Steps Forward in the Fight Against GMOs

May was a great month in the battle for freedom from GMOs.

Vermont is on track  to be the first state to require GMO labeling!

The law was signed on May 8th by Governer Shumlin, and takes effect July 1st, 2016.  As Shumlin said, “we believe we have a right to know what’s in the food we buy.”  Connecticut and Maine have laws which will go into effect if neighboring states start requiring GMO labeling.  However, Vermont is almost guaranteed to face a lawsuit, and has launched the Vermont Food Fight Fund to help cover the lawsuit costs as well as administer the law.  Vermont has also set up a survey about how the bill should be enacted.  Numerous other states have also introduced proposals to require GMO labeling, and there has been recent progress in New York and Massachusetts as well as a defeat in California.

Large agribusiness and food industry corporations, including Monsanto, are expected to craft the lawsuit against Vermont, claiming, among other things, that the law violates Monsanto’s freedom of speech.

Two Oregon counties have banned GMO crops!

Jackson and Josephine counties in Oregon both passed measures banning GMO crops and calling for harvesting or destruction of all GMO crops within a year – despite $1 million being spent by Biotech giants such as Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta.  Oregon has passed a law preventing local governments from regulating seed; Jackson’s measure was exempt because it was already pending; we’ll have to wait and see whether Josephine’s measure is enforced.

Steve Florin, one of our Josephine County seed growers, gave us the news that the Oregon measures had passed.

The long, predictable dry season in much of Oregon, including Jackson and Josephine counties, makes them very well-suited to growing a wide variety of seed crops with seeds that mature dry.  We have four seed growers in Josephine County.  These measures reduce the risk of GMO contamination of seed crops such as beets, kale, mustard, and turnips, all of which are capable of cross-pollination with nearby GMO crops.  We at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange want to sell only pure, uncontaminated, non-GMO seed, and these measures help us do that.

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Planning and Planting for an Abundant Fall and Winter Harvest

article by Ira Wallace, with Lisa Dermer, photo by Irena Hollowell

Who wouldn’t want a fall garden abundantly producing cabbages, broccoli, carrots, turnips, parsnips, radishes, bok choi, Brussels sprouts, a wide variety of greens, and even peas? The trick to growing a cool season garden, and setting up the fall garden to continue through winter, is planning and preparation.

Check your understanding of cool-season. When grown for fall, many “cool-season” plants actually need to be sown and transplanted in high summer heat, and some as early as June.

Make room! We start our winter crops in August and September, and those plantings will need to supply us through February! We need lots of space for these plantings, so planning ahead is critical.

Below are our tips for getting the most out of your fall garden.

Choosing the Best Fall Crops for Your Garden

Look for storage varieties: these varieties have been bred to be grown in the fall and harvested for winter storage, or left in the ground to be harvested during thaws. Storage tomatoes can be harvested green to ripen slowly wrapped in newspaper in cardboard boxes; storage beets and radishes grow very large and keep well in the ground or root cellar.

Of course, be sure to choose the crops that you and your family enjoy and that are well-suited to your climate!

Calculating Time to Plant or Sow

Calculate back from your average first fall frost date to determine when to plant fall crops. Add 14 days to the listed days to maturity for your variety to account for the “fall effect” of shortening days and cooler temperatures. For plants with a long harvest period, like a broccoli that will make side shoots for 3 weeks after the central crown is gone, add that time in as well. (This may be as long as a month or more.) Add an additional 14 to 28 days if you will be starting transplants from seed, to account for transplant shock and setback.

For us, this means sowing most broccoli and cabbage in late June, with a second sowing 2 weeks later and often a third that we plan to keep growing under row cover until Thanksgiving or later if the weather is with us.

Sowing seedlings in pots or flats for transplanting out later lets you start your fall garden before space is available in your outdoor garden. Use benches or tables high enough off the ground (at least 3 feet) to deter flea beetles or use an enclosed shade structure.

We sow our fall crops in outdoor seedling beds well-supplied with compost in a location shaded from the harsh afternoon sun. The north side of a stand of corn, caged tomatoes or pole bean trellis makes an excellent choice. Outdoor seedling beds should be covered with thin spun polyester row cover or the newer Protek net row cover to guard against flea beetles and other insects. Summer broccoli and cabbage seedlings are ready to transplant in 4 weeks during the summer. Lettuce and Oriental greens in 2-3 weeks.

Making Space in your Summer Garden

Come summer, it can be tempting to fill every inch of the garden with summer tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, and more. But even the most densely planted garden will still afford room to plant fall crops. Summer lettuce, green beans, radishes, greens, and root vegetables all yield space by late summer for the fall garden. Beds that were once filled with spring cool-season crops, like peas and fava beans, often rotate best into fall cool-season crops (if they’re not used for late summer successions). Plan for summer cover crops to be ready to turn under in time for fall crops.

When will each spring and early summer crop be finished harvest? You can calculate using the listed days to maturity, but we find that a mid-point check allows us to adjust for weather, later-than-planned planting, early bolting, or unexpectedly extended harvests.

Preparing the Ground for Fall Crops

Caring for the soil is even more important when growing 2 or 3 crops a year in the same area. Generously add compost and any other needed amendments before planting your fall crops. Keep plants growing fast and reduce risk of disease by providing regular and adequate moisture (at least 1 inch each week).

Season Extension

If you’ll be planting in cold frames, under row cover, or in a greenhouse, you can adjust your average last frost date backwards by two weeks or longer when calculating when to plant fall crops.

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Fermenting Vegetables

Lacto-fermentation is one of the safest methods of food preservation.  You don’t need a starter culture. It requires no electricity, though once created lacto-fermented products are best refrigerated. When you have a surplus of a particular vegetable from your garden, lacto-fermentation is an easy way to make use of it, the result being a delicious, probiotic, healthy condiment.  You can also ferment different vegetables together.  The basic idea is to submerge veggies in brine (saltwater with your choice of herbs and spices), and let it sit at room temperature for some time (from a couple days to a few months) until it reaches the degree of fermentation you prefer.

Ira mixes ingredients for kim chi

Sauerkraut and kimchi are some of the better known vegetable ferments.  Both of these are most often made in the fall, but can also be made in late spring.  And you can ferment your summer vegetables, too.  In our area, there’s still time to plant lots of these summer veggies, like cucumbers, summer squash, okra, and snap beans.  Vegetables can be fermented whole, in slices, or in chunks.  The size of pieces is up to you, as is the size of container.  Last year I did a post about fermented green tomato “olives.”A few simple guidelines keep harmful microorganisms from growing in these ferments, and help beneficial microorganisms to grow there.

  1. Use raw veggies.  They have microbes and enzymes that help the process get started.  Cooking destroys the enzymes and kills the good microbes as well as the bad.
  2. Use salt.  It is possible to ferment vegetables without salt, but much easier with salt.  Salt kills many kinds of harmful microbes, but it lets lactobacilli and some other beneficial microbes grow.  The amount of salt depends largely on your taste.  Three tablespoons of salt per five pounds of veggies is one good ratio to try out.  We use sea salt in our ferments.
  3. Non-chlorinated water is best.  Chlorine kills good microbes along with bad ones. If your water is chlorinated – and especially if it’s heavily chlorinated – it’s a good idea to let it sit out overnight before using it in a vegetable ferment.  Or, bring it to a boil and let it cool.  Either of these methods will remove the chlorine from the water.
  4. Metal containers are not recommended.  Glass, ceramic, and food-grade plastic are all fine.
  5. Keep the veggies submerged.  A plate or a food-grade plastic bag full of water can be used to weigh the veggies down so they stay underwater.
  6. Keep flies out, while also letting gasses out.  We do this by fastening a cloth tightly over the top of the container.  Some people use airlocks – which let gasses out but not in – instead of cloth.  Microbes respire, and completely airtight containers can build up too much pressure.
  7. The warmer the temperature, the faster the ferment.  As it progresses, it gets stronger and more sour.  Taste your ferments regularly to see if they’ve reached the stage you think you’ll like the most.  Then, you can put them in the fridge to essentially stop the process.  (It will still progress very slowly.)
  8. If anything visibly grows on the top, skim off what you can.  You don’t have to get every last bit.  If you push any veggies that made contact with it under the surface, that helps ensure that any microorganisms unable to tolerate saltwater will die.  Some ferments, including fermented cucumber pickles, should be skimmed regularly.
  9. If it tastes bad, don’t eat it.  If you’ve followed all the above guidelines, this should be very rare.  I can’t recall a fermented vegetable that tasted bad, but if I had made one, I would throw it out.  (I will note, however, that my appreciation of fermented vegetables has grown with time.) Our bodies know a lot about what is good for them.

Fermenting mixed hot and spice peppers - from bottom to top, Chinese Five-Color, Aji Dulce, Fish, Trinidad, and a Thai Bird pepper we trialled.

Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation, also created the Wild Fermentation website which includes a vegetable ferment support forum.  If you have something you want to ferment and you’re looking for more information about how to do it, the Wild Fermentation forums are a great place to look.  The same is true if you’re fermenting something and aren’t sure if it’s going fine or not.

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