Friday, May 25, 2012

Imperfectly Organic

“Even the yucky ones taste great!” my youngest child called to me as we stooped in the strawberry garden, me picking and him feasting. When he says “yucky” he means not perfectly red and strawberry shaped like the ones you buy in the grocery store. That’s the thing about organic fruit, and home-grown organic fruit in particular, sometimes it doesn’t look pretty.

It’s very tempting to go for the perfect fruit over the funny looking fruit with a few bad spots. But nine times out of ten, perfect fruit has been grown with pesticide, harvested before it’s time, gassed to make it finish ripening, and then sprayed with preservative. And you can taste the difference.

My children have gotten spoiled. They don’t even want to eat the strawberries from the market that are conventionally grown somewhere far, far away. They know they don’t taste like strawberries, just the idea of strawberries. But they sure look pretty.

Same is true for other fruit. We shopped at Trader Joes today and I told my 9 year old he could “spend” $20 on the stuff he wanted. When we met up at the check-out, I was impressed with his choices of organic fruit and yogurt, and not at all surprised to see the rest of his loot come from the snack aisle.

“The organic raspberries were 60 cents more than the other kind!” he remarked. “Why would you buy the other kind?” He knows of what he speaks. The “other kind” taste like the memory of raspberries. On the drive home, we feasted, savoring the fresh sweet-tart taste of real raspberries and wishing that ours would ripen faster.

So, the next time you find yourself standing in the fruit aisle of the grocery store wondering if it’s really worth the extra 50 cents or more a pound – take it from my youngest child – why would anyone buy the “other kind”? If not for your health, than for your tastebuds. This is the only body you’ll be getting in this lifetime so take care what you put in it. Life is too short to eat chemically created strawberries!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Stop Junk Mail

What would happen if you accepted all those credit card offers that come in the mail on an almost daily basis? Might be an interesting experiment, but it could easily get out of hand. And what about the insurance offers? Refinancing your mortgage?

I’m assuming that these come-ons must work or companies wouldn’t keep mailing them out, right? It’s discouraging when you think of the sacrifice of paper, energy, and resources. Normally I tear the offers in two and throw one half in the recycling and one half in the trash. And then I worry that some creative thief will figure out my system and start pairing up my trash and recycling and steal my credit/identity/money. I’m sure no one’s this resourceful, no matter how desperate. My worries are simply a result of the paranoid mindset that overcomes you when you read far-fetched stories on Facebook.

Alas, I have solved this problem and don’t stress sorting the mail, what there is of it now that I no longer get all these lovely offers. How did I do it? is the official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website to accept and process requests from consumers to Opt-out or Opt-in of firm offers of credit and insurance.

It’s fairly simple to get your name off the books. You can choose to do so online and it’s good for five years, but you can also print out the forms and sign them, mail them back and have your name removed PERMANENTLY. Pretty cool, huh? I had no idea that one agency could control the mass of mailings that have littered my life.

I do remember passing by this site years ago, but I didn’t believe it would really stop all of the offers, so I never took the time to print out and mail in the request. About six weeks ago I finally did and walah! no more credit card offers! This has reduced our mail load significantly. Sorry for the USPS, I know they need the business.

I’ve mentioned it before, but if you’re tired of getting catalogs you don’t need/want/care about, you can put a stop to them also by removing your name through

I’m waiting for the day when we get zero mail. We’re getting closer. The only stuff we get now are bills, magazines, real letters, and mass mailings from local businesses. I figure the time it took to cancel catalogs through catalogchoice and send in my Opt out request is more than made up by the time I’m not spending circumventing identity thieves and recycling mass amounts of mail.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Seedling Season

It’s time to buy seedlings. I try to grow most of my seedlings from seed, but as I’ve written it’s been an especially trying year for me. So I’ll be heading out to nab a few baby plants for my garden in the next few weeks. I aim to plant tomatoes/peppers around Mother’s Day. I know some people plant much earlier, but I can’t deal with the late night panic when an unexpected frost descends. I’m fundamentally a lazy gardener and rounding up row covers is just too much work.

As you head out to pick your seedlings, here are a few tips:

  1. Look for the healthiest plant possible. Rich, green color and stocky stems are always a good sign. Avoid the plants with yellow leaves, this means they’ve been subjected to a dry spell or sub-par nutrients. You don’t want the tallest plant either, leggy plants might have been looking for more light or been hopped up on too much fertilizer.
  2. Avoid plants that have obvious insect or fungal damage – chewed on leaves, funny spots. You don’t want to bring home the blight!
  3. Don’t buy from places that have miniature plants – meaning you don’t want a teeny-tiny plant with big flowers or fruit already starting. It’s not natural for them to be flowering so soon and could mean they’ve been artificially induced to do this (to make them more attractive) or they’ve been stressed out by too little water and sent out their fruit early.
  4. Buy the largest plant you can – not by plant size, but by root size. The plants in the bigger pots most likely have bigger root development and won’t have as much ground to make up when you plug them in. Those six packs of bitty little peppers for a buck-fifty are cheap for a reason. They’ll be way behind your other plants and may never catch up.
 Plan to make your purchases when there is time to plant. I tend to buy on whim and have several containers of plants waiting to be planted sitting on my porch on any given week. That’s not a good way to operate. The sooner you get them in the ground, the better chance they have.

The best day to plant is a cloudy day, or at least in the evening to avoid shocking your babies with the bright, blistering sun. And be sure to water well for the first few weeks to help them establish themselves and sink their roots down deep so they can survive.

Dig a hole big enough to sink your seedling up to its neck. It should be a few inches deeper in the ground than it was in the pot. Even if you cover a few leaves, you’ll just be giving it stronger roots. If you pull your new plant out of it’s container and the roots are in a tight, tight knot, wiggle them loose, or even break off some if necessary, so that you can spread the roots out in the hole.

I like to work a little compost in to the soil in the bottom of my hole. This gives the new plant a little fertilizer to get it going. And when I inevitably forget to water it, it still has something to keep it going.

Be sure to mark your seedlings well. You may think you’ll remember what type of plant you put where, but you won’t. Trust me on this. It also keeps helpful children from pulling out your new plant in their efforts to help you weed. Have fun with labeling, too. You don’t have to write exactly what’s on the plant label. You can call the plants anything you want!

Buying seedlings always feels like cheating to me. But the new plants I bring home are typically more exotic and exciting than what I’ve got growing under my lights and that makes it fun. Every year I try to pick out something I’ve never grown before – eucalyptus, peanuts, and last year we planted a kiwi fruit (it survived the winter – imagine!). Happy shopping!