Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How to Make a Wreath

How to make a wreath, a Christmas wreath, any wreath, for any occasion, or that special wreath that has meaning and imparts a special message.

In this video, Tricia gathers greenery and makes a holiday wreath in her garden. Whether you want a Christmas wreath, a solstice wreath, or a wreath for other seasons, watch and see how easy it is to create your own unique decoration.
If you’re going to construct your own wreath, make it as personal as possible. Here are things to consider:
*  Choose plants that have special significance.
*  Use branches from your own garden.
*  Pick foliage and needle colors to coordinate or contrast with your house or front door.


The Language of Flowers was in full bloom during the Victorian era but many of the plant meanings have ancient origins and still sound familiar in the 21st century.
Blue Spruce = Hope in adversity
Boxwood = Constancy
Cedar = Strength
Cypress = Mourning
Holly = Domestic happiness
Juniper = Protection
Laurel = Glory
Mistletoe = I surmount all difficulties
Olive = Peace
Pine (black) = Boldness
Rosemary = Remembrance
Strawberry tree = Esteem

Make a wreath with a message

*  Have you persisted through a challenging year? Celebrate your resilience with cedar (strength), pine (boldness), and mistletoe (I surmount all difficulties).
*  Is your home an especially happy one this season? Highlight that with boxwood (constancy) and holly (domestic happiness), and add some juniper (protection) to keep it that way.
*  To honor loved ones who are no longer with you, weave a solemn wreath of cypress (mourning) and rosemary (remembrance).
*  Show hope for the year ahead with blue spruce (hope in adversity) and olive (peace).


English laurel is so vigorous that it can lend you branches in any month. If you have this in your garden you will have a source for wreaths to celebrate each season. If you grow holly you already know how useful that is, but don’t overlook any greenery in the garden.

As Tricia says in the video, test new greenery by cutting and then leaving it for 24 hours in the environment where you will hang the wreath. If the greenery droops, don’t use it. If it stays fresh, you have another wreath ingredient.


Evergreens are more than true green. Tricia mixed the blue-greens of blue spruce, eucalyptus, juniper and lavender for an unusual “blue” effect.

A “white” combination she used was variegated box with the white berries and green leaves of young nandina.
Go “red” with the red berries in your climate, such as strawberry tree, holly, winterberry, pyracantha, or mature nandina.


Your garden offers you a range of evergreens. For even more choices, get together with friends and swap branches.

Thank you to Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply for this great video and instructions about wreath making.

Nursery stores will carry the essential items for making your wreath if you don't have them at home already.

Have you always just bought wreaths at the local store, or ordered gorgeous wreaths online?  If so, then you can save the wire frame from old wreaths to make your own. Old greens can easily be taken off the frame, so it can be used again. Recycling at its best!!!

Enjoy creating your own masterpiece!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hay Bale Garden, Waist Height Raised Bed and more at the Orange County Great Park

John from goes on another field trip to visit the Orange County Great Park to learn more about what's growing on at the Great Park. The Great Park was a former military base now partially converted to a great park. After watching this video you will learn more what's growing in their raised bed gardens, see their waist height raised bed garden and learn about the hay bale garden and more.

This video demonstrates many vegetables and herbs growing in various types of raised beds. Raised beds can make gardening easier because it breaks up the work into doable parts.

A raised bed that is 12" or even 16" high is nice so you can sit next to it or on the edge to plant and fill with mulch etc. The mulch is a key factor to gardening because it feeds the soil and helps build a healthy environment full of microorganisms, protects from hot and cold and temperature fluctuations, and helps to retain water, yet allows for drainage of too much water.

Raised beds built higher, around 3 feet high are good for those with physical limitations, and/or just a bad back.

Personally, I would not have paint on the structure of my raised beds anywhere near my soil. I have built raised beds mostly using redwood and even some Douglas fir which breaks downs much faster, but yet will last for years and is cheaper than redwood. One thing that will protect the exterior of the wooden raised beds is "used" cooking oil. It really works and looks good too. I have used it on a potting bench and the shingles of a tool shed. I don't bother putting it on my raised beds because they last so long anyway. In the Sacramento CA area redwood raised beds will last for a good 20 years usually.

Now, there are many synthetic materials on the market for building raised beds, which may be healthy or not in contact with your soil and the food you are going to eat. Any material should be investigated before using for this purpose.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Garlic Basics - Fall is Garlic Planting Time!!!

The article below is from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply

Aug. 04, 2008  -  GrowOrganic

Garlic is easy to grow since most of its time in the ground is during our rainy season and, after you mulch it for winter, can pretty much be ignored.

About the time the scapes (flowers) begin to develop in spring, the weeds start to grow and need to be removed as garlic does not develop well with all that competition. Have you ever eaten garlic scapes? Since you have to remove them when they begin to curl, you might as well cook them. Grilled or sautéed, they have a nice, mild garlic flavor. Just use the tender part as you would asparagus and they store in the fridge at least a month.

Back to the garlic bulb, here are the basics. We sell 2 types of garlic – hardneck & softneck. Hardneck garlic usually has larger cloves, which are easier to peel, but they don’t store a tremendously long time. Softneck garlic has a larger quantity of smaller cloves, they’re a bit harder to peel, but they keep a long time. These are also the ones you can braid & hang in your kitchen. I usually plant both types, using the hard necks first.

Garlic is planted in the fall. Separate the cloves but you don’t need to remove the papery skin around each clove. Plant, pointy end up, within 5 days, at a depth about double the size of the clove. Deeper if you’re in a very cold location. Water-in and moisten frequently till the rain starts. Once the soil cools off, mulch with a few inches of rice straw. That’s it for fall.

When the soil begins to warm in spring, watch for the growing tips. (Sometimes they’ll start in the fall if you plant early and the soil is still warm.) Cover with more straw to protect from frost – you may need to do this 3-4 times. This is also the best way to keep the weeds down.

Harvest when about ½ the leaves turn yellow or brown. This usually happens in my yard about the end of June, but this year its about 2 weeks later. Stop watering so the soil can dry a little. Don’t leave them in the ground too long after you stop watering as the papery skin will start to deteriorate and the bulbs won’t store as well. Try not to poke them with your digging fork as this can introduce disease and again, affects storage.

Place them in a cool, darkish location to cure, usually about a month. We have a huge, low-limbed butternut that shelters our garlic. If curing outside, be prepared to cover your garlic with plastic if it rains. It seems like it always rains once in July, after we’ve harvested. If you want to taste your garlic while its still green, you can, just not with Elephant Garlic. Once cured, keep in a cool, dry location, inside. Yes, garlic freezes and turns to mush.

Enjoy your garlic. Not only does it taste good, but it’s good for you!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Good Hips: Roses in the Autumn Garden

By Jennifer Jewell

Roses are like people – some just have nicer hips than others. Some have pretty faces, some have great legs, great shoulders. Some have good hips - especially in October. And I like good hips. To me, they speak of strength, fertility and beauty. 

Autumn is the best time for the widest variety of fully-formed, voluptuous and vibrantly-colored rose hips in the garden, in arrangements, in recipes and in photographs. 

Roses will set fruit throughout the growing season, as evidenced by wild roses, if given the chance. However, we rose growers can be so vigilant about picking flowers or deadheading to encourage repeat bloom, that it’s often not till the end of the season when we’re advised to stop picking in order to harden our plants off for winter that we give our plants a chance to form their lovely hips. Autumn’s cooler nights, cooling soil, and shorter daylight hours likewise signal to all of our plants that it’s close to the end of their seasonal chance to get the job (reproduction) done and set seed if at all possible.

Rose hips are, after all, the fruit and seed of the rose and two things are required in order for a rose to produce hips. The first requirement is that your rose is not a sterile cultivar, which would preclude it being able to produce seed. The second requirement is that your fertile rose is successfully pollinated, which is what will trigger fruit/seed formation.

As seed structures, much like their relatives the apples, rose hips are a mass of small flatish individual seeds, called ‘achenes’, all bound together in the soft, sweet flesh of the colorful hip. The flesh of the hip serves multiple purposes, both protecting and even nourishing the seeds inside while they are developing. Furthermore, brightly-colored-when-ripe hips stand out, providing an attractive offering to birds and mammals (such as bears and people). The colorful fruit entices animals to pick and eat or process the flesh. Because the seeds inside are fibrous and hard, they pass through the intestines of most birds and mammals, and are by- and -large discarded by people.

When a seed passes through a bird or mammal’s digestive tract, the highly acidic conditions help to process the durable protective layer surrounding the inner seed. This ‘stratification’ or ‘scarification’ allows the seed to germinate more easily once it finds itself in welcoming ground. Finally, if not picked and processed by hungry, predatory creatures, the ripening and then breaking down of the hip’s nutrient-rich flesh over the course of the seasons will also serve to stratify the inner seeds. Whether the seeds have been passed through the gut of a bear, through the crop of a bird, spat out by a person, or been allowed to age on its stem or on the ground nearby, all of these pathways lead to the hip’s whole intended purpose: the safe dispersal of the seed.

While all seed-bearing plants, which roses are, are genetically designed to set seed and attempt to reproduce, some roses do in fact set hips more easily and abundantly than others. Species roses – including the rugosa roses, which are famed for their fat, fleshy, apple-like hips – produce perhaps the best hips. Single, and more open-flowering doubles and semi-doubles are also likely to produce good hips because they are pollinated with relative ease. 

According to some sources, very tightly and profusely-petaled rose forms can be difficult for insects to pollinate well, can have that dense-petal formation at the expense of stamen and other reproductive parts, and are more likely to be sterile hybrids, and therefore might not produce hips consistently. Although, according to Karl Bapst, American Rose Society Master Rosarian, some of the rugosa hybrids are the most densely -petaled and produce the best hips, so dense-petals equaling poor hips is not a hard and fast rule.

Successful pollination triggers good fruit set. If you want good hips, then you need good bugs. So your best bet is to avoid pesticides – particularly broad-spectrum pesticides. Although you might want to only harm insects you worry are damaging your roses, any pesticides are also likely to be killing or impairing your pollinators.

Cut stalks of hips can make wonderful displays – combined with more complex floral arrangements, or on their own. Placed in water, stalks of fresh hips will generally remain plump for about a week. Dried hips are also very attractive and will hold on the stem for a very long time.

Rose hips have a rich history of culinary and ritual use. Noted by nutritionist as being a “good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, Calcium and Magnesium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Manganese”, many cultures have used rose hips to make tea, jelly, wine and even to eat as a dried fruit.

The term rose hip linguistically comes to us from the Old English “heope” or “hiope” and alternative forms are rose hep and rose haw. It is said that early Catholic monks used dried hips of wild rose to create the first rosaries – using each hip to keep track of their required number of prayers said.

I like the idea of marking spiritual significance and prayer through the nurturing beauty of rose hips in the autumn garden - a spot full of grace indeed.
Arrangement and photos include hips from the following roses:

R. rugosa sp. – (first photo) fat, squat-round, reddish orange
R. ‘John Cabot’ – climber – noticeably oblong deep orange
R. ‘La Belle Sultane’ – large, round burgundy, dull-rough sheen
R. ‘The Endeavor’ – round, shiny, apple-like orange to red on single hip
R. ‘Shropshire Lad’ – round, mid-sized, dull orange
R. californica – multi-clustered, oblong, bright orange to red
R. ‘Crown Princess Margareta’ – slightly oblong, pale orange to red
R. ? white spray shrub rose – name unknown – small, squat round, greenish to brown

For more information:
Butte Rose Society:
Shasta Rose Society:
Bidwell Heritage Roses:
Sacramento Historic Rose Garden, Sacramento Old City Cemetery:
American Rose Society:

This article originally appeared in the Butte Rose Society’s October 2011 Newsletter.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Making Sun-Dried Tomatoes in a Solar Food Dehydrator

11/3/2011 10:22:53 AM
By Jennifer Kongs

Sun Dried Tomatoes Begin 
I love all forms of food preservation. I also love reducing my environmental footprint whenever possible. I’ve often thought about the energy involved in canning, freezing and using my electric food dehydrator to save my summer garden harvest for wintertime eats. For me, a solar food dehydrator is the best of both worlds: I can dry food using the free, renewable energy of the sun (unlike the energy needed to boil water for my canner or run my electric food dryer), and my resulting dried food can be stored without any added energy (unlike the frozen foods in my freezer). A solar food dehydrator would allow me to literally save a bit of summer’s sunshine for the short, dark days of winter.

I’ve studied and dreamed about the plans on our site to build a solar food dehydrator for a couple of years now, but I was always stymied by my lack of DIY skills. Luckily, I got the opportunity to try my hand at building a SunWorks Solar Food Dryer Kit. All the pieces came in one large box, I had step-by-step instructions at hand and a short list of other tools (all with names I recognized and could find at home) to help bridge my DIY-skills gap.

All told, building this solar food dehydrator took me about 5 hours. (Let me be totally honest here: I had never used a staple gun, changed the bits on a drill or used a spline roller before, so it could take someone with these skills already under their belt less time.) I only had minor confusions while reading the instructions, which were easily cleared up by our resident DIY editor, Robin Mather, and Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief of Grit magazine and super-experienced handyman. I still swell up with pride just looking at the completed food dryer, a sentiment many of you DIYers are familiar with, I’m sure.

Solar Food DehydratorAnxious to test out my handiwork, and hopeful despite the short, cool days we were already experiencing here in mid-October, we set the solar food dehydrator out on Oct. 24, at 10 am. Fellow editor Heidi Hunt and I halved a large bowl of cherry tomatoes (snacking on a few in the process), loaded the dryer racks, tilted the back vent open and left the food dryer facing South toward the sun and warmth. Within only an hour, the food dehydrator reached an internal temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, a high enough temperature to start turning our cherry tomato halves into delicious sun-dried tomatoes. It continued to warm throughout the day, reaching over 140 degrees by 1 pm. The tomatoes were visibly drier at the end of the first day, and by the end of the second day we were well on our way to a successful batch of sun-dried tomatoes.

The third day, however, rain, clouds and much colder temperatures set in, and by the end of the fourth day (still cold and somewhat overcast), we saw the beginnings of the end: mold spots. 

I’m still excited to put our solar food dehydrator to work next summer, when the warmer, longer days with much more direct sunlight will kick our solar food dryer into high gear. Plus, the few bites of nearly sun-dried tomatoes that we snuck throughout the process were well worth the late-season attempt!

Photos by Jennifer Kongs

Read more:

Monday, October 31, 2011


f you are lucky, you live in one of those parts of the world where Nature has one last fling before settling down into winter's sleep. In those lucky places, as days shorten and temperatures become crisp, the quiet green palette of summer foliage is transformed into the vivid autumn palette of reds, oranges, golds, and browns before the leaves fall off the trees. On special years, the colors are truly breathtaking.

How does autumn color happen?

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that happen to trees and shrubs in the autumn. Although we don't know all the details, we do know enough to explain the basics and help you to enjoy more fully Nature's multicolored autumn farewell. Three factors influence autumn leaf color-leaf pigments, length of night, and weather, but not quite in the way we think. The timing of color change and leaf fall are primarily regulated by the calendar, that is, the increasing length of night. None of the other environmental influences-temperature, rainfall, food supply, and so on-are as unvarying as the steadily increasing length of night during autumn. As days grow shorter, and nights grow longer and cooler, biochemical processes in the leaf begin to paint the landscape with Nature's autumn palette.

Where do autumn colors come from?   

A color palette needs pigments, and there are three types that are involved in autumn color.

Chlorophyll, which gives leaves their basic green color. It is necessary for photosynthesis, the chemical reaction that enables plants to use sunlight to manufacture sugars for their food. Trees in the temperate zones store these sugars for their winter dormant period.

Carotenoids, which produce yellow, orange, and brown colors in such things as corn, carrots, and daffodils, as well as rutabagas, buttercups, and bananas.

Anthocyanins, which give color to such familiar things as cranberries, red apples, concord grapes, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and plums. They are water soluble and appear in the watery liquid of leaf cells.
Both chlorophyll and carotenoids are present in the chloroplasts of leaf cells throughout the growing season. Most anthocyanins are produced in the autumn, in response to bright light and excess plant sugars within leaf cells.

During the growing season, chlorophyll is continually being produced and broken down and leaves appear green. As night length increases in the autumn, chlorophyll production slows down and then stops and eventually all the chlorophyll is destroyed. The carotenoids and anthocyanins that are present in the leaf are then unmasked and show their colors.

Certain colors are characteristic of particular species. Oaks turn red, brown, or russet; hickories, golden bronze; aspen and yellow-poplar, golden yellow; dogwood, purplish red; beech, light tan; and sourwood and black tupelo, crimson. Maples differ species by species-red maple turns brilliant scarlet; sugar maple, orange-red; and black maple, glowing yellow. Striped maple becomes almost colorless. Leaves of some species such as the elms simply shrivel up and fall, exhibiting little color other than drab brown.

The timing of the color change also varies by species. Sourwood in southern forests can become vividly colorful in late summer while all other species are still vigorously green. Oaks put on their colors long after other species have already shed their leaves. These differences in timing among species seem to be genetically inherited, for a particular species at the same latitude will show the same coloration in the cool temperatures of high mountain elevations at about the same time as it does in warmer lowlands.

How does weather affect autumn color?
The amount and brilliance of the colors that develop in any particular autumn season are related to weather conditions that occur before and during the time the chlorophyll in the leaves is dwindling. Temperature and moisture are the main influences.

A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights seems to bring about the most spectacular color displays. During these days, lots of sugars are produced in the leaf but the cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out. These conditions-lots of sugar and lots of light-spur production of the brilliant anthocyanin pigments, which tint reds, purples, and crimson. Because carotenoids are always present in leaves, the yellow and gold colors remain fairly constant from year to year.

The amount of moisture in the soil also affects autumn colors. Like the weather, soil moisture varies greatly from year to year. The countless combinations of these two highly variable factors assure that no two autumns can be exactly alike. A late spring, or a severe summer drought, can delay the onset of fall color by a few weeks. A warm period during fall will also lower the intensity of autumn colors. A warm wet spring, favorable summer weather, and warm sunny fall days with cool nights should produce the most brilliant autumn colors.

What triggers leaf fall?

In early autumn, in response to the shortening days and declining intensity of sunlight, leaves begin the processes leading up to their fall. The veins that carry fluids into and out of the leaf gradually close off as a layer of cells forms at the base of each leaf. These clogged veins trap sugars in the leaf and promote production of anthocyanins. Once this separation layer is complete and the connecting tissues are sealed off, the leaf is ready to fall.

What does all this do for the tree?

Winter is a certainty that all vegetation in the temperate zones must face each year. Perennial plants, including trees, must have some sort of protection to survive freezing temperatures and other harsh wintertime influences. Stems, twigs, and buds are equipped to survive extreme cold so that they can reawaken when spring heralds the start of another growing season. Tender leaf tissues, however, would freeze in winter, so plants must either toughen up and protect their leaves or dispose of them.

The evergreens-pines, spruces, cedars, firs, and so on-are able to survive winter because they have toughened up. Their needle-like or scale-like foliage is covered with a heavy wax coating and the fluid inside their cells contains substances that resist freezing. Thus the foliage of evergreens can safely withstand all but the severest winter conditions, such as those in the Arctic. Evergreen needles survive for some years but eventually fall because of old age.
The leaves of broadleaved plants, on the other hand, are tender and vulnerable to damage. These leaves are typically broad and thin and are not protected by any thick coverings. The fluid in cells of these leaves is usually a thin, watery sap that freezes readily. This means that the cells could not survive winter where temperatures fall below freezing. Tissues unable to overwinter must be sealed off and shed to ensure the plant's continued survival. Thus leaf fall precedes each winter in the temperate zones.

What happens to all those fallen leaves?

Needles and leaves that fall are not wasted. They decompose and restock the soil with nutrients and make up part of the spongy humus layer of the forest floor that absorbs and holds rainfall. Fallen leaves also become food for numerous soil organisms vital to the forest ecosystem. It is quite easy to see the benefit to the tree of its annual leaf fall, but the advantage to the entire forest is more subtle. It could well be that the forest could no more survive without its annual replenishment from leaves than the individual tree could survive without shedding these leaves. The many beautiful interrelationships in the forest community leave us with myriad fascinating puzzles still to solve.

Where can I see autumn color in the United States?

You can find autumn color in parks and woodlands, in the cities, countryside, and mountains - anywhere you find deciduous broadleaved trees, the ones that drop their leaves in the autumn. Nature's autumn palette is painted on oaks, maples, beeches, sweetgums, yellow-poplars, dogwoods, hickories, and others. Your own neighborhood may be planted with special trees that were selected for their autumn color.

New England is rightly famous for the spectacular autumn colors painted on the trees of its mountains and countryside, but the Adirondack, Appalachian, Smoky, and Rocky Mountains are also clad with colorful displays. In the East, we can see the reds, oranges, golds, and bronzes of the mixed deciduous woodlands; in the West, we see the bright yellows of aspen stands and larches contrasting with the dark greens of the evergreen conifers.

Many of the Forest Service's 100 plus scenic byways were planned with autumn color in mind. In 31 States you can drive on over 3,000 miles of scenic byways, and almost everyone of them offers a beautiful, colorful drive sometime in the autumn.
When is the best time to see autumn color?

Unfortunately, autumn color is not very predictable, especially in the long term. Half the fun is trying to outguess Nature! But it generally starts in late September in New England and moves southward, reaching the Smoky Mountains by early November. It also appears about this time in the high-elevation mountains of the West. Remember that cooler high elevations will color up before the valleys. The Forest Service's Fall Color Hotline (1-800-354-4595) can provide you with details as the autumn color display progresses.

Persons of any race, color, national origin, sex, age, or religion, or with any handicapping condition are welcome to use and enjoy all the facilities, programs, and services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Discrimination in any form is strictly against agency policy and should reported to the Secretary of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20250.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Blueberries Planted In A Container

For the best results, containerize your blueberry plants. We show you the proven way to do it.
Dave Wilson Nursery

Ed Laivo demonstrates planting a Southern Highbush Blueberry called a Revielle in a pot. The planting steps are detailed out.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The California Ballot Initiative: Standing Up to Monsanto

By Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association, Oct 7, 2011

"If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it." - Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto, quoted in the Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994

Monsanto and Food Inc.'s stranglehold over the nation's food and farming system is about to be challenged in a food fight that will largely determine the future of American agriculture. A growing corps of organic food and health activists in California - supported by consumers and farmers across the nation - are boldly standing up to Monsanto and its minions, taking the first steps to expose the widespread contamination of non-organic grocery store foods with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), and moving to implement mandatory GMO labeling through a grassroots-powered Citizens Ballot Initiative process.

This month, lawyers representing a broad and unprecedented health, environmental, and consumer coalition, including the Organic Consumers Association, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap, Center for Food Safety,, Nature's Path, Natural,, Food Democracy Now, and the Institute for Responsible Technology, are filing papers with the California Attorney General's office to place a Citizens Initiative on the Ballot in November 2012 that would require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods and food ingredients. If California voters pass this ballot initiative in 2012, it will likely be the beginning of the end for Monsanto and genetically engineered food in the U.S.

According to Zuri Star, a Southern California field organizer for the Organic Consumers Association, "The California Ballot Initiative is perhaps our last chance to stop the Biotech Express, to overthrow Biotechnology's dictatorial regime and build a safe and sustainable food and farming system based upon the ethical principles of consumer choice and BioDemocracy."

Moving the Battleground

After twenty years of biotech bullying and force-feeding unlabeled and hazardous genetically engineered (GE) foods to animals and humans, a critical mass of food and health activists has decided it's time to move beyond small skirmishes and losing battles and go on the offensive. It's time to move the food fight over labeling GE food from the unfavorable terrain of Washington D.C. and Capital Hill, where Monsanto and Food Inc. exercise near-dictatorial control, to California, the heartland of organic food and farming and anti-GMO sentiment, where 80-85% of the body politic, according to recent polls, support mandatory labeling.

The trillion-dollar biotech, supermarket, and food industry are acutely conscious of the fact that North American consumers, like their European counterparts, are wary and suspicious of genetically engineered food. Consumers understand that you don't want your food safety or environmental sustainability decisions to be made by out-of-control chemical and biotech companies like Monsanto, Dow, or DuPont - the same people who brought us toxic pesticides and industrial chemicals, Agent Orange, carcinogenic food additives, PCBs, and now global warming. Biotech, food, and grocery corporations are alarmed by the fact that every poll over the last 20 years has shown that 85-95% of American consumers want mandatory labels on genetically engineered foods.

Europe Shows Labels Drive GMOs off the Market

Why are there basically no genetically engineered foods or crops anywhere in Europe, while 75% of U.S. supermarket foods - including many so-called "natural" foods - are GE-tainted? The answer is simple. In Europe genetically engineered foods and ingredients have to be labeled. In the U.S. they do not. Up until now, in North America, Monsanto and the Biotechnocrats have enjoyed free reign to secretly lace non-organic foods with gene-spliced viruses, bacteria, antibiotic-resistant marker genes, and foreign DNA-mutant "Frankenfoods" shown to severely damage the health of animals, plants, and other living organisms in numerous scientific studies.

Monsanto and their allies understand the threat that truth-in-labeling poses for GMOs. As soon as genetically engineered foods start to be labeled in the U.S., millions of consumers will start to read these labels and react. They'll complain to grocery store managers and companies, they'll talk to their family and friends. They'll start switching to foods that are organic or at least GMO-free. Once enough consumers start complaining about GE foods and food ingredients; stores will eventually stop selling them; and farmers will stop planting them.

Genetically engineered foods have absolutely no benefits for consumers or the environment, only hazards. This is why Monsanto and their friends in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations have prevented consumer GMO truth-in-labeling laws from ever getting a public discussion, much less coming to a vote in Congress. And this is why activists are launching the California Ballot Initiative. By moving the battle from the federal level to the state level, by employing one of the last remaining tools of direct grassroots democracy in the USA, the ballot initiative, concerned consumers can bypass Washington and regain their fundamental right to know what they are eating.

Passing mandatory GMO labeling in just one large state, California, where there is tremendous opposition to GE foods as well as a multi-billion dollar organic food industry, will ultimately have the same impact as a national labeling law.

If California food and health activists succeed in putting a GMO labeling initiative on the ballot in 2012 and the voters pass it, the biotech and food industry will face an intractable dilemma. Will they dare put labels on their branded food products in just one state, California, admitting these products contain or may contain genetically engineered ingredients, while withholding this ingredient label information in the other states? Will they allow their organic and non-GMO competitors to drive down their GMO-tainted brand market share? The answer to both of these questions is likely no. What most of them will do is start to shift to organic and non-GMO ingredients, so as to avoid what the Monsanto executive 16 years ago aptly described as the "skull and crossbones" label.

California Label Laws Have National Impact:
Proposition 65

A clear indication of the impact of warning labels on consumer products was established in California in 1986 when voters passed, over the strenuous opposition of industry, a ballot initiative called Proposition 65, which required consumer products with potential cancer-causing ingredients to bear warning labels. Rather than label their products sold in California as likely carcinogenic, most companies reformulated their product ingredients so as to avoid warning labels altogether, and they did this on a national scale, not just in California.

This same scenario will likely unfold again in California in 2012. Can you imagine Kellogg's selling its Corn Flakes breakfast cereal in California with a label that admits it contains or may contain genetically engineered corn? This would be the kiss of death for their iconic brand. How about Kraft Boca Burgers admitting that their soybean ingredients are genetically modified? How about the entire non-organic food industry (including many so-called "natural" brands) admitting that a large proportion of their products are GE-tainted?

Once food manufacturers and supermarkets are forced to come clean and label genetically engineered products, they will likely remove all GE ingredients, to avoid the "skull and crossbones" effect, just like the food industry in the EU has done. In the wake of this development American farmers will convert millions of acres of GE crops to non-GMO or organic varieties.

Finally consumers will be able to tell the difference between organic food (labeled as "organic" and thereby GMO-free); natural food (which will not have a GMO label), and bogus "natural" food (which will be required to display the label "contains or may contain GMOs").

What Now? The Campaign Needs Volunteers and Money

Monsanto, the Farm Bureau, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association are already gearing up to fight against the California Ballot Initiative. They will literally spend millions to spread lies and disinformation that GMO foods and crops are perfectly safe; and that we need more, not less GMO food and biofuel crops in this era of climate change and growing population, etc. As the campaign progresses, they will lie and say that GMO labels will be costly to the food industry and raise food prices. We'll have to counter these lies of course, now and throughout the campaign, but first of all we must make sure that the 2012 GE Food Labeling Initiative actually gets on the ballot.

When corporations like Monsanto decide to launch a ballot initiative in California, or other states, one of the first things they do is hand over a couple of million dollars to a professional petition gathering business. Since, unlike Monsanto, we don't have a couple of million dollars to spare, we're going to have to rely on an army of volunteers to gather signatures. These volunteers can be trained and coordinated by our small, but highly dedicated and experienced, paid campaign staff and consultants, but for the most part we must drive this campaign forward with volunteer labor.

In order to hit the ground running in December, gathering 500-700,000 petition signatures of registered voters to put this measure on the ballot, we need your help now. We need an army of thousands of volunteer petition gatherers to step forward in California. And we need money. OCA and our allied lobbying organization, the Organic Consumers Fund, estimate that we need to raise at least $60,000 over the next month in order to effectively play our part in the California Ballot Initiative Campaign, to pay our staff, consultants, and other campaign expenses.

If you want more information, or if you are willing to volunteer to collect petition signatures, or donate money to this campaign click here:

It's time to take back control over our food and farming system. It's time to stand up to Monsanto and the Biotech Bullies. Join us!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why Eating Organic is the Single Greenest Thing You Can Do

By Marc Gunther
Published September 15, 2011

"If you do just one thing -- make one conscious choice -- that can change the world, go organic.... No other single choice you can make to improve the health of your family and the planet will have greater positive repercussions for our future."
That's a bold statement. Is eating organic more important than avoiding meat, stopping coal plants, biking instead of driving or donating to worthy causes?
Yes, declares Maria Rodale, the CEO of the Rodale Inc. publishing empire (Mens Health, Prevention, Runners World) and author of the aptly named Organic Manifesto: How Organic Food Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World and Keep Us Safe (Rodale Books), from which the quote is drawn.
"There's so many benefits that come from that one choice," Maria explains. "You've removed a bajillion pounds of dangerous, synthetic, disease-causing environment-destroying chemicals from the soil, the water our bodies. We would all immediately be healthier. Our children would be healthier."
Farmers and their families and farm workers would be better off, too, she goes on: "And our kids would be smarter. There are actually studies that show that a lot of these chemicals do reduce intelligence."
I arranged a phone interview with Maria after meeting her last spring during Cooking for Solutions, a great conference and food fest on sustainable agriculture and fishing organized by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I'd read her book and wanted to delve deeper into the issues surrounding organics. Tomorrow, I'll offer a dissenting view from Steve Savage, an agricultural consultant who is dubious about many of Maria's claims.
Maria, who is 49, is the scion of America's first family of organics. Her grandfather, J.I. Rodale, started Organic Farming and Gardening magazine, which is now known as Organic Gardening, in 1942. He put his ideas into practice on a 60-acre farm near Emmaus, Pa. She was raised nearby. "I grew, I weeded, I picked, I cooked," she said. "I was very aware that we were a little different from everyone else, at least once I started going to school." The family farm became a tourist destination. "For many people, it was like a pilgrimage," she remembers. Those were the days when organic food could be purchased only in health or natural food stores.
Today, while the acreage farmed organically remains small -- less than 1 percent of U.S. farmland -- organics are a big business. U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organic fruits and vegetables represent more than 10 percent of all sales of fruits and vegetable, the group says.
Conventional foods are worse for us than we realize, Maria argues. The government responds to problems after the fact and is overly influenced by big agricultural firms, which also shape university research. In her book, she writes:
           There is enough evidence to know now that synthetic chemicals are destroying our health and our ability to reproduce and, thus, our ability to survive as a species. Agricultural chemicals have statistically and significantly been implicated in causing all sorts of cancers, behavioral problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, Parkinson's disease, reduced intelligence, infertility, miscarriage, diabetes, infant deformities and low birth weight.
No specific studies are cited in the book, so I asked Maria for a couple of references. She sent me a link to Beyond Pesticides, website, where a blog with headlines like Low Doses of Pesticides Put Honey Bees at Risk. Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York provides a fact-sheet about pesticides here which says, among other things, that
           Pesticides have been shown to cause a wide range of adverse effects on human health including acute and chronic injury to the nervous system, lung damage, injury to the reproductive organs, dysfunction of the immune and endocrine systems, birth defects, and cancer; these effects can manifest as acutely toxic effects, delayed effects, or chronic effects.
For its part, the agricultural industry says pesticide residues on food are harmless and regulated by the government.
The picture is darker when it comes to farm workers. A long-term government study of more than 80,000 farmers and their wives from Iowa and North Carolina, called the Agricultural Health Study, offers some warnings. While the farmers studied are generally healthier than the general population, pesticide exposure has been linked to Parkinson's disease, prostate cancer, lung disease and some brain disorders. (Details here.) One study found that farmers who "used pesticides longer and more often said they had more neurological symptoms than those who had not used pesticides or had used them less frequently and for fewer years."
What's more, anecdotal evidence on the impact of synthetical chemicals on birth defects is downright scary, as Barry Estabrook reported in Tomatoland. [See my July blogpost, Rotten tomatoes.] Tom Philpott of Mother Jones recently reported on methyl iodide, which is sprayed on strawberry fields and has been called "reliably carcinogenic" by the Pesticide Action Network.
That's probably reason enough, for many of us, to choose organic. But what about the costs? Maria makes a couple of good points in that regard. First, she says: "If you can, grow a garden, which is fun and good. It's great exercise, and kids love it." If not, shop carefully and cook more: "Eat less processed food. Do more cooking. Every step of processing food add more cost." In Maria's Farm Country Kitchen, she offers gardening tips, recipes and political commentary:
Stop wasting American tax dollars supporting, subsidizing, and encouraging the toxic chemical and GMO farming that are promoted by unethical companies who spread lies and poison around the world in order to line their own pockets. We've been ripped off and contaminated long enough.
I asked Maria about evidence that organic growers are less productive that conventional farmers. That's not so, she says, noting that most big farms in the U.S. produce corn and soy for non-food use.
"Most people don't eat that corn and soy," she says. "It's made into high fructose corn syrup. It's made into feed for factory grown animals. It's made into biofuels that do not feed people." She's right about that -- more than a third of the US corn crop goes into the making of ethanol. Something's wrong, she says, when "a farmer who is growing chemical corn is getting subsidized and a farmer who switches to growing food that people need to eat gets no help whatsoever."
What do you think? Should we be subsidizing organic farmers? Or not?
Come back tomorrow to learn why Steve Savage believes that organic food, whatever its virtues, can't meet the world's growing demand for food.
Maria Rodale photo by Cedric Angeles Photography.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Working in Harmony with Nature

This video shows a wonderful example of man working in harmony with the natural environment. 

In this video "called The Living Bridge" we see extreme examples of natures forces and the beautiful solution developed from only natural living materials. This same set of problem solving steps could be used in less extreme situations. We can envision and create beautiful and natural living solutions like these. - Landscaping in complete unison with Mother Nature - I would call this true Sustainability!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vegetable Gardens Are Booming in a Fallow Economy

Sarah G. Fannin adds a red pepper to pickings she gathered with Linda Frisby for sale in West Liberty, Ky.

Published: September 8, 2011

WEST LIBERTY, Ky. — As the economy continues to stagnate in towns and cities across the country, here in eastern Kentucky it is causing things to sprout.

Garden plots are dug into the green hills, laid out in fuller force than people have seen in years. People call them sturdy patches of protection in uncertain times.

“You see a lot more people turning up ground,” said Wanda Hamilton, 61, a lifelong gardener who sells her surplus vegetables at the farmers’ market in West Liberty, a small town in the Appalachian foothills. “It’s the economy. You just can’t afford to shop at the store anymore.”

It is not just eastern Kentucky. Vegetable gardening has been on the rise across the country, according to Bruce Butterfield, research director at the National Gardening Association, driven by rising food prices and a growing contingent of health-conscious consumers. Garden-store retailers have reported increased sales over the past two years, he said, and many community gardens have waiting lists.

“Our sales have skyrocketed,” said George Ball, chief executive of Burpee, one of the largest vegetable-seed retailers. The jump, he said, began around the time Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, when anxiety about money started to rise.

In urban areas, the words “locally grown” conjure images of affluent shoppers in pricey farmers’ markets. But in rural America, consumers are opting for locally grown food — from their own gardens and neighboring farmers — largely because it is cheaper.

Credit: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times
Rebecca Frazier, a teacher here, said she had cut her food bill in half by growing her own and preserving and by buying in bulk from local farmers. She recently paid $10 for 40 pounds of sweet potatoes, a fraction of the store price.

“I’m getting twice the food for a whole lot less money,” she said.

Credit: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times
Timothy Woods, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky who has studied the evolution of farmers’ markets in the state, said more rural residents were selling surplus out of their gardens for supplemental income, a pattern that has helped double the number of farmers’ markets in eastern Kentucky since 2004.

Those markets are geared to shoppers who want to buy in bulk at the lowest possible price in order to pickle, can, dry and freeze, Mr. Woods said — unlike urban markets, where customers pay double rural prices and typically eat what they buy right away.

“You won’t see certified organic products or any fancy marketing,” he said of rural markets. “It’s a very different world.”

Ms. Hamilton began selling about 10 years ago when her garden produced more than she could handle. She knows she could charge more but doesn’t, because her customers “are struggling just like me.” Nearly two-thirds of her sales are to elderly residents who are using government food vouchers.

Another motivation for bigger gardens: the financial uncertainty that comes with retirement.

Brenda Engle, 56, an apparel factory employee, and her husband, Leon, 64, a former telecommunications company employee who works at Wal-Mart, are trying to squeeze their budget down to the size of their future retirement check.

They grew a year’s worth of beans. “We want to be self-sufficient,” said Ms. Engle, who has even started making her own laundry detergent.

Her garden is also therapy.

“When I’m in the garden,” she said, “the world is gone.”

Sarah G. Fannin, an agriculture educator who works with the University of Kentucky’s cooperative extension service to take research to people in the county, said calls for gardening assistance had doubled in the past three years, many from young people. Gardening classes have been full, she said, as has a class on canning taught by a colleague.

At J. A. Oldfield & Son, a country store in the area, vegetable seed sales have doubled in recent seasons.

And eastern Kentucky has a keen interest in cooking. Mr. Woods said residents were more likely to watch food shows on television than people in the more affluent, western part of the state, citing a survey he conducted in 2009.

“Ten years ago, we hadn’t really been thinking about where our food was coming from other than the drive-through or the grocery store,” Ms. Fannin said. “Now there’s more concern.”

That is because — at least in the opinion of Ms. Frazier, the teacher — health has become a bigger issue for more people here, partly as a hedge against rising health care costs. She said she planted her garden in 2008 after her daughter started having health problems.

Gardening doesn’t necessarily lead to better health, of course. But Bridget C. Booske, a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, said Morgan County, where West Liberty is, seemed to be better off than its neighbors.

Credit: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times
Wendell Williams, 73, waits to sell his homegrown tomatoes to customers at the farmers’ market.

People in the county live longer, and fewer babies are born underweight, she said, citing County Health Rankings, a ranking of American counties, published this summer, that she helped compile. Better trauma care in the county would contribute but not entirely account for better rates, she said.

Still, the rates of obesity and diabetes remain high, and a significant improvement in health will be possible only when the joblessness and poverty here ease, locals said.

Credit: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times
Ms. Fannin holds a handful of freshly picked heirloom green beans on her farm in West Liberty, Ky.

Ms. Fannin said vegetables could be part of this area’s economic future. She has urged farmers to start growing sweet potatoes, a hardy crop in vogue in urban kitchens. Robert Bradley, a coal worker turned farmer, said he had been laughed at when he first planted them, but his crop turned out so well that other farmers want to try.

His ultimate insurance policy, however, is his own garden.

“When I go to my cellar and get my own green beans and potatoes, I know I won’t go hungry,” he said.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sacramento City Council passes backyard chicken ordinance

5:12 AM, Aug 31, 2011

SACRAMENTO, CA - The Sacramento City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that would allow citizens to raise chickens in their backyard.

The issue was first brought up to the city council two years ago by members of a group called CLUCK, campaign for legalizing urban chicken keeping.

RELATED STORY: Backyard chickens make a come back

Sacramento city residents will be able to raise chickens, no more than three, if the owners pay an annual fee and keep them at least 20 feet from a neighboring home.

CLUCK argues that wild eggs are better than store-bought eggs. Others said backyard chickens allow Sacramento to be a sustainable city.

Opponents said chickens will bring noise, smell, and disease.

FACEBOOK: Legalize backyard chicken keeping?

Some councilmembers admit they're not completely sold on the idea, but were willing to give it a shot and reevaluate the effects in a few months.

Chicken owners were relieved the ordinance passed.

"I think the folks who are concerned about it, who testifid against it, who don't want chickens in their neighbors yards-- I'm think their fears are going to be unfounded in 6 months. They're gona come back and it's not going to be that big of a deal in terms of problems," said Joseph Calavita, a CLUCK member.

The new ordinance goes into effect Nov. 1.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Organic farming can be more profitable in the long-term than conventional agriculture

Jeremy Hance
September 01, 2011

Organic farming is more profitable and economically secure than conventional farming even over the long-term, according to a new study in Agronomy Journal. Using experimental farm plots, researchers with the University of Minnesota found that organic beat conventional even if organic price premiums (i.e. customers willing to pay more for organic) were to drop as much as 50 percent.

"Doing an economic study like this, it’s important to get as complete a picture of the yield variability as we can," explains Timothy Delbridge, lead author of the study and a doctoral student studying agricultural economics at the University of Minnesota. "So, the length of this trial is a big asset. We’re pretty confident that the full extent of the yield
variability came through in the results."

Conducted over 18 years, the study found that a conventional farm, rotating corn, soy, oat, and alfalfa over 4 years brought in $273, while an organic farm netted $538. Even if the organic premium dropped by half, it would still be more profitable given that the cost of production was lower for organic, since organic farmers would spend nothing on chemicals.

"What we’re looking at here are results between an established organic and an established conventional system. This research doesn’t take into consideration the issue of the transition itself: how difficult or costly that may be," cautions Delbridge.

Organic farming—which excludes the use of pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs—is considered better for environment, including less pollution, better use of water, and biodiversity-friendly practices. Findings vary, but studies have shown that organic farming is capable of producing similar yields to conventional farming. Organic farms also withstand natural disasters—such as droughts and hurricanes—better than conventional farming, which may be increasingly important in a world undergoing climate change.

Organic farm in Indonesian Borneo. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Organic farm in Indonesian Borneo. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Planting Blueberries & Growing Blueberries

From Grow Organic

Tricia shows you how to plant and grow delicious, nutritious blueberries in containers and in the garden. Tips on soil, fertilizing, and pruning.

Get more info plus organic gardening supplies at Peaceful Valley,

Learn more in our five blueberry blog posts about pruning, warm climates, containers, FAQs, and health benefits.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

High Density Fruit Tree Growing

Ed Laivo of Dave Wilson Nursery discusses high density fruit tree plantings at the Fair Oaks Horticultural Center's Demonstration Gardens and Orchard.

What Is Backyard Orchard Culture?
The objectives of Backyard Orchard Culture are:
  • The prolonged harvest of tree-ripe fruit from a small space.
  • Many fruit varieties may be be planted close together.
  • The trees should be kept small by summer pruning.
— Summer Prune For Size Control —

Backyard Orchard Culture Is Not Commercial Orchard Culture

For years, most of the information about growing fruit came from commercial orchard culture: methods that promoted maximum size for maximum yield but required 12-foot ladders for pruning, thinning and picking, and 400 to 600 square feet of land per tree. Tree spacing had to allow for tractors.

Most people today do not need or expect commercial results from their backyard fruit trees. A commercial grower would never consider using his methods on a 90 ft. x 100 ft. parcel, so why should a homeowner?

Backyard Orchard Culture Is High Density Planting And Successive Ripening

Maximize the length of the fruit season by planting several (or many) fruit varieties with different ripening times.

Because of the limited space available to most homeowners, this means using one or more of the techniques for close-planting and training fruit trees; two, three or four trees in one hole, espalier, and hedgerow are the most common of these techniques.

Four trees instead of one means ten to twelve weeks of fruit instead of only two or three.

Close planting offers the additional advantage of restricting a tree's vigor. A tree won't grow as large when there are competing trees close by. Close-planting works best when rootstocks of similar vigor are planted together.

For example, using a four-in-one-hole planting, four trees on Citation rootstock would be easier to maintain than a combination of one tree on Lovell, one on Mazzard, one on Citation, and one on M-27.

In many climates, planting more varieties can also mean better cross-pollination of pears, apples, plums and cherries, which means more consistent production.

Backyard Orchard Culture Means Accepting The Responsibility For Tree Size

Small trees yield crops of manageable size and are much easier to spray, thin, prune, net, and harvest than large trees.
  • If trees are kept small, it is possible to plant a greater number of trees, affording the opportunity for more kinds of fruit and a longer fruit season.
  • Most semi-dwarfing rootstocks do not control fruit-tree size as much as you might expect.
  • Rootstocks can help to improve soil and climate adaptation, pest and disease resistance, precocity (heavy bearing in early years), tree longevity, and ease of propagation.
  • To date, no rootstocks have been developed which do all these things, plus fully-dwarf the scion.

Pruning is the only way to keep most fruit trees under twelve feet tall.

The most practical method of pruning is Summer Pruning.

Tree size is the grower's responsibility. Choose a size and don't let the tree get any bigger. A good height is the height you can reach for thinning and picking while standing on the ground, or while standing on a low stool.

Two other important influences on tree size are irrigation and fertilization practices. Fruit trees should not be grown with lots of nitrogen and lots of water. Some people grow their fruit trees the way they do their lawn, then wonder why the trees are so big and don't have any fruit!

Backyard Orchard Culture Means Understanding The Reasons For Pruning

It's much easier to keep a small tree small than it is to make a large tree small.

Most kinds of deciduous fruit trees require pruning to stimulate new fruiting wood, to remove broken and diseased wood, to space the fruiting wood, and to allow good air circulation and sunlight penetration in the canopy.

Pruning is most important in the first three years, because this is when the shape and size of a fruit tree is established.

Pruning at the same time as thinning the crop is strongly recommended.

By pruning when there is fruit on the tree, the kind of wood on which the tree sets fruit (one year-old wood, two year-old wood, spurs, etc.) is apparent, which helps you to make better pruning decisions.

This information about high density planting is from Dave Wilson Nursery at: