Monday, June 6, 2011

Planting Late...As Usual

Between Mother Nature's harassing rains and waxing humidity and my energy roller coaster, I am FINALLY getting around to planting. Perhaps a bit late, but I'll have to do the best I can. Hopefully the heat and humidity (where the hell did spring go, by the way?) will force things to grow quickly. I'll save my early spring goodies for fall harvesting.

So, in my usual OCD overkill way, here's what I have in starter pots:

Sweet chocolate pepper
Napolean sweet pepper
Sweet Pimento Apple pepper
Purira Chile
Sweet pepper

Cinnamon basil
Dukat dill
Genovese sweet basil
Grandma Einck's dill
Giant Italian parsley
English thyme
Italian oregano
Italian flat-leaf parsley

Moneymaker tomato
St. Pierre tomato
Santiam tomato
Tall Vine Eva Purple Ball tomato
Black Cherry tomato
Querida F-1 tomato

Black eggplant

All the seeds are either heirloom and/or organic. I have no idea what kind of tomatoes I'm going to get from these--sweet or tart, meaty or juicy, thin- or thick-skinned, so it will be an interesting season.

Tomorrow morning, I'm going to get out to the garden proper before the heat and humidity become unbearable and plant the direct-sow seeds.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mother Nature Must Not Like Me

I've decided that Mother Nature doesn't like me very much--she keeps raining on my gardening parade!

I've been waiting for two dry days in a row in order to till, but only got a one-day reprieve. So I tilled anyway, knowing full well I was also compacting some of the dirt as I walked behind the tiller. The dirt is pretty clumpy in spots, and I'm clearly going to have to till again.

I only got a little over half of the garden tilled before I ran out of energy and my hands were sore. I planned to till the next day, but--you guessed it--Mother Nature wept. Again. And again.

Today was dry and cool, but it looks like it could possibly rain. I'm surprised we haven't floated away like Noah in his ark. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that later in the week it dries up and the temperature climbs into the 60's.

C'mon, Mother Nature--cooperate a little, will ya? I have crops to plant!

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Surviving Off Off-Grid"

I garden for many reasons: to feed my husband and myself, to eat healthy foods, to connect with nature, to live at least part of my life more "naturally," and to enjoy the peace that comes from the activity itself.

One of the major reasons I garden is because I am convinced that our food system is broken. It isn't just broken at the grocery stores, which offer us highly processed foods, foods that have traveled hundreds, sometimes over a thousand, miles and are gas-ripened before arriving at our stores; it's also broken
  • at the farm level (where corporate farmers in protective gear spray food with pesticides and herbicides, and meat farmers inject animals with growth hormones and antibiotics),

  • at the processing level (where foods are subjected to ammonia or chlorine baths, irradiation, and other methods to kill virulent bacteria),

  • at the scientific level (where the very DNA of our foods is forcibly invaded by viruses, genes from other crops or animals, sometimes gold or electricity, and antibiotic markers in order to force the DNA to accept the foreign genetic material),

  • at the government level (where agents from corporate farming and other farming-related entities, such as seed companies, are welcomed into decision-making positions that regulate the very industries they come from),
and more. And consumers, unfortunately, know very little about any of this. We go to the grocery store and assume that if it is on the shelves, it is safe for us to eat. We assume that our government is looking out for our health and welfare. We assume that companies want to do what's right, that their motivations are to make a healthy profit while providing us with food we need. We avoid documentaries and other information that tells us about the unhealthy aspects of our food because we don't want to know.

I want to know what is in my food. I want to know that my food is natural, safe, and healthy. But it isn't only our food system that is broken; it is our entire system. Commercials groom us to be perfect consumers and enter into unhealthy debts; our government tells us that we have a voice, but our legislators ignore that voice or deliberately vote contrary to that voice for personal gain. News channels spin the news to satisfy one political party or another instead of offering unbiased reporting, all the while instilling fear in its viewers or listeners. Corporations are granted individual status, allowed to spend as much money as they like to influence our government, and despite not having a moral conscience (other than to make the largest profit possible for their shareholders), they are allowed to endanger the health and welfare of the consumer with little or no liability.

Enter Michael Bunker's book, due out March 4, titled "Surviving Off Off-Grid." Bunker, too, sees that our world stopped at some point "progressing" and is, in fact, headed for a fall. Anyone who has taken a history class has heard or read the philosopher Santayana's admonition that "those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it," and Bunker shows us that we have indeed forgotten that great, progressive cultures of the past, such as Ancient Greece and Rome, fell--and that our consumerist society is headed in the same direction.

Bunker's book asks us to question everything rather than make assumptions or blindly accept the status quo . . . and to do something about it. We've heard about surviving "off-grid," but what that usually means is that we are using some alternative method for power, whether wind or solar. But in order to survive "off-grid," we have to be connected to the grid itself! Bunker has been living what he calls "off off-grid" for years and offers readers the chance to learn from his experiences.

I haven't read the book; I have only read one chapter of the book, which was about food and was an early version of the chapter as it undoubtedly appears in the book. But what I read was well-written, engaging, informational, and inspiring. That chapter made me take a look at food in a much different way than I had previously.

Maybe you're comfortable with the status quo. Maybe you don't want to know what's broken in our society or the downfall we're headed for. Maybe you want to see the world through rose-colored glasses and believe that it is all sunshine and daisies. If so, feel free. But you will still glean a lot of interesting and useful information from this book. And maybe you'll learn a few ways that you, individually, can change your life--even if you don't go completely off off-grid. For those of you who, like me, realize our society is broken, you will find hope and ways of fixing some of that brokenness--at least in your own life.

A trailer video for the book is available on YouTube, and an interview with Bunker is available on the Nourishing Days blog. If you do nothing else, view the trailer. The book will be available for sale on Amazon beginning March 4.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Trust No One

"Trust no one." You hear that a lot in action, suspense, and espionage films. But that adage could just as easily apply to any individual or corporation hawking food products. When will I learn?

The husband and I stopped at Farm & Fleet this weekend to get the flat wheelbarrow tire repaired. As we entered the store, a woman was offering samples of a Sprecher-brand soft drink. Normally I would have passed the samples by, but she indicated they were "all natural" sodas, made with ingredients like honey, cherry, and vanilla. Wow, I thought, that sounds great! I tasted the cherry cola, and it was really good: smooth, foamy, just the right amount of sweet, lots of cherry flavor. We bought a four-pack of the cherry cola and a four-pack of the orange.

On the way home, the husband asked me what the ingredients were, so I took a look at the label, expecting to see "all natural" ingredients. Here are the ingredients for the Cherry Cola that I found so delicious, in order of presentation on the label:

Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, WI Door County Cherry Juice, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Citric Acid, WI Raw Honey and Sodium Benzoate (Preservative).

I have used italics in the ingredients list to indicate what does not appear to be "all natural." First, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is bad, bad, BAD! And not natural. Artificial flavors are, by their very definition, not natural (hence, why they are called artificial), and arguably natural flavors aren't natural if you have to add them! Citric acid by itself has been through an extraction process--not natural. and who knows what sodium benzoate is--but I know it doesn't usually grow in the garden.

The Orange Dream soda ingredients are even more disconcerting in their unnaturalness:

Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Maltodextrin, Natural and Artificial Flavors, WI Raw Honey, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Vanillin, Quillaia/Yucca Extract, FD&C Yellow #6 and FD&C Red #40.

Most of the offending ingredients here are the same as those in the cherry cola, but this drink actually adds two dyes.

It's my own fault; I should have read the labels before purchasing the items. I trusted an individual who used a term I wanted to hear: "all natural." Unfortunately, her idea of "all natural" and my idea of "all natural" are clearly at odds with one another.

When it comes to food ingredients, it is probably best to adhere to the motto "Trust no one." Read the label for yourself. And, in fact, if it has a label, it's probably not good for you.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ranting and Planting

My husband and I made a compromise at the beginning of the year: He gets to have the lawn company fertilize and apply weed-killer in the front yard so it looks nice; the backyard stays chemical-free. Not only do I NOT want to expose myself to pesticides and herbicides, which act like uber-strong estrogen in the body, feeding my cancer, but we eat things that grow in the backyard--mulberries from the trees, wild strawberries and dandelion leaves in the grass, and of course, produce from my garden. I also feed these items to my 11 hermit crabs, who are particularly sensitive to chemicals. chemicals in the backyard. And that's the agreement we made with our lawn company.

[Note: We would really like to use all-natural items on the front lawn, but to do so for our size yard would be incredibly expensive.]

Yesterday, apparently our lawn company came out and applied the chemicals--to the back yard as well as the front! My husband and I are hopping mad. The guy claims he stayed at least 10 feet away from the garden, but that's not friggin' far enough away as far as I am concerned, particularly since the herbicide is sprayed into the air and can be carried by the wind. At least the fertilizer was in granule form, and he claims it is organic, but without knowing what brand it was or where it came from, I have no idea what organic means in his language.

So no more dandelion leaves for salads from the back yard this year (which probably were direct sprayed), and no more gardening barefoot for a while unless I wear my shoes out to the garden and then step out of them.

We'll be sending a check for front-yard application only to the chemical company and canceling our contract. Despite the expense, I think I'd rather not eat out for a month and save up for SAFE chemicals than risk being exposed to killer chemicals again.

* * *
On the upside, I FINALLY got some direct seeding done today: double-yield cucumbers, bushy cucumbers, provider green beans, black beauty zucchini, and clemson spineless okra. I have more to plant, but that's all the energy I had today.

Learning from last year, I planted only THREE zucchini plants rather than 12, so hopefully I won't be overrun with them again. I still have lots of frozen zucchini to use up from last season! I planted a lot of cucumbers, and am planning on making a LOT of bread and butter pickles this year--everybody seemed to like those.

I added grass clippings over the top since the grass clippings in the burn pile had NOT been yucked up by the dufus lawn guy's chemicals, and now I just need to find the energy to go back outside, once I've cooled down, and water.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for some nice weather for gardening! Feel free to supply some more in the very near future!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Only Good Japanese Beetle Is a Dead One

So there I was, resting in my living room chair, drinking a Hansen's Mandarin and Lime soda (made with cane sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup), minding my own business.

And then I see it: something black flits by the window.

"Shit!" My sudden exclamation startles my husband. Not because I'm cursing--I do that a lot--but because it comes out of nowhere. "I bet it's a Japanese Beetle," I explain.

I get out of my chair and walk to the window, where I spy several black things buzzing about. For a moment, a very brief moment, I try to convince myself they're flies. But I know they aren't. They are Japanese Beetles, the scourge of the trees. And bushes. And garden plants.

In fact, I can't think of a single thing they are good for besides breeding and drowning. And for another fact, as you can tell from the picture, the damn things are already having kinky bug sex in my trees. (You are witnessing a menage a trois in this picture.)

Last year, we tried spraying the trees and shrubs with a cola concoction. It may have slowed them down a bit, but they came back stronger than ever. According to all the literature I've read, traps don't really work and, in fact, attract more Japanese Beetles to the neighborhood. The only thing that works is to go out in the early morning or late evening and knock the creepy crawlers into a bucket of soapy water and drown them. Apparently, the more Japanese Beetles you have, the more they attract. Their bug pheremones are powerful aphrodisiacs, so the only way to keep the population "under control" (I use quotation marks here because truly there is no controlling these beetles) is to kill off as many as possible.

So, for the next couple of months, guess what I'll be doing?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Let Us Talk Lettuce and Radishes

Thanks to all the rain we've had, the lettuce is really starting to fill in. The spinach (left) is still a bit sparse, but that's okay.

I really need to get into the garden and weed, lay down newspaper and grass clippings, and decide which volunteer tomato plants I'm going to keep--and stake those--and which I'll cull. As you can see, the volunteer tomato plants are growing right out of the middle of the lettuce patch.

The rain has also been good for the radishes. I plucked most of them out yesterday, and ended up with a very nice batch of radishes for salads! Some have some scarring on the outside, and a few had splits. The ones that were badly split I tossed into the compost bin. According to the University of Illinois Extension's article on radishes, the cracking and splitting may be caused by pulling radishes when they are too old (although they don't seem spongy), or because we had a dry spell followed by a moist spell (more likely, in my opinion).

Our weather has turned very hot and humid the last couple of days. It was 89 degrees earlier, and so humid that the heat index was over 100! I felt like I was suffocating this morning when I went to the downtown farmer's market. I didn't find much there other than what we've already gotten from our CSA and garden (greens, greens, and more greens, and radishes), so I ended up purchasing a rhubarb pie (not the best I've had) and a Tuscan Parmesan loaf of bread from Great Harvest.

Now, let's have some dry days in the 70s with low humidity so I can get some work done in the garden!