Buy organic. Buy local. Think global. Impact the world.

8NHBORBRVR 3What eat organic?

 

Many people think, I should buy organic food because organic food is better for me. Well it is better for you because a bunch of nasty chemicals weren’t used to grow it, and weren’t subsequently absorbed by it to later get ingested by you, but that’s just part of the story.

 

When you buy organic food, you support organic farming. The more people buy organic, the more organic farmers we will have. That doesn’t just mean healthier people. If more food is grown organically, less chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are used globally, which means less runoff of these products into streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Our entire planet is healthier.

 

That’s why at Zukeeni, we’re keen on people growing their own, because that gives people the greatest control about what they’re consuming.

 

You might think all our food is safe, because we have governmental organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food & Drug Administration. Unfortunately, today’s farmers are legally allowed to use all sorts of known toxic chemicals in the growing process to boost yield, prevent insect infestations, etc. Any and all chemicals applied to a crop are absorbed by more than just the plants for which they were intended. Chemicals applied by aerial spraying, are affected by wind and can affect the ozone. Any chemical applied to plants also goes into the ground and makes its way into our streams, rivers and lakes. That applies to chemicals we use in our yard or garden, not just the thousands of acres of farmland managed by large, faceless corporations.

 

For example, the herbicide Atrazine, while banned in the European Union for nearly a decade, is still widely used in U.S. agriculture, primarily on cornfields. It’s estimated 80 million pounds are applied to U.S. soil annually. Studies show atrazine chemically castrates frogs (a key marker species to ecosystem health) and it’s associated with breast and prostrate cancer in humans. LINK And studies have linked the pesticide chlorpyrifos to childhood developmental delays. Chlorpyrifos has been banned from use in households in the U.S. but is still commonly used as an agricultural pesticide on fruits and vegetables. LINK

 

We all make budget, availability and risk/reward choices every time we shop, so if you can’t afford or choose not to buy organic all the time, try to buy organic where it matters most. Most healthcare professionals and healthy eating advocates agree that the meat and meat by-products you eat (such as milk, butter, and cheese) should be organic. As for fruits and vegetables, get familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” — the 12 fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticides. According to the EWG’s review of 7,000 tests conducted in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the following 12 fruits and vegetables make up the current “Dirty Dozen”:

 

1. Strawberries

2. Apples

3. Nectarines

4. Peaches

5. Celery

6. Grapes

7. Cherries

8. Spinach

9. Tomatoes

10. Sweet bell peppers

11. Cherry tomatoes

12. Cucumbers

 

But let’s be clear—this isn’t a call to avoid fruits and vegetables for fear of ingesting pesticides. In fact, the EWG always makes a point of reinforcing its belief that the health benefits from consuming at least three recommended servings of vegetables and two of fruit per day far outweigh the risk associated with eating pesticide-laced produce.

 

And this doesn’t mean you need to buy organic all the time. Some plants have built-in insecticides, such as quinoa, so typically the plants are treated with very little if anything during their growing cycle. And let’s be honest, sometimes the price for organic is significantly higher, and particularly thick skinned fruits, such as bananas and avocados are naturally protected from pesticides getting absorbed into the part you eat. We like the motto, “Buy organic. Buy local. Think global. Impact the world.”

 

Zukeeni can help you grow your own vegetables without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. It also connects you to the food others in your community are growing.

 

 

Growing Healthier Vegetables

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Growing Healthier Vegetables
Note: The Smart Gardener team is using this Andesite Mineral Complexin our own gardens and can absolutely see the difference. When we come across a great product (especially one you are not going to find at your local Home Depot or even your local nursery) that we believe in, we want to let you know about it.

Re-Mineralize Your Garden To Grow Healthier, More Nutrient-Dense Plants

volcano-iStock_000007857193Nature has been re-mineralizing the soils of the earth through volcanic eruptions and sedimentation since the beginning of time. Volcanic eruptions scattered valuable minerals from deep within the Earth, while wind, rainfall and rivers helped redistribute them to areas around the globe. Glaciers also played a major role throughout the Ice Age by pulverizing rock and blending it into the Earth’s soil.  Prehistoric plants were rich in minerals due to the abundant supply available in the soil.

However, these valuable minerals have been significantly depleted in most soils over the years due to over-farming, erosion and other factors and as a result, plant life, soil health and bio-diversity have suffered.  Today’s soils contain no more than 16-20 minerals on average compared to 80-100 minerals millions of years ago.  Without these natural minerals, plants become weaker, require more water, produce less, contain lower nutrient levels and are more susceptible to stresses, pest infestation and other issues.  This lack of minerals in our soil also has a direct impact on the quality of the food we consume today.

Minerals And Your Health

vegiStock_000026429668Minerals are the building blocks of a healthy body.  Minerals are present in virtually all of the cells in the body and help ensure that our internal systems function effectively and efficiently.  Minerals help the body build new tissues, balance pH, release energy from food and regulate a variety of other body processes.  The human body needs at least 45 – 60 different minerals for optimal health. However, on average only 8 minerals are available in any kind of quantity in most of the food we consume today – including fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Apsley states that “… that properly grown organic produce, in soils heavily re-mineralized with rock dust, are the key to health and longevity.  These are the only kinds of real foods that satisfy the hidden hunger plaguing the vast majority of people today”.

The good news is – if you are growing your own food, there is something you can do about this: re-mineralize your soil.

Plants Need More Than Just N-P-K

garden iStock_000006815439Although N, P & K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) are important, many growers focus solely on these inputs and overlook many of the 90+ natural mineral elements that are key contributors to plant and soil health. Elements like cobalt, sulfur, copper, manganese, boron, carbon, molybdenum, calcium, magnesium, zinc, silica, iron and others also play a very important role.

Plants produce vitamins, amino acids and varying amounts of fatty acids if they are grown in soils containing abundant minerals.  If the proper minerals either do not exist in the soil or are “locked up” and therefore unavailable to utilize, plants cannot achieve their full potential.  In the case of edibles, this lack of minerals also translates to a lower nutrient-density and lower brix (sugar content) levels in their production.   Microorganisms, which also play an important role in healthy soil, feed on minerals and organic matter to create humus, humuc acid, potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen and other trace elements.

Re-Mineralization Offers Several Benefits to Your Garden Including:

  • Providing a slow, natural release of elements and trace minerals
  • Improving nutrient uptake of plants
  • Increasing yields
  • Enhancing flavor in edibles
  • Encouraging earthworm and microbial activity in soils
  • Improving brix (sugar content) levels in plants
  • Producing more nutrient-dense edibles
  • Improving resistance to insects, disease, frost and drought
  • Improving Cation Exchange Rates in soils
  • Helping balance soil pH levels

Hand-with-ande-smallSmart Gardener can now help you re-mineralize your soil by offering Andesite Mineral Complex™ – a unique mineral blend containing broad-spectrum essential and beneficial minerals and trace elements.  Andesite is available in three different sizes to suit all types of growers and gardeners.  Click here to learn more or to place an order.

More about Andesite, click here.

How much do I need? Download PDF

To purchase Andesite, click here.

We love heirlooms!

We love heirlooms!

What are heirlooms?
It’s a question we get a lot. Jere Gettle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company has a perfect explanation:

“Basically, an Heirloom seed is one that has been passed down through families and is usually considered to be over 50 years old. Some varieties even date back to Thomas Jefferson’s garden and beyond.”

Unlike hybrid and GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds, which often have problems reproducing true to type, Heirloom seeds can be saved and replanted, year after year. Which is how they have been handed down over the generations.

Prior to the industrialization of agriculture, a much wider variety of plants were grown by farmers and gardeners. Regional differences developed over decades, in response to varying climate, soil, and cultural preferences. Unfortunately, many modern crops come from mega-farms, where they are grown in large, monocultures — hundreds of acres of the same plant. Where heirloom gardeners choose varieties to meet personal preference, industrial farmers choose varieties based on the ability to be mechanically harvested, shipped across country, and remain unblemished.

Why grow heirlooms?
There are several reasons to grown heirloom seeds. Not the least of which is protecting biodiversity. Remember the Irish potato famine in the 1840s? That’s a prime example of the dangers of relying too heavily on a single plant species. Since the Irish farmers were growing one particular variety of potato, which turned out to be susceptible to a type of potato blight that wound up wiping out their crops for years. If the farmers had grown several different types of potatoes, they likely would have had several varieties that were resistant to the blight that they could have used.

In addition to biodiversity, though, heirlooms vegetables and fruits are often more flavorful than hybrid and GMO plants. Think of a supermarket tomato compared with a tomato from your grandma’s garden. There’s no comparison! In fact, heirloom tomatoes are probably the single crop that has done the most for bringing awareness to the benefits of saving heirloom plants in the first place. Once they started showing up in restaurants and at farmers markets, word got out about how much better they were. Now you can get heirloom seeds for every plant imaginable, from asparagus to zucchini, and everything in between.

 

We’re excited about attending the 2012 National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, CA, September 11 – 13!  Our founder Kristee Rosendahl will be speaking about the benefits of using digital tools in support of local foodsheds. And to help our fans get excited, we’re giving away loads of goodies over on our Facebook page! In addition to our daily giveaways of Smart Add Ons and Smart Gardener market bags, on September 10, two lucky gardeners will win a three-day pass to the expo!

Attracting beneficial insects

Attracting beneficial insects

Beneficial predatory insects are an important element of an organic pest control strategy. Unless you have a serious problems, if they are living in your garden they will help to control pests without you having to do anything. While some insects, like ladybugs, can be purchased and released in your garden, you don’t really have to work at attracting beneficial insects, just provide the simple things they need and they will come.

Food
One of their requirements is a source of food, which mainly means lots of small nectar and pollen producing flowers (many beneficial insects are very small and have difficulty feeding from larger flowers). Plants of the carrot (Apiaceae), daisy (Asteraceae) and mint (Lamiaceae) families are all particularly good. This is why the herb garden is always alive with insects and is another good reason for planting many of these plants. Many weeds are good sources of food too. Highly bred garden cultivars aren’t very useful because they are often sterile and don’t produce much nectar or pollen.

Habitat
The other important need is for a diversity of undisturbed habitat, which gives them a place of refuge from predators and a suitable place to survive the winter (they won’t survive in the ever changing annual vegetable garden, which is often bare in winter). This can be a simple border, with a diversity of perennials and shrubs to give them a place to live.

How to mulch

How to mulch

I consider mulch to be an indispensable part of the summer vegetable garden.

  • reduces evaporation of water from the soil
  • prevents weeds (many weeds need bare soil)
  • supplies nutrients to the soil (when it breaks down)
  • protects the soil from damage by sun and air
  • reduces disease (by preventing soil splashing on leaves)

 

If a genetically engineered commercial product did as much, it would be patented, hailed as a miracle of science, promoted in all of the garden magazines and sold for a hefty price. Yet mulch does all of these things and more and costs next to nothing (or nothing).

The best all around material for mulching the annual vegetable garden is straw (avoid the similar looking hay at all costs, as it is full of weed seeds and can turn your soil into a weedy nightmare). Straw comes neatly compacted into a convenient (if rather heavy) bale, is clean and easy to use and looks quite attractive on the bed. If you are growing transplants, you spread a 2 to 3 inch layer around the newly planted plants (it will settle as you water). If you are direct sowing you have to wait until the seeds have germinated and the plants are a few inches high before you can apply it.

If you don’t have access to straw, you can use grass clippings or chopped tree leaves (run these over with a lawnmower to chop them, or put them in a metal bin with a string trimmer). Compost can be used as mulch too, if you have enough of it. You can also buy the hulls of cocoa bean, cottonseed and buckwheat for use as mulch, but they are expensive when compared to straw.

The only time I don’t recommend mulch if you have lots of slugs (it provides the perfect hiding places for them) or when you want the soil to warm up rapidly (it insulates it from the warming rays of the sun). Otherwise, it’s probably the most important thing you can do for your garden.

Show us your mom garden!

Show us your mom garden!

When I was growing up in the South, I thought it was some kind of tradition for Mothers Day where adult children visited their mothers and built them a garden. See, in my family, that’s what it felt like. In early May, we’d pile in the car and visit my Granny. On Saturday, my uncles would get good and dirty in the yard, clearing out the winter growth and get it all tilled up and ready for planting.

As an adult, I realize this isn’t nearly as common as I’d thought. Oh, I’m sure there are still great kids who spend a weekend getting their mother’s garden ready for planting. But I also think it’s because younger and younger moms are doing more gardening. And it’s no surprise. Increasing uncertainty around food safety and the homestead/DIY movement catching on, it’s no wonder more households are growing their own veggies and fruits.

Mothers Day Giveaway:
To celebrate all the Gardening Moms out there, we’re having a special Mothers Day gardening giveaway. It’s super easy to enter! Just show us your garden, and you can win a whole bundle of goodies to get your garden growing in the right direction:

The New Food Garden, signed by Frank Tozer himself,
and chock full of great info!

 

A $25 gift certificate for Peaceful Valley,
for all the seeds you’ll need!

 

All our Smart Add OnsShape, Succession, and Shade, Note,
Archived Gardens, and Calendar
, plus Herbs and Berries,
a $15 value!


To enter, show us your garden layout:

Share your garden on the Smart Gardener site. Just click the “share” tab at the very top, to the right of the name of your garden.

That’ll bring up a window where you can make a note about your garden, add photos, add tags, and set whether it’s private or public.

To make sure you’re registered in the contest:

1 entry: You can upload a screen shot of your garden to our Facebook page. Make sure you include your name and the name of your garden.

1 entry: Tweet us the link to your garden @smartgardener1, make sure to include the name of your garden.

1 entry: Reply to this blog post with the link to your garden, your name, and your garden’s name.

Extra credit:

5 entries: Share a link to your own blog showing off your garden layout on this blog, our Facebook page, or twitter.

Drawing:

All the entries will be placed in a spreadsheet and assigned a unique number. One winner will be chosen by random using random.org. The drawing will be held Sunday, May 13, at 6 pm Pacific. The winner will be announced as soon as he or she is notified.

So, get started sharing!
And good luck!

Basil

Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is one of the most common culinary herbs in the kitchen and the garden. It’s incredibly easy to grow, so it’s great for families that don’t have much time to tend to their plants. It also makes a great windowsill crop for those with little outdoor space.

Once you grow it, it’s not hard to find recipes for your basil. Pesto is a popular choice for Genovese Basil, and Thai basil is wonderful when added to Thai curries. Below you will find two simple recipes for basil that you’re sure not to find in Mom’s cookbooks.

Basil Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
3 large basil leaves

Bring everything to a boil, stirring regularly to ensure sugar is dissolved. Pour into a container and refrigerate until cold, keeping the basil leaves in the syrup. Your simple syrup will thicken more as it chills.

Use to make refreshing drinks, such as Basil Lemonade, or Cucumber Basil Gimlets. A great topping for Strawberry Shortcake, Peach Cobbler, Vanilla Ice Cream or Berry Sorbets!

 

Nam Manglak
(Thai Basil Seed Drink)

Recommended from Frank Tozer
2 Tbsp basil seed (from your basil plants, not from a seed packet)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp honey
2 1/4 cups water
1 cup rosewater

Using a tea strainer, rinse the seeds. Soak the basil seeds in 1 cup of water. Use the other 1 ¼ cups of water and heat with sugar and honey until dissolved thoroughly. Taste it and adjust the sweetness to your preference—it will get more diluted once the drink is finished. Allow sugar water to cool to room temperature. Add swelled basil seeds with sugar water at room temperature. Chill and serve over crushed ice.

Faluda is another beverage made with basil seeds that is very popular in Southeast Asia. Its ingredients are very similar, although it has many variations.

Don’t feed the birds

Don’t feed the birds

There are few things more frustrating than preparing, planting and pampering a bed of peas or beans and then discovering that the newly germinated seedlings have all been wiped out by birds.

In most places birds are only a significant problem in spring when they seem to relish the abundant succulent green seedlings, but in my garden quail can be a problem anytime. In winter they go for the Brassicas, in summer they like any succulent greens, and in fall they eat newly sown, or emerging, cover crops. I’ve learned the hard way if I leave a seedbed unprotected I am pretty much wasting my time, as I will be lucky to harvest anything from it.

Tips on how to protect your plants:

Easy: The easiest method to keep birds away is to use scare tactics such as flashing tape, hanging old CDs, scarecrows, and predator balloons. The problem with these is that birds will eventually get used to them and start to ignore them, though they may work long enough for your planting to grow out of its most vulnerable stage.

Functional: The usual solution to serious bird predation is plastic netting. This is awkward to handle and put up (it’s an extra step after planting that you don’t need), and somewhat hazardous to wildlife (I have released several tangled snakes) but in these circumstances it is a necessary evil. I usually support the netting on hoops made from lengths of discarded ½” polyethylene irrigation pipe, weighted down at the edges with wood or soil. It’s not particularly elegant, but its quick and it works.

Extreme: In the most extreme cases you might decide to cage the whole garden (especially if you are also plagued by rabbits, deer, squirrels, or raccoons). The simplest and cheapest way to do this is to put an 8 foot tall chicken wire fence around the garden and make a roof out of plastic bird netting.

Chervil

Chervil

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is related to parsley, and has a flavor similar to Tarragon. Chervil’s lacy leaves are finely cut and light green, as delicate and dainty as their flavor is subtle. The classic herb is essential in French fines herbs mixtures and is often used as a Tarragon substitute. Chervil has a refined taste reminiscent of Anise and Parsley, delicious in salads or to highlight sauces, sautés and soups. Because it can be difficult to find in the grocery market, Chervil is an important herb for kitchen gardeners to grow – its special flavor rewards your efforts many times over.

Chervil is best grown from seeds sown directly into the soil. It develops a long taproot, and does not transplant well. It prefers a cool, moist location, otherwise it tends to bolt. Even so, it is a good plant for succession sowing, so even if it bolts, the new plants can still be harvested.

Herbed Carrots

1 pound fresh carrots, peeled and cut
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chervil, divided
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. In a mixing bowl, toss the carrots with the olive oil and 1 tablespoon chervil, and salt and pepper. Place the carrots on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Remove the carrots from the oven. While the are still hot, toss with the remaining tablespoon of chervil, the butter, and more salt and pepper, if you desire.

How do I prepare my garden for planting?

How do I prepare my garden for planting?

If you’re like me, when the first warm days of spring arrive, you can’t wait to get out into the garden and start planting. It means winter is finally over and the gardening season has begun. You’ve been looking at seed catalogs for months and have plenty of ideas you’re just waiting to try. However, before you plant anything you need to get the soil ready.

Don’t be intimidated
This can be quite a bit of physical work, but luckily it is pretty straightforward and doesn’t take a lot of explanation. It helps to do it methodically though, so I’ll go through the steps here. And, while it may feel overwhelming to considering tackling a large garden space, keep in mind you don’t need to do the bed preparation for your entire garden at one time. You can easily do each bed as you need the space for planting, and leave the rest for another time. Start small to keep it manageable.

When to start
Just because it is a beautiful day doesn’t mean you can just go out into the garden and get to work on the beds. I know it’s tempting, especially after a long, wet winter, but digging very wet soil can damage its structure and cause long-term harm (not to mention being harder to dig).

To determine whether your soil has the right moisture content, you can do a rough check by lightly squeezing a handful of soil into a ball and dropping it from approximately waist height. If it doesn’t break up when it hits the ground it is probably too wet to dig (you have to take into account that a sandy soil breaks up more easily than a clay one).

Another indicator of excessive wetness is when you walk on the soil and leave shiny footprints where water was squeezed from the soil. If your garden tends to stay wet every spring, it helps to use raised beds, as they drain and warm up faster than flat areas.

One very wet spring I was so desperate to get outside and get planting I covered some of my raised beds with plastic sheet to prevent them absorbing any more rain. This actually worked quite well, though such extremes aren’t usually necessary.

Clearing the space
If the soil is dry enough to work, you can start bed preparation by removing all of the surface vegetation. If there are only a few weeds or dead crops, it only takes a few minutes to loosen them with a fork and pull them out. If you have been growing a cover crop over the winter, removing it is a much bigger job. The quickest and easiest way to do this is to skim off the above ground parts with a sharp flat spade and compost them (cut right down at soil level, to sever the top growth but leave the roots in the soil). You could also dig the cover crop into the soil, but it will need a couple of weeks to break down before you can plant into it. This means you will have to prepare beds a couple of weeks before you intend to plant.

Amending the Soil
Now that you have your garden bed cleared, it’s the perfect time to add any soil amendments you need. Typically, I add a couple of inches of compost and some standard fertilizer mix. If you know your soil’s pH balance if off, this is also a good time to add some ground limestone for acidic soil, or some pine sawdust for alkaline soils.

These are simply scattered on to the soil surface and then incorporated into the soil. If the soil is already in good shape, you can simply dig them into the top few inches of soil with a fork. If it isn’t so good then single digging works better. If the soil is very poor or compacted you may have to resort to double digging (usually you only need to do this once though).

Once you have your amendments thoroughly incorporated, all that remains is to break up any large soil clods with a fork and then shape the bed with a rake. It is then ready for sowing or planting and your garden season has officially begun.