Friday, March 20, 2009

Wooohoo! The Obamas will Eat the View!

According to the New York Times, today 23 third graders will join First Lady Michelle Obama on the South Lawn of the White House to break ground on an 1100 square foot kitchen garden that will provide food for family dinners and formal dinners.

The Obamas’ garden will have 55 varieties of vegetables grown from organic seedlings started at the executive mansion’s greenhouses. Almost the entire Obama family, including the President, will pull weeds, “whether they like it or not,” Mrs. Obama said laughing.

Thanks to Roger Dorion at Kitchen Gardeners International who started this idea and promoted it through and, to all who voted and signed petitions, to Michael Pollan for his wonderful letter to the "Farmer-in-Chief", and the two guys who drove around the country in a crazy bus promoting the idea--We did it! What a wonderful example this will be to inspire Americans to start growing their own local, organic food again!

New York Times article
Washington Post article

ABC News article

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Trudy's Tree Protector

Trudy F. sends in this design of a tree protector around a young pinon pine that was damaged by bucks rubbing their antlers.

It's a 4ft square of 2x4 boards. The wire with 2 x 4 inch squares is stretched from one side to the other, so that it stands about 40" high. The wire on each end is rounded off at the top and wired to the other wire. A 20" x 24" hole cut out of top for the tree to come through. It can easily be lifted off once the tree gets about 5 ft tall.

Here's Trudy demonstrating how it can be lifted, and what the top of it looks like.

Without the hole in the top, this might even work over a bed of greens or veggies for those without fenced yards dealing with deer. Thanks for sharing this idea Trudy!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bill Filed in the Texas House to Stop Mandatory NAIS

This information comes from FARFA (Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance) and was sent to us by Healthy Harvester Jerry S. of Shudde Ranch:

Representative Kleinschmidt has filed HB 3322 to stop the Texas Animal Health Commission from making NAIS mandatory. HB 3322 is identical to SB 682, filed earlier this session by Senator Eltife.

If it is made mandatory, NAIS would require that every person who owns even one chicken, horse, cow, sheep, goat, pig, or other livestock animal register their property, tag each animal (in many cases, with electronic forms of ID), and report their movements to a database within 24 hours.

NAIS is an unprecedented expansion of the government bureaucracy into people's private lives and infringes on our property rights. NAIS will impose heavy burdens on livestock owners, driving many small and medium-size farmers and ranchers out of business and discouraging people from owning horses and other livestock as pets. Despite spending over $100 million dollars on NAIS since 2004, the USDA has not released a cost/benefit analysis of NAIS nor has the TAHC.

NAIS will not increase the safety of our food supply. Most food-borne illnesses are from contamination at slaughterhouses or in food handling and preparation. NAIS tracking ends at the time of slaughter, so it will not address these issues or increase our ability to trace contaminated meats once they are in the food supply chain. By driving small farmers out of existence, NAIS will increase the consolidation of our food supply into a small number of large companies, destroying consumers' food purchasing options and increasing prices.

The New York Times published a great Op/Ed that explains the small farmer's view on NAIS.

Ultimately, we must fight NAIS at both the state and the federal level. By passing this bill in Texas, we not only provide important protections for Texans, but we send a signal to Congress that Texans are opposed to the NAIS, helping us at the federal level. Please call your State Senator and Representative this week to urge him or her to co-sponsor SB 682 and HB 3322! For a list of contacts of your Representatives, please enter your physical address at

Neither bill has been set for a committee hearing yet, and we anticipate significant opposition to getting the bills out of committee. So it is critical that more legislators step forward to co-sponsor these bills, to provide the impetus to move them forward!

You can read the bill and follow its progress here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Minutes from the March 14th Meeting

Healthy Harvest met on Saturday, March 14th at the Bird House. 13 people were in attendance. After warming up with some potent coffee from Barbara, the first topic of discussion was the April seminar. We agreed that we should combine the seminar with the April meeting and take a road trip to Wanda's place in Uvalde to learn about forest gardening and plant guilds. This trip/meeting will take place later in April due to Easter. The date will be Saturday, April 18th. We will meet at the Bird House at 10 AM and car pool to Wanda's.

Next we talked about the Community Garden project. Barbara reported that the Garden Club would like to have the Community Garden on their property. A committee of Barbara, J.P., and Don W. was formed to consider the particulars of this idea.

Rick reported that the Farmers Market committee had divided up tasks as follows: Rick - location/liability, Sage - logo and marketing, Leah - contacting growers, Catherine - rules and regs.

We briefly discussed the idea of a Local Food Festival, and two ideas for future seminars - chickens and goats/milk and cheese. Stay tuned to the blog for more information!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Meeting Saturday March 14th

Healthy Harvest will meet this Saturday March 14th at 10 AM at the Bird House in Leakey. Agenda items will include planning for the April Seminar and the Local Food Festival. We will also discuss plant and seed exchange ideas for the group, and the status of the Farmers Market and Community Garden ideas. The tour tentatively scheduled for this meeting has been postponed. See you Saturday!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Second Seminar a Success!

Thanks to Sage A. and Jim R. for a great organic gardening seminar today. Sage gave a very informative presentation on starting seeds indoors, potting up, hardening off, and transplanting into the garden.

In her system, seed flats are cleaned in a 5% bleach solution to sterilize them. They are then filled with seed starter potting soil (fine texture) and placed in a shallow pan so that water is wicked up from the bottom.

When the soil is moist, the seeds are planted. In this way seedlings get just the right amount of water and are not displaced by watering from above. She pointed out that plastic coverings (humidity domes that often come with the trays, plastic bags, etc.) should not be used to cover the seed flats. A fan of some sort in the room will help prevent "damp off", which is a fungus that makes your seedlings keel over.

A heating pad is placed under the pans to keep the soil warm enough for germination. You can buy an expensive heat mat with a thermostat made for this, but most veggies germinate on the medium setting of the heating pad. Sage also adds a small amount of Medina Plus to the water to give the seedlings a boost.

Shop lights with full spectrum flourescent "grow light" bulbs are suspended over the flats. After germination the first two leaves to open are the seed leaves, and next the true leaves appear. Plants should not be potted up to a larger pot until they have true leaves. After plants have been potted up and kept under the grow lights for a few more days, they are "hardened off" by gradually increasing the amount of exposure to outside air and sunlight. Finally they are ready to be transplanted into the garden.

Sage also passed out copies of the Kerr County Vegetable Garden Planting Guide from Texas A & M. This guide works well for our conditions here in the Frio Canyon. This guide indicates which plants can be seeded directly into the garden and which should be started indoors, and gives the window of planting time for each vegetable.

Next up was Jim R. who talked about using colliodal phosphate (also called rock phosphate) to help make tomato plants sturdier. A handful of this powder, available at most nurseries, should be placed under the plant at planting time.

Trudy F. pointed out that tomato plants can be planted with more of the stem below ground level to encourage root growth. Joe M. mentioned mycorrhiza root fungus and how important it is in a healthy soil. Jim said that Tums or Epsom salts are a good source of calcium for tomatoes.

He passed around two books - Malcolm Beck's Lessons in Nature, and The New Square Foot Gardening Book by Mel Bartholomew. Jim described square foot gardening, in which plants are grown in a mixture of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. His handouts included information on square foot gardening and Fanick's chart on planting by the phases of the moon.

Trudy F. won a cardoon plant given and grown by Sage A.

This seminar was informative and well received. Stay tuned to this blog for information on our next seminar!

We Are What We Eat

66% of Healthy Harvesters indicated in our survey they wanted to learn more about healthy cooking, and once our gardens start producing I'll be giving some healthy cooking seminars.

Eating healthy is as much about eating fresh, unprocessed, clean, local food as it is about dumping things from our diets that are not so good for us. I am a consummate label reader, and it's becoming very difficult to find products that don't have corn syrup added. It's often found listed as one of the first through third ingredients of all processed food--a good reason to eat as little processed food as possible. It's alarming to me that packaged breakfast cereals have crept up to 18 grams of sugars, even the healthy-looking fiber-filled granolas which look so healthy and are promoted as such.

How did our food get so out of control? There's a good article in today's Washington Post "Where the Obesity Grows" by George F. Will. If author Michael Pollan is right, the problem is rooted in politics. The American diet has us undernourished and overfed.

"After World War II, the government had a huge surplus of ammonium nitrate, an ingredient of explosives -- and fertilizer. Furthermore, pesticides could be made from ingredients of poison gases. Since 1945, the food supply has increased faster than America's population -- faster even than Americans can increase their feasting.

"All flesh is grass" says the scripture. Much of the too-ample flesh of Americans (three of five are overweight; one in five is obese) comes from corn, which is a grass. A quarter of the 45,000 items in the average supermarket contain processed corn.

"Four of the top 10 causes of American deaths -- coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer -- have, Pollan says, "well-established links" to diet, particularly through "the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat." What he calls America's "national eating disorder" is not just that Americans reportedly eat one in five meals in cars (gas stations make more from food and cigarettes than from gasoline) and that one in three children eat fast food every day. He also means the industrialization of agriculture, wherein we developed a food chain that derives too much of its calories -- energy -- not from the sun through photosynthesis but from fossil fuels.

"A Pollan axiom: "You are what what you eat eats, too" -- has made it profitable to fatten cattle on feedlots rather than grass, cutting by up to 75 percent the time from birth to slaughter. Eating corn nourished by petroleum-based fertilizers, a beef cow consumes almost a barrel of oil in its lifetime."
At some point, I'd like to rent the DVD “King Corn” by Director Aaron Woolf and co-writers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis and show it to the group. Rick and I watched this documentary last fall and found it to be entertaining and educational. If we are what we eat, then Americans are mostly made out of corn. In this eye-opening documentary, Cheney and Ellis--with the help of some real farmers, lots of fertilizer and government aide, and some genetically modified seeds--manage to grow one acre of corn. Along the way, they discover the absurdities and scary, hidden truths about America’s modern food system.

The next time you go shopping, read the labels. Look for corn syrup as an ingredient, and look under the nutritional analysis to see how many grams of sugars are in the products. You will be amazed, and hopefully inspired to put it back on the shelf and go home to work in your garden!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What's a Home Garden Worth?

Roger Dorion, creator of the EatTheView campaign and Kitchen Gardeners International, thought this was a good question, and a good time to ask it. He and his wife decided to weigh and log all the produce coming out of their 1/25 of an acre home garden, and compare the prices to those from the grocery store, farmers market, and Whole Foods produce.

In six months time, they harvested 834 pounds of organic food that was valued at $2196.50, $2431.15, and $2548.93, respectively. You can see their raw data here. They also calculated their out-of-pocket expenses for seeds, supplies, and water. Their $282 expenses generated a total value of $2431, which means their return on investment was 862% ! Using a calculation like this of $2400 per 1/25 of an acre, you can see that an acre could gross $60,000, or roughly $1.50 per square foot.

You can't beat that!...or can you? Mr. Dorion gardens in Maine. I think it would be interesting to see how well a garden in our longer growing season would compare. I would think our numbers might even be higher! I'm inclined to try this myself...anyone else game?

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Guide to Seed Saving for Community Food Security

Here's a useful guide to seed saving for community food security written by Lisa Erwin that you can download as a PDF. It covers all the various vegetables and methods.

I would like to suggest this year we all learn how to save our seeds and begin a collaborative Healthy Harvest seed bank of non-hybrid* seed, to be restocked annually, and kept in case of emergency.

*Why non-hybrid? Some hybrids are entirely unable to reproduce on their own and all F1 hybrids are unable to reproduce the exact traits of the parent plant. This means growers are unable to save seed from year to year and are beholden to the seed companies for future purchases. Non-hybrids are often called Heirloom or Open-pollinated, and were discussed in a previous post.

Cow Pies into Cow Pots

From tons of manure a new business is born for some dairy farmers who find poop is now more valuable than milk. The first experiments were done in their toaster ovens. You gotta love innovative types!

"Why not grow flowers and tomatoes from cow flops? It took eight years’ development, a $72,000 federal grant secured through Connecticut’s Agricultural Businesses Cluster, and countless grim experiments. Now their manure-based CowPots — biodegradable seed-starting containers — are being made on the farm and sold to commercial and backyard growers who prefer their advantages over plastic pots.

Molded of dried, deodorized manure fibers, CowPots hold water well, last for months in a greenhouse and can then be planted directly into the ground, sparing the seedling transplant shock and letting tender new roots penetrate easily. As the pots decompose, they continue to fertilize the plant and attract beneficial worms."

Read the entire article here.
For product information visit