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Tips for December 29, 2003

Quick Stain Remover:

At our family Christmas dinner my normally very careful husband got a dark sauce on a new shirt, quite a lot in fact.  My sister ran to get a wipe for him and to our surprise when he took the shirt off later that night, you couldn't tell there had been anything spilled on it.  What was this miracle wipe?  Just one of those "Flushable Wipes" you can buy at almost any grocery or general merchandise store.  Be sure to get the type without lanolin and the one he used was without fragrance.  I don't know if fragrance matters but you certainly don't want to wipe lanolin on your clothing.

Keeping these handy wipes in the house, in your vehicle or desk at work will certainly help someday when you need to look your best and you have an accident. 

Fight Back!  Mad Cow Disease Information:

With Mad Cow disease back in the news, here is information how you can be assured that the food you serve your family is safe.

First go to for a great animated clip about farming (if you have a slow connection this will take a while to load).

Tonight NBC news reported about the safety of 'Organic Beef' vs. conventionally raised beef.  Organic Beef cannot be tainted with 'Mad Cow' because of the feed requirements to meet organic guidelines.  (Tainted feed is how Mad Cow originates.)  We personally get our beef from local farmers and feel confident that the beef if free of harmful organisms.  If you are fortunate enough to find a farmer that also "grass feeds" their cows, all the better from a health standpoint.   Cows were designed to eat grass and the meat they provide, when properly fed, is superior.  Only in the last 50 years has the beef industry started feeding cows with food such as ground up animal parts and 'who knows what else', cows should eat mostly grass.  If you were to study human health history in the last 50 years you would also see a correlation between the change in the beef industry standards and an increase in heart attacks, strokes, and cancer.

For further information on this topic go to  Along with data to support those claims you can also locate local farmers who raise food properly; you can also go to

This is a way to support your local farmer, get superior food and keep your organic or natural food costs down.  We have been buying most of our food from local farmers in the past year; I encourage you to do the same.  It takes a little extra time to locate and drive to the farms but we get great food at decent prices.  It has become second nature now; no more grocery stores or food scares for us!  ("Local Farm" means a farm within a half-days drive.  You go with family or a friend and enjoy the drive; no big deal taking a drive in the country.  Think of it as entertainment.  This is a growing trend, join the group!)


Fertilizing Your Houseplants 101   December 22, 2003

When it comes to my houseplants, I am not as particular in regards to fertilizers as I am with our outdoor vegetable plants.  Store bought fertilizers aren't as harmful for indoor plants because we don't eat them.  Unless of course, I take into consideration I don't like supporting chemical industries; which with that thought, I might consider making an organic solution of compost tea for houseplants.

For this time around we will discuss easy "off the shelf" fertilizers for houseplants.  You can purchase all types of fertilizers; liquid concentrates, powders, pellets, sticks, etc.  I personally like liquid concentrates that I put into a gallon of water, it is easy to use and quick.

Fertilize when you see yellowing in the leaves.  Fertilize when new spring growth starts or when soil is depleted of nutrients.

Some fertilizer "Don'ts":

Don't fertilize plants that are in dry soil, it can overwhelm them and possibly kill them.  Water the plants first.  If using fertilized water, the fertilizer isn't as dangerous to a dry plant, as some other forms, such as powdered fertilizer.

Don't fertilize a sick plant.  It is like feeding steak to someone recovering from the flu, too much!

Don't fertilize during the winter months when plants are resting.  Wait until March or April when their normal growth cycle kicks in.

Don't fertilize a newly transplanted plant.  Wait until it has had time to get acclimated to its new surroundings.  There are potting mixes with nutrients all ready added to the mix.  These are usually OK to use because of weaker formulations.

More is not better!  Follow directions on the containers, otherwise you might kill your plant.

When selecting fertilizers, note that there are specific ones for specific plants, such as African violets, orchids, azaleas, etc.  These are formulated for the needs of those plants to promote flowering or other special traits.


Winter Mulching   December 15, 2003

Winter is almost officially upon us, which means it is time to lay down winter mulch or at least prepare for it by collecting material.  John usually brings home discarded Christmas trees so we can cut them up and use the boughs over the hardy mums.  If you see someone throwing out bales of straw from autumn decorations, pick those up too.  What a shame to send so many good things to the landfills!

Winter mulching is mostly to prevent plants and bulbs from the inevitable thawing and freezing cycles that occur most winters and springs.  Those cycles are what play havoc on plants.  If your plants can withstand your low temperatures but still suffer damage or even death, it is probably because they started to thaw out, come to life, and then the freezing temperatures returned and caused damage.  Or those cycles can actually cause the root ball to be "heaved" out of the ground; this is called "heaving."

Winter mulch can consist of various materials such as straw, pine boughs, chopped leaves, pine needles, etc.  (Chopped leaves are recommended because full size leaves tend to mat and smother the plant.)  Winter mulch is placed over the plants or bulbs after the ground has started to freeze.  You aren't protecting from the cold, you want to keep the ground from thawing out on warm winter days.

We use straw over our garlic and strawberries beds and pine boughs are a favorite over hardy mums.  Every year we have great success with all three.  Roses do well with cones or fencing filled with chopped leaves. 


Repotting Houseplants   December 8, 2003

Most houseplants need to be repotted occasionally.  If you are like me, you try to ignore their pleas for a new home as long as possible.  But eventually you will have to address the signs that trouble is brewing in that little pot.

What Are the Signs?

The soil becomes hard.

You can visually see that there is little soil left in the pot.

Water quickly runs through the pot and the root ball appears to not absorb much moisture.

Even after watering, the plant remains wilted.

Lower leaves look sick.  (If nutrients and moisture are in short supply, plants will send them to the top growth first, sacrificing the older leaves.)

Overall reduced vigor and color.

Roots show above the soil line.  (A few plants, such as Orchids, frequently have roots exposed, this is normal for them.)

Note:  A few plants, such as Amaryllis and Christmas cactus, prefer to be rootbound.  Get to know your individual plants by researching them.

How to Repot Your Plant:

Choose a pot 1 to 2 inches in diameter larger than the old pot.  A pot with a drainage hole is preferred.

Cover drainage hole with coffee filter or screen.

Choose a good quality potting soil mix.

Loosen plant from old pot by turning plant upside-down, over a large container, with one hand holding the plant from falling out.  Thump or knock the plant free.

If the root ball doesn't come out, run a knife around the sides of the pot.

If the root ball is dense and the roots circle around and around, either try to gently loosen the roots or actually cut the roots with a sharp knife by making vertical slits in several places; tease the roots apart to stimulate new growth.

Place new potting mix in the bottom of the new pot, allowing one inch of space at the top of the root ball from the rim of the new pot, to allow for watering.

Place plant in the new pot and fill with new soil, working the soil in around the root ball.

Water thoroughly and refill any areas that settled.

Clean off outside of pot.

Now your plant will be happy and after several weeks you should notice new vigor, color and possibly new growth.


ALERT! Highly Important Information Your Family Needs   December 1, 2003

I was under the impression that our greatest enemy in our food supply was pesticides, (herbicides included).  I recently read the book "Seeds of Deception" by Jeffrey Smith, and became aware that I have been incorrect in that assessment.  At least with pesticides we have a somewhat known entity with history and testing.  But with Genetically Modified (GM) food we have neither a long history nor adequate testing.  I hate to say this, but it is possible that food sprayed with pesticides is safer than GM food.

Before you say to yourself, "Here they go again on genetically modified food", and decide you aren't interested in this TOTW, please read a little further.

We currently have GM corn and soybeans in much of the U.S. food supply.  Wheat is on the doorsteps.  Once these are unleashed into the environment there is no calling them back. GMO's, by their very nature, can become resistant to antibiotics, encourage the growth of cancer, introduce toxins and create mutations that only science fiction can imagine.

To our European readers, I want to say "thank-you" for standing up to this insidious enemy, GM food.  To our American readers, don't be fooled by the propaganda being pushed down our throats about its safety and do your own investigation before you form your opinions.

I encourage each one of you to read "Seeds of Deception".  It will be one of the most important books you will read this year.  It is well documented, riveting, full of scientific facts but still easy to read.


The following is taken from Web site:

Dangers of Genetically Engineered Foods

(Footnotes refer to pages in the book Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey M. Smith.)

The following presents some of the dangers of genetically engineered foods and reasons why avoiding them are an important step to safeguard our health.  The footnotes refer to page references in the book Seeds of Deception; there you can find meticulously documented evidence that leaves no doubt that GM food should never have been approved.

The biotech industry claims that the FDA has thoroughly evaluated GM foods and found them safe.  This is untrue.  Internal FDA documents made public from a lawsuit, reveal that agency scientists warned that GM foods might create toxins, allergies, nutritional problems, and new diseases that might be difficult to identify.131-140  Although they urged their superiors to require long-term tests on each GM variety prior to approval, the political appointees at the agency, including a former attorney for Monsanto, ignored the scientists.  Official policy claims that the foods are no different130 and do NOT require safety testing.  A manufacturer can introduce a GM food without even informing the government or consumers.146  A January 2001 report from an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada said it was "scientifically unjustifiable"136 to presume that GM foods are safe.  Likewise, a 2002 report by the UK's Royal Society said that genetic modification "could lead to unpredicted harmful changes in the nutritional state of foods," and recommended that potential health effects of GM foods be rigorously researched before being fed to pregnant or breast-feeding women, elderly people, those suffering from chronic disease, and babies.263

How could the government approve dangerous foods?  A close examination reveals that industry manipulation and political collusion-not sound science-was the driving force.

Government employees who complained were harassed, stripped of responsibilities, or fired.77-83

Scientists were threatened.  Evidence was stolen.  Data was omitted or distorted.  Some regulators even claimed they were offered bribes to approve a GM product.

There are only ten published animal feeding studies on the health effects of GM foods-only two of these are independent.

One study showed evidence of damage to the immune system and vital organs, and a potentially pre-cancerous condition.12-13  When the scientist tried to alert the public about these alarming discoveries, he lost his job and was silenced with threats of a lawsuit.18-20
Two other studies also showed evidence of a potentially pre-cancerous condition.  The other seven studies, which were superficial in their design, were not designed to identify these details.37
In an unpublished study, laboratory rats fed a GM crop developed stomach lesions and seven of the forty died within two weeks.  The crop was approved without further tests.37, 137-140

Many industry studies appear to be rigged to find no problems.  In the case of a genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH), for example, researchers injected cows with only one forty-seventh the normal dosage before reporting hormone residues in milk.91-92  They heated the milk 120 times longer than standard, to report that pasteurization destroys the hormone.93-94  They added cows to their study that were pregnant before treatment, to claim that rbGH didn't impede fertility.89  Cows that fell sick were dropped from studies altogether.80-81

Yes! Books, P.O. Box 469, Fairfield, Iowa 52556 

Tel: 888-717-7000, 641-472-2536 Fax: 888-FAX-7000 (888-329-7000)

Please get this book, read it and pass it on to others before big industry unleashes a catastrophe upon us and future generations.

For an encouraging note: the book also shows you ways to avoid eating GM food, so you aren't left feeling helpless.


Autumn Watering Needs     November 24, 2003

Just because the growing season has slowed down, it doesn't mean it is time to stop monitoring your rainfall.  If your rainfall hasn't been sufficient then you will need to supplement your plants, trees and shrubs watering needs.

Not all gardeners have experienced a killing frost yet this fall.  Plenty of our readers live in warmer parts of the world.  But no matter where you live, plants will survive cold temperatures better if they have plenty of moisture in their root systems and all the way up to the tips of their leaves.  It is important to keep plants watered well when cold threatens.  No matter whether the plant is vegetable, annual, evergreen or perennial, plants will be healthier and survive longer if thoroughly watered.

If you hear of a frost approaching and still have annuals that you would like to keep growing it is important that they be fully hydrated.  For best results the plants need watering 24 hours before the cold temperatures arrive.  If you cover the plants with sheets you should be able to enjoy them for a few more weeks.

Evergreens, conifers and pines will experience less winter stress if watered well before the ground freezes.  As long as you have picked a proper tree for the location you shouldn't need to wrap your evergreens in burlap.  Arborvitaes are finicky so don't grow them out in the open where winter winds drain them of their moisture.  They perform best near buildings or other protection.  Most other evergreens manage nicely without protection.  (It is a pet peeve of mine to see spruce trees all wrapped up for winter.  Go into the mountains and look around.  All those pine trees do just fine without man's intervention!).


Allelopathy   November 17, 2003

Most of us have heard that you can't grow much around black walnut trees.  Have you experienced that it can be difficult to grow plants or grass under a birdfeeder that is filled with sunflower seeds?  Allelopathy is taking place in these circumstances.  Allelopathic plants will prevent other plants from growing in their vicinity by emitting toxic substances. They do this for their own survival so they have little competition for food, water and sunlight.  But to the gardener, allelopathy can lead to great disappointment.

The black walnut tree gives off a chemical called juglone.  Juglone is present in the whole tree, from the roots all the way up to the leaves.  You shouldn't use black walnut woodchips as mulch or add their leaves to your soil. 

Sunflowers can show allelopathic effects, in addition to wormwoods (artemisia), sagebrushes and Trees of Heaven.  We, personally, haven't had noticeable ill effects from sunflowers growing around our gardens.  I suppose the quantity hasn't been great enough to cause harm.  But I have read reports of gardeners having so much trouble with sunflower hulls ruining their soil that they dug out the soil and replaced it with new soil.

Allelopathy isn't all 'bad'.  Botanists and researchers are studying allelopathy from certain plants to determine if it can be harnessed as a natural herbicide.  But for the home gardener, allelopathic plants can be a real headache.


Get Ready for Winter   November 10, 2003

The leaves have fallen and there is coolness in the air.  If you haven't been frosted yet because you live south of us chances are you will soon.  This week's TOTW is mostly for northern gardeners, so readers that live in the south can read along and gloat over beautiful weather you are still experiencing.

Here is a tip for all gardeners though; clean up those garden tools.  Wash off caked on dirt and dry thoroughly.  Sharpen any tools that need a good sharp edge like pruners, saws and shovels.  Digging and cutting is easier on you and the tool when you have a nice sharp edge.  Rub wooden handles with boiled linseed oil.  Oil the metal parts (even shovels) of your garden tools with an all purpose oil to protect them from rust.

Put away garden art that could be damaged by freezing.  Many clay pots have bit the dust because they were left out during the winter.  I had some beautiful 'birds' that John had to repair last spring because I left them out in the garden.  I wasn't being lazy; I thought they looked pretty out there all winter.  If the object can absorb some water, even a little, it is best to bring them in.  Water expands when frozen and causes damage.  It is best to bring your nozzles and sprinklers in so they don't freeze for the same reason.

Drain hoses and put them away.  Turn off the water going to outside faucets. 

It is best to drain and allow gas-powered tools to run until all the gas has been used up.  If you can't drain something, then at least add a gas stabilizer to the remaining gas.  This is a good time to clean up the underside of your lawn mower and sharpen the blades.  While you are tinkering around with power tools, check your snow blower out.  If is doesn't run this is a good time to work on it or take it in before you have a snow storm and the repair facility is overburdened.


Planting Trees and Shrubs  November 3, 2003

Fall is a good time to plant trees or shrubs because they will still have time to establish a root system but the top growth isn't actively growing, which helps reduce the stress to the newly planted tree.  Although you will need to water when first planted and possibly occasionally afterwards, watering needs are greatly reduced in the fall.

First you need to select a tree or shrub that fits the site you desire to plant in.  Read the information available on the tree or shrub.  For example: you wouldn't plant a birch tree in an area that is usually dry, (birches prefer a moist soil.)  How tall and wide will the tree be at maturity?  It is very sad to see a beautiful tree cut down only because it has become too big for the site.  Are there overhead wires above?  This is a common problem, which is easy to avoid by choosing trees that don't grow tall.  Does the tree or shrub need a protected site?  You shouldn't plant a dogwood or rhododendron in a windy open area.  If you choose the proper tree for the conditions the planting site you won't have to struggle to keep it alive and healthy.

Experts used to advise you dig the hole deeper and wider than the root ball.  The advice now is to only dig the hole as deep as the root ball but at least two times wider.  This keeps the tree or shrub from sinking as the soil settles while allowing the feeder roots to grow out into the looser soil; this helps 'anchor' the tree.  Soil amendments are also discouraged because if you give the roots this nice wonderful 'bowl' to live in they tend to stay right there, circling around and around, not venturing out into the soil that isn't so great.  An exception to this advice is if your soil is very sandy you will need to add compost or peat moss to help with water retention.  And if your soil is hard clay you will need to dig up a larger area than two times larger than the root ball.  Add some peat moss to the soil you removed from the excavated area to use for refilling, but don't completely change out the soil with new fertile soil.  Your tree needs to get accustomed to the native soil.

It is very helpful to get a wheelbarrow, garden cart or even a tarp to hold the soil you are going to dig up.  After you have dug the hole use your shovel or a fork to loosed the soil around the hole.  This helps open up the compacted soil for the roots to grow into.

Place your tree or shrub into the hole.  Add some soil to support the tree while you check from all directions to make sure it is standing up straight and is facing the direction you desire.  The top of the root ball, (where the trunk widens and roots flare out), should be at or above the soil level.  If the root ball is too low you can possibly add soil to the bottom of the hole with your shovel, moving the root ball from side to side to get soil underneath.  If it is too high you will need to remove the tree and dig deeper.  Now is the time to fix anything not proper, not after the hole is refilled with soil.

If the root ball has burlap or a wire cage remove at least the top half being careful not to cause the ball to fall apart.  Burlap under the ball will rot.  If the root ball will not fall apart it is best to remove all wire or burlap.

Fill the hole in with soil halfway.  Make any further adjustments.  Water the soil to fill in any air pockets and help settle the soil.  Fill in the remainder of the hole.  Tamp the soil lightly with your foot.

Water the soil thoroughly with a slow stream of water.  You need a hose for this job; just a watering can or bucket is not sufficient.

Mulch the area around the tree with a few inches of mulch.  Keep the mulch 2 to 3 inches away from the trunk.  Moist mulch touching the trunk can encourage rot, pests or disease.

Water your newly planted tree or shrub if rainfall does not provide adequate moisture up until the ground freezes.

Don't fertilize at this time, wait until next year, if at all.  Fertilizing encourages new growth.  New growth is too tender to survive winter; it needs a full season to harden.

Unless you live in an area that is extremely windy, the tree is crooked or the tree is very tall you don't need to stake it.  If you do stake your tree, make sure the tree is protected with a piece of hose, (run the wire or rope through a short section of hose), or a soft strap around the trunk.  The wire or rope should not be too tight, the tree needs to move and bend slightly with the wind.

Deer and rabbits will eat the bark off young trees and shrubs.  Rabbits are especially hard on tender bark during the winter months.  You need to protect them from these hungry critters by encircling them with a suitable cage, fence or tree guards.  Be sure to remove tree guards next year so the growing tree doesn't get strangled. 

If you choose the right tree or shrub for your site and plant it properly you can plan on enjoying it for many years to come.


Spring Blooming Bulbs  October 27, 2003

Fall is the time of the year to plant spring flowering bulbs.  It is still not too late to get them in the ground if you live in the northern part of the USA; but do get them in the ground ASAP!  The roots of bulbs need time to grow some before the ground freezes.  If you live in zones 6 and higher you have some extra weeks to get them in the ground.  For our subscribers in other countries, we have quite a few readers from other countries; you will need to check local instructions on planting times.

Full sun is usually preferred for most spring blooming bulbs.  But if you have a shady landscape keep in mind that the leaves on deciduous trees don't leaf out until later in the spring, so you might be able to grow bulbs in the desired area.

If you have nice loam, you have very easy planting ahead of you.  Just dig each individual hole as needed, insert bulb with pointed end up and root end down, water, fill in the hole with soil and you are done.

If you have heavy clay soil you have two choices.  Either dig out a large area of soil and replace it good loamy soil or mix the clay soil with lots of organic material: compost or peat moss.  Adding some sand to the mix will also help.  Bulbs don't like to grow in heavy wet soil; it can be lethal to them.

For clay soil: Dig your hole at least 2 inches deeper than the depth needed for the bulbs.  Place the good soil in the bottom of the hole, sprinkle with bulb fertilizer, mix it in, place your bulbs with the pointed end up and root end down and fill in with the good soil.  Water well.

Plantings of groups of bulbs will give you a more pleasing look.  Dig the hole as large as needed to space the bulbs properly.  The bulb package will give you details about planting depth and spacing.  Don't plant any shallower than the directions call for, this could cause their death.

For sandy soil: Add compost, loam or peat moss to help amend the soil.  Very sandy soil will dry out too quickly and might not have enough nutrients.

If directions for a bulb call for planting 6 inches deep, this means 6 inches of soil ON TOP of the bulb, not the bottom of the bulb 6 inches deep.  (Substitute "6 inches for specified number of inches.)

I once had a neighbor who planted her tulip bulbs just under the soil line.  Needless to say, all her bulbs were destroyed during the winter and she didn't have any tulips.  I plant most bulbs deeper, (approximately 2 inches deeper), than the package states because they tend to come up too soon when we get a late winter warm-up and when the weather turns freezing again there is a risk of freeze damage.

Planting deeper is also good for an area that tends to warm up too soon in the spring, (example: near the foundation of your house facing south or facing the sun).  This keeps your bulbs from coming up too soon and having a late freeze zap them.  Mulching over top of the planting area will also help them to remain dormant until warmer weather officially arrives.  While shoveling snow I have even piled it in an area that I knew thawed too soon to keep things dormant longer.

Bulbs bloom at various times: early, mid and late spring.  When picking out your bulbs get a variety to extend the blooming period.  Think out your color scheme so you will have 'a look' you are pleased with.  When ordering from a catalog, keep this in mind.  Sometimes something looks so pretty in a catalog but when you try to combine it with other bulbs & plants you have it might not look so great.

Be careful of bargain bulbs, they aren't really a bargain if they don't bloom.  You need to buy the biggest healthiest bulbs you can.  There is a mail order company that always has unbelievable prices on spring blooming bulbs but when you get the bulbs they are little bulbs and some of them don't bloom for years, if at all.  It just isn't worth it.


Irradiated Foods   October 20, 2003

This week I am passing onto you information sent to us from the Weston A. Price Foundation.  We are committed to promoting healthy foods to help grow healthy families and the following information is important enough to devote our Tip of the Week to. 

Sorry this TOTW is so long, but the following information is too critical to ignore.  Our food supply has been tinkered with for too many decades at the expense of our health.  It is time that individuals start to go back to the basics and learn to eat natural foods; the way nature intends them to be eaten.


In May 2003 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved irradiated beef for the National School Lunch Program, which provides more than 25 million low-income children with free or subsidized lunches. The USDA made their decision despite the overwhelming opposition to this proposal from parents and concerned citizens.

Irradiation exposes food to doses of ionizing radiation equivalent to millions of chest x-rays, in order to kill bacteria.  This process destroys essential nutrients and hastens their depletion during storage and cooking. Irradiation also creates known toxins and carcinogens in food, such as benzene and toluene, and a new class of chemicals, called "unique radiolytic products" some of which the FDA has never tested for safety.

Food irradiation perpetuates the disgusting environment found in many feedlots and slaughterhouses, where animals wallow in their own filth and are slaughtered at overly fast lines speeds.  These conditions make it impossible to keep meat clean from excrement and other carriers of deadly pathogens like E. coli 0157:H7.


USDA "Education" Project Distorts Truth About Food Irradiation;  Information about food irradiation that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has begun offering to school districts across the country is inaccurate and misleading, according to the consumer group Public Citizen.  The agency's new information program follows its decision in May to permit irradiated beef in the National School Lunch Program.

The USDA last week posted its materials on its website - It is urging all state food service directors to use them. The materials were developed by the Minnesota Department of Education as part of an "education" campaign to promote irradiation in three Minnesota school districts. The USDA is now planning to expand the campaign nationwide. The campaign has come under fire since it was revealed that the food irradiation industry exerted undue influence over the direction of the program, to the exclusion of consumer groups.

The food irradiation industry has not gotten much traction in the marketplace, so its next scheme is to get the federal government to bail it out by serving irradiated ground beef to unsuspecting schoolchildren.

The "education" project was such a failure in Minnesota that one school district - Sauk Rapids - dropped out because officials there felt they would be promoting irradiation instead of educating parents and students about it. The other two districts - Spring Lake Park and Willmar - decided against ordering irradiated ground beef for the 2003-2004 school year. In addition, a number of California school districts - in Los Angeles, Berkeley, Ukiah and Point Arena - have banned irradiated foods.  Other school districts that have said they will not serve irradiated foods include Boston, Cleveland, New York City and San Diego.

The USDA's materials contain a "Public Relations Tool Kit," describing how to promote irradiation at the school district level.  Misleading statements in the material include:

"Irradiation produces no unique chemicals."

Reality: Researchers have known for more than 30 years that irradiation causes the formation of chemical byproducts, including a class of chemicals called 2-ACBs, which recently were shown to promote the cancer-development process in rats.

"The best scientific studies, conducted over many years, show no adverse health effects from consuming irradiated food."

Reality: Animals fed irradiated foods in experiments dating back 50 years have suffered dozens of health problems, including premature death, mutations, reproductive problems, immune system disorders, tumors, organ damage and stunted growth. Further, there is a lack of research on the potential health effects of feeding irradiated foods to children, who are more susceptible than adults to adverse effects of consuming toxic substances.

"Vitamin losses from irradiation are insignificant and are lower than those from canning or freezing."

Reality: Studies have shown that some foods can lose up to 95 percent of their vitamin content when irradiated.

"There is no link between food irradiation and nuclear power or nuclear weapons."

Reality: Radioactive cobalt-60, produced by a nuclear reaction, is used to irradiate food. Cesium-137, a waste product of nuclear bomb production, can legally be used for irradiation, though it is not now being used.  All forms of ionizing radiation - whether generated by an electronic beam or a radioactive isotope - cause the same adverse effects in food.

"Irradiation results in little if any change to the appearance, taste and nutritional value of food."

Reality: Numerous studies indicate that irradiation can corrupt the flavor, odor, appearance and texture of food. Beef can smell like a wet dog, pork can turn red, fruit and vegetables can become mushy, and eggs can become runny. A Consumer Reports study on irradiated foods published in August 2003 found that irradiated ground beef had a "singed hair" taste.

"NASA has been irradiating food for its astronauts since the 1970s.and experience with NASA astronauts indicates compounds formed during food irradiation pose no unique risk to human beings."

Reality: According to NASA, less than 2 percent of the food consumed by astronauts on space missions is irradiated, and eating it is optional.  The astronauts are not required to eat irradiated food after their missions have been completed, so this is not a valid example for the USDA to use.


Call your school board president and urge him or her to pass a ban on irradiated food in your district! To contact your school board president, check on your school district website or call the general number for your school and ask to be connected to the board president.


Hi, I am a parent/teacher/community member who is concerned about the healthiness, wholesomeness and safety of what children eat in my school district. I am calling to urge you to pass a ban on irradiated food in this school district because irradiated food is neither healthy, wholesome, nor safe.

There has not been enough research on the safety of irradiated foods, and I am firmly opposed to using our children as guinea pigs for a questionable technology.  I am also concerned that irradiation perpetuates unsanitary and filthy conditions in meatpacking facilities.  Lastly, irradiated meat does not have to be labeled when served in schools!  This is a blatant violation of parental right-to-know.

Please keep me informed of your decision on this matter.

Thank you.


Federal Legislation:

The Weston A. Price Foundation supports the passage of the Right to Know School Nutrition Act (H.R. 3120), introduced in September by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). The bill would guarantee that balanced information on food irradiation would be provided to parents and children and also requires that irradiated food served in schools be labeled.

Right to Know School Nutrition Act (Introduced in House) HR 3120

To provide for the dissemination of information on irradiated foods used in the school lunch programs and to ensure that school districts, parents, and students retain the option of traditional, non-irradiated foods through such programs.


September 17, 2003

Ms. LEE introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce

A BILL To provide for the dissemination of information on irradiated foods used in the school lunch programs and to ensure that school districts, parents, and students retain the option of traditional, non-irradiated foods through such programs.  Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the `Right to Know School Nutrition Act'. SEC. 2. IRRADIATED FOODS IN THE SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAMS. (a) IN GENERAL- The Secretary of Agriculture shall, by rule, require any institutions that serve irradiated foods as part of the school lunch program under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. 1751 et seq.) or the school breakfast program established under section 4 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 U.S.C. 1773) to—

(1) provide to the students served by such programs, and to the parents or guardians of such students, prior to serving irradiated foods, balanced information regarding irradiated foods, including--

(A) the purpose of radiation used on foods;

(B) the effects of radiation on the nutritional value of foods; and

(C) any potential adverse health consequences of irradiated foods;

(2) provide students served by such programs (and their parents or guardians with respect to such students) the option of traditional, non-irradiated foods at every meal provided under such programs;

(3) ensure that menu items containing irradiated foods are clearly labeled with the phrase `treated with irradiation', or `treated by irradiation';

(4) ensure that irradiated and non-irradiated foods are not commingled; and

(5) ensure the prominent display of signs in school cafeterias indicating that irradiated food is being served.

(b) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS- There are authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary such sums as may be necessary for carrying out this Act.


Thank you.

Bill Sanda

Director, Public Affairs


Perennial Bed Autumn Clean Up Debate  October 13, 2003

There are two camps in the debate of  "to clean up a perennial bed or not".  Let's look at both sides of the debate and then you decide what is best for you.

Pro for Autumn Clean Up:

Looks tidy

Decreases pest hiding places for "over wintering" in your garden

Most of the work is done for spring clean up; springtime is a very busy time

All that plant debris can be composted

Con for Autumn Clean Up:

Leaves plant crowns bare so you have greater need to mulch

Removes seed heads which the birds might use as food

Pro for No Autumn Clean Up:

Procrastinators can wait until next spring

Seed head will feed birds

Plants, even dead ones, create "winter interest" in the garden, especially under new fallen snow.

The dead foliage protects crowns of plants; snow collects around the dead debris and insulates the crowns.

Con for No Autumn Clean Up:

Makes spring clean up harder

Might leave seeds behind that you don't want reseeding in the garden

Can look untidy to some people

Now you decide!  I have used both methods and will probably fall somewhere in the middle this year.  Some plants will need to be cut down because they are just too messy looking for my taste but some others will remain for 'winter interest' and for the birds.

Matted leaves, especially large ones such as oak, can smoother some plants.  Leaves make good mulch but shredded ones don't mat as much.  Shredded leaves, straw or pine boughs added after the ground has frozen are great for mulching.

No matter which you decide to do you will need to bring in all watering equipment such as nozzles and sprinklers, hoses and any garden art that could be damaged by freezing and thawing such as clay pots or porous materials, if you live where temperatures fall below freezing.  Hoses can make it through winters outside but they will last more years if you protect them during the winter.  If you choose to leave them outside disconnect them from any outside faucets.  It is also a good idea to drain them.


Drying Gourds    October 6, 2003

Now that summer is over and harvest season is here many of you have gourds that you grew to use as birdhouses, baskets or artwork.  It will be awhile before you can use them but now is the time to start the drying process.

Leave the gourds on the vines until the vines are completely dead.

They will harden during the drying process, so soft gourds might not cure properly.

A gourd that is fully dried will be light and you will be able to hear the seeds inside rattling around.  Large gourds can take months to fully dry.

Cleaning process: The mold that grows on the outside of the gourds is to be expected.  For birdhouses this moldy appearance is not a problem for the birds but maybe you won't like it.  To remove the mold, soak the gourds in water for one hour. Wrap the gourd in a wet towel or put in a plastic bag; the idea is to soften the outer skin.  Once it is softened, scrub the skin off with a soft scrubbing material such as a kitchen scrubber.  Don't use anything that will scratch the under layer such as sand paper.

Rinse and allow to dry.

There is a very potent irritating dust inside that can be very unpleasant to breath and getting some water inside will keep the dust from rising.  Before you cut the gourd and remove the seeds drill or punch a small hole in the gourd and run a small amount of water inside.

If you want to make a birdhouse for purple martins you will need to drill a 2-1/8th inch entrance hole.  Don't forget drainage holes in the bottom, holes in the top for hanging and four 1/2 holes for ventilation; you don't want 'cooked' birds.  Other birds may require different size holes for entrance holes so you may need to check your local library for more information.  Apply polyurethane or white high gloss enamel paint for preservation.  The white paint will help keep the temperatures inside cooler during the summer.

I have seen some beautiful baskets made from gourds.  Some dried gourds have lovely designs burned into the top layer with a wood-burning tool.  If you would like to try your hand at more artful ideas for your gourds your library should have some books available showing the many things you can do with dried gourds.


Hummingbirds and Their Migration South  September 29, 2003

Autumn has arrived and along with the cooler temperatures the birds head south.  Hummingbirds have a long flight ahead of them so if you have supplied hummers with nectar this season please hang on a little while longer and keep your feeder up.  Unless you live in the northern reaches and all hummers north of you have all ready left you just might supply a migrating hummingbird with some food during their trip.

I haven't seen a hummingbird for at least a week now but I put some fresh nectar in the feeders just in case one of those cute little birds come my way.  I also moved one feeder more out in the open for any passersby. 

Some people have worried that if you leave the feeders out too long it will encourage them to stay too long.  Experts on this subject say not to worry; their instinct to migrate is so strong you can't delay their leaving, even if the food supply is sufficient to entice them

Anti-Bacterial Soap:

Last week we attended an Organic Festival.  It was great attending the workshops; John and I love to learn.  One of the workshops featured a doctor who is an expert in Infectious Diseases.  The good doctor explained one of the worst things you can do is use Anti-bacterial Soap around your house for washing your hands.  We are breeding "super germs" in our modern society and Anti-bacterial Soap will only add to the dilemma.  "Super Germs" are those that have survived once the weaker germs and bacteria have been killed off with antibiotics.  So do yourself and family a favor and get rid of the anti-bacterial soaps.


Starting a New Garden Bed Part II  September 22, 2003

Last week we discussed how to get a new garden started this fall for next spring.  This week you can view a picture of a small garden planted this past spring and what plants were planted in it to conserve space.  If you missed last week's TOTW you can scroll down to it.

The garden in the picture is 18 feet in diameter.  It contains:  4 tomato plants, pole beans, one summer squash, 6 bush type cucumbers planted in three spots with 2 plants to a spot, some carrots, 6 sweet peppers and a few flowers.  To view the picture click here: Children's Garden 

It is important to understand that you can't grow everything you might want to eat in a small space.  You also need to pick "bush" type or "compact" plants when buying your seeds or nursery grown plants.  Carefully read the descriptions of the expected size of a mature plant.  Watermelons, cantaloupes or cucumbers can have vines that will travel 10 feet or more.  You can find bush type cucumbers that won't take up too much room.  Instead of bush beans grow pole beans on supports to conserve room.  There are four little Tee-Pees in the garden with pole beans growing up them.

Our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) children designed the garden with walkways forming a Knot Garden.  You can't really see the pattern in the picture because the plants got so big but originally you easily see the walkways. 

It is important to keep your tomatoes upright in cages.  Tomatoes would sprawl all over the ground if allowed.  If you grow indeterminate tomatoes make sure you have large cages.  We prefer concrete reinforcing wire made into cages.  Those little three ring cages sold in stores are only appropriate for determinate tomatoes.  Read the plant descriptions.

If you had a little more room you could surround your garden with fencing, plant peas on the inside of the fence for the peas to grow on, (rabbits love to eat little peas), and have an early veggie to eat.  You could also plant some lettuce for an early crop but you would need to give up some of the above-mentioned plants.  Once the peas and lettuce are done, pull the spent plants to make room for the later maturing plants.

Don't crowd the plants.  It is hard to believe those tiny seeds or little plants will soon need a lot of room but be careful.  If plants are too crowded they are more disease prone and hard to harvest.  Planting instructions come with most seeds and plants, follow the recommendations.  The summer squash in the pictured garden did overtake the peppers and is also trying to run over the carrots.  A smaller squash would have worked better.  (That was an extra plant we just had handy.)  Or maybe give up the squash for lettuce and buy squash at your Farmer's Market.

Finally (for a almost maintenance-free garden don't skip this part!) mulch your new garden with a layer (6 to 8 sheets) of newspapers covering all the soil then add leaves, straw or grass clippings on top.  If you have plenty of grass clippings on a weekly basis you can use them on the bare ground without newspapers but the papers are an added benefit.  Grass clippings alone need to be replenished often because they decompose so quickly, newspapers with organic material on top control weeds best.  Mulching will also keep the soil moist and cool during the hot months.

I find it easiest to mulch the garden first then plant right into the mulch layer by digging through the mulch into the soil for transplants.  Let the soil warm up before adding a mulch layer.  For seeds leave an area bare or pull away the mulch.  Most seeds cannot break through thick mulch.  Once the plants are big enough mulch the area.

If you are new to gardening and this has inspired you to start your own vegetable garden for next year please drop us a note to let us know.  We would love know about it and keep us posted with updates, even pictures if you can.


Starting a New Garden Bed    September 15, 2003 

A while back ago I read a statistic that said the number one hobby now in America is gardening.  But I also read in another report that only 1 out of 10 people know how to grow their own produce.  Those figures seem contradictory but when you drive around neighborhoods the yards bear out those numbers.  Lovely flowers abound but where is the food?  If I can help change those figures and encourage families to grow some of their own produce I will feel like I have accomplished one of my goals in life. 

I can remember that even in my 20's I loved to see well-tended vegetable gardens.  I feel vegetable gardens can be as pretty as flowerbeds.   But there is a bonus; they will cut down on your food bills.  There is also a great feeling you get when you pick and eat your own homegrown produce not to mention that fresh picked vegetables have greater nutrients than those picked a week ago.  You can also keep pesticides and chemicals off your produce for health benefits.

You might be saying, "I don't have enough room in my yard for a vegetable garden."  Unless you live somewhere where there is absolutely no space available you can fit plenty of vegetable plants, if well chosen, into a small area.  We have a small area for the "children's garden" that is only 18 feet in diameter.  (A 16 foot square would be about the same square footage.)  Next week we will show you pictures of it and discuss what plants you can fit into such a small area.  There were enough vegetables that came out of this little garden to feed a family fresh produce for the last half of the summer, they were all later maturing crops.  We will also talk about how to make this garden almost maintenance free. 

But in this TOTW we will discuss how to prepare an area for a new vegetable garden for next year.

Choose a spot that has as much sun as possible.  All day sun is best but you can get away with half sun for the day if you have good soil.  Your production will be lower but you can still harvest plenty to make it worth the effort.  Mow the new garden area short, till as soon as possible to start the decomposing of vegetation.  When leaves start to fall from the trees accumulate a good supply.  Put them into the garden.  To speed the decomposing of the leaves mow them into smaller pieces then till them into the soil.   If you have been making your own compost till that into the garden also.  If you have clay or sandy soil, either of those present problems, adding organic material such as the leaves, well-rotted manure, old straw or compost, will help "fix" the soil.  

Save some leaves in large garbage bags for next spring for mulching or if you have spring leaves to clean up you can use them.  Also save newspapers for mulching, this is where the "maintenance free" comes in.  Throw away the glossy colored advertising sections before you put the papers away in shopping bags.

I often hear that critters, such as rabbits and deer, eat the plants so people stop trying to grow vegetables.  We have found fences with Irish Spring soap in nylon stockings hanging from the fences keeps the critters from eating our vegetables.

Next week we will discuss this topic further so next year you can grow your own veggies.


Leaves and Various Uses   September 8, 2003                                            

Leaves are very important for the organic gardener.  Just like grass clippings, they are often disposed of but really should be kept for your benefit and the benefit of your soil.  Various uses:

Compost - To have a healthy compost pile you need brown (leaves) and green matter.  The leaves add important nutrients to the compost, add bulk and keep the pile smelling earthy, not smelly.

Mulch - Leaves are great for mulching, both in the winter months and in the spring on your vegetable beds.  If you use for winter mulch they need to be shredded so they don't mat down and smother the plants.  If you want to save for spring mulching, just put them in plastic bags and store outside.  They will be ready and waiting to help you keep weeds down, keep moisture in the soil and add nutrients to the soil come spring planting season.*

Amending the soil - Worms love to eat leaves (and any decaying matter).  To amend clay or sandy soil all it will take is a lot of leaves and earthworms.  Pile the leaves on the area to be amended, till in and add the worms.  You won't recognize your soil a year later.  The more leaves you till in the better.  We had a rock hard clay soil in a side yard and followed this procedure and the result was nothing short of miraculous!  The leaves were 2 feet high when we piled them on.  We tilled them in and then added a lot of worms.  (Look in the back of sporting or gardening magazines for worm suppliers if you can't find any in your area.)

Add to your vegetable garden - Till leaves into your vegetable garden to add nutrients and organic matter for next year's crops.

*Save your newspapers for next spring.  Start now and you will have a good supply for your vegetable garden.  Dispose of any colored glossy advertising and just put the black and white sections in plastic shopping bags.  I even separate the sections because come next spring I like them to be ready to use.  Laying down the newspapers and then organic matter on top of them is a huge job and I don't want to be pulling out things I can't use while doing this job.  Even though mulching like this takes a lot of time in the spring it is worth the extra effort.  I don't have to weed any areas that get this treatment for the rest of the growing season and the soil stays cool and moist.  So come summer, when so many gardeners are spending hours weeding, all I have to do is pick the vegetables. 


Perennials, Can You Transplant Them Now?  September 1, 2003

I am often asked, "When can I move this perennial?"  It depends on the perennial; does it bloom in the spring, summer or fall?  You wouldn't want to move or divide a Hardy Mum or an Autumn Joy Sedum right now, they are just getting ready to bloom.  But if you have perennials that are past their bloom period or even going dormant, then this is a good time to move them.  It is still fresh in your mind what is wrong with its placement or if you want to divide it because it has gotten too big.  Maybe you see a spot in your garden where you need more color or a different plant and moving things around at this time makes a design plan easier.

Perennials need enough growing season left to establish a new root system before the ground freezes and this time of year provides the time.  Hopefully the dry hot weather is over with and the new transplant will not suffer as much as if it were moved during a hot spell.

Springtime is also a good time to move perennials, just as they are poking out of the ground.  But if your perennial is an early bloomer wait until it is done blooming so you don't sacrifice blooms.

If you are hoping the plant will drop seed to create babies then it probably should stay put.  You might disrupt the seed production (assuming it is producing seed) and you won't get the seed drop you want.

This is a good time to pass on some favorite perennials to family and friends.  Do them a favor though and don't pass on a perennial that is invasive.  I have some plants that I have banished to the outskirts of our property that people have asked for.  Unless they have a lot of land to dedicate to them, I suggest another plant instead.  There are plenty of well-behaved plants I can share; I hate to send a troublemaker to someone's garden.


Tomatoes and the End of the Season  August 25, 2003

Most of our readers live in areas that are approaching the end of the growing season.  If you live in a warmer area than the rest of us just read along and wipe that grin off your face that you don't have frost knocking on your door.

I hate to admit it but there are tomatoes forming out there that will never have enough time to develop before the plant dies from frost damage.  But there are plenty of green tomatoes that have enough time to grow bigger and ripen.  They will need all the energy the plant can supply to bring them to full size and ripeness so do them a favor and cut off those little guys.  They won't make it and will only draw nourishment away from those that can.

Speaking of Frost!

Get those bed sheets ready for your first couple nights of early frost.  I know it is still weeks away but most of us are procrastinators so if I remind you now maybe you will have them ready in several weeks when you will need them.  Look around at garage and yard sales for extras also.  Putting a bed sheet over your tomatoes and peppers will often give you another month of growing season.  Often times you will get a couple nights of early frost and then another warm spell.  It is well worth the effort to cover them.  Don't forget to take the sheets off in the morning and watch the weather reports for the following night until it is safe again.  Cucurbits (cucumbers, melons, squash) cannot be saved this way, they are too tender and brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, etc) aren't hurt by early frosts.   If you have some flowers (annuals) still putting on a beautiful display that you don't want to loose cover them also.

Intensive Gardening Addition

Last week we discussed intensive planting in vegetable gardens.  I should have mentioned that this method of a staggered checkerboard planting is also great for planting annuals to obtain a very full showy display. 


Intensive Gardening   August 18, 2003

This year we planted our vegetable gardens differently so we could grow as much as possible because we are growing for 27 families (Rocky Gardens Community Supported Agriculture or CSA for short) and need to harvest as much produce as possible.  I have heard of "Intensive Gardening" before and thought surely I must be gardening intensively because by the middle of the summer you could hardly walk through our gardens.  But after reading "How to Grow More Vegetables... than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine" by John Jeavons, we discovered we had only scratched the surface of "Intensive Gardening". 

When you plant intensively you are planting in beds, (usually 3 to 4 feet wide so you can reach to the middle of the bed and as long in length as you desire), in a staggered checkerboard fashion.  This gives each plant the maximum growing space in a limited area.  Walkways are reduced to make room for more beds.  A traditional "Row garden" could use half the ground for walkways.

The benefits of this system are:

*Maximum harvest; you aren't wasting half of the garden with walkways.

*Plants shade out the weeds, which makes it harder for the weeds to thrive.

*You can amend a whole bed easier than amending the whole garden.

*Reduction in water usage because you aren't watering as much walkway and you have less exposed ground to loose water due to evaporation.

*By keeping off the planting beds (you reach in instead of walking up and down rows) the roots have loose soil in which to grow.  Looser soil produces healthier plants.

It is important that your soil be rich with amendments such as compost and organic matter to support such large numbers of plants.  A soil test is important and will tell you any further amendments you need to add.  Green sand and rock phosphate are highly recommended for vegetable gardens.

Keep "Intensive Gardening" in mind when planning next year's gardens.  You just may be able to grow some veggies you didn't think you had room for in previous years.

Bee Stings:

We had a reader write in about bee stings and I thought it might be helpful to you. 

All that summer squash!!

By now many of you are wondering what to do with all that summer squash.  Check out the fabulous recipe for summer squash found by going to our 'Harvest Site' page and clicking on 'Recipes'; it is the last thing to load so wait a few seconds. 


Harvest Season is Here!    August 11, 2003

To Freeze or Not to Freeze

I have been asked frequently this past week from our CSA members if certain produce or prepared foods can be frozen or not.  Since I don't know everything and haven't frozen everything my answer was, "Try freezing a small portion, wait a couple days, thaw it out and see if it is the consistency you can accept."  This little test will tell you if freezing a food will harm it for later use this winter.

But let me remind you that there is nothing like "fresh from the garden produce".  Use all the great summer produce as much as possible now.  Plan most of your meals around summer's bounty because in a few months it will be all history. You will never be able to get the same great taste and texture as fresh but you might be pleased enough with the frozen item, especially when you are cooking hearty warm winter dishes.

If you don't have enough freezer space but still desire to preserve a "must have" book is the "Ball Blue Book-Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration".  If there is a more thorough book I am not aware of it.

Saving Tomato Seed

If you have heirloom or open pollinated tomatoes this year, that you are happy with, save some of the seeds from the nicest fruit.  Allow the selected tomatoes to come to full ripeness or maturity.  Tomato seed have a gel-like substance around them that needs to be removed.  To do this put the seeds and gel in a jar of water.  Allow to sit for approximately 3 days.  You will see bubbles and mold on top of the water start to form and it might even smell; this process is breaking down the gel around the seeds.   Stir or swirl the jar once or twice.  Rinse in a sieve until water runs clear.  Place in jar of water; viable (good) seed will sink, throw away any that float.   Dry on paper towel, place in airtight containers once thoroughly dry and label.  For further information about seed saving Click Here and scroll down to October 1, 2001 and look for "Collecting Seeds".

I store my saved seeds in envelopes and put them in zip lock bags in groups, such as cucurbits, brassicas, annual flowers, perennials, etc.  Then I put in a desiccant packet, (like the ones you find in shoe boxes or other things) to absorb any moisture.  I have tons of seeds so this method helps keep large quantities in order.

Second Crop of Cabbage

If you grew cabbage this year and don't have anything you need to grow in it's place you can get small heads of cabbage after the first harvest.  Cut the first head off straight across the stem about an inch above the ground.  After a few weeks you will notice little heads forming around the cut stem.  Pick out the two best looking ones and snap off any others.  Other little heads might want to grow so keep them snapped off except the two 'chosen' ones.  At the end of the season you will have two more small heads of cabbage.

Keep Your Broccoli Coming

Don't let your broccoli 'go to seed' or flower after you have harvested the central main head.  Keep cutting off the side shoots or 'florets' of broccoli for a continued harvest right up to hard freezes.  Broccoli will tolerate the first frosts and the added bonus (aside from the greater amounts of broccoli) is after a frost you don't have anymore little green worms!  If your plants have all ready started to flower you can bring them back into production by cutting off all flower stalks and starting with only green foliage.  Keep an eye out for new shoots because it won't take long.  You might need to harvest them every couple of days.  They will not be as big as the first main head but they are just as good, if not better.  They are ready for cooking and don't have such a big thick stem.


Fertilizers 101    August 4, 2003

Plants need soil that contains adequate nutrients for healthy growth.  Most gardeners are not blessed with rich loam chock full of these essentials.  As I have stated many times in the past the best amendment you can add to your soil is compost.  Compost, also known as "gardener's gold", will not only supply your plants with most of what they need but will help fix all types of poor soil.  But that being said, we will take a look at fertilizers and their common components.

It is important to know the three primary nutrients, their uses, how they affect plants and deficiency symptoms.  They are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K); often referred to as NPK.  These are the numbers you see on the packaging of store bought fertilizers, such as 5-10-5, always listed in the order of NPK.  (Please note that there are many other nutrients that are needed in smaller amounts but I'm only mentioning the primary ones today.) 

Nitrogen (N)-the first number

Nitrogen encourages stem and leaf growth, resulting in lush full plants with deep green (or appropriate color) leaves.  Deficiency symptoms can be pale green to yellow leaves, stunted or retarded growth and slow growing spindly plants.  Final stages of nitrogen deficiency will be dying branches or leaves and small fruit.

Phosphorus (P)-the second number

Phosphorus encourages strong root systems and beautiful flowers that often bloom sooner than expected.  Also increases resistance to disease and winter cold.  Deficiency symptoms are purpling leaves, especially the undersides, stunted growth, seeds that don't develop fully and sparse flowering and fruiting. 

Potassium (K)-the third number

Potassium encourages plant cell division and growth.  Increases drought tolerance and improves flavor of produce by aiding in production of starches, sugars and oils.  Like phosphorus, potassium increases resistance to disease and winter cold.  Deficiency symptoms are stunted growth with weak stems; leaves will have browning edges and tips.  Fruit will be small with shriveled seeds.

Keep these guidelines handy because sooner or later you will see some of these symptoms and will need to know what is wrong.  You might even be able to impress a friend who's plants are croaking and you will be able to tell them why and how to fix it.

Tip about weeds:

We received a comment about last week's TOTW.  One of our readers recommended a Web site good for identifying weeds.  This site is from Michigan State University Extension Service and useful for weeds in the Midwest, especially Michigan.  It has good photos, sometimes hard to find.  If you live in another area perhaps you could find a similar site put out by your local Extension Service.

We strive to supply our readers with the best information possible and welcome comments.


Perennial Plants vs. Weeds, How to tell which is which?   July 28, 2003

One of the challenges in a perennial garden is seeing new plants and wondering if you planted it or is it a weed?  Once you are familiar with a certain plant it isn't so hard but getting to know their appearance can take a little time.  Here are some tips I have found useful in trying to figure if it is a keeper or not. 

    *First, is there a plant tag stuck in the ground near the plant?  I could hardly believe that I would be so careless but I indeed pulled out a plant thinking it was a weed with the tag right there.  So look around and check before you pull.  (I did save the plant.  I quickly put it in a pot with a nice mix of potting soil and nursed new roots back on it before putting it back in the garden.)

    *Do you see any other plants around your garden that look like it?  Many weeds will have plenty of cousins around your garden.  If that is the only one like it maybe it is something you put in.

    *Is it in a spot you would have planted something?  If the plant in question is right up against your fountain, too close to another perennial or a big rock you might not have planted it there.  It possibly is a weed.

    *Sometimes you just can't tell until you see the blossoms.  Just keep an eye on the plant and watch for blossoms.  The blossoms are a dead give away to the true nature of the plant.  Don't let it go to seed though once you have discovered it is a weed.

Many weeds are setting seed by now and will happily leave their babies behind for next year, all over your garden.  Don't forget that for every weed you pull this year that you prevent hundreds, if not thousands, of new ones next year.

Perennial Mums:

A while back ago I explained how to pinch back your mums for a fuller show of flowers this fall.  I said that a good guideline is "pinch back 3 times by the fourth of July."  I broke that rule the other day, but only because I know this one mum is early to blossom and can get very unruly.  I could see that the blossoms were all ready forming so I pinched it back again even though it was after the 4th.  Get to know your mum's growth habits and be ready to break some rules when you feel necessary.

Summer Strawberry Care:

For 'June Bearing' strawberries now is the time to cut or mow down the foliage and add compost on the beds.  They will put out new growth, no new berries, but nice healthy growth for next June's production.

For 'Everbearing' feed them at the beginning of every new month during the growing season.  Once again, I recommend compost for all the benefits it gives strawberry beds, such as food for the plants, improving the soil and disease fighting properties.


Mulching Your Bare Soil   July 21, 2003

The other day I moved a thin layer of leaves and discovered how much that little bit of mulch helped conserve moisture.  In the same area was bare soil; both spots had been watered at the same time.  The difference was vast.  The bare soil was dry and hard but the area with leaves was still moist and soft. 

We have been mulching our gardens for years with great results.  I truly dislike unmulched bare soil in my gardens.  Weeds grow rampant, the soil dries out quickly, when the soil is wet it gets my shoes icky, and you don't replenish the soil for the following year.

For more information about mulching in your gardens visit our Garden Tips page or click here: Garden Tips - Mulch

When I wrote that article we had just started using the "newspaper with leaves on top" method.  Several years have gone by now and it is my favorite method for mulching vegetable gardens.  For further information about using newspapers in your gardens visit our More Tips Page 3.


Deadheading Your Plants     July 14, 2003

Now that summer is well under way many plants, annuals and perennials, have spent flowers and need deadheading.  Many will reward you with a new flush of blooms if treated to this procedure. 

Cut or pop off dead blooms not only for the new blooms but also, for many perennials that self-sow, to cut down on the over population of news babies.

For examples, I like the foliage of Lady's Mantle but I don't need a thousand new babies next year.  So I will cut of the flowering heads before they start to drop seed. 

My peonies were beautiful weeks ago but by now those big dead pods don't do much for their appearance.

My "Explorer Series" climbing rose looked dreadful after the petals fell to the ground; so "Off with their Heads!"  I will allow the rose hips to form later in the season, especially a large hedge rose that forms huge hips.  They are lovely in their own right and the birds like them in the winter. 

I have creeping thyme in between stepping stones that was starting to flower and getting too tall for the path so last night I took a string trimmer to them to prevent self-sowing and bring their height back to a suitable height for walking across.

I am sure you have your own examples of plants that will look better, repeat bloom and would propagate too much unless you deadhead.

So as you are walking through your yard, take a pair of pruners with you to do some clean-up work.  It shouldn't take too long to tidy things up a bit.


"My plants aren't growing!  Help!"  July 7, 2003

John and I went out Saturday night to an organic gardening supply store 40 miles from here.  We really live it up!  Anyways... while we were at the register and man came up to the employee and said, "Could you pick out some tomato plants for me that will live?  I have planted over 24 plants and they all are dying."  The employee was just silent and I couldn't resist jumping in on the conversation.  "What is wrong with your soil?  There is something wrong with your soil," I said to him.  He admitted that a neighbor had added a lot of sawdust last fall to the garden.  All he wanted to do was to buy more plants but that would have only given him more dead plants.  He needed to fix the problem before he can grow plants in that soil.

Why did the sawdust kill his plants?  The decomposition of the sawdust consumed the nitrogen in the soil leaving little or no nitrogen for the plants.  Plants need nitrogen to produce lush green growth to support the plant.  Most organic material should be allowed to decompose before adding it to the soil.  This is especially true for wood products like sawdust.  Excessive amounts of leaves could cause the same problem. 

If you are having problems with you plants and they are appropriate for your conditions (e.g. sunlight or shade, dry or moist conditions, etc.) don't just assume there is something wrong with you or the plants.  (How many times have you heard someone say, "I can't grow a thing"?)

Poorly performing plants are often the result of soil problems.  But how do you improve your soil?  Adding compost and composted manure would be the first step.  Compost is often referred to as "Gardener's Gold" and for a good reason.  There is little that you can add to your soil that will improve it more than compost.  Compost will improve clay, sand, acid, alkaline and just plain "awful soil".  Composted manure will also add important elements to your soil.  If you add enough of these to "awful soil" there will be sufficient nutrients, beneficial microbes and bacteria, and Ph adjustments to grow most plants.  There will always be 'odd' plants with 'odd' needs or you may have a unique soil problem but for most general problems compost will help.

After you have added compost and composted manure and your soil has had some time to adjust have a soil test.  The soil test will reveal deficiencies, if any and give recommendations.  For those who live in the U.S. a soil test can be obtained by calling your County Extension Office; find it in the "Government" section of your phone book.  They aren't expensive and worth the money.  

I was happy to see the man with the dead tomato plants leave the store with compost and composted manure.  He was hesitant at first to listen to me but when the employee backed up my advice the sale was made.


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