Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Garden’s Been Poisoned!

No joke, my garden has been poisoned. And as far as I can tell, I have Dow Chemical to ultimately blame.

I live in Florida and our ground is just sand. I have to amend and create my own garden soil. So I compost, add fish emollient, and pick up loads of horse manure from a local farm.

A couple of months ago, my neighbors and I got a load of manure from the horse farm to use in our spring beds. We have been doing this for years with great success. We pick up a trailer load of partially composted horse manure, bring it home, finish composting it, and then use it as the soil in our garden beds. Well, the manure has been composted, and we began filling our beds with it.

I used the new compost in a bed that currently is half full of greens. I spread the compost in the empty half of the bed and direct sowed Wando Peas, broccoli, and carrots. The peas came up first and looked a little weak, but it’s been cold and dry, so I chalked it up to that. The broccoli came up and looked good. The carrots never even sprouted. As the peas grew, it became obvious that something more than dry weather was the problem.

Herbicide Poisoned Pea Plants

At that same time, my Feb/March issue of Mother Earth News arrived. In it was an article called, “Killer Compost Update: Herbicide Damage Still a Major Problem.” The picture that was displayed with the article caught my attention because it looked just like my peas.

022813 burned pea plant 3

The article explains that two Dow AgroSciences herbicides (picloram and clopyralid) are being found in composts and animal feeds. My heart sank. I had the terrible suspicion that my new compost was contaminated.

I called my neighbor to see if she had used the new compost yet, and if so, what her results were. She walked me over to her bed of English Peas. They were all dead or burned and wilted. We had become the victims of Killer Compost.

The horse farm does not use herbicides themselves, so they were introduced either through the hay or through the Purina horse feed. Either way, our ton of compost is toxic and we have no way of knowing if any alternative sources of manure will be herbicide-free. If the herbicide was introduced through the Purina feed (as Mother Earth explains is a very good possibility) we will have to find an organic farm that feeds only organic grains, grasses, and hays.

There is no remediation for picloram or clopyralid once it has been introduced. It will remain active in the soil for years. My neighbor and I have to dig up our beds and remove all of the toxic compost. What we do with it then is up for debate. It survives digestion and hot composting, so there doesn’t’ seem to be any way to break it down. We will either spread it on walkways or burn it.

Mother Earth is calling for these persistent herbicides to be outlawed entirely before it becomes impossible to grow organically. Please join their fight with me. Write to Richard Keigwin, director of the EPA’s Special Review and Reregistration Division at to let him know about your concerns.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Seed Swap

One of the great things about seeds is that they are so easy to save and swap with others. I love trading seeds with my friends and neighbors. It allows us to broaden our plant varieties without stretching our budgets.

I recently got the opportunity to swap with a friend of mine before he left for a vacation. He had already started the seeds, so instead of baggies of seeds, I got two trays of seedlings! The first tray had bush beans and English peas. I just started peas in my beds, so I am really looking forward to getting these seedlings in there and having some succession harvesting ahead of me.

022113 sprouts 1

The second tray had watermelon, tomatoes and cucumbers.

022113 sprouts 2

Clint was afraid that these seedlings wouldn’t survive his absence while he is on vacation. So I swapped him seeds for his seedlings that he could plant when he returns. I gave him some corn, ground cherries, peppers, and Dragon Tongue bush bean seeds.

Seed saving and swapping has a long and important history. It has been vital to the preservation of heirloom varieties of seeds. Heirlooms are necessary because they represent culturally diverse and endangered crops and agricultural freedom. A diverse seed catalog is a cornerstone of food security. If growing seed that has been selected for your region, soil, weather, and superior flavor is important to you, then you should definitely consider taking part in this long held tradition.

Seed saving and swapping is the best way to break the hold that Mega Corps like Monsanto and Dow have on our agriculture. To further support conserving and promoting heirloom seeds, consider joining the Seed Savers Exchange. Not only do they do great work to support an enormous variety of ancient seeds, but they also offer members fantastic educational opportunities and a good discount on seed purchases.

So start talking to your friends and neighbors. Find out what kind of seeds they have laying around the house. Seed swaps are fun and economical, and they are good for plants too.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Seed Starting for Spring 2013

Well, its nearly spring here in Florida, and with days that have highs in the 80s, some might contend that spring has already sprung. We have at least on quick freeze likely to hit us this weekend, and then I think we will be officially on a warming trend. And if that’s true, then there is no time like the present to get my spring seeds started!

Last year I bought a tool to make my own paper seed starter pots. I blogged about it here:Time to start seeds? 

Yesterday I had an afternoon free and began making my fully biodegradable paper pots and starting some seeds. Here’s what I have done so far.

  • I made 64 little newspaper pots. I love this method because it recycles my junk mail and makes pots that won’t bind root systems.

021313 paper pot

  • Then I planted the following organic heirloom seeds:

021313 Seed Starts 1

    • 4 Kerala Red Amaranth
    • 4 Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth
    • 2 India Jwala hot peppers
    • 2 Tam Jalapeno peppers
    • 4 ground cherries
    • 4 Dragon Tongue Beans
    • 4 Mammoth Sunflowers
    • 4  Moonwalker Sunflowers
    • 4 Burgundy Okra
    • 4 Purple Beauty Peppers
    • 4 Sweet Red Stuffing peppers
    • 4 Friariello Di Napoli peppers
    • 4 Amy’s Apricot tomatoes
    • 4 Homestead tomatoes
    • 4 Black Cherry tomatoes
    • 4 Yellow Wonder Strawberries
    • 4 Jewel Nasturtiums

021313 Seeds Starts 2

A lot of these seeds are new to me, so it will be a real experiment to see if I cultivated them correctly. I am really excited to be growing Amaranth this year. I have been reading about it’s super-food status, and I love the idea of growing something that I can eat the leaves and harvest grain. I plan to devote the bed I have in the front yard to the Amaranth because I think it will be pretty enough to proudly display.

I am keeping the seed starts in my little 3-Shelf greenhouses while it is still cold at night. I plan to do another 64-100 more starts to get me through spring and summer. I’ll update when I get those going too.

Isn’t this the best time of year? Don’t you just love all of the possibilities? Every one of these little pots of dirt represent a potential harvest to me. And I am so excited to find out if my investments will profit. It is amazing to think that these small trays will develop into whole large beds of plant life in the coming months. I can’t wait to see them all grow up!

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Blogger Labels: Florida,trend,Last,tool,paper,starter,Time,afternoon,Here,newspaper,method,Kerala,Amaranth,Love,Lies,India,Jwala,Jalapeno,Dragon,Tongue,Beans,Mammoth,Sunflowers,Moonwalker,Burgundy,Okra,Purple,Sweet,Friariello,Napoli,Apricot,Homestead,Black,Cherry,Wonder,Strawberries,Jewel,Nasturtiums,food,status,grain,yard,Shelf,possibilities,dirt,investments,life,systems,greenhouses,tomatoes

Friday, February 15, 2013

It’s Sauerkraut Season


Here in Northeast Florida, it is cabbage season. All around me are fields full of bright green, dark green, and purple cabbages. They are in such an abundance that I do not bother to grow any myself. I do, however, buy them from the local produce stand (The County Line) and make delicious, lacto-fermented Sauerkraut.

Making lacto-fermented Sauerkraut is super easy. Basically, you just let the cabbage and brine sit for a week. Here’s the details:

  1. You will need a large container to pound the cabbage in, a container for fermenting (I’ll discuss this later), a potato masher, sea salt, spices (optional, but I like celery and caraway seed and black sesame seed).
  2. Shred or thinly slice a couple of heads of cabbage. It can be any cabbage you like. I prefer to use the beautifully colored red cabbage and the crunchy savoy cabbage for my sauerkrauts.
  3. As you add the sliced/shredded cabbage to the large container, lightly salt each layer and give it a good pounding with the potato masher.
  4. Continue layering, salting (and spicing if using) and pounding until you run out of cabbage.                            021213 crushed cabbage
  5. Let the cabbage sit in the container for several hours. Give it a good pounding every 15-30 minutes. You are looking for the cabbage to start expressing its water. You want to get as much water out of the cabbage as possible.
  6. At the end of the day or when you feel you have a good brine started, begin to pack the wet cabbage into your pickling container. I use The Picklemeister glass fermentation jar. This is a great contraption. It has a gallon capacity  and a fitted airlock so you don’t have to worry about contamination. You can use a regular jar and cover it with cheese cloth, but you will need to remove the scum from the top of the surface every couple of days. With the Picklemeister, this is not necessary.
  7. As you add the cabbage to your fermenter, make sure you mash it down very tightly. Hopefully, there will be enough natural brine to cover the top of the cabbage in the fermenter. If not, add a cup or two of saltwater solution (1tablespoon per 2 cups of water should be sufficient) to the cabbage.
  8. Weigh the cabbage down so that it is fully covered by the brine. If you are using an air-locked fermenter, cover it and add the airlock now.021213 Sauerkraut
  9. Next, you just wait. Give the cabbage a taste every day or so to track how the fermentation is going. Here in Florida, where it is fairly warm, it usually only takes 5-7 days to reach a fully mature sauerkraut.
  10. Once you reach a taste that works for you, move the sauerkraut to the refrigerator. This will keep the bacteria from continuing to work and making the kraut too sour. As long as the cabbage remains under the brine the kraut will remain delicious and full of beneficial lactobacillus. You may also can the sauerkraut at this point to keep it shelf stable, but this will kill off the beneficial bacteria.

I hope you give this easy fermentation craft a try. It will turn even a hot dog into a mouthwatering meal!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Organic Growers School Conference

I am planning a trip to the Organic Growers School Conference again this year. I can’t wait to take some courses on backyard beekeeping, mushroom growing, and cheese making!

Last year I went and it was a transformative experience. I learned so much that has continued to enrich my life, and the lives of those I care about. I knew then that I would be making the OGS Conference a yearly experience.

There’s still time to register. Go to the OGS website for more information on the class and workshop schedule. I’m caravanning up from Florida with some of my girlfriends. I hope we see you there!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013



I was so excited to score these little, three-shelve greenhouses on clearance from Big Lots at the end of spring last year. They have been sitting in my garage waiting for when I needed them. This winter has been so mild, they were unnecessary. Until now!

I got my spring seed order in the mail from Baker Creek yesterday, and I am ready to get some seeds started. It is supposed to freeze here this weekend, (if it happens, it will be our first freeze of the season) so my seed starts are going to need some protection. Time to dig out those greenhouses!


They were super easy to put together. No tools required! They wouldn’t be sturdy or warm enough for someone with serious winter weather, but they will do very well for those of us in the lower Southeast. Now I got to get to planting some seeds!

Friday, February 8, 2013

We Skipped Winter and are well into Spring

Well, we seemed to have skipped winter entirely here in Florida. I no sooner got my Fall/Winter crops planted before I realized that I need to start thinking about spring planting! My bok choy, daikon radishes, collard greens, mustards, and lettuces are all doing really well, though some have already begun to bolt! Our cold season was so mild, that my tomatoes from last summer all set new fruit and I have been eating garden fresh tomatoes in my salads all winter long. I can’t complain about the bountiful winter harvests, but I know it also means that this summer will be an unbearable mosquito (and other garden pests) season.

I’ve been canning up a storm here because our Meyer Lemon tree just exploded with fruit this year. Our little tree probably had over 100 softball sized lemons on it! We had to bungee cord it together to keep it from breaking under the weight of all that fruit. I canned dozens of half pints of delicious Meyer lemon marmalade, and also made some absolutely decadent lemon curd. It tastes like candied sunshine!

I’ve also been working furiously on a spreadsheet of my seed catalog and a method of organizing them. I think I am finally on to a winning method. I’ll write more about that soon.

And lastly, I am reading a great book about the grassroots food movement called, Reclaiming Our Food by Tanya Denckla Cobb. I heard about this book on Twitter and am so glad that I picked it up. It is so inspirational! If you have ever wondered how you could get involved in community-based or local food, this is the book for you. Seriously, pick it up for no other reason that to get inspired about your own neighborhood.

I’ll be updating again soon as I get my seedlings started. I have two small greenhouses I will be constructing this week to get the seeds started. I am so looking forward to this year in the garden, and I hope you are too.