Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Organic Vs. Non-Organic

Believe it or not the term "dirty dozen" does not refer to the egg market. Which seems to be in hot water these days. It refers to the dirtiest (as in pesticide) fruits and vegetables at the market. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) suggests that a consumer can reduce their pesticide exposure by 80% by avoiding the most contaminated produce and selecting only the cleanest produce that are non-organic. The EWG has been publishing guides of the "dirty dozen" of most pesticide contaminated foods since 1995, based on statistical analysis of testing conducted by the USDA and the FDA. (By the way these tests were done after the produce was washed, rinsed and peeled, Yikes) In their most current list there is a handy little cut out that you can take shopping with you. In this PDF it also explains the potential harm pesticides have on the body, fetal development, and in early childhood development.

Here are some of the links to research connecting pesticide residue to potential health problems: Prostate Cancer, Childhood cancer, ADHD in children, Central nervious system, Menstrual cycle and many more.

The EPA estimates that 40 percent of children tested in CDC’s national biomonitoring study from 1999 to 2002 had amounts of OPs (organophosphate pesticides) in their bodies at levels exceeding standard margins of safety, relative to levels shown to be harmful in laboratory studies (Paynes-Sturges 2009). Another study in support of organic diets done by EHP proves that an organic diet significantly lowers children's exposure to Agricultural pesticides.Why are many studies on the effect of pesticide on human development done on children?  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that infants and children may be especially sensitive to the residue of pesticides for several reasons listed below,
  • Their internal organs are still developing and maturing,
  • In relation to their body weight, infants and children eat and drink more than adults, possibly increasing their exposure to pesticides in food and water.
  • Certain behaviors--such as playing on floors or lawns or putting objects in their mouths--increase a child's exposure to pesticides used in homes and yards.
What about non-organic produce from other countries? Many are not approved by the FDA and slip through customs as they are undetectable by the human eye, nose and taste buds. EWG writes,

Between 1996 and 2006, 1.6% of domestic crops violated pesticide safety standards in FDA inspections, while imported crops earned violations at 2.25 times that rate. FDA inspectors target suspected problems, but still inspect just a small fraction of produce on the market, and test for just a fraction of pesticides that could contaminate it. Many violating products likely make it to the produce aisle and the kitchen.

In conclusion, your diet does not have to be 100% organic.This information is gathered to enlighten and help consumers stay informed. We can all use a little extra cash these days. If you follow these four tips you can save money, eat cleaner and practice sustainable living.
  1. Use the Dirty Dozen list to shop for Organic produce (It is better to buy local  to reduce, "Think Globally, Eat Locally.")
  2. Supplement your diet with the Clean 15
  3. Shop for local product in farmers markets. Get to know your local farmers and ask what they use for pest control on their produce. Many small farmers do not use any pesticides or sprays but can not afford to be "Certified Organic".
  4. Grow your own produce, especially the dirty dozen.
Small steps toward a clean diet can make a big difference.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Price of Home Grown Produce

I did not start gardening to save money, I did it to feed my passion. Every spring I feel a strong magnetic tug to pull weeds from the soft earth and plant seeds. There are many reasons why a gardener gardens, some more fulfilling than others.

The other day I was at Barnes & Nobel and I spotted an interesting book called, The $64. Tomato (excerpt) it got me thinking.... If I put a price tag on my garden, what would it read? I started to do some research and came across some very enlightening articles that would help me get an idea of its value. I really enjoyed reading an article by Roger Doiron from Kitchen Gardener titled Whats a Home Garden Worth? He spent six painstaking months weighing, calculating and recording all the produce he grew in his home garden. He then compared prices in a nifty chart of his produce with those he bought at Whole Foods,  his local grocery store and the farmers market. In his experiment he concluded big savings in growing his own vegetables.

Another interesting read was an article by Jane Thomas titled Can You Really Save Money on Growing Vegetables? Her article explains that if you garden "right" you can save money. I agree with her analysis, there are many ways to cut costs in the garden so that you don't end up with a $64. tomato. A few rules of thumb when gardening to save money are,
  • Grow from seed 
  • Make your own compost and pesticides
  • Grow produce that have an expensive price tag in the supermarket (see Jane Thomas's list)
  • Drip Irrigation
Jane Thomas also provides a handy list on common high price vegetables you can grow yourself.
Neal Templin from the Wall Street Journal wrote an article called How Much Green Can Growing a Vegetable Garden Save You? He writes about a study done by the nonprofit National Gardening Associations and they found that the average home vegetable gardener spends $70. a year on gardening and produces $600. worth of Veggies. Wow, now that is some serious saving.

 So, I have concluded that even though there is an initial investment in building a garden, the overall value of having a backyard vegetable garden is priceless. I could calculate how much my garden is worth but I know it is worth much more then the production of its vegetables. Here is a list of all the benefits that I did not see listed in these articles
  • Free therapy
  • Sustainable living
  • Fresh produce
  • More flavorful produce
  • Custom shopping list
  • Organic produce
  • Pride in growing your own
  • Education and connection to where food comes from
One can clearly see many pros of a home garden and yes there are some cons but once you have tasted your first homegrown heirloom tomato or sunk your teeth into fresh corn you will forget the cons. It is a lot like having a newborn baby, in retrospect those tough times are sort of a blur when you look into the eyes of your smiling child.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Organic Fertilizers Vs. Synthetic

I was one of those..... The gardener who loved the effects of synthetic fertilizers. My plants would be wimpy one day then hopped up on that blue juice the next. Yes, you get some really fast and amazing results, but at what cost?

Beside my own experience in the drastic transformation of the health of my garden soil I have read some very interesting articles on the long term effects of synthetic Nitrogen fertilizers on soil. One of the great articles I most recently read was on grist:the nitrogen dilemma. I think it is a must read for any gardener, but you can draw your own opinions regarding this topic. In summary, the article explains the argument against the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. It explains the negative impact of synthetic nitrogen on soils health and in our environment.

How does Synthetic Nitrogen work to destroy our soil? The article explains that a team of University of Illinois researchers led by professors Richard Mulvaney, Saeed Khan, and Tim Ellsworth found that nitrogen fertilizers stimulate soil microbes that feed on organic matter. They explain it is sorta like a tread mill effect where the ravines microbes that feed on organic material (ie. minerals, garden and animal compost) create an accelerated decline in the organic matter which then results in the inability for the soil to store organic nitrogen. It creates this never ending dependability on more synthetic nitrogen. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers actually deplete and destroy the natural process of the soils health.

Contrary to synthetic fertilizers, Organic fertilizer builds the soil. Organic fertilizer is the product of plant, animal and mineral origin. The nutrients are gentle on plants and are released slowly over a period of time. This process is slower, but it is balanced so the soil health improves over time. Some great organic fertilizers to try are, Bonemeal, Alfalfa meal, soybean meal and seaweed meal or any other complete organic fertilizer . In addition I use organic chicken manure and garden compost. Other organic soil enrichment includes, Leaf mold, worm composting, green manure and other animal manures.

In addition, this article explains how the additional nitrogen not be used up fast enough by the microbes in the soil is lost to runoff. This excess nitrogen is finding its way to our waterways and poses a variety of collateral issues. From what I have read there are many negative impacts when using Synthetic fertilizers and countless benefits to using organics. Try it out, you will see!

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Just like a bear coming out from a long winter hibernation, stretching an yawning, so to am I. Like the bear and me, my garden has been hibernating and this blog post is focused on getting a jump start on summer garden preparations. Let's start with two important topics, what to plant and where.

As a professional landscape designer I like to experiment with plant combination, yes you can do this with vegetables and herbs as well. However, did you know that there is a more scientific approach to planting order? Planting plants which like each other actually helps neighboring plants thrive. This technique is called companion planting. Just like people, plants benefit from good, healthy companionship. It is believed that plants will yield more, grow better, taste better and in my opinion as a designer look better.

In most cases it is best for the gardener to experiment and find out what works best for their garden. To get you started, here are some general rules to get your Match.com friendly garden started,

Just like in any healthy relationship avoid the negative.
Some plants which do not pair well together are:
  • Corn and Tomato,
  • Tomato, peppers, potato and eggplant
  • Cucumbers, Squash and Melons

In a healthy relationship it is best to accentuate the positive. Here is a great chart by Our Garden Gang of plants that do well together. This chart has a very organized way of listing beneficial and non-beneficial plant relationships. Garden Ablaze has planting charts broken down into more specific ways your garden can benefit from companion planting such as companion planting for larger yields, companion planting for pest control and companion planting for attracting beneficial insects.

Another benefit to companion planting is mixing it up to keep it interesting. The further a pest has to travel from feast to feast, the greater chance the insect will loose interest or become a feast to another predator. Mixing up the plants also gives you the opportunity to try some more aesthetically pleasing plant combination. One can experiment with plant color, texture, size and shape. For example, if we look at our (above) charts we can experiment.

What about planting tomato, basil, and marigolds together. What a beautiful combination, the red of the tomato against the yellow marigold with a splash of delicate white flowers or purple leaves from the basil.

Another great combination would be eggplant, rocky top lettuce mix and carrots. The purple eggplants are a beautiful and dramatic backdrop to the chartreuse leaves of carrots and the purple and chartreuse variegation from the lettuce mix ties both together nicely. Here we are mixing color, shape, texture, and size.

So it appears that practicing the companion planting method has many benefits, not only will you be promised a big harvest, less pests and healthy plants, you will also be rewarded with an aesthetically beautiful garden.....Who wouldn't want a companion like that?