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Monday, May 19, 2014

Spring Growing Notes

Spring Planting

I took some notes during a nice little Lunch & Learn session my officeplace hosted last week. I wanted to write them down to remember, and also to share. Some of the info below was generated from the presentation iteself, and some was from the class's Q&A during and afterwards.

I'm adding in a few carefully researched side-notes here and there as well. We touched upon some nice, deep topics I wanted to explore further for this blog entry.

The more we work indoors, as a society, the sicker we get. People used to get out and work with their hands in the dirt. They were exposed to more. Now we take probiotics because we don't do these things. It's good for you to get out and experience nature once in a while.

You can learn from, and experience the joy of, growing something. Just try something. Pick you up a tomato plant and plant it. Or plant some seeds and watch them grow. (Always pay attention to the seed needs - for example, some of them need to be planted in the fall so they get cold, and can germinate in the spring. Some are ready to plant in the spring. Just do a little research, or read the labels.) Growing your own food is rewarding, and better for your health. Just try it, and learn as you go.  You could grow a tomato plant, or try some herbs. There are many herbs you can grow indoors even, just by sitting the pots in a sunny windowsill. Try chives, parsley, basil, thyme, mint, or oregano. Another good, easy plant you can try is squash. A watermelon might be a tempting start but they really need a LOT of space, so this isn't something to start off with lightly. Planning the amount of space your plants need is VERY important when planting. They will become crowded and not produce well, or at all, without enough room to stretch out and grow.

Growing a tomato is pretty easy, so you could start there. Some varieties grow better in containers than others, though - celebrity is one that does well in a container. There are a few things to know that can help your tomato grow even more successfully. Add some calcium pellets (for plants, special time release) or some lime in with the roots when you plant it. This will prevent bottom rot on the tomato after it forms. What happens is the tomato plant draws calcium up from the roots when the fruit forms, but the bottom of the tomato will turn brown and rot if there's not enough calcium present. So the plant likes to have some lime added to the soil when planted to help with this.

Another thing you can do to help a tomato, or other plants, is add some magnesium sulfate... aka epsom salts to the water (or the top of the soil directly). This adds back valuable nutrients. It's also good for YOU! You should soak in some in your bathwater from time to time to replenish yourself, as well.

Tomatoes should have at least 2 planted though, for cross pollination. Many plants do require a pair (including apple trees; blueberry bushes don't have to, but will do better in pairs too).
(Dioecious = plant need a "mate." Monoecious (hermaphrodite) = plant has both parts needed on the same plant for pollination, in order to produce berries/fruit/seed.)

Old folks used to believe you shouldn't water plants during the heat of the day or you'd scorch them. Actually, the opposite of this is true. Water it during the heat of the day when it is thirsty, and it will do better.

Roundup is bad stuff.  Miracle Grow isn't; it's just a boost for plants. There are some natural pesticides that work very well like pyrethrum, marigold extract. You can also use diluted Dawn dish soap - this smothers the bugs, and isn't toxic to the plant at all. Basil tea makes a great insecticide. Soak a stem of it in a bucket of water out in the sun all day to infuse the water.  Garlic juice is great too - bugs hate it. Ironite really makes stuff grow! (It can make a lawn look fake it's so healthy!)

Where can you get seeds, and what about GMO seeds?
Well for one option, you can gather your own seeds. For example, you can save the seeds out of a tomato to plant. Float them in water to get the slimy sack off, then let them dry. Now you have your own seeds to grow later.

When buying seeds, if you want to avoid genetically-modified seeds, you can get good quality seeds from private owners. It's no secret that Monsanto has been buying up non-GMO seed companies left and right. What can you look for as an alternative? Heirloom, or non-GMO seeds. Try http://www.johnnyseeds.com for one good source. You can find some more here.... http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_21049.cfm

*In reality, there are very few actual GM seeds out there.

Myth 5: Most seeds these days are genetically modified.  
"Actually, surprisingly few are. Here's the full list of food crops for which you can find GMO varieties: Corn, soybeans, cotton (for oil), canola (also a source of oil), squash, and papaya. You could also include sugar beets, which aren't eaten directly, but refined into sugar. There's also GMO alfalfa, but that goes to feed animals, not for sprouts that people eat. That leaves quite a lot of your garden untouched."

What are Heirloom seeds?
Heirloom seeds are passed down from generations because of their genetic value in production, flavor, etc. They are carefully cultivated over time and are hardy. Wise farmers farm a variety of strains so that a single predator cannot wipe out the entire population (such as during the great potato famine where blight wiped out the potato in Ireland). Some modification in a strain may be helpful for strengthening it, but these are done nature's way, not man-made changes to the strains.

(Author's note. Will *I* aim to buy heirloom seeds?  Yes, absolutely - wherever possible. I feel this helps keep me from putting all my eggs in one basket, so to speak.)

What about Organic?
"Is it organic?" This is a common question people ask of those they're buying from. This is a tricky word. What does it mean?  Essentially, it means more natural.  Well, more or less, depending on what standards you're going by.  It doesn't necessarily mean that something is safe to eat, just because it's "organic!" But, you might grow your plants "organically." To do so, you might not use any non natural-chemicals, pesticides, or any synthetic fertilizers on it. There is an official "Certified Organic" standard that a seller can be certified at meeting, which the USDA sets. And for that stamp, there are different categories....

100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients 

Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients 

Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms) 

Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package. 

So you really have to be more specific when you just want to know if something is "organic." Also, it helps to understand what product labels are telling you. Now you know. 

And, final topic. What farmers used to do was to create a sustainable field. We don't do this at home anymore. The sheep would eat the grass from the field, while fertilizing it. The chickens would come along and eat the bugs, causing the need for less pesticides (also while fertilizing it). Your field would be ready to plant on. And if you rotate crops, your plants will grow better. Growing pea crops adds a lot of nitrogen to the soil. In the next year if you plant something different in that spot, now it has this benefit to gain. (You can grow peas for this benefit even if you don't intend to harvest and eat them....)

Get out there and grow something.  It's not too late this Spring, but almost, so don't wait around!