Tag Archives: organic seeds

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.

Can Monsanto Change Its Brand to Organics?

Probably no one was more shocked than I when it was reported this week that Monsanto is now focusing on becoming a leader in …. drumroll, please …. organics!

Monsanto Going Organic? Reconciling its aim to enter the organic food and seed market is mind blowing -- and filled with 'what ifs….'  Photo: Inhabitat.com

Monsanto Going Organic? Reconciling its aim to enter the organic food and seed market is mind blowing — and filled with ‘what ifs….’ Photo: Inhabitat.com 

The multinational chemical company that is notorious for turning open pollinated seeds into genetically engineered varieties is not known for its …. um… sensitivity for natural growing methods.

Nonetheless there it was in Wired magazine, with the headline: Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie.

The article (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2014/01/new-monsanto-vegetables/) points out that in addition to its global dominance in buying up seed companies and genetically engineering their seeds to withstand its pesticides and herbicides, etc., Monsanto also has a huge reservoir of traditionally developed seed varieties through its Borg-like acquisition of those rival seed companies.

In addition, it has been ongoing in its clinical genetic research of these seeds and developing new strains.

As the article states, these varieties “may be born in a lab, but technically they’re every bit as natural as what you’d get at a farmers’ market. Keep them away from pesticides and transport them less than 100 miles and you could call them organic and locavore too.”

Credit Monsanto to also come up with a way to speed up the process of cross breeding, using a “seed chipper” to identify genetic traits that make a lettuce crisper or more flavorful, for example, then only cross breed plants with those traits in a traditional manner.

The result is “super veggies” that can be sold as nonGMO, or even certified organic, if one takes the time to isolate and develop them (which Monsanto, of course, has the resources to do).

With this news, I’m perplexed, to say the least, and I’m sure others who have long labored in the sustainable and organics field are, too.

I wish Monsanto had gone this way earlier and developed a strong organic presence that would support sustainability; if it had, it would not be facing such opposition – and would see that it’s a more profitable avenue in the long run, developing partners instead of creating division.

I’m one of the few people, I guess, who remembers Delta and Pine Land Co. at Stoneville, MS, when it developed new seed varieties the old fashioned way — back when investors in Memphis owned it, and before Monsanto bought the company.

Back in the 1970s, when I was covering the Mississippi Delta for the old Jackson (Miss.) Daily News, I was a supporter of this research; after all, who could fault “science” and developing agriculture as a modern, international business where farmers were CEOs directly tied to their fortunes on international markets?

It was an exciting concept and heady times! As a journalist, I eagerly wrote about this emerging role for farmers as “agri-businessmen” and women, who were riding the wave of this promising scientific progress.

Sadly, like The New York Times‘ Andrew Revkin now, I “bought” the line that “science” would “save” agriculture. And, like Revkin now, even if he doesn’t see it yet, I was wrong. It took me about a decade to see that something was seriously wrong with modern agriculture as it was going that no amount of new chemicals, genetic engineering or expanding markets could fix. It was inherently unsustainable — and toxic — multidirectionally.

Of course, as with GMOs, now we know that big corporate interests can fund enough science labs and control the publication of their results so that even bad science can be passed off as positive. The Big Ag corporate PR machine has “spin” for every criticism. And opponents are simply dismissed as Luddites who don’t want to “feed the world” (e.g. capture world markets through monopolies, patents and forced government treaties).

Of course, back then, few could see how this would turn out — except visionaries like Wendell Berry with books like The Unsettling of America (1977).

Sure enough, farmers started going bust, as the “get big or get out” mentality took hold, and now we have 40 years worth of cheerleaders for Big Ag and Frankenfood telling us bad is good and up is down. The naked Emperor’s clothes look good! Food-related illness – obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and food allergies – be damned!

So now, too, the Monsanto leopard wants to change its spots?

I’m not sure how this will go. Certainly, Monsanto can produce lots and lots of seeds at a cheaper cost than the somewhat boutique brands that are slowly developing certified organic seeds from heirloom and other varieties. The company can almost be assured, also, of cornering the market on industrial organic agriculture, particularly in the international market.

Be prepared for the onslaught of new Monsanto veggies at grocery stores, some,  eventually, with the certified organic label.

It’s a smart move on Monsanto’s part: If you can’t beat ’em, join em… sort of… and outproduce them and underprice ’em. We’ll see if its corporate philosophy changes, as well. (I doubt 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, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

For Organic Garden Use Organic Seeds and Here’s Why …

Dec. 19, 2012

The Skinny on Seeds

If  you are already thinking about what you want to grow in your garden  next year, start out right with organic seeds. They can make a much  better garden.
Conventional  seeds — the kind normally found at seed stores and in catalogs — are from  plants that are grown in what is considered a “conventional” setting:
with the use of synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides.
Organic  growing, of course, rejects the use of such chemicals. Seeds labeled “certified organic” are produced from plants grown in organic settings,  without
those conditions.
Moreover,  many of the seeds that gardeners plant are used in broader agricultural  settings: the vast acreages of monocultures that today constitute what  we consider to be farming. They may have coatings on the seeds for  faster germination or fungicides that are not allowed in organic  farming, or they may be genetically engineered for certain  traits — including toxins produced within the plant to kill certain pests.  These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not allowed in organic  farming.
In  addition, certain conventional seeds are bred for produce that looks  good or has a long shelf life to survive transportation over long  distances and
sitting in grocery bins, or are uniform in size so that a  consistent price can  be charged by the food distributor. But the primary  concern for organic gardeners is that the plants will grow better. One  big difference is early growth, where plants pop up out of the ground to  get a head start on pests.
They are bred for vigorous growth (that may  not be uniform with other plants in size) and for taste (as opposed to  shelf life or appearance in color or shape).
If  you start with organic seeds — or heirloom seeds that have consistent  desirable qualities — you could develop hardier strains uniquely suited  for your growing conditions and preferences quicker than using varieties  developed for other “conventional” settings.
What  about keeping seeds for growing the next year? Is seed saving better or  worse than organic seeds? Seed saving can have the same effect,  tailoring plants for your unique growing conditions. Organic seed gives  you a leg up; you already have some of the qualities you want to  develop. So, while seed saving is preferred over buying every year, buy   organic seed and then save seeds to more efficiently develop the traits  you want to keep.
Mind  you, certified organic seeds are not readily available for some  varieties of crops. Organic growing allows for some use of seeds that  are unavailable in certified organic varieties; just make sure they are  not GMO or coated.

Online Certified Organic:
Seeds  of Change has a good certified organic variety, some 1,200 varieties selected for the home gardener or small market gardener:  seedsofchange.com
For  more, read “A New Age for Organic Seed,” an interview with Adrienne Shelton, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin, at http://ow.ly/ghRoh

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 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.

Organic flowers, fruit

March 25, 2011

Flowers, fruit can be grown organically, not just veggies

This weather has me all messed up plantwise. Everything I know about weather is topsy-turvey with temperatures now averaging 14 degrees above normal.

Usually, here in central Mississippi, we have a few warm days in March that get everyone excited about planting gardens, then a hard frost comes, and some folks have to start all over again.

But this year, it’s been hot in March. Our spinach, collards and other cool weather fall-planted crops are going to seed, yet I just can’t get myself to risk planting so early (before Good Friday).

Annette’s been busy in the garden, planting cool weather plants such as onions, garlic, herbs, peas, arugula, kale, chard, red salad greens, Asian stir fry mix, carrots and snow peas, and in the greenhouse getting tomatoes, squash, peppers, melons and other warm weather plants started.

We’ll probably set them out in the next couple of weeks (going by weather rather than calendar and hoping for the best. Remember, we have had ice storms before at the end of March!).

We have Wall ‘o Waters for the tomatoes (plastic rings that you fill with water to hold heat at night) and Agribon covers for rows if there’s a chance of frost.

Right now, if you’re going to gamble on the weather, treat it like the stock market: Don’t risk more than you can afford to lose.

Tips and reminders:

•Use certified organic seeds;

•Use OMRI, the Organic Materials Review Institute, approved garden or potting soil (Miracle Gro makes one called Organic Choice that’s sold locally, even at Walmart);

•Use ecologically sound containers, such as those from recycled paper (Peaceful Valley -www.groworganic.com – even sells a kit to make your own pots from old newspapers);

•Or, use reusable containers such as smart pots and grow bags (from recycled materials);

•Or, use pots that can be planted, such as “cow pots,” made from composted cow manure, or Coir (coconut fiber) that can be used instead of sphagnum peat moss, which is being depleted from the Earth (large-scale peat harvesting is not sustainable as it takes thousands of years to form the peat “bricks” that are harvested in just a week; look for companies with sustainable harvesting methods).

•Think: Sustainable!

Fruits, berries, roses … As stated previously, it was my honor earlier this year to be elected to the board of the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, but I’ve found that quite a few of my colleagues are unaware they can easily “grow organic,” just as gardeners can.

One prominent grower in Mississippi told me that he would love to be organic, but “you can’t do it without fungicides.”

I was so flabbergasted, I didn’t know what to say, and just stood there with my mouth open.

Obviously, there has not been enough information promulgated about organics in general or fungicides in particular.

Not only commercial fruit, berry and vegetable growers, but even folks who grow such temperamental flowers as roses can grow organically without damaging the environment, spreading or breathing toxic waste or poisoning the air, soil and water.

Now, Annette and I are what’s called “deep organic” (in Eliot Coleman’s terms) or purists, maybe: that is, we don’t use any chemicals, period. It takes a little bit more thought and effort (and occasional setbacks), to be sure.

But there are a number of weed, disease and pest control applications that are certified organic by OMRI that meet all National Organic Standards. They are easy to use, safe, widely available and affordable for hobbyists as well as commercial growers.

A sampling from just one catalog lists:

•Cease – a bacterium that eradicates powdery mildew, several leaf spot and soil diseases;

•OxiDate – a broad spectrum bactericide/fungicide that uses rapid oxidation to kill unwanted bacteria and fungi;

•Liquid Copper Fungicide – targeting diseases on grapes, vegetables, fruit, berries, roses, pine and cedar trees and more;

•Safer Brand Garden Fungicide – for fruit, vegetables, flowering plants and ornamentals;

•Plantshield – Fungicide protects roots, can be used for seeds, cuttings, transplants, and can be used as a drench or spot dressed directly for foliar-infecting fungi.

Mind you, these are just fungicides (addressing my friend’s concerns). You can find whole sections of natural, biodegradable, non-toxic products for a range of issues specifically for fruit trees, berries, vegetables, flowers and what have you.

These examples are from: Arbico, Box 8910, Tucson AZ, 85738-0910. Phone: 1-800-827-2847. (It even offers natural, plant-based, non-toxic bedbug killers).

So, it’s not as if the resources aren’t out there; they just aren’t being advertised or promoted by the agri-biz conglomerates.

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.