Courts rule organic farmers can sue over contamination by pesticides and herbicides

Exciting news from Minnesota!  Last Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that damaging chemicals that cross property lines constitute trespassing.  The Star Tribune reports on it here.  This is great news, meaning that organic farmers can sue if negligent conventional and GMO farmers contaminate and thus destroy their organic crops via drifting clouds of pesticides and herbicides and possibly even GMO pollen or seed.

This follows a few months after California’s Sixth Appellate District Court ruled in December that Jacobs Farm/Del Cobo could sue a neighboring farm whose pesticides drifted over and covered an organic dill crop, making it unsalable.  Read the story here.

It will be interesting to see how these rulings affects the case against Monsanto that we’re a part of as it goes forward.  Stay tuned…

Fall & Winter Garden Planning

Useful References from SESE: Our Fall & Winter Quick Guide lists specific varieties best suited to growing in the cooler months.  We also have on our website the Simple Winter Gardening Guide from Brett Grohsgal of Even’ Star Organic Farm and the Fall & Winter Gardening Guide by our own Ken Bezilla.

Collard Rows

If you thought it was time to sit back and enjoy the harvest, think again! Growing fall and winter crops means getting out now to get your plants started.

August and early September is the ideal time to start beets, kale, Chinese cabbage, daikons, collards, rutabaga, turnips, and mustard greens. You can also continue to sow carrot, lettuce, cilantro, arugula, and radish successions. We’ll sow spinach in mid-September, when cooler soil temperatures make germination easier. Bush snap beans can be started now, but you may need to protect them from October frosts (we use row cover) to get much of a harvest. It’s too late for all but those in the Deep South or with extended frost-free falls to sow cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

While it may feel too early – and too hot – to be planning for the winter table, the rapid loss of sunshine in fall means we have to give these crops an early start.  Remember, we had our strongest sun already at the solstice in June – fall may feel warm, but it lacks the light intensity of summer.

Hot temperatures are great for quick growth, but some of the best fall crops are difficult to germinate in warm soils.  Young, shallow-rooted plants are also more vulnerable to drying out than older crops with deeper, more established root systems.  Remember to water frequently – germinating seeds may require watering twice daily, or more.

Red Sails Lettuce

One trick we use is to start kale, collards, and other transplant crops in closely spaced nursery rows in beds with some afternoon shade. We also like to use beds that are shaded by tomatoes and pole beans – plants that will be gone in a few months, just when we start needing all the light we can get on our fall crops.

For over-wintering crops, shade from nearby deciduous trees helps keep seedlings moist, and in the winter and early spring the same beds will get plenty of light.

It may be a struggle to get seeds to germinate in summer heat.  Be patient!  Wait for the break in the hot weather – it’ll come soon, we promise.  And remember there are some benefits – even the weeds are struggling to come up!

Lettuce, spinach and cilantro need cool temperatures to germinate. Start them indoors – or in the refrigerator! Pam Dawling at Twin Oaks sows nursery rows of lettuce on summer evenings outdoors under shade cloth, waters well and covers with an inch or so of crushed ice.

Seed Office Warehouse: Building With Salvaged Materials

This is part of a series of blogs about the building of a new seed office headquarters for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE).

You couldn’t tell at a glance, but beneath a labyrinth of woody vines and bushes, piles of large structural steel units lay, slowly sinking into the earth. Here they slept in their coma of non-use, the occasional rodent family or insect colony the most prominent sign of life around them.

At one point in the history of Acorn, the intentional community that SESE calls home, previous members worked in demolition, with the perk of being able to take home any building materials that they wanted.   During this time, they encountered some notable finds, namely enough steel columns, beams, girts, and purlins to comprise the major structural components of a steel building.

This was over a decade ago.  Every so often, Acorn members would prod at the pile, rediscovering the find for themselves and entertaining grand notions of reassembling them into a useful structure.  In one such instance, the urge to do so was particularly tenacious; with the unfurling plan to build SESE a seed office headquarters, an adjacent warehouse would further advance our long-term goal of centralizing all of SESE’s functions into one area.  Prompted by this latent possibility, member Paul decided to ask a local steel building expert to look at the piles and advise us accordingly.

It was confirmed that we had enough trusses to put up a building, but that our components were a Frankensteinian compilation of two or three dissimilar buildings, and that at least some of the parts of the building had already been once salvaged and pieced together, further obscuring its configuration.   We were advised that working with a salvaged building, especially if we were trying to do it ourselves, would likely be much more complicated and frustrating than we could foresee.

The cost of buying materials for a stick-frame barn was within our means, and it would be much easier to assemble.  However, in line with our general values, the practice of just buying something new in the name of convenience, with the accompanying high embodied energy and heavy environmental impacts, made us cringe.  We figured if anyone was in a situation that favored reusing resources at hand, it was us—we have both the values to compel us and the labor to make it happen.  Although reusing salvaged materials such as giant steel beams is less of a trademark to the sustainable building movement than that of sinuous earthen structures or living roofs, we reasoned that insofar as sustainability is concerned, little can beat building with a pile of slowly rusting materials in your backyard.

Hence the challenge was born.  Stay posted for details about the first step of the building process: the foundation.

 

Saving the Past for the Future