28 February 2013

Stanford University Study

After reading the editor’s article from a recently published issue of The Columbia Insider regarding organic vs. conventional foods, I decided to research the recent study published by Stanford University last September which reported that there are no significant differences in nutrition between organically and conventionally raised produce.  This has been a very heated topic as I see and hear from many of my patrons at the local farmers’ markets what their beliefs are.  Some consumers are open minded and willing to learn the differences and what each farmers’ growing practices are while others only care about organic food and will not even entertain what a "non-organic" or conventional farmer has to say.  One customer last fall shouted at me that the Stanford study had been refuted and quickly walked away without letting me speak.  She must have read the article atThe Huffington Post.   I could dissect both articles, but that is beyond the scope of this commentary today.
I think that one of the widest misconceptions is that organic farmers use no fertilizers, pesticides or sprays of any kind, and I also think that many consumers feel that if it is more expensive, the quality must be higher.  Both of those ideas are just that; misconceptions.  There is a “National List” of materials that are acceptable to use for all farmers and this list does include organic farming allowances.  All farmers face many challenges.  It really is a labor of love.  The biggest point in the article I wrote back in 2011 is that it is important for all consumers to be educated and know where their food comes from.   Consumers should get to know their local farmers by attending farmers’ markets and local food festivals whenever possible. 
Running Creek Farm’s produce is not organic.  We are, however, very careful about how we farm as we live off the land ourselves.  My husband has thrown salesmen off our farm because they insisted we use systemic pesticides or GMO (genetically modified) seed, which we absolutely refuse to do.  We take good care of our water sources, farmland and crops.  We rotate our crops, plant cover crops, use organic matter, cultivate the soil and add elements as needed for proper nutrition.  A healthy plant not only provides better nutritional content for the consumer, but also remains more resistant to disease and pests and provides a higher yield.  Occasionally we do have to spray crops, but it is kept to a minimum and we use only topical (non-systemic) products that photo-degrade as they dry.  This means that the plant cannot take the material up through the root system and send it out into the fruit or leaves.  We are also very careful not to spray when the honeybees are active as they play a huge role in the pollination of many of our crops. 
So farming is a symbiotic relationship of nature’s creatures, and we have to nurture that relationship.  Go ahead and read all the articles I’ve referred to, then draw your own conclusions after getting to know your local farmers. 
As for the many challenges farmers face, I think this video sums it up well.  You may remember it as a Super Bowl commercial, but Paul Harvey originally wrote this for the Future Farmers of America back in 1978. “So God Made a Farmer“ . 

24 February 2013

Container Gardens for Indoor and Out

We have been covering recently about how to develop indoor gardens for your homes.  In the greenhouse for spring sales, we plant and grow many different mixed containers.   Many times I just create as I go, placing whatever suits my mood at the time.  We sell a lot of ready-made containers, but we also have a lot of gardeners coming in to purchase plants for containers they wish to design themselves.  I am asked all the time which plants work well together, how should the containers be planted or what do I think looks good together? 
 It is easy to be overwhelmed when you visit your local garden center or greenhouse, so it helps to have some idea of what size planter you need, what colors you need and whether you are placing the container in a sunny location or shade.  Take a look at your home or wherever you are placing your container gardens.   In front of a larger home you can probably use a larger planter.  Take note of where the sun is at different times.  These tips can work for you indoors as well.  I mentioned in a recent article about placing groupings of plants together to provide a focal point in a room or to bring symmetry to a design or theme.  
I sometimes try to stick to a color scheme if I am doing containers for a particular holiday.  For instance, on Independence Day I may try to stick to a red, white and blue theme.  Sometimes I will plant variations of one color in a container garden, such as different shades of yellow or red.   It is also fun to create containers with many different colors.  Spring will be here soon, but if you would like some spring flowers now, you could force some bulbs indoors, such as Paperwhites (narcissus), crocus and hyacinth. 
I generally will take a taller plant and use it as a focal point either at the back of the container or in the center.  I will then take medium height plants, either flowering, foliage or a combination of the two, and plant them in front of or around the taller plant.  Lastly, I will take “spiller” plants, (plants that trail or cascade) and plant them around the edges of the container.   It’s OK to mix the bulbs in with other types of plants so long as their moisture requirements are similar, just keep in mind that bulbs generally do not stay in flower for very long. 
Some tips: 
      Before planting, try different arrangements outside of the pot to see which looks best. 
      Outdoors, don’t be afraid to mix annuals with perennials in the same planter.  It will extend the   
           life of your container garden. 
      By mixing in foliage plants, it will break things up a bit and keep the container garden looking
           fresh while the other plants are going in and out of flower.
      Add some slow release fertilizer to your planting medium or use a liquid fertilizer when you  
           water.  Plants need to eat, just like people.   House plants may have different fertilizer
           requirements than annuals and perennials since they are indoors and it is “off” season.    
 Don’t be afraid to experiment and most importantly, have fun!


05 February 2013

Veterans and Gardening

“Reggie Mourning wears a Marine Corps sweatshirt and two 9-millimeter pistol rounds on a chain around his neck. There’s an M14 round hanging from his keychain. His tour of duty with a mortar unit in Vietnam was long in the past, but never really ended.
After coming home, he worked for years as a trucker with the jagged rhythms of the war zone wired into his brain — sometimes barreling cross-country, drunk and stoned, with only his dog as a companion. In 2007, sick, exhausted, on his way to becoming homeless, he made it to the substance abuse program at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center near Newark. “(New York Times, November 30, 2009)

So what does this have to do with gardening?  Plenty!  Gardening is therapeutic for many, military or not.  It’s a chance to play in the dirt, get back to basics and just…be.  Not only that, but I would guess that for veterans, it provides familiarity.  The familiarity provided by taking care of  the plants as they did their comrades in war - unconditionally; performing their duties no matter what because lives depend on them and then sharing the benefits of a job well done.

Reggie was one of the lucky ones from the military who got to experience the joys of gardening first hand.  Veterans Affairs had undergone a change in an effort to offer a more holistic approach to some of their treatments.  They had partnered with an organization called Planetree, a non-profit group offering a patient-centered holistic approach to health services.  Out of this effort and a series of events came the center’s vegetable gardening program and the process of learning that by growing food for one another, they could learn other things, like how to heal from the wounds of war. 

That first year, even with size limitations, they dug 20’x50’ plots in between the medical center’s buildings and grew and harvested over 1000 pounds of produce.  They shared it with other patients and also used it at their “Foxhole CafĂ©” within the medical center. 

For many veterans, gardening was less about growing food and more about learning about themselves.  So many veterans come home and have difficulty re-integrating themselves into their former lives after such traumatic action overseas.  “With two protracted wars at a time when military suicides are at record levels, with psychic and physical damage on a scale threatening to swamp the veterans’ system, an urban garden at one medical center gets you only so far. Mr. Mourning shudders at today’s multiple tours of duty and thinks veterans desperately need a job corps for training and finding work.”

So gardening is just a small part here, but it’s one that can help make a difference.  Get involved.  If you know someone who needs help, get started digging….perhaps a community garden is a great way to go, or just a small garden at home.  You’ll be surprised at how many lives you can affect by just trying to help one.  Research your local resources and get your friends together to help out.  Our military friends have done so much for us.  They have sacrificed their lives for our freedom.  Be sure to thank them and let them know you care. 

From our home to yours, thank you for your service.  We owe our lives to you.  May God bless you.

To read the article from The New York Times in its entirety, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/nyregion/30towns.html




02 February 2013

Cozy Indoor Gardens

Creating a cozy indoor garden for your home is easier than you think.  All it takes is a little ambition and creativity.  You’ll need to keep in mind the climatic area of the room you are working with.  How much light does it have?  How much heat is available?  These are things that will affect the selection of plants for that particular area. 
A southern exposure window gives the best light, without it being too hot.  If your room is very hot and dry, then you may want to add a source of humidity, such as a humidifier or simply place shallow pans of water with pebbles under the plants.  As the water evaporates, it will add the necessary humidity into the air surrounding the plants.  The latter is also very decorative and gives you a chance to play with colors, shapes and groupings of plants.  If your room does not have enough light, there are lights made specifically for plants that you can purchase. You should be able to find these at your local garden center.
It’s a new year again….many people take this time to re-group and re-organize.  If that’s what you’re thinking, why not paint the room you are using for your plants as well?  A fresh coat of paint will always change up a room and make it new again.  It will provide you with a new palate to work with.  Light, neutral or pastel colors on the wall make a nice contrast to the green leaves and colorful blooms of the plants.  Be creative here; maybe paint or nail a small lattice to the wall.  This is your chance to bring the outdoors in.    And there are so many interesting colors, shapes and sizes of pots.  You can even find pots that attach directly to the wall.  They can be grouped together, like photographs.  This might inspire you to keep similar plants together, or give vine-like plants a place to stretch out. 
 Don’t forget to place trays under the plants on the floor.  You’ll need to protect the flooring from water stains if you have wood or linoleum floors.  Add some up-lighting for accents, a reading lamp and a chair or two to curl up in with a good book and maybe a small side table to perch a cup of coffee or hot cocoa on.  Placing some type of small water feature in the room adds to the feeling of relaxation as well.
If you have tall plants, such as a Ficus tree, place it in the corner and maybe add some white lights to it for a soothing accent. Add some herbs to the mix for double duty with culinary purposes as well as fragrance and texture in the room. 
There are so many ways you can dress up a room to make it cozy and warm for the long winter months.  Inspiration comes from many places and in many shapes and forms.  Create the room of your dreams and keep dreaming; Spring will be here before we know it!