Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tips for Avoiding Glyphosate -- Should You and How-To

Recently, the Innternational Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has named glyphosate, a weed-killer best known under the commercial name "Round-up," as a probable carcinogen.  Naturally, the media is full of commentary on both sides of the issue: glyphosate is relatively harmless vs. glyphosate should be banned.

This article is perhaps the best middle ground I've found.  It points out that glyphosate could cause cancer, but the levels and exposure required are not clearly identified.  You can make your own decision about your thoughts on the weed-killer; the article I link above links out to the original report.

For me, however, this is another clue that weed-killers like glyphosate are not part of sustainable living, and they may be harming the very humans we hope to feed with our agriculture.  Right now, over 80% of all corn, soy, and cotton grown in this country are genetically engineered to withstand applications of glyphosate.  Corn and soy are in most packaged foods, and cotton is obviously a common component of clothing.  We are all exposed every day to some amount of glyphosate, and it is hard to come up with your cumulative exposure and then compare that to research on how much is needed to increase your cancer risk.  And all that's before you or your neighbors go and get that 10 gallon jug of glyphosate and start spraying it on the yard.

I know that some will disagree, but I don't find glyphosate use to be sustainable.  So, if you feel the same, here are some ways one person can reduce their family's glyphosate exposure and hopefully send a message that we would like more options in the food we eat and the clothes we wear.

  1. Avoid packaged foods where possible.  Stabilizers, emulsifiers, and other chemicals that preserve food quality are often made from corn or soy.  Nearly all corn or soy has been exposed to glyphosate.
  2. Buy organics, especially when purchasing corn- and soy-based foods and cotton clothing. Organics, by definition, have not been exposed to glyphosate.
  3. Ask for non-GMO, non-glyphosate-exposed crops at your farmers' market.  Last year, I went from booth to booth looking for non-GMO corn, and I couldn't find it.  But I'll bet others were doing the same, and I'll bet this year an enterprising farmer will grow some heirloom corn for our market. Farmers are businesspeople, and they respond to market forces. And, of course, when you see a farmer offering a non-GMO, non-glyphosate option, patronize that farm stand regularly and to the maximum extent of your market budget!
  4. Grow your own.  Obviously, you have control over what goes on your garden, so grow your own as much as possible and stay away from weed-killers like glyphosate.  
  5. Reconceptualize your lawn.  Stop seeing dandelions and clover as weeds, and you will stop seeing a need for the application of weed-killer.  Unless you actually run a golf course, you have no real need for an expanse of monoculture grass. If you use a lawncare service, ask for care without the chemicals, or reward an "organic" firm with your business.
  6. Patronize independent artisans who work with organic fibers.  The way to get more organic products on the market is to patronize those who work with organic source materials. (Shameless promotion time:) I have a line of organic yoga socks and writer's gloves  in  my Carrot Creations store that are handmade from organic yarn; other artisans do the same.
  7. Patronize big companies doing it right.  We just joined Costco, and I'm pleased and amazed at the array of organic foods in bulk.  We'll be getting all of our organic flour and sugar there now.
I expect this to be something of a debate for some time to come, but I'm doing my best to avoid glyphosate as much as possible.  If you are too, I hope these tips help.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Regrowing Leeks

Late winter is a dangerous time to be in our house. It seems I'll plant anything that reasonably looks like it might grow, and  few things that certainly won't.

As we've discussed before, there are several things from the grocery store you can plant to get more of the original plant. I've done this with romaine lettuce for a couple of years; true, I don't get a lot of lettuce that way before the new plant gives up the ghost, but I always get a handful of new leaves to put on sandwiches.  This amuses me greatly.

The next possibility I've tried is leeks, and they are wonderful.  Just retain the bottom of an organic leek with its roots, and pop it shallowly in some dirt.  It quickly sends up a new crop of leaves.

The plant grows quickly; this plant you see at the right is about ten days' worth of growth from using the original leek in a recipe.  I doubt it will give me a full size leek, but I'll bet I can harvest a few cuttings of leaves to add some onion-y flavor to a dish or two!

The Analysis

Fast:  Plants fast and grows fast; a winning combo!

Cheap:  Considering the alternative was to throw the leek end in compost, this is a net food cost savings no matter how little I harvest.

Good:  Totally free food is always a plus, and this is also a great project to do with your kids or with brand-new gardeners.  (Or with experienced ones who are going crazy in the winter....)
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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

And We're Off!

The garden is off to a good start!  I think the new seed-starting method, which includes a fluffier potting mix, a heating mat, and a seed incubator/cold frame, is really doing the job.

The paprika peppers were up in about two weeks, which is fairly typical for those peppers; they always scare me into thinking they won't germinate, and then they do.  They seem to have grown faster so far this year than usual, and I think they are really benefiting from the looser soil.

Most impressive is the San Marzano tomatoes, which I planted on March 3 and which showed their little heads last night, March 9.  The single San Marzano plant I "imported" last year from my friend in Tennessee was one of the best producers of the entire bunch, so I'm very hopeful that a row of these will boost my sauce production.  I have a few Cuor di Bue seeds from the same source plants that I put in on March 6, and I expect to see them soon.  Hopefully, the wonderfully warm and bright environment will get those off to a good start.

I have in reserve a strain of volunteer tomatoes from last year from which I saved the seeds.  I'm sort of dragging my feet on those, part to see if I can encourage that strain to develop early garden-readiness, and part because I'm trying to time these plants to a certain level of maturity before I'm going to have to move this cold frame into the sun room, and planting now would make for an awkward sprouting time as far as my own schedule.  Stupid human problems!

It's always so nerve-wracking for me, starting seedlings.  There's so much that can go wrong; as much as you picture every one of these plants going into the garden, some won't make it.  Sometimes, entire varieties don't make it, and you're left with nothing from that batch.  But this is the time of year for hope for the garden!  And think -- in less than three months, some of these will be outside in the soil!

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Monday, March 2, 2015

In Memory of Leonard Nimoy

This post really has nothing to do with sustainable living, unless it is to point out the incomparable value of a life lived right.  But, today I'm exercising my blogger's right to write about what moves me, even if it doesn't always fit with my stated purpose of the blog.

When Leonard Nimoy passed away last week, I had a good cry.  I'm not really one to do that.  I don't cry a lot as a rule, and I generally never cry at movies or TV shows or for actors.  The only movie to ever make me cry was, in fact, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.  I cry every time Spock dies in that one.  Make of that what you will.

Leonard Nimoy was a part of my life since childhood.  Although I was too young to see the original Star Trek in it's first airings, I saw every movie in the theater with my Dad.  It was there I learned to understand just how powerful this Vulcan character is.  Spock was a man who, far from being emotionless, had such powerful emotions that he had to control them via Vulcan mind disciplines.  But when he let them out, he loved powerfully, fought powerfully, and forged bonds with his friends that lasted a lifetime.  I could understand that.  And so I loved Spock for it.

If Leonard Nimoy had only given life to Spock, I would have mourned his passing.  But it was one of his actions on social media that really solidified my affection for this man I never met.

Nimoy was an active participant on Twitter, and his tweets were always worth reading.  And in what would turn out to be his final years, he reached out to his followers in a very loving sort of way.

He issued a blanket invitation that everyone who would like to consider themselves an honorary grandson or granddaughter was welcome to join his family, just by tweeting back to him or otherwise agreeing.  He later expanded this to allow for honorary brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and other relationships that encompassed a greater range of age and emotional connection.

I'm just barely young enough to be Nimoy's granddaughter; I probably should have opted to be his honorary niece to be more intellectually honest about it.  But as someone who lost three grandparents by the age of eight, I still hunger for that grandparent relationship that I lost so early on.  It meant a great deal to me to count one of my science fiction heroes as an honorary grandfather, a fact that I tweeted to him when I accepted his offer.  I hope he saw that, and I hope it gave him a momentary warm feeling.

Here was a man who was reaching out to people who he didn't and would never know offering to consider them family.  If there was ever a gesture that demonstrated the best in human nature, this was it.  It transcends divisions and recognizes the unity of humanity.  As Spock himself might have said, it was the best of "infinite diversity in infinite combination."

So, today I wish my honorary grandfather Godspeed in the next adventure.  "I have been - and always shall be - your friend."

Live long and prosper, dear readers.
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