Category Archives: Gardening

Apricot and Permaculture

“Permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening”

– Mike Feingold

A couple months ago, I met a beautiful soul by the name of Hannah Apricot.  Yes. That is her real given and legal name.  She talked to me about Permaculture.  What is permaculture – you may be asking as I did?  From permaculturemag.org:

  1. ” Permaculture is an innovative framework for creating sustainable ways of living.
  2. It is a practical method of developing ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that can be used by anyone, anywhere.”

We talked about Hannah Apricot’s unique peripatetic lifestyle, several things good and a few things bad. When I was updating her on the Dark Act, she asked me if I would write an article about GMOs for Permaculture magazine.  I gladly accepted.

Please check out https://permaculturemag.org/ and click on GMO article in Permaculture Magazine to read the article!

 

Chocolate Treat

“Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.”

 – Chief Seattle, 1854 

Spring delights and surprises me at every turn.  I am awoken by birdsong, I hear the whirring buzz of hummingbirds, I see the bright fresh green of the new shoots.  We watch the blueberry blossoms, hoping for a plump sweet berry with every flower.  It was almost a year ago that I started to blog about the garden.  Since then, so many things have captivated me.  It’s been slow, the process of finding the plants, learning which ones to encourage, and which to eliminate.

For months, we have been scrutinizing the poster of Garry Oak Ecosystem plants and have coveted a chocolate lily.  Uncommonly rare, propagating one would take years – and luck.  Last weekend, I bought a seedling from Agnes, an expert in native plants.  She said it could be a couple of years until it flowered.  It might be more, according to my neighbour David.  It looks pretty puny even for a seedling and far from ‘adolescence”, let alone flowering (can you describe a wanna-be flower as adolescent?)  In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, here’s a visual:DSC_0752

Hence, I resigned myself to keep up the hunt at plant sales.  We had given up on this flower for this 2014 Spring.  However, yesterday, walking about the front yard, to my wandering eyes did appear…

chocolate lily

Chocolate Lily

This beautiful specimen was sitting unexpected in the front driveway between our property and that of our neighbor (whose mother gave him a chocolate lily bulb a few years. back).  Today, feeling so lucky for and grateful to my neighbors on both sides who don’t use pesticides and encourage native species, I changed lenses on my Nikon and rushed out  to capture the lily before it was trampled or munched on by a deer.  Then I buzzed about the garden (with the pollinators) and took pictures of some established and new native plant species we’re trying to encourage to proliferate.  I just had to share these pictures with you.  This is my first Spring post, reviving with the Earth’s energy, the Sun’s blessing, and Spring’s promise come true

trilliums sword ferns buddha

Trilliums behind the Buddha trilliumTrilliums up close, note the pink hue on the right.  The flowers turn pink then brown and then the petals completely shrivel and fall.  Probably as hard to grow and propagate as the chocolate lily, these graceful woodland plants have their seeds dispersed by ants, a process known as myrmecochory.

nodding onion bud detail Nodding onion, last year’s gift from our garden’s Godmother, Nancy Turner, Professor of Ethnobotany.  It not only lasted, but is hearty and has 4 buds.  They will emerge pink and will smell like… onion.maidenhair nice light Maidenhair ferns.  Like the other ferns in our garden, the fiddle heads come up so innocently.  Watching them emerge determinedly a inch every day brings happy confirmation that winter is indeed behind us and the sunny summer will saunter over in her own good time.

garry oak seedling growing on moss Garry Oak sapling emerging on the mossy rock.evergreen huckleberry Evergreen huckleberry.  Look forward to tasting the berries for the first time.arbutus seedling growth New growth on the arbutus we planted end of last summer.  Also known as Madrona.  We thought it was a goner, sadly noting the sorry looking leaves.  But about a month ago, we spotted a bud, gave thanks and whispered a prayer.  ant on strawberry This is a woodland strawberry flower.  I caught the ant on it and wondered if they pollinate the strawberries – in addition to bees?  I learned that the ants are important disperses of trilliums.  Several wasp species pollinate and some flies too!  DSC_0748 Blueberry expectation! (note the fence of split cedar- an new and important deer repellent for the backyard berries) deer fernsDeer ferns framed with the penny farthing’s big wheel.  Maybe someone can enlighten me… Is the penny or the farthing bigger?

garry oak seedling next to broom stub

To the left of this garry oak sapling is the stub of a scotch broom.  This species is highly invasive and I’m so glad that an oak is taking the place of an invasive and not the other way around.  I’m hoping that’s the trick to a thriving native plant garden: take out the invasives, encourage the natives and the pollinators will come.  They will then nest in their original habitat and help restore this unique and fragile ecosystem.  Oui?  DSC_0705Peaceful Buddha amidst the sword ferns.

It’s coming up to 9 pm and it’s still light.  The greens and yellows play tricks in this almost twilight.  The greens seem more yellow than green and it’s soon dark.  I know I will wake up at dawn to birdsong and then hope I’ll go right back to sleep, content that the garden is being pollinated, loved and cherished as a home to countless creatures. Buona notte!

Grandpa Rupert, war veteran

Rupert-20Soldier-20WWi

Here is a photo of Grandpa Rupert, just a teen, who enlisted to fight in WWI.  (Check out the KILT! ) I was told that he exaggerated his age to join up to fight for King and Country, eager lad that he was. He came back from Europe a broken man.  He barely survived the trenches of WWI, along with only a handful of soldiers from his regiment.  He never spoke about the war, except to say that “war is a terrible thing”.  Returning to Vancouver Island, Grandpa Rupert healed his wounds tilling the soil, growing berries.  I’ve discovered that more and more war veterans are turning to farming every day.

http://www.organicgardening.com/living/veteran-soldiers-become-novice-farmers

http://www.farmvetco.org/

You may recall the post I did on the OTA awards and the young Iraq Vet turned organic farmer who led us in the marine oath to be Semper Fidelis.  With staggeringly high suicide rates and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Syndrome, war veterans kill themselves at a rate of one per day.  That’s a conservative estimate.  And who can blame them; they have seen the worst of mankind, experienced the horrors or war.  Thinking about this yesterday I discovered a new  piece of Grandpa Rupert’s puzzle (he died when I was young).  I had hitherto only thought about him as an organic farmer and songwriter.  Now I think of him as a war veteran who healed himself through the Earth.  His songs of the Earth were inspired by a love of Mother Nature.

Grandpa Rupert farmed organically in the 1950s, when his peers were starting to use chemical inputs.  Grandpa used sawdust as a mulch, seaweed as a fertilizer, and extolled the lowly earthworm.  He always would leave the soil better than he found it.  Here is a link to one his songs I recorded http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnRo3kFQEFU.  I remember him this Remembrance Day.  I think of his journey, his redemption through the soil.  Through my own experience with gardening, I know that working the earth in harmony with her creatures heals the spirit and energizes the soul.

Let us all be semper fidelis to each other, to all creation from the earthworm to great ape. Let us wage not war on the earth but peace.  Let us grow food as an act of healing, of love. And let’s give peas a chance!

LA GMO Free

Is LA going to follow in BC’s Footsteps and declare itself GMO free?  Given that the urban vote was overwhelmingly for labelling, it is just a matter of time!  My brother Arjan, who is this morning teaching city kids about organic gardening has great faith in the urban gardening revolution.  LA councillors Koretz and O’Farrell are presenting a motion to LA council this morning.  They are also giving a press conference beforehand.  Speakers include Nisha Vida, whom I met in LA last month. (See post: GMO OMG LA Premiere.) Please click on the link below to know more about LA GMO Free and read the press release.

LA GMO Free

I’m so excited about this!  This is hot on the heels of Washington’s impending vote to label GMOs (Vote YES on 522) and the encouraging news from Kauai and Hawaii whose councils have voted just this week to restrict and declare pesticide use in GMO production.  Mahalo to Hawaii.  I see the positive vibes travel through the waters, waves and droplets.  They carry hope and tropical sunshine.  They carry the gentle Hawaii breeze, the thunderous force of 100 foot waves, the hopes and dreams of a better world.

Dag Falck, the Expert, Replies

As the saying goes, let other people advise but never let them decide for you.

Yesterday, while gathering signatures for the GE FREE BC Petition, I met a working scientist with 3 biology degrees including a PhD, who only bought organic local food and was carrying his precious sleeping baby in a baby bjorn.  Guess what?  He was reluctant to sign the petition.  He knows the data about fertilizers creating a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the data about glyphosate toxins in fetal blood, the poisoning of water by atrazine, the death of bees by GMOs since the seeds are coated in neonictinoid pesticides.  He knows that and accepts that but was still unwilling to sign.  The GMOs we accept and grow right now in N. America – not the theory of them, not the hope of them, not the promise of them – are terribly catastrophically wrong for our planet, bees, health and society.    This scientist holding his baby said that he was holding out for the possibility that GE technology was in theory helpful (for Africans, Asians, for a remote possibility that they would solve future problems).  Again, we said that GMOS that are grown right now were not solving anything especially given that over the long-run organic yields are higher that GMOs!  He hummed and hawed.

But Victory!  After a 10 minute debate – we convinced him to sign.  It was the hardest-earned signature from yesterday!

I wanted to formally address Amy’s reply from yesterday.  Not only Amy brought this up but several others too – Amy is a political scientist.  She asked important questions that were also asked by thinkers and scholars, University Professors who are using their powerful logic and splendid gifts of deduction to understand GMOs (as they are currently grown in N.America for N. Americans).  I asked Dag Falk, Organic programs manager at Nature’s Path if he would respond to questions several of you asked me following the film screening about Organic.  He has spent his entire life advocating for organic methods. He answers Amy’s questions point by point.

Dag Falck, Organic Programs Manager, Nature's Path Foods

Dag Falck, Organic Programs Manager, Nature’s Path Foods

do you know for sure that certified organic does not include GMO? What about GMOs in grain that found its way into the food chain — feed that is given to cows/pigs/chickens?

What we know for sure is that Organic does not contain any GMO that was knowingly allowed to enter the product either through growing or handling.  Unfortunately we live in a polluted world where these pollutants in the last 17 years have started to include GMOs.  Imagine whale fat containing DDT which was banned in most developed countries decades ago?  So there is no safe place, there is no way to build a wall tall enough, As Arran Stephens said many years ago, “there is no wall tall enough to keep out GMO”.  We are all very sad that this is the case, and after we grieve for this most terrible and unforgivable fact, we need to shake our heads and take a hard look around and ask ourselves, what is the best protection I can give myself and my family from GMOs?  And the answer is that certified organic food, and food with credible standards and oversight like the Non GMO Project, are the best ways to do that.  Is it perfect? — no, but it’s the best there is, and let me tell you exactly how much better it is than conventional non organic food, or food where no effort has gone into protecting it.  Organic food production has strict rules about not using prohibited materials like pesticides, herbicides GMOs etc. ect.  Buffers are required towards any neighboring crop that uses any of these.  Harvesting equipment, silos, trucks etc used to handle crops must be either used exclusively for organic, or it must be cleaned and documented according to a very high standard.

Can contamination still happen?  Yes it can, and there is pesticides in millions of public wells in America, groundwater is polluted many places, rainwater contains industrial particles that fall out in rain.  It just simply cannot be avoided 100%, even if we really really want to.  But what organic does do is two things: A) it does not add any more to the pollution, because its forbidden to use any of the materials that pollute like pesticides, herbicides, GMO’s etc.  B) the contamination of organic products is miniscule compared to conventional crops.  Consider potatoes, sprayed routinely 12 times between planting and harvest, consider GMO corn or soy that is “stacked” and contain both BT toxin (a pesticide) in each cell of the plant including the corn and soy we eat, and Round Up Ready®, which means that every cell of the plant including what we eat is impervious to the pesticide Round Up ® or Glyphosate.  And it’s not just a little bit, it’s 100% present in entire fields- as a matter of fact it’s in 100% of over 80% of all cotton, corn, soy, canola and sugarbeet that is grown in North America.

If you’re not paying attention, it’s a foregone conclusion that each and every meal you eat contains large portions of 100% GMO ingredients.  The EU, and the Non GMO Project agrees on a threshold of 0.9% GMO contamination.  Anything above that is not allowed.  Organic foods don’t have the threshold, but attain a similar level through all the practices mentioned above.  It’s actually pretty good that we can limit our exposure by 99.1% just by choosing organic.

But I agree, it’s a crime and a terribly sad world to live in where there is no way to escape even this.  That’s why (besides eating organic) that I’m doing everything I can to set this straight,.

On a practical point, organic standards prohibit feeding animals anything that is GMO, so the only thing that could get into an animal feed would be unwanted contamination at the low levels mentioned.

 How can organic farmers be sure the food scraps they feed their chickens and the like are GMO free? 

Organic standards do not allow food scraps or anything else to be fed to certified organic animals unless it can be demonstrated and documented that the feed is not GMO.  So for instance a bakery could not have their waste used by an organic farmer as feed if the bakery used non certified organic corn soy or Canola oil at all.

How about GMO contaminated soil (from household composing) in which otherwise perfectly organic tomatoes would be grown in peoples backyards?

Organic standards do not allow composting of GMO substrates, and neither should any backyard gardener who is concerned about organic and non GMO.

It’s difficult to fight back, and to do everything to protect ourselves from GMO and pesticide pollution, but it is possible to make a huge difference, and one of the easiest ways is to support organic agriculture, the only system with a strict standard, an annual third party inspection, and a serious fine for fraud (people are in jail right now for breaking the organic rules).  Also this is a repeatable system than anyone can learn, and it leaves the soil more fertile after use than before.

Sometimes it’s tempting to complain about that which we love the most, because we are so disappointed that it’s not perfect.  Think of how much we often expect of our spouses, or children.  They already are the most beautiful creatures to us, but when they slip up (in our eyes) even a little bit, we can’t help but notice, and heaven forbid we sometimes open our mouth and say something….  (don’t try this at home…)

It’s precisely because we love them, and we want them to be perfect to help us feel like we are protected by them also, that we hold them to such a high standard.  A stranger walking down the street, we don’t have very high standards for at all.

Let’s curb our tongues with our loved ones when we get disappointed or scared when we feel that they fall an ¼ inch below our standard, and lets curb our tongues when we want to cry that even organic isn’t able to protect us 100.0%.  We all know what the right thing to do is; support your loved ones, share your love for them, with them, and they will become more of what you love.  Support organic, it will do more to save  the world than any other single thing you could possibly do.  And love an organic farmer!

Organically,

Dag Falck

LA’s Seed Freedom Fest


“The growing of our food should be an act of love.”

– Dr. Vandana Shiva

In 2012, 6 million Californians voted to label GMOs.  Although Proposition 37 didn’t turn to law by the narrowest of margins, the momentum isn’t dying.  It is growing by leaps and bounds.  As people become aware of just how wrong GMOs are, they can’t ignore what they’ve learned.  You can try to ignore the environmental, social and health consequences of a system.  You can try but it’s like closing your eyes during a scary movie. You can even close your ears but you can’t ignore the thumping of your heart.

1011645_416970361748746_1384341771_n-403x200

Yesterday was LA’s Seed Freedom Fest, rated one of the top 10 events in LA.  It was a celebration of the seeds of life, of biodiversity and of the way things ought to be in our agricultural production.  It’s the way things could be if we demanded it. Who wants to eat chemical pesticide and herbicide residues on their food? Who wants to eat food that is spliced with a pesticide?  Food that actually is a pesticide?  Logic and now science are showing that the original ideas behind GMOs are so drastically wrong. Everyone says, “I’d buy organic if it weren’t so expensive.”

veg land label

It’s expensive because our governments subsidize GMO agriculture, not organic agriculture.  Then they make Organic Farmers pay to be certified.  We must demand that our governments do the opposite: subsidize organic farms and make the GMO proponents prove that their food is safe for public consumption.

You and I are the voice.  Change comes when people ask for it, stand up for it and don’t back down.  Be the change.

Purple Potatoes

It was like digging for treasure. Squeals and squeaks rang in our ears as our daughters found yet another potato buried in the ground. Lying there in dusty violette splendour, waiting eagerly to have little fingers grasp it. Mother Nature’s Bounty. As we harvested our first modest crop of purple heirloom potatoes, I thought of Dag Falck.

20130802-130548.jpg

Originally from Norway, Dag studied agriculture and was taken aback by the ‘modern’ methods back in the 1970s.  Being interested in growing healthy food and protecting the land for future food production he was surprised and disappointed when professors taught him to use this ‘great new’ method for potato harvesting. Instead of a two week wait while the greens decomposed, Dag was taught to spray a chemical over the field. The greens would decompose overnight, saving the farmers some toil and time.

Dag Falck, Organic Programs Manager, Nature's Path Foods

Dag Falck, Organic Programs Manager, Nature’s Path Foods

‘But that was a toxin!’ Dag said still indignant after all these years. ‘To save two weeks they put a toxin onto the soil. Then to make things even worse, they used that same soil over again to grow more crops’. The agricultural scientists had it all wrong, backwards, inside-out, and upside down. Following his conscience, Dag eschewed these modern methods to follow an organic calling. And that was before GMOs.

Today we have evolved this system of “desiccation” (which is the “professional term for killing a whole field of something”), and today this method of spraying chemical herbicides on crops while they are ripening is practised all over North American conventionally farmed grain land.  When you see pictures on calendars etc, or drive on the prairies, you will have noticed tire  tracks in the fields of almost ripe grains.  These tracks are the evidence of sprayers driving through the fields only a few weeks before harvest to spray the toxic desiccants in order to “dry” the grains faster, so that the whole field will “ripen” evenly.

Dag post

Photo by Eloise Radziwill http://eloiseradziwillphotography.com/

Sarcastically Dag informs me that of course our government has assured us that these chemicals applied only weeks before harvest are completely safe as they are gone or so minuscule that they will do no harm to our health when we eat grains in cereals, breads or pastas.  Humm, I don’t know, who should we believe?

We have a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico from agricultural toxic spill-off. We have atrazine poisoning the waters that we drink. Atrazine is banned in Europe because it causes developmental defects.  Our bees are dying. The worst of it and the best of it is that none of it is necessary to feed the world. Dag will patiently, logically explain to you with results and hard data, that organic agriculture results in equal or higher yields than GMO agriculture which depend on perfect conditions to grow. Each independent study after other confirms it. There is no need for synthetic chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides.

We have the answer. We have the solution.