Tag Archive for gardens

The “Cheerio Seeds” Scandal

PlantViewI’m sure most of you have seen that General Mills has been giving out free wild flower seeds in order to help save the bees. The long and the short of the issue is this: Handing out free seeds doesn’t make up for the refusal to stop using the chemicals that are killing bees in the first place.

Let’s back up and look at what glyphosate is. Otherwise known as RoundUp, glyphosate is an herbicide created by a Monsanto chemist John E. Franz in 1970 and was marked in 1974. Glyphosate is such a strong herbicide that it was also harming crops. This stemmed the research and funding for genetically modified plants that could tolerate the chemical in order for farmers to spread massive amounts of the toxin on their crops, killing weeds and not harming the crops at the same time. Eventually bio-engineers began designing “RoundUp Ready” crops which are now used extensively in the US and in a few other countries.

The severe drenching of fields with glyphosate and the engineering of glyphosate into crops has not been studied in full, but the amount of glyphosate “leeching” into honey is alarming, especially given that glyphosate itself has yet to be cleared of possibly be a carcinogen.  The EPA is currently researching this risk, but results won’t be available until sometimes this spring, at the earliest. Coincidentally (or not so), studies have also shown that glyphosate has drastically impacted bees’ memory abilities, hampering the ability to find food and return to the hive, and their appetite, leaving them starving while producing low amounts of honey and with no drive to collect pollen, which in turn means low pollination levels and poor crop yields.

(None of this post takes into account the other environmental impacts of glyphosate of the potential cancer risk, but we’re sticking to the topic of Cheerios and bees here.)

Cheerios has tested higher for glyphosate (RoundUp) than any recently tested food article, with levels over 1,100 parts per billion. Which means that the fields in which the wheat is grown for the cereal is drenched in the chemical. (The oats themselves do not contain glyphosate as there are currently no RoundUp Ready oats. However, General Mills does still produce other cereals with RoundUp Ready wheat.)

So what does the Cheerios branch of General Mills do? They launch a feel-good campaign, which is timed right in parallel with unsealed documents that have been discovered and which raise the question as to whether glyphosate is safe for use. Cheerios decides to give out packages of free wild flower seeds that consumers can plant to help the bee population. There are a few problems with these seeds:

1. The seeds are not marked as non-GMO/organic, which means there is a very good chance that they also contain glyphosate. Planting poison not marked as poison is still poison.

2. Seeds listed in the package are considered invasive in certain areas. The company’s response to this essentially equated to, “There’s still pollen, and that’s what the bees need.” Introducing invasive species only presents other problems. Please check the label carefully to make sure you’re not causing more harm! (For example, Forget-me-nots and California poppies – both in the mixture – are very invasive weeds in certain growing zones.

3. These seeds are not a promise from the company to end the usage of glyphosate. Anyone who has taken Advertising 101 or a comparable course can tell you that this is a “feel-good” campaign in order to raise customer satisfaction and to distract from the new information surrounding the weed killer General Mills uses on the grains that eventually become their cereal, which we in turn feed to our families.

If you would like to plant flowers for the bees, by all means, do so!

Fantastic lists of native plants to grow that will help increase pollination and bee populations can be found at The Xerces Society. Make sure that the seeds you are buying are from a reputable dealer who does not sell GMO seeds, or if they do, make sure it is from a seed company that clearly labels what seeds are GMO and are non-GMO. One great example of a company practising such transparency is FedCo Seeds here in Maine. Everything is clearly labelled in their catalogue and online.

Buy from local seed dealers who will know what will grow well in your area.

Aim for native plants if you are planting only wild flowers.

Grow non-GMO, organic crops if you are gardening.

Do good, but don’t by into the “feel-good” of a company trying to undermine you.

Spring begins…

 

Yesterday was Imbolc. I count Imbolc as the beginning of Spring, as do many pagan and heathen traditions. It’s the beginning of planting season for many, as we prep and start the seedlings and dreams will become this season’s gardens. It’s a time to fight back the cold of February by tending the fragile new life growing on your windowsill. 

What will you be starting in the garden? For projects? For personal growth? 

Gardens Continued: Companion Planting

Companion planting is a very natural concept. If you look out in the wild, you never see one form of plant by its lonesome. Daisies, black-eyed Susans, clover, and buttercups amongst others interweave into these communities of flowers. Maples, ash, willow, and pine mingle through the woods, rarely sanding aloof from one another. The plants that you do see by themselves look alone, deprived, and normally have a harder go at it than those mixed into a society of flora and fauna. Companion planting takes this idea that plants should not be segregated from one another and works towards growing plants with one another in a helpful, semi-self-sustainable type of gardening.

We’ve used companion planting – to a different degree each year – in all of our gardens. Sometimes companion planting works out well, other times, not so much. For example, it’s been a few years, but we did try a three Sister’s Garden of pumpkins, corn, and beans together. We didn’t have much luck that time, but I’m wondering if it was mostly “user error” as I didn’t look into the length of the growing season that the variety of corn I picked needed. (In Maine we have a very short growing season, so this is something to take into consideration.) I’m debating about trying the Three Sister’s Garden again this year now that I’ve had more time to reflect on what went wrong with that previous attempt.

Many people who now have gardens from our generation don’t know about the idea of companion planting simply because they grew up off from their parents and grandparents victory-style gardens that were popular starting in WWII. These gardens were functional and yet very carefully sculpted to fit the post-card time era that they were in. Companion planting went by the wayside at this time, but is now beginning to make a resurgence, specifically for those of us that have limited land space and prefer to do things without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Below is a chart that I made for a post a few years ago talking about companion planting. It’s very basic and only includes the basic gardening selections, but it gives a great starting point for those new to the practice!

What we’re planting… What they can be companions with…
Potatoes Cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi , bush bean, carrot, celery, corn, dead nettle, flax, horseradish, marigold, peas, petunia, and onion.
Lettuce Dill, beets, broccoli, bush beans, pole beans, carrots, cucumbers, onion, radish and strawberries.* Lettuce needs to be kept away from cabbage as it will deter growth and mess with the flavor.
Peas Corn, bush beans, bole beans, carrots, celery, chicory, corn, cucumber, eggplant, parsley, early potato, radish, spinach, strawberry, sweet pepper, tomatoes and turnips.
Beans Carrots, celery, chards, corn, eggplant, peas, potatoes, brassicas, beets, radish, strawberry and cucumbers.
Corn Amaranth, beans, cucumber, white geranium, lamb’s quarters, melons, morning glory, parsley, peanuts, peas, potato, pumpkin, soybeans, squash and sunflower.
Pumpkins Corn, melon, squash, marigolds, and oregano.
Tomatoes Asparagus, basil, bean, carrots, celery, chive, cucumber, garlic, head lettuce, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, parsley, pea, pepper, marigold, pot marigold and sow thistle.
Jalapenos
Cucumbers Corn, peas, beets, radishes, carrots, radishes, and dill.

 

Gardens Continued: “Wild Gardens” or “Wildcraft” Gardening

“Wild gardens,” of “wildcraft gardening,” is just as interesting as it sounds. Wild gardening works off the premise that all gardens can be fed and nourished on their own in a wild setup, needing minimal attention and yielding optimal production.Wild gardening is the practice of simply planting in the land around you and letting things grow, well, wild. This practice utilizes the natural weed growth as a protective barrier that provides shade and helps build the soil. It also allows insect populations to naturally help protect, pollinate, and tend the plants as well.

There are three key rules to the practice of wild gardening.

1. No cultivation. – Cultivation is still considered a more modern practice when it comes to growing crops. It is well known that over cultivation strips the land of the topsoil which in turn causes nutrient loss and is the primary reason while fertilizers need to be added back into the soil.

2. No chemicals. – No chemicals can be use. No chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or additives can touch either the soil or the plant. Using these can upset not only the seedlings in the wild garden, but the surrounding weeds and insects as well.

3. No weeding. – Obviously, in a wild garden which is purposely grown among the weeds, weeding out said weeds would be a bit of a shot in the foot as it breaks down the ecosystem that you’re borrowing to grow your garden.

The most important piece in planning a wild garden is in investigation work that is done before hand. The season following the start of your wild garden is a season of observation and discovery. In order to plan out a wild garden, watching the weeds that you plan on planting among is necessary.

By watching and recording the health and vigor of the different types of weeds it is possible to determine if there are any soil deficiencies that need to be addressed first. As with any garden, crops will grow best if the soil is ideal. Being able to prep the soil in the fall leading up to planting season is the easiest way to ensure the produce will being growing in the best soil conditions possible.

Tracking down when the two different sets of weeds sprout and die out is also important for planting the wild garden. Many areas exhibit two sets of weed growth, a summer growth and a winter growth. The best time for planting your spring and summer produce is just when the winter growth is done dying off and the sprouts for the summer weeds have yet to start growing. The reverse is ideal for the winter crops – summer weeds should be dying off and winter weeds sprouting when the seeds for the winter crop are planted.

While I would love to be able to give a list of what plants grow best in a wild garden, it would all be conjecture. We have yet to attempt a wild garden, though I think we might be game for one this spring. I can say that, in my readings on wild gardens, I have noticed that there seems to be a pattern. It seems that the produce more apt to grow haphazardly in the garden – such as tomatoes, squash, lettuce, bush peas – do well in wild gardens. Potatoes do so well that many folks simply leave them in the one spot for years on end, leaving enough in the ground for the next season’s garden.

If any of you have practiced wild gardening or are planning to do so, please comment with your experiences! This is a topic that I would love to learn more about from those who have actual experience with the process.

 

Gardens Continued: Raised Bed

One of the most prolific forms of gardening is the raised bed method. The raised bed method sinus tad it sounds: you are literally raising your garden bed.

Raised bed gardens start with selecting an area to fencing, or boxing in, with wood timber, cement blocks, or anything else that may be fashioned to hold soil. 

The height of the bed can vary form only a few inches above ground soil to a height tall enough to accomadate the elderly and handicapped. The minimum height is based off from whatever crops you are growing in the raised bed. The minimum height for growing lettuce allows for a very shallow box. Carrots, on the other hand, creates the need for a minimum of 12″ of raised bed depth. 

The width of the bed can vary just as much as the depth, from one row up to the entirety of a garden. The basic rule of thumb is this: make sure your raised bed isn’t so wide that you can’t teach to the middle for easy weeding. Additionally, it’s important to make sure that you leave enough space between the plants and the box framing to assure that the roots aren’t short on space. 

Some people plant their crops extensively in raised beds. While that is a possibility, depending on the size of your garden, it’s an expensive possibility. For our homestead, where we try to grow as much of our food as possible, raised beds serve a specific purpose. We save our raider bed ares for herbs, shallow root crops, such as lettuce and time intensive crops such as broccoli.  Not only does it make the certain crops more easy to notice in a large garden, but it also allows for easier access. The more thourough drainage of the raised bed is also a plus, prohibiting drowning and molding during wet seasons.