into the air, as is often seen in photos
of  golf courses.
While  watering with a sprinkler like that can work, it’s not the best way  and,
if done in the heat of the day or in the evening is an example of  how not to
water your garden and can even be self-defeating. While it  may give the
gardener the impression that he or she has “done some work  in the garden,” it
can be harmful for two reasons: First, during a hot,  sunny day, the water
mostly evaporates before it can soak in to the  plants’ roots where it can
actually do some good. Second, sprinkling  raises humidity in the garden, which
can create ideal conditions for  harmful fungal and bacterial growth, and
rejuvenate viruses in the soil  that can stunt or kill plants. The effect is
worse if you use sprinkling  techniques in the late evening; it allows fungi and
bacteria to grow  overnight and really “set in.”
If  you use a sprinkler in your garden, it’s best to use it in the morning  and
leave it running long enough so that the water soaks in. The garden  will then
have all day in the sun. Water on the leaves, plant stems and  the ground
surface will dry out as the day goes on, leaving the water  where it belongs, at
the roots.
You  will find that morning watering in this way can be a great delight.  Birds
use the puddles to splash in and wash themselves, pollinators will  flitter in
and out, drinking the precious liquid, and your plants will  seem to grow and
blossom before your very eyes as they absorb the  moisture and turn their leafy
faces toward the sun. It can be a  spiritual experience.
The  key is to not overwater. Once a week is plenty, and you may need to  water
less. To test whether your garden needs watering, stick your  finger in the
soil. If your finger goes in easily with a slight feeling  of moisture, it’s
fine. If it’s muddy, it’s too wet.
It’s  a careful balance. Plant roots need to be able to breathe in the soil.
That requires air pockets as well as moisture. You want your soil to be  light
and fluffy (have good “tilth”) with lots of organic matter, but  damp enough so
that earthworms can happy slither through, and beneficial  bacteria and fungi
can thrive. In organic gardening, your soil is  alive. It needs to thrive for
your plants to thrive.
Professional  gardeners, of course, have found more efficient (and often
expensive)  ways to water their crops. Some use garden or lawn sprinklers on
tripods  with timers so that they can soak a large area in a small amount of
time. By moving the tripods, they’re able to cover several acres. If  your
garden is the small, backyard variety, timers and tripods probably  aren’t
Drip  and soaker systems are additional watering options for larger gardens.
Drip irrigation sends an even supply of water directly to the root zone.  It
uses less water because it doesn’t run off on the surface (carrying  precious
top soil with it) or evaporate as readily as water mist sprayed  into the air.
It almost eradicates mold or fungal concerns because the  drip tape or soaker
hose is in contact with the soil. In established  crop systems, gardeners often
will bury the hoses so they stay put,  about 4 inches deep, so they water only
the roots. Burying your soaker  hoses to keep them from freezing and splitting
is a good idea if you  plan to leave them out during the winter.
Unburied  hoses will give you the advantage of using them where they’re needed
most and removing them otherwise. But whether you bury your soakers or  leave
them above ground, you’ll need to be careful when you mow around  the garden, or till within it. With buried hoses, be sure to remember  (or mark) where you
buried them!
Soaker  hoses are available at most garden supply stores and online. Because
you want the water pressure to be low throughout your garden, keep your  hose
sections to no longer than 100 feet. If you need additional length,  connect
100-foot sections using garden hose splitters with adjustable  valves. That way,
you can adjust the flow in each section—open the  valves for highest flow at the
end, lowest at the beginning.

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.

Animal ID Plan A Blow to Local Food Movement

Animal ID Plan Punishes Backyard, Urban & Small Organic Growers

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

It’s hard to believe that the U.S. government is attempting to force animal identification on farmers again.

But as the Cornucopia Institute has pointed out (http://www.cornucopia.org/2012/06/5385/), the U.S. Department of Agriculture is resurrecting the proposed national animal identification rule that many thought dead due to massive outcry a year ago.

The rule would subject cattle and poultry owners across the country to new tagging and paperwork requirements that could collectively cost hundreds of millions of dollars, as Cornucopia points out, yet the USDA has designated the final rule it’s proposing as “not economically significant.”

Huh? Small poultry and livestock farmers would be unfairly and tremendously burdened by the cost of this regulation. Many likely would be put out of business or young farmers or beginners decide that the regulatory burden was too much to start. And this is for a problem (tracking diseased animals) that is overwhelmingly the result of large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), not small farmers.

It’s more of a blow to the local food movement than a “solution” to giant industrial farming abuses in the food system. In fact, it seems designed to specifically target and deter small farmers, backyard farmers, and urban farmers. Why? Because it requires extensive documentation and ear tags or expensive transponders with electronic chips implanted for each animal — goat, horse, pig, chicken — for them, while whole herds are treated as one animal for CAFOs (no fuss, no bother!).

These records are for any and all animals, except dogs and cats, but including cervids. If for any reason, a tag or ID device is removed (like, the animal died), it and its documentation must be kept for five years! If you think doing your income taxes each year is fun, add keeping records for your goat and backyard chickens — including those carried off by a fox, died of natural causes, or you ate. Regarding the rest of your flock, you won’t be able to sell them unless they have documentation, and you cannot buy animals without documentation, you cannot transport your animals without documentation and documentation about you and your records are kept on state and national registries to ensure compliance. (Maybe they ought to call it the national small farmer ID system!)

There are more regulations here for owning a chicken than for owning a gun!

Happy Easter, little Johnny or Sue, here’s your baby chick! …. And here’s the 29 pages in the Federal Register of regulations that go with it!

This proposed regulation fails for a number of reasons:

— It would make outlaws of most backyard poultry owners and small farmers who mix birds with their neighbors and grow their own flocks.

— It’s at odds with a government trying to cut costs, for taxpayers, businesses and consumers.

— It would be an “unfunded mandate” for states to track animals, adding regulatory staffs and paperwork even as they are cutting essential services like firefighters, police and schoolteachers to make ends meet.

— It would add red tape and expense to every step from farm to fork but mostly financially punish those who aren’t the problem — and act as a regulatory block and deterrent to new small businesses.

Small farmers everywhere — and the organizations that represent them — must join to block this unnecessary and damaging potential regulation.

Note, this is not legislation that can be voted on; it’s a proposed executive order that, unless stopped, likely will go into effect with the signature of the president’s pen.

Contact your senator or representative. Surely, reason must prevail to stop this regulation.

For more, see the Cornucopia Institute — www.cornucopia.org.

Or, The Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance — http://farmandranchfreedom.org/Animal-ID-2011

Read the proposed rule at: www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability/downloads/2011/Proposed%20Rule.pdf

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.

2012 Farm Bill: Farmers ‘Nationalized’

U.S. Farm Bill: Farmers ‘Nationalized’

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

“If we have to nationalize, we will. Agriculture is too important and vital a resource to be left in the hands of individual farmers.”

— Stuart E. Eizenstat, chief domestic policy adviser for President Jimmy Carter, 1979

That quote (from the book War, Central Planning and Corporations: The Corporate State by Eugene Schroder, et al., Cleburne, Texas: Buffalo Creek Press, 1997) is no more an indication of a Democratic presidency, under Carter, as a Republican presidency under his predecessors Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, or both parties since. It’s a common concern.
In fact, American agriculture today is all but nationalized with farmers (many corporations now) holding thin title to land, subject to the whims of bankers, federally backed loan programs, and federal crop subsidies.
The current negotiations over the 2012 Farm Bill should be a reminder that virtually every aspect of agriculture in America is under the purview of the U.S. government. Congress and the president may not issue grandiose Five Year Plans like the old Soviet commissars, but the Farm Bill comes close, spelling out which crops will receive cash payments, loan guarantees and price supports and how much, which pretty much dictates what commodities are planted and how much.

Indeed, U.S. agriculture today could be seen as a dance between corporations and the state. Farmers have little to no control over the prices they receive for their crops. The price supports, or payments for any crop, are decided by Congress in a process dictated by the political “clout” of regions (mostly between Southern soybean and cotton farmers and Midwestern corn and grain farmers). But that process is itself orchestrated by the massive political campaign cash machinery of the agribiz giants like Monsanto, Cargill and the like.
So, the farmer has no control over:
— What he plants: If he plants a crop that’s not covered by federal guarantees, he’s staking his life and that of his family, their land and their future on whether it produces in an uncertain global climate that has seen disaster upon disaster in recent years.
— The price, which is dictated by financial speculators for their own profit and the helter-skelter of international markets.
— The costs of what it takes to buy seeds (controlled by multinational corporations), buy fertilizer (ditto), buy fuel for his machinery (ditto).
— Who buys his crops (Iran? China?).
— The price consumers pay which goes up and up to fatten the middlemen — corporations again — as the farmer’s per-unit cost continues to go up and his per-unit price continues to go down, ensuring his greater dependence upon government loans and subsidies to stay in business.

Some Americans may remember when farms were virtually everywhere; even if not in urban areas, a short drive away. (I remember living in New York City in the early 1970s and crossing over into New Jersey to see dairy cows grazing; now there are only 114 dairy farms in “The Garden State,” less than half from even a decade ago.)
From a process that began in the 1970s of the de facto squeezing of individual farmers out of farming into corporate ownership and control of agriculture dictated by government policy, U.S. agriculture has in effect already been “nationalized.” If you have no control over something do you really “own” it?

Whether it’s really “owned” by the government or corporations is one of those chicken-and-egg questions. The bank (loans) or the sheriff (taxes) may be the instrument of seizing land, but was it the government policy or corporate pricing that pulled the trigger? Is “getting out of farming” by selling land to a corporation (or developer) not “nationalization” under another term?

Government and multinational corporations are the ones that both create the economic environment to coerce consolidation and benefit from increasing more and more land and production into fewer and fewer hands. More control and more profits for the government/industry alliance are the result.

Since they have no control, what few farmers remain only have an illusion of control. Yet, like those with Stockholm Syndrome (loving their captors), too many seem enamored with siding with the angers and resentments fed to them by those who seek to control them. They buy into the “poor me” mentality dictated to them by corporations and farm state hierarchies that are supported by the corporations, with mantras that: “Environmentalists” are out to get them. Government regulators are out to get them. “We feed the planet.” It’s a case of misdirection and manipulation. Who’s pulling the strings?

If there is an “answer” to this, part of it has to do with something that’s not — yet — supported by the Farm Bill but definitely has to do with farming. And that’s the rise of the locavore movement, where consumers in rural, suburban and urban areas are clamoring for “real food.” That is, organic or naturally grown food that’s not produced with chemicals or sprayed with poisons, grown locally, where those who buy the food know and trust who is growing it.

Only a few crops are specified or receive support in the $300 billion Farm Bill — corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice account for 90 percent of subsidy payments. Organic and “real” food grown by local small farmers is not a major concern of the commissars — yet. These flesh-and-blood farmers, the real small business men and woman who politicians give lip service to supporting, are growing and selling crops without any federal support or subsidies, competing against giant corporations and staggering economies of scale, including imports from other countries, and winning consumers’ hearts and minds.

The Farm Bill was created during the Great Depression to help farmers, but now it’s aimed at the corporations, financial entities, politicians and their camp followers that control farming. If the local food movement has any clout, it’s consumers voting with their dollars to buy wholesome, nutritious, healthful foods almost as a black market or underground economy outside the parameters of the Farm Bill in Washington. That growing consumer demand could be America’s — and that of local farmers, real farmers — salvation when it comes to food, health and nutrition.

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.

Picking blueberries ….

July 6, 2012

Picking blueberries … (An iPhone odyssey)

Step 1: Look for a shady spot to pick berries!

There’s plenty of shade in the bushes, without getting all hot and bothered over it.

Step 2: Pick only the ripe ones!

Pick only the dark blueberries. Some will be so dark that they will appear to be “cloudy.” That’s perfect!

Step 3: Put them in your bucket and not in your mouth!

When picking, hold your container under the berries and some of the ripest will often just fall into it as you are picking.

Step 4: Take as much as you can eat, or feel like freezing for later.

Your arms won’t get as tired if you use a smaller container for picking and another for carrying. If you can’t keep from snacking, do it AFTER you’ve picked pretty much what you want, not before.

Next step? Go over the fig tree, and see if it’s ready to pick yet.

The figs on the tree (note round fruit pointing up in center) are still green, not yet purple when they will be ready to pick.

We’ll keep an eye on them. You can bet the birds are, too!

Happy picking!


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 Reported Devastating To U.S. Beehives

Heat Reported Devastating to U.S. Beehives

Linda’s Bees in Atlanta (http://beekeeperlinda.blogspot.com/) reports that the extreme heat and drought in portions of the eastern U.S. (and I’m presuming in the West and Midwest, too) are devastating to bees this year.
She writes that The Macon Beekeeper (the monthly newsletter of the bee group in Franklin, NC) reported that there was little nectar in the area:

“Reports from all over indicate that at this point the honey crop is a failure. With one exception beekeepers report that their honey supers are, essentially, empty. A few are feeding their bees to hold off starvation. It’s no different here. The tulip poplar did bloom. I do see some dark nectar in a few colonies. However, in reality, the nectar flow did not happen. My bees continue to work, and they are not starving. But there is no excess honey. It’s hard to take, but that’s agriculture.”

Wildflowers, like these shown in our front field in Lena, MS, photographed today via iPhone, are still abundant in east central Mississippi — providing nectar for bees despite the heat and drought. Other areas are reporting severe effects from heat and drought, however, with bees living off of stored honey and beekeepers forced to feed the bees to keep them alive. Photo by Jim Ewing/shooflyfarmblog

Linda (a Mississippi native who still has family here by the way) reports, however, that although the temperature in Atlanta was to hit 106 on Saturday, and the bloom is almost over for the one source she can detect, her hives have stored honey and uncapped nectar. Her bees are still working and surviving OK.

Reading this got me concerned (here in Lena, MS, 50 miles north of the capital, Jackson), so I went out and checked my hives. Though the bees were in a bad mood (one popped me on my crown chakra — a bee blessing with a point to it!), they also had stored honey and uncapped nectar.
They weren’t as far along as I would have hoped — one that struggled this spring despite the warm winter had only four filled frames in its one super, and the other had only put wax and was just starting to fill the cells in its second super. But I’m glad they seem to be doing OK. They are working, adding wax, and filling cells with nectar.
Given the heat, Linda has some good advice, though: Check your bees!
Also note my earlier post, and water your bees! They need 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.

Beneficial Insects in the Organic Garden

June 27, 2012

Good Bugs, Bad Bugs

Now that summer is in full swing, gardeners have to deal with pests.

While industrial agriculture uses chemicals to control insects, it’s a scorch-the-earth policy that kills both good and bad bugs indiscriminately.

In organic growing, we strive to live in harmony with the plant and animal nations. As such, we want to grow plants that repel unwanted insects and invite beneficial insects to take care of those that might want to feast on our plants.

Several plants can be useful in controlling unwanted pests, such as alyssum, buckwheat, coriander, dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s Lace, sunflowers and common yarrow. Not only do these plants look great, they attract the kinds of insects that will help protect your garden. Some, like sunflowers, act as a “trap crop,” luring pests to them and away from the rest of your garden. Others, like dill, fennel and coriander, are herbs that you can use in your food. Buckwheat is incredibly appealing to pollinators such as honeybees and butterflies.

American Indian tribes have traditionally considered yarrow to have mystical and magical properties—from love charms to warding off negativity. The Latin name for the plant (also known as millfoil) is Achillae, named for the Greek warrior Achilles. Legend has it that Achilles gave the plant to his troops to stop bleeding. The Chinese have used dried yarrow stems for I Ching divination for centuries. And gardeners who use the principles of biodynamic farming use yarrow as a basic ingredient to invite spirit elementals to the garden.

Placing beneficial plants in your garden isn’t difficult and you don’t have to follow a specific plan; plant them here and there, wherever the mood strikes you, in and around the garden or along a ditch. They should all grow quickly.

To provide a little help for the humans in your garden, plant something that will help naturally ward off mosquitoes. Mother Earth News tested a number of plants and these were the top natural repellents: lantana, rose-scented monarda, lime basil, catnip, sacred basil and thyme (see tinyurl.com/74gwysm). Again, these plants have other uses as well—including happy cats! Planting them in pots or other containers allows you to place them on your porch or patio, as well.

Find heirloom or organic seeds for all of these plants at your local garden store—or, at this time of year, look for full-grown plants on sale at a discount.

In addition to attracting beneficial insects with plants, you can simply purchase them. Those little red beetles with black dots, affectionately called ladybugs, are popular. Ladybugs are capable of consuming up to 50 or 60 aphids per day, and one ladybug can consume many as 5,000 aphids in its lifetime, according to Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply (groworganic.com), which sells the little critters online. Ladybugs also eat a variety of other harmful insects and larvae including scales, mealy bugs, leafhoppers, mites and various types of soft-bodied insects.

Next year, you might consider the praying mantid (or mantis). These big green bugs eat aphids, beetles, flies, mosquitoes, moths, caterpillars, wasps—generally, any insect it can catch. A praying mantid’s egg sac can contain up to 40,000 eggs, which usually hatch in spring. Find them for sale online and from stores such as Costco.

Finally, if you are finding strange plant symptoms or pest invaders, check out this handy online resource for finding safe, non-toxic pesticide solutions that are Organic Materials Review Institute, or OMRI, approved: The Ecological Pest Management Database (bit.ly/g6Eqgu). It covers solutions for everything from diseases to weeds to mollusks. The database is maintained by the Butte, Mont.-based National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. Call them at 1-800-346-9140.

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.

Summer Planting for Fall Harvest

June 27, 2012

Plant Now for Fall Harvest

One of the benefits of living in the South is that we can extend our growing period through at least three seasons just by timing our planting, and four seasons if we put a little work into it. For example, right now is a good time to plant for your fall harvest.

One of the most highly desired foods when summer ends is tomatoes; and if you plant now, you can have a good fall crop. However, tomatoes come with a bit of a caveat. Because of Mississippi’s hot, moist conditions, tomatoes frequently begin to fail in deep summer. Fruit doesn’t form above 94 degrees and high humidity discourages pollination. During prolonged periods of drought or high temperatures, tomato plants will just shut down.

A few varieties of tomatoes will do well in southern climes, including:

  • Homestead24 (certified organic; for hot, humid weather; from Florida)
  • Neptune (certified organic; for hot, humid weather; from Florida)
  • Arkansas Traveler (heirloom; for hot, humid weather)
  • Cherokee Purple (heirloom; hot weather tolerant; from Tennessee)

If you can’t find seeds locally for these varieties, contact TomatoFest (Box 628, Little River, Calif. 95456, store.tomatofest.com) for these and other types of heirloom and organic tomato seeds.

Protect Your Skin

If you are going to be outdoors a lot, remember to wear sunscreen. Ultraviolet radiation may promote skin cancer.

Consumer Reports tested 18 sunscreen products, but rated none “excellent” for all conditions. In its tests, All Terrain Aqua Sport lotion rated best, scoring 88 of 100 possible points. Thirteen products scored 70 or higher. It gave “best buy” kudos to No-Ad with Aloe & Vitamin E SPF 45 and Walgreens Continuous Spray Sport SPF 50. For more information, visit consumerreports.org/cro/sunscreens/buying-guide.

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.

Give Bees Water

Bees Need Water …
With the hot drought conditions right now, bees — like every
other bee-ings — need water!
It’s easy to provide it for them. Just throw out a piece of plastic in a shady
spot (as in the photo) and spray it with a hose.
Any leaves and wrinkles will act as “landing spots” for the bees so that  they
can lap up the water with their long tongues and carry it back to  the hive.
It can be done also by putting gravel in a baking pan (in shade) and filling  it
with water so that the bees can stand on the rocks and sip.
Without somewhere to land, bees can drown.
Freshen the water every other day or so until rain provides natural sources.
Bees need water. It’s estimated that during summer, a hive can use a quart of
water per day, with 800 workers making trips to water sources 50 times a day.

During drought, bees need water. It’s easy to provide it. Just throw a piece of plastic in the ground (in shade) and spray it with a garden hose. Wrinkles and leaves are good, allowing “landing spots” for bees.

Help the bees!

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 Gardens Need Water in Hot Weather

June 27, 2012
Hot-Weather Watering

The hottest part of summer may require us to use more treated water than we may prefer. Chemicals from city water-treatment plants can build up and can also stunt microbial life in the soil. To help alleviate the chemical load, consider using a chlorine filter that screws into your garden hose. Filters are available at pool-supply stores or online. If you don’t have an untreated pond or rain barrels, this is the next best thing.

Frequent watering leaches nutrients from the soil. The best and easiest way to replenish the soil short term is by using a top dressing of worm castings. Just apply a thin layer at your plants’ roots. Find worm castings at your favorite local garden store.

Stressed plants may exhibit powdery mildew or blights, especially on tomatoes. You can remedy this organically by using Bacillus subtilis, a soil-dwelling bacterium that controls leaf blight, black mold, powdery mildew and many other diseases. It’s sold under various brand names, including Serenade Garden Disease Control, and is OMRI approved for organic growing. Ask your local garden store to carry this for you, or go online to Arbico Organics (arbico-organics.com).

In the end, nothing beats rainwater, but these tips can help your garden thrive in hot weather.

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.

Ewing was recently elected to the board of directors of Certified Naturally Grown, a national non-profit organization offering certification tailored to small-scale, direct-market farmers and beekeepers who use natural methods. Many growers who use organic methods prefer not to enlist in the U.S. government’s certified program; CNG was founded in 2002, at the same time the USDA’s National Organic Program went into effect to fill that gap, providing local, community-based third-party certification. It is not affiliated with NOP. For more information, visit naturallygrown.org.

Worst Produce for Pesticides

Don’t Buy Dirty

When it comes to produce, buying organic means not buying chemicals and pesticides with your food.

June 13, 2012

People can’t always buy organic for a variety of reasons: The local store may have limited supplies, they lack variety or cost is a consideration. But whatever the reason—or excuse—shoppers should be aware that some produce at the grocery store is more pesticide-laden than others.

Every year, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group tests all manner of produce for pesticides and chemicals to compile its list of the “Dirty Dozen,” and “Clean 15” foods. By using the list to choose the foods to buy organically, EWG says consumers can substantially lower their pesticide intake.

You would be surprised at the level of pesticide contamination found in common, conventionally grown food. According to EWG:
• Every sample of imported nectarines tested positive for pesticides, followed by apples (97.8 percent) and imported plums (97.2 percent).
• 92 percent of apples contained two or more pesticide residues‚ followed by imported nectarines (90.8 percent) and peaches (85.6 percent).
• Some 96 percent of all celery samples tested positive for pesticides, followed by cilantro (92.9 percent) and potatoes (91.4 percent).
• Nearly 90 percent of celery samples contained multiple pesticides, followed by cilantro (70.1 percent) and sweet bell peppers (69.4 percent).
• Hot peppers had been treated with as many as 97 pesticides, followed by cucumbers (68) and greens (66).

If that doesn’t underscore the need to “buy organic,” I don’t know what does. You might want to clip this out and keep it with you for handy reference when you go shopping.

According to EWG, if you choose five servings a day from the “Clean 15” instead of the “Dirty Dozen,” you can lower the volume of pesticide you consume daily by 92 percent. You’ll also eat fewer types of pesticides. Picking five from the “Dirty Dozen” would cause you to consume an average of 14 different pesticides a day, the EWG states. If you choose five servings from the “Clean 15,” you’ll consume fewer than two pesticides per day.

Additionally, because genetically modified, or GMO, seeds are more often used in conventionally raised corn, and the United States (unlike other countries) does not require GMO labeling, EWG recommends consumers only buy organic sweet corn; GMO seeds are banned in organic growing.

For more information, including a printable “Clean 15/Dirty Dozen” wallet card, visit http://www.ewg.org/foodnews.

The Clean 15
These are the lowest in contamination; if you must buy commercially raised products, stick to this list.

1. Onions
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocados
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplants
9. Cantaloupes, domestic
10. Kiwis
11. Cabbages
12. Watermelons
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruits
15. Mushrooms

The Dirty Dozen
Always buy these foods grown organically to avoid pesticide intake.

1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines, imported
7. Grapes, imported
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries, domestic (These are grown locally in Mississippi; ask your farmer.)
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/collard greens

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.