Friday, March 03, 2006

Plant Patents and GMOs - some brief thoughts

Dear Readers,

Recently I read a short interview with a plant designer – published in Sunset magazine. He spoke about how he imagines how he wants the plants to look, and then goes shopping for the genes. If he is unable to find the genes he wants, he mutates the genes he can find. The idea of growing plants with combinations of genetic material that Nature never intended to be in the same plant disturbs me. The idea of intentionally mutating genes is just as disturbing.

I have been reading other gardeners concerns over genetically modified plants, as well as patented plants. I don’t claim to be an expert on either of these topics. And while they are separate concerns, they do over lap.

The plant patents make it against the law to reproduce those specific plants in any way. This of course is a problem for seed savers, and aspiring nursery people. I have heard that folks have been prosecuted under these laws who have inadvertently or accidentally reproduced these plants.

The main problem with saying that a living thing may not be reproduced – is that it is the nature of living things to reproduce. With flowering plants it becomes very problematic, because pollen is air born. It has been shown that corn grown in remote villages in Central America contains genetically modified genes – even though that corn has been saved from the same stock that the villagers have grown for many generations. This phenomena is called genetic drift – it is the result of wind dispersed pollen. Pollen can disperse through out the world on the jet stream.

Because of this impossibility of keeping these plants from reproducing, the possibility of law suits, and the reality of the pollen contaminating native and heirloom plants - there is a call from many gardeners to boycott patented plants. I find after much careful thought that I agree.

Boycotting patented plants may go a long way towards boycotting GMOs also. The problem with trying to boycott GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) directly, is that those who produce and sell GMOs are not required to label them as such. They don’t have to label them at all. However, after their investment in making a temporarily unique product - they will probably want to attempt to protect that product with a patent. By not purchasing these patented plants we will reduce the amount of tampered pollen floating around our atmosphere.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Yellow Cherry Plums In Bloom

Dear Readers,

It is dang cold! But outside my office window there is a plum tree in bloom. It is catching the few rays of light that are escaping through the storm clouds, and it is fairly glowing. Actually, it is more than one tree. It is heading towards a hedge, all from seeds I throw along the fence line. Prunus nigra has lovely sweet flowers, awesome purple-mahogany bark, the wood is a tawny gold, and it adds a nice flavor to the smoke house or BBQ. And the dang thing has 2 inch thorns – so it makes a nice security hedge. Last but not least the cherry sized yellow plums are sweet and tangy. They are great in fruit salads, jam, and fruit butter. I think they could make an interesting fruit salsa or chutney . . . Have I sold you on them yet? Lets see, from seed to fruit in about 3 years . . .

I will have seed to trade later this summer – contact me then if you are interested . . . .


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Easy Spring Salads

1268 words, Copyright, 2006, Harvest McCampbell
Published by the Hoopa Valley People Newspaper 2/28/06
Posted here with permission

Hardy and delectable spring salad greens can be easily grown starting today! While our Northern California soils may still be too wet to work, containers and raised beds can give us a jump on the growing season. They warm up faster, drain better, and we can hand select the soil mix to best serve our needs.

Your early salad garden can be as simple as planting in a few empty discarded pots, recycled kitchen containers, or used tires. The sturdy plastic bags that take out foods and dog biscuits often come in can even be pressed into use in a pinch. Simply poke some holes in the bottom for drainage, fill with planting mix, and place them somewhere they won’t get tipped over or stepped on and you are ready to go.

Tires, although some what unsightly, make superior raised beds. The dark color warms the soil, speeding the growth of plants. They can be placed right out in the garden or landscape. A spot under or near a deciduous tree is ideal. Salad greens benefit from winter and early spring sun, but once summer arrives they prefer shade. You don’t even need to dig the weeds out where you want to place your tires. Simply cut or mow the weeds, place a few layers of cardboard trimmed to the size of the tire down first, and set your tire on top.

If you have a budget for containers check out your local nursery, department, or membership store. You can often find deals on oak barrels, or large clay and plastic containers that will look great in your landscape. If you are growing for a large family a simple raised bed from 4 to six feet long, by 3 feet wide can be constructed from new or recycled lumber. If you hope to grow carrots as part of your salad mix it is a good idea to lay a piece of ‘Hardware cloth’ under your raised beds.

Hardware cloth is available in several mesh sizes, and rather then actually being a cloth, it is made from gopher proof wire. I find it holds up well in the garden and lasts for a number of years. This is a good thing, because it is a bit expensive. A layer of rocks under your beds can sometimes be as effective, however, if the gophers find a way in they can certainly wreck havoc in a short time.

When growing in containers I like to prepare a mix of compost or potting soil,. I add a source of nitrogen, a small amount of wood ash, and regular dirt from my yard. Winter and early spring soil mixes also benefit from an addition of sand to keep the soil from getting too soggy (just in case it continues to rain and rain and rain.) Your compost or potting soil provides your mix with a nice texture and should make up ½ to 1/3 of the bulk of your mix. The plain old dirt provides minerals and substance and should make up no more than ½ of your mix – unless you garden in a humus rich loam. Sand does not contribute nutritionally to your mix, and as such it should be no more than 1/3 total. Nitrogen rich items like Ready Grow with chicken manure, barnyard blend, composted or dried horse or steer manure, and coffee grounds will insure good growth. Wood ashes can also be added as a source of potassium and other minerals.

It helps to gather your ingredients, a wheel barrow or garden cart, and a large empty can or other scoop. Mix 4 parts each of compost or potting soil, dirt, and sand. Add to this mix 1 part each of your nitrogen source and wood ashes if available. When your ingredients are well mixed, take a good look and decide if it will suit your needs. With experience you will gain ideas on just how you want your soil to look and feel. Once you have fine tuned your recipe, simply stir up as much as you will need and fill your containers.

Before planting seeds, water the mix well and let it settle. You may find you have to top the containers up a few times before the soil settles to a nice even surface. The soil should be about an inch or two of the top of the container. This will prevent soil and seeds from escaping during watering as well as allowing sunlight to reach all seedlings.

At last we are ready for seeds! If you or someone in your family gardens, there are probably seeds languishing in a drawer or cupboard losing all hope that they will ever get to grow. However, if you don’t have seed that you can beg or borrow, nice salad blend mixes are sold under the name “Mesclun.” This is very cost effective, as you get everything you need in a single packet. If you are raiding Auntie’s seed drawer, radishes, carrots, lettuce, green onions, beets, Swiss chard, colorful cabbages, and kale can all be mixed together and broadcast over the surface of your containers. After sowing, it is a good idea to cover the seeds with a bit of potting soil or compost to help them stay moist. Sprinkle gently with water, being careful not to wash the seeds away.

The last planting step is to look around and see what you have that you can press into use as bird and cat protection. Both birds and cats love to dig around in newly prepared soil. The birds will steal your seed, and the cats . . . Well, you know what the cats will do. A tent made from an old light colored sheet is ideal. It lets in light and warmth, won’t over heat the soil, and it allows evaporation of excess water. A tent of news paper or light colored plastic also works well. With the plastic you need to be careful that it does not get too hot underneath. Seeds and seedlings can fry right in the ground if over heated. And newspaper is likely to collapse in the rain. If your budget allows it, you can always invest in floating row covers or garden netting. Both are available through most catalogs and many nurseries.

Check your containers every day. The soil needs to remain evenly moist for the seedlings to grow. Once the seeds have begun to germinate, you may need to raise or remove the coverings to allow for light and growth. I sometimes ‘plant’ a collection of sticks into my containers and beds until the plants take off. This can hold the covering up away from the little plants, and even without a covering it helps detour those scampy cats and birds.

Now you are a gardener! Within a month or so you can thin your plantings, the thinnings will be your first tasty salad greens. Once you have thinned the young plants to stand several inches apart, you can begin pinching individual leaves for salads and sandwiches. You may have radishes ready to pull in 45 days or so. Baby carrots and beats will quickly follow within 60 to 90 days. While you’re other greens will produce over a long period. Swiss chard and kale can live for up to two years. They are likely to take over the containers once the shorter lived lettuces have gone to seed.

Once your greens do go to seed, you will be able to pay your auntie back, share seed with friends, and start again, with a fall salad garden.

1268 words, Copyright, 2006, Harvest McCampbell
Published by the Hoopa Valley People Newspaper 2/28/06
Posted here with permission

Monday, February 27, 2006

Yesterday we had Thunderstorms!

Dear Readers,

Yesterday we had this tremendous storm blow in, high winds and some thunder crackling over the mountain tops. Overnight we got nearly two inches of rain, right in my front yard!

I could hear that storm brewing in the mountains and had heard its reports on the radio. So in the morning I went out and mixed up some soil for some containers. The day before when I was in town I scored a bag of coffee grounds from Starbucks. I don’t like Starbuck’s politics – but it is cool that they give away their grounds. More businesses ought to do so.

Sometime back we were discussing slugs and coffee grounds on one of the groups I belong to. That was when I first got interested in coffee grounds. Seems some research points to slugs being poisoned by fairly low concentrations of caffeine. Seemed worth a try – since I all ready knew worms love coffee grounds.

Well, what I found was that I had just about the same slug damage on plants mulched with the coffee grounds as the same type of plants without the mulch. But the mulched plants got twice as big as the plants without the coffee grounds, in just a few weeks!

Then I ran across a blog or a web site or something that talked about using coffee grounds in seed starting mix. I gave it a try and yeppers – the plants love it. So, I mixed an ample helping of coffee grounds into my mix of potting soil, garden soil, sand, and compost.

I had a bunch of cuttings and some “tater vine” bulbs to plant. And I wanted to get them all tucked into pots before the storm hit. I am trying to grow some apples, grapes, and roses from cuttings. My Son kind of raised his eyebrows, and I told him, “I don’t know if they will grow or not, but then I don’t know if the apple tree I bought will grow either.” These cuttings are compliments an Internet friend, and I need to try to get her trade out to her soon . . .

Whew, and I got done just as the rain started falling in earnest. I picked some kale and mustard and got myself inside. As I was heading in the door I heard the thunder crackling up in the high country. So I unplugged the computer and had a no Internet day.

For dinner last night I made a stir fry with those veggies plus onions, garlic, carrots and albacore. Which I served myself over organic long grain brown rice. Pretty dang yummy . . . Even if no one else even wanted to taste it.

Today it has mostly been raining. The breaks in the rain have all happened at times I was involved with something or other. So I haven’t gotten outside yet. Have you ever tried to separate chive seeds from chaff? Dang . . .

Dinner is in the oven – and not a single component is from the garden. That is pretty rare around here. Today I am working on my seed bank again. Once and for all I hope to get it organized. (LOL –fat chance . . .) While I am at it I am organizing my contributions to the two round robins I participate in and also donations to a couple of seed banks.

I have started a new category of seeds – Needs Germination Test. This is helping me think through the rest of the organization. I have a number of seeds I have collected that I really don’t even know if they will grow or not . . . time will tell.

I need to start working on my next article for the Newspaper. So I might be making myself scarce for the next few days. Thanks for stopping by, and be good now, ya hear? I know the weather is very conducive to being bad. But since I don’t feel good enough to be bad, you ought to show a little respect and be good too . . .

Either that, or have fun without me . . .


P.S. Oh yea, I forgot to mention, Lightning fixes nitrogen which falls in the rain to nourish our gardens!!! Go lightning!!