Planting Your Garden

Spring is here! As we put those tender seedlings into the ground, up sprouts the constant question: should I go Organic, or should I show up my neighbors by using Miracle Grow? Will I poison my children if I use it on my tomatoes? Is my neighbor’s cancer due to Round Up™, and did it blow over into my yard? If a lawncare company treated my grass, are my grass clippings poisoning my compost?

So many questions for such a busy season!

“Organic” is a shady term to start with. We think of hippies and happy sheep, and fields strewn with mulch and recycled orange peels, when in reality it just means the land cannot have been treated with synthetic pesticides, fertilizers (including Miracle Grow), or GMOs for three years. Sounds nice, right? Except that two of the three companies licensed by the USDA to certify organic farms are for-profit (Oregon Tilth is not). The farmer wanting to be certified pays the company to license them. That’s like paying a teacher to give you a grade. The problem is worse overseas: 100 countries export “organic” produce to the USA, and though they are supposed to abide by US law, the countries inspect and license their own. And let’s not forget that a good percentage of “organic fertilizer” in many countries is human in origin.  (The E. coli that keeps poisoning lettuce is usually animal in origin).

Won’t chemical fertilizers like Miracle Grow poison me? No. Plants don’t care where the nutrients come from, horse manure or a green and yellow box. Plants use them the same way. The issues with Miracle Grow are 1) the concentration of ammonium phosphate may be too high for some plants. MG makes different formulas for roses, tomatoes, azaleas, etc. Choose the one you need. 2) The greatest issue for chemical fertilizers is that heavy rains can wash a recent fertilizing away. If twelve homes get washout, and it flows into the brook behind them, too high a concentration in water systems can cause algal blooms that suck up oxygen and kill wildlife.

Okay, but what about Round Up™? If I kill the dandelions in my walk, won’t I die?

Uh, that’s a loaded question. Yes, more than 14 countries have banned Round Up (chemical: glyphosate), and while the courts have said yes, Round Up causes cancer, the US maintains it does not. And there’s the difference: In Europe, you must prove a chemical is safe before it hits the market, and that’s hard to do. In the US, chemicals are presumed innocent and you must prove they’re harmful – which is really easy to sidestep even with math and science. In America, it is up to the manufacturer to show their product is harmful, not the government (Got that? The man making and marketing the product must show that what he’s selling is harmful.) When the people with highest exposure to Round Up were studied (ie, farm workers), they had a 41% higher risk of a type of cancer called Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. People with heavy, frequent exposure over time. NO risk was found in people who go outside three times a year and spritz a weed. If you want to use it, do so sparingly, wear rubber gloves, and wash with soap immediately after, and whatever you do, don’t inhale it. 

But if those chemicals wind up in my compost bin, won’t they pollute my compost? Mm, depends. According to John Reganold, Professor of Soil Science at Washington State University, “The heat and microbial action of most compost piles break down many produce pesticides.” So don’t feel bad throwing that non-organic banana peel in the pile. BUT: some pesticides (like clopyralid – Reclaim) can become concentrated. Things like termiticides bind to the soil and last a long time.  And even treated and composted animal/human waste can still contain parasites. If in doubt, buy local, where you can ask what might have been sprayed on the food.

But rest easy: Miracle Grow has never been shown to cause cancers.

So, is organic worth it? Depends on what you’re willing to pay. The most chemical-contaminated foods in the grocery store are strawberries, peaches (more than 57 pesticides on one sample), celery, lettuce and greens (and that’s not counting the E. coli risk), and most other fruit. If you want to reduce your pesticide ingestion, consider buying organic just for fruits (or grow your own), and wash, wash, wash what you do bring home.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are about the best thing there is for your body, and growing your own, organic or not, is a fun (and tasty) experiment anyone can do anywhere. Try growing some popcorn, or a yellow or brown or purple heirloom tomato. Pole beans are great for kids, because they grow incredibly fast and are very prolific, as are grape tomatoes (so why are they so expensive?).

No matter which method you use, read further on gardening in these topical books:

Starter Vegetable Gardens : 24 no-fail plans for small organic gardens by Barbara Pleasant

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

101 Organic Gardening Hacks : eco-friendly solutions to improve any garden by Shawna Coronado

Rodale’s All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, edited by Fern Marshall Bradley and Barbara W. Ellis

Organic Gardening for Dummies / by Ann Whitman, Suzanne DeJohn,

The Organic Lawn Care Manual  by Paul Tukey

Vegetable Gardening : from planting to picking by Fern Marshall Bradley, Jane Courtier

High-Yield Vegetable Gardening : grow more of what you want in the space you have by  Colin McCrate and Brad Halm

Northeast Fruit & Vegetable Gardening : plant, grow, and eat the best edibles for Northeast gardens by Charles Nardozzi

The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible by Edward C. Smith

 

Get Gardening With the Whole Family

Spring is here. This means it is a perfect time to start researching and planning what you want to grow this year. I am already dreaming about sunflowers, lavender, fresh tomatoes, and a variety of other produce and herbs. I love to garden, and have always been spoiled with the gift of family with very green thumbs. I adore fresh flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables and am glad to grow or have access to a wonderful supply each year.

kidgardenDuring the garden planning and planting process do not forget that everyone can take part in gardening. No matter the age, we can all dig a hole to plant a seed or young plant, pick out a plant to grow, or help chose a container to plant in. A wonderful trick to getting children (or adults) to try new foods is to have them help grow, pick, and help wash and prepare them.

kidgardens44The library has a vast gardening section in the adult nonfiction section to help with the important planning and plant choices. However, do not overlook the books in the children’s room. These books can give gardeners of all ages some ideas and inspiration to garden as a family, or to give the kids their own special little container or garden space. Here are a few of the great gardening books about involving children and getting them excited in the process.

Garden to Table: A Kid’s Guide to Planting, Growing, and Preparing Food by Katherine Hengel with Lisa Wagner
Container Gardening for Kids by Ellen Talmage
The Family Kitchen Garden: How to Plant, Grow, and Cook Together by Karen Liebreich, Jutta Wagner & Annette Wendland
The Nitty-Gritty Gardening Book: Fun Projects for All Seasons by Kari Cornell
Gardening Projects for Kids: 101 Ways to Get Kids Outside, Dirty, and Having Fun by Whitney Cohen and John Fisher
Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy
Kids’ Container Gardening: Year-Round Projects for Inside and Out by Cindy Krezel
How Does Your Garden Grow?: Great Gardening for Green-Fingered Kids by Clare Matthews
Gardening With Children by Monika Hannemann
A Kid’s Guide to How Herbs Grow by Patricia Ayers
It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden by George Ancona

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