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Why Save Your Own Seed?

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In the wilds, plants bear fruits and naturally would fall to the ground where some of the seeds from the fruit would sprout in springtime and the whole process starts again… It’s plant’s circle of life.
Saving seeds have been practiced by early humans for food security. In todays world, the more we need to save seed and there are a lot of good reasons why. Saving seeds help you have a consistent quality and grow better crops each time. Some want to keep the heirloom seeds passed on to them by their ancestors. Others do it for seeds security reasons as some big seed company has stopped producing numerous excellent plant varieties in favor of the highly profitable hybrid types. Saving your own seeds assures you of the steady supply of the more nutritious crops. For the more serious farmers and gardeners, saving seeds of their prized plants grown on their own land helps them develop a better variety that is adapted to their soil and climate. Another good reason is saving money. Business is all about making money, large seed companies are no exemption. To maintain good profit, some companies no longer discard inferior seeds, but instead mix them up with the good seeds in their packaging and this spells production loss for farmers. I for one save seeds to make sure that what I’m growing comes not from a genetically modified material.
Here are some of the basics in saving seeds. When choosing the type of seeds you want to save, the best practice is to choose open-pollinated varieties. These are non-hybrid plants whose seeds are true generation after generation. There are two types of open- pollinated varieties, the self –pollinating which are the easiest to save you seeds from, they will grow and yield the same plant like the original for generations. The other type is the cross pollinating varieties which need to receive pollen from other plants of the same type to produce a true seed as the original. The pollination process is usually done either by insects or wind and will require a larger population in order to maintain healthy crops.
The best time to harvest your seeds for saving is when you see the fruits housing the seeds has matured or when the seeds are well formed and drying. This takes a little time, practice and patience to master and get used to the process.
When storing the seeds, be sure that they are completely dry and this usually takes 5 to 7 days via air drying. Dry your wet seeds on ceramic plates by spreading them evenly on the surface. To keep them from clumping together and ensure even drying, stir them often. Never dry them on paper towels to speed up drying, they will stick so hard on the paper, it will be impossible to take them off. If the place is humid, you can use silica gel or desiccant to take the moisture off. You can keep the seed for a longer period of time by storing them in freezer inside a glass jar.
Seeds are given to us by plants free of charge, let us continue this wonderful tradition of saving nature’s gift in our garden.
Have fun gardening!

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Sewer Sludge Fertilizer: What You Need to Know

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Early in the 1990s, close to a million acres of America’s farmland have been covered with apparently toxic sewage sludge as food crop fertilizer, about a million tons were used. And this has been favored by the government as a program for disposing byproducts gathers from municipal waste water treatment plants.
Just what are sewage sludge? Well, they’re toxic wastes taken from a lot of sources like homes, hospitals, chemical manufacturers, other businesses, and storm water drain which are flushed or dumped into wastewater systems across the nation. And the kind of waste includes human fecal, pathogens, heavy metals, and several hundreds of contaminants. These wastes undergo a process in the wastewater treatment plants where it tries to remove as much contaminants as it can from the water. The water is later discharged and the solids that remain are sludge or “biosolids”. Except for some handful of contaminants, most has not undergone tests for its effect to human health and the environment.
Despite its obscurity, sewage sludge continues to be used as fertilizers, some are even mixed with other materials and bagged as “biosolid compost” for use in farm and garden landscaping. But why not use them, they are given free anyway, right?… Big mistake! The use of sewage sludge is under-publicized and with so much hidden threat. Before the 1980, these “biosolids” were dumped in the ocean, and after they realized that it was an environmental and human health disaster, some PR experts came up with a brilliant idea… apply them to farmlands under the guise of “biofertilizer”… and give them out legally for free! Wow!… I want some for my farm!
Just how perilous is sewage sludge as fertilizers? To give you an idea, past analysis conducted on sewage sludge resulted in the discovery of a large number of dioxins and synthetic compounds like toluene and phthalates. There was also a good number of heavy metals in high concentrations and various pesticides.
When applied to the soil, some of these chemicals will bind to the soil, and others will leach into the groundwater. Some chemicals are really not filtered out in the process, like heavy metals, flame retardants, and other carcinogens which accumulates in the soil. And a good question to ask is, have these “biosolids” actually been treated at all?
While hundreds of individuals have fallen ill due to exposure sewer sludge fertilizers, the application to farmlands and gardens continues. As consumers, the only way we can be sure that what we are getting are not grown in sewage sludge is to buy organic foods from trusted suppliers at farmers markets. Your local grocery stores are definitely not the ideal place to buy safe, fresh food.
Support family farm. Go organic.

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What Future Do You Envision for Organic Farming?

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Organic Farming (© val’sphotos)

Right now, the phrase “organic farming” is kind of a buzz word that calls to mind a lot of positive images. Cleaner food, a healthier environment and better food farming practices are just a few of the images that come to mind when thinking about organic farming.
This is what many of think when we see the organic labels on food, but how many of us actually know what goes into organic farming and what is classified as organic farming? I would like to explore this issue so that more of us understand how food becomes classified as organic, which will then allow you to make more informed choices when you are at the grocery store.We can begin to define organic farming by saying that it is food that is grown and processed without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. However, farmers may still use pesticides that are derived from nature, otherwise known as biological pesticides. The process of growing organic food is highly regulated, and farmers must be certified by a USDA-accredited agency to sell, label, or represent their products as organic. Most organic farmers follow sets of similar guidelines:

Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
Support animal health and welfare
Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
Only use approved materials
Do not use genetically modified ingredients
Receive annual onsite inspections
Separate organic food from non-organic food

Farmers who follow the USDA guidelines for organic farming do receive monetary benefits for helping to preserve the environment, and consumers benefit by knowing that the food they are consuming is highly regulated, which presumably means that it is safer to consume.
However, we need to push the USDA to be a bit more transparent in the way that they handle organic farming. Although the farmers are being paid more for their organic products, they are not able to produce as much food. This means that some farmers may actually be earning less money by going organic. This is problematic for the smaller farmers that may only have one or two tractors since it is already difficult for them to afford the equipment and materials necessary to become a licensed organic farmer. We don’t want the little guys to pushed out just because the corporations are better suited financially to take on the responsibility of organic farming.
Not only are smaller farmers struggling with keeping up with the corporations, the natural pesticides that organic farmers are allowed to use can still be harmful to consumers. To better explain this idea, it is helpful to look at the way that Vitamin C can be derived. Vitamin C can be derived naturally from an orange, or it can be derived synthetically from glucose. Just because one is natural, does that make it any better or worse than the synthetic version? We need to make sure that the USDA is being more specific with what pesticides they are allowing growers to use on the products that we consume.
These are all interesting points to keep in mind as you move through your grocery store and consider what products you should, or should not buy for yourself and your family. While we know that organic farming is a healthier and more environmentally friendly option for growing food, we also need to keep in mind that sometimes the government doesn’t always have our best interest at heart. Do your part to push the government to keep organic farming in line with our goals for the future of farming.

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Transplant Seedlings In Your Garden

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Why go through the process of growing seedlings for transplanting?
Well, for one, starting your garden by growing transplant seedlings gives you a head start to a better garden. You give your growing plant enough time to prepare and to grow into superb plants that will give you loads of nutritious foods. Besides, it will enable you to include new varieties you have in your garden that may not be available in your local market.
It is best that you do your planning first. Know what you want to grow in your garden and choose the right seeds, organic seeds if possible. Remember that seed from last year may not be as useful unless proper care and storage was observed. Use a healthy soil so you don’t need to use fertilizer. If you’re buying growing mixes make sure that they free from chemicals, pest and diseases. Plant containers that you will be using must be clean or sterilized if they have been used before, like clay pots or reusable plastic containers.
There are certain seeds that cannot tolerate root disturbance and therefore has to be planted in plastic cell packs or newspaper cylinders which can be planted directly in garden plots during transplanting.
With everything on hand, let’s start planting!
Fill up the containers with soil or soil mix. Moist the soil and put 2 to 3 seeds per compartment and water them lightly. Regularly water the plant as they grow.
To germinate, most seedlings should be kept in 60 to 80 degrees. Other seeds like peppers, eggplants and water melons needs 80 to 90 degrees.
Transplanting your seedlings outside at the right time is critical to their proper development. Exposing them early may give them a difficult time to survive the outside environment and they may become pot bound in their container when kept too long.
How will you know that your seedlings are ready to be transplanted out in your garden? The best way to tell if your plant is ready is not to see how tall the plant has grown, but the number of true leaves that has appeared. When the seedling has 3 or more true leaves then it’s ready to be planted outside your garden. Do not confuse yourself with the first leaves that will emerge after you plant the seed, these leaves are called cotyledons. They are not true leaves and they look different, but they play a very important role in the plants’ development. Cotyledons will provide stored food to the seedlings during its growing stage, and only for a short time.
Harden the seedlings when they are big enough by gradually exposing them outside a few hours each day before the transplanting time arrives. This will also let your plant adjust to their new environment.
You may shorten the growing time of your transplant when no favorable growing conditions can be provided and transfer them earlier in the garden.
It’s not really that difficult, right?… The reward comes during harvest time.
Have fun growing your seedlings!

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Attracting Helpful Bugs To Your Garden

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A mixture of good and bad insects can be found in a balance garden.  Every spring bad insect like aphids would start moving in on gardens and at a weeks’ time they would double in numbers. Then the next day, band of lady beetles is wandering among the aphids and feasting on them. Several days later, there’s no aphids to be found and no pesticides used!
Most insects that are found in the garden does not eat or damage the plants.  Knowing which one is a friend or a foe is very important.  A lot of these insects are simply passing through while others stay and make the garden their home.  These beneficial insects can completely prevent pest problems.
To create a friendly habitat for your insect friends, you need to know them first.  Identify them through pictures from books about insects or from the internet. You will find out that there are three types of good insects, those that deposit their eggs on or into their victims’ body, known as parasitoids, those that eat their prey outright, which are called predators and lastly, those that helps gardeners by pollinating plants, the pollinators.
Now, to keep your good bugs from leaving, you need to make your garden a healthy ecosystem. This can be done by creating a rich diversity of plants and having a balance of beneficial and harmful insects in your garden. This will also benefit birds and small animals.
The right variety of plants will surely attracts beneficial insects. You can have them in a separate bed or in several plantings scattered among your other crops. Native ornamental plants are the best in attracting pollinators. Try growing plants with bell shape flowers like the yarrow which attracts tiny parasitoid wasps, who loves to feed on caterpillars, aphids and larvae of beetles.
It’s also good to keep some weeds intact as they can add to the diversity of plants you have. This also increases the variety insects to stay in your garden. Allow some of your herbs and greens to seed by nipping the leaves from the stem and letting it grow and to flower again, thus attracting insects in the process.
Leaving some bad bugs can also be an ecological advantage. Caterpillars, for example, are a blessing for nestling birds to feed their young. Besides, if your garden doesn’t have enough bad bugs, the good bugs will pack up and leave. It is therefore good to note that your goal is to control the bad bugs and not to exterminate them totally.  And, whatever you do, never use pesticides to rid the bad bugs. Pesticides are non- selective, it will kill any insect it comes in contact with.
If you have any tips or story to share, we’d love to hear them. Have fun gardening!

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TRENCH COMPOSTING – Best For Your Kitchen Scraps

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Do you want an easy way to compost your kitchen and garden wastes? Try trench composting!
It’s really very simple and could be done in any part of your garden. It’s basically dumping your organic wastes in a pit and covering it with soil. Once it is done, you actually don’t need to do anything like turning or checking. In a month’s time you have yourself a rich soil. If done properly, it’s absolutely odor free and completely undetectable. This also addresses the usual issue of figuring out where to put a compost pile as many municipalities and land developers have strict rules about composting at home.
Trench or pit composting is the breaking down of organic wastes through a process called anaerobic decomposition. It does not require any turning as it works without the need for oxygen, but takes a longer time to finish the process. Unlike the aerobic process, there’s no need to monitor the levels of moisture and temperature. You don’t need any other equipment other than a shovel. Large load of organic wastes can be disposed one-time. Talk about ease and comfort!
The best thing about trench composting is that the plants are much better off in coping up with adverse conditions.  Since the plant roots will be getting the nutrition they need from the buried organic waste as they go deeper into the soil, the plants become healthier and develop stronger root system to go even deeper.  It also improves the fertility and quality of the soil of future garden beds. Do your composting a month or two before planting to give time for the organic wastes to break down well.
There are several things that you have to consider when starting one. You need to know the type of compost layout to use and decide what to use between a hole or a simple trench. Next is the location to put it – which should be convenient for you, making sure that it’s not near power lines. Avoid low spots with poor drainage or very wet soil. Remember that digging your compost is going to be difficult and stinky because of the gases emitted by anaerobic critters working on the compost. One practical location is between growing beds to make the nutrients readily available to the plants’ root and thus avoiding the need to dig. You may also want to consider what goes into your compost. Never use feces of animals. Avoid bones, grease, fats and meat to prevent animals from digging up your compost, but if you need to, cover your pit with heavy boards.
Skip the bin. Try pit composting for your kitchen scraps and make your garden happy!

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BOKASHI – Composting The Japanese Way

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Have you heard of the word “Bokashi”?   It is a farming practice used by Japanese farmers centuries ago that makes use of microorganisms to quickly breakdown organic wastes.  With the discovery of microorganisms by Dr. Teruo Higa who specializes in agricultural research, Bokashi fermentation was made even better by introducing the right combination of microbes. This ensured better quality and larger harvest of produce that are free of harmful chemicals.
As commonly thought of typical composting, Bokashi is actually more of a process of fermentation. The procedure does not require use of air to ferment the organic matters and this is what makes the whole process odorless. It’s good to have one even in the kitchen. You may ask about those pestering insects and animals gathering around your bin and messing up the place. Well, the nice thing about this system is that it can be sealed completely so you don’t have to worry about them.
Bokashi is an excellent way of adding nutrients to your garden instead of throwing them to landfills. With this process you can include food scraps that normally cannot be added to regular composting method like dairy products, meat, cheese and scraped cook foods.
Throughout the whole fermenting process, a certain liquid from the organic matter accumulates and can be drained. This liquid is commonly called as Bokashi Tea (which I am sure is not the type you would like to take a sip!). There are two ways on how you can use this amazing tea… as a great fertilizer and as a highly effective drain cleaner (goodbye to chemical based household cleaners).
The fermenting process is rather quick. Covering the food waste with some rich soil that contain microorganisms would start the process by quickly breaking down the organic waste that is fermented and not rotten.  In two weeks’ time, you’ll yourself a bin full of highly nutritious Bokashi organic matter.
By this phase of the fermentation process, the scraps have been broken down into nutrients which the plants can use directly. This organic matter can now be mixed with garden soil and depending on the soil temperature, it will take more or less a couple of months to be completely fused with the soil. Since no aeration or soil turning is needed, no other attention or caring is required.  Another great idea is to add it in worm compost if you have one. Surely, the worms will love it and will work more efficiently.
Let’s take care of our environment by keeping wastes out of landfills and start recycling at home… the Bokashi way!

Get the Picture

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Every now and again, inspiration occurs from unlikely sources.  One such occasion happened recently while reading a book on morality and ethics that referenced how human behavior, and ethical decision-making are best thought of as resembling how a dual-action camera operates.  The explanation offered in the book has relevance for business performance standards and behaviors. […]