Sunday, August 24, 2008

Plant Profile: Rosemary Herb Plant Growth And Care

Did you know rosemary is drought tolerant?
I've just added a new rosemary page to my So Cal gardening site where I try to focus on low water plants. Here are a few excerpts for my gardening blog pals:

Fragrant rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) is a perennial, evergreen shrub. Not only are they wonderful cooking herbs, they are also dependable plants to use in any drought tolerant garden. These plants are native to the Mediterranean region which is known for mild winters, hot summers and generally low rainfall.

Rosemary has fragrant, sticky, pine needle-like leaves with deep green on top and white underneath. Mature rosemary branches are brown and have a thin papery covering that looks like peeling bark. Rosemary plants are easy to grow in containers and can also be used for bonsai. Pinch the tips of the branches to encourage shrubbier growth - and use the fragrant leaves in your dinner.

Rosemary blooms in winter and early spring. Flowers are usually blue, but white and pink varieties can be found at specialty nurseries or online seed catalogues. The flowers are small, just under 1/2 across, but they cover the tips of the stems in a way that makes the entire plant turn blue. For dramatic impact in the landscape plant a row of rosemary up high in a rock garden, or on the top of a set of garden steps. A bank of blooming rosemary tumbling over the edges looks like a wave of blue and green. When rosemary is brushed it releases a cloud of refreshing fragrance into the air.

Rosemary is also subject to root rot, so do not let the plants sit in a wet pot. In the garden, if your soil is heavy clay, or retains a lot of water, you should make sure the soil is dry before watering again.

Rosemary plants are a tasty herb for all types of recipes. You can use it fresh from the garden, just pull the leaves off the woody stems. Rosemary tastes good with meat, in soups or stews or with vegetables. Whole branches are great to stuff into whole baked chickens or turkey. Or put a spring of rosemary in olive oil for dipping with French bread. Layer slices of bread with fresh rosemary then warm slightly. The essential oils will seep into the bread and the springs can be eaten raw.

Rosemary is a good choice for container gardens, herb gardens or desert gardens. Drop by my new Rosemary Plant Page to read more and see photos.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Make Your Own Organic Insecticidal Soap and Keep Your Garden Chemical Free

Here's a really simple recipe for insecticidal soap:

1 tablespoon of soap
2 cups water (1 pint)

Mix thoroughly and add to spray bottle. Spray insects on plants.

Use regular dish soap, not detergent or anything anti-bacterial.
You can also use pure castile soap like the kind from Dr. Bronner which is certified under the USDA National Organic Program.
He also makes a peppermint castile soap. I read that peppermint oil may help repel deer and other large pests but I have not tried it myselt. Let me know if you have!

This recipe works best on soft-bodied vegetable patch pests like aphids, thrips, white flies and spider mites. Soaps kill insects by entering the pest's respiratory system and breaking down internal cell membranes. It is only effective when it is wet, so aim well. After it is dry it will not harm your beneficial insects.

Some recipes call for adding 1 tablespoon of some kind of oil, either mineral oil or vegetable oil. This will help the mixture adhere to other hard-bodies pests like fleas. But it will also stick to your ladybug beetles so be careful where you are aiming.

Some plants (especially ferns) are sensitive to soaps. You should always test your mixture first on one leaf on your plant. If it is fine the next day, you solution should be OK to use. It is better not to spray your plants in the middle of the day. Full sun (especially on hairy plants) can turn the water droplets into little magnifying glasses which can burn the leaf.

Pests like to hide underneath the leaves. For best results aim up and get under that foliage.

More info on soaps from our pals at the University of Florida IFAS Extension

Happy Gardening!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

FDA Allows Food Processors To Blast Your Lettuce With Radiation To Keep You 'Safe'

One more reason to grow your own!

See? You don't have to worry about filthy conditions in the fields or un-enforced health and labor codes in the processing plant - just nuke it!

I know, us organic gardeners are all 'nutty'. What does a tree-hugger (planter, tender and caretaker) know about radiation in food processing? Not much and I'd like to keep it that way if you know what I mean.

Since I'm just an ignoramus with my head stuck in the compost pile I went to another source for my info. Here's some information on exposing food to radiation from the Center for Food Safety:

What is Food Irradiation?
Food irradiation uses high-energy Gamma rays, electron beams, or X-rays (all of which are millions of times more powerful than standard medical X-rays) to break apart the bacteria and insects that can hide in meat, grains, and other foods. Radiation can do strange things to food, by creating substances called "unique radiolytic products." These irradiation byproducts include a variety of mutagens - substances that can cause gene mutations, polyploidy (an abnormal condition in which cells contain more than two sets of chromosomes), chromosome aberrations (often associated with cancerous cells), and dominant lethal mutations (a change in a cell that prevents it from reproducing) in human cells. Making matters worse, many mutagens are also carcinogens.
Research also shows that irradiation forms volatile toxic chemicals such as benzene and toluene, chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects. Irradiation also causes stunted growth in lab animals fed irradiated foods. An important 2001 study linked colon tumor promotion in lab rats to 2-alkylcyclobutanones (2-ACB's), a new chemical compound found only in irradiated foods. The FDA has never tested the safety of these byproducts. Irradiation has also been shown to cause the low-level production of furans (similar to cancer-causing dioxins) in fruit juice.

About your nuked lettuce; CNN ran an AP fluff piece for you.
Although studies prove that food is changed during this process, it's not in the story. And anything that may upset you like the phrase 'free radicals' or the fact that NO LONG TERM STUDIES HAVE BEEN DONE ON IRRADIATED FOODS, are also left out of the 'story'. In fact, the story itself seems to have been 'irradiated for your (Big Ag's) protection'.

The AP reporter probably didn't have access to the internet or any other research tools when they copied their press release - oops, sorry, researched and wrote the story. Here's the gist:

FDA OKs zapping greens for safety [they make it sound so cute don't they?]

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government will allow food producers to start zapping fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce with just enough radiation to kill E. coli and other dangerous germs, a key safety move amid increasing outbreaks from raw produce.

The FDA said irradiation doesn't compromise the safety or nutrient value of raw spinach and lettuce.

Irradiated meat has been around for years, particularly ground beef, a favorite hiding spot for E. coli. Spices also can be irradiated.
But there had long been concern that zapping leafy greens with X-rays or other means of radiation would leave them limp. Not so with today's modern techniques.
The Food and Drug Administration determined that irradiation indeed can kill food-poisoning germs and even lengthen the greens' shelf life without compromising the safety or nutrient value of raw spinach and lettuce. The new regulation goes into effect Friday.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Organic Gardener Prince Charles Mudwrestling With Genetically Modified Food Manufacturers

Prince Charles is an avid organic gardener and promoter of natural, locally grown foods.

In 2005 he worked on a successful co-op to help small local farmers and producers compete in the world market. But an interview he gave went from a happy PR piece to a major food fight with the manufacturers of Genetically Modified foods, Big Agriculture and chemical companies among others.

Surveys show that Americans don't like GM food and won't buy it when it is labeled as such. So why don't we have discussions about this in the US? You're already eating GM foods and there are so many loopholes in labeling laws you'd be hard pressed to find out about it. But that's a discussion for another day. At least they are discussing it somewhere.

Here's how the Telegraph interview started out:

I am here for an update from the Prince on his initiative to help farmers and fishermen of Scotland's Highlands - Caithness, Sutherland and Ross-shire - compete more profitably in their dealings with supermarkets. The scheme reflects not just his family's traditional links with the area but a deep personal conviction about the evils of industrialised food production.

What's the latest on North Highland Products (NHP), the co-operative of local producers brought together by the Prince in 2005?

For an enterprise that was started on a shoestring with just 13 members, its rapid success has been a surprise, not least to many local farmers who had become tired and suspicious of official efforts to ease their plight.

Today, NHP embraces 481 farmers, six fisherman and five distilleries, plus some clothing outlets. From a standing start, its annual turnover has jumped to more than £10m, with hopes and plans for hitting £40m by 2001. …

It's "a marketing and branding exercise", explains the Prince, enabling NHP to "tell a good story". The royal role in the operation is, however, much more than banging heads together and co-ordinating ideas.

The trick is that all the beef, lamb, mutton, geese, seafood, cheeses, biscuits, oatcakes, honey, conserves, wool products and whisky from co-operative members are sold under a single brand, Mey Selections, the logo of which is a print of a watercolour, painted by the Prince, of the castle.

So far so good. And what a cool business model eh?

Here's where it went off the rails:

At the heart of Mey Selections is sustainability (music to the Prince's ears). The ingredients have to be sourced within 100 miles of the castle. Its promotions boast: "Natural, environmentally-friendly methods of farming, fishing and production are supported by the company's commitment to a supply chain which has minimal impact on its suroundings."

Yes, yes, I say. But isn't this trying to turn back the clock? It's a nice thought that we might be able to feed the poor from family-run units where the animals live like residents at the Ritz, but in the real world Old MacDonald's Farm has come and gone. The solution, surely, is mass production?

At this point, something snaps; the Prince can take no more. Throughout our conversation he has been calm, measured and disinclined to rubbish the supermarket chains which, I suspect, he regards as doers of the devil's work, turning Cotswold villages into miserable clone towns.

But my suggestion that Big Food, industrial-scale operators, are the way ahead sends him whizzing off piste. Jabbing his finger at me, he lets rip: "What, all run by gigantic corporations? Is that really the answer? I think not. That would be the absolute destruction of everything and... the classic way of ensuring that there is no food in the future."

Bouncing in his chair, the Prince sets out his nightmare vision, a world in which millions of small farmers "are driven off their land [by global conglomerates] into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness".

If that's how it's going to be, he says, "count me out". We are missing the point. We should be discussing "food security not food production".

Without naming names, he goes after the "clever" genetic engineers who have put us on course for the "biggest disaster environmentally of all time". We should be working, he says, "with Nature.

We have gone working against Nature for too long." But these corporate monsters have engaged in "an experiment that's gone seriously wrong, causing untold problems which become very expensive and very difficult to undo". Monsanto, I imagine, will not be on his Christmas drinks list.

Read the entire piece here:

Now, as we say in the States; It's on. The Prince has been called names by public officials, chemical company execs and paid scientists are lining up to throw their genetically-modified-to-resist-pesticides tomatoes at him.

The most interesting article to come out of all this is a piece by Wales Online. Called Everything You Wanted To Know About GM Food But Were Afraid To Ask, it gives a interesting look at the issue from both sides:

Interesting reading you won't see in the States.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Latest Plant Rescue: Herbs and Succulents

Here's the newest addition to the family. Plant rescues from the dollar store. None had tags, so I was going by the 'bruise and smell the leaf' method (on the herbs).

Clockwise from the left are: mint, French tarragon, peppermint, rosemary and in the front a little succulent plant. I think it's either a beat-up dudleya or a lampranthus.

The rosemary and tarragon are both drought tolerant for you So Cal gardeners. Although at this size and in these little dinky pots they'll need water a few times a week during the heat wave. I put everything in cache pots during the summer to help reduce their water needs. When I transplant them I'll add compost and a scoop of my heavy clay soil to help with water retention. Plus, if I put them in the ground, they'll already have a taste of the soil here, which seems to help with transplant shock too.

A word to the wise: Never EVER plant mint in the open ground.
It spreads like gossip!
And if you tear it out and miss one molecule of mint, it will grow back. Trust me -and the people who live in my old house!

I'm excited to see how the succulent grows out (and what it turns out to be!) I've got a succulent garden started with an underwater theme. This is going to stand in for sea anenome. I already have a clownfish from the dollar store, he's excited too. Let me know if you can ID the plant!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Extra Income Idea For Gardeners: Plant and Tend Someone Else's Vegetable Garden

I ran across this fascinating article about a guy who works as a gardener for people with a backyard, but no inclination.

For a fee he'll plant your garden, weed, water and even harvest your veggies. The attraction is that the produce will be locally grown and can also be pesticide free - or fit whatever other conditions a produce-eater may have.

He's in New York where the growing season is short. But it got me to wondering, how many other people are willing to pay for a vegetable garden? I suppose we can rule out people who are growing their own food to save money. And I suppose demand would also be effected by whether or not organically grown produce is easily available in your area.

But given all the weak links in our food chain, I'm not surprised this hasn't been tried before. And why not? We have personal shoppers and personal trainers. Why not hire a Personal Gardener? Yes, I'm coining that phrase today; Personal Gardener.

I can see the sales brochure now: Take gardening to the next level with a Personal Gardener.

I'm wondering if anyone out there is inspired to start their own Personal Gardening business. Let me know if you are - or you're already doing it!

And in the interest of Marketing Research, how many of you are willing to hire a Personal Gardener to grow your fruits and vegetables?

Here's the article that started it all:

Backyard chic: Eating local, without dirtying your hands

By Kim Severson, Published: July 22, 2008
Eating locally raised food is a growing trend. But who has time to get to the farmer's market, let alone plant a garden?

That is where Trevor Paque comes in. For a fee, Paque, who lives in San Francisco, will build an organic garden in your backyard, weed it weekly and even harvest the bounty, gently placing a box of vegetables on the back porch when he leaves.

Call them the lazy locavores — city dwellers who insist on eating food grown close to home but have no inclination to get their hands dirty. Paque is typical of a new breed of business owner serving their needs.

Even couples planning a wedding at the Plaza Hotel in New York City can jump on the local food train. For as little as $72 a person, they can offer guests a "100-mile menu" of food from the caterer's farm and neighboring fields in upstate New York.

"The highest form of luxury is now growing it yourself or paying other people to grow it for you," said Corby Kummer, the food columnist and book author. "This has become fashion."
Rest of article...


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