Monday, April 29, 2013

Organic Mulches

Examples of organic mulches include:
  • Bark, Shredded or Chipped
  • Compost
  • Composted Manure
  • Grass Clippings
  • Newspaper
  • Shredded Leaves
  • Straw
Organic mulch will decompose and have to be replaced, however in the process it will also improve your soil’s fertility and, of course, its organic content. Generally the dryer and woodier the mulch, the slower it will decompose and the less nutrients it will give to the soil.

  • Bark mulches are best used around trees, shrubs and in garden beds where you won’t be doing a lot of digging, like front walkways and foundation plantings. These woody mulches don’t mix well into the soil and it can become a hassle to have to keep moving them aside to make way for new plants.
  • Compost and Composted Manure can be used anywhere, as long as they are relatively well composted and weed free. You can use them as a coating of mulch or simply side dress plants with them during the growing season, to insulate and give a boost of slow released nutrients.
  • Grass Clippings are a mixed bag and are best suited to remote areas of your garden where you basically want to suppress weeds. Grass clippings, like most green plant debris with a high water content, decompose very rapidly and in the process they can get somewhat slimy, with an unpleasant odor - so use with discretion. Grass clippings also tend to mat down and not allow water to pass through. 
  • Ideally you should use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the lawn to add fertility to that soil. However if you do bag your grass clippings, don’t throw them away unless you have used weed killer or some other pesticide on your lawn. Synthetic lawn care products can be bad for some flowers and you certainly don’t want to use them in your vegetable garden. But untreated grass clippings can either be dumped into your compost bin or used to mulch open, unplanted areas.
  • Newspaper as mulch is becoming more and more popular. Most newspapers have switched over to organic dyes, especially for their black & white sections. Shredded newspaper has been used for years to keep plant roots moist while shipping. Layered sheets of newspaper also have great moisture retention abilities and they act like other organic mulches as far as suppressing weeds and controlling soil temperatures. They are also great for smothering existing grass, to jump start a new garden bed.
  • To use as a mulch in the garden, spread a layer of 4 - 8 sheets of newspaper around the plants. Moisten the sheets to keep them in place. On windy days it’s easier to moisten the sheets before you place them down. Cover the newspaper with a 1-3 inch layer of another organic mulch and the weed protection should last throughout the growing season.
  • Shredded Leaves are natures favorite mulch. Shredded leaves can be used as mulch anywhere and have the added bonus of being free. I have never had so many earth worms in my flower gardens as I’ve had since I started using shredded leaf mulch about 3 years ago. Even my compost pile doesn’t have as much activity as under these leaves.
  • Some gardeners don’t like the look of leaves in their garden and they probably aren’t appropriate for formal gardens. But if you spread a layer in the spring, before plants spread out, the leaf mulch tends to blend into the view within a short time. Shredded leaves are perfect for woodland gardens and I always spread a layer over my vegetable garden in the fall, to begin decomposing over the winter.
    Unshredded leaves can mat together and repel water, in rainy areas. But I have to confess that if my leaves get too wet to shred, I’ll use them as mulch anyway and simply stir them up a bit if they appear to get matted.
  • Straw and Salt Hay are popular mulches for the vegetable garden. They keep the soil and soil born diseases from splashing up on lower plant leaves and make paths less muddy. Straw decomposes very slowly and will last the entire growing season. It also makes a nice home for spiders and other beneficial insects who will move in and help keep the pest population in control. And finally, it’s easy to either rake up or work into the soil when it’s time to plant a new crop or put the vegetable garden to bed. 
  •  Whatever mulch you choose, apply it soon after planting, before new weeds sprout. Apply a 2-4 inch thick layer of mulch, avoiding direct contact with the plant stems. Piling mulch around the stem can lead to rotting and can provide cover for munching mice and voles.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Time Flies

When you are having fun they say.
Well, I have been having fun. Playing in the dirt.
I have planted out, peas, beets, lettuce, spinach and radishes.
Inside under the lights I have tomatoes, melons, peppers, cucumbers, pumpkins and squash.
Which I can hardly wait to start hardening off prior to planting them in the ground.
Oh and the rhubarb is coming up very nicely.

And, how does your garden grow?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Raised Bed Gardening

Grow Food Anywhere; Raised Bed Gardening



We have 8 raised beds in our vegetable garden and 5 in-ground plots. I much prefer the raised beds for this old arthritic body. We have been growing vegetables this way for 5 years now and I wouldn't change this ever.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lyrid Meteor Showers April 22, 2013

The Lyrid meteor shower will be peaking this year on April 22, 2013. The annual meteor shower typically puts on a good show, averaging about 10-20 meteors an hour, but sometimes featuring “surges” of activity that peak as high as 100 meteors an hour. The Lyrids also tend to produce rather bright meteors with long highly visible trails. All in all it’s worth getting out to see them if you can make the time.

 The meteors will appear to be generally originating from the Northeastern portion of the sky, in the constellation Lyra. This year, the moon (waxing gibbous at the time) will be setting rather late, so it’ll be best to watch for them then. They tend to peak towards the early morning hours anyways, so it works out well. For those in the US, that’ll be sometime between 3:45AM and 4:30ish, the further north the later. But even if that’s too late or you, you should still be able to catch some of the meteors earlier in the night, though the Moon’s light may obscure them somewhat.

The Lyrids occasionally produce fireballs so that is also something to watch out for. And on occasion, in the somewhat recent past, they have put on truly incredible shows, as a result of the Earth passing through a particularly dense patch of dust. During the 1803 meteor shower, the Lyrids peaked at more than 700 meteors an hour as seen from Richmond, Virginia. Huge bursts of activity like the 1803 shower are referred to as meteor storms.

For those that are planning to watch this years Lyrid meteor shower here are some basic tips: Get comfortable. A nice reclining chair, some warm clothes and blankets, and some hot cocoa or coffee, go a long way towards making the experience enjoyable. The further away from cuty lights that you can get, the better. And you’ll need to give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark in order to see the meteors easily and in high numbers, so keep your bright mobile devices turned off or with the screen dimmed really low.

For those interested in knowing what exactly meteor showers are, here’s Wikipedia with more:
“A meteor shower is the result of an interaction between a planet, such as Earth, and streams of debris from a comet. Comets can produce debris by water vapor drag, as demonstrated by Fred Whipple in 1951, and by breakup. Whipple envisioned comets as ‘dirty snowballs,’ made up of rock embedded in ice, orbiting the Sun. The ‘ice’ may be water, methane, ammonia, or other volatiles, alone or in combination. The ‘rock’ may vary in size from that of a dust mote to that of a small boulder. Dust mote sized solids are orders of magnitude more common than those the size of sand grains, which, in turn, are similarly more common than those the size of pebbles, and so on. When the ice warms and sublimates, the vapor can drag along dust, sand, and pebbles.”

“Each time a comet swings by the Sun in its orbit, some of its ice vaporizes and a certain amount of meteoroids will be shed. The meteoroids spread out along the entire orbit of the comet to form a meteoroid stream, also known as a ‘dust trail’ (as opposed to a comet’s ‘dust tail’ caused by the very small particles that are quickly blown away by solar radiation pressure).”
Comet ISON, predicted to be the “comet of the century” later this year, is also likely to cause a meteor shower when we pass through its debris trail sometime in mid-January .
The Lyrids themselves are theorized to have originated from comet Thatcher, a comet which follows a 416-year orbit almost perpendicular to the plane of the solar system.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Monsanto's Dirty Dozen

When you take a moment to reflect on the history of product development at Monsanto, what do you find? Here are twelve products that Monsanto has brought to market. See if you can spot the pattern…

How sick does this make you? 

#1 – Saccharin

Did you know Monsanto got started because of artificial sweetener? John Francisco Queeny founded Monsanto Chemical Works in St. Louis, Missouri with the goal of producing saccharin for Coca-Cola. In stark contrast to its sweet beginnings, multiple studies have shown that saccharin causes cancer in test rats and mice. Meanwhile six human studies, including one done by the National Cancer Institute, showed that consuming artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and cyclamate resulted in bladder cancer. Better living does not always come through chemicals…

 #2 – PCBs

During the early 1920s, Monsanto began expanding their chemical production into polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to produce coolant fluids for electrical transformers, capacitors, and electric motors. Fifty years later, toxicity tests began reporting serious health effects from PCBs in laboratory rats exposed to the chemical.
After another decade of studies, the truth could no longer be contained: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report citing PCBs as the cause of cancer in animals, with additional evidence that they can cause cancer in humans. Additional peer-reviewed health studies showed a causal link between exposure to PCBs and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, a frequently fatal form of cancer.
In 1979, the United States Congress recognized PCBs as a significant environmental toxin and persistent organic pollutant, and banned its production in the U.S.  By then Monsanto already had manufacturing plants abroad, so they weren’t entirely stopped until the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants banned PCBs globally in 2001.
And that’s when Monsanto’s duplicity was uncovered: internal company memos from 1956 surfaced, proving that Monsanto had known about dangers of PCBs from early on.
In 2003, Monsanto paid out over $600 million to residents of Anniston, Alabama, who experienced severe health problems including liver disease, neurological disorders and cancer after being exposed to PCBs — more than double the payoff that was awarded in the case against Pacific Gas & Electric made famous by the movie “Erin Brockovich.”
And yet the damage persists: nearly 30 years after PCBs have been banned from the U.S., they are still showing up in the blood of pregnant women, as reported in a 2011 study by the University of California San Francisco.

#3 – Polystyrene

In 1941, Monsanto began focusing on plastics and synthetic polystyrene, which is still widely used in food packaging and ranked 5th in the EPA’s 1980s listing of chemicals whose production generates the most total hazardous waste.

 #4 – Atom bomb and nuclear weapons

Shortly after acquiring Thomas and Hochwalt Laboratories, Monsanto turned this division into their Central Research Department. Between 1943 to 1945, this department coordinated key production efforts of the Manhattan Project—including plutonium purification and production and, as part of the Manhattan Project’s Dayton Project, techniques to refine chemicals used as triggers for atomic weapons (an era of U.S. history that sadly included the deadliest industrial accident).

 #5 – DDT

In 1944, Monsanto became one of the first manufacturers of the insecticide DDT to combat malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. Despite decades of Monsanto propaganda insisting that DDT was safe, the true effects of DDT’s toxicity were at last confirmed through outside research and in 1972, DDT was banned throughout the U.S.

 #6 – Dioxin

In 1945, Monsanto began promoting the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture with the manufacture of the herbicide 2,4,5-T (one of the precursors to Agent Orange), containing dioxin. Dioxins are a group of chemically-related compounds that since become known as one of the “Dirty Dozen” — persistent environmental pollutants that accumulate in the food chain, mainly in the fatty tissue of animals. In the decades since it was first developed, Monsanto has been accused of covering up or failing to report dioxin contamination in a wide range of its products.

#7 – Agent Orange

During the early 1960s, Monsanto was one of the two primary manufacturers of Agent Orange, an herbicide / defoliant used for chemical warfare during the Vietnam War. Except Monsanto’s formula had dioxin levels many times higher than the Agent Orange produced by Dow Chemicals, the other manufacturer (which is why Monsanto was the key defendant in the lawsuit brought by Vietnam War veterans in the United States).
As a result of the use of Agent Orange, Vietnam estimates that over 400,000 people were killed or maimed, 500,000 children were born with birth defects, and up to 1 million people were disabled or suffered from health problems—not to mention the far-reaching impact it had on the health of over 3 million American troops and their offspring.
Internal Monsanto memos show that Monsanto knew of the problems of dioxin contamination of Agent Orange when it sold it to the U.S. government for use in Vietnam. Despite the widespread health impact, Monsanto and Dow were allowed to appeal for and receive financial protection from the U.S. government against veterans seeking compensation for their exposure to Agent Orange.
In 2012, a long 50 years after Agent Orange was deployed, the clean-up effort has finally begun. Yet the legacy of Agent Orange, and successive generations of body deformitieswill remain in orphanages throughout VietNam for decades to come.
(Think that can’t happen here? Two crops were recently genetically engineered to withstand a weedkiller made with Agent Orange’s primary ingredient 2,4-D, in order to combat “super weeds” that evolved due to the excessive use of RoundUp.)

8 – Petroleum-Based Fertilizer

In 1955, Monsanto began manufacturing petroleum-based fertilizer after purchasing a major oil refinery. Petroleum-based fertilizers can kill beneficial soil micro-organisms, sterilizing the soil and creating a dependence, like an addiction, to the synthetic replacements. Not the best addiction to have, considering the rising cost and dwindling supply of oil…

#9 – RoundUp

During the early 1970s, Monsanto founded their Agricultural Chemicals division with a focus on herbicides, and one herbicide in particular: RoundUp (glyphosate). Because of its ability to eradicate weeds literally overnight, RoundUp was quickly adopted by farmers. Its use increased even more when Monsanto introduced “RoundUp Ready” (glyphosate-resistant) crops, enabling farmers to saturate the entire field with weedkiller without killing the crops.
While glyphosate has been approved by regulatory bodies worldwide and is widely used, concerns about its effects on humans and the environment persist. RoundUp has been found in samples of groundwater, as well as soil, and even in streams and air throughout the Midwest U.S., and increasingly in food. It has been linked to butterfly mortality, and the proliferation of superweeds. Studies in rats have shown consistently negative health impacts ranging from tumors, altered organ function, and infertility, to cancer and premature death. Reference the above “GMO Risks” page which includes countless references to support these statements.

 #10 – Aspartame (NutraSweet / Equal)

An accidental discovery during research on gastrointestinal hormones resulted in a uniquely sweet chemical: aspartame. During the clinical trials conducted on 7 infant monkeys as part of aspartame’s application for FDA approval, 1 monkey died and 5 other monkeys had grand mal seizures—yet somehow aspartame was still approved by the FDA in 1974. In 1985, Monsanto acquired the company responsible for aspartame’s manufacture (G.D. Searle) and began marketing the product as NutraSweet. Twenty years later, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report listing 94 health issues caused by aspartame. (Watch a quick video here.)

#11 – Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)

This genetically modified hormone was developed by Monsanto to be injected into dairy cows to produce more milk. Cows subjected to rBGH suffer excruciating pain due to swollen udders and mastitis, and the pus from the resulting infection enters the milk supply requiring the use of additional antibiotics. rBGH milk has been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer in humans.

#12 – Genetically Modified Crops / GMOs

In the early 1990s, Monsanto began gene-splicing corn, cotton, soy, and canola with DNA from a foreign source to achieve one of two traits: an internally-generated pesticide, or an internal resistance to Monsanto’s weedkiller RoundUp. Despite decades of promises that genetically engineered crops would feed the world with more nutrients, drought resistance, or yield, the majority of Monsanto’s profits are from seeds that are engineered to tolerate Monsanto’s RoundUp—an ever-rising, dual income stream as weeds continue to evolve resistance to RoundUp.
Most sobering however, is that the world is once again buying into Monsanto’s “safe” claims.
Just like the early days of PCBs, DDT, Agent Orange, Monsanto has successfully fooled the general public and regulatory agencies into believing that RoundUp, and the genetically modified crops that help sell RoundUp, are “safe.”
Except Monsanto has learned a thing or two in the past 100+ years of defending its dirty products: these days, when a new study proving the negative health or environmental impacts of GMOs emerges, Monsanto attacks the study and its scientist(s) by flooding the media with counter claims from “independent” organizations, scientists, industry associations, blogs, sponsored social media, and articles by “private” public relations firms—frequently founded, funded and maintained by Monsanto.
Unfortunately, few of us take the time to trace the members, founders, and relationships of these seemingly valid sources back to their little Monsanto secret. (Read more on this page.)
Fooling the FDA required a slightly different approach: click on the below chart to see how many former Monsanto VPs and legal counsel are now holding positions with the FDA. And don’t forget Clarence Thomas, former Monsanto attorney who is now a Supreme Court Justice, ruling in favor of Monsanto in every case brought before him.

Monsanto FDA

A Baker’s Dozen: #13 – Terminator Seeds

In the late 1990s, Monsanto developed the technology to produce sterile grains unable to germinate. These “Terminator Seeds” would force farmers to buy new seeds from Monsanto year after year, rather than save and reuse the seeds from their harvest as they’ve been doing throughout centuries. Fortunately this technology never came to market. Instead, Monsanto chose to require farmers to sign a contract agreeing that they will not save or sell seeds from year to year, which forces them to buy new seeds and preempts the need for a “terminator gene.” Lucky for us… since the terminator seeds were capable of cross-pollination and could have contaminated local non-sterile crops.

What’s the Result of our Monsanto Legacy?
Between 75% to 80% of the processed food you consume every day has GMOs inside, and residues of Monsanto’s RoundUp pesticide outside. But it’s not just processed food—fresh fruit and vegetables are next: genetically engineered sweet corn is already being sold at your local grocer, with apples and a host of other “natural” produce currently in field trials.
How is it that Monsanto is allowed to manipulate our food after such a dark product history? How is it they are allowed to cause such detrimental impact to our environment and our health?
According to the Organic Consumers Association, “There is a direct correlation between our genetically engineered food supply and the $2 trillion the U.S. spends annually on medical care, namely an epidemic of diet-related chronic diseases.
Instead of healthy fruits, vegetables, grains, and grass-fed animal products, U.S. factory farms and food processors produce a glut of genetically engineered junk foods that generate heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer—backed by farm subsidies—while organic farmers receive no such subsidies.
Monsanto’s history reflects a consistent pattern of toxic chemicals, lawsuits, and manipulated science. Is this the kind of company we want controlling our world’s food supply?
P.S. Monsanto’s not alone. Other companies in the “Big Six” include Pioneer Hi-Bred International (a subsidiary of DuPont), Syngenta AGDow Agrosciences (a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, BASF (which is primarily a chemical company that is rapidly expanding their biotechnology division, and Bayer Cropscience (a subsidiary of Bayer). View a complete list of companies doing genetic engineering on this website.

Olive Oil Lamp to Make at Home

 This olive oil lamp is fast and easy to make at home, and it’s a safe, reliable light to have around during power outages.

You don’t need much in the way of equipment and if you don’t have olive oil, you can replace it with other types of cooking oil — or any kind of liquid fat or grease in a pinch. However, I must warn you that while olive is a 99 percent pure renewable fuel that won’t produce smoke or odor, I can’t vouch for canola or corn oil as being smoke-free or that it won’t make the house smell like burnt popcorn.
Making your lamp is relatively easy, and most likely you will have many of the materials on hand already. Here’s what you’ll need:
  • A wide-mouthed glass jar (a quart-size wide-mouthed canning jar works really well)
  • A short length of flexible steel wire (1 1/2 or 2 times the height of the jar)
  • A wick
  • Olive oil

Putting Together the Lamp

1. Form one end of the steel wire into a long hook, about the same height as the jar. This hook holds the wire on the jar and doubles as a handle to pull the wick up for lighting. (See photos in the Image Gallery.)
2. Take the other end of the wire and wrap it into a coil, creating a wick stand about an inch or two tall that sits on the bottom of the jar.
3. Pinch the top of the metal coil onto about 2 inches in length of wick so that about a quarter inch or less of the wick is sticking up above the wire coil. Any longer and the wick will smoke. The other end of the wick will be soaking in the olive oil.
4. Add enough olive oil to your jar so that the level is just under where the wick is pinched by the wire. Any higher and you risk putting out the lamp with the oil.

How the Lamp Works

The olive oil is drawn up the wick where it vaporizes and gets burned by the flame. A few ounces of oil will burn for several hours, so if you are concerned about the cost, it is much cheaper than most candles. If you can find lampante oil (olive oil not suitable for eating, but for burning), you can save money by buying that instead of culinary olive oil.

Want to get fancy with your olive oil lamp? You can infuse your olive oil with herbs, spices or essential oils for a more scented experience.

Olive oil lamps have been used for thousands of years and people have relied on oil lamps in general up until the last few generations. They are reliable, plus they burn bright and long. The benefit of olive oil is that if the lamp gets knocked over, it stops burning because it has a high flash point, meaning that it’s not a very flammable material. As a result, an olive oil lamp is far safer than a candle or kerosene lantern. If you are having problems with it smoking when you blow it out, use wet fingers to put out the flame, or just douse it with the oil in the jar.
One of the benefits of using a canning jar is that, when the oil lamp is not in use, you can put a canning lid on top for storage. A wide-mouthed pint jar will also work well, you just need to adjust the size of the wick holder.
For your wick, you can use 100 percent cotton string or twine and salt it to ensure that it burns long. To salt your wick, take your cotton twine, put it in a bowl with a little water and then cover with table salt. Squeeze it dry and let it dry overnight, or until it is no longer damp.

If you need or want your lamp to emit more light, try using a braided, flat wick (a half inch or narrower), adjusting the way the wire supports this kind of wick by crimping it to accommodate the extra girth. You can buy flat wicks from stores that carry supplies for oil lamps. Or, you can cut up an old 100 percent cotton tea towel into strips and use that instead.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

I'm Becoming Obsessed - GMO seeds


My blood is running cold as I read more about GMOs!!!!



 Independent Experts Find GM Foods Contain Dangerous Gene

The European Union’s official, independent food watchdog group, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), is reporting that the approval process for GM crops failed to identify a poisonous gene discovered in 54 of 86 GM plants.

Most alarmingly, this viral gene known as “GENE VI” was discovered in the most widespread GM crops, notably corn and soy, which are heavily used in animal feed for livestock producing meat, milk, and eggs.
How did the viral gene get into the GM crops in the first place?

The problem starts right in the laboratory where GM foods are synthesized by an army of scientists playing God with millions of unsuspecting guinea pigs blithely buying unlabeled GM laced products at the supermarket.

These scientists insert foreign genes from other organisms (plant or animal) into a target plant using a technique which allows these foreign genes to “piggyback” on common soil or plant based viruses. 
Assumption is the Mother of Error it seems as these scientists had expected that the virus genes transporting the foreign genes into the target plant would not be present once the GM plant was actually grown in the field.   

The EFSA research (Independent Science News) has now conclusively shown that this major assumption upon which the supposed “safety” of GMOs is based is not the case.

Not. Even. Close.

How the presence of this viral gene could have been missed by the biotech companies, government regulators, and even university scientists is beyond comprehension.  
The EFSA research indicated the following:
This situation represents a complete and catastrophic system failure.
There are clear indications that this viral gene might not be safe for human consumption. It also may disturb the normal functioning of crops, including their natural pest resistance.

A reasonable concern is that the protein produced by Gene VI might be a human toxin. This is a question that can only be answered by future experiments.
Dr. Julian Little, chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) which represents the biotech companies, had this to say in response:
... nearly three trillion meals containing GM ingredients have been eaten without a single substantiated case of ill-health. The combination of these two facts can give consumers a huge amount of confidence in the safety of GM crops.
I guess Dr. Little isn’t really paying attention to the skyrocketing cases of food allergies and digestive complaints in the past decade or so, particularly allergies to corn and soy, the top two GM crops.
It’s always easier to just continue with business as usual and hide behind PR campaigns focusing on starving children and fudged reports about the “safety” of frankenfoods when the corporate bottom line (and the McMansion mortgage payment) is at stake, isn’t it Mr. CEO?

 Source:  Uncovered, the “toxic” gene hiding in GM crops: Revelation throws new doubt over the safety of foods

Friday, April 5, 2013

Preserving Fruits and Vegetables

 This is too cool not to share....

Nothing is more frustrating than finding the perfect cucumber or head of lettuce at the farmers market, paying top-dollar for it, and then... tossing it out a week later when it has gone moldy or slimy in the refrigerator.
No doubt one reason so many of us eat too many convenience foods and too few fruits and vegetables is that it can be hard to get our busy schedules in sync with the produce we bring home with the best of intentions.
Food scientists, however, have discovered a remarkably effective way to extend the life of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables by days or even a week. It doesn't involve the chlorine solutions, irradiation or peroxide baths sometimes used by produce packagers. And it's easily done in any home by anyone.
This method, called heat-shocking, is 100 percent organic and uses just one ingredient that every cook has handy — hot water.
You may already be familiar with a related technique called blanching, a cooking method in which food is briefly dunked in boiling or very hot water. Blanching can extend the shelf life of broccoli and other plant foods, and it effectively reduces contamination by germs on the surface of the food. But blanching usually ruptures the cell walls of plants, causing color and nutrients to leach out. It also robs delicate produce of its raw taste.
Heat-shocking works differently. When the water is warm but not scalding — temperatures ranging from 105 F to 140 F (about 40 C to 60 C) work well for most fruits and vegetables — a brief plunge won't rupture the cells. Rather, the right amount of heat alters the biochemistry of the tissue in ways that, for many kinds of produce, firm the flesh, delay browning and fading, slow wilting, and increase mold resistance.
A long list of scientific studies published during the past 15 years report success using heat-shocking to firm potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and strawberries; to preserve the color of asparagus, broccoli, green beans, kiwi fruits, celery, and lettuce; to fend off overripe flavors in cantaloupe and other melons; and to generally add to the longevity of grapes, plums, bean sprouts and peaches, among others.
The optimum time and temperature combination for the quick dip seems to depend on many factors, but the procedure is quite simple. Just let the water run from your tap until it gets hot, then fill a large pot of water about two-thirds full, and use a thermometer to measure the temperature. It will probably be between 105 F and 140 F; if not, a few minutes on the stove should do the trick. Submerge the produce and hold it there for several minutes (the hotter the water, the less time is needed), then drain, dry and refrigerate as you normally would.
Researchers still are working out the details of how heat-shocking works, but it appears to change the food in several ways at once. Many of the fruits and vegetables you bring home from the store are still alive and respiring; the quick heat treatment tends to slow the rate at which they respire and produce ethylene, a gas that plays a crucial role in the ripening of many kinds of produce. In leafy greens, the shock of the hot water also seems to turn down production of enzymes that cause browning around wounded leaves, and to turn up the production of heat-shock proteins, which can have preservative effects.
For the home cook, the inner workings don't really matter. The bottom line is that soaking your produce in hot water for a few minutes after you unpack it makes it cheaper and more nutritious because more fruits and veggies will end up in your family rather than in the trash.
The optimal time and temperature for heat-shocking fruits and vegetables varies in response to many factors — in particular, whether they were already treated before purchase. Use these as general guidelines.
— Asparagus: 2 to 3 minutes at 131 F (55 C)
— Broccoli: 7 to 8 minutes at 117 F (47 C)
— Cantaloupe (whole): 60 minutes at 122 F (50 C)
— Celery: 90 seconds at 122 F (50 C)
— Grapes: 8 minutes at 113 F (45 C)
— Kiwi fruit: 15 to 20 minutes at 104 F (40 C)
— Lettuce: 1 to 2 minutes at 122 F (50 C)
— Oranges (whole): 40 to 45 minutes at 113 F (45 C)
— Peaches (whole): 40 minutes at 104 F (40 C)
W. Wayt Gibbs is editor-in-chief of The Cooking Lab, the culinary research team led by Nathan Myhrvold that produced the cookbooks "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking" and "Modernist Cuisine at Home."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Herb Companions in the Garden and Kitchen

In the garden: Plant with tomatoes. Repels flies and mosquitoes.
In the kitchen: Use in tomato dishes, pesto, sauces, and salad dressings.

In the garden: Plant with carrots.
In the kitchen: Related to the onion, chives enliven vegetable dishes, dressings, casseroles, rice, eggs, cheese dishes, sauces, gravies, and dips.
In the garden: Plant with cabbages. Keep away from carrots.
In the kitchen: Use seed for pickles and also to add aroma and taste to strong vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, and turnips. Use fresh with green beans, potato dishes, cheese, soups, salads, seafood, and sauces.
In the garden: Plant near cabbage and tomatoes. Deters white cabbage moth.
In the kitchen: It is common in Middle Eastern dishes. Use with roast lamb or fish and in salads, jellies, or teas.

In the garden: Good companion to all vegetables.
In the kitchen: Of Italian origin, its taste is zesty and strong, good in any tomato dish. Try oregano with summer squash and potatoes, mushroom dishes, beans, or in a marinade for lamb or game.
In the garden: Plant near asparagus, corn, and tomatoes.
In the kitchen: Use fresh parsley in soups, sauces, and salads. It lessens the need for salt in soups. You can fry parsley and use it as a side dish with meat or fish. It is, of course, the perfect garnish.
In the garden: Plant near cabbage, beans, carrots, and sage. Deters cabbage moth, bean beetles, and carrot fly.
In the kitchen: Use for poultry, lamb, and tomato dishes, stews, soups, and vegetables. Try it finely chopped in breads and custards.
In the garden: Plant near rosemary, cabbage, and carrots; away from cucumbers. Deters cabbage moth and carrot fly.
In the kitchen: Use in cheese dishes, stuffings, soups, pickles, with beans and peas, and in salads. Excellent for salt-free cooking.
In the garden: Good companion to most vegetables.
In the kitchen: Great with meat, eggs, poultry, seafood, and in salad dressings, marinades, and sauces.

In the garden: Plant near cabbage. Deters cabbage worm.
In the kitchen: Use in casseroles, stews, soups, ragouts, and with eggs, potatoes, fish, and green vegetables.

Little old me...

My photo
An american yankee up past the 49th parellel.


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