Which Foods are GMOs, Anyway?

by Sandy Swegel

We read a lot about GMO foods, but a recent reader question made me think about how little I know about which foods are genetically modified when I go shopping. I know I can avoid GMOs by eating only organic foods, but once I stray from the organic aisle, I’m going to run into the approximately 30,000 genetically modified products that are on grocery shelves. Where are those GMOs hiding?

Most of the GMO foods in the US are foods that are ingredients in other foods.  The top GMOs are corn, soy, cottonseed, milk, sugar beets and aspartame.

The bottom line is:

If your food is sweet, there’s likely a GMO involved. Sugar beets are common GMO products and the source for most granular sugar in the USA. Liquid sugar like high fructose corn syrup is made from corn and is often GMO.  Even if you go the artificial sweetener route, aspartame is often GMO. If your food is sweetened, whether, soda, juice, cookies or candy, GMOs probably are ingredients.

If your food is a protein, there’s a good chance GMOs are involved. Soy proteins are everywhere boosting protein content and 95% of US soy is GMO.  If you are eating beef or eggs, it’s likely the animals were fed GMO corn.  I paid extra for nice local eggs until I found out that standard chicken feed from the feed store was made of GMO corn.  GMO corn and alfalfa also fatten up your cows and pigs that produce beef and pork. And now that most fish are “farmed,” the most common food they live on is corn.  All those protein drinks and “smoothies” we love are GMO soy based.

If your food has a thick texture, GMOs could be helping.  The ubiquitous lecithin is made from GMO soy. Lecithin and beet sugar are prime ingredients in favorites like yogurt and ice cream.  GMO cottonseed oil and canola oil are common ingredients used in margarine, salad dressing or for frying potato chips and processed food. GM synthetic hormone rBGH is found in milk products unless they are labeled “no rBGH.”

The bottom line?  Eat like your great-grandparents.  Grow your own food when you can.  Buy organic vegetables and fruits when you shop. Get grass fed meats and wild caught fish.  And don’t waste your money on all those processed foods that aren’t real food anyway.

Sources: http://action.greenamerica.org/p/salsa/web/common/public/signup?signup_page_KEY=7608&gclid=CPm7q7Giy7oCFU1gMgod0DkArQ

Photo Credit: http://paleodesserts.com/avoiding-gmos-heres-how/

Linguine Carbornara with Cauliflower, Peas & Pancetta

From the Gardens of Mike Scott of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms

Ingredients:   3/4 pound linguine 4 ounces pancetta or 4 slices bacon, chopped 1 head cauliflower 1/2 cup peas (preferably fresh) 2 teaspoons olive oil 1/4 cup half and half or milk 2 egg yolks, beaten 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese Salt & black pepper

Directions:             Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.   Add 1 teaspoon olive oil to a large skillet and brown the pancetta over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until crisp, 5 to 8 minutes; transfer to a plate.   Add another teaspoon of olive oil, cauliflower, peas, ½ cup reserved water, a dash of salt and black pepper, to the drippings in the skillet. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, covered, until the water has evaporated and the cauliflower and peas are almost tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Uncover and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown and tender, 4 to 5 minutes more.   In a small bowl, whisk 2 egg yolks and half and half/milk together. Add the cauliflower, peas, egg yolks, and Parmesan to the pasta and toss to coat over low heat. Cook until sauce thickens. Top with additional black pepper. Enjoy!   Fresh from Mike’s yard: cauliflower and peas, and today’s eggs.

Gardening on Top of the World

…with Penn Parmenter!

Baskets of Beauty

Food is beautiful.  I love growing hanging baskets of beautifully colored lettuces and greens. They make a wonderful winter gift and I promise you – if you show up to your next dinner party with a full-blown basket of edible beauty – you will win the night.  It won’t be ‘re-gifted’ the way that bottle of wine that travels around your circles does. Use a pretty bowlful of living greens as the centerpiece on the table and just pick and eat them with your dinner! I always find myself admiring the basketfuls of color – dangerous because if you don’t keep cutting them they can slow down and age out right before your eyes!  So cut them an inch above the crown regularly to keep vigorous growth happening. When spring comes – I simply take them outside and hang them in the trees where they are protected from hail, hot sun and wind. As for types – I often make my own mesclun (salad mixture) – starting with colorful lettuce favorites, herbs, brassicas and other greens like claytonia, nasturtium, mache, arugula and cilantro.  Use your artistic eye to pair stunning colors and textures. Or I’ll try some ready-made BBB Mesclun Mix and at this time of year they will grow so quickly I’ll be back in just a minute to write about how good it was. And take pictures of it too – because food is so beautiful.

Simple Instructions on How To Direct Sow a Container.

1. Find the container of your choice – I use the old hanging Petunia baskets from the super-market rolling around my backyard.

2.  Choose a filler like Pine needle mulch, leaf mold or potting soil and fill the container ¾ full.

3.  Moisten your soil-less seed starting mix – I use Coir, perlite and wet it with a liquid kelp solution – a wonder fertilizer – and fill the remaining ¼ of the container.

4.  Sow seeds like BBB’s Gourmet Salad Blend, Speckles Bibb, Freckles Romaine, radish, basil, cilantro, seedling pea, claytonia, mustards, etc.

5. Cover the fine seed with a fine amount of seed starting mix and the larger seed with more.

6.  Use your hand to gently press down the soil-less mix for good seed-to-soil contact.  This is crucial for good germination. 

7.  Gently sprinkle kelp solution on the surface – don’t wash away seeds.

8.  Cover with plastic, newspaper or glass to keep steady moisture – I use a produce bag, which floats on top of the plants as they germinate.  For newspaper – keep it wet, and remove as soon as germination begins, for plastic, I leave it on a little longer to keep everybody germinating.

9.  Lettuces like it cool, basil likes it warm, so place the basket accordingly. Under lights is helpful too but not necessary. Skylights work well with a direct-sown basket.

10. Remove the plastic whenever you like.

11. Enjoy – cut often.

12. Plant another container to keep it coming!

Written by Penn Parmenter Copyright © 2013 [email protected] www.pennandcordsgarden.weebly.com

Winter Watering Decision Matrix

Yesterday was a glorious snow day. There was light fluffy snow falling steadily all day. It gathered about three inches on the car, but this morning, winds have reduced what’s on the ground to a rather negligible half inch. That great day of snow is going to amount to almost no actual water getting into the ground. In dry climates like Colorado, the snow evaporates under relentless winds or high sun and after a day of warm sun, it won’t be muddy or wet in the garden…except in little north side niches.

The taunting appearance of moisture is one of the reasons I made my own wintering watering decision matrix…so I would have a methodical approach of deciding when to water in winter and not just let visual clues like ”it snowed all day” decide whether watering is necessary.

So here’s my Decision Matrix for Wintering Watering:

Has it been dry without significant precipitation or snow cover for the last two weeks and/or have the temperatures been warmer than usual?

If yes, the next step is to walk outside and ask,

“Is the ground frozen?”

If the soil is frozen, winter watering doesn’t help anything. Any water would just roll off the soil and not do the plants any good.  Go back inside.

I usually wait until a couple of days of warmer or sunnier mid-day temps and repeat the “Is the ground frozen?” question in the afternoon.

When the soil is thawed, then the next question is,

Did I plant new plants in 2012? If the answer is yes….then you need to winter water those plants once a month during dry times.  This is true for new trees, bushes and perennials.  You need a good slow soak right at the root ball.

Now move to other parts of the garden with older plants and ask, “When I put my finger in the soil, is it moist one inch down?  You’re checking the soil here….not just the mulch on top of the soil.  If it’s still moist, then go back inside and leave the water in the aquifers.

If the soil is dry an inch down, water now to save the lives of your plants and especially your trees which have suffered greatly with drought in most of the country over the last year.

Water slowly so it can seep into the soil.  A good rule of thumb is 10 gallons of water per inch of stem caliper.  If you have one of those root watering spikes….insert it shallowly…less then six inches….most roots are rather shallow and you don’t want to water under the roots.

Here are resources: a winter watering fact sheet, and the US Drought Index.  Most of the country is under greater drought now than it was a year ago. In Colorado after the drought in 2002, we lost many of our trees the following years….because the impact of one year of drought stresses trees and plants for years. So this is the time to save your landscape. Don’t water on top of snow or frozen soil….but keep your decision matrix in mind as we finish out this winter.

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07211.html http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Floriferous! Designing with Annuals

More color. More flowers. These are the most common requests I hear from clients and friends who have lovely gardens full of perennials but whose gardens at certain times of the year still look a bit too green. Annuals planted in large drifts or patches is an easy and very colorful answer. And with certain annuals, they reseed themselves so it’s almost as if they are perennials…you don’t have to do much to get them to return each year.

To get this effect of a burst of color in your garden, you’ll want to try a “specimen planting”. This is an intense patch of just one type of flower. It can be many different colors of the flower but just one kind of flower gives a vivid look.

Here are my favorite specimen plantings:

Cosmos bipinnatus in a tall mix of pink, white and crimson is a favorite in gardens.  They grow about waist high and don’t really need deadheading.  There’s something old-fashioned and timeless about cosmos that people love to have them as regulars in their yards.

Four O-clocks.  I was excited to see this new addition to the catalog this year.  Not as ubiquitous as cosmos, they are a magnificent part of a garden, especially when planted somewhere you can see them outside your kitchen window when you’re preparing dinner. They really do stay closed during the day and open around 4 pm.  They aren’t adapted to daylight savings time….so it might be more like 5 pm in your yard.

Zinnias.  These are the annuals you wish you planted, come mid-summer. Each bloom lasts a long time, is perfect for cutting, and the specimen planting provides a tall sturdy vibrant color.  Another old-time favorite for a good reason: they are great flowers.

Chinese Asters. This is another new addition to the catalog this year that inspires me.  Midsummer and fall, in particular, are times that don’t have the variety of colors people desire.  The perennials of this time tend to the yellow/orange range  Chinese asters are a great burst of purples and pinks and creamy whites that have large flower heads that make them perfect for cutting. They’ll handle full sun, but I’ve seen asters thrive in areas with dappled shade where just a little shade enhances their color in the blazingAugust sun.

These four are my current favorites for annual specimen plantings. Add in other annuals like poppies mixed throughout the garden and maybe the calendula mix in the vegetable garden, and your garden will “pop” all season long.

What’s Growing on my Windowsill?

It’s still too early to start seeds indoors in Colorado, but I’m yearning for fresh growing things instead of the brown stubble of winter that greets me outdoors. My growing space is an unheated solarium that dips down to 40 degrees at night but warms up to the 70s and 80s during sunny days.  Last month, I started three containers that now are steadily producing that vibrant spring green color.

Pea greens.  These give me special pleasure because I like the taste of peas and because tiny containers of pea shoots in the grocery store cost $4.99. I snip these for stir-fry or to toss into the juicer.

Microgreens. Yeah! Salad. They aren’t big enough for eating yet but it’s joyful to recognize tiny beets and lettuces growing on my sill.  Hardly any work involved….I just opened the pack of seeds and spread them on some potting soil. I’ll clip them in another two weeks or so and let them keep growing till outdoor greens are ready.

Wheatgrass. My little flat of wheatgrass is just beautiful with its promise of spring meadows. I put some into the juicer, give some to the chickens who love spring grass, and let the rest keep growing a mini field in the house.

Now if I were a hunter like my sister’s Texas family is, it would be much easier to provide my own food in winter. Yesterday, I opened my front door to find at least 100 Canada geese walking around my suburban yard.  If I had been fast, I could have caught one with my hands, they were that close.

Too Many Seeds, Too Little Space.

I remember when I first started gardening. As I recall, I went to the hardware store and bought three packets of seeds which I planted that afternoon.  I’m not sure how I followed my lust for seeds until today when my saved and leftover seeds now require two shoe boxes….and that’s after I gave away many many seeds.  So I look at all those seeds…and the envelopes of newly arrived seeds I’ve gotten in the mail…and wonder how I’ll ever have enough room on windowsills one plant rack to get all those exquisite young plants going.

Winter Sowing of course!  As fun as it is to germinate seeds on the heat mat that creates new plants in a few days, that’s not very practical when it could be another three months until the soil is warm enough that it isn’t freezing at night.  I learned Winter Sowing back in the early days of the internet….and it is still the most effective method for starting winter seeds.

The basic idea is you have plastic containers (I used water jugs). You cut them in half. Put some soil in. Label the name of the seed. Water the soil. Sow the seed. Tape the container closed. Move the entire container OUTSIDE to the north side of the house where it’s protected from the wind.  And that’s it.  Now as the season warms, Nature will cause them to germinate at the right time when the temperatures are best suited for the seeds.  Monthly watering is all the maintenance that this needs….and of course planting out all those seedlings when the time is ready.

The phrase Winter Sowing was coined by our hero, Trudi Davidoff. For years she has tirelessly gathered info and shared her wisdom on Garden Web, then her own website http://www.wintersown.org, then Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/groups/102675420505/  There really isn’t much more to doing winter sowing than I’ve said….but there are dozens of web pages via her website and Facebook and Google, so enjoy learning.

You know all those seed failures you’ve had in the past? Probably won’t happen with Winter Sowing.  Seeds that need to be chilled get chilled.  Seeds that need a long time to germinate can sit there till they are ready. No leggy plants because they are outside in the bright light.  You’ll need to water every month or so….but that’s all you need to get 100s of plants going.  One plant I still start indoors is tomato because I want my tomato plants big sooner in my short season.  But otherwise….there is no end to what seeds you can try.  The biggest challenge will be getting them transplanted to the garden.

Growing for your Freezer

by Sandy Swegel

The avid vegetable growers on my gardening email list have noted that alas, despite trying to plan well, their freezers and pantries are almost bare despite the fact that there’s still snow on the garden. We’re fortunate to live in times with well-stocked grocery stores.

We’re also lucky to live with reliable electricity. I know how to can and make preserves, but the freezer is still the easiest way I know how to easily capture garden produce at their peak. I keep a baking pan in my freezer and bring in surplus I’ve picked that I won’t use today and after washing, spread the beans, peas, corn, cherries or strawberries on the baking pan for a kind of home flash freeze. Later when I have time, I bag up the frozen item to protect them from freezer burn. Easy and fresh. And despite what all the books tell us, we’ve had really good luck with freezing produce without blanching it first.

Suggestions on what items are good for freezing: Tomatoes of course…Sauce or diced, roasted or stewed. We agree tomatoes are the most versatile item in your freezer.

Prepared meals:  ratatouilles, bean stews, chilis, lasagnas, stuffed peppers.  Who isn’t delighted to find a home-grown, home-cooked meal in the freezer on a cold January evening ready to thaw and eat.

Individual vegetables, loose.  Here I take inspiration from the freezer section of the grocery and make small Ziploc bags of everything the grocery store freezer section supplies:  beans, corn, peas, okra, black-eyed peas, baby limas, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red and yellow peppers. Basically, anything that would make a quick side vegetable to balance out a meal or something to give a soup or stock some extra zip. One great suggestion I’ll try this year is to freeze poblano peppers whole ready for stuffing.

Pre-cooked foods. Here’s where I’ve learned that pre-cooking some foods turns ordinary vegetables sublime.  Frozen cut spinach isn’t too impressive, but frozen spinach previously braised in olive oil and garlic is sublime.  Likewise, braised mixed kale with a splash of tamari is welcome.  A great way to freeze these greens is to lay them on freezer paper in a long thin log and wrap them up.  Cut off a section of what you need and return the log to the freezer. Cooked and seasoned beans.  I love green beans fresh but there’s something about them frozen plainly that is unimpressive.  But I like heartier beans like broad beans that have been cooked and seasoned.  Potatoes. I’m still experimenting with potatoes, but I’m so crazy for mashed potatoes that frozen individual servings of mashed potatoes with a little gravy disappeared by December.  The texture wasn’t as great as fresh…but they’re still mashed potatoes!  Shredded potatoes for hash browns are pretty good too. Roasted eggplant slices….ready to go for lasagna. Baby beets, well-cooked and seasoned. Stir-fry mixes of favorite vegetables pre-cooked to almost doneness.

Fruit. You can’t make enough of this. Keep trying, but whether dried or frozen, cherries, raspberries and peaches just disappear.  There’s still applesauce and a few strawberries in my freezer and some dried cherries I didn’t see.  Freeze more next year!

Now that my freezer is almost empty, I know how to plan for this year’s garden.  Plant more of the foods that disappeared by December and fewer of the foods that are still frozen from the year before last.

Ask the Kids

What do you think is special about our Garden?

I recently returned from my annual trip to New Orleans. I go every Winter for a trip to my hometown so I can enjoy a minor respite from Colorado’s below-zero weather and smell fresh gardenias and camellias and remember that oranges and grapefruit grow right on the trees while the snow piles up in Colorado.

Besides walking through citrus orchards and hiking in the swamps, a highlight of New Orleans from a gardener’s perspective is The Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, an amazing program that teaches 2500 kids in five different public schools to grow and cook their own food. They have a ton of fun (It is New Orleans….there’s a big emphasis on throwing a party to eat the food) and kids learn more than just how to grow a garden.  I don’t know if the kids get grades for growing food, but they’ve become pretty darn wise. Here’s some of what those kids have to say about “their” gardens:

“We grow our own food because it’s better when it’s freshly made. And because we use our food to cook with.”  –Ariel Surrency   “I think the garden is special because people from the neighborhood get to come pick things from it.” –Christian Powell

“The garden is special because there are all different varieties of flowers and vegetables and fruits. It’s peaceful and shows respect because it’s never messed up and everyone keeps it together.” – Biyon Calvin.

Go find the kids in your own family or neighborhood and ask them, “What makes this garden special?” Wait till you hear the wisdom your little garden has inspired.

Hundreds of Vegetables

The holiday season always involves lots of cooking. Each time I’m shopping for food I find myself thinking, I could have grown that.  A big winter squash cost me $5 the other day. And paying $2 for parsley that practically grows itself suddenly seems crazy.  As I think about January resolutions for dieting and really like the Plant Nutrient Dense Diets, I’m kicking myself for not having more vegetables still harvestable or in the freezer. So next to my grocery list on the refrigerator, I’m making my list of the vegetables I’m buying so that I have a more rational way to make a list of seeds to buy to grow for next year’s vegetable garden.

Things I wish I coulda woulda shoulda grown more of:

Beets.  Several parties I’ve been to have had roasted beet dishes. So yummy and easy. And beets are nutritious and great juicers. With a little extra mulch protection, they survive most of the year I should have at least two beets per person per week of the year. I need at least a hundred beets for me.

Carrots. Such a good juicer as well as cooked vegetables…I need at least three carrots per person per week.  150 carrots just for me.

Onions.  Duh, Another easy to grow plant that I use almost every day….4 onions per person per week is 200 onions.

Tomatoes.  It wasn’t a great tomato year so it’s not surprising I’ve gone through most of my stored tomatoes already.  I didn’t notice how often I rely on diced or stewed tomatoes in my recipes.  I need at least 2 16 ounce cans of chopped tomatoes per week.  100 “cans” of chopped paste potatoes.

Cooked Greens.  This year I preserved kale and chard and collards by steaming them and then freezing them already cooked.  I’m eating twice as many greens now than usual because they are already cooked and ready to be served as a side dish or added last minute to soups.  Cooked, frozen greens:  At least 3 pounds per person per week. 150 pounds of greens.

Peas.  I love peas. Why don’t I have more in the freezer or dehydrator? One pound of peas per week. 50 pounds of peas.

Fruit.  Frozen and dehydrated fruits are my favorites in winter.  I’ve gone through all but two jars of my tart cherries.  I was tired of picking and pitting cherries in the summer….but now I’d happily do that work since I can’t buy any tart cherries now.  I should have a pound per week of fruit preserved for the winter per person.

 Parsley and Celery. I love cooking and juicing with both of these. I’m completely out of both and they are just great sources of nutrients.  I need at least 50 “bunches” of parsley and celery chopped and frozen or celeriac in the frig/root cellar.

Rosemary. For the first year, I have enough rosemary. I bought one of those rosemary Christmas trees.  I love to roast vegetables with rosemary….so now I pick up the plant and use the scissors to keep snipping the plant back into the Christmas tree shape.  I get at least a couple of tablespoons per trimming…finally enough rosemary.

So that’s my lesson this week.  If I want a diet full of plant nutrients and I don’t want a huge grocery bill, I need to think of my vegetable garden as a source of HUNDREDS of plants. I’ve never really noticed how many vegetables it takes to have a nutritious diet.

Another way to think about it is…let’s modestly say you need five vegetable and fruit servings per day.  Here in Colorado, we have about 4 months of non-growing seasons. So five servings per day x 30 days x 4 months means I need to have at least 600 servings of vegetables and fruit PER PERSON preserved in cool storage, cans or the freezer by December 1st if I want to grow my own food. WOW. All I can say is thank you to all the farmers who have been providing this for me my whole life!