Category Archives: Organic Living

Wash Your Organic Produce. No, Really.

Always wash your food, gross stuff happens in our food supply chain:

According to Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group, the answer is an unequivocal yes, for several reasons. One is what the produce industry refers to as "pesticide drift": The wind can—and frequently does—blow chemicals from nearby conventional fields onto organic crops.* Pesticide contamination can also happen in the warehouse, since many produce companies use the same facilities to process organic and conventional products. In that case, companies are supposed to use the label "organically grown" instead of "organic," which can mislead consumers. "The labels are really confusing," Lunder says. "When people say they’re transitional organic, there might be traces left in the soil. If you see no-spray, they still might be using synthetic fertilizer, for example."

http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/08/wash-organic-produce

 

And let’s not forget, even with Organic, there can still be Toxins in your Compost.

Are There Toxins in Your Compost?

Well, this is a bit scary when you consider the compost is going into organic gardens…

As thousands of cities have begun composting yard waste and hundreds more begin collecting food scraps on a large scale, new questions are emerging about what kinds of things make their way into compost and whether any of them pose a threat to humans and the environment. Federal laws do not require compost to be screened for contaminants, of which plastic and glass are only the most visible. Random tests of compost used in organic agriculture have occasionally turned up elevated levels of lead and traces of pesticides. Last month, the US Composting Council, the industry’s trade group, warned its members to watch out for grass clippings laced with Imprelis, a new weed killer from DuPont that does not easily break down in compost piles.

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2011/06/are-there-toxins-your-compost

Composting and Other Ways to Reducing Food Waste

How much food do you think your family throws away each year?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans threw away more than 34 million tons of food in 2010. That is absolutely appalling. Food waste is the largest component of municipal solid waste. FOOD! Not paper (that was second) or plastic (disposable water bottles drive me crazy!), but food. You know, the stuff we pay to eat and then complain about how expensive it is.  At the very least we can put it into the compost barrels.

Want to know how you can reduce the amount of food you toss? Here are some helpful suggestions:

  1. Buy less. This is hard for me, especially at the farmer’s market, but I’m getting a lot better. I’ve found that I really didn’t understand how many carrots or tomatoes or heads of lettuce we REALLY needed in a week. Putting our family on a budget along with buying more organic produce makes me very conscious of how much we really eat. Also supporting a local CSA helps because you get a set share every week and it helps introduce you to new and interesting vegetables.  And of course, never
  2. Compost your kitchen scraps. We have two compost systems in our back yard and we probably need another rotating bin. If you have just a bit of space, you can turn your produce scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, corn husks and even some paper into rich garden compost. We have been amazed at how empty our garbage bin is when we take it to the curb each week.
  3. Eat your leftovers. I know, I know. Leftovers can be boring. But, with a little planning what’s made tonight can become tomorrow’s take to work lunch (Which saves more!).  And sometimes the leftovers from one meal can be rolled into the next.  Think spaghetti one night with a little extra pasta and fried spaghetti the next night, or beans one night and bean soup the next.
  4. Freeze extra produce. Did you know you can freeze most produce whole? If you freeze tomatoes and peaches whole, they are easy to peel once they thaw. Beats blanching any day in my book. 
  5. Donate. Have a bunch of extra tomatoes or squash or cucumbers? Share with your neighbors! Not only will you make them extremely happy, but you’ll reduce the amount of food you’re wasting.  When tomato season comes around there’s always bags of the stuff to give away!

Ok, so with this knowledge I am re-committing our family to reduce our food waste. What about you? Do you have suggestions? Share!

Organic Snail and Slug Pest Control

There are many ways of dealing effectively with garden pest snail and slug problems.

Encourage Natural Predators

Natural predators of snails and slugs are rats, frogs, birds, lizards (especially blue tongue lizards) and, perhaps most importantly – centipedes. Centipedes and Leopard Slugs (those enormous spotty ones) are the most important slug predators so don’t kill them!

Encourage them to stay in your garden by providing suitable habitat, such as rock lined ponds, prickly shrubs, logs, and nesting boxes.

Incorporate Farm Predators

Ducks, notably the Khaki Campbell, can clear a badly infested garden in a few months. However, they should be kept away from young plants that could be trampled by their webbed feet.

Capture

As a garden pest, snails are easier to capture than slugs. But timing is crucial. Snails are prolific breeders. So for best success you’ve got to nip snails in the bud before their breeding season gains too much momentum as the weather progresses from dry to moist.

One way is to get the jump on them by sussing out where they are likely to be spending the dry season (e.g. leafy, cool, shaded areas with lots of hiding places such as creeper covered walls and brick stacks) and giving it a massive soaking in late summer – enough to break dormancy by dissolving the seal snail’s form over their shell opening. Then mount an active trapping campaign.

Pop captured snails straight into a bucket of fresh slaked lime (hydralime).

Hand Picking

Any garden pest snail or slug (except for the big spotted Leopard Slugs which actually hunt down other slugs!) that I come across is marked for destruction. However, my favorite time for hunting is on wet dewy mornings.

As an early riser, I have noticed that snails come out in droves after a heavy downpour of rain. They are sitting ducks (it’s not hard to be faster than a snail!) and you can literally collect hundreds each time you do it. My chooks got thoroughly sick of them.

Anyone have any good recipes for escargot? This French delicacy is, after all, based on the common garden snail! I believe the snails need to be purged first by feeding on bran for a short time. Any ideas?

Lures

After rain, when conditions are snail friendly, place small mounds of fresh bran sweetened with a little castor sugar around the garden. Venture out a few hours after dark with a flashlight and harvest up the snails. Continue every night for a fortnight.

You could also put a little pile of this lure beside your new seedlings – with a bit of luck the snails will prefer it and leave your poor babies alone!

The little black slugs that are hard to catch by other methods, will find hollowed out grapefruit shells an irresistible lure. You could also give cabbage leaves and carrot skins a go to lure out both slugs and snails.

Barriers

For easy movement, snails and slugs need a firm stable surface to glide over. Unstable surfaces such as fresh ash, soot, bark chips, gritty sand, fine sawdust, or dry crumbled egg shells tend to stick to their underside and hamper their progress considerably. garden pest snail

Sprinkle a band of fresh ash around your plot of young plants… Though you can’t keep snails and slugs away with these barriers, you can at least slow them down!

A mulch of oak leaves is also reported to be a good deterrent.

If the situation is desperate (and you have an acid soil anyway), you could also try fresh slaked lime. It is caustic and keeps them at bay for several days.

In some areas garden pest snail attacks are so bad that it’s hard to get young fruit trees established. In these cases placing a tire that has been painted inside with a strong copper sulfate solution around the tree is a long lasting deterrent.

Protect Vulnerable Plants

You can also protect vulnerable plants by covering them with clear plastic bottle halves.

Snail and Slug Traps

There are a variety of clever strategies you can use to trap pesky snails and slugs:

Habitat Traps

Snails like small hollows in cool places to hide in when the sun comes out. You can make habitats that attract snails, making it easier to hunt them down. For a short-lasting but irresistible snail palace, I have found a handful of cardboard toilet roll cylinders tied together with a rubber band effective. Put it in a shady, moist, cool place that’s easy to reach. You might also like to try a few bricks placed side by side 3 cm apart under an upturned cardboard box, or short lengths of PVC pipe off-cuts.

Beer Traps

Isn’t it annoying when you find a half finished stubby of beer that has long gone flat? Never fear! You can now put it to great use as slugs and snails love beer and they don’t care if it’s flat either. Just sink a wide jam jar into the ground so its rim is level with the soil surface, and fill it up with stale beer. Adding a little sugar (2 tablespoons to a liter of beer) makes the trap even more effective.

To stop it overflowing with water from rain or the sprinkler make a canopy out of the bottom of a plastic bottle (make sure you cut out some doors for the critters to get in). Garden pest snail and slug hordes will dive in and drown – what a way to go! You can use the trap over and over – just scoop out the dead and top it up now and then.garden pest snail

Biological Control

A microscopic nematode worm that preys on slugs is available commercially as sachets from organic gardening suppliers. They are simply watered into the soil and are effective for 6 weeks. garden

Compost – Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratios

A couple of months ago I posted about Compost-What’s In and What’s Out.

However, it’s not enough that you throw your organics, food and yard waste into your compost bin (although it’s a good start!)  You must also be aware of the carbon to nitrogen ratio so as to keep your compost happy, healthy, and not stinky!  For best performance, the compost pile, or more to the point the composting microorganisms, require the correct proportion of carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein production. Scientists (yes, there are compost scientists) have determined that the fastest way to produce fertile, sweet-smelling compost is to maintain a C:N ratio somewhere around 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, or 25-30:1. If the C:N ratio is too high (excess carbon), decomposition slows down. If the C:N ratio is too low (excess nitrogen) you will end up with a stinky pile.

Below are the average C:N ratios for some common organic materials found in the compost bin. For our purposes, the materials containing high amounts of carbon are considered "browns," and materials containing high amounts of nitrogen are considered "greens."

Estimated Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratios
Browns = High Carbon C:N
Ashes, wood 25:1
Cardboard, shredded 350:1
Corn stalks 75:1
Fruit waste 35:1
Leaves 60:1
Newspaper, shredded 175:1
Peanut shells 35:1
Pine needles 80:1
Sawdust 325:1
Straw 75:1
Wood chips 400:1
Greens = High Nitrogen C:N
Alfalfa 12:1
Clover 23:1
Coffee grounds 20:1
Food waste 20:1
Garden waste 30:1
Grass clippings 20:1
Hay 25:1
Manures 15:1
Seaweed 19:1
Vegetable scraps 25:1
Weeds 30:1

Note: Many ingredients used for composting do not have the ideal ratio of 25-30:1. As a result, most must be mixed to create "the perfect compost recipe." High C:N ratios may be lowered by adding grass clippings or manures. Low C:N ratios may be raised by adding paper, dry leaves or wood chips.  Many home gardeners will put up with a slight odor and keep some excess nitrogen in the pile, just to make sure there is always enough around to keep the pile "cooking!" Learn more about building a hot compost pile here.