Monday, April 30, 2012

Pea Shoots!

Who knew the tips of pea vines (pea shoots) are not only edible, but very tasty?

I like the flavor of peas... but not so much the texture, so I don't grow peas. A vendor at the farmer's market last week had a basketful, and when I inquired what they were, she told me and offered a taste. A taste of just one sold me! They are slightly crunchy, and taste like fresh peas right off the vine but with a more delicate flavor! I got a big handful to add to fresh salads.

I should have asked what kind of pea plant they came from. The tendrils of any edible pea can be harvested for shoots, and apparently those from snow peas and sugar snaps make excellent shoots. NOTE: the shoots of ornamental flowering sweet peas are poisonous!

"The University of Washington calls pea shoots a "nutrient-dense" green and says that for 10 calories from 2 cups of pea shoots,  your RDA gets 35% of its vitamin C, 15% of its vitamin A, 132% of its vitamin K, and 10% of its folate.  So, 2 cups of pea shoots sounds like a lot, but I can assure you that if you decide to cook them you will get about 2 tablespoons of cooked (delicious!) greens." (Source)

Fresh pea shoots are also a good source of vitamin E, folate, thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin B6, with all the beneficial fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants of many leafy greens. Harvest the pea shoots when they are anywhere from 3" to 7" long. If you leave the lowest set of leaves on the plant (3-4" above the ground), you can get a succession of shoots.

If you usually grow peas and save seeds, you know pea seeds are easy to save but have poor germination rates if kept too long. Here's a great suggestion. Grub out a small area in the garden (even just one square foot will do) and plant it heavily with your old pea seeds. You'll have enough germinate to harvest pea shoots in 2-4 weeks. When there are no more growing to cut (or getting tough rather than tender), dig the spent plants into the ground where they will supply nutrients for other plants.

If you have a long planter box that will fit on a cool windowsill inside the house, you can grow pea shoots in winter! (Peas are a cool weather crop and may not do well in a very warm house.)

Pea shoots can be used in salads, stir-fries, appetizers... any way you might use fresh spinach. Here are a couple of recipes, and a search engine will turn up many more:

Pea Shoot, Radish and Apple Salad
Crostini with Pea Shoots and Strawberries

Kohlrabi Slivers and Pea Shoots with Sesame Dressing

Pea Shoot and Spinach Salad with Bacon and Shiitakes

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Apple Grafting Experience

I attended a grafting workshop recently, held about 2 hours away at Foggy Ridge Cider (a small but highly acclaimed artisan hard apple cider producer) near the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was taught by several men from the Carrol County Extension Service and some of their Master Gardeners. What an interesting and fun experience!  

I took my camera, but forgot to check if the battery was charged. It wasn't (what a dunce!), so no personal photos from the class, but I found a few photos from Flickr that show some details.

Grapevine Rootstock, Photo from Southern Oregon Wine Institute

The class was limited to 15 participants, and they provided 5 rootstocks for each of us, and a choice of scion wood from about 25 apple varieties. In the photo above, the man is holding grapevine rootstock, but our apple rootstocks looked the same, just smaller diameter. (Scions are dormant twigs with buds taken from the tree you want to grow; it will grow on the rootstock into a genetic duplicate of the original tree, but with the size, vigor, and disease resistance of the chosen rootstock.)

Our class was provided M111 rootstock, which is a semi-dwarf tree size. ("Excellent all-around rootstock for apples. Induces early and heavy bearing. Tolerates wet soil, dry soil, poor soil. Resists woolly apple aphids and collar rot. Trees dwarfed to 85 % of standard.") Semi-dwarf apple trees can be pruned to keep them smaller, like the dwarf apple trees, but they will grow much more fruit than the dwarf rootstock. There are different rootstocks developed for a variety of trees; some are variety specific, and some will accept a graft from a different variety. For example, most (but not all) pears are grafted on quince rootstock.
I had already read a bunch of stuff about grafting, but it's a LOT harder to do the first time than it looks. (That might be because the rootstock they received for our class was a smaller diameter than they preferred, and which they lamented.) There are 2 important things to do. One is to get the cambium layers on at least one side of the mating pieces to line up. Otherwise, the graft will not grow. You have to also cut carefully so the cambium isn't damaged. (The cambium layer is the thin green layer you see if you scratch a bit of the bark off with your fingernail. It is only a couple of cells thick and produces new tissue for growth.) The other important thing is to be sure the buds on the scion are pointing UP from the graft!

a whip-tongue  or whip-cleft graft

Other than the problems due to our small-sized rootstock, grafting is really easy... at least the whip/cleft (shown above), and modified cleft grafting (below) which most of us ended up doing because of the skinny rootstock. The instructors didn't cover other types of grafts like bud grafting, chip grafting, and bridge grafting which is used to repair a damaged tree.

Modified Cleft Graft, sometimes called a "V" graft, photo by ghadjikriacou

My first graft cut was the "whip and tongue cleft", shown in the line drawing (above the Modified Cleft Graft photo). It was not easy with the thin rootstock, and very hard to get the tiny tongue cut and in place, so my other 4 grafts were cut like the Modified Cleft Graft shown just above. Much easier!!
I quickly learned my trusty pocket knife won't do the job of cutting grafts! A grafting knife (they had many for us to use) is only beveled and sharpened on one side... and sharp as the devil, so careful handling and cutting is necessary. The blade shape made me think of my grandfather's old shaving razor, which is also beveled and sharpened on only one side (the grafting knives they had were not the folding kind, although folding ones are available, and are safer to carry in your pocket out into the field). 

My grandfather's razor was honed on a leather strap, just as the grafting knives are honed. I still have my grandfather's razor and plan to try it out the next time I have the opportunity to do any grafting, but I'll probably purchase a good folding grafting knife. Here's a short video on How to Sharpen a Grafting Knife.

They also had a couple of fancy tools to make the cuts, but I chose not to use one. I figured I'd best learn with a knife since grafting has been done for centuries without a fancy and possibly expensive tool.

After we got each graft taped tightly to keep the matching cambium layers in contact (we used masking tape, although electrical tape would also work, but NOT duct tape), the graft needs to be waxed. I chose to bring mine home before waxing because I already had wax at home, AND I could drive 2-3 hours home without sticky fingers!

You can buy expensive grafting wax, but they used a toilet bowl wax ring... much cheaper and just as effective. The taped graft area gets covered well with wax, as does the very top of the scion to prevent moisture loss. The instructors said the wax may have to be replenished 2-3 times over the summer. (Probably melts in summer heat.)

These are my grafts, before waxing (what looks like double stems are just shadows on the blanket)

Grafts after waxing

All 5 of my grafts were soaked in water for 2-3 days to awaken dormancy, and then were potted. They will need to stay in pots for a year or so until they get some size, but for the class cost of $15 which included my 5 apple trees to bring home, it was a good deal. (Plus my gas for the trip, but still cheaper than hands-on class lessons, and then buying potted grafted trees + shipping!)

All the scion varieties I selected are vintage apples, and the one I'm most excited to have (hoping especially that my graft on that one takes) is a crabapple developed by Thos. Jefferson, who grew them in abundance for hard cider: the Hewe's Crab, sometimes called the Virginia Crab.

I only wish we'd had a list in advance of the varieties for choice. One I chose is an early bloomer (which I didn't know when we chose our scions) and we usually have late frosts where I live.

These are the varieties I grafted:
Shockley (a North Georgia heirloom, keeps its shape well for pies and preserves) Ashmead's Kernel (highly-valued apple for juicing and hard cider)
Cox's Orange Pippin (classic dessert apple, great for fresh eating, pies and cider)
Arkansas Black (very long-keeping tart apple from Arkansas, thought to be a seedling of Winesap)
Hewe's Crab (produces a delicious cinnamon-flavored cider that is both sugary and pungent. Thos. Jefferson planted his entire north orchard exclusively with this variety)

Did you know melons, eggplants and tomatoes can be grafted on hardy rootstock to reduce diseases and increase yields? (You won't find those plants in garden centers; those are grafted by growers for their own use.) There are a few companies who grow and sell the specific rootstocks for each of them.

I'll have a post on grafting vegetables in a few days.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Reducing the frequency of posts

I just cannot do it all. I'm sorry, but I simply cannot do all that I once did. Now that garden season is upon us, I am finding very little time to do proper research for my blog posts, and so my posts will be sporadic for a while. It may end up eventually being just a weekly post, but chock-full of information.

I simply have too much on my plate right now between gardening, cheesemaking, charcuterie, and of course, blogging, cooking my meals, household chores like dishes and laundry, and of course sleeping!

Just last week I decided to convert a huge section of my "lawn" NOW into more edible food forest garden area, so there's a lot more than my usual spring gardening work pending, and there just aren't enough hours in the day. (But if I can pull it off, it will mean a lot less mowing and weed-eating in the next few years. At almost 72, I'm not getting any younger, hardier nor stronger.)

I need to get some heavy equipment brought in to remove some huge overgrown shrubs that are simply way too large to dig up with a shovel even if I could hire a strong man to try. That means I'll have to take down some fencing between me and the neighbor so they can come across his property; a backhoe is too tall (and heavy) to cross over the creek on my covered bridge shown above. But as long as the backhoe is here, I might as well have them dig the area for a greywater filtering system (bogs) I had planned for next year, and maybe get some holes dug to plant trees if I can swing it financially. (I do everything on a cash basis, refusing to take on debt,... not that I'd qualify anyway with just my social security income which is below the federal poverty level.)

The hardest physical work for me is going to be dealing with the sod removal before planting all my planned new garden stuff, unless I win the lottery and can have the backhoe man scrape the sod off with the loader blade. Since I don't buy lottery tickets, it's not likely that I'll win, so all sod removal on at least 100' x 100' will have to be done by hand. Ugh. The planting holes for my new fruit and nut trees (in rocky, hard-packed clay) will have to be done by hand too if I cannot afford the backhoe to do it. All that work will be hard on this almost 72 year-old body! 

It's regrettable that the huge area I covered with deep sheet compost last fall turned out to be over the mis-marked septic drain field, because it would have been perfect for part of the garden expansion, and without needing any sod removal. Sigh.

I have 22 flats of seedlings started already, and 6 deep trays of about 50 fruit and nut cuttings trying to root... and I haven't even started seeds for my summer vegetables yet. Plus I have all the fruiting trees, shrubs and vines I bought recently. 

I'm also taking a grafting class this month, which is very exciting for me, and all participants will take home 5 apple grafts. I haven't plugged those into my new layout yet because I don't know what apple varieties I'll get; mature size matters for placement in my newly designed yard.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Plantain 'Vitamin' Tonic

Photo from The Naturopathic Doctor

Plantain grows like crazy all over my yard and especially in the gravel driveway, so it is a good thing it turns out to be edible! It makes a nice addition to salads, but I'm also using some to make a natural vitamin tonic (tincture) for winter use when I don't get many fresh green vegetables.

Plantain leaves are rich in Vitamins C and K, plus beta-carotene which the body converts to Vitamin A, and it is also rich in amino acids, calcium and potassium. Use the leaves in a salad, or steamed and used as a spinach substitute. The leaves do get tough quickly, so make sure to harvest only the youngest leaves. The immature flower stalks may be eaten raw or cooked, and some folks use the seeds ground for flour.

By the way, I'm referring to the green weed named plantain (Plantago major), NOT the Caribbean banana that must be cooked to eat.

The first 'vitamin tincture/tonic' I made was a chickweed multi-vitamin and mineral tincture, and this one from plantain is the second. It's an easy process and I'll probably make others as I discover more vitamin and mineral properties among my edible weeds. Plantain may not be my first choice in a vitamin tonic since there are others that contain more vitamins, but it's good to have on hand in an emergency situation.

Photo of Plantain with flower/seed stalks from

You should pick plantain leaves just before the flower/seed stalks emerge (mature stalks shown above) as that's when they are most potent... unless you want a bitter tonic or salad. Best time to pick the leaves is early mornings when they are fresh with dew. Hasten to process them ASAP as the vitamins flee rapidly once picked.

To make a tincture requires only a base liquid, and the herbs or whatever you want to incorporate. Generally an alcohol like vodka, rum or Everclear is the liquid of choice, but I'm going to use raw apple cider vinegar for some added nutritional properties. (Actually I'm out of Braggs ACV, so I used regular apple cider vinegar for this batch.)

I was out of Bragg's ACV, and so was my local store, but at least the Heinz ACV is made from apples, not chemicals, and it's somewhat better than just cheap vinegar with apple flavor added.
To make the tincture: thoroughly clean and rinse the leaves as soon as possible after harvesting. (Vitamin loss starts immediately from any harvested fruit, vegetable or herb.) You can use a salad spinner to spin off most of the water.

Chop the plant leaves, enough to partially fill a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Fully cover the leaves with either the alcoholic beverage, or my choice: apple cider vinegar. Tighten the lid securely (I'm using the plastic Ball storage lids because the acid content of the vinegar will eat through regular canning lids in a short time.) Store the jar(s) in a cool, dark place for at least 2 weeks, shaking often. After 2 weeks, strain the infusion into clean jars, re-label and store... again in a cool, dark place.

I take a spoonful or two of raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) every morning anyway, so it is easy instead to substitute some ACV infused with extra vitamins and minerals as a healthy tonic.

Plantain has other uses, too. The best known is probably as a poultice for skin abrasions, and relieving the itch of poison ivy, stings and bites. You can make the poultice by boiling a few leaves in water, let steep a few minutes, strain and soak a cloth in the brew to apply to the skin. In a pinch you can just crush a few leaves by hand and apply directly to the affected area.

You make a similar brew with a liquid vegetable oil and let it sit in the sun for a few days; be sure to strain before use. It makes a great emollient to soften and soothe the skin! (Also works great on a sunburn.) Please be aware that oils that have had greens and/or vegetables soaking in them are a great place for botulism to thrive, so mark these oils "For External Use" only and do not be tempted to use them internally! Tinctures made with an alcohol or vinegar base are safe, as they prevent the nasty botulism bacteria from growing in them.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It's Time for some Stone Soup

Photo by halseike

Stone Soup is an old folk story in which hungry strangers (or sometimes told as weary soldiers returning home) persuade local people of a town to share food. It is usually the story of when three soldiers come across a town looking for a meal and a place to sleep. The town doesn’t have much and hides their food, and tell the soldiers tales of why they have no food and no extra beds. The soldiers say they will make Stone Soup to eat if they could just borrow a pot and ladle.The villagers provide them and the soldiers put in three large stones and start cooking... and so the story goes on...

I think it's high time we made some Stone Soup in our neighborhoods, don't you? How about a computer-printed invitation to all those neighbors you may not know, with the story printed on the invitation?

STONE SOUP, An Old Tale Retold
Text by Marcia Brown
Three soldiers trudged down a road in a strange country. They were on their way home from the wars. Besides being tired, they were hungry. In fact, they had eaten nothing for two days.

"How I would like a good dinner tonight,” said the first. “And a bed to sleep in,” said the second.
“But all that is impossible,” said the third. “We must march on.”
On they marched. Suddenly, ahead of them they saw the lights of a village.
“Maybe we’ll find a bite to eat there,” said the first.
“And a loft to sleep in,” said the second.
“No harm in asking,” said the third.
Now the peasants of that place feared strangers. When they heard that three soldiers were coming down the road, they talked among themselves.

“Here come three soldiers. Soldiers are always hungry. But we have little enough for ourselves.” And they hurried to hide their food. They pushed the sacks of barley under the hay in the lofts. They lowered buckets of milk down the wells.
They spread old quilts over the carrot bins. They hid their cabbages and potatoes under the beds. They hung their meat in the cellars.
They hid all they had to eat. Then – they waited.

The soldiers stopped first at the house of Paul and Francoise. “Good evening to you,” they said. “Could you spare a bit of food for three hungry soldiers?”
“We have had no food for ourselves for three days,” said Paul. Francoise made a sad face. “It has been a poor harvest.”
The three soldiers went on the house of Albert and Louise.
“Could you spare a bit of food? And have you some corner where we could sleep for the night?”
“Oh no,” said Albert. “We gave all we could spare to soldiers who came before you.”
“Our beds are full,” said Louise.

At Vincent and Marie’s the answer was the same.  It had been a poor harvest and all the grain must be kept for seed. So it went all through the village. Not a peasant had any food to give away. They all had good reasons. One family had use the grain for feed. Another had an old sick father to care for. All had too many mouths to fill.

The villagers stood in the street and sighed. The looked as hungry as they could. The three soldiers talked together.
Then the first soldier called out, “Good people!” The peasants drew near.
“We are three hungry soldiers in a strange land. We have asked you for food and you have no food. Well then, we’ll have to make stone soup.”
The peasants stared.
Stone soup? That would be something to know about.

“First, we’ll need a large iron pot,” the soldiers said. The peasants brought the largest pot they could find. How else to cook enough?
“That's none too large,” said the soldiers. “But it will do. And now, water to fill it and a fire to heat it.”

It took many buckets of water to fill the pot. A fire was built on the village square and the pot was set to boil. “And now,  if you please, three round, smooth stones.”
Those were easy enough to find.
The peasants’ eyes grew round as they watched the soldiers drop the stones into the pot.

“Any soup needs salt and pepper,” said the soldiers, as they began to stir. Children ran to fetch salt and pepper.
“Stones like these generally make good soup. But oh, if there were carrots, it would be much better.”
“Why, I think I have a carrot or two,” said Francoise, and off she ran.
She came back with her apron fill of carrots from the bin beneath the red quilt.

“A good stone soup should have cabbage,” said the soldiers as they sliced the carrots into the pot. “But no use asking for what you don't have.” “I think I could find a cabbage somewhere,” said Marie and she hurried home. Back she came with three cabbages from the cupboard under the bed.

“If we only had a bit of beef and a few potatoes, this soup would be good enough for a rich man's table” The peasants thought that over. They remembered their potatoes and the sides of beef hanging in the cellars. They ran to fetch them.
A rich man's soup – and all from a few stones. It seemed like magic!

“Ah,” sighed the soldiers as they stirred in the beef and potatoes, “if we only had a little barley and a cup of milk! This would would be fit for the king himself. Indeed he asked for just such a soup when last he dined with us.” The peasants looked at each other. The soldiers had entertained the king! Well!
“But – no use asking for what you don’t have,” the soldiers sighed.
The peasants brought their barley from the lofts, they brought their milk from the wells. The soldiers stirred the barley and milk into the steaming broth while the peasants stared.

At last the soup was ready. “All of you shall taste,” the soldiers said. “But first a table must be set.”
Great tables were placed in the square. And all around were lighted torches.
Such a soup! How good it smelled! Truly fit for a king.
But then the peasants asked themselves, “Would not such a soup require bread – and a roast – and cider?” Soon a banquet was spread and everyone sat down to eat.
Never had there been such a feast. Never had the peasants tasted such soup. And fancy, made from stones!

They ate and drank and ate and drank. And after that they danced. They danced and sang far into the night.

At last they were tired. Then the three soldiers asked, “Is there not a loft where we could sleep?”  
“Let three such wise and splendid gentlemen sleep in a loft? Indeed! They must have the best beds in the village.”

So the first soldier slept in the priest’s house.  
The second soldier slept in the baker’s house.
And the third soldier slept in the mayor’s house.

In the morning, the whole village gathered in the square to give them a send-off. “Many thanks for what you have taught us,” the peasants said to the soldiers. “We shall never go hungry, now that we know how to make soup from stones.”

“Oh, it’s all in knowing how,” said the soldiers, and off they went down the road.
- "Stone Soup" by Marcia Brown, Atheneum Books, (c) 1975 by Marcia Brown 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Importance of Trees

This is a gentle, touching and inspiring movie called "The Man Who Planted Trees", and I encourage you to fix a cup of herbal tea (or a glass of wine), and make the time to and sit back and enjoy watching it. The video is beautifully drawn in what appears to be hand drawn pastel charcoals; it is narrated by Christopher Plummer. Written by Jean Giono, this popular story of inspiration and hope was originally published in 1954 in Vogue as "The Man Who Planted Hope and Grew Happiness."

The Man Who Planted Trees tells the story of Elzeard Bouffier, a man who, after his son and wife die, spends his life reforesting miles of barren land in southern France. He patiently plants and nurtures a forest of thousands of trees, single-handedly transforming his arid surroundings into a thriving oasis. Undeterred by two World Wars, and without any thought of personal reward, the shepherd tirelessly sows his seeds and acorns with the greatest care. As if by magic, a landscape that seemed condemned grows green again. A film of great beauty and hope, this story is a remarkable parable for all ages and an inspiring testament to the power of one person.

There's an interesting story about the importance of trees in our world, "Why Trees Matter" published in the New York Times.

"What we do know... suggests that what trees do is essential though often not obvious. Decades ago, Katsuhiko Matsunaga, a marine chemist at Hokkaido University in Japan, discovered that when tree leaves decompose, they leach acids into the ocean that help fertilize plankton. When plankton thrive, so does the rest of the food chain. In a campaign called Forests Are Lovers of the Sea, fishermen have replanted forests along coasts and rivers to bring back fish and oyster stocks. And they have returned.

Trees are nature’s water filters, capable of cleaning up the most toxic wastes, including explosives, solvents and organic wastes, largely through a dense community of microbes around the tree’s roots that clean water in exchange for nutrients, a process known as phytoremediation. Tree leaves also filter air pollution. A 2008 study by researchers at Columbia University found that more trees in urban neighborhoods correlate with a lower incidence of asthma.

Trees also release vast clouds of beneficial chemicals. On a large scale, some of these aerosols appear to help regulate the climate; others are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. We need to learn much more about the role these chemicals play in nature. One of these substances, taxane, from the Pacific yew tree, has become a powerful treatment for breast and other cancers. Aspirin’s active ingredient comes from willows.

Trees are greatly underutilized as an eco-technology. “Working trees” could absorb some of the excess phosphorus and nitrogen that run off farm fields and help heal the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. In Africa, millions of acres of parched land have been reclaimed through strategic tree growth.

Trees are also the planet’s heat shield. They keep the concrete and asphalt of cities and suburbs 10 or more degrees cooler and protect our skin from the sun’s harsh UV rays. The Texas Department of Forestry has estimated that the die-off of shade trees will cost Texans hundreds of millions of dollars more for air-conditioning. Trees, of course, sequester carbon, a greenhouse gas that makes the planet warmer. A study by the Carnegie Institution for Science also found that water vapor from forests lowers ambient temperatures."

I'm planting trees this year, are you?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tipping Points in Food Wars, and Choice

I often wonder if there will be a point where public outcry against GMO's will tip the balance in our favor. Surely that should have happened by now because 93% of Americans are said to be in favor of GMO labeling, but maybe that "tipping point" is only measured by the ballot box? If that's the sole indicator, we are in trouble because authenticated reports of electronic manipulation/fraud of cast ballots are all over the internet, and there is no way to know if the pronounced results of any counted ballots is truly real or not.

Right now, the fate of GMO labeling in the US rests largely in the hands of voters in California, IF they can get GMO labeling on the November ballot... and IF we can believe the ballot counts. California is the 8th largest economy in the world, and the 5th largest supplier of food in the world.

Ballot initiatives are simple in theory, but obscenely expensive in practice because they often rely heavily on television. Companies like Monsanto clearly have the dollars to spend on lobbying against the initiative. A 2004 GMO-labeling ballot initiative attempt in Oregon failed when supporters put up only $100,000 compared to the $5.5 million that came form a group calling themselves “Coalition Against the Costly Labeling Law” which included Monsanto, DuPont, Croplife, and Conagra, to name a few.
Then there’s the question of if or when Right to Know legislation passes, whether it’ll be held up in court when Big Ag lawyers drag it there... which is probable. Their argument will likely be that food labeling belongs in the federal domain and should not be a state issue. And of course, we know who's money is most influential in the federal domain.

For the average consumer like me, that leaves only a few safe food choices: grow my own from certified (and possibly even organic) non-GMO seed; buy grass-fed meat from local farmer's who also use only safe seed to grow their produce; and do NOT buy any processed foods or foods requiring any label at all, because surely GMO's are hiding there in chemical terms. 

Although I do not buy into the mania of many of the Survivalist's groups about hording foods, I do think it is prudent to have provisions against possible disasters from storms, drought, etc. However, since President Obama signed the new Executive Order "National Defense Resources Preparedness" on March 16, 2012, I'm having second thoughts about what edibles I grow in my garden, since my gardens are up for grabs under the new E.O. I am also a little concerned by the E.O. because by it, only Obama can decide what constitutes a "state of emergency". 

My personal "state of emergency" is now the gasoline prices hitting $4 a gallon plus most foods from the grocery store being harmful to my health. I wonder what the President really considers a "state of emergency"?

This year in my garden, I am leaning strongly towards including a lot of edible weeds and other foodstuffs that most would not recognize as edible, yet will nourish me. Are they gonna come and dig up my dandelions? LOL


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Are You (Unintentionally) Supporting Monsanto??

Are you unintentionally supporting Monsanto? It's that time of year to buy garden seeds, and I was surprised to find out the names of some of the seed companies that Monsanto owns, and for whom Monsanto packages seed. Granted, these may not be GMO seeds (yet) but I hate putting a single penny in Monsanto's pocket. 

I was surprised to see the now very popular onion, "Candy" is a Monsanto-owned seed as is the popular cherry tomato, Sweet Million. I was also surprised to read that Jung Seed, R.H. Shumway, Vermont Bean Seed and Totally Tomatoes are among the Monsanto-owned seed companies.

Several years ago, Monsanto bought Seminis (a seed company that has 40% of the US seed market), and more recently bought De Ruiter Seeds (one of the top vegetable breeders in the world). Monsanto is now in the vegetable seed business for the first time, and it's in big time. More than 55 percent of store bought lettuce, 75 percent of U.S. tomatoes, and 85 percent of peppers now originate through Monsanto's fingers. (Source) Our salad plate is now being dished out by Monsanto!

Although Monsanto has yet to release many genetically modified vegetables into the market, they spend almost 2 million dollars a day on research and development, so GM vegetables are probably not very far away. (Monsanto currently holds the technology for more than 90 percent of the world’s genetically engineered crops, and they also hold thousands of U.S. seed patents without mentioning their alleged theft of heirloom seeds world-wide.) If you see PVP (Plant Variety Protection) listed after a seed or plant name, that means the seed or plant carries a U.S. patent, and Monsanto could own it. Some are listed below... check with the seed companies for others.
It's best to remember that Monsanto sells seeds in huge quantities to distributors (even if not Monsanto-owned), who in turn break down the huge bulk units and resell smaller bulk units to seed companies who package them in small seed packs, often with a different 'name' for the same vegetable. So, you may be supporting Monsanto just by purchasing repackaged seeds from "Aunt Sally's Seed Company" (a fictitious seed company used here only for illustration!). Some companies who have signed the Safe Seed Pledge (which only says they are not GMO seeds) may be selling Monsanto seed. The best bet is buying OP (open pollinated), heirloom and/or organic seeds. If you are in doubt about a particular seed, ask the company selling it!

For an alternative way to shop for seed, visit the non-profit Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) Organic Seeds Database which lists certified "final handlers" for organic seed. List is by produce. Pick a vegetable and find a seller. Also, Here's a list by region of safe-seed companies, and notes about each company.

Listed below are some Monsanto-owned seed companies, and then a list of some Monsanto-owned seed varieties by name. If you buy from ANY of these companies, or buy any of the varieties listed, you are putting money in Monsanto's pockets. Monsanto says this on their website: "Monsanto offers the world’s vegetable growers more than 4,000 distinct seed varieties representing more than 20 species. Monsanto’s vegetable seed business serves open-field and protected culture customers through its brands: Seminis, De Ruiter Seeds and regional brands."

Here are some of the brand names that Monsanto owns and 'packages' their seeds as:
American Seeds
De Ruiter
Diener Seeds
Fielder's Choice
Gold Country Seed
Heritage Seeds
HPS Seed
Hubner Seed
Jung Seed
Kruger Seeds
Lewis Hybrids
Rea Hybrids
R.H. Shumway
Seeds of the World
Seymour's Selected Seeds
Stone Seed
Totally Tomatoes
Vermont Bean Seed Company
Western Seeds

Here are a few of the variety names owned by Monsanto (there were links where one could click on a type for more of any variety name, but the Seminis website Administor has blocked the links).
Edit: I discovered you can go to this page and find the variety names of many of the Seminis seeds; I have not found a similar site for De Ruiter seeds.

Beans: Brio, Eureka, EZ Gold, Goldrush, Kentucky King, Lynx, Xera...
Broccoli: Captain, Heritage, Liberty, Packman, more...
Carrot: Nutri-Red, Sweet Sunshine, Karina, Chantenay hybrids, Chantilly, Lariat
Cauliflower: Cheddar, Fremont, Minuteman, more...
Cucumber : Babylon, Dasher II, Daytona, Homemade Pickles, Speedway, Sweet Slice, Yellow Submarine, Sweeter to De Ruiter cucumber list...
Eggplant: Black Beauty, Dancer, Fairy Tale, Gretel, Hansel, Tango, Twilight...De Ruiter Eggplants...
Lettuce: Baby Star, Blackjack, Esmeralda, Lolla Rossa, Monet, Red Butterworth, Red Sails, Red Tide, Summer time...

Melons: Alaska, Bush Whopper, Casablanca, Dixie Jumbo, Early Crisp, Stars and Stripes, Sugarnut, more...

Okra: Cajun Delight

Onion: Arsenal, Candy, Hamlet, Mars, Red Zeppelin, Superstar, many more...

Peppers: Aristotle, Biscayne, Camelot, Caribbean Red, Cherry Bomb, Dulce, Early Sunsation, Fat and Sassy, King Arthur, Northstar, Red Knight, Serrano del Sol, Sahuaro, Super Chili, Valencia, many more including De Ruiter pepper varities...

Pumpkin: Buckskin Pumpkin, Orange Smoothie, Prizewinner, more...

Spinach: Bolero, Cypress, Melody, Unipack 151, many more...

Squash: Autumn Delight, Blackjack, Bush Delicata, Butterstick, Daisy, Early Butternut, Fancycrook, Gold Rush, Latino, Lolita, Patty Green Tint, Really Big Butternut, Seneca (all), Sungreen, Sunny Delight, Table Ace...

Tomato: Baby Girl, Big Beef, Beefmaster, Beaufort, Celebrity, Favorita, First Lady I and II, Early Girl, Geronimo, Golden Girl, Maxifort, Pink Girl, Sunguard, Sun Chief Sweet, Sweet Million, Trust... and more De Ruiter tomato varieties...

Watermelon: Bambino, Crimson Glory, Royal Flush, Royal Star, Stargazer, Starbright, Stars and Stripes, Tiger Baby, Yellow Doll

Many Thanks for the compilation of the above information all in one place to Inspiration Green.

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Pink Slime" in Hamburger, what about Chicken???

This is mechanically separated chicken, an invention of the late 20th century. This particular paste, chicken -- is the main ingredient in chicken nuggets, chicken hot dogs, chicken bologna, and an ingredient in things like pepperoni, salami, jerky etc, etc. Mechanically separated chicken is also treated with ammonia for sterilization purposes, just as is Pink Slime. If you see the words 'finely textured' before the name of the meat, this is what you are eating...

Someone figured out in the 1960′s that meat processors can eke out a few more percent of profit from chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows by scraping the bones 100% clean of meat. This is done by machines, not humans, by passing bones leftover after the initial cutting through a high pressure sieve. The paste you see in the picture above is the result.

The industry calls this method AMR – Advanced Meat Recovery.

The definition of "meat" was amended in December 1994 to include any "meat" product that is produced by advanced meat/bone separation machinery. "This meat is comparable in appearance, texture, and composition to meat trimmings and similar meat products derived by hand." This machinery separates meat from bone by scraping, shaving, or pressing the meat from the bone without breaking or grinding the bone. Product produced by advanced meat recovery (AMR) machinery can be labeled using terms associated with hand-deboned product (e.g., "pork trimmings" and "ground pork").

Mechanically Separated Meat (MSM)
Mechanically separated meat is a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue.

Mechanically Separated Poultry (MSP)

Mechanically separated poultry is a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue. Mechanically separated poultry has been used in poultry products since the late 1960's. In 1995, a final rule on mechanically separated poultry said it was safe and could be used without restrictions. However, it must be labeled as "mechanically separated chicken or turkey" in the product's ingredients statement. 

The final rule became effective November 4, 1996. Hot dogs can contain any amount of mechanically separated chicken or turkey.

Are you really comfortable now with the meats the supermarkets are selling, or those in the fast food drive-throughs? Actually I do not blame them in general... they just buy a product they are told is edible (and aren't we all gullible?), and sell it to us. I blame the USDA and FSIS for allowing the corporate pressures and financial contributions of BigAg to determine what we eat.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Monsanto Threatens Vermont

The world’s most hated corporation is at it again, this time in Vermont.

"Despite overwhelming public support and support from a clear majority of Vermont’s Agriculture Committee, Vermont legislators are dragging their feet on a proposed GMO labeling bill. Why? Because Monsanto has threatened to sue the state if the bill passes.

The popular legislative bill requiring mandatory labels on genetically engineered food (H-722) is languishing in the Vermont House Agriculture Committee, with only four weeks left until the legislature adjourns for the year. Despite thousands of emails and calls from constituents who overwhelmingly support mandatory labeling, despite the fact that a majority (6 to 5) of Agriculture Committee members support passage of the measure, Vermont legislators are holding up the labeling bill and refusing to take a vote.

Monsanto has used lawsuits or threats of lawsuits for 20 years to force unlabeled genetically engineered foods on the public, and to intimidate farmers into buying their genetically engineered seeds and hormones. When Vermont became the first state in the nation in 1994 to require mandatory labels on milk and dairy products derived from cows injected with the controversial genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone, Monsanto’s minions sued in Federal Court and won on a judge’s decision that dairy corporations have the first amendment “right” to remain silent on whether or not they are injecting their cows with rBGH - even though rBGH has been linked to severe health damage in cows and increased cancer risk for humans, and is banned in much of the industrialized world, including Europe and Canada.

Monsanto wields tremendous influence in Washington, DC and most state capitals. The company’s stranglehold over politicians and regulatory officials is what has prompted activists in California to bypass the legislature and collect 850,000 signatures to place a citizens’ Initiative on the ballot in November 2012. The 2012 California Right to Know Act will force mandatory labeling of GMOs and to ban the routine practice of labeling GMO-tainted food as “natural.”

On the other side of the fence, Monsanto’s lobbyist and Vermont mouthpiece, Margaret Laggis employed inaccurate, unsubstantiated, fear-mongering claims to make Monsanto’s case. She warned during the hearings that if this law were passed, there would not be enough corn, canola, and soybean seed for Vermont farmers to plant.

Laggis lied when she said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had done exhaustive feeding tests on genetically modified foods. Hansen corrected her, testifying that all of the GMO feeding tests submitted to the FDA were conducted by Monsanto and other GMO corporations and that the FDA had not done any GMO testing of its own.

Laggis lied again when she claimed that a recent Canadian study showing that more than 90% pregnant women had high levels of a genetically modified bacterial pesticide in their blood resulted from them “eating too much organic food” during pregnancy. Again, Hansen refuted this nonsense by pointing out that the Bacillus thuingensis (Bt) bacterium spray used by organic growers is chemically and materially different from the GMO Bt bacterium which showed up in the pregnant women’s blood and the umbilical cords of their fetuses. Hanson pointed that the high levels of Monsanto’s mutant Bt in the women’s blood was due to the widespread cultivation of GMO corn, cotton, soy, and canola.

The committee heard testimony that European Union studies have been conducted which showed that even short-term feeding studies of GMO crops caused 43.5% of male test animals to suffer kidney abnormalities, and 30.8% of female test animals to suffer liver abnormalities. Studies also have shown that the intestinal lining of animals fed GMO food was thickened compared to the control animals. All of these short-term results could become chronic, and thus precursors to cancer.

(Studies like these have prompted 50 nations around the world to pass laws requiring mandatory labels on GMO foods.)

In the end, none of the scientific testimony mattered. Monsanto operatives simply reverted to their usual tactics: They openly threatened to sue the state.

Unfortunately in the US, industry and the government continue to side with Monsanto rather than the 90% of consumers who support labeling. Monsanto’s biotech bullying is a classic example of how the 1% control the rest of us, even in Vermont, generally acknowledged as the most progressive state in the nation.

What it really comes down to this: Elected officials are abandoning the public interest and public will in the face of corporate intimidation."

If you live in Vermont, activists are organizing a protest at the state capital on April 12 to coincide with the next round of hearings on H-722, and are asking residents to write letters, make calls, and e-mail their legislators and the Governor. For more information, please go to the website  or the Facebook page of the Vermont Right to Know Campaign.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Starting herbs for edible food forests

One of the basic necessities for an edible food forest is drawing in both the pollinators and the beneficial insects that keep the predators under control.  Some folks call these insectary plants. The "friendly insects" include ladybeetles, bees, ground beetles, hoverflies, and parasitic wasps. Other animals that are frequently considered beneficial include lizards, spiders, toads, and hummingbirds. 

Beneficial insects are as much as ten times more abundant in the insectary plantings area. Elimination of scale insects double with insectary plantings. Additionally, a diversity of insectary plants can increase the population of beneficial insects so much that these levels can be sustained even when the insectary plants are removed or die off.

Many members of the Apiaceae (formerly known as Umbelliferae) family are excellent insectary plants. Fennel, angelica, coriander, dill, and wild carrot all provide in great number the tiny flowers required by parasitic wasps. Various clovers, yarrow, and rue also attract parasitic and predatory insects. 

Low-growing herb plants, such as thyme, rosemary and mints provide shelter for ground beetles and other beneficial insects. Composite flowers like daisy, chamomile and mints will attract predatory wasps, hoverflies, and robber flies. The wasps will catch caterpillars and grubs to feed their young, while the predatory and parasitic flies attack many kinds of insects, including leafhoppers and caterpillars.

I have many of these insectary plants (which are now big enough to be divided this year) already in my garden, but as I expand my planting areas, I need more plants I don't already have for both the new and old areas. So, I started seeds of some herbs. Not all are insectary plants, but if not, they will still attract pollinators so it's a win-win.

New herb starts include:

garlic chives
green shisho (perilla), which is also edible
Mrs. Burn's lemon basil
summer savory
sweet marjoram
sweet basil (old seeds, not expecting anything much to germinate)
An Italian basil a friend sent 3-4 years ago, (old seeds, not expecting anything much to germinate)
lemon bee balm
tall purslane

I have a flat of bulbing Florence fennel I started a month ago, and last fall it looked like my dill had reseeded everywhere. The yarrow has grown enough since last spring to divide several times, as has the mint and anise hyssop.

I have chamomile seeds to start, and plenty of 2-3 varieties of shasta daisy's to divide for new guilds. My recent trip to Edible Landscaping brought me a couple of trees that can be an anchor in new guilds, but mostly I bought some fruiting vines and shrubs I wanted. I have great hopes for the fruit tree cuttings I have in mini-greenhouses but I'm not holding my breath since I'm new at rooting cuttings.

It's an adventure, for sure!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

elderberry cuttings

I'm impressed, and pleased, with the growth of my first elderberry cuttings. Of course they seem to root easily, just like willow!

I took these cuttings on Feb. 15 and just dropped them into a jug of water. On Feb. 17, I dipped them in rooting hormone powder and stuck them in a mix of half sand and half potting soil. The photo above was taken March 23; that's 34 days from the start.

2 weeks later, I cut the rest of the elderberry branches I had brought home, and did the same treatment for them. They are still in their "tent", along with several other trays of various fruit cuttings. I probably won't peek for another month, but the leaves from the cuttings in the tray above were pushing up against the tent so I opened it. I can see a bunch of roots along the edges of the container!

According to the Biodynamic calendar that I am faithfully following this year, the next time to transplant these cuttings (and anything else) into individual pots doesn't start until March 29, and runs until April 9.

Update 4/2:
On 4/2 I transplanted most of the first tray of cuttings (from the top picture above). 14 out of 18 rooted nicely although I left 4 in the tray to develop more roots; only 4 were duds. That's probably because I didn't leave enough nodes when I sectioned them for rooting! Some of the ones I transplanted into individual pots are in the soda bottle planters sitting between the 2 trays on the railing above.

The second tray is lagging behind, or maybe I'm just impatient!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

More edible food forest garden additions

Ramp shoots to re-plant

Last week I received a package of 3 dozen cultivated Ramps to plant, which means now I need to research and plan a shady mountainside garden that will enhance growing the ramps, and still include most of the basic tenets of a food forest garden. I think that will be a real challenge!

I have written before about ramps here. They are an interesting plant, but border on being endangered in the wild by over-harvesting. Ramps are an Appalachian delicacy!

"A wild leek, this onion relative with a garlicky flavor may have anticancer properties, with edible leaves and roots. Found in the rich woods of upper elevations, it's eaten raw or fried with eggs or just make plain old ramp sandwiches. The plants grow about a foot tall and, when eaten, a strong odor emanates from the skin of the ramps gourmand. Scientific Name for Wild Ramp (Allium tricoccum Aiton) better known as a wild leek, some other common names: rich woods leek, ail des bois, ail sauvage." Source

Ramp Festivals are everywhere in the Appalachians in spring, as both a social and a culinary event. Visit one if you can, just do a Google Search. This webpage lists some of the Festivals, and several recipes.

I'm thinking my shady hillside garden for the ramps should include some ginseng, and goldenseal tubers (and maybe some mushroom logs), but at the moment I'm at a loss for what else to include.

Any suggestions? Maybe a Paw-Paw?