19 February, 2010

As Organic Gardening Goes Mainstream, Snake Oil and Myths Return as Urban Legends Invade the Gardening World

As Organic Gardening Goes Mainstream, Snake Oil and Myths Return as Urban Legends Invade the Gardening World
Looking back over the last twenty five years of my career as a green thumb I now firmly believe history repeats itself. While the new rage is all about organic gardening, sustainability and going local it is really nothing new at all. Organic gardening and farming was the way everyone gardened before synthetic fertilizers and pesticides were developed. Homemade concoctions of bug juice, varying formulas and methods of making compost were in every back yard in America. As for shopping local everyone did that as little as thirty years ago. I grew up in Hyde Park and if you came across someone who lived by the Taconic Parkway they were always greeted with "You live all the way out there?" "Out there" was only eight miles from the village of Hyde Park. So why all the fuss about what was a way of life just a few decades ago? I have also learned that the only thing we as a society have learned from history is that we learn nothing from history.
Organic gardening going mainstream has done a lot of good for the legitimacy of the organic movement. When a movement or trend builds up enough steam and goes center stage there is an immediate benefit. Providers of such products make huge sums of money as new markets emerge. As well, the fly by nights drop like flies unable to compete   more savvy marketers.
However the door is opened to new a host of new fly by nights riding the coat tails of a movement gone mainstream. Just watch the infomercials for nutritional supplements if you don't believe this.
Gardening is not immune to snake oil, urban legends, and sheisters either.
Here is just a small list of urban legends invading our gardens:
#1  Although peat moss does acidify alkaline garden soil, this garden amendment is not environmentally friendly: Nothing could further from the truth. Peat bogs are dense deep storehouses of peat moss. Bogs are continuously renewing themselves faster than we can remove the peat. So dense are the bogs in fact that less than two inches of peat are removed from an average each season for the end use in our gardens.
#2 Termites are being transported from Katrina areas in mulch made from the wooden debris: Mulch in bags has been shredded. The resulting shredded product is not an environment favorable to termites to live in.
# 3 Some  believe  plants, which grow above ground, should always be planted in the morning.
Wrong again. And equally wrong is planting by the cycle of the moon thinking that gravitational pull of a full moon inhibits plants that grow below ground from growing properly. First off a full moon does not last long enough to have any effect on the germination of a seed. By the time the seed germinates the moon has most likely changed phases and any effect of gravity has been nullified. Radishes, beets, potatoes etc will not grow above ground when planted on a full moon. In addition every 28 days when a full moon returns, potatoes, radishes and beets are not suddenly lying upon the ground being pulled out by the moon's gravitational forces. While the moon has an affect on tides it will not harvest your root crops prematurely.
#4 Potatoes should always be planted on Good Friday:
Good Friday can be as early as mid March or as late as mid April. Just as there is no logical correlation between the resurrection and Easter there is no logic to planting potatoes on a date which can vary by as much as four weeks as well as straddle late winter and early spring.
#5 Compost tea is beneficial to plants: New research shows that while compost is safe compost tea is not. Horticultural researcher Jeff Gilman showed in a study that compost tea is full of bacteria that is actually harmful to plant growth. This makes sense in the fact that there are a lot of germs and bacteria in compost that when mixed with water  degrade and spoil. Kind of like curdled milk.
#6 Mychorrizae stimulates root growth and nutrient uptake: A new urban legend. Mychorrizae are naturally occurring fungi in forest soils. They are now added to planting mixes and fertilizers as a root stimulating product. The theory is that the Mychorrizae colonize on root hairs and begin linking to other root hairs thus creating a spider web like apparatus. Supposedly this web provides increased surface area for absorption of water and nutrients. Turns out this is not true. In addition, mychorrizae degrade quickly when packaged in commercial formulations. 
These are just a few of the new urban legends invading the garden world. Many of these are being incorporated into organic garden products.
The hydroponic world is full of high priced nutrient supplements whose claims would embarrass P.T. Barnum  For instance what would you think about spending thirty dollars for a pint of something that claims to improve how plants use light by 60%?  The placebo effect is alive and well in the garden world as well
What is not an urban legend but a legitimate local legend are Adams Garden Shows. Adams Poughkeepsie Garden Show is this weekend while Kingston and Newburgh are the following weekend. To complement the garden shows Adams  will hold their second annual Food show the first weekend in March!

17 February, 2010

Compost Marketing Seminar in March

I just received this information about compost marketing. Very interesting idea since gardeners have a sense of what compost is but always ask what is it when it comes in a bag, or is available by the truck load. Keep in mind that very batch of compost is different especially when done at home! Maybe not intended for the home composter but hey who knows when you or I may be the next "google" of the garden world................
Making Your Compost Product Work for You!
FREE Compost Marketing Workshop/Field Day
Millerton, New York
Sponsored by the Northeast Recycling Council, Inc., New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, SUNY Cobleskill, and Cornell Waste Management Institute
Whether selling compost is your primary business or a side business, this workshop is for you! The workshop will provide marketing insights and sales techniques, including technical information on compost applications and benefits, feedstocks, quality standards, and marketing principles.  Learn how to develop a marketing plan for your compost operation, how to position your product, the ins-and-outs of compost market segments, bulk sales vs. bagged, distribution strategies, and making money on tipping fees. Sales strategies will also be covered, including sales points, using social media and new media techniques, branding, and customer education tips. 
The workshop is free, but all attendees must register in advance. To register or find out more information, contact Athena Lee Bradley at 802.254.3636 or by email at athena@nerc.org. Lunch provided.
When:            Tuesday, March 30 from 9:30 am – 4:00 pm
Where:           McEnroe Organics
                        5409 Rte 22
                        Millerton, New York
Jean Bonhotal, Associate Director
Cornell Waste Management Institute
Athena Lee Bradley
Northeast Recycling Council
Ray McEnroe
McEnroe Organics
Funding for the workshops is from the Northeast SARE (Sustainable Agriculture, Research, and Education).

15 February, 2010

Schools Being Told To Make Kids Eat Better? That's a Parents Job!

What really got me thinking was a recent post on Garden Rant which brought up the subject of veggies in school lunches. One contributor wrote that NYS apples were now part of the daily lunch program but half of them ended up in the trash. Yet the trend continues to get schools to FORCE kids to eat healthy.

I have a problem with schools being FORCED to play parental roles. Proper eating habits begin at home. If you want kids to eat their veggies feed them veggies at home. Reinforce this fact at school with nutritional education and perhaps a garden in the school yard.
What a concept! Indoctrinate our kids at home to eat better by growing their food in the back yard. We always forget that kids want to help and want to learn. Look at the smiling faces of kids when they finish a painting, building something out of clay etc. Imagine the joy of kids planting seeds, nurturing a young plant and then reaping the rewards.
I use the word indoctrinate kind of tongue in cheek. But that is what passes on family tradition, morals, and eating habits. Indoctrination is not a bad word! Kids do what their parents do. Use a certain naughty word around the house your kids will too. Our kids still look at us parents for their guidance and we are their role models. If we act as role models that is.
You want healthier kids: grow veggies with them
You want your kids to eat well: you eat well
You want lower health care costs: eat veggies with your kids

04 February, 2010

Soon......Very Soon

Ready, Set,  Sow : Almost Time to Plant Seeds
By Greg Draiss
Welcome to the last half of winter. When March arrives it  can be a transitional month in the weather department should the snow pack melt and warm winds caress the region. March madness strikes all of us not just basketball fans. Everybody is madly Irish on the 17th. I am mad that I am getting closer to the dreaded 50 and my promised mid life crisis that will accompany it.  Even though I have two years yet to go. And gardeners grow mad with from cabin fever by replacing it with spring fever.
The earliest gardening creeps into the calendar is old wive's tale number 386 subsection A: Sow pea seeds on St. Patrick's Day. Did one ever consider from what part of the North American Continent this old wife resided? Perhaps closer to the Mason Dixon Line one could get away with sowing peas on St. Patrick's Day. One look out the window tells me the only seeds we will sowing on St. Patrick's Day are seeds of hope (that the mercury will rise above 50* soon) and seeds of despair (quite often it snows one last blast between March 1 and the April Showers). At any rate the only thing going in my garden hope chest right now is the fact I hope my back holds out long enough to build six more raised beds this spring.
The above dire warnings and pessimism should not keep the gardener from planning. For there are some seeds that need to get started soon indoors. Seeds have five simple requirements in order to reward us at a later date: a container, soil, water, light, and heat.  Seeds are fussy about most of these requirements. However, we have better control over all these needs indoors than relying on fickle Mother Nature to dole out these needs even keeled.
For a real local take on seeds visit seedlibrary.org. Here gardeners can "borrow"
seed from the library, grow them, then harvest the vegetables or herbs. The neat part is the library asks that you dry the seeds and return them to the library for someone else to do the same next year. The theory is that over several seasons these seeds develop traits that make hem thrive in the Hudson Valley!  Makes sense to me. I believe in creation not evolution but I do know for a fact that plants, and animals adapt to the regions they live in. This adaptation theory is especially easy to understand for plants since annuals sprout, flower and produce seed all in one season making their survival in the future dependant on adapting to the environment very quickly.  
Containers for seeds can be anything that hold soil and has adequate drainage. Egg cartons especially the cardboard kind are perfect. The "cups" can usually be planted right into the garden since they will break down. The lids on egg cartons are a great way to control moisture and warmth until germination takes place. For kids egg cartons are great. For smaller seed starting projects yogurt cups and foam coffee cups are perfect vessels. The trick for using these is turn them upside down cut out the bottoms and poke small drainage holes in the lids. Inverted coffee and yogurt containers are great for small hands since and upside down cup is less likely to fall over.
Instead of adding more plastic to the waste stream traditional seed four packs and six packs that fit into standard growers flats are also made from compressed peat moss. When ready to go into the garden the whole cup or cell is planted into the garden. Over time the peat cup bio-degrades and becomes part of the soil. The added benefit is there is no shock to the root system.
Soil is a complex and personal issue with many gardeners. Old time gardeners for years got away with using soil straight from the garden. Garden soil though rich in nutrients is also heavy. Experienced gardens take this into consideration and watered accordingly. For most gardeners heavy soil from outdoors is not suited for seed starting. Professional or light weight soil mixes now account for over 90% of sales for indoor or container use. They are blends of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite. All natural materials in abundant supply they work together to supply the right mix of air, and water holding capacity. There are many brands on the market and most are suitable for all growing needs. There are now certified organic soils free of chemical fertilizers.
Moisture is needed not only for seedlings to uptake nutrients but also to break down their protective seed coat or shell. Moisture works in combination with soil temperature to soften the seed coat in order for the cotyledons and initial roots to burst forth and begin growing. Again controlling moisture levels in soil is critical for seedling success. A very good way to get the right moisture level in the seed bed is to pre-moisten your soil mix. When moisture level is adequate you should be able to  squeeze a handful of soil in your hand and form a small ball or clump. Soil that is too dry will not hold together in a clump. Soil that is too wet will ooze like a running faucet. A few drops are ok. Another benefit of pre-moistening the soil is the fact that seeds will not be disturbed by a blast of water from a watering can. Also most of the excess air pockets are removed and thus the soil will not settle to the bottom of the container.
When the pre-moistened soil is in the containers it is now time to sow seeds  Place seeds that grow with singles stems 2-3 seeds per cell or container. Plants that grow with multiple stems (chives, alyssum, parsley etc) sow as many as you like into the container. Multiple stem, or spreading plants do not need to be separated.
After sowing seeds  label the container or tray with the date, seed type, and approx days or date of germination. This practice will help you keep track of what you planted when and how well the seeds are progressing. Then place the containers on top of a warm spot. Refrigerators, water heaters and good old fashioned radiators serve as excellent sources of bottom heat. If none of these are available purchase a heat mat suited for seed starting. A soil temperature of approximately 70-75*F is needed for germinating seeds.
Light becomes a factor only after germination. In fact most seeds do not require any light germinate.
As soon as seeds germinate it is important to remove them form the warm bottom heat and place them in bright light. At this time it is also important for seedlings to be in a cooler environment. Too warm a temperature and seedlings will stretch and become spindly. Cool temperatures around 60* keep the young plants short and stocky.
Many potting mixes today contain fertilizers so feeding new seedlings need not be done until planting out time. Any general purpose fertilizer will help new seedlings grow well.
May 15th is the average last frost date for the Mid Hudson Valley. This date is important for seed starting because it determines the timing of starting seeds indoors. On the back of seed packs there will be instructions as to when to start seeds indoors. Often the timing will say "start indoors 4 to 6 weeks before last frost date in your area". Since the last frost date in our area is May 15th. Four to six weeks before that date would be April 1st to 15th. Start seeds before that date and you run the risk of having plants outgrow their surroundings and become leggy. Start seeds too long after the suggest date and your plants may not have enough time to grow and produce the flowers or vegetables you worked so hard on.