Tag Archives: Organic Gardening

World View From a Sweet Potato

sweet potato


I’m a fan of Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times op ed columnist. I like his insights into human rights issues. He writes with the authority of one who has lived in the field and he does so with courage, caution, a straight-forward style and usually with a sense of urgency.

Kristof has been called “the moral conscience of our generation of journalists.” Bill Clinton said in 2009, “There is no one in journalism, anywhere in the United States at least, who has done anything like the work he has done to figure out how poor people are actually living around the world, and what their potential is….So every American citizen who cares about this should be profoundly grateful that someone in our press establishment cares enough about this to haul himself all around the world to figure out what’s going on…”

Somehow I missed his Thanksgiving column last year. I came across it two weeks ago while doing some research on, of all things, the sweet potato. Kristof begins by promising “a happy column about hunger” and concludes with a solution to starvation in Africa based on the sweet potato. It is the middle of Bless the Orange Sweet Potato that nearly made me choke on my organic coffee.

Although Kristof says that “there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical,” his solution is biofortification, including genetic engineering that will create such products as “golden rice” using genetic material from daffodils and corn. Kristof’s skepticism seems to come more from his impatience with the resistance he’s seen in Europe to “scientific tinkering with crops” than concerns about the possible catastrophic results from the “new seeds.”

I don’t really know the biology behind any of this well enough to counter the urgency in Kristof’s writing. He offers a bright picture in a bleak world if he and Monsanto are correct. He says, “These new seeds may finally help end the scourge of starvation in this century, on our watch.” Others feel that this same urgency may lead to irrevocable genetic damage, also done on our watch.

As I plant my sweet potato slips this spring I’ll have a vivid reminder of this issue. Do I blindly continue hostility towards genetic engineering only to “make it harder to save children from blindness and death?” It’s difficult to argue with Kristof’s heart. I just hope science doesn’t betray him and all of us. -Bill

Posted in nutrition, seeds, sweet potatoes, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , |

Tomato Blight is Here!

Is this tomato blight?


There is a disturbing article out of Rodale, the publishers of Organic Gardening, that tomato blight has been confirmed in several states. For tomato growers, both farmers and home gardeners, this is no small thing. This is the same disease that caused the mid-19th century Irish potato famine.

I suggest that you read Rodale’s article and do exactly what they say if you find symptoms of tomato blight in your own garden.

I am not sure that the photos taken in my garden this afternoon pictured here show evidence of tomato blight. I will research it further. In the mean time you might want to take a look at the Rodale article and then take a look at your tomato plants.

An Update Today…
I’ve come across a pretty good video for those wishing to identify late blight. This piece filmed last year for the University of Wisconsin – Madison is helpful in not only the description of late blight but also has information as to how to destroy the plants. Not all options given are organic but information for organic growers is offered. -Bill

Is this tomato blight?

Posted in history, plant diseases, tomatoes Also tagged , , |

Planting Time?

Planting time can sneak up on you. If you simply look out the window and wait until you see robins pulling up worms and see some daffodils to plant your garden you can miss a lot of the fun – and cost savings – of planting inside.

It’s not at all early to begin planting, depending on where you are and what you are planting. Indoor planting can begin right now for things like peppers which are slow to get started. Tomatoes could be planted at the same time but usually a little later. I like to plant some marigolds so they’re almost ready to bloom when I put them in the ground.

I’ve come upon a pretty handy and quite reliable source that serves as a good reminder of what to plant when. This is the 2010 Best Planting Dates for Seeds from the Old Farmer’s Almanac. All you need to do is to fill in your town or zip code and information based on average last frost date is there for most things you might wish to plant. There is even a separate date listed as “Moon-favorable Dates.” Having lived on the ocean I am aware of the power of the moon to change tides so I guess it could have some effect on plants. I haven’t paid much attention to this myself.

So what are you planting? Just shoot me a comment (below) and let me know. Should I experiment with comparing “Moon-favorable Dates” plantings with regular dates?
Just a little update on this post…
“Pogo,” one of the knowledgeable people on the Organic Gardening forum reacted wisely to my mention of the Best Planting Dates for Seeds information. She said, “…All these predictors are based on probability. Generally it isn’t a date, but a range with a certain probability of freezing or not. I like this map (from NOAA) because it gives the probability of both frost (32) and freeze (28). How far you push the dates just depends on how much risk you want to take.”

Even in a very small area that date can be different depending on if you are on the north side of a mountain or the south side; if you are right on the shore or on a nearby rise overlooking that same spot. The date for a valley can be different than the date for the adjoining two rises.

Your own records for YOUR location are the best yet not perfect when it comes to determining the date of the last frost for you.


Posted in experiments, planting, seeds, tomatoes, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , |

We Begin…


We’ll see how this gardening thing goes but it’s starting out a little shaky. This is being written on an early April day that began with several inches of snow on the ground. That’s rude, even for the Chicago area. My ancient, falling-down greenhouse has now been further assaulted by the weather.

The greenhouse was here along with several other out buildings when we bought our 19th –century farmhouse about twenty years ago. We bought it because, for a suburban lot, the yard was large enough for our five children to enjoy. It also had a building that we could convert to a photo studio.

our falling-down greenhouse

our falling-down greenhouse

I am actually not completely new to gardening. When my wife and I were first married we coaxed a tremendous amount of vegetables from a 4×30 – foot plot. As children were born and the photography business grew we found neither the time nor the energy to garden. I dropped my subscription to Organic Gardening and Farming and eventually Burpee gave up on us and stopped sending seed catalogs.

With our children mostly grown and my photo business less demanding of my time I have returned to gardening. I dusted off the four 1970’s – era Organic Gardening & Farming issues that survived moves from Illinois to Maine and back again and am determined to pick up where we left off decades ago.

It’s worth noting that the economy has determined one aspect of how we are going to approach this year’s garden. I will not buy something if I can make it or make do with something I already have. It seems foolish to become a gardener that essentially pays $ 12 per pound for the privilege of growing fresh tomatoes. Organic gardening methods not only restore the soil but also save money. So, to the best of my ability and knowledge we will maintain an organic – and cheap – garden.

Along the way I plan to visit my neighbors and their gardens. I’ll report on any good stuff that I learn. I hope I can report on the results of some gardening experiments. I already have had some missteps that, if I am not too embarrassed, I will write about. I’ll use my camera to help tell the story of progress, setbacks, revelations, disasters and ideas.

Mostly I’d like to hear from anyone that may come across this. New gardening ideas, thoughts, comments, and stories are all welcome.

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