Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Why Say NO! To GMO?

I used to buy bags of various animal feed as a special winter treat for my pet rabbits instead of buying little bags of fancy rabbit food.  I would supplement fifty pound bags of rabbit feed with oats, wheat, corn, sunflower seeds or some other bird seed.  Several years ago I bought a fifty pound bag of corn (horse feed) at the farm supply store, but the rabbits would not eat it.  Different rabbits have different taste preferences, so I did not think much of it.  I quit giving it to them, but kept the bag in the garage.

That winter we had a massive mouse infestation in the garage.  I smelled it, it was horrible.  I thought a cat had gotten into the garage and marked its territory because if there were mice, they would have been in the corn.  Come spring I discovered mice, so bad that as I threw things off the shelves or into the trash, they scattered.  Still the corn was untouched.  No droppings.  No partially eaten kernels.  No holes chewed in the bag.  Not a single sign of mice.  Odd, but I did not think much about it and in the garage it stayed.

Eventually we decided it was time for the corn to go.  It got dumped behind the garage for chipmunks and squirrels to carry away, and there it stayed.  Not only did they not eat it, it did not sprout!  After a few weeks it was scooped up and thrown away.

What was wrong with the corn?  I eventually found the answer.  GMO (genetically modified organism).  To prevent seed saving and create dependence upon the seed company, some seed will not sprout (the patent is strictly enforced on any that does).  It is not seed, it is not feed.  It is foreign to our bodies.  Animals will not eat it unless they have no other choice.  In GMO studies, animals develop tumors, become infertile and suffer other disturbing results.  Why do Monsanto and other companies fight GMO labeling?  Because given the choice, educated people would not eat it either.  It is not about saving the consumer money, it is about their profit.  How much is too much to pay for the food we eat?  I say our health.  Many countries have banned GMOs.  The U.S. grows non-GMO food for export.  Why do we as American consumers not have the same right?

Herbicide resistant plants are cross pollinating with others, polluting other crops and creating super weeds.  Insect resistant plants are killing beneficial insects including bees and creating super insects.  What is it doing to the environment?  What is it doing to us?  I have only touched the tip of the iceberg to whet your appetite for knowledge.  If you are not familiar with GMO or GE (genetic engineering), now is the time to educate yourself.

A clip from Doctored explaining the difference between GMO farming and produce grown in beautiful, organic soil (specifically starts at 2:08).

Monday, November 4, 2013

Winter Seed Starting

An article I wrote for the winter edition of the newsletter printed by the botanical garden I worked at.

“Is it spring yet?”  That is a question you may hear me ask anywhere from Christmas onward, much like an anxious child on a long trip.  I have heard that a true gardener enjoys all seasons, and indeed I do, but there is something special about the rebirth that occurs during spring.  Winter erases the previous year’s mistakes, and the bounty of garden catalogs inspires dreams of new plants as far as the eye can see … or at least to the edge of my property.

Even though it will be awhile yet before I can get out and plant in the garden, there is still a plenty of prep work that can be done now.  For instance, ordering seeds and plants.  It is not easy narrowing an order down to a size somewhat smaller than the catalog it is made from.

Seriously, for those who like a great deal and larger selection, seeds are the way to go, and it is a good time to get started.  There are a lot of inexpensive germination mats and grow lights that help to get a jump start on the season and satisfy the need to “play in the dirt.”

This is also an excellent time to start seeds that need stratification.  “Strat-i-fi-what?” you ask. Simply put, some seeds need to experience winter before they will germinate.  This is why many people consider themselves a failure when it comes to starting seeds.  For some seeds, the pre-chilling can be as simple as throwing the pack of seeds in the freezer for a few weeks.  Some people use zipper bags with some sort of moistened growing medium to put the seeds in before placing them in the refrigerator.  I am not sure Grandma would eat from our fridge if she found something containing “dirt” in it.

What works best for me is to let nature do the work.  I put potting soil (either high quality or a germinating mix) into a pot, moisten it well, sprinkle the seeds on top, cover the pot with a sandwich bag to protect the seeds and hold in moisture, and sit the pots outside in a somewhat sheltered area.  For me, under the eaves on the south side of my house is perfect.  Unless I know the seeds require covering with soil (larger seeds or ones that require darkness), I generally do not, as some seeds require light to germinate. Though I try to get the seeds out by mid-January, it can still be successfully done as long as there are at least a few weeks of cold weather left.  I have used this method for the past couple of years, and have had very good germination rates with it. When the temperature is right, the pots burst with seedlings.

How do you know if the seeds you have need stratification? It may be on the seed package, but often times it is not. My rule of thumb is, if it is a perennial hardy in my area, I give it the cold treatment. This technique will not work for most vegetables, annuals or perennials not hardy in your area.  I seldom plant the entire package of seeds at once so as not to have an overabundance of seedlings to thin out. This also provides backup in case of a crop failure.

So the next time you are at the store or are browsing a garden catalog, allow yourself to be enticed by a package of seeds that may have intimidated you in the past. You can be successful if you work with nature.