The promise of spring is a gift; a gift that instills hope into all of us. March is our gateway month when garden plans are laid down and seeds planted indoors. This month we celebrate heirloom seeds and organic gardening. We are showcasing some of the devoted folks who give us those rare, yet hardy heirloom seeds so that we may harvest vegetables that contain the flavor and nutrient content of plants that have survived and flourished over the long haul. The designation “organic” has largely become a legal term. To qualify as a “certified organic” farm, gardeners must present a ream of paperwork over a three year period. It can be a daunting proposition. But for those of us who are not operating a business but want the best that nature has to offer, there are many inventive methods for “organic” gardening.
Is organic gardening or farming really that much better than non organic? Let’s examine some of the data to help us make our decision. A good place to begin is to read Our Stolen Future, published back in 1996,a book that presents an astonishing story of just how toxic our environment has become, particularly in terms of the impact of hormone disrupters and implications for future generations. You can find information on the website : www.environmentalhealthnews.org and www.ourstolenfuture.org. Unfortunately, the battle continues today as the FDA refuses to ban bisphenol A (BPA), a compound found in polycarbonate plastics and the lining of food cans. When it comes to farming, exposure to pesticides is a grave concern. Organic farmers must comply with regulations to avoid the use of such contaminants. Some novel methods for insect control are simple yet effective. A spray bottle of water mixed with hot green chile juice or cayenne pepper can do the trick. Some insects like tomato worms can be picked off by hand although such a task would not be welcomed by all.
When I interviewed Julie, owner of Annies HeirloomSeeds.com, it would be hard to walk away without becoming a believer in the goodness of heirloom seeds. Julie told a story from about 5 years ago when a tomato blight decimated the tomato crop in Michigan. Among the hybrids she had planted, there were some heirloom plants sprinkled throughout. Although the heirlooms eventually succumbed, they survived long enough to produce a crop of cherry tomatoes, holding out a good three weeks longer than the hybrids. Friends and neighbors couldn’t believe it as most of the state lost its tomato crop that season. Heirlooms have survived for many years, at least fifty or more, and over the course of their propagations the plants have fought off a variety of insects and blights, only to become stronger and more resistant to disease. In addition, heirlooms contain more sugar than hybrids and with the sugar, greater nutrient content. Julie and Scott’s farm is on an island in Lake Michigan and there are benefits to being off the grid, so to speak. “We don’t have to worry about our neighbor’s corn field cross pollinating with ours.” The goal is to continue to produce the pure genetic characteristics of the heirloom seeds.
Annie’s offers a variety of different seed packages for every type of gardener. If you have never gardened before, do not despair. Even if you live in New York City, you could have a window or rooftop container garden that would prosper. Here are a few of the collections available for purchase: Beginner’s Garden Collection, Southern Homestead, Northern Homestead, Master Homestead Garden, Asian Garden Collection, Summer in Italy Garden Collection and Mexican Salsa Garden Collection, just to name a few. Depending on what part of the country you live in, advice from a professional about preparation of the soil would be a good idea. Here in New Mexico, we have heavy clay soil in the green belt and sandy soils on the mesas. Last year I used a product from Back to the Earth called Cottonburr Blend, a natural compost soil builder designed to loosen clay soils and increase moisture retention. It worked well in my area which is about a mile from the Rio Grande River. Along with basic soil preparation, don’t forget the fertilizer. I use a 2-1-1 premium all purpose fertilizer called “Yumyum Mix” by Soil Mender Products out of Tulia, TX. I was pleased with the results and will use it again this year.
Another great way to begin gardening is to have a small culinary herb garden as close to the kitchen as possible. Last summer I had an amazing basil plant that grew to about two feet tall and was beautifully bushy and pleasing to the eye. A few snips with a pair of scissors before dinner added an incredible flavor to many summer dishes. Annie’s offers a basic culinary herb collection as well as a gourmet culinary herb collection. Herbs are not just pretty and tasty. Thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano and cayenne are all excellent detoxifiers in the body. Julie has graciously allowed me to present her recipe for pesto sauce, a wonderful unique sauce with that wonderful basil aroma, perfect for pastas and fish. This is an interesting variation on the classical Italian recipe. Julie uses sunflower seeds and arugula but encourages her customers to “think outside the box” and experiment with different herbs and nuts or seeds.
Sunflower seed, basil and arugula pesto sauce:
2 cloves garlic
½ cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup packed fresh arugula
¾ tsp. sea salt
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup sunflower seeds
“In a food processor, mince the garlic with the basil, arugula and salt. With the machine on, add the olive oil in a thin stream and continue processing until well blended. Add the sunflower seeds and process until the seeds are finely chopped. Serve over pasta, or as we love it, over fish. Local Michigan Lake Trout is our favorite, but salmon would be excellent as well,"
Courtesy of Annie’s Heirloom Seeds. You can order a seed catalog at www.anniesheirloomseeds.com or call 1-800-313-9140. For those who can’t plant a garden this season for whatever reason, please support your local growers. With your zip code, you can find them at www.localharvest.org and sign up for their newsletter.