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Sep 272013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Many cities struggle to maintain one community garden. The small city of Coppell has two, and they’re thriving.

The “Helping Hands” garden stands astride City Hall, bisected by a walkway to another city building and trimmed with native plants that rustle in the wind, bursting with purple, yellow and fuschia flowers that lure butterflies and bees. Sun rays glint off shiny green peppers and cherry tomatoes, the tail end of the summer harvest.

Coppell Garden, on city grounds

The “Helping Hands” garden occupies a prominent place near city buildings and a school.

A mile away, sandwiched between a real estate office and a US Post Office, the other garden occupies a lot on the thoroughfare Denton Tap Road. Dubbed “Ground Delivery” in honor of the USPS, it features a promenade to a large arbor where residents gather for lessons on making compost and growing leafy greens.

Both gardens are neatly arranged into rows of 4 x 28 or 4 x 18 foot beds divided by wood chip paths. They are replete with the supply sheds, water catchments and compost piles that feed the soil and plants. Benches, information kiosks, arbors and a lattice wall climbing with morning glories beckon visitors, and stand in testament to the Eagle Scouts who gifted the garden with many of the structures.

The infrastructure is impressive.

But it’s not what makes the project, says Amanda Vanhoozier, the environmental-teacher-turned-community organizer who founded the gardens in 1998 with a small group of interested residents.

Seated at a gazebo at Helping Hands on a sunny fall day, Vanhoozier has agreed to be quizzed about how and why the Coppell gardens have become so robust, winning awards and standing as a model for others. I think we might talk about compost, soil amendments and irrigation techniques. But Vanhoozier waves dismissively at the surrounding lush vegetation. The plants, she says, will grow. That part, well, just happens, once the human element is firmly engaged.

Coppell Garden, Zinnias and path

Zinnias border a path at “Ground Delivery.”

“I’ve always said we’re not growing plants, we’re growing people,” she says.

“What we want to do is create an environment for people to come together. There’s positive energy. We’ll grow the plants (another little wave), but we want to make sure that everyone’s working together, collaborating. And so many people in Coppell have a lot of assets. Not money assets, but abilities.”

It’s all those diverse human talents, connections and ideas that have made the Coppell Community Gardens among the most successful in Texas, and a beacon to other gardens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

In their 15 years of existence, Coppell’s all-organic gardens have grown to encompass about 100 active plots, planted virtually year round. Over that time, garden organizers and leaders have donated 150,000 pounds of produce and mentored at least 200 other community garden groups that have contacted them, mostly from the North Texas area.

The Coppell gardeners have shared their best practices and the chief lesson they’ve learned, which is that the secret to community gardens lies in the first word, not the second.

Garden books provide directions on when to seed and how to cook the compost. But the best way to organize a community garden is to listen to the “community” and take inspiration from those who show up for the meetings and then return on Saturdays or after work to hoe, mulch, compost, plant and harvest.

“Then it becomes everyone’s garden,” says Vanhoozier, who’s now supervisor of community programs for the Dallas suburb of about 40,000.

Seed your community garden with friendly city officials

It’s tempting to say that the time was ripe for a community garden when Coppell decided to move forward in the late 1990s. But it wasn’t.

Environmentalism always had its proponents, and the local food movement was alive in Austin. Not so much in North Texas.

“In the Northeast or Northwest, community gardens had been around for 30 or 40 years, but in the Dallas area it just didn’t happen, or they were really shaggy and old, because they were left over from another era,” said Vanhoozier.

What did help propel Coppell was a friendly reception at City Hall. A city councilman had visited Ms. Vanhoozier’s school garden and saw how it served as a teaching lab for children. He tipped off the city manager, who became an advocate.

“When you had the city manager saying he wanted a community garden, it opened all the doors,” she said. “And look, we’re right here next to City Hall.” (Note to aspiring community gardeners: Don’t hide the garden. Place it at the center of the community.)

The “donation piece” also was critical, Vanhoozier says. Organizers realized that Coppell, a suburb known for great schools and strong incomes, wasn’t in need of groceries. But people in such communities can lack meaningful ways to give back. Leaders decided the garden would be a donation garden.

Oddly, finding a food pantry that wanted fresh produce was not easy. Some didn’t want the fuss of not knowing what might be delivered from week to week and some fretted about the cleanliness of the food.

The food manager at Metrocrest Social Services in nearby Carrollton wasn’t worried.  She was very excited, and indeed, she loved the smell of fresh basil, Vanhoozier recalls.

The food pantry, like the garden, was just a little ahead of its time. Today, food groups recognize that fresh produce addresses a host of ills, providing sustenance in urban “food deserts” and inviting clients to cook whole foods that are healthier than the high-fat, salty packaged goods that weigh down the American diet.

Empower and trust the gardeners (and not just because they have shears)

Gardeners know that gardens evolve organically. The beds are plotted out initially, but then the spinach asserts itself and the beans declare a favorite corner. The squash grows robustly in the shade of the corn.

Community gardens should evolve organically too, says Vanhoozier, who also oversees the popular Coppell Farmer’s Market, which started in 2003.

She counsels groups and cities that contact her to stay away from the “build it and they will come approach” and instead invite the community to make the decisions from the beginning.

In Coppell, the community has taken firm ownership of the garden, she believes, because the early leaders decided against having a rigid hierarchy.

“It’s an open environment. It’s very inclusive. It generates good energy, works with the people and makes things happen,” she explains. For example, the garden doesn’t have a set quota for donations. It’s understood that’s the primary goal of the garden, but those putting in the labor are free to harvest some for themselves. The main harvest occurs on Saturdays, when volunteers pick all finished fruit and vegetables for immediate delivery to the food pantry.

Coppell Garden, Cindy Geppert trims flowers

Cindy Geppert trims flowers in the native flower demonstration garden she started.

Garden leaders are called “leaders” and all work together to shepherd the program. When a leader steps down, he or she often maintains a special role that’s become a personal passion. This flexibility has built a strong cadre of people who tend the garden.

Cindy Geppert first connected with the garden when she brought her middle-school-aged kids to volunteer 12 years ago. They later moved on, but she stayed, serving as a garden leader and later assuming ongoing responsibility for an herb garden as well as native flower beds that she installed. All the flowers are labeled so people can learn about them, explained Geppert as she “dead-headed” some waist-high Texas sage with hand clippers.

“You just take a lot of pride in what you’re doing, in donating the produce to the pantry and the people you’re helping. This is a service I can give back at. I can provide physical labor and I can teach others,” she said.

Accept, reflect and be the community – this is how your garden grows

In 15 years, the Coppell Community Garden(s) has benefited from volunteers in their 80s, and in kindergarten. It has hosted beginning gardeners, master gardeners, gardeners from other cultures, chefs, church and civic groups.

Elementary school children dutifully tend to a plot that’s currently overflowing with sweet potato vines, marching across a lawn from nearby Town Center Elementary to “Helping Hands”.

Kids also walk from the high school for environmental lessons. And dozens of teens over the years have taken up tools on Saturday mornings. Yes, Saturday mornings. Teens.  Words that you don’t often see in the same sentence.

Gardens are natural social equalizers, and Coppell’s strives for inclusiveness through its member-based leadership, welcoming spirit and in the case of teens, by not obsessing on rules, says Vanhoozier.

Juanita Miles checks her bed at the Helping Hands garden just outside her office.

Juanita Miles checks her bed at the Helping Hands garden just outside her office.

“The best way to connect with the youth is to make it unstructured. So Saturday mornings the youth can come to the gardens and work. There’s no registration. So if they get up and feel like they could go to the garden and want to grab a friend, they don’t have to call ahead. They don’t have to be signed up. If you show up, we’re working. We’re working every Saturday, ‘come on down’,” she says with a wave and a smile.

The teenagers, ages 13 to 18, can earn service hours counted for credit at school clubs. But they’re really getting so much more.

“They turn compost, they turn mulch, they harvest. They look at chameleons. They see hummingbirds. They learn how to use a shovel. And this is really good for the teens in Coppell to have a place they can go and meet friends and they’re on a different level here,” Vanhoozier says. “You may never ever talk to each other when you’re in school, but you’re in the garden, you’re working together and having a conversation, which is a miracle, because you have all different kinds of kids here.”

Ditto, the adults. In the garden, status symbols, pretensions and socio-economic divisions fall away.

Juanita Miles, a senior administrative technician with Coppell Planning and Zoning has witnessed that phenomenon. She and a co-worker signed up for a plot and share the work. It’s the first garden she’s had since junior high school, but she just felt drawn to participate.

“The community garden is a good way for people to bond and converse and get to know each other, because everybody’s looking at what they’re doing . . . Everybody’s comparing what they’re growing. It makes you a little mellow,” Miles said, chuckling. “You’ll go look at the plants and talk to them. Everybody gets all excited. My workmates will come and help cut the okra.”

Helping Hands beds, with herbs in the foreground, okra and other vegetables in the plots.

Helping Hands beds, with herbs in the foreground, okra, peppers and more still ripening in September.

Vanhoozier saw just how deeply knitted the garden’s social fabric was during the recent economic crash.

“I don’t know how many times I was out turning compost and I was with a group of people and several of them were out of work and that was during the time when a lot of people were laid off and they’d lost their jobs,” she recalled.

“They would come to the garden because it was a place of rest and it was re-energizing, and they’d be talking to each other and it almost became a network of ‘who do you know?’ and ‘where are you looking for a job?’. I am sure that jobs got connected here at the community garden and I think that was an important time for the community to draw together and have a place that they could come and talk with others,” she said.

She also heard from other communities. In 2009 and 2010, about 130 organizations contacted her, wanting details about the garden and advice for building one of their own. The local food movement was gaining steam, but there also was an undercurrent of need that had nothing to do with food.

“Communities were drawing together,” she says, nodding, dare we say, sagely.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network


Sep 092013

Green Right Now Reports

A plant-based diet isn’t just lighter on the planet, it helps lighten — and fortify — the human beings who follow it, according to a new study by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Vegetables at Market PROMOThe study details the outcome for GEICO employees who were put on a diet of vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains.

This diet reduced their overall caloric intake, and fat and cholesterol, while increasing the fiber, beta-carotene, Vitamin C, magnesium and potassium the group was getting from foods.

At the end of four months, the volunteer participants had lost an average of 10 pounds.

“Weight loss is easy when you’re filling up with fiber,” says registered dietitian Joseph Gonzales, R.D., a study author and staff dietitian for the Physicians Committee. “And nutrition gets dramatically better.”

To facilitate the program, GEICO cafeterias offered the 142 participants vegan fare such as oatmeal, minestrone or lentil soup, veggie burgers and portobello mushroom sandwiches. (A control group, matched to the participants was allowed to eat whatever they wanted, but was offered the wellness program at the end of the trial.)

Noting that two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and half of them are considered obese, the study authors suggested that workplaces should step in to help.

“The workplace is an ideal location for nutritional interventions. It is where many individuals make dietary choices, receive health information and spend much of their day. Employers have an economic interest in employee health, particularly given that obesity is associated with increased use of sick leave and disability expenditures, reduced job productivity and increased absenteeism,” the study authors wrote.

They PCRM advocates for a plant-based, meat-free diet, arguing that it is superior for human health, more humane and climate-friendly.

Overweight People smaller

The PCRM wellness program addresses the obesity that leads to chronic diseases.

The study authors said they chose a plant-based diet for the “intervention” at GEICO, because studies have shown that “people following vegetarian and near-vegetarian diets have significantly lower prevalence of obesity  type 2 diabetes,  heart disease,  hypertension,  cancer  and gallbladder disease,  compared with non-vegetarians. In clinical trials, low-fat plant-based diets reduce body weight and blood pressure, and improve plasma lipid concentrations and glycemic control. 

The citations for all those claims are attached to the report.

The GEICO trial also featured “lunch and learn” sessions about cooking, weight loss and preventing disease with a better diet.

Dietitians maintained connections with 300 employees in offices across the country.

To find out more about the Physicians Committee’s Employee Wellness Program see  PCRM.org/Wellness.

Apr 242013

From Green Right Now Reports

Apples (GRN photo)

These Organic apples come without the pesticide residues.

Apples, strawberries, grapes and celery. All of these are healthy foods, but unfortunately they arrive at the grocery with the highest pesticide residues and top the latest “Dirty Dozen” list released by the Environmental Working Group.

The list, included in EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, rates 48 fruits and vegetables for pesticide contamination. It is based on the analysis of more than 28,000 samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

The other Dirty Dozen foods that will need a thorough cleansing: Peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes and hot peppers.

On the bright side, the EWG list also highlights an array of fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide residues. The Clean Fifteen includes corn, onions, pineapples, avocados, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, papayas, mangoes, asparagus, eggplant, kiwi, grapefruit, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes and mushrooms.

How to use this information? You have two options. You can wash, wash, wash, or you can switch to organic apples, strawberries, grapes and so forth, following the Dirty Dozen list to make sure you’re avoiding the produce with the worst coating of pesticides.

Organic apples are increasingly available at all types of groceries, and that may be the best route to take because conventional apples, among other fruits and vegetables, come with a waxy coating that traps some of the pesticides. In addition, pesticides can seep into vegetables and fruits, especially soft fruits with thin skins, such as strawberries and peaches.

The EWG rating considered both residues on the fruits and the number of pesticides used in the field when the produce was grown. The group’s report also explains that the USDA actually tests washed and peeled fruits, still coming up with pesticide residues.

“Since government scientists wash or peel samples before testing them, pesticide measurements reflect the likely pesticide loads of produce when people eat it. EWG’s ranking uses six measures of pesticide hazards, among them, the number of pesticides detected on a crop and the percent of samples testing positive.”

Although a study last year by Stanford physicians found that there was little difference between the quality of fruits and vegetables grown conventionally and those grown organically, the EWG scientists note that pesticide residues are intrinsically unhealthy.

“Pesticides are toxic by design and created expressly to kill living organisms — insects, plants and fungi that are considered “pests.” Many pesticides pose health dangers to people and have been linked to brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer, hormone disruption, skin, and eye and lung irritation.”

In addition to the Dirty Dozen list, EWG issued a special warning about two other types of crops, domestically grown squash and leafy greens, namely kale and collards.

These crops did not meet the criteria for being included on the Dirty Dozen list, but were contaminated with pesticides that are “exceptionally toxic to the nervous system,” the scientists reported.

“In the most recent USDA tests for kale and collards, conducted in 2008, some samples were found to be contaminated with organophosphate pesticides. Organophosphate pesticides are potent neurotoxins that can affect children’s IQ and brain development, even at low doses. Over the past decade organophosphates have been withdrawn from many agricultural uses and banned for home pesticide use but still be applied to certain commercial crops.

“Banned organochlorine pesticides were detected on nearly 20 percent of the samples of zucchini and crookneck squash in 2008. Imported summer squash were cleaner. Most organochlorine pesticides were widely applied in the 1940s through 1970s but withdrawn from use after studies revealed them to be highly toxic to people and wildlife. They are extremely persistent in the environment and still pollute produce grown in contaminated soils.

The group also reported that American baby food samples tested in 2011 turned up some “troubling” results.

Green beans prepared for baby food tested positive for five pesticides, including the toxic organophosphates methamidophos and acephate. These chemicals were detected on 14 and 13 percent of samples respectively, though the EPA and producers have “voluntarily agreed” to remove these two chemicals from agricultural use, according to the EWG.

But while green beans may be getting cleaner, baby food pear samples tested positive for 11 pesticides, including iprodione, classified as a probable carcinogen and not registered for use on pears.

Finally EWG warned that consumers wanting to avoid genetically modified foods should be aware that much of the Hawaiian papaya crop, as well as some zucchini and sweet corn varieties are now GMOs. Buying organic is, again, a way around this issue, because GMO foods are not labeled in the U.S..

Aug 282009

Green Right Now Reports

Increasingly we’re hearing about how local, seasonal food is richer in nutrients than canned or out-of-season produce that’s been shipped in from afar.

UT Southwestern Medical Center nutrition experts say we can be even more deliberate with our menu choices by choosing seasonal fruits and veggies that offer specific health benefits.

Their tip today: Eat fresh melons in season — and that means late summer in the US — to get a boost of potassium. That mineral can help athletes and those suffering from high blood pressure.

“Melons like cantaloupe and watermelon are particularly high in potassium,” says Lona Sandon, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “One fourth a cantaloupe contains 800 to 900 milligrams of potassium, roughly 20 percent of the recommended daily value.”

Two cups of watermelon contains nearly 10 percent of the daily recommended value, she adds.

And after your melon fix, look to an array of dried and fresh fruits and veggies to pump up the potassium, such as dried apricots, avocados, figs, kiwi, oranges, raisins, dates, beans, potatoes, tomatoes and even grapefruit are other good sources of potassium.

Potassium works to lower blood pressure by helping regulate body fluids, providing a balance with sodium. To find out more about why potassium from natural sources is superior to supplements, see this article from Med India.

UT Southwestern, in Dallas, notes that adults should get 4,044 milligrams of potassium from food and beverages each day, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

May 222009

By Christopher Peake
Green Right No

Thinking of heading out to your friendly farmer’s market to celebrate the start of summer? Here are some tips to help you maximize the experience.


Get there as soon as the market opens … the bigger the market the more customers there will be … vendors are in a better mood than we’ll be later in the day …


All vendors have bags but with the exception of the odd paper bag vendor (they cost vendors more money than plastic, so fewer have them) you’ll be toting home thin plastic bags.


All vendors take cash, many take checks and none take plastic. Few Farmer’s Markets have ATM’s conveniently nearby, so cash is king.


Dress as though you’ll be on your feet for a period of time, because you will be. Dress for the weather: it’s usually chillier in the morning so layer. If it’s an afternoon FM wear a hat and comfortable clothing. Shoes are especially important: not flip-flops or clunky boots. You’re there for comfort, not fashion. All too often we see people come to our windy seacoast New Hampshire hilltop market in October shivering in shorts and a thin jacket. What were they thinking? And parking is often inconvenient so think about walking back to the car with armloads of groceries; it’s not a supermarket so there are no carts or baskets.


Relax, enjoy yourself! When you get there take some time to walk around, see what’s what and who does a nice job of displaying their goods, who looks serious and who looks like an amateur. Depending on the time of day and the weather, get a drink and something to nibble on while you cruise. Eating as you go is key to how much you buy: if you’re hungry you’re apt to buy more food than you need. If you’re not so hungry you’ll buy in proportion to your needs.


It’s all fresh, so the rule of thumb is to pick the produce that most appeals to your eye. I’ve set out 30 pint boxes of berries and had customers stand there agonizing over which box looks the best. No point telling them they’re all the same because to a customer they’re NOT all the same. If it’s something you have chosen then you feel you got a bargain it tastes that much better. If you have a particular need for a smaller amount than you see ask for a smaller amount … you’ll usually get it. If not, go to another vendor.

A tip on corn: if the stalk (cut) end is moist and white, it’s fresh.

May 212009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

We all need to start eating closer to home, and with all due respect, I don’t mean down at the corner KFC.

I’m talking about finding fresh, locally grown produce for home cooking. Do we even need to list the reasons? Buying local food cuts down on polluting “food miles”, bypasses refrigeration trucks, supports local farmers and puts nutrient-rich foods on our plates.

But unless you grow a lot of your own food, how can you distinguish what came from your friendly local farmer in Illinois (or Texas or California) from what came from a rain forest-encroaching big-Ag operation 2,000 miles away?

Increasingly, grocery stores are helping us get smarter about food. They are labeling produce as local, organic and “conventionally grown”. Recently, I found myself bathed in info at a large Whole Foods Market. There I gaped before a mouth-watering, six-foot-high tower of neatly sorted cruciferous and root vegetables, squash and herbs stacked and organized according to the Dewey Decimal system. There were many signs. Some of the food was local, some was organic, and some, but only some, was local and organic. And because experts say that choosing organic is important, and also that choosing local is vital, I thought my head might explode.

That same week, I found myself at a farmer’s market being handed green beans that were supposed to be local. But it didn’t seem quite possible that they actually could be…unless they’d been planted very early…in a greenhouse. Maybe they meant loco?

It’s not always so easy, greenies. So how do you nail down what’s local?

Obviously, you can grow some of your own — it’s guaranteed local. You can join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) network. You could lurk at your farmer’s market and eavesdrop on people who appear knowledgeable and drug-free. And you can learn the seasons. It needs to be in season to be local, and if it’s local it is certainly in season. See a tautology! This will only trip you up when someone ships apples from Washington to sell in New York, which harvests apples at the same time. Because of our complex food system, this sort of thing happens regularly. At least you can compare apples to apples.

If you want to skip the Farmer’s Almanac portion of this learning process, go straight to this great resource: The Natural Resource Defense Council’s Local Food database. There you can type in your state and the month and pop up a list of produce that a shopper could reasonably expect to see harvested somewhere in that state at that time.

In Illinois, by late May, for instance, you could expect to find: Asparagus,Cabbage,Cherries, Greens, Leeks, Lettuce, Onions, Peas, Radishes, Rhubarb, Spinach, Sprouts, Squash, Strawberries.

But in Texas, in late May, look for a fruitier selection: Blackberries, Blueberries, Cabbage, Cantaloupes, Carrots, Cucumber, Grapefruit, Herbs, Honeydew Melon, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Nectarines, Onions, Oranges, Peaches, Pears, Peppers, Potatoes, Summer squash, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Turnips, Watermelon

And so on. Happy May.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

May 182009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You’ve already heard about how curcumin, or turmeric, may help reduce your chances of getting Alzheimer’s, a disease that is virtually unheard of in India where this spice turns up in a lot of dishes.

Today’s news brings another reason to eat your turmeric-spiced curry: It may help reduce the size of your tummy. Researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University found that mice fed high fat diets that were supplemented with curcumin gained less weight than a control group that was fed a high fat diet without curcumin.

The scientists warn in a news release that they don’t know if the results can be replicated in humans. What they observed, however, was that the curcumin seemed to inhibit a process known  as “angiogenesis” that helps grow fat, which would appear to be applicable to larger (get it?) life forms as well.

Curcumin is a polyphenolic or “multi-phenol” meaning it is derived from plants, in this case, a root plant that belongs to the ginger family. This news, and the recent studies showing turmeric guards against Alzheimer’s, appear to place it among a growing list of plants that boast protective antioxidant qualities, such as grapes and garlic, sweet potatoes. broccoli and tomatoes, to name a few.

Green activists often advocate a ‘greener’ diet, high in fruits and veggies, because it carries a lower carbon footprint; the livestock industry being more resource-intensive.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which helped fund the curcumin study, recommends a diet high in high-fiber grains, plants and vegetables, though Its food pyramid, revised in 2005, has been criticized for having dumbed down the issue by trying to show the right food proportions visually and moving away from recommending specific serving amounts of each food group. It is due for another update in 2010.

The Centers for Disease Control hosts a webpage touting the benefits of fruits and veggies, where people can type in their basic demographics to get a recommendation for how much plant food they should be getting in a given day.

Mohsen Meydani, DVM, PhD, director of the Vascular Biology Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA, was the lead author of the curcumin/mice study, published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Meydani and colleagues studied mice fed high fat diets for 12 weeks. One group was received 500 mg of curcumin per every kilogram of food and the other other group was fed no curcumin. The mice ate about the same amount of food, indicating that curcumin did not affect their appetite.

But mice on the curcumin-supplemented diet did not gain as much weight as the control group.

“Curcumin appeared to be responsible for total lower body fat in the group that received supplementation,” said Meydani, who is also a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, in a press release.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Apr 292009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

The bunnies are bountiful in our backyard this year; they’re large and prolific. They’re rabbits.

So it was with an eye out for trouble that we installed the garden this past weekend. This is a second veggie garden, which we put in to test the Evo Organics handy-dandy Weed Free Garden Watering Blanket.

This intriguing product claims to block out weeds (the blanket covers the ground, like mulch only better) while supplying the plants with an efficient, water-conserving, drip-line irrigation system.

I’ll admit, I’m really sucked in by the promise of no weeds and significantly reduced water use (up to 80 percent less water according to the package claims) but leery. Drip line irrigation is more efficient, but this much more? We’ll find out. I’d be happy with a 50 percent reduction.

So now, if the bunnies don’t like tomato and pepper leaves (I don’t think they do, but please send email if you know otherwise) Jed and me’ll be growin’ some food for the young ‘uns. We’ve planted Romas, some other tomato varieties, some Mexican peppers and bell peppers. And we’ve got room to grow in this 8 x 10 foot patch.

I’ll update you as we go. And we’ll talk with the Evo Organics folks. The installation was not difficult by the way; the hose line slipped out of the blanket once or twice, causing Jed to mutter under his breath and stomp off briefly. But after threading the hose back through, it was smooth going. Really. A piece of cake. Here are the pictures:

First step, begin with a ph test (this comes with the Evo Organics kit). Ours found that the clay soil was ok, acid-wise. So we didn’t amend anything.

Mar 232009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Discerning diners would probably not find this much of a topic for dinner discussion, but back in the fields where their broccoli is grown, fungus can stop a good crop cold. Most farmers apply fungicides to deal with the problem, but fungicides, a subset of pesticides, can kill beneficial organisms and cause environmental damage in the course of attacking the problem invader.

Fungicides, like other pesticides, also can wind up growing better fungus as the disease adapts to fend off the poison. The fungus becomes resistant to the pesticide, and creeps back ever-more resilient. Which requires more chemical treatments; which can increase resistance; requiring more treatments…

To try to break this cycle, researchers in Canada have been developing new “green” fungicides that are less environmentally damaging because they go in for a targeted kill. This surgical approach plays off the plant’s own defense strategy by attacking the fungal infection as it ramps up to break through the plants defenses. Effectively, the new eco-fungicides, called “paldoxins,” disrupt the fungus’ response to the plant.

It works like this: The plant reacts to the encroachment of the fungus, and puts up a barrier of defenses; the fungus reacts by hitting those defenses with its own chemical reaction.

The paldoxins or anti-fungal agents intervene, rendering the fungus unable to hit back at the plant.  Instead of dropping a bomb – the old way — which can damage the plant and the beneficial organisms that assist its growth, they go in for a guerilla attack, selectively disrupting the fungus’ ability to fight through a plant’s defense mechanisms.   The researchers refer to these agents of targeted destruction as “inhibitors of fungal enzymes” (a term that we non-chemists will thankfully not be tested on).

The benefit is clear — the surrounding landscape is not harmed by paldoxins. Also, in theory, the fungus has been outwitted and should not develop defenses to thwart this type of intervention.

These developments could help save row crops, in addition to produce, according to a press announcement about the findings, released at the 237th meeting of the American Chemical Society over the weekend.

“Conventional fungicides kill constantly,” said study leader Soledade Pedras, a chemistry professor at the University of Saskatchewan. “Our products only attack the fungus when it’s misbehaving or attacking the plant. And for that reason, they’re much safer.”

Not everyone will be convinced. We’ve been down a similar path with other types of pesticides, specifically those that tunnel into a plant’s biology, working from the inside out to thwart pests. But those types of pesticide/plant interventions are different in a key way — they aim to alter the crop plant itself through genetic modifications.

This approach confuses the invading pest, without interfering with the biology of the crop plant, which appears to be a truly safer; plant-preserving, instead of plant-altering approach.

Pedras’ group has developed six synthetic versions of the paldoxins and successfully tested them in the lab on crucifer plants, including rapeseed plants and mustard greens. They plan field tests on other crops, including grasses such as wheat, rye, and oat which are more difficult to protect with fungicides.

The study was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the University of Saskatchewan.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Mar 062009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

It seems that the iconic American wide, grassy lawn, which has lately been encroached upon by rock beds and strips of native flowers designed to cut down on watering, is undergoing more surgery. It is now giving up real estate to another pursuit: Homeowners are claiming portions of their lawns for produce production.

Landscapers have noted the emergence of these small scale agricultural endeavors, with a new survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) finding that about 20 percent of residential landscape architects report they are replacing part or all of traditional grass lawns with food/vegetable gardens.

“Not only do you benefit from fresh produce, but these gardens offer lower maintenance time and utility costs compared to turf grass while substantially increasing the sustainability of a home,” said ASLA President Angela Dye in a news release. “Plus, there’s nothing more convenient or sustainable than home-grown food.”

Actually, it’s not so sustainable once it gets inside. Munchkins and others gobble it up.

Thinking of digging in? The ASLA advises that you “don’t spend a dime on mulch when you can reuse your leftover leaves from the fall” and suggests using nitrogen-rich grass clippings as a mulch and weed suppressant atop the veggie bed.

The trend tracks with earlier findings by the National Gardening Association that growing food is a growing enterprise.

For more info on sustainable garden design see the ASLA website.
Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Mar 042009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Experts have been arguing about it, and you probably wonder every time you fork over an extra buck or two for a chemical-free pack of tomatoes, apples or strawberries.

Does organic taste better?

Some say yes. Some say no difference. It’s a bitter debate. Lots of folks swear that conventionally grown fruits and veggies, after being splattered with pesticides and gassed for long haul transport, mutate into bland poseurs, lacking the zest, character and even texture of their no-pesticides cousins. My palate tends to agree — some of the tangiest food turns up in my organic co-op basket, though it could be partly because the food is in season locally.

But who cares what we think! We’re highly evolved creatures with crowded brains, and relatively poor olfactory and gustation receptors. Recognizing that we weren’t the best taste testers, Cook’s Den took this vital green issue to someone who really knows his greens: Hammy the Hamster.

Guess what Hammy (a vegetarian despite his name) picked?

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media