Monday, August 31, 2009

Chickens are about to travel to China and back

For the last two years, Congress has banned chicken imports from China. This year, agriculture giants like Smithfield, Tyson and Cargill have been lobbying Congress to lift the ban. They want to process poultry in China because costs are lower there (as are standards), import the chicken back here and sell it for a heftier profit.

In 2009, over 600 shipments of food from China were blocked from coming into the U.S., including fish, cookies, candy, crackers, juice, tea, canned and dried vegetables, and spices.

The reasons for rejection weren't reassuring: contamination with melamine or banned chemicals; pesticide residues and unsafe additives; and conditions inspectors described as "poisonous" and "filthy." Recently the Chinese government announced that food poisoning cases in China were up 40 percent from last year.

If you don't want to eat chicken processed in China, contact your representatives in Congress and voice your opinion about maintaining the ban on imported poultry products from China.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Times just keep getting tougher...

Even as the news media are carrying blips about the recession "ending soon", the economic woes continue. Whirlpool just announced a layoff of 1,100 and possibly 400 more in Evansville, Indiana so they can "consolidate" their operations by moving the plant to Mexico.

Consolidation seems to be a one way street... they move manufacturing jobs to Mexico or China, but I seldom read that they are moving any to the US. Outsourcing is killing us. Sure, the owners (stockholders) still make money on their investment, but not Joe Average who needs the job to feed the family.

82 banks have failed this year alone, and the FDIC is technically out of money (until they print more). Have you noticed these bank closings are almost all announced late on a Friday after banking hours... along with the designated buyer?

Reports say that within 2 years, over half the homes in the US will owe more on their mortgage than the home's value.

I get daily updates from the FDA on food recalls. I used to post about them here but now there are so many it seems futile.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Allowing Comments

Due to a continuing lack of comments posted on this blog, today I have changed the parameters to allow all comments, even anonymous, without my approval. You will still need to do a word verification but this just prevents random crap from being posted.


Cash for Junk Appliances Next?

Photo: Creative Commons License by elsie

Cash for clunkers ended this week — for cars.

But old energy-hogging refrigerators and freezers qualify for recycling and cash from more than 60 utilities across the nation. And the federal government is making money available to states so consumers could get rebates of $50 to $200 for new, more energy-efficient appliances later this year in a so-called
"cash for appliances" program.

Combined, the appliance initiatives have a goal similar to the cash-for-clunker program for autos: They get less-efficient appliances off the nation's energy grid in favor of newer efficient ones.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Shell Game?

I awakened this morning wondering about my ability to understand English even though it is my native tongue and I am fairly well educated. I read, and/or listen to the news at least daily, and usually more than once a day. And I wonder what they are really saying... and not saying.

Remember the old
shell game? We all knew it looked easy, and we all believed surely anyone and everyone could pay attention and figure it out to 'win'. No one ever did, except the 'shill' who was part of the set-up. The 'mark' got suckered every time.

I'm beginning to feel that way about the news, whether it's bank bailouts, automotive industry bailouts, pros and cons of health care reform, insurance and pharmacuetical government influence/manipulation/control, true figures on the unemployed, multi-million dollar bonuses, ponzi schemes, global warming, peak oil...

I'm sure there is a shell game going on, and even with the English I understand, I can't seem to figure it out.

Keeping Berries Fresh Longer, without Chemicals

It happens to me all the time… I bring soft berries like strawberries home, rinse and chill them, and by the next day half are moldy, inedible and very unappealing!

The NY Times recently carried a story about keeping soft berries, grapes and stone fruit longer; it’s called Thermotherapy. The idea is almost the same as what you do before freezing vegetables… blanch them.

In this case though, it’s only a quick dip in water between 113ºF and 145ºF instead of the method of blanching vegetables a couple of minutes in boiling water. Both techniques do the same thing: reduce mold spores on the skin surface.

I would have thought the hot water dip would harm the berries. However, ‘Reason’ tells me berries have to withstand the hot temperatures of sunshine in the field, so why not a quick hot bath, followed by icy cold immersion to stop any cooking?

When the author experimented with several batches of strawberries, they kept best and longest dipped in water heated to 125º for 30 seconds. Her methods evolved from several agriculture research articles, and the process really sounds like something I will use next year when soft fruits are ready again. Except of course, my home-grown berries, which get eaten or processed some way almost immediately.

You’ll need a good calibrated thermometer, and a good timer that counts seconds. Read the story (and how to DIY)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dehydrating Vegetables

Since I am so cramped for food storage space, I decided to dehydrate some veggies instead of canning them. So far I am drying pole beans and tomatoes, and I have already made peach leather in the dehydrator. Oh, and I'm drying some herbs!

The beans are really easy. I string and snap them, then blanch for about 2 minutes.
Cool in an ice water bath, drain, and place in a single layer on my dehydrator trays. A gallon of beans (before breaking) will fit into 2-3 pint jars when dry. The beans took about 5 hours to dry at 130ºF.

What I really like best is the small space the dried vegetables need for storage. The amount of tomatoes that would have taken 10+ pint jars for canning all fit into 2 pint jars!

I drop the tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then an ice water bath, to make it easy to slip the skins. I cut the tomatoes crosswise in slices about 3/4" thick, and remove as much of the seed stuff as I can. Dry at about 130ºF for several hours, depending on how thick the tomato pulp is... I turn mine over after about 5 hours, and remove any that are dry enough to still be pliable but not sticky, and then watch the rest closely.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Don’t Hate Beets!

Many people do not like beets (except maybe pickled beets like I posted yesterday), which is too bad because they are very nutritious, as well as tasty. Personally, I think beet dislike is because they have never had a good, tasty beet dish… so here’s one to convert even those with the most vile hatred of beets… provided you can get them to take the first taste!

Sautéed Orange Beets


3 large beets

2 large onions

1 pat butter

1-2 Tbs. Olive oil

2 large juicy oranges

Salt to taste

Chop 2 large onions and sauté until almost translucent in a tablespoon or two of olive oil and a pat of butter for taste.

Meanwhile, peel and grate 3 large beets. (Wear gloves to keep your hands from staining, although the pigment is water-soluble and washes/wears off quickly.) Also, zest 2 large juicy oranges, and squeeze the juice into a container. Reserve the zest and juice.

When the onions are about half-translucent, add the grated beets, the orange juice, and about 1/4 of the zest.

Cover and steam in the orange juice for about 8-10 minutes (depending on how finely you grated the beets) until the beets are barely tender. Add a little salt, and more of the orange zest if you want it a little more orange taste. Serve while still hot.

Believe me, with this recipe I have turned many people onto beets who swore they absolutely hated them!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pickled Oven-Roasted Beets with Onions

I actually used a full glass dish of beets for this recipe, but I took a few out for the photo so you could see the shallots and rosemary.

Trim beet tops to 1-2 inches, and the scrub beets well. Do not cut the roots; leaving short lengths of beet stems and roots attached keeps the beets from bleeding while roasting.

Pre-heat oven to 425ºF. Put 2 tablespoons or so of oilve oil in a glass baking dish. Add the beets in one layer and thoroughly coat the beets, adding more olive oil if necessary. Peel 2-4 garlic cloves (optional) and 3-4 shallots and add to the glass dish. Cut a sprig or two of fresh rosemary to add, then cover dish tightly with aluminum foil.

Place the baking dish in the pre-heated oven for about 45 minutes, or until a knife pierces the beets easily. The time will depend on size of the beets.

When beets are tender, remove dish from the oven and allow to cool enough to handle. Then trim the tops and roots, and slip the skins. Discard the rosemary, shallots and garlic. If the beets are very small, you may want to pickle them whole, or quarter them. Mine were too large for that, so I sliced them about 1/4" thick; and with the larger beets, I also halved the slices.

While the beets are cooling, place a non-reactive pot on the stove. (Here, my quantities are tailored to how many beets I am roasting.) I used 2 cups apple cider vinegar, 1-1/4 cups sugar, and 3/4 cup of water. Slice 2-3 large onions very thin, and set aside.

Before heating the vinegar sauce, I added a heaping tablespoon of my homemade pickling spices (recipe follows in a separate post), a teaspoon of mixed peppercorns (black, white, Schezuan, and pink), plus a heaping teaspoon of Kosher salt.

Heat the vinegar mixture enough for the sugar to dissolve, and taste it. Now is the time to adjust vinegar, sugar and salt if necessary. When the mixture is almost to a boil, dump in the onions and stir to wilt them. Then add the beets and bring it all just barely to a boil.

Fill hot, sterilized jars with the beets and onions, and top off with the liquid and spices from the pot. If it looks like there's not enough liquid, distribute what you have evenly amongst the jars and quickly heat more vinegar/water to finish filling the jars.

Wipe rim of jar to clean, add hot clean lids and rings, tighten and set aside on a towel to cool. Some folks like to put these in a water bath for 10-15 minutes, although the acid in the vinegar will keep the contents from spoiling as long as the lids seal. I find additional cooking makes the beets mushy.

If any jars have not sealed when cooled, just refrigerate them. Mine never last long enough to worry about spoiling! Some options for pickling beets are to add a thin slice or two of orange to each jar, and/or a small piece of cinnamon stick. If you choose to add cinnamon and/or orange, you might want to omit the garlic from the roasting pan.

By the way, roasted beets cooked as above and served warm (not pickled) make a very pretty and tasty side dish!

You can use a commercial pickling spice mix, but I have all the spices on hand anyway, so I mix my own.

My Pickling Spice Mix
These are approx. amounts only (I seldom measure exactly)

1 Tbs. yellow mustard seed
1 Tbs. whole allspice
1 Tbs. whole cloves

1 Tbs. whole mace, or crumbled mace blades

1 Tbs. whole coriander

1 small dried red pepper, crumbled

2-4 bay leaves, crumbled (how many depends on their size)

2 short pieces cinnamon stick, chopped or broken (not ground)

1 Tbs. juniper berries

1 Tbs. whole black peppercorns

Sometimes I add a tsp. dried ginger, just depends on my mood, and what I have on hand. Mix well and store in an airtight jar in a cool place (like the rest of your herbs and spices).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Farmer's Market at The White House?

President Obama, during a health care strategy meeting last week, was asked about nutrition and how his family keeps so fit. Part of his reply addressed school nutrition and the need to include fresh produce, then he went on to say he wants a Farmer's Market right outside the White House.

There may be hope for good and healthy food all over this country yet!!

Read the full story in the
Huffington Post.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Busy Canning...

Photo: Creative Commons License by Stevie Rocco

Lately I've been spending all my time in the kitchen, canning. Thankfully I had a few posts written in advance, but now I've posted them all and
still have more canning to do!

I promise some pictures (no matter how bad they might be) and some recipes in a day or two. Pickled Roasted Beets and Onions (roasted with with shallots and fresh rosemary); Peach Marmalade; 2 kinds of Dilly Beans... at least those few for starters anyway.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Solar-Powered and Biodegradable Cell Phone

Photo CreativeCommons License by tuexperto_com

Cell phones, like many consumer electronics, create a lot of waste... some in manufacturing, some in plastic in the landfills, plus some toxic waste in the batteries which usually get tossed in our landfills, too. Samsung may be on the right track with their new "Reclaim" cell phone that is solar-charged, and 40% of the plastic case is corn-based, biodegradable plastic.

That doesn't mean you can toss it in the compost pile, though. The other 60% of the plastic housing is still conventional, and won't break down any better than all those zillions of plastic bags in the landfills. BUT, it's a start.

Please do your part and recycle your old cell phone:

Friday, August 21, 2009



(I have no idea of the origin of this photo ... it came in an email that had been forwarded a zillion times.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Heirloom, OP and Hybrid Seeds

As often happens during this time of year, the season's harvesting, our thoughts turn to seeds. Which ones performed well, which didn't; and of the good performers, which were OP (open pollinated) or Heirloom seeds (they can be both) worth saving for next year?

The debate about OP seeds vs. hybrid seeds almost always enters the discussion: hybrids were developed to include traits not evident in the parent seeds. Those traits include things like tomatoes that are now resistant to tobacco mosaic virus.
So, not all hybrids are bad.

In fact in the last few years, some really cool hybrid vegetables have been introduced. However, there are probably that many, and more, OP and heirlooms that have been lost
. My hat is tipped to all those dedicated seed savers out there who have rescued many of them from total oblivion! You cannot save hybrid seeds with any reliable hopes of growing them out next year into anything resembling the vegetables they came from in your garden.

My personal preference is towards OP seeds, and for several reasons. I really don't care if my tomatoes are capable of shipping well since they are only for my own use, but I DO care if they are tasty. Same for melons, and a host of other vegetables. I'm learning that with good balanced soil I can increase the Brix, which increases the nutrient density of what I grow, and along the way it eliminates a lot of pest and disease problems.

Another reason for OP seeds in my garden is that I am able to save some seeds for the following year. With a gardening budget based on my social security income, that's a big plus.

On the hybrid sign of the coin, there is Monsanto to consider. Their efforts in developing seeds resistant to their own pesticides and herbicides frightens me. (They are not the only BigAg doing this, their name just comes easily to my vocabulary.) For one thing, it means more foods at the stores have received huge doses of chemicals, whether it's fresh produce or frozen and canned vegetables. You cannot convince me that our soil doesn't suffer from those chemicals either.

Vegetables are good for us, and the more nutritious they are, the healthier our bodies will be. I could tell you to eat lots of broccoli even if you don't grow your own, but most of our broccoli comes from Dole Foods, and they buy their seed from Monsanto.

Speaking of Seeds...

Just after I wrote the above post on seeds, I read about Monsanto raising the price of some GMO seeds next year by as much as 42%. RoundupReady 2 Yield soybean seeds will cost farmers an average of $74 an acre and original RoundupRaady seeds will cost $52 an acre. (Monsanto shares have gained 19% this year in our troubled economy.)

SmartStax corn seeds, developed by Dow Chemical will cost $130 an acre, which is 17% more than the YieldGard triple-stack seeds they will replace.

Acreage forecasts indicate SmartStax corn seed will be planted on as many as 4 million acres in its first year on the market (2010) with an eventual potential for as many as 65 million acres in the US the company said.

Meanwhile Monsanto said RoundupReady 2 Yield soybeans were planted on 1.5 million acres this year, and projected to be planted on as many as 8 million US acres next year. Monsanto plans to see 55 million acres eventually planted in the US with their GMO soybean seeds.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bananas!* The Film Dole Doesn't Want Us to See

Photo CC License by clarity

The film Bananas!*, which premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival this June, follows the story of twelve Nicaraguan banana plantation workers who are suing Dole for concealing the dangers of a pesticide that they claim made them sterile. Despite Dole Foods intense and mounting efforts to silence the controversial filmmakers, the film is receiving tremendous support and will hopefully continue to shed light on the important issue.

You may already know the importance of choosing Fair Trade bananas to support a living wage for plantation workers, but this film will open your eyes to the dangerous conditions that many have been forced to endure. I’m eager to see the movie and hope that it will help spotlight the importance of workers rights and safety, and lead to better conditions.

Besides, I don't like eating stuff grown with an abundance of pesticides!

Check out the trailer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Want to Improve Indoor Air Quality this Winter?

Spider Plant by madaise

There are some houseplants that do a much better than average job of exchanging the CO2 we exhale into the O2 we inhale. Plus there’s some great plants for absorbing VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) given off by paints, formaldehyde in synthetic carpeting, and organic chemicals used in the manufacture of paneling, cabinet parts, ceiling tile, underlayment or subflooring, doors and more.

Mother-in-Law’s Tongue aka Snake Plant by unclevinny

The Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens), “the Living Room Plant,” does its best work during the day; Mother-in-Law’s Tongue aka Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), “the Bedroom Plant,” converts CO2 into O2 during the night.

The Money Plant
(Epipremnum aureum), is “the Specialist Plant,” and is excellent for removing formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air. Philodendron, Pothos and Spider Plants also do a very effective job of removing VOC’s from the air.

Other indoor plants to consider are Peace Lilys, Boston ferns, Ficus Benjamina (weeping fig), Rhapis excelsa (Lady Palm) and rubber plants. All these plants listed increase indoor humidity in winter, helping to counteract dry skin and dry coughs.

To be really efficient, it is recommended to have at least 2 plants, each in 8”-10” pots, per 10’ x 10’ area. Use three, it gives the room a nice balance!

Monday, August 17, 2009

I learned something today about Lead in soil

In following the bits and pieces relating to the story about lead in the White House Garden from sewage sludge applied years ago, I learned 2 things about lead in the soil.

One is that when the soil pH is adjusted to between 6.5 and 7, any lead in the soil is unavailable to plants. Secondly, I learned that adding 1/3 by volume of organic matter to the WH Garden before planting this year, they were able to reduce the lead amounts from 93 ppm to 14 ppm. Even the 93 ppm was well below what the EPA allows as safe, 400 ppm.

The amendments added to the WH garden were greensand, crab meal, compost from the National Park Service, and lime.

Other organic amendments to use on home gardens are composted leaves, non-acid peat, and well-rotted manure. Leaves should not be gathered from along highways and city streets in order to prevent lead contamination.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fueling Cars with Urine?

Urine-powered cars, homes and personal electronic devices could be available in 6 months with new technology developed by scientists from Ohio University.

The concept is simple: Using a nickle-based electrode, scientists can create large amounts of cheap hydrogen from urine, and use that hydrogen in fuel cells, or burn it.
"One cow can provide enough energy to supply hot water for 19 houses," said Gerardine Botte, a professor developing the technology at Ohio University. "Soldiers in the field could carry their own fuel."

Up until now, hydrogen has presented many barriers due to the expense of converting it for safe storage (and transporting it), then converting it for use as a fuel. Botte and her colleagues have found a safer and cheaper means by chemically binding hydrogen to nitrogen.

A fuel-cell urine powered vehicle could theoretically travel 90 miles per gallon. But, don't start saving your urine just yet; there is much research still to be done.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tires made from Trees?

Science Daily has published an article about making tires with some wood products. Science researchers at Oregon State University who have made some remarkable discoveries about using the microcrystalline cellulose fibers from any kind of plant material to partially replace silica as a reinforcing filler in the manufacture of rubber tires.

Their early tests show that the tires would cost less, perform better, and save on fuel and energy. Cellulose fiber is already used for some reinforcement in things like automotive belts, hoses and insulation, but not in tires, where the fillers are carbon black and silica. Carbon black is a product of oil, and the processing for silica is energy-intensive.

I wonder if that will require more forest destruction?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Solar Water Pumping

If you have read much of my blog, you know I have finally been able to pump water from my spring to water my garden. However, the submersible pump still needs electricity to operate.

I found this video on
YouTube, and it looks like an interesting possibility. Most solar installations require a storage unit (battery) for the excess electricity produced so that there is electricity available on demand for cloudy or rainy days. My garden won't need any water at those times, so that's one thing to eliminate in the expense column. (I don't use the spring for potable water so I don't need it to be able to pump 24/7.)

Solar panels produce DC (direct current) electricity, and the majority of homes and appliances for them, including water pumps, require AC (alternating current). To go from DC to AC requires the additional expense of an inverter, or optionally, the expense of a DC pump, which must be what they use in this video. As electric rates continue to increase, this process is at least worth investigation.

Solar Water Pumping System Installation in a water well

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Beans on a Cattle Panel Arch Trellis

Deciding to grow pole beans on my new cattle panel arch trellis has a distinct advantage I had not even thought about when I built it. As you can see in the photo above, almost all the beans hang down inside the arch, making picking beans very easy!

There are only a very few beans that are under leaves on the outside of the arch, perhaps a handful at most. So, that tells me I will be planting my pole beans again next year on the arch trellis! (You can also see in the photo that we've had more rain again overnight, making the creek muddy and the tomatoes rot.)

I have an additional cattle panel ready to install end to end with this one, giving me a longer arch/tunnel. I just need someone to help me. It doesn’t take any strength to bend the panel… only someone to hold it steady while I stake the first end, and then walk the free end into place so I can stake it down too. I may wire the 2 panels together along the ends that connect, just for some added stability.

I’ll try and take (and post) photos of the new panel addition. Meanwhile, I have beans to pick!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fruits of the garden...

Busy time of the year for my kitchen!

I've been working up the luscious peaches I bought, and have the rest to finish up today. So far, I have made quite a few half-pints of peach jam, plus dried 2 big batches of peach leather. Making the peach leather was a first for me, and it turned out yummy. I had to add a little sugar to counter the lemon juice I used to keep the peaches from turning brown. I may make peach-orange marmalade today with the rest of the peaches. Of course, I have also eaten many, many of them fresh! YUM.

I have tomatoes to start canning, and the pole beans are ready to start picking. The tomatoes are not so great, lots of bad spots to cut out, but I hope the rest will be okay to can as tomato chunks. Pressure canning kills anything! Hopefully my second planting of tomatoes across the garden will do better; they are flowering now.

Yukon Gold potatoes are dug and stored. I didn't weigh them, but probably more than 50 pounds. The fingerlings are still growing...

Over the last week, my sister picked about 2 gallons of wild blackberries from a lot near where she works, plus I picked a bunch more up behind the house. I have strained the juice and frozen it for now, but some of it will become a blackberry savory when I have time.

Edited to add: Tomatoes were a bust. Blight has set in.

I did, however, make some super peach marmalade (one orange, one lemon, one lime, 4 cups peaches), and a batch of spicy peach jam with a touch of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. I just love using Pomona's Universal Pectin; it always jells, and lets me cut the sugar considerably. For example, the recipe for the peach marmalade called for 5-1/2 cups of sugar, using Sure-Jell powdered pectin. With Pomona's Pectin instead, I used just over a cup of sugar, and it tastes plenty sweet enough... plus it jelled almost the moment it came out of the water bath!

If you've never used Pomona's Pectin, be aware the package price is higher than Sure-Jell. HOWEVER, one box makes 3-4 batches of jelly or jam vs. one with Sure-Jell. You get what you pay for!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

230 MPG Car???!!!

GM just announced the Chevy Volt is on track to hit an unprecedented fuel economy rating of 230 miles per gallon in city driving.

The Volt, which will be introduced late next year, is designed to run for 40 miles from a single charge of a lithium-ion battery pack. After the battery is partly depleted, a small combustion engine is designed to kick in to recharge the battery and power the vehicle.

Huge Raspberries!

Whoooeee... I thought my raspberries were finished for the year, until today! I found several canes with new berries, mostly not ripe yet. The berries are larger (nickel used for size comparison) than the earlier berries, and I'm not sure what variety they are. Last spring someone gave me a few plants of Heritage, and I bought a couple of Caroline, and if you've even grown raspberries you know they all run together unless grown in separate beds.

The 2 blackberries (actually just one and a half) in the photo are Triple Crown, thornless. I didn't expect any this year since the canes are new, but I'm pleased to get a few.

(Please forgive the photo quality. Not only is my digital camera aging, but I'm not much of a photographer anyway.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Survival Concerns

Yes, I am concerned about Survival, but generally surviving environmental and/or natural events. Lately I have been reading some survival blogs on the internet, hoping for tidbits about survival I may have overlooked. However, a few of the 'survivalist' blogs are beginning to frighten me, for they seem to think only folks like themselves should survive... folks with the same narrow range of prejudices, the same religion, the same skin color... I think it's called xenophobia.

I'm having a real problem with that kind of belief system; it's the beliefs that brought about the concentration camps in WWII... the beliefs that brought the slave trade to America, let us destroy the bulk of Native Americans, the Trail of Tears, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII... the list could go on and on, and that's just in my own country.

Now that's not to say I have no prejudices; I do have, and plenty of them! I am prejudiced against laziness, closed-minds, people who think they are owed a living just for breathing, people who milk the system our tax dollars support... then there's arrogance, greed, avarice, uncontrolled lust and gluttony, slothfulness, plus psychopaths and sociopaths.

I am not against stupidity, because that's a lack of the ability to learn, such as those who are mentally challenged. An ignorant person has the capacity to learn, and refusing to learn is just dumb in my book. So I am prejudiced against the ignorant who refuse to learn when given the opportunity.

Back to my thoughts on the Survivalist Cults... As a group, they seem to blame Government and Big Business. But who elected the government, and who bought whatever businesses were selling? Everyday we are seeing more media exposure of greed in big business, and collusion and corruption in government office.

The thing is, we are in a mess for sure... but it has been building for a very long time. Playing the Blame Game doesn't make it any better. Nor does being an ostrich and burying our heads in the sand. That's probably one reason it has become so bad... we weren't paying attention. Times were good, we had plenty of jobs, plenty of disposable income, plenty of opportunities... so who cared to look beyond the surface?

We took everything at face value, even advertising for politicians and consumer goods, with no questions. Our Values became materialistic; we judged a man's "success" by dollars. If you didn't hold a good paying job, buy a more-expensive house and car, have gold or platinum credit cards, you were a worthless human being. We accepted the advice of any man with millions of dollars as better than our own counsel and values.

We have no one to blame. What we do have is a responsibility, to ourselves, our children and our values/beliefs to do what it takes to come out of this as better people. I just hope those who hold their beliefs as "the only way to believe" don't end up the majority.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Some signs of high quality fruit & vegetables

One cannot readily take a refractometer into a grocery store to measure the Brix of fruits and vegetables in the produce section, and perhaps not even the local farmer’s market will allow produce to be cut and tested before purchase.

So how to tell what’s best
when you can't (or don't) grow your own? I don’t know that there IS a good way, but I came across this information in my files. Unfortunately I had no source noted, but it probably came from Rex Harrill who posts excellent information for growing nutrient-dense foods. I have not tested the reliability of these suggestions, although they seem sensible to me. I DO know my nose isn’t sufficient for choosing whole melons by smell!

VEGETABLES: A natural waxy coating is good. Packers, processors, and stores try to duplicate this effect by mechanically waxing poor quality vegetables. Any hollowness indicates a mineral deficiency (probably boron).

POTATOES: Sunken eyes signify lower quality (probably short on manganese).

PEARS: A boxy shape is better.

STONE FRUITS: A split pit indicates poor quality and mineral insufficiency.

CITRUS: A thinner rind indicates higher quality.

ANY ITEM: Bright pure color, whether in cut flowers or cut watermelons suggests higher quality. Slime or mold can be washed off the surface, but it will have grown throughout the item. Reject such food.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Building and Feeding Healthy Soil, Part 3

How much and how often is it necessary to feed soil organisms?

The answer is like the answer to the question “how much does it cost to grocery shop”? It depends. “How many people are you feeding? Are you buying ground beef or filet mignon?” As soil organisms become active in greater numbers, they will eat more. Two inches of mulch may stay on top of poor soils for a year or more, but in healthy soils it sure won’t. The more the soil organisms eat of the right stuff, the larger and healthier the plants will grow and fruit.

I find that each year is different in what I need to add, and when. I continually add green manure all growing season. Since my beds are mostly raised rows, I constantly put all trimmed plant material and plants that have finished for the season directly on the paths, and cover with a layer of dirt. By the end of the summer, it has been nearly all broken down by the microbes.

In Part One, I said most soil organisms eat things containing carbon. In what is known as the carbon cycle, plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it, combined with water they get from the soil, in the symbiotic process with the soil organisms to make substances they need for growth. The process of photosynthesis incorporates the carbon atoms from carbon dioxide into sugars that feed the soil organisms, although the plants themselves use some of it in the complexity of protein production.

Animals (I’ll use chicken here as an example) and humans eat the plants (such as cracked corn and greens the chickens eat), and use the carbon to build their own tissues. Animals, such as a fox (or humans), eat the chicken and then use the carbon for their own body needs. Animals (and humans) that have eaten the chicken and its carbon, now return carbon dioxide into the air when they (we) breathe, and also when they die, since the carbon is returned to the soil during decomposition (except in societies who entomb their dead in sealed compartments).

The carbon atoms in soil may then be used in a new plant, or by small microorganisms, and the carbon dioxide exhaled by animals gets recycled by new plants absorbing it for photosynthesis.

I jump-start the carbon cycle in a new garden area by adding biochar to my soil. Biochar is simply small bits of charred (not burned) plant material, including mature plant parts like firewood, and is often “inoculated” with some food source for the soil organisms. Fresh human urine works well as an inoculant. It is sterile, and contains 2-5% organic nitrogen, which doesn’t burn plants like commercial urea (man-made/chemical nitrogen) containing 45% nitrogen, found in farm/garden supply stores. Think of biochar as fully-equipped condos for the microbes.

You can also use a compost tea with some added molasses to inoculate biochar. The biochar I use is bits of charred wood left in the ashes of my wood stove. I sift them from the ash, and pulverize the bigger pieces into pea-size bits before inoculating than and incorporating them into my garden soil.

Biochar is a lengthy topic all by itself, and I will write a more detailed separate post on biochar soon. However, let me mention here not to use left-over bits of charcoal briquettes like those used for cookouts. They contain some nasty additives that are not good for the soil organisms.

Stay tuned for Part Four

Friday, August 7, 2009

Garden Update

I didn't think it was possible, but ALL my zucchini plants died more-or-less childless. It wasn't from squash borer either, which is what usually causes early demise in any of mine. I really haven't a clue what killed them, although I'm guessing the excessively wet and cooler summer weather has been a large factor.

Actually one plant managed to give me about 6-7 zukes that were edible; two of the other three plants blossomed, set a fruit or two, then aborted and gave up the ghost, and one did nada from the get-go. Sigh. Not much zucchini bread to look forward to this winter unless my neighbors give me zucchini...

My first planting of tomatoes are battling blight, and everyday it's a new standoff. If it ever dries enough to be effective, I'm going to give them a boost of Epsom Salts in water as a foliar spray.The second planting of tomatoes 40 feet away now has plants blossoming and I think I'll douse their foliage too. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and it can't hurt!

So far I have harvested a few Yukon Gold potatoes (about 25 pounds) and the remainder are ready to be dug, cured, and stored in the root cellar. The fingerling potatoes I started in The Great Potato Experiment have finally decided to grow, and last evening I even saw a couple of blossoms!

Cattle Panel Arched Hoop I put in this year is now covered with pole beans and Japanese beetles (see photo above). I built it on what was part of the lawn and I guess I didn't get in enough amendments to raise the Brix, because high Brix plants don't get pest infestations. I hope I will get a few beans anyway, and next year will be another opportunity to do better!

On the outside left of the cattle panel I planted a few winter squash, which are now starting to trail. The tags have disappeared, but they are either butternut, or Futsu Black. The early spring-planted Brussels sprouts are finally making fruit and the Swiss chard continues to do well.

The root cellar is full of recently harvested onions and 2 kinds of shallots. The red onions aren't faring well so I think I'll make Pickled Red Onions. They are really yummy... I'll post the recipe and photos in another post when I make them.

Lastly, although not from my garden, I have half a bushel of Loring peaches ripening in the root cellar. I found them at an orchard on my way home from Charlottesville yesterday and one taste convinced me! The Brix measured almost 14ºBx, far better than any in the stores although really good Brix gardeners report Brix as high as 20º in peaches. I haven't decided what to do with them; certainly some will be for fresh eating! The rest may be divided into dehydrated, peach leather, and jam.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

New Food Bill?

Maybe it should be called the 'partial' food bill, because it doesn't cover much of our foods.

I finally had the opportunity to read the full text of HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act passed by the House last week. (If you want to know how your Representative voted, click here.) There has been a lot of press about the unfairness to small family farmers in this Bill, and I agree. However, until I read the bill just now, I didn't understand it doesn't even cover foods like meat, poultry and eggs! Those are regulated by the USDA under separate, existing Acts.

I just looked at the food recalls list by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and those are all meat, poultry and egg products not covered by HR 2749 even if it becomes Law. FSIS is under the guidance of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), while the recent food recalls like peanut butter and cookie dough fall under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, not the USDA.

Confused yet? Read the entire bill, if you can plow through the legalese. I hope you will understand it better that I do.

Of course, HR 2749 isn't Law yet; it must first be passed by the Senate, and then signed by the President.
I do think we, as consumers, need better assurances on the safety of our food. However, it also seems like we have one agency doing one thing to prevent contaminations like e. coli and salmonella, and another agency doing the same thing... in a sorta kinda different way, to prevent contaminations like e. coli and salmonella... What's with that??

Oh, by the way, before 1992 the FDA was funded solely out of our taxes. Starting in 1992, a law was passed that said a large proportion of the work done by the FDA (new drug applications) is paid for directly by the pharmaceutical industry. If they want a drug reviewed, they pay directly to the FDA to have the drug reviewed. I think cash funding from the pharmaceutical industry to the FDA is a very bad idea and I wouldn't be surprised if that budget affects the FDA's ability to do food safety inspections.
(The FDA is already on record as saying they don't have enough manpower to do effective inspections.)

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly...

The Good: Nissan unveils its electric car, the Leaf

The Bad:
US Marshals seize sanitizer for bacteria problems

"The FDA is committed to taking enforcement action against firms that do not manufacture drugs in accordance with our current good manufacturing practice requirements,"
said Deborah M. Autor, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Office of Compliance.

My question is whether this seizure was the FDA showing the control it gained by last week's legislation, or were there really some health problems caused by the products?

The Ugly:
There were 2 news items about the US Economy online yesterday (Sunday) afternoon… each contradicting the other. It gets really ugly to my mind when we can no longer trust the media, or when officials on the same team don’t speak the same truth…

One headline says, "Obama Officials: End of Recession is Near"
(FOXNews) The word in Washington Sunday is that the economic train is emerging from the tunnel of recession…”

The other headline says, “Obama officials eye more jobless aid, weigh taxes”
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top US officials said on Sunday more steps may be needed to firm up economic recovery -- including extended jobless benefits -- and declined to rule out future tax increases to tame massive budget deficits.

Short Lull in Posting

I will be out of town for a few days and unable to post. Sorry... I hope to be back posting later in the week.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Food, Cooking, Julie & Julia and Michael Pollan

The Sunday New York Times has 2 stories today about food and J&J... One, of course, is about the movie Julie and Julia which opens this week. I certainly plan to see it; what person my age (and interested in cooking) doesn't remember Julia Child? ... and seeing Meryl Streep playing Julia has got to be a treat!

The review of the film by Brooks Barnes makes an interesting comment that food movies are a difficult sell. Michael Pollan explains some of the "why" in his much longer article that goes into depth about our current American attitudes about food, and cooking.

He says, "Today the average American spends a mere 27 minutes a day on food preparation... less than half of when Julia arrived on our television screens."
(Currently the most popular meal in America, at both lunch and dinner, is a sandwich; the No. 1 accompanying beverage is a soda.)

The same process of peacetime
conversion that industralized our farming after WWII, giving us synthetic fertilizers made from munitions and new pesticides made from nerve gas, also industralized our eating habits, persuading us to develop a taste for meals that were not far removed from field rations, according to Laura Shapiro in her book, “Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America.”

Pollan says it wasn't an easy sell to get housewives on the boxed mix bandwagon; instead it took years of dedicated marketing campaigns. It was only when the marketing people found out that by having the "cook" add something to the mix... an egg for example... then the cook was able to take ownership of the result. Boxed mixes haven't changed much, but the proliferation of frozen meals has. You can buy almost anything frozen, ready to heat and eat.

TV cooking shows are designed towards buying a product, not cooking it. Real cooking would require leaving the couch (and TV) for the kitchen so network TV has transformed cooking into something you watch, not something you do.

Today what we call 'cooking' would astonish our grandmothers... heating a can of soup, or nuking a frozen meal or pizza would not be considered cooking to them. I stress real cooking here at home, even simple fare like mashed potatoes.

My fast-food junkie niece loves mashed potatoes; I just threw away 25 pounds of home-grown potatoes leftover from last year because boxed instant potatoes are easier for her than peeling and cooking potatoes.
When I point out the cost and nutritional differences, she says, "Get over it."

Pollan says, when we let corporations do the cooking, they’re bound to go heavy on sugar, fat and salt; these are three tastes we’re hard-wired to like, which happen to be dirt cheap to add and do a good job masking the shortcomings of processed food.
80 percent of the cost of food eaten in the home goes to someone other than a farmer, which is to say to industrial cooking and packaging and marketing.

There's an inverse correlation to cooking and obesity, too. In general, households that prepare and cook their meals are healthier and have a lower incidence of obesity. Maybe it's time to start cooking again?

Since I'm sure most of you have seen the trailer for Julie and Julia, here's a cute old video clip with Julia Child. Take time to note her ingredients as they flash by... Alpo dog food can, shaving cream... it's really quite funny!

Socially-aware chocaholics rejoice!

Hooray!! Another food manufacturer makes a positive step forward in sustainability!

The British chocolate bar manufacturer
Cadbury has just committed to buying cocoa at price which offers cash premiums to farmers, in a deal expected to give huge boost to the Fairtrade campaign.

Cadbury's Dairy Milk factory makes 400 bars a minute, 24,000 an hour, more than 500,000 a day. While it looked like business as usual last week, the company was quietly undergoing one of the biggest changes in its nearly 200-year history of chocolate-making, as the first Fairtrade bars rolled off the production line.

Britain's biggest-selling chocolate bar becoming a Fairtrade product is the equivalent of finding the golden ticket for a movement that has been at the fringes of the retail sector for the last 15 years.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Photo © Begoniacrazii, Used with Permission

I am SO excited to see honeybees around my flowers! Today I noticed many of them humming around the huge flowering catnip I planted last year, and a few of them checking out the sunflowers I planted as part of Dr. Gretchen LeBuhn's
The Great Sunflower Project. I wrote a piece about the project here. Dr. LeBuhn is doing a study to determine the honeybees distribution, using what she calls "Citizen Scientists" to participate in the study.

The sunflower used in the study is the annual sunflower, Helianthus annuus 'Lemon Queen' (so everyone is using the same parameters). Mine were planted late and just barely making pollen right now, but seeing a few of the honeybees checking them out is very encouraging!

We owe a large percentage our foods (almost all the fruits and vegetables) to pollination by honeybees, and everyone should be concerned. DeBuhn stresses counting and reporting where the bees are not, as well as where they are. She feels that where the bees are not in evidence are the places the bees might need help, so one of the main goals of the study is to know where the bee count is low or zero.

I did read today that they may have found the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. The good news is that they can kill the fungus causing it, but the bad news is that treatment doesn't kill the fungus spores.