Tag Archives: Organic

Come See Me in Kissimmee

I’ll be moderating a panel discussion on soil health at a small farms conference in Florida Aug. 2.

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, 2013. While it may appear all fun and games, I’ll be back again this year working hard – operating the booth for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) program, promoting and educating about sustainable agriculture for ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, and moderating a panel discussion on cover crops and soil health featuring experts in the field from the University of Florida and other organizations.

Here’s the who, what, where, why, when:

Conference: Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference
Topic: Soil Health in the Subtropics and Tropics
Presenter: Jim Ewing, Moderator
Location: Kissimmee, Florida
Date: 2014-08-02
Registration Info: Learn more about farming as well as alternative enterprises, through farm tours, a trade show, networking opportunities, live animal exhibits, and hands-on workshops.
Registration Link: http://www.conference.ifas.ufl.edu/smallfarms/registration.html

I went to the conference last year, operating a booth for NCAT’s ATTRA (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) program. If you are an organic grower or interested in sustainable agriculture in Florida and the region, it’s definitely the place to be! I wrote about it on this blog, outlining some of the offerings, including detailed information about aquaponics.

Already, the talk I’ll be moderating is quickly filling up. If you are interested in cover crops and soil health, it should be quite informative, with experts and farmers who are actively growing cover crops available to share their knowledge.

I’ll also be operating a booth for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) program. I’ll be handing out lots of free information about sustainable agriculture.

Come see me!

I’ll be on Twitter @OrganicWriter

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Growing Organic – and Vegan – Tomatoes

 

I’ve been out of town during a lot of April, so I didn’t get my garden in as early as I normally would (usually the week after Easter). But, given the crazy weather – from frost to tornadoes and torrential rains – maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Annette, my ex wife who lives in North Carolina, planted early and got hit by the frost.

Here’s a little garden update.

I'm not unhappy about the wild white clover growing in my backyard. In fact, I'm happy for the bees! It's like a little nature preserve. (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

I’m not unhappy about the wild white clover growing in my backyard. In fact, I’m happy for the bees! It’s like a little nature preserve. (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

As you can see, the wild white clover is running amok in the back yard; but I’m not concerned about it. In fact, I’ve been happy for the bees! (Next, I’ll add supers to the hives on the right.) Sadly, I’ve had to mow the clover in the front yard, so the house will look nice from the street (don’t want anybody to complain!). But the backyard looks like a little nature preserve, somewhat. 🙂

Earlier, I had planted red clover in the plot. You can see how it has started to take root. If you were standing there, you would also see bare spots where pooling from heavy rains pushed some of the seeds together. I came back over it today, seeding the bare spots. I didn’t use the seeder; but sowed by hand.

This is not meant to be a pretty garden. The major goal of this garden is to put nitrogen in the soil so I can plant greens in fall; adding tomato plants is a lagniappe.

Also, notice the mulch paper. I prefer paper over plastic, as plastic is not good for the environment and has to be removed and thrown away. In the past, when I was farming and had big fields, I used WeedGuardPlus, which can be bought in long rolls for open fields. It’s 100 percent biodegradable. I recommend it because I’ve used it and I know it works; I’m not paid anything to endorse it. (Read more: https://www.weedguardplus.com)

This time, because I’m only using a few feet in a small garden, I’m using another paper mulch: Planters Planter. It does the same thing; it’s available from http://www.groworganic.com

With either product, at the end of the season, just till it under and it will biodegrade. I also on this garden put bricks to hold it down, just because I had a lot of them. Normally, you would cover the edges with soil. I put this down a few weeks ago when I put down compost and planted the clover. When it was put down, it was darker; but the sun has lightened it.

Today, we’ll focus on growing tomatoes.

To plant, dip you started tomato plant into a root starter or planting mix. You can buy starters or mix your own, including vegan recipes. (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

To plant, dip you started tomato plant into a root starter or planting mix. You can buy starters or mix your own, including vegan recipes. (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

The process is simple. Tear a hole in the mulch; dig a trench about 4 inches deep and eight inches long; dip your plant in starter or planting mix; and cover it up about two-thirds of its length. Viola! Planted. Now for the details.

First, you need to create a planting mix. I’ve written about this before, so I’ll quote:

“The general rule is that if a product or ingredient is listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), then it’s OK for certified organic use. Root Tone product, for example, is not listed on the OMRI site, nor is its active ingredient: idole-3 butyric acid, or indolebutyric acid; neither is the other most popular ingredient on the market: napthalacetic acid. Both are synthetics.
However, there are a number of organic root stimulators that are approved; including products such as Hygrozyme and Biorhizotonic. For more, see:
http://www.omri.org/simple-opl-search/results/root — or look up the name of the product. OMRI does not list synthetic products.

“Farmers themselves often have their own “secret” natural concoctions that may include fish oil, blood meal or other natural fertilizers. (We use a mixture of water, kelp meal and fish emulsion.) Just use your finger or a trowel to poke a hole in the soil, dip the roots of each start in the mixture and plop it in, gently patting the soil around it.”

This time, I didn’t have much time, so I used Earth Juice, which is essentially the same mix I usually use, but premixed and store-bought. Note: If you’re vegan, and object to using any animal products in your garden, you can use Vegan Mix fertilizer, see: http://www.groworganic.com/vegan-mix-3-2-2-6-lb-box.html

It’s possible to have an entirely vegan, organic garden: the only animal life is the pollination by the bees, aeration of the soil by earth worms, and whatever birds come to visit. (Notice in the photos, I also have a plastic owl; that’s to keep birds from pecking my tomatoes!)

If you have lots of compost from leftovers from your vegan meals, you’re simply transferring fertility from wherever those plants were grown to your backyard. Those plants will provide the trace elements your garden will need. If you are having problems with insects or blights, there are organic (and if you look hard enough, frequently vegan) solutions on the NCAT/ATTRA database:  https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/biorationals/

It’s a free, quick way to diagnose problems in the organic garden.

Lay the plant down in the trench so only to top sticks out and cover it up. (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Lay the plant down in the trench so only to top sticks out and cover it up. (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Plant your started tomato plant using a small trench. We have heavy soils, so going down, rather than across, would drown the roots. You can plant your plant 5 or 6 inches deep if it’s well drained; otherwise, dig a small trench about four inches deep and 8 inches long, or 2/3rds of the plant’s length and lay it in the trench.

Notice out little friend. Because we had prepped the soil earlier with lots of compost, the garden was full of earthworms. (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Notice out little friend. Because we had prepped the soil earlier with lots of compost, the garden was full of earthworms. (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Because we had prepped the soil earlier with lots of compost, the garden was full of earthworms. You couldn’t dig a trowel full without revealing one. This wouldn’t happen if we were using harsh synthetic chemicals or manufactured fertilizers.

Use Earth friendly potting mixes for your tomato starts - no synthetic ingredients! (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Use Earth friendly potting mixes for your tomato starts – no synthetic ingredients! (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

If you're in a hurry and don't have time to mix starters for your plants, Earth Juice works great. Later on, use with in a sprayer for side dressing and foliar feeding. (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to mix starters for your plants, Earth Juice works great. Later on, use with a sprayer for side dressing and foliar feeding. (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Water the plants thoroughly; don’t be alarmed if they are rather wilty to begin with; they’ll pop back up. Be prepared to replace a plant or two; sometimes they can’t withstand the shock of transplant, or an animal or bugs might get them. Keep them watered, but not muddy. The soil needs to drain, but don’t let them dry out either. And you should do fine.

This is a simple garden designed for little maintenance that also puts nitrogen in the soil. (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

This is a simple garden designed for little maintenance that also puts nitrogen in the soil. (Photo: Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Most of all, relax! Enjoy! This is your little Garden of Eden. What a wonderful way to start the day!

Then, you enjoy your hammock ….

Enjoy your garden and leisure! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Enjoy your garden and leisure! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

And your kitty cat!

Isis

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

What Community Supported Ag is All About

 

A few weeks ago on March 10, I wrote a blog about the family of Will, Amanda and Magnolia Reed and their small farm in Tupelo. Last night, I received word while traveling in Texas that little Magnolia, 1 1/2, has cancer. She underwent surgery this morning and was expected to start chemotherapy.

Little Magnolia, one and a half years old, enjoys the wonders of nature with Farmer/Mom Amanda Reed at their chemical-free Certified Naturally Grown Native Son Farm in Tupelo, MS, March 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Little Magnolia, one and a half years old, enjoys the wonders of nature with Farmer/Mom Amanda Reed at their chemical-free Certified Naturally Grown Native Son Farm in Tupelo, MS, March 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing) We have since learned that Magnolia was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called  and underwent surgery today.

Here’s the message from Will, as relayed by Mississippi Sustainable Ag Network Executive Director Daniel Doyle:

Our lives have taken a strange turn over the last 24 hours. After taking Magnolia to CSA member Dr Richmond McCarty’s office to have a cough checked out, a chest ex ray revealed that we should be sent to Lebonheur children’s hospital. After receiving a ct scan we have learned that little Magnolia Jane has a very rare cancer called neuroblastoma. Her tumor and bone marrow will be biopsied Monday and she will have a port implanted to receive chemotherapy. We expect chemo to begin next week and to continue until the tumor is shrunken enough to be surgically removed. We are receiving excellent care and remain optimistic. We will likely be absent from the farm for a couple of weeks but have a GREAT crew that is poised to take over. Farmer Sam McLemore is coming over from Starkville to head the farm and will be aided by farmers Taylor Yowell, Cliff Newton, Jana Eakes and Gabe Jordan. These guys are amazing but with 230 shares to pack each week will have a huge workload and could use support from our CSA. We are asking for the community in our community supported agriculture program to come together and help the farm keep going. If you are available to volunteer on the farm, please email Chris Macalilly at cmcalilly@gmail.com and he will try and get you scheduled. If you have other talents or are willing to cook a meal for our/your farm team that would be great as well. Please pray for Magnolia, our family, our farm and farmers.Love,

Will and Amanda Reed
People are chipping in to help the family in Tupelo, and from across the state. They are volunteering to help work the farm and sending donations. This is what “community” in community supported agriculture is all about!
The family has been such an inspiration for so many people – growing food for their community and being a vital part of it in the central part of the city.
If anyone would like to help out, or read more, see the Facebook page titled Thoughts and Prayers for Magnolia Jane Reed: 
The family is certainly in our prayers. They are sweet and wonderful people.

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

Native Son Farm A Real Showplace

Last Friday, it was my privilege to attend a board meeting of the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network (MSAN) held at Native Son Farm in Tupelo, MS. It’s a real showplace!

Will Reed talks about the chemical-free crops he's planted, March 7, 2014. To look at it, you wouldn't know from this photo that Will and Amanda Reed's Native Son Farm is smack dab in the center of Tupelo, MS. It's surrounded by houses and subdivisions. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Will Reed talks about the chemical-free crops he’s planted, March 7, 2014. To look at it, you wouldn’t know from this photo that Will and Amanda Reed’s Native Son Farm is smack dab in the center of Tupelo, MS. It’s surrounded by houses and subdivisions. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

If anyone has ever visited the farm, the first thing that stands out is that it’s rather spread out. By that, Will and Amanda Reed and their toddler live in one house, they have a farm stand about a mile down the road from that, and they have a 30-acre or so plot in the middle of town. They do farming on each spot.

Farmer Will Reed shows visitors some of the 3,000 plants he has started for planting in coming weeks at the high tunnel behind his house at Tupelo, MS, March 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Farmer Will Reed shows visitors some of the 3,000 plants he has started for planting in coming weeks at the high tunnel behind his house at Tupelo, MS, March 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

For example, behind their house they have a high tunnel with about 3,000 plants started. From that, they expect to have about 15,000 to 20,000 tomato plants to feed their 250-member CSA. Will says he intends to start setting plants out around April 15.

Talk about urban agriculture, their 30-acre plot is in the center of town, surrounded by houses and subdivisions. They already have strawberries growing there for their CSA’s first food boxes in coming weeks. Their farm stand (where the MSAN board met) is big enough to house a good-sized dinner party or banquet if they were of a mind to do it. In one room, for example, where their walk-in coolers are located, they had a vintage Allis Chalmers tractor. (Will says he uses it to pull weeds.)

A vintage Allis Chalmers tractor is housed in a back room of Will and Amanda Reed's Native Son Farm. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

A vintage Allis Chalmers tractor is housed in a back room of Will and Amanda Reed’s Native Son Farm. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

But even with all this spaciousness, it’s still a family farm. Daughter Magnolia, 1 1/2, is at home on the place as are Will and Amanda. That’s a major driver for them to use organic growing methods. Native Son Farm is Certified Naturally Grown (www.naturallygrown.org), a type of third-party certification that is well suited for direct-market growers who sell locally.

Little Magnolia, one and a half years old, enjoys the wonders of nature with Farmer/Mom Amanda Reed at their chemical-free Certified Naturally Grown Native Son Farm in Tupelo, MS, March 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Little Magnolia, one and a half years old, enjoys the wonders of nature with Farmer/Mom Amanda Reed at their chemical-free Certified Naturally Grown Native Son Farm in Tupelo, MS, March 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

As Will and Amanda note on their website (www.nativesonfarm.com) this expansion of their farm is rather new. “Will became interested in farming while living off the grid in California in 2006.  After graduating from Humboldt State University in 2009, Will moved back to Tupelo to begin Native Son Farm.

“Amanda grew up off the grid in Thetford, Vermont.  As a child, self sufficiency and living off the land were basic family values.  This instilled in her an interest in farming for production.  She met Will at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, where she received  a degree in Child Development.  After graduation, she joined Will in Tupelo to begin Native Son Farm.”

They started with a 3/4-acre garden which grew to a 10-acre farm feeding 150 families to the 250 families and 25 acres in production today.

Since he already employs organic growing methods, Will says he might switch to USDA certified organic if he starts to sell to large grocery stores where he can command a higher price to pay for it, but for now, CNG suits him fine.

They are proud to state they are “Committed to growing healthy, chemical free fruits and vegetables for our community…”

The Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Board of Directors meets at the farm stand of Native Son Farm in Tupelo, MS, March 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Board of Directors meets at the farm stand of Native Son Farm in Tupelo, MS, March 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Will is the president of the MSAN Board of Directors. I’m on the board and also am a former board member and serve in an advisory capacity for CNG.

Will and Amanda (and Magnolia!) are fine folks who practice natural, sustainable and organic growing methods worthy of highlighting as a demonstration or teaching farm, and it was great fun to visit on Friday.

For more on MSAN, see: http://www.mssagnet.net

Here’s a video on Native Son Farm: http://www.mssagnet.net/programs/featured-farms/native-son-farm/

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.

Garden Has Too Much Compost? Or Not Enough?

Just finished reading a fascinating article on soil fertility by Jon Frank (ACRES USA, Dec. 2013) that notes that gardens can “abused” by too much compost. Is there such a thing?

Frank, owner of International Ag Labs, a private soil testing firm (www.aglabs.com) gives examples of gardens “abused by too much compost” and gardens with “neglected/abandoned soil.” (See illustration)

Jon Frank (ACRES USA, Dec. 2013) asserts that gardens can "abused" by too much compost. Interesting article. But I think most gardens are not in that category. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Jon Frank (ACRES USA, Dec. 2013) asserts that gardens can be “abused” by too much compost. Interesting article. But I think most gardens are not in that category. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Frank posits that if you want to have maximum nutrient density in your crops, then you should ignore humus (as it will sort itself out with proper mineral content), and should have:

— Nitrogen: manage by crop needs and conductivity;

— P and K: 200-300 pounds each, 1 to 1 ratio; increase K slightly for Potassium-loving plants;

— Calcium: 3,500-4,000 pounds per acre; calcium to magnesium ration from 7-15:1;

Conductivity: 400-600 micro Siemens/centimeter — and he gives amendments necessary to correct that (for more, see the article).

I say it’s a fascinating article because, honestly, after wracking my brain, I can think of few gardens that suffer from “too much” compost. I do remember one friend’s garden that I suspect was “too much.” The soil was so moist and rich that it probably could have served as a worm bed for all its amendments.

But even Frank notes that the solution to a garden “abused” by too much compost is simply to grow more without adding more. Maybe “abuse” is too strong a word for the issue of adding compost. Additionally, given the fact that it takes so much raw vegetative matter to create so little “black gold,” I doubt too many gardens are approaching the “abuse” stage.

Nonetheless, the figures Frank gives are instructional. Looking at the soil report I obtained for my garden from Mississippi State Cooperative Extension Service (see earlier blog), I can see that there are some interesting figures that conflict with Frank’s interpretations.

Mind you, this garden is brand new; my landlady said the backyard was used as a garden many years ago, but not in the past 10 years or so. My test and the MSU interpretation vs Frank’s interpretation:

Phosphorus — 132 lbs per acre (MSU: high) – Frank says this is low and should be 200-300 lbs. I suspect that, with adding compost, that figure will rise;

Potassium – 156 lbs per acre (MSU: low) – Frank says this is just below the 200-300 pounds that’s ideal. Again, I suspect that compost will raise that.

Magnesium – 369 lbs per acre (MSU: very high) – linked to calcium by Frank;

Zinc – 97.9 lbs per acre (MSU: very high) – Not considered most important by Frank. That could fall, if I’m growing green manures (cover crops), which I expect to do;

Calcium – 3706 lbs per acre – Falls within perfect number for Frank and within the proper ratio to Magnesium he gives.

Everyone who has a garden/farm and pays attention to soil tests probably has his/her own ideas about what the proper ratios should be and how to go about fixing them.

MSU, in my soil report, for example, suggests 34-0-0 pre plant (high nitrogen) fertilizer and 0-0-60 (high Potash) fertilizer — synthetic chemicals. In my opinion, shared by most organic growers, such a course of action would burn the soil, killing earthworms and microbes that keep the soil environment healthy.

Rather, what I intend to do is plant the seeds with a fish emulsion to provide nitrogen, then side dress (adding more natural liquid fertilizer) and foliar feeding after the plants are up. In addition, I plan to plant clover between the rows and on unused soil to build nitrogen for my fall planting.

I don’t know if this falls within Frank’s ideas or not; but I agree with his overarching conclusion that it’s the “pattern” of nutrients in the soil that’s more important than the figures alone. Visual symptoms of the plants themselves will tell you what’s going on with the soil.  And: “Your role as steward of the soil is to create the right pattern in the soil.”

I would say that I disagree on his view on humus; in my opinion, developing proper humus ensures better availability of nutrients, which is what he’s aiming at. You can’t build tilth with minerals alone; you must build humus to create the environment for plants to efficiently process available nutrients. Proper humus assures adequate water retention, oxygen in the soil, and ease of root and fungal growth. This is done by rotating crops, plowing under green manure, adding compost and soil amendments, as needed.

As he notes, plants grown directly above a limestone bed can show a calcium deficiency, but biologically available calcium is as much a product of good soil structure (in my opinion) as the ratio of other minerals that can be tested in the lab.

It may be a question of which end of the microscope you are looking through; the goal — and ingredients — remain the same. But soil structure, humus, tilth, are issues that a organic gardener/farmer can readily see and control. To ignore that end of the equation may be just as much a “neglect” or “abuse” of soils as any scientific test may reveal.

For the average gardener, what does this mean? Give your soil the love it richly deserves, using natural, sustainable and organic growing methods, and it will richly reward you with healthful, nutritionally dense foods.

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.

Time to Start Work on Garden, Bees

For gardeners in the South, now is the time to at least start planning your garden this year; if you grow organic, or raise bees, it’s maybe even getting a little late.

Even though it's cold outside, it's time to start work on your garden in the South, if you have a new one or are expanding. Here, I ran a first pass over my backyard. I've moved to the city and am putting in a new garden. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Even though it’s cold outside, it’s time to start work on your garden in the South, if you have a new one or are expanding. Here, I ran a first pass over my backyard. I’ve moved to the city and am putting in a new garden. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Why so? If you’re a beekeeper, and you need to replenish a hive or start a new one, you should have ordered your bees in November. That’s sort of a traditional time to order, so that bee breeders can know what to expect. Moreover, if you wait until spring, all the available queens, nucs or packaged bees may be sold out.

That’s especially true of people who follow natural beekeeping, or keeping bees without chemicals; there are fewer commercial breeders. (And before you email me, I recommend two: BeeLicious in Hattiesburg, MS, and Beeweaver in Texas.)

Regarding gardening, it’s somewhat the same story if you’re an organic gardener.

You want to plant as early as possible after frost in order to try to get a leg up on the bugs. I usually start planting the week after Easter (in central Mississippi).

I’ve just recently moved to “the big city” — well, it’s a small city, population 1,400 — but it’s “big” for me after living in the country for the past 15 years. (You can read more about it in my newsletter: http://mad.ly/36ff64?pact=20069131533&fe=1)

With the permission of my landlady, I’m putting in a garden. I managed to get a first pass with my tiller on January 31, to break up the roots of the turf grass. I’ll give it another pass in a week or so; then, add compost and till it.

The proposed garden has good black soil. I'll have it tested by the state soil lab just to see what's in it. If you're an organic grower, you need to test your soil every year. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

The proposed garden has good black soil. I’ll have it tested by the state soil lab just to see what’s in it. If you’re an organic grower, you need to test your soil every year. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Not sure what I’m going to plant yet. I’ll send off a soil sample to get it tested and find out what it needs, if anything. Regardless, I plan to build up the soil with compost and might boost it with “green manure” (a cover crop).

We’ll see….

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.

First Loaf of Bread – A ‘First’ for Me!

I’m so excited, and surprised, I couldn’t wait to share this: I just baked my first loaf of bread, ever!

My first loaf of bread baked from scratch, ever! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

My first loaf of bread baked from scratch! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Now, maybe for longtime cooks – maybe even everybody, for all I know – it’s no big deal to bake a loaf of bread. But for me, it’s a big deal. I just made it from scratch.

I actually have ordered a bread maker, but it hasn’t arrived yet. And I got to thinking: Hmmm, maybe I could try making one loaf from scratch. If it’s too difficult and I can’t do it, then I’ll have the bread making machine.

So, I bought some flour and some yeast. I followed the directions: well, sort of. My first attempt ended up being a big, gooey mess. I threw it out and tried again. And, voila!

Actually, this is part of a process that started last summer when I read Michael Pollen’s book, Cooked. In it, he goes to great lengths to explain how “iffy” is modern bread bought at the grocery. He also details his odyssey toward making his own bread.

First, I thought, gosh, I didn’t know there was that much to making bread!

Second, I started exploring new breads – their taste, texture, and various types. (At Kripalu, I think my friends thought I was crazy: they make three or four different breads for each meal, and I was snarfing down slices from all of them!)

Third, I thought, hmmm, I could do this!

My initial thought was that I would buy a bread making machine and then, if it wasn’t too hard to learn how to do, then I would try baking from scratch. But, somehow, that got turned around.

As I’m writing this, my next loaf is on the kitchen table, rising, before being put into the oven.

For these loaves, I used store bought yeast and ground organic whole wheat flour. At some point, I want to cultivate my own (sourdough) yeast, and grind my own flour. I also plan to make my own butter. And, of course, I already have my own honey (thanks to my sweet bees!).

Some thoughts….

I have to admit, kneading bread is quite a sensual experience. The dough seems to come alive in your hands. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

I have to admit, kneading bread is quite a sensual experience. The dough seems to come alive in your hands. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Making bread is quite a sensual experience. If that sounds strange, well, I don’t know what to say, except that when you are rolling the dough on the board and in your hands, it feels quite alive! I started thinking of the dough as a person; a living being that required tender care, caresses. It felt alive in my hands. When I put it in the oven, I apologized to it; hoping that I had done everything right, and it would mature into the substantial, healthy, nutritious bread that it could be in the right hands, with the right cook. I felt a sense of responsibility, and some worry.

So, when it came out of the oven and, after it had sufficiently cooled, I was able to slice it and look at its texture, and taste it, and saw that it was good — just perfect! — I was elated!

Yum! Fresh Bread! That I baked from scratch! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Yum! Fresh Bread! That I baked from scratch! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

So, now, I’m enjoyed fresh made bread, from scratch! Loaf number three is in the oven, filling the house with the delightful scent of fresh-baked bread!

Yum!

New adventures await!

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.

Teaching at Kripalu a wonderful experience

Sept. 30, 2013

Got back late last night from teaching a course at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts.

Author Jim PathFinder Ewing teaches a class at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Mass., Sept. 28, 2013. (Photo by Grace Walsh) Invited faculty, Ewing is considered a pioneer in eco spirituality. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press, 2012).

Author Jim PathFinder Ewing teaches a class at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Mass., Sept. 28, 2013. (Photo by Grace Walsh) Invited faculty, Ewing is considered a pioneer in eco spirituality. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press, 2012).

As regular readers know, I’ve authored six books about energy medicine and eco spirituality. My latest is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press, 2012).

I can’t say enough good things about Kripalu. In many ways, it epitomizes what I write about. Even if you aren’t into yoga (which I’m not), as a retreat center, it’s a fabulous place to be. The food is spectacular — organic, sustainable and delicious. There are food lines for omnivores and vegetarians (though meat is sparing). The grounds are immaculate and filled with hidden places and magical spaces. It is designed for meditation, prayer and teaching.

It was a great honor to be invited to be guest faculty. The students were wonderful and the experience was divine.

More later!

For more on Kripalu, see: http://www.kripalu.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.

Leader in Organic Bug Control a Southern Superhero

I met one of the best kept secrets in organic agriculture during my recent travels.

If you live in the South, and grow organically, you know that it can be a challenge. Lots of people, in fact, believe that you can’t grow organic “where the ground never freezes and the bugs never die,” as my friend Nellie Neal calls the South.

Those of us who struggle to be “deep organic” and not use chemicals of any kind to control insects and diseases often feel a bit lonely, in fact. We have only our hard-won experience of losing some crops, saving others, to go by – without any firm scientific basis for our farm practices.

But that may be about to end, somewhat. There is an extension service entomologist in Thomaston, Ala., who is conducting research into deterring the most common insect pests from organic farms and gardens using natural methods.

Ayanava Majumdar, Ph.D. – or “Dr. A” as locals call him – has been studying “trap crop” plants that can lure harmful insects from organic vegetable crops. So far, his success has been astounding.

Bug Doctor - Ayanava Majumdar, Ph.D., an entomologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service with Auburn University could soon be a "superhero" to Southern organic farmers and gardeners. His research into plant pests is uniquely applicable to the entire region. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Bug Doctor – Ayanava Majumdar, Ph.D., an entomologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service with Auburn University could soon be a “superhero” to Southern organic farmers and gardeners. His research into plant pests is uniquely applicable to the entire region. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

State coordinator for the Southern Agriculture and Research Education (SARE) program, Dr. A is an Alabama Cooperative Extension Service specialist with Auburn University. I met him while presenting a roundtable discussion on “Gifts and Challenges of Rural Southern Communities” Sept. 13 for the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center in Thomaston. I was there on behalf of NCAT – the National Center for Appropriate Technology and it’s ATTRA program, the Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. (See NCAT.org or @NCAT_org)

Turns out, Dr. A. has a demonstration farm at the Heritage Center and is conducting his research there. I eagerly toured his demonstration plots after the roundtable discussions were over.

Sheephishly, I have to admit, I had actually read Dr. A’s work prior to coming to the Heritage Center. (See his article “Trap Cropping for Flea Beetle & Aphid Management in the July 2013 edition of ACRES USA.)

To be honest, I had no idea he was conducting his experiments in Alabama, or the South, for that matter. Maybe I just assumed he was “out there” somewhere, like the Rodale people in Pennsylvania, or the Land Institute in Kansas, or like our NCAT folks in Butte, MT. Not the South. I mean, really, who would have thought there would be a worldclass organic expert in a tiny town in Alabama?

To me, the most interesting aspect of his work so far has been on creating trap crops. Trap crops, as most organic growers know, are crops set aside to lure “bad” insects away from your valuable produce. (We use pollinator plants to lure “beneficial insects” to our would-be cash crops.)

Unfortunately, most organic growers also know that often our cash crops often become trap crops by default. Many of our “trap crops” become that way because insects attack them.  Every organic gardener or farmer has stories to tell about how one’s intended cash crop became so infested he or she kept it in hopes of keeping bugs there rather than attacking the other plants. Intended trap crops often don’t seem to work or work well enough. That’s where the science is lacking.

Recently, farmers and gardeners have been having problems with a bug called “leaffooted bugs.” If you grow tomatoes, you probably have seen them. They look like a squash bug but have odd shaped flat protruberances on their legs. After a leaffooted bug attack, tomatoes become mottled; with black circular spots. You’ve probably seen attacked tomatoes at farmers markets; most farmers don’t even know what hit them, until it’s too late.

Dr. A has found that sorghum works as a great trap crop to protect organic tomatoes from leaffooted bugs, and may help deter stinkbugs, as well.  This photo is of his trap crop at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center demonstration farm hosted by the Alabama A&M and Auburn universities cooperative extension services at Thomaston, Ala. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Dr. A has found that sorghum works as a great trap crop to protect organic tomatoes from leaffooted bugs, and may help deter stinkbugs, as well. This photo is of his trap crop at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center demonstration farm hosted by the Alabama A&M and Auburn universities cooperative extension services at Thomaston, Ala. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Dr. A has found that forage sorghum (NK300) will lure leaffooted bugs from tomato plants, if planted prior to tomatoes so that the panicle is produced before tomato fruition. The bugs don’t even see the tomatoes, they are so intent on the sorghum panicle, he says.

While walking by a row of his sorghum, he pointed to several of the bugs in the panicles, including a pair mating. “They love it!” he said. “This is their bedroom.”

Asked about whether sunflowers don’t do as well to attract leaffooted bugs (which I had found in my own fields), he said that sunflowers have a limited amount of time in which they are in flower to attract the bug. Sorghum stays attractive longer; though, he said, one could plant both, timed to allow an even longer season.

Bingo! If you’re looking at a long season, plant both to succeed each! Moreover, one can plant other trap crops for other bugs and other crops that can also mix and match with these.

For example, he also says that the sunflower/sorghum strategy has worked on stink bugs; but he is still conducting experiments. He suggests using bug vaccums.

Other findings from Dr. A –

— “Blue Hubbard” Squash planted as a perimeter can attract pepper maggots, cucumber beetles, squash vine borers and squash bugs with a 60 percent to 90 percent success rate.

— Clemson spineless okra can be used as trap crop to protect tomatoes and bell peppers from aphids, flea beetles and grasshoppers.

Dr. A certainly has his work cut out for him, but what he has discovered so far is simply phenomenal and has the potential to give Southern organics a huge boost.

Someone needs to start sewing a superhero suit with a big “Dr. A” on it. This organic crusader is treading where few in the academic and scientific community have dared to go — and finding weaknesses among the mightiest of the South’s insect pests.

For upcoming Food and Farm Forums conducted by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, see: http://www.asanonline.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.

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.

Is Your Organic Apple Sprayed With Antibiotics?

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

When people think of organics, they think — rightly so! — that the food they buy is free from synthetic chemicals of any kind. However, as noted in a recent article in ACRES USA, organic apples and pears may be treated with antibiotics.

It all started in 1995, when the National Organics Standards Board voted by a split vote to allow antibiotics for treatment of fire blight, a bacterial disease. Specifically, NOSB allowed the use of the antibiotics streptomycin and tetracycline; then, in 2008, added oxytetracycline hydrochloride. (See “Antibiotics in Fruit Production: A Challenge to Organic Integrity,” ACRES USA, Vol. 43, No. 4, April 2013 issue.)

Allowing antibiotics in fruit caused an uproar when it started and recently came to a head with the rule being reviewed in April. It was seen as a way of “watering down” organic standards to accommodate industrial agriculture. The use of antibiotics in the production of meat is strictly prohibited by organic standards, while prolific with the general food industry.

The potential and real dangers of antibiotics in the production of food are well known. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 80 percent of U.S. antibiotic use is on livestock, not humans, leading to increasingly virulent strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotic treatment. It’s used in livestock to increase weight (and profits), not to prevent disease, but has the added “benefit” of allowing the animals to be kept in overcrowded and poor sanitary conditions. Except, of course, for certified organic meat production.

This inconsistency in regard to fruit has long been a troubling point for those concerned about the integrity of organic standards.

One might ask, well, if it’s needed by the fruit growers, why prohibit it? The answer is simple: It’s not needed if a farmer grows apples resistant to blight. As it is, because most consumers are familiar with popular varieties, such as Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith, that’s what they buy. But these varieties are susceptible to fire blight and are routinely sprayed with the chemicals as a preventive measure.

That doesn’t mean that orchard growers must grow those varieties. Other popular varieties such as Red Delicious and Northern Spy are not susceptible to fire blight.

Due to public opposition, the rule allowing antibiotics in organic apples and pears will expire Oct. 21, 2014.

Until then, consumers should pay attention to the varieties they buy.

Quick bites:

Consumer beware: Regardless of the USDA Certified Organic label, if you buy Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, they are likely to have been sprayed with antibiotics. Likewise with pear varieties D’Anjou, Bartlett, Aurora and Dutchess.

Rather, buy fire blight resistant varieties such as, with apples: Melrose, Winesap, Red Delicious, Honeycrisp, Liberty, McIntosh, and Northern Spy. With pears: Honeysweet, Kieffer, LaConte, Old Home; and Asian pears: Chojuro Kosui, Olympic, and Shinko.

Here is a chart of resistant and susceptible varieties from the quarterly Beyond Pesticides:

http://www.beyondpesticides.org/infoservices/pesticidesandyou/Summer2011/antibiotics-fruit.pdf

Fire Blight Affects Local Trees, Shrubs

For homeowners and backyard growers, fire blight can be a problem, as well, particularly this time of year. In May, especially in wet weather, it can appear on the tips of branches giving a scorched appearance (hence, it’s name “fire” blight). According to Dr. Wayne Porter of Mississippi State University Extension Service, even use of antibiotic treatment won’t work once it’s begun; the best control is cutting back the diseased limbs, and only in dry weather. Do not fertilize the tree, as the blight will likely infect the new growth. (See “Controlling Fire Blight” – http://gardeninginms.blogspot.com/2011/05/controlling-fire-blight.html)

Planting Blight Resistant Apples, Pears

For planting in Mississippi, apples are traditionally more amenable to the northern part of the state, but some varieties will grow elsewhere, using recommended root stocks (M7A or MM106), according to the extension service. Some recommended varieties: Royal or Imperial; Smoothe, a Royal Delicious type; Ozark Gold; Red Chief, Mercier Variety; Arkansas Black. Coast: Golden Dorset, Anna, Ein Shiemer.

Pears are common statewide. Kieffer is the most well known variety, but it’s not resistant to fire blight. Better is Orient and Moonglow (and Baldwyn for the Coast; Ayers for North Mississippi).

For more on planting apples and pears suitable for Mississippi climate, see the Mississippi State University Extension Service publication “Fruit and Nut Recommendations for Mississippi”:

http://msucares.com/pubs/publications/p0966.pdf

For more on antibiotics, see:

Is Your Meat Safe? Antibiotic Debate Overview – Frontline, PBS: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/safe/overview.html

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.

Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Garden Plants

April 10, 2013

Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Garden Plants

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Would-be and weekend gardeners are flocking to stores this time of year with hopes of finding already-started plants to put in their gardens. Some of those offerings have been in stores for weeks and now look a bit bedraggled. Often severely marked down, are they really a bargain? What should consumers look for in selecting a plant?

First, choose plants that come from certified organic seeds, which were developed to grow in the home garden, not thousand-acre fields of industrial agriculture.

If not available, the second-best option is to choose heirloom varieties.

Heirloom seeds are called “heirlooms” for a reason. They are treasured because of the flavor, taste, size, color and other characteristics of the plants they produce that make them worth handing down.

Big seed companies are focused on developing hybrids or varieties they can patent. That ensures bigger annual sales because patented seeds must be purchased anew every year. Heirlooms are stable (meaning they produce offspring that resemble the parent), are open pollinated (meaning they are not artificially manipulated) and have at least a 50-year history as a distinct variety.

The giant seed companies go so far as to create genetically engineered seeds that cannot be found in nature. Such genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can contain genes from bacteria, viruses, insects and even animals inserted into their DNA.

GMOs are prohibited in certified organic. So, when purchasing a plant or seeds, you want varieties that are open pollinated (non-hybrid) and untreated (not dyed or contaminated by chemicals, such as anti-fungals), and marked as being either certified organic or heirlooms.

A few companies even sell certified organic heirlooms, but they are extremely rare.

List of Don’ts:

Don’t choose tall spindly plants or, conversely, stubby plants that are “woody” on the stems. Both are examples of plants that have exceeded their prime.

Don’t choose plants that have leaves that are spotted, off color or rimmed with white (examples of various rots, fungus or other maladies).

Don’t buy plants with obvious signs of insect or other attack.

Don’t buy plants that have weak root systems: Stick your finger in the pot; if it’s wet and the roots are rotting, that’s a difficult condition to overcome.

Don’t buy plants that have roots that are wound around the inside of the pot or sticking out through the bottom. To replant it, you’ll damage the root system, which also will retard growth.

Don’t buy plants that already have flowering buds or small produce on them. You may think you’re getting “a head start,” but in fact, you are getting a plant that has been stressed into fruiting. If you buy it, pinch off the flowers or fruit once it’s planted. That way, it can more efficiently allocate its resources.

A Big ‘Do’

Finally, if the nursery or garden center offers a “sale” so that plants with any or all of these maladies are offered with big savings, do keep walking! It’s no “bargain” to waste time on plants that are already half dead. Stressed plants invite bugs and disease if they don’t already have blights on their leaves or in their soil. Don’t buy trouble!

Buy healthy plants for a healthy garden. You’ll have enough to do keeping your garden a happy place without 
importing problems.

Build an Organic ‘Jim’s Plot’ for Earth Day!

Earth Day is April 22. What better way to celebrate than by creating a small organic food garden–especially one that can serve others!

Certainly, you know there are elderly people who would love to grow their own organic vegetables or herbs, or perhaps a kitchen garden, by their back door. Or teach a child how to grow food, instilling life skills like self-sufficiency.

Start by outlining a 4-foot-by-8-foot area and enclosing it in nontoxic materials, such as synthetic lumber or materials on hand such as concrete blocks. Or, simply mound up the soil as a natural boundary, or use cedar or redwood lumber.

In the plot, dig up the soil, 4 to 8 inches deep, using a tiller or shovel (if you’re elderly or incapacitated, enlist a hardy neighbor or relative to do the work). Add bagged soil (check that it’s approved for certified organic use) or dig from areas of the yard where leaves may have accumulated over the years to provide loamy soil.

Voila! You have your garden. Add plants, and start keeping a compost bin to add to the plot periodically and to build up the soil.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Certified Organic Seeds

Want to know if a brand of seed is certified organic? See the Organic Seed Finder website, hosted by 
the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies: organicseedfinder.org.

Are Your ‘Green’ Products Really Green?

Consumer Reports has an online resource for quickly looking up product labels using your smartphone to determine if a product at the supermarket is really “green.” You can search by product, category or certifier.

Visit greenerchoices.org/eco-labels.

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.

Mark April 7 on Your Calendar!

SmallRainbowReading

Mark it on your calendar! I’ll be speaking about my new book ‘Conscious Food’ at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 7, at Rainbow Natural Foods Co-op, Jackson, MS! It’s free. Food provided by High Noon Cafe. I’m really honored that Rainbow would do this. They volunteered. Out of the blue! What sweet, sweet people!

Playing odds of last frost can be risky

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Just about every day, I hear of someone who just couldn’t wait until planting time to start digging in the ground and planting a crop for summer. Let me reiterate: We may be in the South, but it’s still too early to plant!

If the soil is too cold, seeds won’t germinate properly resulting in sickly plants, disease and insect damage. It’s not enough to simply plant past last frost; plants need a good start. That’s why even if the temperature turns prematurely warm, as happened last winter, planting now is so risky. Even with such “tricks” as using frost cover (sheets of Agribon or old blankets over seedbeds or early seedlings when its frosty) and passive solar heating (plastic jugs painted black and containing water to heat up in the day and retain it during the cold nights), a sharp cold snap can knock back and mortally wound your crop.

That’s why you want to be careful in playing the odds of “last frost,” to minimize potential damage.

For a lot of gardeners in Mississippi, planting time is around the first week in May. But there’s a caveat to this, too. For organic gardeners, it pays to plant as early as possible, to get a jump on the insects. Waiting until May could be inviting insect damage.

So, the best time to plant for organic growers (who don’t use insecticides) is sometime between last frost and before the insects go full bore. Traditionally, here in central Mississippi, folks used to plant seeds on Good Friday, which this year is March 29. To be cautious, I’ve always planted a week after Easter, as we sometimes have a frost the week after Easter, this year observed March 31. That’s kind of late.

As you can see from this frost chart for Mississippi (http://bit.ly/f8QSAb), the percent probability of a freezing temperature (32 degrees F.) for Jackson is:

March 7 — 90 percent;

March 23 — 50 percent;

April 8 — 10 percent.

For today, there’s a 50 percent change of a temperature of 28 degrees, according to the chart. Naturally, those numbers change the further north or south from Jackson in the central part of the state, as shown by the chart. For all states, see: http://bit.ly/i5SmsT.

Planting By The Moon & Stars

In the old days, gardeners would plant by “the signs” — the moon and stars.

The best guide is by the late Maria Thun, who died last year. Her work is being carried on and, now in its 51st year, her North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar 2012 (Floris Books, $13.95) is available from Steiner Books: P.O. Box 960; Herndon VA 20172-0960; (703) 661-1594; or http://www.steinerbooks.org.

Thun’s guide is detailed and considered something of a bible for natural growing by biodynamic farmers (those who follow the natural rhythms and Earth-based soil amendment methods of founder Rudolf Steiner). It shows the optimum days for sowing, pruning, and harvesting various crops, as well as working with bees.

Wondering Why Your Seeds Won’t Germinate?

In order to sprout, seeds require a minimum temperature. Even if we put them in little cups in the windowsill, they may still fail to sprout if there’s cold air seeping in. Some require 85 degrees to sprout! Here’s a chart: http://www.heirloomseeds.com/germination.html

Some people buy or build seed heating tables or mats with hot water circulation. You can do it yourself using plywood and lightbulbs. Here’s a DIY project from Mother Earth News: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/seed-incubator-zmaz78mazjma.aspx#axzz2LBiT8MoA

Whatever you do, don’t use heating pads or electric blankets, as you will be watering your seeds and can cause a potentially hazardous electric shock.

Jump Start on Weather? Use a Cold Frame

Simply stated, a cold frame is a box similar to a 4-foot by 8-foot “Jim’s plot” but has a removable, clear glass or plastic top. Consider it a mini-greenhouse.

Cold frames can be simple DIY projects, such as planting between a few square bales of hay and recycling old windows or shower doors as the removable tops. You can also purchase pre-made kits from local garden stores or online. You can build a cold frame anywhere; make sure it has southern sun exposure, and vent the top during the day. At night, keep the cold frames closed, and they’ll retain heat.

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.

Boycotting Pro-GMO Organic Brands Not the Way

1/16/2013

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

A list going around the Internet calls for consumers to boycott the top organic brands owned by 10 parent companies that donated to defeat Prop 37, the California Right to Know GMO labeling initiative.

While I share the frustration of consumers being denied honest labeling of the food they eat by corporations that apparently value the dollar over human health, safety or even consumer rights, I don’t think this is the way to go.

It’s certainly a slap in the face of consumers who buy organic. It’s insulting to know that the corporations that manufacture and sell the organic brands they buy are, at the same time, undermining labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that is banned under the rules governing organic products. Such labeling is already required by most of the industrialized world.

The boycott is backed by the Organic Consumers Organization—a group I support—but I disagree with the boycott.

It may be galling that longtime consumers of, say, Horizon organic soy milk or Kashi organic cereals are supporting companies that donated a total of $46 million in a cynical disinformation campaign to defeat a law to simply state if a product contains GMO.

But consider what boycotting those brands might mean.

Will it promote organic? Or other organic products? Or organic growers? Or the companies that sell organics? Hardly. Rather, it will simply retard market share for organics. This will, in turn, feed the idea that organics isn’t growing as a consumer market, which it is. And it could undermine those who are actually growing organically and the stores that carry these organic brands.

Moreover, it accelerates the trend away from small growers to Big Ag corporations that can afford a smaller profit margin as part of a mix of organic and nonorganic products. In other words, a boycott plays into the hands of those who are being boycotted: the very corporations that sell both organic and nonorganic products. They win either way while it penalizes those who solely sell organic products, grow organics and buy organics.

Consumers do hold the key, however. By demanding local and organic, they are supporting organic where it’s produced and the small, local growers who need the consumer support. By demanding labeling of GMO from local, state and federal politicians, voters can exert their clout in local, state and national elections.

The GMO labeling fight hasn’t ended. The truth will out. GMO not only will be labeled in the United States eventually, but once buyers know the full environmental dangers and potential health and safety effects, it will probably be banned outright or so tightly regulated as to be treated as the potentially eco-catastrophic activity it is.

Major corporate backers of defeating the GMO labeling initiative and the organic products they sell:

• PepsiCo (Donated $2.5M): Naked Juice, Tostito’s Organic, Tropicana Organic

• Kraft (Donated $2M): Boca Burgers and Back to Nature

• Coca-Cola (Donated $1.7M): Honest Tea, Odwalla

• General Mills (Donated $1.2M):  Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm, Larabar

• Safeway (Member of Grocery Manufacturers Association, which donated $2M): “O” Organics

• Dean Foods (Donated $254k): Horizon, Silk, White Wave

• Kellogg’s (Donated $791k): Kashi, Bear Naked, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburger

• Con-Agra (Donated $1.2M): Orville Redenbacher’s Organic, Hunt’s Organic, Lightlife, Alexia

• Smucker’s (Donated $555k): R.W. Knudsen, Santa Cruz Organic

• Unilever (Donated $467k): Ben & Jerry’s

Source: Organic Consumers Association

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.

Farmers are grumpy this time of year

Jan. 5, 2013

Farmers Get Grumpy This Time of Year
By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Farmers get grumpy this time year.
Some people might say farmers are always grumpy. But it’s more so this time of year, since they can’t plow and can’t plant. I know so because I’m sitting here in the carport (typing on my iPad) thinking about hoses. Or, more specifically, the high cost thereof.

I’d rather be out working in the garden – the one we plan to plant in a month or so – like I’ve been doing since the sun burned off the frost this morning. But now it’s raining.
My arms are burning and my hands trembling from the exertion – dragging brush, pulling logs and limbs, running the trimmer, etc. I’d like to be running the tiller, but I’m a long way from that. So, instead, I’m drinking a nice hot mug of organic tea my wife made (from scratch, her own blend) and thinking about all I’ve got to, should do, and probably shouldn’t have done.
One of those things was not properly putting up the hoses last year.
Now, if you farm, even on a little (5 acre) plot like we do, you always have so much to do, you never do just one thing, but whatever needs doing at hand.

For example, as I was going to the shed to get more gas for the trimmer, I also picked up fallen limbs and dragged them out of the way, stacked some logs and fence rails that I could use later to hold down our Agribon (crop frost covers) and rounded up some hose so that later on when I burn off the field I’ll have it handy. Then, I thought, why don’t I go ahead and join and layout the hoses, so they’ll be ready.

As I did that, I realized I didn’t have enough hose to stretch that far. So, where was the rest of the hose? I remembered seeing some hose at the back plot, the little summer plot. So, I went back there and, sure enough, there was just a little piece sticking out – totally overgrown from where I’d let that plot go fallow. It took me 30 minutes of some real exertion to extricate it from where it was wrapped up in vines and other veggie matter. It’s amazing how a hose can bury itself.
Then, I said to myself, I’ve had enough of that; maybe I ought to go ahead and weed eat (and that patch, too, while I’m at it!). Then, it started to rain.

So, now, I’m sitting here wondering if that hose is any good anymore or if I’ll have to buy more hose. Last time I looked, it was $75 for 50 feet of decent hose. I bought some cheaper and was immediately reminded of why the more expensive is better – it has metal couplings machined to fit, so less leakage, thicker walls so fewer kinks, and more durable material so it lasts longer. More expensive now is cheaper in the long run.

Unfortunately, what I extricated from the overgrown plot is the expensive kind, not the cheap stuff. So, there’s one grumpy farmer sitting here drinking his tea and watching the rain.
Oh, well, at least my new old best friend, my heavy duty trimmer (a Stihl, which also cost a bundle and gets kinda cranky sometimes, too) is still working.

Is all this worth it just to grow a few plants? And I haven’t even started on the big field!
Those are the kinds of thoughts that make farmers grumpy.

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.

If you could choose only one organic gardening book…

Jan. 2, 2013

Best Organic Gardening Book – For the South?

If you could suggest to beginning to fairly advanced gardeners only one reference book about organic gardening, what would it be?

The first ones that come to my mind are Eliot Coleman’s books. The one that’s most timely is his “The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses” (2009, Chelsea Green Publishing, $29.95). It’s chock full of information about growing food in cold weather.

Or, for year round, try his “Four-Season Harvest: How to Harvest Fresh Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long,” by Eliot Coleman and Kathy Bary (1992, Chelsea Green Publishing, $24.95). It’s the basis for his cold-weather book, going more in-depth about winter plants.

For the basics, check out “The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener (A Gardener’s Supply Book),” by Eliot Coleman, Sheri Amsel and Molly Cook Field (1995, Chelsea Green Publishing, $24.95). I think what Coleman has done at his Four Seasons Farm in Maine is simply fantastic and a model for any would-be market gardeners—that is, people with a limited amount of space like a backyard and turning it into cash.

To go deeper into the history of Coleman and organics, and its fundamentals, one could point to “The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living by Scott Nearing and Helen Nearing” (1990, Schocken Books, $16.95). It’s a homesteading bible.

The Nearings epitomized the “back to the land” movement, leaving the city in 1932 to live off of the land and their own backs and hands, and inspired a generation—including Eliot Coleman, who bought six acres of their land and helped establish something of an early organic commune.

OK, I agree, this is starting to sound a bit cultish, but between the Rodales, founders of Organic Gardening Magazine and the organic science Rodale Institute, and the Walters family, of ACRES USA fame—these are the recognized pioneers of the ecological and organic farming movement in America.

Which brings us to the missing piece: What about the South? All of the previous books, and most on organics, are written by and about people living in the Northeast. Well, I’m happy to say, there’s one southern book that should be on everyone’s bookshelf (no matter what region you live in).

“Organic Gardening Down South,” by Nellie Neal (2008, Mackey Books, $15.95) is written specifically for people who want to grow organically and live in the South—or, as Neal says, where the ground doesn’t freeze and the bugs never die! If you can grow organically in the Deep South, you can grow anywhere.

People who live in Maine, like Coleman, don’t have to contend with T-shirt weather and mosquitoes on New Year’s Day. People in California certainly have sunny weather, but not routine simultaneous triple digits in heat and humidity! Tropical and semi-tropical weather patterns—especially, as she notes, compounded with climate change warming temperatures—poses unique challenges to the Southern organic gardener.

Neal, who is popularly called The Garden Mama, is an authentic gardening expert of some 50 years, as she admits. Perhaps a prophet without honor (or enough of it, anyway) in her own land, Neal hosts a local radio show on gardening, writes a popular column, and lives in Fondren. (Visit her website: gardenmama.com.)

Neal is a true organic pioneer—in the South as much as Coleman, at least.

So, if I could suggest only one organic gardening book? As much as I am a fan of Coleman, if you live in the South, for good practical advice, especially for the new grower or newcomer, read “Organic Gardening Down South.” Then, read Coleman’s books!

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.

Organic Growing Heals The Earth

Dec. 19, 2012

I serve on a number of conservation and environmental boards of directors, and a question that has been coming up a lot lately has regarded growing plants under contaminated conditions — a topic of interest to urban homesteaders and those wanting to practice urban agriculture.

In one case, a wind drift inadvertently sprayed an organic grower’s crops with chemicals that would render his crop worthless organically. In another, a grower thought he was following organic guidelines and fertilized his fields with biosolids (human waste), a practice not allowed in organics.

These are serious issues for organic growers. The rule is that in order to be organic, fields used in conventional agriculture must be idled for three years so that the toxins used in chemical agriculture can break down.

What many growers — and consumers — may not know is that we now live in a chemical-soup world and contamination is an ongoing concern. A farmer may be growing perfectly organic and inadvertently contaminate soil like these instances, or the water itself can be contaminated without the grower’s knowledge.

In addition, the act of farming can bring unknown contaminants to the surface, such as heavy metals and PCBs from previous land uses.

Some lands are “contaminated” naturally. Ancient seabeds, for example, can hold metals such as selenium, boron, molybdenum, mercury or arsenic, that can come to the surface. Where land is heavily irrigated, plants take up irrigation water, leaving salts to build up in the soil.

Moreover, when people plant in urban settings, such as parks, abandoned lots, etc., a host of contaminants — from mechanical solvents to toxic wastes to household chemicals  — can be built up in the soil.

Nature is a great housekeeper and provides the means for cleaning up even heavily contaminated soils. The process is generally called phytoremediation — using plants themselves to clean the soil.

More specifically, it’s called phytoextraction. Growers can use plants (and trees) to absorb contaminants through their root systems. Depending on the type of contaminant, the toxins are then either stored in the roots or by natural actions transported into the stems and/or leaves. After harvesting, the soil will have a lower level of contamination.

Plants especially good at removing toxins are called hyperaccumulators. Some plants can even be used for mining elements, called phytomining; and even sewer water can be reclaimed for drinking using plants.

These aren’t exotic plants, either.

Popular food plants like sunflowers and mustard plants (indeed, the entire brassica family) work, as well as legumes like alfalfa, alsike clover and peas. Trees include hybrid poplar, willow, cottonwood, aspen, mulberry, apple and osage orange. (Source: Ground Remediation, University of Iowa: www.clu-in.org/download/toolkit/phyto_e.pdf )

The lesson is that nature heals her own, even the mistakes and toxins humans introduce. By growing organically, without synthetic chemicals and poisons, we are healing the earth.

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.

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.

Bees and Honey in Winter?

Dec. 9, 2012
Bees and Honey in Winter?

Annette and I got a real treat this past week: about a gallon of honey — harvested from our own beehives.
Bees and honey in winter? Yep. Surprised me, too.
I have two hives — one painted white, one painted yellow. In the white boxes are Italian bees; in the yellow, Cordovan, an Italian variety.
Some people say that there is no difference between the Cordovans and their Italian relatives, except for a lighter color caused by a recessive gene.
I’ve read that Cordovans have a longer tongue and are able to obtain nectar from flowers that other bees cannot and have read also that they tend to have larger hive numbers — which I’ve found to be true, at least comparing my two hives. The Cordovans outnumber the others 2-to-1 and also seem to gather honey earlier, increase their numbers earlier, and have honey longer.
That’s not a scientific observation; it could be that it’s just the difference between the two colonies of bees that I happen to have. But it could also be what it seems to be, too: that Cordovans are better adapted for our area.
Which brings us back to the honey.

When I was harvesting our honey a couple of months ago, I left both hives with a super (i.e., a box usually removed for honey harvest).
The reason was twofold:

1) Last year, I just assumed our bees were fine for the winter and didn’t check on them during the winter months. That was a mistake that almost proved fatal — for the bees.
I was at an agricultural conference and mentioned to a fellow beekeeper how the unusually warm weather was probably good for the bees. “Have you checked on your bees lately?” he asked. “There have been a lot of colonies dying because they ate up all their honey.”
The hot winter provided some blossoms for the bees, but not enough; since it never got really cold, the bees didn’t reduce their hive populations much and, so, they needed more honey to keep them alive until the spring nectar flow started.
When I got home from the conference, the first thing I did was check on my bees and the beekeeper was right. While the Cordovans seemed fine, the Italians were almost out of honey. I started feeding them sugar water and they rebounded.
So, this year, when I harvested I figured I’d wait and see if the bees needed extra honey; I could always harvest it, if I wanted. I left a super on each hive, as insurance for them.

2) The bees are still making honey.
When I harvested my bees, the supers that I left on the hives each had about 3 frames of honey in them (the were the top ones). I had removed the middle supers and left the tops.
When I checked them last week, the Italians had about half filled their super; the Cordovans had totally filled their super and looked like they wanted to keep going. Mind you: This is December! But it’s been in the 60s and 70s for weeks. We have spring flowers blooming.
See photo: Henbit and buttercups — usually betokening Spring.
We had a high today of 75 degrees! it’s supposed to be in the 60s and 70s for another week, at least.
It did not appear that the Cordovans had reduced their numbers and were arriving laden with pollen and, presumably, nectar for honey.
So, I went ahead and harvested the Cordovan honey.
When I was finished, I replaced the Cordovan super with 2 frames of honey from the Italian hive, so both still have a super with honey in it, in addition to a brood box and second box. So, each hive has three boxes instead of two.

I’m not recommending that anyone do as I’m doing. I don’t know what the weather is going to do, and it could very well be that: a) they don’t need the supers; or b) they will need to be fed sugar water anyway. But this weird weather is hard to figure, for me, and, I guess, for the bees (and flowers), too.
I’ll keep an eye on them over the winter, hot or cold, this year.

Note: The honey we harvested is very pungent; mostly from golden rod. I noticed that we still have patches of new golden rod blooming! (See photo)

Photo of buttercup (center) and henbit in a field near our house in Lena, MS.

Photo of buttercup (center) and henbit in a field near our house in Lena, MS.

Goldenrod growing in our  field Dec. 9, 2012.

Goldenrod growing in our field Dec. 9, 2012.

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.