Garden, Plant, Cook!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

USDA Sued Over Deregulation of GMO Alfalfa - and Backyard Gardening Tips

 Dear Folks,

This blog is about the lawsuit over the deregulation of GMO alfalfa , demanding choices from the USDA and FDA, and also about getting you more serious about gardening at home.

. . .

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A lawsuit filed in California is challenging the federal government's deregulation of alfalfa that is genetically altered to withstand the popular weed killer Roundup.

Attorneys for the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice filed the federal lawsuit Friday in San Francisco arguing the U.S. Department of Agriculture's approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa in January was unlawful.

Attorneys for the groups say the USDA failed to provide adequate oversight of biotech alfalfa. They also say genetically altered alfalfa causes significant harm to the environment and conventional crops, and threatens the nation's organic industry.

A federal court barred the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa in 2007. The U.S. Supreme Court lifted the ban last year.

USDA officials say they are reviewing the lawsuit.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Read more about the lawsuit and the issues surrounding it at the two links below.

Contamination Certain from Unregulation

While the lawsuit proceeds, folks, it is important that we all make our voices heard both with our representatives and also with our chosen food supplies.  That at the very least we want labeling to know when the foods we purchase contain GMO components.

Go to my previous posts on the USDA's decision to de-regulate GMO alfalfa without safeguarding organic and natural famers fields.


USDA approves contamination of organic foods?

To summarize -- USDA and FDA requirements for organic certification is tough and complex and requires the producer to guarantee there are no GMO products in their fields or farm production.  With the USDA's decision to deregulate GMO alfalfa WITHOUT safeguards many organic food producers will be put out of business because THEY will not be able to guarantee freedom from GMO contamination.  The perfect "gotcha" from the USDA and FDA.  In conjunction with the refusal of the FDA to require labeling of GMO foods, the consumer loses all the way around.  No freedom of choice.

Read up on the First Lady's decision to grow an Organic garden on the lawn of the White House -- the information in this Wikipedia article indicates how Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack embraced the idea (he is now saying the USDA "can" regulate the contamination of GMO-Alfalfa).

"The day Michelle Obama broke ground on the new White House vegetable garden, a letter arrived for her from MACA, Mid-America Croplife Association, urging the Obamas to consider the need for traditional agriculture in America.[14] MACA went on to urge the use pesticides in their garden, to and increase crop yield so they could feed more people. "

White House Vegetable Garden

To help you get in touch with people, I have put a mailing list at the bottom of this blog for your convenience.  Writing is more time consuming but more effective - with the internet techno stuff, many political people do not pay any attention to emails or computer generated post cards.

. . .

Your Urban Edible Garden

The problem with statements like - "you can't feed ... with home or organic produce", is just not a fair depiction of home or local gardening.  Could you feed your family of say 4 from a backyard garden?

Personally I resent folks like Jeff Stier and Tom Vilsack, "telling" me I can't have a choice by making home gardening, organic or natural gardening, sound out of the capacity and range of the average American. T'ain't so!

About.Com has a nice article on doing some planning for growing some or all of the produce you eat in your backyard.  Make sure you consider how to 'put by' some of the harvest for off-season use.  In the past I've dried herbs, made them into flavored vinegars and teas, and canned peaches, apricots and apples.  I've also put together fruit pie 'kits' in the freezer for enjoyment in the winter.  When I had my goats and hens I drank the milk, made yogurt and ate the eggs.

If you have a lawn, then the water used to water that lawn could be used to grow edibles.  A few dollars of seed, some elbow grease and family involvement can give you a productive garden.  AND here in the desert if you pay attention to the basic rules for success in the desert I'm always writing about, you can be harvesting  year-round seasonal bounty.

Don't forget the three sisters/companion planting of corn, beans and squash to maximize protein along with vitamins, minerals and fiber.


How about adding hens for egg production to your backyard garden?  The term "chicken feed" probably does not apply anymore because the cost has gone up substantially.  However since you would not be housing your hens in a cage with only what you choose to feed them off the shelf, they can do triple duty for you which goes beyond the basic cost of feed. (And of course like preparing the garden, you have to prepare their quarters for their health and production.)

Chickens will eat many garden weeds, they will help you clean up the end of season garden mess (there are some plants they should not eat because they could be toxic), and they will keep garden bugs under control.  And they can be fun and amusing.

You have options in choosing whether to feed your hens organic feed (preferrable) or non-organic.  If you are currently purchasing organic eggs from local farmers markets or suppliers, you "may" save some money over what you pay directly, and you have the hens for their other qualities.

If you buy non-organic eggs and decide to raise hens on non-organic feed you may also save a little money.  If you want to continue the idea of Non-GMO support then you need to go organic, because like or not you have to presume all non-organic feed may be GMO.

Current prices for Organic Laying Feed for hens is around $29 (including tax) for a 40 or 50 # bag and winds up costing you about $1.16 a week to feed each hen her primary feed (there are other minor expenses AFTER you set up their quarters).  Non-Organic feed will cost you about half that.  6 month old to 18 month old hens will give you 5-7 eggs a week, and then start to taper off as they get older.

For a preferred list of supplies go to the Valley Permaculture Alliance  keeping chickens page.

I got prices from two organic suppliers:

Noble Beast in Scottsdale


Anita's Organic Feed - Prescott
Anita's is about 25% more expensive than Valley prices, but convenient for Prescott (Skull Valley) area residents.

You can consider raising your own meat animals - that is a choice which needs to be carefully considered with all family members, so do some research if this is something you want to consider.  Rabbits and chickens are options - not mine personally, but many folks want more control over everything they consume.

Check out the Valley Permaculture Alliance for a really helpful group of nice folks.  They are all about urban sustainability and permaculture to enhance your lifestyle. I am a member of their soil builders and micro-livestock groups.

. . .

Write The People Who Have a Say in Your Food Choices:

The Honorable John McCain
United States Senate
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-0303

The Honorable Jon Kyl
United States Senate
730 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-0304

The Honorable Paul A. Gosar
United States House of Representatives
504 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0301

The Honorable Trent Franks
United States House of Representatives
2435 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0302

The Honorable Benjamin (Ben) Quayle
United States House of Representatives
1419 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0303

The Honorable Ed Pastor
United States House of Representatives
2465 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0304

The Honorable David Schweikert
United States House of Representatives
1205 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0305

The Honorable Jeff Flake
United States House of Representatives
240 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0306

The Honorable Raul M. Grijalva
United States House of Representatives
1511 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0307

The Honorable Gabrielle Giffords
United States House of Representatives
1030 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0308
NOTE: While Representative Giffords is healing (for which we are all grateful) her staff keeps up with everything and therefore you can write and voice your opinion.)

For All Other States Go To:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Corn Planting Tips In The Desert

Dear Folks,

We are lucky enough in our desert gardens to have two planting seasons for corn.  The first planting time is quickly coming to an end (March 31st approx), so if you want to get a crop going NOW is the time.

First Make sure you purchase only heirloom or organic / naturally produced seed -- the chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow are gobbling up farms and acreage with their GMO seeds, so home growers NEED to make sure they are purchasing only Non-GMO seeds.

Pictured here is Black Aztec Sweet Corn an heirloom offered by Sweet Corn Organic Nursery out of Show Low.  They are selling at the Mesa Farmers Market (and I've purchased some of their tomato plants to jump start my tomato production following our freezing set-backs).

Off and on over the last decade I've grown corn, testing several varieties including the Black Aztec, Strawberry, and one of the bi-color sweets.

Here in the Southwest you may want to go more traditional and grow one of the blue varieties.


1) Grow ONLY one variety at a time - you are going to want to save 1 or 2 ears at the end of the crop to dry for replacement seed and they will cross if plant 2 or more varieties at the same time.

2) Forget about strict row planting only for corn because they need to pollinate each other - Plant in BLOCKS.  As my gardens have limited space when I plant a crop of corn, I usually plant single seeds approximately 6-8 inches apart -- or 12 inches apart if I'm growing something else with them - See "peas" below.

3) The soil should very well draining and fluffy with organics.  If you have a lot worms in your soil that is a good indication you have good enough soil.  Spade up and turn the soil over, and level just before planting.

4) Soak the corn seeds overnight before planting.

5) Plant the seeds 1 inch deep, firm the soil lightly over them and water in very well - even if you just watered that part of the garden.  Keep the soil surface slightly moist until you seed growth (about 2 weeks), then start backing off the watering to encourage deep roots.


Plant some sugar peas with the corn for more fun edibles and productive soil.  The peas fix nitrogen back into the soil that the corn uses up.  In the tradition of the "Three Sisters" planting concept of our Native Americans, corn, a legume and a melon or squash were all planted together in the original intentional companion planting concepts.  In return the people got a complete and balance diet of high protein (corn + beans = complete protein) and the squash provided additional vitamins and minerals.  The soil benefited too because of the nitrogen replacement of the legume and the soil canopy of the squash minimized evaporation and maximized the limited water in the arid regions.

I like sugar peas and they can be planted at the same time as the corn or just after the corn seedlings emerge.  Soak the sugar peas for 8 hours before planting.  The pea vines will grow up the natural trellis of the stalk.

As the corn and peas grow, you will have an opportunity to harvest peas before the corn.  Pick the pods regularly and you get more peas!

When growing corn the most problematic pest is the corn ear worm.  As soon as you see first silk, take an eye dropper and any vegetable (mineral oil is traditional) oil and gently insert the dropper into the base of the silk/tip of the ear and put several drops of oil in, put another drop or two of oil at the exposed silk base.  The oil keeps the moth eggs from hatching and doing their damage.

As the corn grows eventually you will see the silks darkening and then drying out.  The test is to pull back some of the husk and silk and break one of the corn kernels to see if it produces a 'milky' juice - when it does they are ready to harvest.  Old time corn farmers would yell to their wives to get the kettle water boiling and they would rush into the house with the newly harvested corn.

LEAVE 1 or 2 EARS On the stalks, and allow to completely dry out. The kernels should be as dry as the ones your originally planted.  Remove from the cob and allow to dry more if needed.  Store in paper envelopes in cool and dry conditions as you would other seed.  You can plant next spring, or if you become addicted to the corn -- plant for fall crops beginning in June/July.

If you have never had just picked corn, it is possible to eat the kernels fresh and uncooked right from the plant, they are that sweet just as picked.  The reason so much research went into producing hybrid sweet corns is that the sugars begin to wane as soon as the corn is picked, so the researchers wanted sweet corn with staying power - enter the super sweets.

Also, unfortunately, chemical laboratories which wanted to produce franken-corn that would kill the corn worms from the inside by genticially producing corn seeds which contain insecticides.

Cooking Tips:  Instead of boiling - a perfectly fine way of cooking too -- grill your corn - as with all vegetables roasted or grilled the super hot cooking process condenses all the sugars for super taste.


To roast or grill corn, you want to gently pull back the husks, remove the silks, pull the husks back over the corn, soak a few minutes in water and toss on the grill.  (You can also make flavored butters to brush on before replacing the husks or after you pull them off the grill.)

SAVE THE SILK - I love recycling particularly when you get to use some food part you might otherwise through away.  Make corn silk tea!  An old 'herb' remedy for arthritis and bladder infections (and a new one to me - I'm always learning something!), I happened to catch the reference in Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Food Network magazine.  Chef Jeff Smedstad of Elote Cafe in Sedona, runs through a couple of hundred ears of corn each night and saves the silks to brew up some tea for his staffs' stiff and achy joints.  Way to go Chef Smedstad! (2/3 cup of silk, 16 oz of water.  Simmer 10 minutes and strain - you can also add a bit of lemon and honey to taste.)

BACK TO THE PEAS - if you chose to grow the sugar peas with the corn, continue to harvest the peas until they stop producing.  Allow the pea vines to dry out completely before removing (this makes sure the available nitrogen gets fully into the soil - or turn the vines back into the soil with a pitchfork).  Pull the corn stalks when you are finished harvesting all the corn and 'seed' ears.

I hope you enjoy your patch of corn and beans! And, don't forget the silk tea for all those gardeners' aches.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spray for Aphids Followup

Dear Folks,

Janet wrote: Aphid comment: I tried the safe soap solution which didn't work. But a combination mixed with NEEM oil did the trick immediately! I highly recommend spraying plants with aphids with a NEEM Oil soluion.

Janet is correct that neem oil can certainly be a component of the safe soap spray, but IF the original spray did not work, it may be due to not reapplying it to break the egg/hatch/birth cycle.  Since egg producing aphids function on a 7-day life cycle it is important to reapply the spray every 5 days for a total of 3 times.  It is always best to spray (make sure to get underside of leaves and down the center of growth as well as the top of the leaves) in the twilight to avoid sunburn to the plants.

Live-birth varieties of aphids can be even more of a problem, and the 3 times process really needs to be followed for control.

If there is any residue of spray when you harvest - simply rinse off the leaves or fruits.

Happy gardening!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Hail Coming? Storm Front Will Drop Temperatures.

Dear Folks,

With the low pressure and storm front moving in tonight bringing about 20 degree overall cooler temperatures to the valley for Monday, this is the kind of weather change that could bring hail during the 'rainy' part of the storm.

If you have tender seedlings, prepare to cover them as necessary to keep them from being pounded.  I don't expect freezing temperatures, just one of those seasonal transitional hail possibilities.

I am always a little more cautious about hail after the spring/summer hail storm we experienced some years ago which flattened everything in the garden except the trees (and they took a pounding).

A footnote to that storm was the growth of my 7 foot wide basil plant.  Although I don't want you to look forward to such a reaction, what happened was the flattened stems rooted out and up and became this enormous basil the likes I have not seen since.

While you are watching out for things, don't forget the aphids of spring!  The hard freeze kept their numbers under control in my gardens, but my customers have told me about major infestations.  Keep the safe soap sprays handy and use as soon as you see even minor activity.

The weather will be lovely again by the end of the week :-)

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady