Saturday, July 30, 2011

Up on the Roof

Well, imagine me... almost 71, up on that barn roof!

A big piece of the old, rusty tin blew off and needed to be nailed back in place. Neither my younger half-sister (62) nor her late-in-life daughter (23) would climb the ladder and get on the roof. Wimps.

Granted, the barn is quite old, and falling apart... but there is a workshop building inside the barn that I built 4-5 years ago that shouldn't get rained upon. It looks "finished" from inside it because it has sheetrock walls and ceiling, plywood flooring, windows, double doors, oodles of receptacles and even overhead lights. What it doesn't have is an exterior skin, nor insulation.

One of these days I may get to finish the exterior, but in the meantime it needs to not have a huge hole in the roof above it, else all my tools will be ruined. So it was DIY for this old broad!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Minimize your Food Price Rollercoaster

I am finding it very difficult to believe the published numbers for the rise in US food prices which are stated as much less than the rest of the world. The world average is 39% in the last year, and the US says it has increases of only 1.5%*. I disagree... sure wish my grocery bill had only increased 1.5%!!!

The published FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) Food Price Index on the graph shown above is a lot closer to what I personally experience in my geographic area, with the increase in grain prices affecting everything from meat, cereal grains and soft drinks to ethanol added at the gas pumps.

"Consumption of the four staples that supply most human calories — wheat, rice, corn and soybeans — has outstripped production for much of the past decade, drawing once-large stockpiles down to worrisome levels. The imbalance between supply and demand has resulted in two huge spikes in international grain prices since 2007, with some grains more than doubling in cost."  Source

Some of what's interesting in these charts is the price of various food groups, shown above. Look at the spike in sugar, known to be in most of the addictive junk food, sodas, etc. It's amazing to me that meat is relatively flat in comparison, even though most US meat is raised in CAFO's and fed grains. (Meat prices are expected to go down briefly then surge as US cattle ranchers sell of herds due to drought - lack of hay with the smallest hay crop in more than 100 years.)

Global wheat prices more than doubled in the second half of last year, according to a new report from the World Bank. The price of corn, sugar and cooking oil also soared.

Why are global food prices skyrocketing? Who is hungry as a result? And what does it mean for the U.S.?

Skyrocketing Prices  attribute the price rise to several factors — some familiar to me (and probably to you), some less familiar.

1. The rise of biofuels, like ethanol made from corn. This market, driven largely by government subsidies, has created demand that is what economists call "price inelastic" - that means demand stays strong even as prices rise. (Note: The US says for the first time ever, more corn will go for ethanol than animal feed.)

2. More demand from the developing world, particularly for meat. Livestock are now fed grain and confined rather than being pastured on grass, so increasing demand for meat means increasing demand for grain. This source of demand has also been price inelastic.

3. Disappearing stockpiles Because of WTO (World Trade Organization) rules, the U.S. and Europe have been moving away from subsidies that led to vast reserves of wheat and corn.

Of course, subsidies still exist in the U.S. and Europe, but they've taken a different form. Governments used to buy and stockpile surplus food from farmers. Now it's more common for governments to give farmers subsidy payments without actually buying any of the food they produce.

4. Stock Market Speculation The volatility created by declining stocks is in turn compounded by speculation — traders betting on the rise or fall of prices.

So, what's the Bottom Line for most of us?
It is unlikely any of us can grow enough food (including grains) for sustainability on a city or suburban lot, nor is it likely we can avoid GMO grains in our foods (think corn meal and soy / canola oils added to almost everything) unless we are both wealthy and knowledgeable.

What we CAN do is grow our own fruits, greens and vegetables, even if some are just grown in buckets on a balcony, or in straw bales on a driveway. Buy enough OP (open pollinated) or heirloom seeds this fall for next year, but please... be careful to only buy seeds for things you and your family will actually eat. (Some seeds have a relatively short shelf life; our world seed supply is in danger; many varieties are already extinct, and seed prices are going up.) Plant the seeds next spring and learn how to save seeds for the following year. If you are a beginning gardener, even just a handful of tomatoes will produce enough seeds for another year!

If you don't have any space at all to garden, buy bulk vegetables at a farmer's market and learn how to freeze, can or dehydrate what you don't eat fresh. Starchy carbs are filling, often with empty calories, so start experimenting with carbs that are more nutritious.

If you hate Brussels sprouts, try some new cooking methods that leave them yummy rather than over-cooked and strong tasting/smelling. Try cauliflower and broccoli with fresh lemon and a hint of garlic instead of tasty but fattening fake-cheese sauce in a package. Make your own flavored real butter sauce for fresh vegetables, or those you have frozen.

Try some herbs and spices you don't usually keep on hand. There's a whole world of flavor available!

Learn how to make ghee (clarified butter) which stores on the shelf a long time (in a dark, cool spot like the bottom of a closet), and then watch for butter on sale to make ghee. Ghee makes a tasty butter sauce, and it's great to use in a sauté. (I mix mine with EVOO for a sauté.)

Learn how to render fat or schmaltz from beef, chickens and hogs at home; scrap fat is available at the butcher's, and home-rendered is far better and cheaper than the processed, hydrogenated fats in the stores. Use it to cook instead of processed PUFA oils. It's healthier, if for no other reason than the better balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 EFA's. Our brains are almost entirely comprised of fats, and we need the nutrients found in animal fats such as fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamins A, D, and K.

Learn how to buy and cook the less common and less expensive cuts of meat, including the very nutritious organ meats. (BTW, I won't eat organ meats from supermarket CAFO meats as most of the organs store toxins; I will only eat them from grass-fed, hormone-free animals.)

Start weaning yourself and family from highly addictive (and expensive) things like sodas and chips... and also wean yourselves from nutritionally-poor fast food. Learn to grow greens like Swiss chard and kale; you can dehydrate them into chips (with a tasty topping) instead of buying potato chips or corn chips. 

Find a nearby family who has chickens and buy or barter for eggs. There is a lot nutrition in eggs from free-range chickens!

There are many things we each can do to help offset food price increases; we just have to start somewhere. Even with all my efforts to produce more of my own food over the past 4-5 years I still buy a lot, but just not as much as if I were still totally dependent on the system. I also now make better choices with my food dollars, read all the ingredient labels carefully, and double-check unit prices because sometimes bigger boxes are not cheaper.

* "Despite the fact that the world price of staples like wheat, corn and sugar have risen by more than 50 percent in recent months, the price of food in the U.S. has barely budged — food prices here rose only 1.5 percent over the past year. That's because the price of food in the U.S. is driven largely by labor costs and other factors, rather than by the price of the ingredients." Source

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Freezing Culinary Herbs

Last year I dehydrated my chives before frost killed them all. They were tasteless when I cooked with them... Bleck!

This year I decided to freeze as many of my culinary herbs as I can IF they do well frozen, or at least do better than dried. In general, I prefer not to rely on the freezer for food preservation, and have managed to whittle down what I do freeze. However, I enjoy cooking with herbs so my winter options are limited since none are available in my garden after the first hard frost. Nor do I have an available windowsill to grow them inside over winter.

So far my frozen list includes basil, chives, thyme, flat leaf parsley and rosemary, but I may also freeze dill, oregano, marjoram, sage and tarragon as the summer wears on. Fresh frozen herbs are used in the same amounts as fresh herbs, whereas dehydrated herbs tend to have concentrated flavors and require a lesser amount. (Parsley is the exception... dried parsley has no taste at all in my opinion.) Frozen herbs will NOT be suitable to use as a garnish, as they will be wilted after thawing.

Opal Basil, chopped and in water
There are a couple of ways to freeze herbs. If you would like cubes to just drop into a dish, you can freeze them in water in an ice cube tray... but there's a trick to it. Chop the herbs by hand or in a food processor, and put some in each cube. Then add water BUT only half-way full. (The herbs will have a tendency to float.)

Freeze the tray, then after it's frozen, add enough water to fill the cubes to cover the herbs. Refreeze, and when solid, remove to an airtight container, label, date, and store in the freezer.

You can also use olive oil instead of water, as I did with the spicy globe basil in the photo above. I chopped the basil in my mini chopper with EVOO, filled the cubes and froze in one pass. They are back in the freezer to get very solid, and them I will vacuum-seal them, just 3-4 per bag so I'm not opening many at once for use.

Here is another option, and less messy: I'm choosing to freeze many of my fresh-cut herbs in thin layers on a cookie sheet, then vacuum-seal in small portions not more than 1/4" thick. That way I can pick out a section to use, and chuck the rest back in the freezer awaiting their inclusion in another fabulous dish!

I like to use sprigs of thyme rather than thyme leaves in many dishes, so I opted to freeze thyme in short sprigs, and vacuum-sealing small amounts of frozen sprigs. Same for rosemary. When rosemary is frozen on the stem, it it much easier to remove the needle-like leaves to chop if that's your preference.

Chives... What you see on the cookie sheet above was a clump of fresh cut chives about 1-1/2 inches in diameter before I trimmed the tiny thin ends and snipped them. (Much more than in an expensive fresh-pack at the store, by quite a lot.)

I found that taking the frozen snipped chives from the freezer (on the jelly-roll sheet) to take a photo allowed them to thaw just enough to be slightly wet. So I put half in each bag and refroze before trying to vacuum-seal.

After with the experience of the chives thawing while trying to take a photo, I decided to snap a photo of the flat leaf parsley leaves IN the freezer! (They are on 3 mesh dehydrator screens, stacked.) You will notice I snipped most of the stems off.

The parsley did much better that way, staying frozen for the few moments it took to vacuum-seal them.

Harvesting portions of my herb plants in mid-summer encourages the plants to generate new growth, and I will have more to put by later on... and still plenty to use fresh now.

Note: I froze some of the opal basil flat like the thyme (as well some in water cubes) for some comparisons later this winter.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Insights and my Veggie Plants

I recently read a piece about Rachel Carson* on another blog; the post was written by a first-time reader of Carson’s Silent Spring.

It has been many years since I first read Carson’s great work, and probably 10 or more years since I read it the last time. However, some of the blog's quotes had me bringing some sub-conscious thoughts (relative to the quotes) to the surface. Bear with me as I get to the point!

Last year my tomato crop was destroyed by Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs* and 2 years ago by blight. Not one single tomato survived intact either year, and there is no known remedy for those stink bugs of last year! I know the stink bugs lay eggs which will hatch the following year, so I have avoided the general area from last year from planting anything this year they may attack. (Fruits reported to be attacked include apples, peaches, figs, mulberries, blackberries, tomatoes, green peppers, lima beans, citrus fruits and persimmons. This bug has also been reported on many ornamental plants and even weeds.)

Meanwhile, my tomato plants are interspersed here and there in my flower beds (some, but not all, tomato plants are volunteers growing among the volunteer winter squash and covering the leeks where the peonies are), and so far I have seen no sign of infestation on the fruits. (Crossing my fingers!) I wonder, since the tomato plants are hard even for me to locate in the jungle, if it may also hold true for the increasingly spreading and invasive Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs? I have seen just a few of the bugs, so I know they are here, just not on my fruits thus far that I can tell. (Actually when I went out this evening to take pictures, I tore off about 25 squash leaves with eggs attached.)

More than likely though, I think it is possibly just as Carson said, “One important natural check [for insects] is a limit on the amount of suitable habitat for each species. Obviously then, an insect that lives on wheat can build up its population to much higher levels on a farm devoted to wheat than on one in which wheat is intermingled with other crops to which the insect is not adapted.

Tomato plant among daisies, daylilys, gladiolus and northern sea oats

In only one spot are there 2 tomato plants next to each other in my flower beds; all the others are single tomato plants snuggled among the daisies, zebra grass, gladiolus, yarrow and sage, or among the monarda, coneflowers, chives and flat leaf parsley. I'm thinking this close inter-planting rather than an isolated row or two of tomatoes is an idea worth watching. Of course it wouldn't be practical on a large scale, but surely there is something viable in mixing crops somewhere between my small garden layout and huge mono-cropping.

Tomatoes in front of hyssop and zebra grass, with (heat-wilted) winter squash in between

I'm anxiously and hopefully awaiting the tomato harvest for verification. There are a couple of tomatoes that look like they are about to show a slight blush of color!

*Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson (1907-1964) spent most of her professional life as a marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By the late 1950s, she had written three lyrical, popular books about the sea, including the best-selling The Sea Around Us, and had become the most respected science writer in America. She completed Silent Spring against formidable personal odds [She apparently wrote Silent Spring while suffering from rapidly-metastasizing breast cancer, racing against the disease to finish her life's work. Source], and with it shaped a powerful social movement that has altered the course of history.
(This biography was copied from Amazon, except for the parenthetical note )

*Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs are the typical “shield” shape of other stink bugs, almost as wide as they are long. To distinguish them from other stink bugs, look for lighter bands on the antennae and darker bands on the membranous, overlapping part at the rear of the front pair of wings.

The eggs are elliptical, light yellow to yellow-red with minute spines forming fine lines. They are attached, side-by-side, to the underside of leaves in masses of 20 to 30 eggs.

Adults will emerge sometime in the spring of the year (late April to mid-May), and mate and deposit eggs from May through August. The eggs hatch into small black and red nymphs that go through five molts. Adults begin to search for overwintering sites starting in September through the first half of October in cooler zones.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Quicker" Real Apple Cider Vinegar

Last year, I wrote a couple of posts about making apple cider vinegar. The technique I favored and said to have the best taste was to first make hard cider, and I did start some last fall when fresh unpasteurized apple cider was available. It's still in the root cellar aging, and I have decided if it's any good at all, I prefer to bottle the cider for drinking rather than turn it into vinegar.

That left me with either having no apple cider vinegar at all, or buying Braggs, which is getting more expensive all the time... and I use a lot of it! Then I read a post on someone's blog several months ago about making apple cider vinegar from either whole apples, or from apple peelings and cores, leaving it to ferment in a wide-mouth container quickly through alcohol production to vinegar. Unfortunately I have no idea where I read it. However, I decided to try what I remembered of the method.

In early May, I was cleaning up the few remaining apples in the root cellar from last fall, and found a few that had bad spots but enough good apple to salvage. I cut the good parts up into chunks (seeds, peels and all) that I put on a cookie sheet. The idea is to let them air dry long enough to turn brown, but I don't know (or don't remember) why.

My old apples didn't turn brown very well, nor as quickly as a fresh apple does. I think that's because they lose so much moisture in the root cellar over the several months' storage. After about 3 days, I packed a wide-mouth half gallon canning jar with the apple chunks (photo at top), filled the jar with bottled water (to avoid the chlorine in our county water), fixed a piece of cheesecloth on top with a rubber band, and set the jar in a closed cardboard box out on the porch where it was warmer (and dark inside the box).

I checked them every week or so, and only had to top up the water twice during the 2 or so months or so they were fermenting.

When it started smelling only like vinegar, I left it another 2 weeks to be sure the alcohol was all converted to acetic acid, and then strained the apple chunks out with a colander. It did have a thin layer of "mother" on the top. It's very cloudy right now, but I didn't want to use cheesecloth to strain out any fine pulp so it can still develop a thicker "mother". I'm sure that it will clear as the solids sink to the bottom.

Here, after sitting 24 hours, you can see the settling has started.
It smells and tastes terrific! Certainly a lot quicker process than making hard cider and then turning it to vinegar. I'll do this again in the fall when I have apples again, but in larger batches.

Update: My neighbor just gave me some Transparent apples, which mature much earlier than fall... so I cubed some to start another batch of ACV. The ones on the first tray were already starting to brown by the time I finished the 3rd tray.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

US Supreme Court and MY Food Rights

Photo by dbking

If I don't speak for me, who will??

When I was young, I naively believed our courts were all about fairness and justice. Over time, based on what I saw, experienced, and read, I have come to believe the courts are all about enforcing "Laws" passed by people with something other than fairness in mind. (Oh, my... could it possibly be money?) Certainly I have seen a lot of empirical evidence in the last few years showing our basic Constitutional Rights are being abrogated.

A decision on my part to drink fresh (unpastuerized) milk and make fresh (unpastuerized) cheese comes to mind, yet the FDA through their "Healthy People 2020" plan has an agenda to remove ALL fresh (unpastuerized) milk and fresh (unpastuerized) milk products (like cheese and yogurt) in the US by 2020. Why is it their business to deny the 16 million or so Americans who now choose the healthy benefits of fresh milk (processed in a safe, sanitary manner, of course) over enzyme dead pasteurized milk in the stores?

Why is it the government's business what I choose to eat?

So whether it will prove to hold any weight or not, I was glad to read the following, as a hopeful start back to the right direction. (Yes, my hopes are high... but my expectations are much, much lower.)

"On June 17, 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court issued one of the best and most important decisions ever on federalism.  The Court unanimously held that not just states but individuals have standing to challenge federal laws as violations of state sovereignty under the 10th Amendment. This decision is as radical in the direction of liberty as the New Deal was radical in the direction of socialism.

In short, freedom advocates just got a green light from the United States Supreme Court to bring more cases under the 9th and 10th Amendments. This will have huge -positive- implications for freedom so long as the current constitution of the court holds.

Here is our favorite passage:  “Federalism secures the freedom of the individual. It allows States to respond, through the enactment of positive law, to the initiative of those who seek a voice in shaping the destiny of their own times without having to rely solely upon the political processes that control a remote central power."

The Ninth Amendment – Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The Tenth Amendment – Powers of States and people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Using Up Zucchini Overload!

I don't know what possessed me to plant FOUR zucchini plants to feed my household of one. (Probably because if I planted fewer, they'd die and I wouldn't have any?)

Dehydrated zucchini; the rest have been vacuum-sealed already

Anyway, excess zucchini is always a problem. This year I learned that if I sliced them about 5/8" thick, I could dehydrate them for winter soups and other dishes. None of the dried slices came out any thicker than 1/8 inch. In the past I have tried drying thinner slices, and just ended up with zucchini 'smears' I had to peel off the trays.

I dried mine in the electric dehydrator, but here's a method by Hank Shaw that uses sun power to dehydrate. On that same page is a delicious sounding recipe for Sicilian Sun Dried Zucchini sautéed in olive oil with mint and chiles. I also found in my recipes one for  marinated grilled zucchini with feta cheese, which may be grilled and some frozen for winter.

I've thought about making fried zucchini blossoms (Fiori di Zucca) after reading this recipe, but just haven't gotten around to it.

I don't make squash pickles because I prefer the more nutritious lacto-fermented pickles, and summer squash just turn to mush if you lacto-ferment them. Typical squash pickles have too much sugar, and taste pretty much like sugared vinegar to me. Of course, I've also grated and frozen a bunch of zukes in 2-cup batches for winter zucchini bread... and I've cooked them for supper every way I can think of (my fav is partially steamed then fried in coconut oil with some dried coconut)... but that still leaves an overload of zucchini.

Then I discovered a recipe for zucchini wine that winds up tasting like a dry white wine! The recipe is from Jack Keller's site, along with several other 'unusual' wine recipes. (For giggles, I may try more than just zucchini wine.) I figure all I have to lose is some sugar, a bit of fresh ginger, a can of frozen grape juice concentrate, and my time... so why not?

Zucchini Wine
 * 5-6 lbs fresh zucchini, chopped
* 2-1/2 lbs finely granulated sugar
* 1 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate
* 1-1/3 tsp acid blend
* 1/2 oz fresh ginger root thinly sliced
* 1 crushed Campden tablet
* 6-1/2 pts water
* 1 tsp yeast nutrient
* Hock, Sauternes or Champagne yeast

Bring 3 cups water to boil and dissolve sugar in it completely. Set aside.

Meanwhile, select, wash and chop the unpeeled zucchini cross-wise into 1/2-inch pieces. Thinly slice enough fresh ginger to make half an ounce. (That was about half of a knob the length of my thumb.)

Straining Bag filled with zucchini and ginger; additives ready to add to fermenter

Mix all ingredients except the yeast in primary, cover, and set aside for 10-12 hours. 

Add activated yeast and recover primary. Stir every 6-8 hours for 3 days, then strain off solids and transfer liquid into secondary. Press solids lightly and reserve the liquid from them, covered.

When vigorous fermentation subsides, add reserved liquid, top up if necessary, and attach airlock.

Rack after 4 weeks, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again after additional 4 weeks. If wine has not cleared, add amylase according to manufacturer's instructions and set aside additional month.

Fine with Bentonite if desired, rack 10 days later, stabilize and sweeten to taste.

Wait 3 weeks before bottling to be sure wine is indeed stable and not still producing fermentation bubbles. Wine should be aged 3 months after bottling. [Jack's own recipe]

Here's the brew after 3-4 days of fermenting with the zucchini and grape concentrate. I strained the pulp out this afternoon, transferred to a gallon jar and put on an airlock. The smaller jar is the squeezings from the pulp. There's a lot of sediment, but that will settle to the bottom with time.

(I won't post more photos of the process as it would take weeks and months. I will post results about whether it's really drinkable when it gets to that point!))

From Keller's comments section on this recipe:
Question: So tell me, what would you say it tastes like?

Answer: Even banana wine doesn't taste like bananas after the fermentation process. I would say it would end up being a dry table white wine.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fallen Symbols of Integrity

I hate this! My last remaining "symbol of integrity"... Scotland Yard... has fallen into corruption.

For many, many years I read English Mysteries, and The Yard always stood for honor, virtue, and incorruptibility.

I have come to expect a lack of moral fiber from our own US police (and politicians) based on observations and news stories which have been increasing over the last several decades. I didn't expect it of Scotland Yard!!

Is there no one left at all whom we may trust?

GMO's Strike Aagin, tacit USDA Approval?

Photo from PlantFiles by bigcityal

Just in case you thought I was giving up fighting against GMO's being forced down out throats...

Round-Up Ready Kentucky Bluegrass approval was snuck by us recently, late on a Friday afternoon while we were busy planning weekend activities. The Round-Up Ready Kentucky Bluegrass is a product of Scott's Miracle Gro.

Now, I don't necessarily care a whole lot if lawn grass is genetically modified (other than the overall environmental implications) since I don't eat grass... although cows sometimes do, so it's possibly in the milk and beef ... but there are huge implications for other human and animal food crop GMo's in the whole process.  There are now 2 grasses (Bentgrass is the other one*) that resist Round-Up. I DO worry about the GMO grass seed that will fly on the wind, and what it might do eventually to other crops, and my garden... and I worry about all that additional glyphosate (Round-Up) that will now be used on our soils which will end up running into, and contaminating, our waterways. Most of all I worry about pastured cows eating GMO grass.

Actually, the "acceptance (aka tacit approval)" of Round-Up Ready Kentucky Bluegrass opens the door for more unregulated GMO's, due to the convolutions of USDA regulations (Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology). It is much too intricate to explain here, and even difficult for me to understand with adequate explanation, which you can find here

It gets really involved trying to understand the 1950's era Plant Pest Act, and the 2000 Plant Protection Act which broadened the Plant Pest Act slightly, adding one more regulatory hook to the USDA’s sparse GMO-regulation toolkit. That was the “noxious weed” status... any engineered crop that threatens to go rogue in the field and become a hard-to-control weed may be regulated. Most of the data below is from here.

Scotts requested that [USDA] confirm that Kentucky bluegrass is modified without plant pest components…therefore is not a regulated article within the meaning of the current regulations.

In its July 1 response, the USDA agreed: “None of the organisms used in generating this genetically engineered (GE) glyophosphate tolerant Kentucky bluegrass…are considered to be plant pests,” so Roundup Ready bluegrass “does not meet the definition of a ‘regulated article’ and is not subject” to the Plant Protection Act

In other words, go forth and multiply.

Homeowners dealing with rogue Roundup Ready bluegrass may have to resort to chemicals far more toxic than Roundup. (See note below on Bentgrass Trials.)

What this whole mess really means is that the USDA has no obligation to perform environmental-impact or endangered-species analyses of new organisms in the biotech pipeline, including plants engineered as pharmaceutical substances and biofuel feedstocks.

In an email exchange, a USDA press officer confirmed that the agency would not be conducting an environmental-impact statement on Roundup Ready bluegrass—and by extension, any other crops that don’t count as plant pests or noxious weeds.

But Kimbrell (George Kimbrell, senior attorney, Center for Food Safety) made an important point: “Look, [the USDA] is a rogue agency,” he said. “It has been rebuked time and time again by the courts for its failed oversight of these crops.

Implication: Take away the plant-pest and noxious-weed hooks and the courts can no longer intervene. The industry gets free rein to plant whatever it wants—wherever it wants. This development worries Gurian-Sherman (senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program). “Will some companies still want to have the fig leaf of USDA regulation even if they’re not using plant-pest material? Probably,” he says. “But they don’t have to. It’s now their choice.”

Moreover, he adds, “the noxious-weed standard has been set so high as to be virtually meaningless.” 

The industry has begun using nonpest material to develop novel crops. “If the companies don’t use plant pests, then the USDA ostensibly doesn’t have a legal hook to regulate the crops,” he says.

The USDA notes that conventional bluegrass is already widely planted across the country without causing much harm; from there it assumes that Scotts’ engineered bluegrass won’t be a problem either, concluding that it need not be declared a “noxious weed” after all. And if it’s neither a plant pest nor a noxious weed, the USDA has no right or obligation to regulate it.  

Game, set, match to Scotts Miracle Gro.

The new regime laid out in the bluegrass announcement would “drastically weaken USDA’s regulation” of genetically modified crops.

Long story short, it means that the USDA theoretically regulates new GMO crops the same way it would regulate, say, a backyard gardener’s new crossbred squash variety. Which is to say, it really doesn’t. But that’s absurd. GM crops pose different environmental threats than their non-modified counterparts. The most famous example involves the rapid rise of Roundup Ready corn, soy, and cotton, which were introduced in the mid-late 1990s and now blanket tens of millions of acres of US farmland. Spraying all of that acreage every year with a single herbicide has given rise to a plague of Roundup-resistant “superweeds,” forcing farmers to apply more and more Roundup and also resort to other, far-more-toxic products

Crops that aren’t engineered to withstand an herbicide could never have created such a vexation.

*Bentgrass: In 2005, Scotts grew trial plots of its bentgrass in Oregon. It escaped the boundaries of the experimental plot and is still creating problems for homeowners miles away.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Finally! Turning an Old Fridge into my Cheese Cave

This is about the most frustrating project I've ever tackled, partially because the refrigerator I got is very old and was nasty with mold and rust. The photo above (taken in front of my root cellar) was snapped after I removed the doors, the door gaskets, door storage panels, and wet fiberglass insulation from the doors.

Many of the newer refrigerators have a door sealing gasket that either pushes into a slot in the door, or is magnetic. Not so this old model. The gasket was held in place by preformed galvanized metal strips and a gazillion rusty sheet metal screws.

The carcass body got scrubbed, bleached, exterior sanded, and spray-painted. The main reason I went to all this aggravation and trouble is the cooling mechanism in this old refrigerator. Notice the aluminum grid at the back of the main compartment? It is much more efficient than having the coolant run through tubing in the walls like newer refrigerators do.

Here's the naked door panels after I sanded rusty spots and spot-painted Rust-Oleum on the insides. Somehow I have lost the photo of the metal strips that hold the door gaskets in place. Sorry.

I trimmed the soggy fiberglass insulation away, and added new insulation. I am very disappointed that I could not get the rust stains off the flexible door gaskets, even after soaking in a strong bleach solution. An old toothbrush and a powdered bleach cleanser scrubbed all the mold out of the folds in the gaskets but wouldn't touch the rust stains. However, at least I know it is clean and sterilized!

My original plan was to reinstall the original inside door panels but I had so much difficulty getting the cleaned gaskets back in place that for now I opted to just add a vapor barrier over the insulation. My sister works for a company that makes reefers (refrigerated food trailers) and I got a 30' x 8' roll of FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic) that's approved for food use. When I have time, I'll cut flat panels to fit inside both doors under the gaskets.

Much of the work took place either on the covered front porch (all of the work on the doors), or after putting the refrigerator body in the root cellar to protect it from rain. I think I spent more $$ on all the various screw replacements and spray paints than I did for the refrigerator!

I had to remove the door to the root cellar to work on getting the refrigerator put back together because the old door opens the wrong way. So now I'm looking for a used exterior wood door with the opposite hand, and will put up with the inconvenience in the interim. I'd love a new insulated metal door but the height of the opening in the concrete block is too short, and only a wood door can be cut down easily.

Here's the shelf I built next to the refrigerator to hold the mini wine chiller I'm using to age blue cheese types, plus other storage items.

And here's the "Blues Mini-Cave" above with a Stilton aging in it.

And here's some of my cheese, now in the cave. The jar on the top shelf is Feta cheese, and the wood shelves are kiln-dried cherry. Sorry the photo is poor quality; I was standing in the root cellar doorway and that's as far away as I can get.

This is the digital control I got to keep the big refrigerator at "cave aging" temperatures. Now I need to work on a humidifier! For now the cheese aging in there is all vacuum-sealed so humidity control is not a problem, but when I start to do natural rind cheese wheels it will become very important.

I finally ripped more cherry to extend the shelves most of the way to the door. I had to drill a hole in the door to insert the temp. probe, as it was leaking air if placed over the top of the door and deforming the gasket.

All that remains now is a replacement door, cleaning up the mess inside the root cellar, and the hope the refrigerator works a few months or more. (If it doesn't, I now know exactly how a refrigerator is constructed and could probably build one!)

Update 7/15: It's all working just fine and I don't even need a new door to the root cellar. A neighbor helped me get the refrigerator up against the wall by using a crowbar to get the back feet up over a lump in the concrete around the incoming water pipes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Updates on some projects

First update: See post: Starting sweet potato slips. Total Failure! Mine in the potting soil grew lots of thin root hairs, but finally disintegrated without putting out any slips. In frustration, I ordered 25 slips of 'Georgia Jet' just to be sure I'd have some sweet potatoes to store for winter. I'm trying to use more sweet potatoes because the glycemic index and glycemic load for sweet potatoes is less than for white potatoes.(However, I am growing a few Yukon Gold's, too.)

The day after I started those 'taters in the potting soil, I also put one suspended by toothpicks in a jar of water on the windowsill the way my grandmother did. In 4 weeks' time, the one in a jar had put out thin root hairs but no emerging sprouts. I left it just because I was busy, and in another 2 weeks it actually began putting out some tiny sprouts! Finally after almost 2 months, the sprouts are nearly large enough to plant in the garden. (Photo at top of post.)

Meanwhile I have lost almost half the mail-order sweet potato plants in the ground. We had an exceptionally hot spell, and despite watering daily in the mornings, a few seemed to just dry up.  I'm afraid it won't be a big sweet potato harvest this year. Sigh.

I posted about Nanking Cherries recently. When they finally got 95% ripe, I picked about 2 quarts, leaving many for the birds. The very next day ALL the cherries were gone... even the discards on the ground! Guess I picked them just in time, but I really wonder how the birds knew exactly when they were ripe?

I haven't decided what to make with the berries I picked (and currently frozen)... maybe some cherry liquer? (Update: I did make the sour cherry liquer, posted here.)

Remember the Elderflower Champagne? I walked into the pantry a few days after putting ten corked bottles of it in there to brew, and got shot with a cork! Several bottles had blown their corks, so I transferred the contents to gallon jugs and added airlocks. It won't be as fizzy, so I don't know how I will like it.

I finally got the water pipes in the root cellar moved to hug the wall so I have enough space to put the old refrigerator (soon to become a cheese cave, stay tuned) in there. Turns out I'm still a decent plumber for a woman almost 71 years old!

Now I'm just waiting for the mortar to set around the frost-proof hose bibb (that runs through the 8" block wall to the outside) so I can turn on the water and test my connections. I know it doesn't look like much, but the pipes previously ran straight across the middle of the space and now they hug the wall, giving me some usable space!

I insulated the pipes with rubber insulation... not against freezing, but because the pipes sweat in summer from the spring water when I water my garden, and then the root cellar gets very damp and humid. (The window is nailed shut; probably hasn't been opened in 30 years or more, and I doubt it could even be opened anymore.)

That's an electric panel box sitting on top of the water tank. I need to take out the old electric box with screw-in glass fuses and put in the breaker box... one of these days!
Photo by arnold | inuyaki
Haricot Verts
The lovely ultra-skinny French bean I adore... (which I like a little skinnier than in the photo above). The seeds I bought as a pole variety have turned out to be a bush variety! I HATE it when seed packets do not contain what they advertise! (This was from a reputable heirloom seed company, too.) Nonetheless, they are very tasty! Even with the few plants I started, I've had several meals of them, and have a few individual portions frozen for winter. I just started more seeds today for a fall crop.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Rock Dust and Japanese Beetles

By stevendepolo

The Japanese beetles are having a field day munching on the leaves of my fruit and nut bushes, and so I've come fully back around to where I started years ago, learning about the benefits of rock dust (apparently having forgotten a lot of it in the interim!).

Three years ago I wrote a piece for about rock dust in the garden. There are many things rock dust will do in addition to the overview I wrote (which I will not duplicate here), including a spray application that will keep Japanese beetles from eating all the leaves. I believe we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg of knowing and understanding the benefits of remineralization of our soils with rock dust, the most important of which to me is nutrient density... and thus better health from real/better foods.

My introduction to the necessity and wonders of rock dust was Julius Hensel's book, Bread from Stones, which I read perhaps 15 years ago. It took years of  "Gardening 101" for it to even make any sense to me, and apparently the information didn't stick long enough, although I never completely forgot about it.

Then just a few days ago a friend sent me a link to a farmer who found a simple application of rock dust over his plants made them resistant to aphids and Japanese beetles. Duh! I knew that, but somehow the idea got lost... perhaps by the same mechanism that makes most of us reject ideas like paramagnetism in the soil affecting plant growth? 

Actually I think I got caught up in just increasing Brix by soil remineralization, forgetting that the process takes time, and without aiding the plant portion above ground with rock dust is a good interim step. (Really healthy plants do not attract pests... pests are Nature's Clean-Up Crew for unhealthy plants. If our plants attract pests, the plant nutrition is lacking something.)

I have been posting bits here and there about possible nuclear radiation on our foods, and yesterday came across an article I had just read several weeks ago about food crops after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I actually read that the foods grown and milk from cows raised on remineralized soils in the afflicted area were tested and shown to measure NO radioactivity. Now, why didn't that data connect in my head??? 

There is evidence that a supplement made from rock dust works against radioactivity in the human body, as well as evidence of rock dust counteracting radioactivity in the soil. Austrian Robert Schindele produced Schindele's Minerals (stone meal, aka rock dust) and was used in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird explain in their 1989 book Secrets of the Soil that when “the University of Vienna found that Schindele’s product worked against radioactivity–a claim confirmed by a Soviet institute for atomic physics in the Ukraine, the Soviets sent a truck to pick up two thousand kilograms of his Gesteinsmehl. Analysis under a micropolariscope revealed an alteration in the molecular and atomic lattice, which had an effect on ionized radioactive particles taken into the body.”

I also know that nutrient density is a result of high Brix in the plants that produce our foods (and thus in the foods themselves), and also a result of having a high Brix in the feed, hay/grass for our meat animals, and that high Brix depends on a complete mineral profile not generally available in our mostly depleted soils. We can fix that by adding rock dust!

There is a lot I could write about remineralization with rock dust, enough stuff to be worthy of a PhD dissertation... but boring for a blog. (That doesn't mean I won't post more on the essentials of rock dust!)

For those who care to learn more, here are some links:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Experimental Garden

One end of a 'lasagna' flower bed I have is between the house and the vegetable garden, and I often dump vegetable scraps into one partially-filled end of it rather than trudge all the way to the compost pile (which is a cold compost pile). This year I have several volunteer plants of some kind of winter squash, and a few tomato plants growing in there among the squash runners. Now buried under the squash leaves are about 30-40 leeks and some Russian kale, too... all planted earlier before the squash and tomatoes erupted.

I decided to leave them all just to see how Nature plays without my intervention... and over time as the squash has crept over the grass outside the bed's timber borders, it means I cannot mow that area. The photo above was taken about 2-3 weeks ago, but since that time the tomatoes are blooming up above the squash runners despite the lack of any decent air circulation... and the squash has budding fruit. Too soon to tell which winter squash it might be, but so far they look like they may be acorn squash. Unfortunately I grew 2 varieties of acorn squash last year, so it will be a while before I know which one it might be, or even if it is a cross.

Mostly I am curious to see what ultimately thrives (if anything does) in that space, since it runs contrary to what I have read about plant spacing, air circulation, etc.

Update 7/7:
The winter squash appear to be Thelma Sander's Sweet Potato Squash, shaped like an acorn, and there are LOTS of them budding from this one plant. (I counted at least a dozen on Friday afternoon.) Last year I had only 3 squash from the seeds I planted, and none actually matured large enough to eat... so the squash went in the compost!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fall Planting Calculator, Free

Now is the time to schedule and/or plant fall crops, and Johnny's Selected Seeds has a great calculator you can download for free to make the planning simple. It is programmed by vegetable with dates to maturity, and all you need to do is replace the 10/1/2011 first frost date with the first frost date in your zone. That will give you the planting date for each seed type for the best harvest. (Only a couple of dates have already passed for my micro-climate area, things I probably wouldn't grow anyway.)

It doesn't include planting dates if you are using frost protection like row covers, just the dates if you are planting unprotected in the ground. 

I plan to make good use of it since I always think I will plant fall crops and then miss the dates and end up with immature vegetables!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

It's Pickle Time!

Yes, it's that time of the year already... the first cukes are coming on fast! I'm starting with a half-gallon of lactic acid fermented garlic pickles, and will do more as the garden produces. One of my favorites from last year was a garlicky cauliflower pickle, and that will be a fall (cool weather crop) project.

For this half-gallon jar, I used:
2 tablespoons pickling salt (it's just like Kosher salt, no iodine added)
1 and a half heads of garlic, cloves peeled
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 and a half tablespoons dill seed
about a half teaspoon mustard seeds
about a half teaspoon whole black peppercorns
a pinch of red pepper flakes
optional: 2-4 tablespoons whey to jump start the fermentation
a handful of just-picked grape leaves (or horseradish leaves)

I'll be starting a batch of cheese today so I'll have plenty of fresh whey. You could also strain some plain yogurt to get a little fresh whey.

Put a few of the grape leaves in the bottom of the jar. Add in all the spices and garlic, then the cukes. Be sure you have washed and thoroughly chilled the cucumbers... it helps them keep the crunch. Also be sure you have taken a small slice off the blossom-end of the cukes.

I like to dissolve the salt first in a quart of non-chlorinated water and let it cool before adding to the jar. Once I add the salted water, I top off with fresh cool non-chlorinated water. Then cover the cucumbers with several more grape leaves, leaving about an inch of head space... and put the lid on loosely.

Be sure all the cukes are fully submerged! Keep it on the counter for a few days and you should see some fermentation bubbles in 2-4 days, depending on the temp of your kitchen. I put my jars on a plate because they will bubble-over and make a mess; I also cover the jar with a towel since light destroys nutrients in the jar.

I had enough small cucumbers to also fill a quart jar, although my experience tells me a greater quantity in a jar makes a better ferment. They'll be good eating nevertheless!

The pickles will be ready to eat a few days after the fermentation stops. Mine usually taste better after at least 2 weeks but 4 weeks is even better. After fermenting stops you can tighten the lid and refrigerate them or store them in a cold root cellar if you have one. Be aware that refrigeration stops the fermentation so be sure to taste them first to see if they are to your liking. You may want them to ferment a bit longer. They will keep a long time (as much as a year or more)... I don't know exactly how long because we eat them up pretty quick!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Food Threat to Our Health

I don't usually post what others have written, but this is too important not to pass on in case you missed it elsewhere. I generally prefer to write about what we can do at home for ourselves to combat what the government is doing against our Health and Well-Being, but sometimes that is not enough.

"The case against genetically modified (GM) crops has been growing for years.  While there are no long-term studies on the health effects of eating food from GM crops, even short-term studies have raised very troubling questions.  For example, a panel of scientists in India recently reviewed studies that purported to show that GM crops modified to produce Bt were safe. The reviewers concluded that the studies did not meet international standards, did not accurately summarize the results, and “ignored toxic endpoints” that occurred in rats that were fed the GM grain for just 3 months.  The rats suffered organ and system damage to ovaries, spleens, and the immune system, and demonstrated toxic effects to the liver [L. Gallagher, BT Brinjal Event EEa: The Scope and Adequacy of the GEAC Toxicological Risk Assessment: Review of Oral Toxicity Studies in Rats (2010)].  Other studies have come to similar conclusions, namely that even a relatively short period of feeding GM foods to lab animals indicate serious potential health impacts.

Despite that, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to allow GM crops to enter our food supply without labeling, leaving the majority of Americans in the dark about the fact that almost every processed food contains ingredients from GM corn, soy, and/ or canola.

As serious as these problems are, the concerns over GM crops rose to an even higher level recently. On January 17, 2011, Dr. Don M. Huber, an internationally recognized plant pathologist and Professor Emeritus from Purdue University, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack warning him of a previously unknown pathogen that "should be treated as an emergency."  As explained in the letter, the pathogen poses a serious threat to plant health, animal health, and potentially human health – and has been connected to GM crops engineered to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate.

“Roundup Ready” crops, as they are called, allow farmers to spray the herbicide glyphosate to kill weeds throughout the growing season.  This has two effects: it significantly increases the amount of glyphosate used, and results in glyphosate residues on the crop itself.

As outlined in Dr. Huber’s letter and subsequent materials, veterinarians first identified this organism in livestock herds experiencing extremely high rates, up to 45%, of spontaneous abortions and infertility rates of 20% and higher. The vets confirmed that the pathogen was the cause of the problem, and then searched for the source of the pathogen, ultimately finding it in the animals’ feed. The contaminated feeds were made from Roundup Ready soy, Roundup Ready corn, and crops raised for feed in fields treated with glyphosate.

The connection was then made with plant pathologists who have been working to understand the growing scope and severity of plant diseases such as Goss’ Wilt in corn and Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) in soybeans. When examined, the new pathogen was found in very high levels in the infected crops.

Dr. Huber’s January letter urged Secretary Vilsack not to approve Roundup Ready alfalfa and to conduct research on the relationship between Roundup Ready crops, glyphosate, and this new pathogen. The USDA chose to ignore this warning and less than three weeks later approved two new GMO crops, including Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa, creating a threat to the primary forage feed crop for US livestock.

The letter, although intended to be confidential, was leaked by a third party, after which Dr. Huber gave permission for the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and others to post it.  The now-public letter unleashed a storm of accusations and recriminations, including a quick response from Monsanto.  Yet, while Monsanto and its allies attacked the letter, they presented no evidence that contradicted it – just their own unsupported claims that circled around Dr. Huber’s statements without addressing them directly.

At the request of other scientists and European leaders, Dr. Huber wrote a second, more in-depth letter in March which can be read at the Farm and Ranch Freedom website

Food Democracy Now! released an exclusive 20-minute interview with Dr. Huber.  We encourage everyone to view it and share it with their friends and neighbors.  If you have trouble downloading the full video because of the file size, shorter segments of it are posted on the website of Food Democracy Now!

The FDA should impose an immediate moratorium on GM alfalfa and sugar beets."

Can someone tell me WHY the FDA doesn't put our health interests in the forefront, other than Follow the Money??