Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Food Waste Creates Guilt, Garbage

Food waste does more than hurt consumers' pocketbooks – it tugs at their heart strings, too.
According to a new study from the Shelton Group, 39 percent of Americans feel guilty about wasting food. The percentage of participants who felt remorse for food waste was significantly larger than any other action polled in the survey. Comparatively, 27 percent of participants said they felt guilty for water waste and 21 percent for not recycling.

“All of us could be better at shopping, cooking and using up leftovers,” Suzanne Shelton, founder and CEO of Shelton Group, said in a press release. “Keeping food from going to waste will benefit our wallets as well as the environment. And we’ll all feel a lot less guilty.”

But tackling the issue of food waste is no small feat. This week, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported that Americans waste 40 percent of the country's annual food supply. The waste is piling up in landfills and further depleting consumers' wallets.

Food for Thought: What if We Had to Pay for the Food We Waste?

“As a country, we’re essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path – that’s money and precious resources down the drain,” said Dana Gunders, NRDC project scientist with the food and agriculture program, in a separate press release. “With the price of food continuing to grow and drought jeopardizing farmers nationwide, now is the time to embrace all the tremendous untapped opportunities to get more out of our food system. We can do better.”

The NRDC reported that food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. landfills. The annual waste equates to up to $2,275 in discarded food by the average American family of four.

The waste can be attributed to food suppliers and consumers alike, but  the highest amount of food wasted occurs in restaurants and kitchens, not grocery stores. Reducing the nation’s annual waste by 15 percent would save enough food to feed 25 million Americans annually, according to the NRDC.

[via Earth 911]

Monday, January 28, 2013

Skip the Energy Drinks: 20 All-Natural Ways to Have More Energy

As more and more evidence mounts that energy drinks can be harmful—even deadly—you might be looking for some natural alternatives. Here are 20 easy things to try that can boost your energy naturally.
  1. Listen to music; just an hour a day can help reduce fatigue. Bonus points if you get up and dance for a few minutes!
  2. Eat iron-rich foods like kale and spinach, whole grains, beans, fish, meat and tofu. (Ask your doctor before you try supplements.)
  3. Try DIY reflexology: Roll a golf ball between the palm of your hand and your desk or table from the base of your thumb down to your wrist.  Even just rubbing that area with your other thumb will perk you up.
  4. Practice positive thinking. When the vast majority of your thoughts are negative, research shows it saps your energy.
  5. Clean up. De-cluttered spaces allow for more clarity of purpose and thought.
  6. Try to get 20 minutes of sunshine per day. If that's just not happening, sitting near a natural light box for 45 minutes can have the same effect.
  7. Sit up straight. Your mama was right; poor posture makes your muscles work harder, draining your energy.
  8. Drink more water. Plain, clean water.
  9. Drink less alcohol. Alcohol can interfere with your ability to sleep deeply, even if it helps you fall asleep, and that deep sleep is what makes you feel rested.
  10. Eat breakfast.  It helps you avoid insulin spikes and drops, which can cause you to feel like you have no energy at all.
  11. Pay it forward. Doing something nice for someone else will give your happiness (and your positive energy) a boost.
  12. LOL! A good laugh can reduce stress, boost immunity, and increases energy. So go ahead and watch that silly cat video—it's for your health!
  13. Flower power. A study from the Harvard Medical School showed that people who looked at fresh flowers in the morning reported higher energy levels all day.
  14. Take a cold shower. OK, not a whole shower; just end your shower with a burst of cold water. It's great for perking you up and may boost immunity like a cold plunge at the spa.
  15. Keep a gratitude list. Take just a minute or two every day to write down something you're grateful for. It will help you keep a positive outlook and feel less stressed.
  16. Turn your frown upside-down—literally. Bending over and touching your toes, or any inverted pose, will help increase blood flow to your head and feel energizing.
  17. Stimulate your senses with jasmine or peppermint. Both of these scents are invigorating and energizing. Orange, lemon and cinnamon also work.
  18. Take a few deep breaths.  Oxygenate your blood, take a momentary break, and breathe some energy back into your day.
  19. Exercise outdoors and take a friend. Studies have shown that the energizing effects of exercise are boosted when you work out with a buddy or outside—or both!
  20. Color yourself happy. Bring yellow, orange or lilac hues into your workspace to brighten your moods. The colors you wear can also have an effect on how you feel. Orange has high-energy qualities.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Guideline to Growing Medicinal Herbs from Seed

No matter how many years I plant seeds and watch them grow into mature plants, I am still awed. I feel an utter child-like excitement when I see the first sign of a sprouting seed poking out of the soil. Germinating seeds are a universal symbol of hope and renewal, ushering in the joy and promise of spring. In a world growing more complicated and technological by the day, it is a comforting pleasure to witness the simple, yet miraculous, processes of plant life. As an herbalist, I strive to cultivate direct relationships with the living medicinal plants I use in my practice, either through growing or wildcrafting. I came into this craft through my fascination with plants, along with their myriad offerings; growing medicinal herbs is one of the greatest joys in my life.

I have been growing plants for the last two decades and, like every gardener, I have learned as much from my mistakes as my successes. Growing up in the suburbs, I spent little time gardening; I didn’t catch the plant bug until I left home. My first vegetable garden was pretty much a flop, as I really had no clue what I was doing. But in my mind, I was now a gardener, and ready to try again the next spring. And luckily, many of my friends had green thumbs, or grew up on farms; they took me under their wings and taught me skills that are now instinctive.

Blue Cohosh seedlings (germinating three years after being planted)

When I started growing herbs, I soon realized that I had to pay attention to details and learn a whole new set of germination skills. Most of the annual vegetables we grow have evolved with the agricultural practices of humans, and thus have been selected over the millennia to have uniform, quick, and relatively easy germination. Not so with most of our medicinal herbs, especially considering that many of them are perennials, which typically have a more selective strategy for germination (with less of the live-fast, die-young lifestyle of annual plants). For the last five years I have nurtured an herbal nursery, and have learned even more tricks from other growers, as well as from watching and listening to the plants themselves.

Following is a special note on intention. Some years back we experienced an almost total failure in germination for most of the seventy species we planted. We re-examined all the variables: same soil mix we’ve been using for a decade, same fertilizer, greenhouse, etc. Now there’s always a chance that we missed an important ingredient, such as lime, which would adversely affect the pH, or our composted manure was too hot, or something to that effect. But, in reviewing our seeding scenario, I came to the conclusion that we sorely needed some ritual and prayer during planting time. By the time we are seeding, we have spent many moons in anticipation of this special moment, from the gathering of seeds to their stratification, the careful planning of the seeding schedule, and the formulating of soil. In addition to all of the material preparation, we are awaiting and co-creating the rebirth of the green world. Conjuring up a miracle in spite of frigid temperatures and gray skies. On a personal note, our first planting is also the beginning of my apprentices’ time working with my family and me, and I always want to honor the sanctity of those unfurling relationships. Now we mark our initial seeding with prayers, spoken intention, songs, and smudging. Since the inception of this little ritual, we have had very successful germination but, more importantly, our sense of place, community, and season has deepened.

My goal here is to lay out the most common systems for seed starting and the basics of caring for seedlings, including typically encountered problems, in the hopes that you are able to grow more plants to love, eat, and make medicine from. In addition, I will outline the special germination techniques necessary for many medicinal plants.

Direct seeding versus tray culture

Planting seeds directly in the garden has some obvious advantages, notably the absence of resources and energy necessary in seed tray culture. It is the easiest choice, and for those plants who do not tolerate transplanting, it is the only choice. The downside to direct seeding is the higher attrition rates with tender seedlings left to fend for themselves in the face of frost, competition, herbivory, drought, and disease. For plants with longer germination periods, the weed competition can be a major factor, especially if you aren’t familiar with identifying the seedlings of the planted herb.  However, the plants who do survive and reproduce will have offspring selected for their parents’ tenacity and vitality. Some plants that generally have good survival rates with direct seeding are: calendula, basil, holy basil, feverfew, German chamomile, borage, garden sage, skullcap, Echinacea, boneset, and anise hyssop. Many herbs need a period of moist cold before they germinate; these herbs may need to be planted in very early spring or in the fall. Check the resources below for each herb’s specific needs. For woodland perennial herbs with a two- to-three year germination period, planting directly in a prepared forest seedbed may be easier than keeping track of a seed tray for such a prolonged period.

California poppy seedlings interspersed with cooking greens

In addition, the following plants are typically seeded directly because of their dislike of transplanting, or because of the larger plantings inherent in cover crops: oats, California poppy, opium poppy, cilantro, parsley, khella, red clover, alfalfa, and fenugreek. I am somewhat of a control freak, so I rarely seed directly (except for the aforementioned herbs) and prefer to watch over my babes more closely in a greenhouse.

Seed Trays

Plastic seed trays are easy to acquire, come in a variety of sizes, and are often cheap or free. My nursery got its start with discarded mismatched seed trays, which I reused for years. An advantage to the seed trays with especially small cells is the ability to seed more plants in a relatively small area, which is especially helpful if you are planting in front of a small window, in a small grow light area, or you just want to heat a smaller greenhouse in the early Spring when it is still very cold. Obviously, with smaller cells you have to step up (transplant to a larger pot, or cell) your plants earlier (often when their first true leaves appear). Many medicinal herbs have longer periods of germination, so less precious space is wasted while we wait for their emergence.

Seeding in a greenhouse attached to the south side of a house

Note about sterilizing seed trays: I do not sterilize my seed trays for a number of reasons. One, it is a pain in the derriere, and two, my soil is alive with mycorrhizal fungal spores and beneficial soil bacteria from compost and worm castings. Plants with a healthy diet and environment, including beneficial flora, have more vitality to fend off potential pathogens. I focus more on helping to create a healthy terrain than combating disease. Preventative medicine is for plants too! If you do wish to sterilize, try using a hydrogen peroxide solution instead of bleach. Brewing supply centers sell many affordable eco-friendly sterilizing products.

I do have concerns about the environmental impact of chemicals used in manufacturing plastic, and the potential for endocrine-disrupting substances to leach from plastic containers and enter the soil and the plants contained within. Recently, biodegradable pots made from peat and/or manure have entered the market, and while more expensive, they may be better choices environmentally. Unfortunately, many are not manufactured domestically, so check their origin. Which brings us to another choice in containers– no container at all, the soil block.

Germinating blue vervain seedlings. Because of the smaller size of the cells in the tray, the seedlings will need to be pricked out and transplanted as soon as they develop true leaves.

These are blocks of soil, prepared from soil block makers, which are specialized metal forms with handles used to gather up moistened soil. The forms are used to create a row of soil cells, which are deposited on a wooden or plastic tray. Soil blocks were popularized by garden writer Eliot Coleman and are preferred by many organic farmers. The individual blocks are open to the air, so the plants roots growing in them are air pruned and cannot become root-bound, and consequently take off quicker after being transplanted. The forms come in a variety of sizes and can be stepped-up with the growing seedling. Once you get the hang of preparing the soil, reaching the proper moisture balance, and using the soil makers, the block making process can go quite quickly and efficiently. Soil block makers require a larger initial investment, but can last for many years if cared for properly. Another distinct advantage is the absence of plastic when using wooden trays and soil blocks. watch this video on making soil blocks

Germination set-ups

Soil Block maker- photo from Johnny’s catalog

Bottom heat
Heating the soil, through applying heat under seed trays, greatly improves the speed of germination, an important factor for medicinal herb seeds, which often have lengthy germination periods. There are a number of methods people use to achieve bottom heat. The most popular and easy is the electrical mat, which goes under a seed tray and comes in varying sizes, fitting underneath one to four seed trays. Some growers use special electrical lines that are run through a bed of sand, with the trays nestled in the warm sand. Another option is running hot water in pipes just under the surface of the soil in a greenhouse, with the heat provided by solar hot water heaters, with an on-demand propane heater as a back- up heat source. Yet another intriguing system is to build a hot compost pile in a greenhouse and place the trays upon the exothermic bacterial party.

It is helpful to have a soil thermometer, an inexpensive tool available from nursery and garden supply companies, to closely monitor the soil temperature. An ideal soil temperature for most seeds is 60 to 80 degrees F; I typically try to keep the soil between 65 and 75 degrees. It is important to not let the nighttime soil temperature dip too low as most seeds will bide their time until the soil warms more evenly. In addition, take care to not overheat the soil, as tender seedlings can easily desiccate or be damaged by excessive heat.

Heat mat from Johnny’s seeds

How I love the quiet timeless magical hot greenhouse on a cold early spring day. Greenhouses can be built from glass, or thick UV resistant plastic (our 10 mil greenhouse plastic has lasted seven years). Old PVC pipes are often available for free or cheap from well drillers who cannot reuse them; they can be used to build hoop houses supported on posts made from rebar pounded into the soil. Alternately you can dig a hole with a steel bar and place the pipe directly in the soil. One-inch, schedule forty pipe, in twenty-foot lengths, will give you a nine-to-ten foot wide greenhouse with a six-foot height.  If you live in an area with snowfall, remember to create ample slope in your hoop houses so the heavy snow doesn’t pile too thickly and break the greenhouse. In our area, one intense winter storm brought down dozens of greenhouses. I have spent a good bit of time brushing heavy snow off our plastic greenhouses– snow can pile up, even with their generous slope.

Greenhouse fairies have proven to enhance germination rates by over 66%

Consider building a small greenhouse off the south side of your home if it receives ample sunlight. The thermal mass of the house will store heat from the sun during the day and radiate it off at night when it is needed.

Airflow is a greenhouse is paramount, both for lowering temperatures on sunny days, and minimizing fungal diseases. Design a greenhouse that allows for both ends of the greenhouse to open. Alternately, the bottom portion of the sides can be rolled up or raised. Fans are useful, and can be aimed to move air directly over seedlings to help prevent damping-off, a common fungal disease of seedlings (see below).

Greenhouse built onto the south side of our home/nursery/school

Sunny windows
Start your trays on a table or shelf in front of a south-facing window. Little to no investment is needed and typically no auxiliary heat is necessary. You may need to put your seedlings outside in direct sunlight on warm days. If your seedlings grow spindly or fall over, they needs more direct sunshine.

Grow lights
This germination set-up requires a start-up investment and obviously uses more energy than other methods. Full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs more closely replicate the spectrum of light found in sunlight.


I recommend finding a very fine soil mix, which has been screened to a smaller particle size. It is easy for some of the tiny herb seeds to fall into larger cracks in coarse soil and never make it up to the surface. We add a moderate amount of an organic fertilizer bend to our soil recipe: a combination of blood meal, bone meal, and greensand. In addition, we add a mycorrhizal inoculant and small amounts of worm castings. We also add sand and actinovate (a bacterial inoculant), both of which help prevent damping-off. 
Following is my soil mix recipe for germinating herbs. It can be used for vegetable germination as well, but I formulated it specifically for smaller herb seeds. The fertilizer is enough to get the plants started but additional fertilizer, in the form of foliar feeding, will be needed when the seedlings grow their first true leaves. Sifting the peat and using smaller perlite are important steps in keeping the texture of the mixture fine enough for tiny seeds.

Fine Germination Soil Mix for Herbs
*5 gallon bucket = 1 part
  • 2 parts sifted peat
  • 1 cup lime
  • ¼ cup bloodmeal
  • ½ cup greensand
  • ½ cup bonemeal
  • 1 ¾ part fine perlite
  • ¼ part fine vermiculite
  • 1 part sifted bagged compost (to avoid weed seeds)
  • 2 cups worm castings
  • ¼ cup mycorrhizae (modify proportions according to the directions on the specific brand of mycorrhizae you are using)
  • 3 quarts fine sand
  • Actinovate (follow the directions on the label)
I recommend wearing safety goggles and a mask to protect the eyes and respiratory passages from the dust and potentially harmful perlite. Sift the peat through a screen to remove large pieces and break up clumps. Place a screen with ½ inch holes over a wheelbarrow and mix the peat through. Add the lime, bloodmeal, greensand, and bonemeal and mix thoroughly. Add the other ingredients and mix with zeal and zest. Wet the soil thoroughly and add the actinovate (employ proportions as described on the label).

Watering medicinal herb seeds requires more attention than watering vegetable seeds as many seeds are tiny, or planted on top of the soil, and can easily be dislodged by regular watering. We water emerging seedlings with a metal mister, designed for a propagation greenhouse misting system, which we attach to the end of a hose (after first adding a filter so the fine orifices of the mister don’t clog with particulate matter). Alternately, you can use a watering wand nozzle attachment turned to the mist or fine spray setting. Just make sure it is a gentle enough spray for wee seedlings. Be prepared to spend a good bit of time watering, as thoroughly wetting the soil with fine misting is a slow going process. Another possibility is placing a non-draining tray under the seedlings and letting the water be sucked up into the soil through capillary action. Once the seedlings develop true leaves they are probably ready for the hard knock school of regular watering, which provides the tough love needed to prepare precious innocent sprouts for the real world of wind and rain. Make sure you are letting the soil dry out in between watering, not enough to cause wilting, but enough to let the soil get almost dry. Watering is a fine dance; it requires responsiveness to your dance partners, the plants, along with the musicians: light, airflow, and temperature. Flow with the changing ambient conditions, your intuition, and a close observation of the plants themselves.

I recommend using a small amount of organic fertilizer in your germination mix and periodic foliar feeding as the seedlings emerge. Foliar feeding applies nutrients onto leaves where they are absorbed directly. In my experience, foliar feeding greens-up plants quickly and is well worth the time and energy. We use a diluted mix of fish emulsion and seaweed run through a sprayer, applied after regular watering on the morning of a cloudy day. Too strong a preparation can easily burn plants on a sunny day and some plants are more sensitive to the nitrogen than others. Start with a very dilute mixture and slowly increase the concentration over time as you observe the plant’s response.

goldenseal seedlings from Mountain Gardens

Special seed treatments:

Following is an abbreviated version of special seed treatments, for a full discussion on this subject please visit my article on Cultivating Medicinal Herbs.

Stratification or Cold Conditioning– Many seeds have a built-in alarm clock that lets them know winter has passed and it is now spring, and safe to begin life. Stratification tricks seeds into thinking winter has passed by exposing them to an extended period of cold and moist conditions. Stratify seeds by planting them in the garden a couple of months early or by placing the seeds in moist sand for one to two months in the refrigerator. Boneset, ginseng, blue vervain, butterfly weed, blue cohosh, black cohosh, bloodroot, goldenseal, trillium, wild yam, wild ginger, false unicorn root, culver’s root, mullein, skullcap, wormwood and Echinacea spp. are just a few of the herbs that need stratification to germinate well.

Stratifying herbal seeds with wet sand

Light-dependant Germination –Sow these seeds directly onto the surface of the soil and very gently press them so they make contact with the soil. They then should be watered very gently by misting or bottom watering so they will not be washed off the surface of the soil. Many very small seeds are treated in the same manner, as they do not have the reserves to grow above a thick layer of soil. Angelica, bee balm, catnip, lobelia, lovage, mullein, Saint John’s wort, and violet are just a few of the herbs that need sunlight to germinate.

Scarification –Rub the seeds between two pieces of sand paper until you see a little bit of the endosperm (embryo nutrient reserves, usually a lighter color and different texture than the seed coat). Sometimes this is done before stratifying seeds and sometimes at the time of sowing. Astragalus, wild indigo, hollyhock, licorice, marshmallow, passionflower, red root, and rue are some of the herbs that will germinate better with scarification.

passionflower seeds being scarified with sandpaper


If your greenhouse has little airflow, consider hardening off your seedlings by gradually exposing them to increasing amounts of sunlight and wind before you plant them directly in the garden. Plant your seedlings in the garden on a cloudy day, or in the afternoon, and water well. You can use a diluted seaweed tea or willow twig tea to encourage root growth. If your plant is root bound (roots coiled around the edge of the soil), try and break them free and loosen the roots before planting.

Troubleshooting common problems with seedlings
My seedlings are spindly, yellowish, and stretching toward the light.

Get these babes to more light. Put them outside on sunny warm days in full sunlight (just a little on the first day, building up more time with each mild sunny day).

My seedlings are keeling over, pinched at the level of the soil, and now it’s spreading like wildfire; the neighboring seedlings are also biting the dust.

You got yourself a case of damping-off, a commonly encountered disease affecting seedlings, which is caused by a number of fungi. Try increasing ventilation with fans, open windows, etc. and increasing sunlight (if possible). Take care to not overwater (see previous notes on watering). We add sand to our soil mix, and many growers add a fine layer of coarse sand on top of the soil, both of which discourage fungal activity. In addition, we use an organic biological fungicide from a product called Actinovate. We add this bacterial inoculant to our germinating soil mix and periodically water our seedlings with the diluted spray.

Damping off killing a seedling- photo by Anne Tanne, courtesy of Creative Commons

My seedlings are slightly yellow and just don’t seem to be growing very fast.
Your seedlings probably need more nitrogen. Water them in with diluted compost tea or fish fertilizer. See the previous notes on fertilization.

May your gardens be bountiful, and provide nourishment, beauty and healing.
 To be of the Earth is to know
the restlessness of being a seed

the darkness of being planted
the struggle toward the light
the pain and growth into the light
the joy of bursting and bearing fruit

the love of being food for someone

the scattering of your seeds
the decay of the seasons

the mystery of death
and the miracle of birth
-John Soos-


Seeds, Plants and Gardening Supplies
Horizon Herbs –  phone (541) 846-6704 Largest collection of organically grown medicinal herb seeds and plants. Catalog is also a growers manual and contains many of the germination specifics listed below.
Richters – phone (905) 640-6677 Huge selection of herb seeds and plants. Rare or hard-to-find herbs.
Prairie Moon Nursery –  phone (866) 417-8156 Seeds and plants of natives to the prairie and eastern states. Loads of germination information in their seed section.
United Plant Savers – Nursery and Bulk Herb Directory (available free to members)
Fedco seeds and Organic Garden Supply – cooperative seeds, trees, and gardens supply, located in Maine (207) 873-7333 or (207) 430-1106
Johnny’s Selected Seeds – 1-877-564-6697 large selection of garden/farm supply

Web Resources

Medicinal Herbs and Non-timber Forest Products – Useful links to many websites devoted to the topic of cultivating medicinal herbs. Dr. Jeanine Davis of NC 
Production Guides, written by Dr. Jeanine Davis and Jackie Greenfield. Covers the specifics of cultivating the following medicinal herbs: American ginseng, black cohosh, bloodroot, Echinacea angustifolia, E. pallida, E. purpurea, false unicorn, ginkgo, goldenseal, skullcap, wild indigo, and wild yam. 
Fedco seeds – Cultural information and planting chart for herbs – Fedco chart
Medicinal Herb Gardening Books please visit the resource section at the end of Cultivating Medicinal Herbs.
This article was previously published in Plant Healer Magazine, the paperless quarterly journal of the new folk herbalism resurgence – a downloadable, beautifully illustrated, full color PDF magazine

[via Castanea]

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Hand-Holding Consumer Guide to GMOs

Original article by Analiese Paik on Fairfield Green Food Guide

Due to a healthy and growing anti-GMO movement, consumers are more aware than ever of just how prevalent GMOs are in our food supply. It remains a challenge, however, to identify and avoid GMOs at retail because labeling initiatives continue to falter. I feel compelled to do a little hand-holding by giving consumers a holistic framework, along with some tools, for determining which products are GMO and which aren’t. Whole foods, processed single ingredients, and processed foods will each be treated separately for the sake of clarity and user friendliness. I’m not going to list every single processed ingredient or food (there are good apps for that and they’re listed below), so feel free to add your own wisdom (responsibly) in the comments section at the end.

Note: Technically (for those who will take me to task on this), we’re talking about GE, or genetically-engineered foods here, not genetically modified, although GMO is the terminology that’s most commonly being used (GE is a subset of GMO). These are foods that are made from crops produced from patented GE seeds whose DNA has been altered through the introduction of foreign DNA (transgenic) by biotech giants Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, DuPont and Dow, not modified through cross-pollination. GE seeds are sold to farmers under license and have been developed to resist the application or herbicides or produce their own pesticides (or both). As current GE crops grow resistant to herbicides and plant pests, next generation GE crops are being developed, including a corn that will also withstand the application of 2, 4-D, the main ingredient in Agent Orange.

Look for processed foods with this seal to avoid eating GMOs.
Fact: GMOs have not been tested for safety in humans, animals or the environment. 

Whole Foods

Most soybeans (sold fresh as edamame or dried as soybeans), some fresh sweet corn, half of all Hawaiian papayas, and a small amount of zucchini and yellow crookneck squash are GMO. Salmon and apples are on the way. Most cotton and canola is GMO, but we only eat ingredients made from their seeds, principally oils (see next two sections). GM sugar beets are processed into sugar (see next two sections). Most GM corn is used as animal feed and some is processed into meal and flour that’s used to make chips and other foods (see below and next two sections).

Wheat and rice are not genetically engineered, although a lot of people think they are (there are test fields mind you). Rather, they have been cross-bred (genetically modified) to barely resemble the ancient grains they descended from (and so has non-GMO sweet corn for that matter), and many people claim to react badly to them. Buy ancient grains like kamut, farro, spelt, emmer, and einkorn instead if you want to avoid modern durum wheat.

There is no way of knowing whether a whole food item is GMO since labeling isn’t mandatory, so we’ll have to engage in some reverse logic to figure it out. If the item is labeled USDA Organic and/or Non-GMO Project Verified, then it’s non-GMO. Advice: Buy your sweet corn, zucchini, and crookneck squash in season from an organic farmer and buy only organic soybeans and organic or non-Hawaiian papaya to avoid GMOs.

This is a short list and relatively easy to master, but we’re not done. Unfortunately most animal products come from livestock raised on GMO feed or from dairy cows administered synthetic (GE) growth hormones (rBGH, rBST) to boost milk production. While the animal itself is not genetically engineered, the food they eat is, and that raises health and safety concerns since no long-term GMO animal feeding trials have been conducted. Additionally, studies have shown that cows administered synthetic growth hormones have higher levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) than non-treated cows. Some studies have shown increased blood levels of IGF-1 to be a risk factor for prostate, breast, colorectal, lung and other cancers. Canada and all EU member countries have banned the use of rBGH/rBST over its health risks for both humans and animals.

Dairy Products

Milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, cream, cream cheese, sour cream, and all other dairy products are commonly made from milk from cows administered rBST/rBGH and/or fed GM corn and soy. To avoid GMOs, choose USDA Organic or ask your farmer how they raise and what they feed their dairy cows. Even if a product label says the cows were not administered synthetic growth hormones, they could still be fed GM corn and soy, hence the emphasis on organic.

Animal Products

Most chicken, beef, lamb, pork, and farm-raised fish are products of animals fed GM soy and corn. Look for wild fish and grass-fed, organic or “pastured” meat and poultry. Consult our Guide to Grass-Fed Beef when shopping in Fairfield County.

Processed Single Ingredient Products

" All of our products originate from identity-preserved, non-GMO seeds.
This means that the seed planted in the ground is non-GMO." photo c/o Bob's Red Mill

While the number of actual GE crops that is processed into single ingredients is small – corn, soybeans, cottonseed, and canola – many single ingredient products are made from them. Advice: Assume single ingredient products listed below are GMO unless labeled USDA Organic and/or Non-GMO Project Verified or the company expressly states that they only use non-GMO, identity preserved grain (yes, this really exists and sells for a premium) like Bob’s Red Mill. This is where mobile apps that list ingredients by brand get really useful (see below for apps).
When it comes to oils, choose authentic extra virgin olive oil for most cooking and sunflower, safflower and grapeseed oil for a neutral taste or high heat cooking. Even organic canola oil is in question due to possible cross-contamination from GM canola fields.
Corn and Its Derivative Products:
Blue and white corn are non-GMO and popcorn is non-GMO.
  1. Corn oil – even those labeled natural or all natural can be GMO, look for organic
  2. Corn syrup
  3. Corn sugar
  4. Corn starch
  5. Cornmeal – polenta and grits
  6. Masa, masa harina (hominy) – look for organic or Bob’s Red Mill, which is identity preserved
Sugar Beets:
  1. Sugar – half our sugar supply is made from GM sugar beets; look for “cane sugar” on the label or USDA Organic
Canola Seed and its Derivative Products:
  1. Canola oil – most  is GMO, use grape seed instead
Cotton Seed and its Derivative Products:
  1. Cottonseed oil – most is GMO, use grape seed instead
Soybean and its Derivative Products:
  1. Soybean oil
  2. Soybean flour
  3. Soy milk
  4. Textured soy protein (TVP)

Processed Food Products

This is the most complicated group of products to analyze thanks to the large number of ingredients each product contains and because industrial derivatives of corn, soy, canola and cottonseed often bear names that obscure their origins. It is estimated that between 70-80 percent of all processed foods contain at least one GM ingredient, like soy lecithin, which is even found in chocolate bars. Therefore, it’s a good bet to assume that the cookies, chips, bread, ice cream, beer, and granola bars on the shelf contains GMOs. Advice: Go straight to those labeled USDA Organic and/or Non-GMO Project Verified to ensure a non-GE product. Use the apps recommended below to look up products by brand. Additionally, Trader Joe’s insists that their private label products are all non-GMO and some Whole Foods Market private label (365 brand) products are non-GMO, but not all.

Trader Joe's doesn't label their private label products as Non-GMO, but they are.

A few surprising processed products that can be GMO:
  1. Mirin – the cornstarch and koji enzymes can be GMO (choose Eden Foods brand)
  2. White vinegar – can be distilled from GM corn
  3. Miso – from GM soy
  4. Tofu – from GM soy
  5. Soy/veggie hot dogs, bacon, and burgers – from GM soy
  6. Soy sauce- from GM soy
  7. Tamari – from GM soy
  8. Tempeh – from GM soy
  9. Baby formula – from GM soy
  10. Beer – from GM corn
  11. Spirits – from GM corn

A number of large, multinational food companies (Nestle, Kraft, Coca-Cola, General Mills) own organic brands but nonetheless supported California’s “No on Proposition 37″ campaign with large monetary contributions. California voters became convinced by this campaign that food prices would go up and frivolous law suits would ensue, so they voted down the measure which would have mandated the labeling of GE foods in the state (and of course tip the rest of the country).

My advice is to express your displeasure by boycotting their products, organic or not. Skip the Horizon Organic, Cascadian Farm, Green & Black, Bear Naked, Godiva, Honest Tea, and Muir Glen products (see a complete list here or refer to the infographic).

Buy solid, independent organic brands that backed Proposition 37 including Nature’s Path, Lundberg Family Farms, Organic Valley, Frontier and Amy’s (see more here or refer to the infographic).

Recommended Mobile Apps

The Non-GMO Shopping Guide has a free iphone app called ShopNoGMO that’s available for free download on iTunes. This handy shopping guide organizes foods the same way they’re grouped in your grocery store.


The Center for Food Safety/True Food Network has a popular  iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android shopper’s guide app called True Food that’s also available for free download on iTunes.


Friday, January 11, 2013

QAI makes predictions for organic industry in 2023

Coming on the heels of the 10th anniversary for USDA Organic as federal law, QAI (Quality Assurance International), a leading certifier of organic and gluten-free products with 23 years of experience, has unveiled its 10-year prophecy for the organic industry based on its more than two decades of experience. This year, QAI has certified more than 55,000 products in more than 48 U.S. states and 10 countries.

“QAI was founded the year before the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 was passed by Congress. We’ve been active with organic since its formative years,” said QAI General Manager Jaclyn Bowen. “We realized we have a huge database of organic statistics and knowledge that we could share to help the industry plan for a more organic future.”

“Our 23 years of experience in organic certification, helping a diverse range of customers and stakeholders to deal with such a wide range of industry and products related issues, helps us to support the industry whatever the organic future holds. We believe the organic industry’s future is bold and broad, rigorous and accessible, more mainstream and less fringe,” said Bowen.

QAI examines both past and present organic milestones to answer the question: Where will organic be by the 20th anniversary of USDA Organic? QAI’s Organic Forecast for 2023 is as follows:

Prediction #1: Stricter Organic: The USDA’s National Organic Program and National Organic Standards Board will bring even more rigor to the federal regulations in terms of specificity for practices and allowed substances and practices. Government oversight will make it more difficult for “organic” to be used loosely as a marketing term, i.e. “Organic CafĂ©” or “Organic Resort.”

Prediction #2: Food Safety Fusion: The organic food supply will fuse with food safety and other “product integrity” programs, adding more disciplined food safety practices that are audited and certified at even the smallest of farms and plants. Organic and food safety audits will be increasingly synchronized. QAI anticipates continued growth in the offering of multiple audits so companies may bundle organic, gluten-free, kosher, and/or numerous food safety audits into one thorough audit and inspection.

Prediction #3: Harmonic Convergence: International standards for organic will be harmonized with USDA organic, removing former obstacles to international trade. The U.S. also will move closer to its European neighbors in Non-GMO verification and labeling requirements.

Prediction #4: Sustainably Organic: Increased focus on companies’ impact on biodiversity, water and soil conservation will translate to additional sustainability metrics in organic practices. As the spirit of organic is to grow in harmony with nature, each farm and company’s environmental impact will be under more scrutiny.

Prediction #5: Transparency Made Tangible: Consumers need to know and trust the sourcing of the products they buy will drive total transparency in the organic production chain, and make QR (quick response) codes – already introduced by QAI in July 2012 - commonplace for all organic certificates and on packaging. The USDA Seal for organic will remain credible, and online tools will be used by consumers to see the credibility of each product’s organic claims.

Prediction #6: No More Shopping Gaps: Practical steps will be taken to be more inclusive and steps will be taken to include new or emerging industry sectors. This will make organic certification available in sectors currently excluded in the regulations – like aquaculture/seafood. It also will address underserved categories like dietary supplements, pet food, personal care, cleaning supplies, fiber and flowers. If it starts with a plant, mammal or fish, it can be certified organic. Consumers will be able to find certified organic products in all sections of the supermarket and pharmacy.

Prediction #7: Organic Literacy is Evident: After years of some confusion in the marketplace, efforts by the NOP, Organic Trade Association, and retailers pay off in increased consumer literacy for organic. Land grant universities also help increase knowledge in organic through their own research initiatives and increase in organic and sustainable agriculture tracks.

Prediction #8: Accessible Organic: Larger organic production, from farm acreage expansion to processing facilities, will translate into organic landing where it is most needed: schools, hospitals, food banks, convenience stores and in mainstream America’s home.

These predictions are a drastic shift from the industry environment that was in place in 1989, the year QAI was founded. During this time there was no federal program for organic in existence and the industry was 100 percent self-regulated. At the time, there were an estimated one dozen organic certification agencies operating in North America, and the USDA reported 5,328 U.S. organic growers with only 2,264 certified.

By 2002, the year USDA organic became federal law, there were an estimated 25 organic certification agencies accredited by USDA, thus giving them legal authority to certify farming, livestock and handling practices in compliance with the newly codified federal regulations for USDA organic. USDA statistics showed 7,323 organic farms with 1,925,534 total acres in organic production. QAI conducted 639 distinct organic certifications in 2002 for customers in 42 states and 11 countries.
As the organic industry enters 2013, the USDA lists 87 accredited certifying agencies, 49 of which are based in the U.S., and a total of 17,281 organic farms and processing facilities in the U.S. certified to USDA organic standards, a 136 percent increase since 2002. USDA’s most recent survey shows organic acreage has grown to 3,648,896 acres, a growth of 89 percent since 2002. The OTA reports current industry sales at $31.5 billion, a 9.5 percent growth rate over the prior year. QAI’s growth mirrors the organic industry’s growth with 1,681 distinct certifications, a 163 percent increase over 2002.
[via New Hope 360]

Big Food Wants GMO Labels

Are Wal-Mart and Big Food Lobbying the FDA for a GMO Labeling Law?

Could it be that consumer backlash has dulled the enthusiasm of biotech cheerleaders? Or is Big Food just cozying up to the FDA so they can derail the growing anti-GMO movement?

High-level executives from some of the U.S.’s largest food corporations are meeting with the FDA behind closed doors this week to lobby for a mandatory federal GMO labeling law. Could it be that bad press and consumer backlash have dulled the enthusiasm of these former biotech cheerleaders? Or is Big Food just cozying up to the FDA so they can derail the growing organic and anti-GMO movement and finagle a federal labeling law so toothless it won’t be worth the ink it takes to sign it?

According to informed sources in Washington, DC, representatives of Wal-Mart, General Mills, Pepsi-Frito Lay, Mars, Coca-Cola and others are meeting with the FDA this week. Wal-Mart came under fire recently for selling unlabeled and likely hazardous GMO sweet corn in its stores. General Mills, Pepsi, Mars and Coca Cola have been the targets of numerous consumer boycotts, including a social media-powered boycott of "Traitor Brands: "natural” and organic brands whose parent companies contributed millions of dollars to defeat Prop 37, the Nov. 6 California Ballot Initiative to label GMO foods and ban the routine industry practice of marketing GMO foods as "natural" or "all natural."

The “Traitor Brands” boycott, initiated by the Organic Consumers Association, has been gaining steam as other groups pick up the flag. The boycott hasn’t gone unnoticed by company executives, either. Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman sent the OCA a letter defending his brand’s position, a position not unlike the one taken recently by Ben & Jerry’s.  Both companies absolve their brands of any responsibility for their parent companies’ donations to the NO on 37 campaign, claiming that they have no say in corporate-level decisions.

But a look at the Facebook pages of some of the "Traitor Brands" reveals consumers’ anger and sense of betrayal. Brands like Honest Tea, Kashi, Muir Glen, Naked Juice, Cascadian Farms, Horizon, Silk, and Ben & Jerry’s, once sought out by quality-conscious, loyal consumers willing to pay a little extra for organic, sustainably produced products, have been tarnished by their association with the hardline anti-right-to-know policies of Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Pepsi, Dean Foods, and Unilever.

Add to that the growing controversy surrounding the pending commercialization of genetically engineered (GE) salmon; the prospect of upcoming high-profile GMO labeling legislative battles in Vermont and Connecticut; and I-522, a major ballot initiative working its way toward a November 2012 vote in Washington State, and it makes sense that the Big Food elite may be preparing for a tactical retreat from the largest food fight in U.S. history.

Is it possible that the threat posed by the growing grassroots GMO labeling movement has prompted a number of Fortune 500 corporations to abandon Monsanto and the biotech industry, and rethink the PR and bottom-line costs of clinging to their anti-right-to-know positions? After all, it’s not as if these companies are incapable of making GMO-free products. Though many Americans don’t know it, Wal-Mart, General Mills, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg’s, Starbucks - even McDonald’s - are GMO-free in Europe, thanks to strict GMO labeling laws.

Maybe Big Food, faced with the inevitability of states passing mandatory GMO labeling laws, is ready to throw in the towel? As Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the Food Marketing Institute, explained in November, big food corporations are happy they headed off mandatory GMO labeling by defeating Prop 37 in California but,  “. . . we hope we don’t have too many of them, because you can’t keep doing that over and over again . . .”.

Or is this just a case of Big Food and indentured FDA bureaucrats conspiring to confuse consumers and slow the momentum of the nation’s fast-growing right-to-know and anti-GMO movement? Is this a “bait and switch” deal to get us to shut up, a tactic to derail the grassroots Movement that appears on track to pass strict GMO labeling laws in Washington, Vermont and Connecticut this year?

We should be wary of any compromise deal at the federal level, one that would preempt the passage of meaningful state GMO labeling laws that have real teeth. We don’t want to end up with a law like the one Japan passed in 2001. That law exempted all GMO foods except corn and soy from being labeled, allowed up to 5% GMO content in individual ingredients, and exempted cooking oils and other foods where transgenic DNA is difficult to detect. Similarly, a GMO law passed by Brazil under pressure from consumers and farmers contained no real requirements for enforcement, until a recent court decision against Nestle.

And let’s not forget what happened in late 2010 in another closed-door meeting, when members of the “Organic Elite,” including Whole Foods, tried to engineer a compromise with Monsanto and the USDA over “co-existence” between GMO alfalfa and organic crops.

Grassroots activism and marketplace pressure can bring about major changes in corporate behavior and even in public policy. When major food corporations, under pressure from consumers, break ranks with Monsanto and the biotech industry, GMO public policy and marketplace dynamics change dramatically.

The consumer-led rejection since 1994 of Monsanto’s recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone by family-scale dairy farmers and major dairy brands has kept rBGH marginalized. Currently less than 10% of U.S. dairy cows are injected with Monsanto’s (now Elanco’s) rBGH, a hormone linked to increased risk of cancer in humans, as well as major animal health damage. Thanks to consumer pressure, many leading dairy brands in the U.S. are labeled as “rBGH (or rBST) free;”  while rBGH is banned outright in Canada, Europe, Japan, and most industrialized nations.

In 2000, McDonald’s, Burger King, Pringles and McCain opposed Monsanto’s genetically engineered “New Leaf” potatoes. Their opposition kept these Bt-spliced “Frankenspuds” off the market. 

Similarly, opposition to Monsanto’s GE wheat in 2003, not only by U.S. wheat farmers, but also by General Mills and Frito-Lay, killed the commercialization of this multi-billion dollar crop. And it was consumer pressure that forced Starbucks and other coffee brands to keep GE coffee off the market.

If it’s true that Wal-Mart and a number of big food corporations are ready to compromise and allow labels on genetically engineered foods, don’t hold your breath for the Obama Administration’s FDA to quickly change course. For 20 years FDA bureaucrats, led by Michael “Monsanto” Taylor, the Obama-appointed FDA Food Safety Czar, have blocked all attempts to require mandatory federal GMO labeling. Our best chance to regain our right to know what’s in our food and begin to drive GMOs off the market is to stay on the offensive. We need to pass mandatory GMO labeling laws in the current frontline states of Washington, Vermont and Connecticut, and we need to step up the pressure on Food Inc. with our boycott of their “Traitor Brands."

And even after we win mandatory GMO labeling on produce and processed foods, which will realistically take at least several years, we will still need to fight for labels on GMO-fed, factory-farmed meat, dairy, and eggs, a more comprehensive labeling law that even the EU does not yet have in place.  At least 80% of GMO crops grown in the U.S. are destined for animal feed in factory farms. If we’re going to stop these environmentally disastrous farming practices, we’ll have to demand labeling of factory-farmed food. And that will require an unprecedented campaign of public education, direct action, and grassroots mobilization, similar to the campaign we are already waging for GMO labeling.

Hats off to the thousands of activists and millions of consumers and voters who have made GMOs and GMO labeling burning issues in the U.S. Wal-Mart and the Big Food lobby would not be sitting down behind closed doors this week asking the FDA to take action if it were not for the growing online/marketplace/political activism of our nationwide organic anti-GMO movement. But, as more and more of us understand, this monumental food fight is not just about labeling GMOs. We are fighting, as well, for a healthy and sustainable food and farming system, a green and equitable economy, a stable climate, and a real democracy where citizens, not corporations and their indentured politicians, rule. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Winter Warmer: Pear Nog

Serve up a twist on the traditional, festive drink this holiday season that your whole family and friends will enjoy and love!

• 1 pear peeled, cored and cut in chunks
• 1 cup of egg nog (dairy or soy)
• 2 ice cubes cracked
• Dash of cinnamon

Place all ingredients in blender. Blend at high speed for 15 seconds. Makes 2-3 kid-size servings, or 1 1/2 cups.

About the authors: Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children, and founders of Fresh Baby,

Monday, January 7, 2013

Free “Real Food” Meal Plans

The folks over at 100 Days of Real Food have created 5 free “real food” meal plans to help busy families; making things a little easier for those want to cut out processed food.  According to their website, if you follow the instructions below to download the meal plans then this is what you’ll get:
  • Five 7-day practical “real food” menu plans designed for busy families
  • Complete meals listed each day for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner with leftovers incorporated.
  • Food quantities calculated for a family of four.
  • Corresponding complete grocery list showing what to buy in order of the store and actual cost for each item (as opposed to the price per serving) with seasonal ingredients highlighted on Meal Plans 3 – 5 so purchases can be made from your local farmers’ market if desired.
  • Budget-friendly prices that are close to what a family of four would receive on full food stamp (SNAP) benefits– $167/week – with plenty of additional cost-saving opportunities because:
    • Coupons were not used
    • Sales prices were not used
    • Prices for organic items were used in most cases
    • If you follow this plan you will end up with some leftover food (like granola, eggs, flour, butter, marsala wine, and corn meal) that can be incorporated into recipes the following week
  • All underlined recipes are available on – check out the Recipe Index for a full list.
  • All recipes are working mom/dad-friendly including tips on what to make in advance over the weekend.
  • Almost every item listed follows our strict 10-day pledge rules, with just a few minor exceptions to keep the plan realistic for those busy working parents.

Here’s the scoop on how to download Meal Plans 1 – 4:

  1. Go to the “Meal Plans” link on the 100 Days of Real Food Facebook Page (you must be logged in to your Facebook account or create one).
  2. Click “like” if you are not already a fan.
  3. Click on the image of the meal plan you would like to download.

And this is how to get a hold of Meal Plan 5:

  1. Become an email subscriber by entering your email address on their website and following the instructions.
  2. You will receive an email that contains both a link to activate your subscription and a link to the 5th meal plan. Be sure to check your spam box if you don’t see it right away.

Tired of the Same Old Vending Machine Junk?

Tired of the same old junk in vending machines? Now there are some new tools to do something about it and implement nutrition standards to vending machines in your office, city, or state. With two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese, it’s time to ensure healthful options are more available.

More and more people are interested in healthier snack options. According to a 2010 study by the Snack Food Association, about 74% of consumers are trying to eat healthier, with about 65% eating specific foods to lose weight. Instead of selling unhealthy food and beverages, which contribute to obesity and chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, cancer), your city, state, worksite, hospital, or university could ensure access to more healthful options. Offering healthy options demonstrates a commitment to addressing obesity and helps organizations that are working on nutrition and obesity to “walk the walk.”

The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) recently completed model beverage and food standards for vending machines and a model policy to implement them. The vending standards could be used:
  • In your own office building;
  • In a state or local bill to require healthy vending standards on state/local property (agency buildings, state parks, highway rest stops, etc.);
  • To encourage a hospital, university, or organization to move to healthy vending;
  • In an agency policy, executive order, regulation, or other executive branch approach to implement vending standards in states or localities; or
  • As standards for any other location with a vending machine.
The vending standards, model policy, and additional resources are available at  NANA also is working to develop a list of products that meet the vending standards and a factsheet about the impact of healthy vending standards on revenue, and to identify success stories. To share success stories about vending or food procurement policies, for more information about healthier food choices on public property, or to discuss how you might use the NANA model standards, please contact us at

Margo G. Wootan is the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), one of the country’s leading health advocacy organizations that specializes in food, nutrition, and obesity prevention. Dr. Wootan received her B.S. in nutrition from Cornell University and her doctorate in nutrition from Harvard University’s School of Public Health. Wootan co-founded and coordinates the activities of the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) and the Food Marketing Workgroup. She has coordinated and led efforts to require calorie labeling at fast-food and other chain restaurants, require trans fat labeling on packaged foods, improve school foods, reduce junk-food marketing aimed at children, and expand nutrition and physical activity programs at CDC. Wootan has received numerous awards and is quoted regularly in the nation’s major media.

Katherine Bishop is a nutrition policy associate at the CSPI. Ms. Bishop received her B.A. in political science from the University of Rhode Island, and her M.S. in nutrition and M.P.H. in public health from Tufts University. Prior to working at CSPI, Ms. Bishop spent four years in the Massachusetts Legislature, as Legislative Aide then Legislative Director to a State Representative. In addition, during graduate school, Ms. Bishop worked with the Massachusetts Public Health Association and the Nutrition Policy Department at the World Health Organization.

This piece was originally published on the blog on 1/2/2013:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

9 Steps to Start an Organic Garden

Jodie Frey, Assoc Dean and Dir of Recreation Services works at Lafayette Organic Garden near Metzgar Fields on Sullivan Trail in Forks Township.
With an increased focus on pesticides and contamination, many people want to incorporate more organic foods into their daily meals. Sometimes, these organics are priced significantly higher than the conventionally grown counterparts. If you have the space, start your own organic garden to help save money!

1) Prep the Soil

Healthy plants need healthy soil. Your organic veggies and herbs will need tons of nutrients from the soil and chemical treatments can deplete the soil. Other chemical fertilizers can harm helpful bacteria, microbes, and worms.
If you’re super serious about getting your organic garden done right, get a sample of soil and have it tested by your local agricultural office. You can let them know you plan to go organic and they will be able to help you tailor your gardening program based on what’s needed in the soil. Any nutrients you need to add should be added before winter.
Finally, make sure your soil has lots of humus. Humus is a mixture of plant materials that have decomposed. Add in some composted manure and you’ve got a recipe for success! When using manure in your gardening and composting, be sure it’s exclusively from plant eaters like cows, sheep, goats, and chickens. Never use manure from meat-eating animals.

2) Composting

Composting is one of the best things you can do for your garden, whether its organic or not. Compost feeds your plants, helps to eliminate weeds, and keeps food waste out of landfills. In order to make a good compost pile, you’ll need a minimum of 3 square feet, lots of  “brown material” (leaves, grass clippings, garden trimmings, etc), and lots of  “green material” (kitchen scraps and manure). Fill your compost bin with these types of materials and make sure it’s topped off with about 6 inches of soil. Each time you add a new layer of green or brown material, toss your compost pile to make sure things are mixing and decomposing evenly. You should toss it with a pitchfork, hoe, or shovel. In 2-3 months, you’ll have lush compost ready for your garden!

3) Choosing Your Plants

No matter how great your soil is, if you don’t have the right plants for your area, they won’t grow. It’s important to check the USDA’s Hardiness Zone map to find out if the plants you want will grow well. Once you choose your plants, you can begin to outline your garden and where each type will be planted to ensure its sun, shade, and moisture needs are being met.
Be sure to seek out certified organic plants and/or certified organic seeds. You may be able to find them at big box stores, but you’re better off at your local garden shop or an area farmer’s market. Most of your herbs and vine veggies grow best from the seed, so be sure to start your seedlings in late winter or early spring.

4) Planting

After you’ve chosen your plants, be sure and plant them in a way that is well suited for each plant. Raised beds are preferred for anything you’ll harvest such as cutting flowers, herbs, or vegetables. Plant vine veggies in long rows so they have lots of room to spread out. Plant your herbs in rows, but in closer clumps to discourage weed growth.

6) Watering

Of course, you’ll have to water your plants. Whether you water by hand or set up an irrigation system, the best time to water your plants is in the morning. It’s not very hot and there usually isn’t much wind, so the plants will be able to absorb the maximum amount of water. Be sure to water the roots and not the leaves. If leaves have water droplets on them when the sunlight shines on the plant, it can create a magnifying glass situation where the sun will burn the leaves.
Water your plants with lots of water, but only 1-2 times per week. To save water and help the plants keep their temperatures regulated, collect rainwater and use it to water your garden. If you don’t want to use collected rainwater, try using your filtered water so as not to reintroduce any contaminants back into the soil (and into your plants).

7) Weeding

Want to get some exercise? Get out in that garden and weed by hand! Hand-weeding is the best way to remove weeds because you’re not using any kind of sprays or chemicals. To cut down on the number of weeds, use your compost and if needed, use organic mulch on the top of your beds. Organic mulch will decompose into the soil. In a pinch, you can also use burlap fabric between the plants.

8) Protect from Pests

Bugs are a part of everyday life. Some will be beneficial for your plants, others won’t be. If you need to protect your plants from little critters, encourage predators like frogs, lizards, birds, bats, and ladybugs to hang out in your garden. Also, the more you diversify the plants in your garden, the less chance for a mass of bugs to hurt them. If you do need to spray your plants, look into Neem oil. Neem oil comes from the Neem trees in India and is a powerful bug repellant. Other plants (and their oils) like Citronella and lemongrass will help to repel bugs.

9) Harvesting

Finally, your hard work paid off and you get to reap the benefits of your labor. During the peak season of your various plants, you’ll need to check your garden everyday. Check the plant information for the best times to harvest your herbs and vegetables. If you have too much for you and your family, give some away or freeze and/or can your veggies. You can also fill ice trays with olive or sunflower oil and put fresh herbs in the oil. Freeze the oil cubes and this will help keep herbs fresh for a long time.
As you start thinking about warm weather, don’t forget to start planning your garden for spring. You’ll have tons of fresh, organic veggies all year at fractions of the cost. Happy planting!