Saturday, January 29, 2011

starting to grow vegetables

I am sure that you're aware of the health benefits of eating fresh vegetables, you have the space for a small garden, but just don't know where to start? Look no further. Here's all you need to know to put fresh, crisp vegetables on your dinner table.
First, think small. Don't bite off more than you can chew, or hoe. It's like starting out an exercise program by running five miles the first day. You get tired, sore and you quit. Likewise, if you plant a huge garden the first year, you'll curse, cuss and turn your sore back on gardening for good. So, if you're new to gardening, start off with a garden no larger than 8' X 10.' You can always expand later if you can't get enough of those fresh, crispy vegetables.
Choose a location that receives as much sun as possible throughout the day. Northern gardeners should insist on full sun. Now you're ready to work up the soil. You can rent a rear tine tiller or borrow one from a friend or neighbor for this task. Work the soil up sod and all--in other words don't remove the sod. Removing the sod creates a recess in the soil, resulting in poor drainage.
Next, examine the soil. Is it predominantly clay, sand or a sandy loam? The latter is the best. You can distinguish a sandy loam from the other two by giving it the squeeze test. If you can take a handful of dirt and squeeze it in a ball then watch it crumble when you let go, you've got a sandy loam soil type. If you're not sure, take a sample down to your local extension office. While you're there ask them about having your soil tested for proper pH levels and major nutrients like nitrogen, potassium and potash.
If you're stuck with a predominantly sandy or clay soil it will be worth bringing in some topsoil to get you off on the right foot. If you can't afford topsoil, you can amend the soil with compost. Compost includes any biodegradable material which can be broken down into a fine, dark humus. Well rotted livestock manure is the best choice for getting a clay or sandy soil into shape. Whatever you use for compost apply it often, like once in the spring and once in the fall. It will take a few seasons to improve a poor soil type.
Another thing you can do is use topsoil to make a raised bed. Landscape timbers or treated 2 X 12's work best for this. You can stack these about five high. Besides enclosing your garden and making a good growing medium, the raised bed will make it easy to plant and weed your garden, particularly if you've got back trouble or have difficulty bending over.
Hey, I think we're ready to plant! Here's the fun part. You can purchase seeds from the store or order them through the many catalogs on the market (see below). Whatever you do, buy quality seeds. I hate to see people spend hours preparing a garden and then go out and purchase 10/€1.00 seeds. It would be like buying a new car and replacing the engine oil with a cheap brand of oil. Look for brand name seeds just like you would anything else. What we're trying to do is maximize our chances of success at this endeavor, not pinch pennies.
In a small garden you may want to avoid some of the space hogs, like corn, squash and pumpkin. However, there are bush type varieties of pumpkin, such as Hybrid Spirit Bush and Autumn Gold that don't take up much room. Also, summer squashes take up less room then do the winter squash. If you do plant corn, remember to grow this one along the north side of your garden so it doesn't shade the rest of your crops.
Easy to grow crops include onions, peas, beets, rutabaga and zucchini squash. These can also be planted early.Tomatoes and peppers need to be started from seed indoors about 8 weeks prior to planting time or purchased as transplants. Be sure to space things in your small garden according to the instructions on the packets. And make sure you plant your tender crops (tomatoes, squash, beans and watermelon) after all danger of frost has passed. Ask the old timers in the area when this date is. One common mistake people make, especially in the northern climates, is to plant everything when the weather turns nice only to succumb to a frost a week or two later, thus wiping out all their hard work. Plant by the expected last frost dates, not the weather.
Unfortunately, critters (and children) may take a shine to your new garden. Rabbits, geese and deer can be a problem. For the small garden, a wire mesh surround works well. This will discourage most critters and some people. I've seen people take chicken wire and staple it to the top of their landscaping timbers on a raised bed to keep out geese and the like.
Vandals can also attack gardens, especially in conspicuous areas of a city, such as in a community garden. Since things like watermelon and squash are the vandal's favorite, some folks plant heirlooms that don't look like common vegetables. You can also cover ready to ripen fruit with straw to conceal the vegetable. Another method in a community garden is to display your name boldly near your garden plot. A conscientious person may think twice before robbing your garden!
Watch for insect infestation. If things are properly spaced in your small garden, insects shouldn't be a big problem. If you do see evidence of chewing on plants, especially things like cabbage, don't wait to fight back. Identify the insect causing the damage and choose an insecticide that will control that specific insect or Soap-Shield. Proper spacing, weeding and fertilizing is a good way to prevent disease and insect infestation without having to resort to harmful insecticides.
Speaking of fertilizer, you can use a granular or water soluble fertilizer to feed your hungry plants. A 15-15-15 or 20-20-20 fertilizer is a good all purpose fertilizer which will provide equal parts nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium and some of the minor nutrients that plants need. Apply granular fertilizers a few days before you plant, working it into the top six inches of topsoil. You can side dress after the plants come up and at two or three week intervals by using a water soluble fertilizer such as that sold by the Miracle Grow or Shultz companies.
Soon, it will be time to harvest your garden fare. To get the full health benefits of your vegies, harvest when ripe and don't over cook your vegetables. More importantly, enjoy the experience of eating fresh, crisp vegetables you grew yourself!
Happy gardening.

Straight to thr source

By Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association, Jan 27, 2011
Straight to the Source

"The policy set for GE alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other GE crops as well. True coexistence is a must."   -  Whole Foods Market, Jan. 21, 2011

In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto's Genetically Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation's 25,000 organic farms and ranches, America's organic consumers and producers are facing betrayal. A self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it's time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of GE crops, such as Monsanto's controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for "coexistence" with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack.

In a cleverly worded, but profoundly misleading email sent to its customers last week, Whole Foods Market, while proclaiming their support for organics and "seed purity," gave the green light to USDA bureaucrats to approve the "conditional deregulation" of Monsanto's genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant alfalfa.  Beyond the regulatory euphemism of "conditional deregulation," this means that WFM and their colleagues are willing to go along with the massive planting of a chemical and energy-intensive GE perennial crop, alfalfa; guaranteed to spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce Roundup-resistant superweeds that will require even more deadly herbicides such as 2,4 D to be sprayed on millions of acres of alfalfa across the U.S.

In exchange for allowing Monsanto's premeditated pollution of the alfalfa gene pool, WFM wants "compensation." In exchange for a new assault on farmworkers and rural communities (a recent large-scale Swedish study found that spraying Roundup doubles farm workers' and rural residents' risk of getting cancer), WFM expects the pro-biotech USDA to begin to regulate rather than cheerlead for Monsanto. In payment for a new broad spectrum attack on the soil's crucial ability to provide nutrition for food crops and to sequester dangerous greenhouse gases (recent studies show that Roundup devastates essential soil microorganisms that provide plant nutrition and sequester climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases), WFM wants the Biotech Bully of St. Louis to agree to pay "compensation" (i.e. hush money) to farmers "for any losses related to the contamination of his crop."

In its email of Jan. 21, 2011 WFM calls for "public oversight by the USDA rather than reliance on the biotechnology industry," even though WFM knows full well that federal regulations on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) do not require pre-market safety testing, nor labeling; and that even federal judges have repeatedly ruled that so-called government "oversight" of Frankencrops such as Monsanto's sugar beets and alfalfa is basically a farce. At the end of its email, WFM admits that its surrender to Monsanto is permanent: "The policy set for GE alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other GE crops as well  True coexistence is a must."

Why Is Organic Inc. Surrendering?

According to informed sources, the CEOs of WFM and Stonyfield are personal friends of former Iowa governor, now USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, and in fact made financial contributions to Vilsack's previous electoral campaigns. Vilsack was hailed as "Governor of the Year" in 2001 by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and traveled in a Monsanto corporate jet on the campaign trail. Perhaps even more fundamental to Organic Inc.'s abject surrender is the fact that the organic elite has become more and more isolated from the concerns and passions of organic consumers and locavores. The Organic Inc. CEOs are tired of activist pressure, boycotts, and petitions. Several of them have told me this to my face. They apparently believe that the battle against GMOs has been lost, and that it's time to reach for the consolation prize.  The consolation prize they seek is a so-called "coexistence" between the biotech Behemoth and the organic community that will lull the public to sleep and greenwash the unpleasant fact that Monsanto's unlabeled and unregulated genetically engineered crops are now spreading their toxic genes on 1/3 of U.S. (and 1/10 of global) crop land.

WFM and most of the largest organic companies have deliberately separated themselves from anti-GMO efforts and cut off all funding to campaigns working to label or ban GMOs. The so-called Non-GMO Project, funded by Whole Foods and giant wholesaler United Natural Foods (UNFI) is basically a greenwashing effort (although the 100% organic companies involved in this project seem to be operating in good faith) to show that certified organic foods are basically free from GMOs (we already know this since GMOs are banned in organic production), while failing to focus on so-called "natural" foods, which constitute most of WFM and UNFI's sales and are routinely contaminated with GMOs.

From their "business as usual" perspective, successful lawsuits against GMOs filed by public interest groups such as the Center for Food Safety; or noisy attacks on Monsanto by groups like the Organic Consumers Association, create bad publicity, rattle their big customers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger, Costco, Supervalu, Publix and Safeway; and remind consumers that organic crops and foods such as corn, soybeans, and canola are slowly but surely becoming contaminated by Monsanto's GMOs.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tomatoes! A fruit or a vegetable?

In the case of Nix v. Hedden, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes are vegetables, despite the botanical fact that tomatoes are fruits. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany, a fruit is defined as "strictly, the ripened ovary of a plant and its contents. More loosely, the term is extended to the ripened ovary and seeds together with any structure with which they are combined."

To illustrate this definition, let's focus on a fruit more commonly recognized as such: the apple. Botanists consider an apple core a fruit, because it is a ripened ovary containing seeds. But by the looser definition of fruit, an entire apple (the core and the flesh surrounding the core) is also considered a fruit. Common garden "vegetables" that are actually fruit, include cucumbers, squash, peppers, and yes, tomatoes. Vegetables encompass all other edible parts of a plant that aren't fruit, including roots, tubers, stems, and leaves. Potatoes, carrots, greens, fennel bulbs, and onions are examples of real vegetables.

Friday, January 21, 2011

spring tips

Spring is the perfect season to take time and smell the flowers. Beautiful blooms and captivating scents fill the air as you walk past any garden. Spring can be such a wonderful time of year for a person who loves to
spend time cultivating plants and beautiful flowers, but it can also be a bit challenging for someone with less experience. Many new gardeners make a few common mistakes. One mistake is to pick a flower or plant that is not suitable for your climate.When you go to a greenhouse there is normally an associate who can help you to determine if a plant is suitable for your environment. Remember that some plants and flowers are annuals and some are perennials. Annuals are plants that bloom only for one year. If you like the plant, you will have to purchase another one for the following year. Perennials are plants that will continue to bloom year after year, unless they are affected with a disease or are not properly maintained. Another helpful hint is to check the plant tags. They will show whether the plant is an annual or a perennial and will also show you how much sunlight and moisture a plant will need to thrive. There are several websites that will also show you which plants are suitable for your climate and which ones are not.

Another mistake that new gardeners make is to plant things too closely to one another or to forget that something was planted in the first place. Both of these mistakes can be easily avoided. After purchasing your plants, do a bit of research. You should be able to find how much a plant is able to grow and you will be able to plant accordingly. To avoid forgetting where you planted something you can keep a garden diagram. Pick symbols to represent plants and draw a diagram of the position of plants in your garden. Label the symbols and write the plant information so you can remember what the plant will need to grow to its maximum potential. You can also keep the plant tags that came with the plant or flower if you do not wish to transfer all of the information.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

February tasks

This is still a great month to work on your garden (if it's not too cold for you). Here is a list of suggested task for February.

The month with some really nice days, and really cold nights! Some of the warm days may tempt you to plant items that probably should not be planted during the month of February.

Tomato plants are often the veggies planted at this time. If you really want to plant tomatoes, you may want to use a product called "Wall-o-waters" these are see thru plastic columns that are filled with water and placed around your tomato plant. These are designed to help prevent your plants from freezing even in temps as low as 15 degrees f. Ask you friendly nursery for such a product.

Finish off your pruning jobs you may have started in January. The debate is still on-going as to use pruning sealer or not. I recommend using pruning sealer if you see evidence of insects or disease in the immediate area that you are pruning. If you notice no insect or disease activity, then nature will usually heal pruned areas.

Prune roses before February 14th, as a rule. The rose society recommends using Elmers Glue as an effective pruning sealant! Yes it really does work.

Remember when pruning the best rule of thumb is to have a reason for every cut you make.

You may fertilize your fescue, rye, or bluegrass lawns (cool season grasses) at this time of year. Use 16-8-8 containing zinc, sulphur, and iron, if it has been more than 6 weeks since you have last fertilized.

Grass & Sod maintenance tips.

You may plant fruit trees, shade trees, shrubs, and roses now. Most nurseries will have a large selections of roses in late January thru mid-March. Make sure to visit early so that you will still have a good selection to chose from.

Rose Gardening Tips

Planting early in the season has several advantages.

There is less stress on plants.
Most plants need less watering at this time of year due to the low temperatures.
The roots begin to grow rapidly because of the warm soil temperature. This will help kick off your plant to an early start before our dry spring winds begin to start.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I've just added a load of gadgets! Don't know what theey do though! Help