Archive for organic

COMPOSTING YOUR WAY TO A BETTER GARDEN

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COMPOSTING YOUR WAY TO A BETTER GARDEN

By:  Emily Shirley, Advanced Master Gardener

Soil is the most precious resource in your garden.  Some have well-tended soil (from previous owners), while others, particularly those moving into new homes, inherit a rubble-filled mass.  However, any soil can be improved through time and effort.  For example, when the Master Gardeners began gardening in the Demonstration Garden a few years back, we were given use of the property that was formerly an old rodeo arena.  It was very compacted, and after just a few inches we hit red clay that had been hauled in for years and driven over with tractors.  By the time we finished amending the soil we were growing beautiful plants – vegetables and ornamentals.

If you have been around the gardening world very long, you have heard the terms “black gold”.  What we are referring to is composted material that is very precious in terms of gardening use – or compost.  Composting is the natural process that turns raw organic ingredients into humus – that earthy, dark crumbly, fully decomposed end product.  If you regard your soil as a living entity, you will see that essential plant nutrients are cycled by a microscopic army of inhabitants and larger worms, insects and grubs.  All these creatures need air, moisture and food.  Using manure, garden compost and other sources of organic matter is the key to sustaining this soil life and keeping the soil healthy.

It is always good to start by working with what you have – compost what your yard produces first, and import materials only when they are convenient and of special value to your composting.  Compostable materials from your kitchen, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, plus garden materials can easily be reused to cycle their nutrient value, carbon and nitrogen back into the soil to grow more food or plants.

To avoid waste from what you do not use in the kitchen, don’t throw it in the garbage, compost it!  Once you start saving your food scraps from the kitchen two things will happen.  You will simply be amazed at how much you have been throwing in the garbage that could have been used for composting.  And, you will never go back to throwing these things in the garbage again because you will soon realize how valuable these materials are for your gardening.  Most landscapes produce plenty of fallen leaves, grass clippings, and withered plants to toss in there.

This is a very simple process.  You need something for collecting your kitchen food waste to get started.  You can spend a lot of money for products that are sold for this purpose, or you can make it simple by having a simple five-gallon bucket with a lid, just outside your kitchen.  As you prepare food or clean out the refrigerator, just toss things into a small container and each evening empty that container into your larger bucket just outside the kitchen door.  Once you have enough in the outside container to throw out, you take the contents from your food scrap container to a compost pile.  You can even get creative and even make it even easier by having some trenches dug outdoors in an area you plan on gardening in at a later date and bury your food scraps in those.  Now, just let things sit in your compost pile a while and decompose and when it is ready, start using it.

So how do you know when your compost is ready to use for planting projects?

To evaluate your compost to determine if it is ready you can get very complicated, (that science thing again) or you can just use what you have – your eyes, nose and hands – to determine if it’s ready.  Visual inspection will reveal even color and consistency with a sprinkling of still-identifiable, undecomposed items, such as a peach pit or chunks of corn cob.  Your nose will detect an inoffensive, earthy smell with no sharp or sour odors.  To the touch, your finished compost will feel cool (no apparent heating), moist, and crumbly.  Once your compost meets these standards, let a few lettuce (or other) seeds pass final judgement.  Combine compost with an equal amount of potting soil and plant seeds in the mixture.  Sow the same kind of seeds in plain potting soil at the same time, and compare the progress of each planting.  If the seeds grow equally well in both, your compost is ready to roll; slower growth in the compost mixture means your compost needs more time to mature before you use it in planting projects.

Hints:

  •  Composting is not fast – you have to be patient and give it time. Slow compost is good compost.
  • Place a thick layer of newspaper (not the slick colored sheets) at the base of a curing compost pile to deter invasive tree roots.
  • Inadequate moisture is one of the most common reasons for compost to fail to make good progress.  Compost microorganisms need moisture.  You have to give your pile some moisture during these Louisiana hot days.  It is important to moisten ingredients as you add them to your pile, and to replenish moisture as you turn or aerate compost.
  • In an open heap, you don’t have to aerate, because the heap has plenty of exposed surface area, and will make its own air pockets as the materials shrink and turn into compost.  (Note:  I have a very large compost pile and I just use the tractor front-end loader to move it around occasionally.)
  • After a year or two of using compost In the garden every chance you get, you will discover a new pleasure in gardening.  You will notice that you can pull weeds more easily.
  • It is a good idea to only use your composting pail for just composting.  Don’t contaminate it with other things, for example, using your bucket to pick up behind the dog in the yard.

So how do you then actually use this compost once it is decomposed and ready?

  •  Treat every plant you grow to some form of compost.
  • Blanket beds as you renovate them between plantings.
  • Amend planting holes, or mix your best batches into homemade potting soil.
  • Use rough-textured, partially decomposed compost as mulch.
  • You can use it as a soil conditioner for all type of plants.
  • You can use your compose to mix with potting mix that you already have.
  • You can use it as a slow release fertilizer, gradually feeding plants over a long period of time.
  • You can use it for mulch for pots and gardens to protect plant roots from the sun and wind and to prevent erosion and reduce soil diseases.
  • (composting – continued)
  • You can use compost as a top dressing for lawns, to add nutrients and fill in gaps to encourage healthier grass roots and thatch.
  • Use it as an amendment to prove sandy and clay soil structure by binding soil particles together – helping aerate, retain moisture and nutrients.
  • Make a liquid “compost tea” fertilizer.
  • Compost mixed into the soil between plantings is the best way to keep the soil from becoming exhausted.
  • When you are ready to plant, mix in the compost along with organic fertilizer sufficient to meet the needs of the crop, and you are good to go.

 

 

 

 

 

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Alternatives to Toxic Insecticides

Alternatives to Toxic Insecticides

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

A third study now validates results of earlier research of associations between autism and prenatal exposure to agriculture chemicals (www.ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1307044/).  “Women who are pregnant should take care to avoid contact with agricultural chemicals whenever possible” says author, Janie F. Shelton who is now a consultant with the U.N.

Three groups of common pesticides were studied that included organophosphates (chlorpyrifos, acephate, diazinon, and others), pyrethroids (esfenvalerate, lambda-cypermethrin, taufluvalinate, and others), and carbamates (methomyl, carbaryl, and others). The organophosphates were associated with an elevated risk of autism spectrum disorder, especially chlorpyrifos applications in the second trimester. Pyrethroids had a moderate association with autism spectrum disorder immediately prior to conception and in the third trimester. Carbamates were associated with developmental delays.

The present rate of autism is now at 1:68 births according to estimates from the CDC.  Also about 1 in 6 children in the United States had a developmental disability in 2006-2008. In the birth year of 1992, the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder was 1 in 150, which has steadily increased to 1 in 68 in the 2002 birth year.

Therefore as gardeners, we should always use the least toxic chemicals, read labels, follow all safety precautions, and keep up with the latest research concerning pest control.

The good news is that more and more information is available on less toxic pesticides.  Clemson Cooperative Extension has an outstanding article on “Less Toxic Insecticides” which conscientious gardeners should print out (www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic).  “Most essential oils used as pesticides work by disrupting an insect neurotransmitter that is not present in people, pets, or other vertebrates.” The EPA no longer requires approval for use as pesticides due to minimum risk to uses of these essential oils (cedar, cinnamon, citronella, citrus, clove, garlic, mints, rosemary and others).

Microbial insecticides include Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) for caterpillar control.  Milky Spore (Bacillus papillae and lentimorbus) is used against June bug larvae – grub worms. Spinosad, Saccharopolyspora spinosa is a treatment for fire ants, caterpillars, thrips, whiteflies, aphids, and even borers of fruit trees. Beneficial nematodes are the good nematodes that control clearwing borers, cutworms, sod webworms, mole crickets, and grub worms.  However nematodes are difficult to get started due to humidity, moisture, shipping, and temperature issues.

Bacillus subtilis and pumilus combat downy and powdery mildews, rust, bacterial spot, blight, botrytis and multiple other mildews on veggies, fruits, ornamentals, trees, and shrubs.

Minerals like boric acid acts as a stomach poison which causes the insects to die from starvation.  Diatomaceous Earth controls slugs, millipedes, ants, cockroaches, and soft-bodied insects like aphids. However use the “natural grade”, not the swimming pool filtering-agent that poses an inhalation hazard.  Sodium Fluoaluminate has sharp edges which punctures insect (caterpillars, sawflies, beetles, etc.) gut cells from consuming leafy material, however beneficial insects are not affected since they are not leaf eaters.  Iron phosphate is used as an organic slug and snail bate.  It is not poisonous to cats and dogs.

“Organic Farm and Garden” 2013, Vol.1, 2nd Ed., lists Biological Control Options which incorporates predator and prey functions in every ecosystem.  Plant nectar sources attract beneficial insects, and allow them to lay eggs near this food source.  Plant small flower favorites like dill, parsley, fennel oregano, cilantro, and thyme.  Also include annuals like sunflowers, cosmos, amaranth, alyssum and statice.  Perennials like yarrow, tansy, daises and angelica can be inter-planted within your garden.  Your beautiful garden will buzz with beneficial insects, and will have an ecological balance of predator and prey bugs.

“Louisiana Gardener”, Feb. 2015, has a super article, “What’s Bugging You?” by Cindy Shapton.  She puts emphasis on learning good bugs and bad bugs. Numerous recipes for repellants to easy to make sticky-traps are highlighted.

“The Naturally Bug-free Garden”, 2012, by Anna Hess is now available at Amazon.  It focuses on the worst garden pests that we have here and in Texas, and gives organic control measures.  Good bugs and good animals are reviewed and used to make your garden a living balance of natural defenses.  Resistant varieties, row covers, companion planting, and plant nutrition are tools for helping plants resist insects.  This is a good book to assist the beginner and young gardeners in learning about organic gardening.  It is a treasure!

So this year, learn, read, and experiment with organic chemical-free gardening to avoid potentially dangerous chemicals that are used in commercial agriculture.

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Beauregard Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens Closing

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 Beauregard Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens Closing

by Ms. Emily Shirley, President, Beauregard Parish Master Gardeners

I almost started this paragraph with “On a sad note…” but I corrected myself – it is not on a sad note, it is on a note of appreciation and thankfulness. There was so much that was accomplished, good times, sharing, and lots of learning that too place in the Demo Gardens.  Last month the Beauregard Master Gardeners made the decision to close the Demonstration Gardens that have been in existence for approximately five years.  This was a wonderful and successful project and now we are ready to move on to other projects.

There are so many of you to thank and recognize for the work that you did, as well as the time, money, and energy you spent to make this project so successful, I can’t begin to name everyone.  We have money in our account at this time because you so willing to spend your own personal money to pay for things in the gardens. I want you to know that that has not gone unnoticed.  There are a few that spent a considerable amount of time and personal money and I do want to publically acknowledge them.

George and Merlyn Giltner spent so much in terms of money and time that I cannot begin to list all the things they did or all the things they paid for.  There were times when it was so hot and some days when it was so wet and ugly, but you could pass by the gardens and you would see George and Merlyn out there working.  On those hot days when things needed to be watered every day, we could always know that things were being taken care of because George and Merlyn would be there to water things.

The same goes for John Markham.  I even joked one time that I really thought John was living the potting shed in the Demo Gardens and had not informed any of us.  He was there almost every day working and taking care of things.  Not only did John oversee the installation of the irrigation system, I never worried about the system in the winter time because I knew John would take care of it.  The same for the raised beds.  John was always around to plant, fertilize, water and harvest the vegetables.  John and Dale Vincent raised some beautiful corn that we were able to sell at the Farmer’s Market and made money for future projects.

Jimmy Cooley installed an awesome Muscadine orchard and showed us all how it is done and what materials to use.  It was a wonderful teaching project and we so appreciate all the time, money and energy that went into that project.

Chris Krygowski came along just as we were all talking about a Children’s Garden.  She not only volunteered to help with this project, she agreed to head up this project and made it into something the rest of only dreamed of.  We all have commented on the energy Chris seemed to always have and the number of hours she spent making that area into what it is.

Dana Whittington took over an area of the garden that was difficult to garden for a number of reasons, but she certainly showed us that it can be done — if you have a difficult area you can always garden in containers.  In addition to the onions, garlic in the ground, she demonstrated how to grow purple potatoes and carrots in containers.  I harvested some of her onions and carrots for a wonderful soup one day last year.  Fresh from the ground is always good!

Allen Wells demonstrated how to grow vertically with his “Arbor Garden”.  His use of cow-pen panels is a unique way to have things growing overhead while other plants in-ground below.

And who can forget John Hendrix’s okra – we thought he had some type “Jack-And-The-Beanstalk” type okra out there.  And he harvested okra right into the fall.

Shirley Corda spent a considerable amount of time helping us get our Five-Year-Plan on paper to be presented to the Fair Board.

Keith Hawkins has been our MG Coordinator from the beginning and we appreciate what he has done for this program.  And to ALL the others not mentioned above, THANK YOU for all your contributions of time, money and sweat equity.  A job well done!

Ms. Emily Shirley is a Master Gardener in Beauregard Parish. She also publishes the BEAUREGARD MASTER GARDENER NEWSLETTER.

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Dinosaur Period Expanded Shale – for Gardens

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Dinosaur Period Expanded Shale – for Gardens

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

                 2014 expanded shale    2014 expanded shale 2

A garden soil recipe for success is to add a soil conditioner that originated from the Late Cretaceous Period, when the most famous mass extinction of dinosaurs occurred, 65 million years ago.  In this time period, Tyrannosaurus and Giganotosaurus roamed, and flowering plants began to flourish.  Fine grained sedimentary rocks from mud of clay and silt were laid down to form the Texas Midway Shale formation which is 10 -15 ft. underground in a pattern from Corsicana to Texarkana south to Laredo.

When shale from the above area is mined and exposed to 2000 deg C for 40 minutes, 65% of the silica makeup changes chemically as gases escape to form a porous lightweight rock, Expanded Shale.  It can absorb 38% of its weight in water for a water-wise soil amendment.  Also it will conservatively last for decades, unlike deteriorating vermiculite and decomposing peat moss.  Expanded shale is mostly an alumino-silicate that will not change the soil pH, is non-toxic and inert, and environmentally friendly.  It enhances plant growth and performance.  Applications include raised beds, window boxes, gardens, large container boxes, and in landscaping.

The porous structure of expanded shale absorbs water, therefore any fertilizer components dissolved in the water will also be absorbed onto the aggregate, porous-rock surfaces.  Extension researchers from Texas and Florida, J. Sloan, P. Ampim, R. Cabrera, W. Mackay, and S. George (Moisture and Nutrient Storage Capacity of Calcined Expanded Shale), have tested the bioavailability of nutrients loaded onto expanded shale by using Romaine lettuce.  Results demonstrated significant increases in the size and the mass of yield.  Shoot mass increased linearly from 0.1 grams with no fertilizer on expanded shale to 1.9 grams/pot with 100% fertilizer-treated expanded shale.  No additional fertilizer was needed for the 45 day crop rotation.

Dr. Steve George, Texas Agrilife Extension Service horticultural researcher in Dallas, recommends this expanded shale to “open up and aerate clay soils faster than any other product tested”.  His shale research work is extensive with two years of study and 6 years of field trials.  Expanded shale increased soil porosity (for drainage and aeration), reduced compaction (for healthier root systems), and insulated roots from temperature extremes.

Jim L. Turner, director of horticulture research at the Dallas Arboretum, praises its use for solving watering issues as overwatering causes more plant deaths than any other cause.  Expanded Shale is used extensively throughout the many beautiful gardens in the Dallas Arboretum to optimize water usage and conservation.

In your own gardens, utilize expanded shale by adding 3 inches of compost and 3 inches of expanded shale, then till to 8 inches deep.  Add top mulch to the mixed soil with a layer 3 inches deep. Continue mulch additions spring and fall.  Soil tests may reveal that additional commercial fertilizer is not needed due to decomposition additions from nutrient balanced mulch.

For containers, fill the bottom quarter with expanded shale, then add a mixture of 1/3 of each – expanded shale, compost, and garden soil.  Also add mulch to the top of the container. Due to our very hot summers and intense tropical solar light, use wood or other insulating material to reduce the temperatures on the surface of the container when the heat comes.  Always use a water meter to confirm moisture levels of your container soil.  Rain water is recommended due high sodium values (>100 ppm) in some of our local tap water supplies.

By late Spring 2014, an application-test demo plot will trial expanded shale and zeolite amendments to grow various garden vegetables in the Beauregard Demonstration Garden in DeRidder, La.  The initial soil was basic kaolinite clay subsoil with little nutrient value and low ability to retain nutrients.  In early November, compost and varying additions of zeolite were added to specific rows.  LSU AgCenter soil tests have indicated high nutrient values 6 weeks later in mid-December.  Identical mass of expanded shale will be added to ½ of each row.  Then in mid-March various vegetables will be planted.  Practical observations like yield, water meter readings, soil nutrient tests, soil bulk density, and plant health will be observed.  This Master Gardener application test is not meant to be a scientific experiment as the scope, time, and expense would be beyond volunteer resources.

Dinosaur dirt (Texas expanded shale) and porous volcanic rock (zeolite) soil conditioners have demonstrated their value in nutrient and water conservation by numerous scientific tests from NASA to University Extension Service experiments.  The nutrient cost-savings and environmental benefits of these products can be employed in cropping, forests, and in small-space gardening.  Experiments have proven that soil beneficial microbes are enhanced with greater moisture control, nutrient retention, and soil porosity, which should increase yields and Ag success.  “Let’s give it a try!”

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Soil Fertility Factors

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Soil Fertility Factors

By George Giltner, Advanced Master Gardener

You don’t have to battle through botany, chemistry, cellular biology and physics to understand that when essential nutrients are not available to plants, they will not grow.  Common garden logic is in the “Law of Return”.  When plants are removed from a garden, along with them goes a portion of the nutrients in the soil.  Therefore the gardener must return that complement of nutrients in the form of fertilizer back into the soil to maintain its fertility.  Other nutrient-loss factors like water leaching, volatile gases lost in decay, pest grazing, mineral insolubility, even removing weeds, and others contribute to fertility losses.

Soil testing can identify these losses.  Also soil test results supply information on soil mineral corrections.  Soil test sample boxes are available in a convenient mail-in form that can be obtained from the AgCenter.  Results are usually emailed or mailed within a week.

Organic matter additions are an excellent means returning nutrients and minerals back to the soil.  Consider making compost year round for garden amendments.  The compost is important to the soil structure, the microbes to insects in the soil-food web, moisture and mineral retention, and to the environment.  Mineral fertilizers do return mineral nutrients quickly to the soil, but it is in a leachable form that is destructive to soil life and the long term detriment of soil fertility.  Organic fertilizers provide a wide range of macro and micro nutrients that chemical fertilizers do not have.

Plant nutrient intake is influenced by temperature, mainly from 42 to 95 deg F for most plants, due to limits on photosynthesis and microbial produced nitrogen.   Also mycorrhizal fungi are very important for most of plant’s phosphorus uptake.  During early spring, one may notice purple leaves on tomatoes exposed to cool temperature soils.  This is probably due to lack of phosphorus transport activity of the fungi due to cool temperatures.  In summer, exposed soil around plants can reach temperatures around 120 deg F, thus limiting photosynthesis.  Mulching can reduce these temperatures by a significant 30 degrees, thus allowing for moderate temperatures for photosynthesis.

Problems with pH are typical with chemical gardeners.  Additions of ammonium are converted to nitrates by nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria, resulting in a lowering of the soil pH.  As the soil pH goes more acid, less and less of soil minerals are available to plants.  If lime is added during the plant growth cycle, “lime shock” occurs which leads to further problems with nitrogen loss, and a lock up of phosphorus in insoluble (unavailable) calcium phosphate.  Plant microbes are affected and other minerals become unavailable for plant absorption.  With a healthy organic soil, plants synthesize and release exudates that adjust the pH through action of the microbiological community.  Therefore organic soils are much less pH complicated to the gardener.

Poor soil aeration can devastate beneficial microbes in soils.  A compacted soil results in trapped carbon dioxide reacting with water to form carbonic acid. Excess carbonic acid then reacts with organic matter to form deadly alcohols and other noxious chemicals that kill root cells.  Aerobes in the soil are replaced with anaerobic life which ties up nutrients that would be going to plants.  Organic soil will hold its loose structure even after rains, whereas mineral soils will collapse and become compacted. A fluffy soil that can allow oxygen and water to flow easily is ideal. Water and oxygen movement is necessary to maintain the microbes and to transport soluble nutrients to plant root systems.

Chemical balances influence availability of individual mineral nutrients.  There is completion among ions of minerals for absorption on root sites.  Example: If you have too much potassium, magnesium, or sodium in your soil, plants will take up less calcium.  As a result, blossom-end rot would be much more common in your tomatoes, squash, and other plants.  This is why frequent soil tests are very important to chemical gardeners, but less so to organic gardeners.

Many people want to become gardeners, especially with rising food prices, problems with food safety, and reports of lack of nutrients in food items.  Too many are taking the “modern path” by pouring on N-P-K fertilizer without knowing how the fertilizers work.  These people use three times the nitrogen that farmers use.  This results in excess nutrients (esp. nitrogen and phosphorus) that are washed into waterways and harm aquatic environments, plus their garden is a flop.  To become a responsible and knowledgeable gardener, take the Master Gardener Classes at the LSU AgCenter. For more information about Master Gardeners, call the AgCenter at 337-463-7706 or email khawkins@agcenter.lsu.edu.

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Milkweed Assassin Bug – Common Beneficial Predator in the Garden by George Giltner, Master Gardener

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Milkweed Assassin Bug – A Common Beneficial Predator in the Garden

By George Giltner, Master Gardener

Zelus longipes is the ‘milkweed assassin bug’ or the ‘longlegged assassin bug’, but it is commonly misidentified as the nymph of leaffooted bugs or as another sap sucking plant pest in our area.  But take a minute to ID this great predator that feeds on a wide range of soft-bodied prey in flower and vegetable gardens.  Just by observation you may notice a fly, mosquito, cucumber beetle, armyworm, rootworm or other caterpillars captured in the long spearing beak.  Also look for the long legs which are hairy within range of a magnifying glass.  The color is usually yellow to orange to a reddish orange on the stomach side with black wings present on the adults.  An orange triangle may be present in front of the wings.  This species has great variation in size and color.  However the adults and nymphs have a characteristic pear-shaped head, constricted neck, black eyes, and a forward moving beak that help in identification as a predator.

assassin 1

Assassin Bugs Prefer to Stalk their Prey Near Flowers without Harming the Plant.

The economic importance of the milkweed assassin bug is as a major predator of crop damaging pests like the fall armyworm, Asian citrus psyllid, cornsilk flies (causing larvae damage of corn), and the genista broom moth (caterpillar attacks Texas laurel, crape myrtle, honeysuckle, and Laburnum.

Their preying behavior is fun to watch, especially around flowers.  They hide in the leaf foliage with their frontal legs raised for an attack.  As the ends of these legs contain a sticky substance, they pounce on prey and immediately insert the forward moving beak into the prey.  The prey is paralyzed with an  injection of liquid saliva, then it is digested and ingested.  The prey may be up to seven times the size of the milkweed assassin bug.

assassin 2

In this Photo, the Assassin Bug has Successfully Captured its Target.

Many adults and nymphs have been noticed overwintering around vegetation and flowers in Beauregard Parish.  The constricted neck of the milkweed assassin bugs readily separates their wrongful ID as leaffooted bugs (nymphs or adults).

Gardeners should learn to identify beneficial insects like the milkweed assassin bug.  These beneficials keep an ecological balance in check between predators and prey.  When all insects on plants are sprayed with wide range insecticides early in spring, it is usually the pests that have the reproductive advantage to cause outbeaks and major pest problems.

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Grow Your Own Healthy Crops

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Grow Your Own Healthy Crops
By George Giltner, Master Gardener, Beauregard Parish, LA
Health and nutritional value of food has become a common daily concern. The CDC reports that in 1958 less than 1% of the US population was diagnosed with diabetes. By 2010, the percentage has trended to an amazing 7%. For our youth, estimates are that 33% are overweight and at risk for diabetes. The cost of coronary heart disease in the US is over $150 billion annually (World Health Organization), with over 100 million people having high cholesterol levels (200mg/dl), and 70 million are treated for high blood pressure. WHO also reports that global cancer rates could increase by 50% by 2020. Our Western lifestyle with a high caloric diet, rich in fat, refined carbohydrates and animal protein, combined with low physical activity, lead to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arterial hypertension and cancer. Those are the unhealthy facts.
Now, is the time for a healthy life-style awakening, a behavioral reality check, and sensible cost-saving solutions to your health goals. Gardening can be the best choice solution for healthy nutrition and physical activity. The DeRidder LSU AgCenter has a nutritionist, Master Gardener classes, and a wealth of experts to support you. Gardens can be grown in containers, from pots to raised beds, or bigger into row gardens. In a month you can have a nice crop of red lettuce, kale, and broccoli. For spring, plan for one of the healthiest foods, legumes. The garden-fun exercise is good for the entire family. Dr. Kathy Fontenot, LSU AgCenter School Gardening coordinator, says “When kids grow vegetables, they will eat them.” This behavioral change even applies to adults!
Since gardening is a consumer of time and effort, you expect a good return on your investment. Education and learning are vital to a successful outcome. The Master Gardeners Program along with the comrade of contacts through the course provides abundant gardening knowledge.
You will also want to grow the healthiest and most nutritional veggies. Questions concerning diets and healthy food can be answered by Christy at the LSU AgCenter.
Whether to go organic or chemical or somewhere between in your garden quest is another nutritional choice. Common chemical fertilizers (NPK) are notorious for acidification and depletion of organic matter in soil. Also balance of nutrients is variable due to solubility and leaching of nutrients, especially when high rainfall amounts occur. However organic agricultural practices in general are right on track towards providing necessary soil conditions for growing vegetables with good, and sometimes superior, nutritional qualities. New mixed-fertility, management systems makes selective use of commercial fertilizers and organics with the goal of producing mineral-dense nutritious foods. These ecologically-oriented farms using this system, produce foods of superior nutritional quality. In many instances it surpasses their certified organic counterparts. Soil testing is of prime importance. It provides the analysis necessary to correct mineral deficiencies in various soils whether organic, chemical or mixture farming.
Between 1963 to 1992, the USDA reported average drops in the mineral content of some fruits and vegetables (oranges, apples, carrots, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, etc.) The average % change was -30% for calcium, -32% for iron, -21% for magnesium, -11% for phosphorus, and -6.5% for potassium. Other studies support depletion of soil minerals in American farm soils and a loss of food nutritional values.
The practice of adding well-made compost in organic gardening is an excellent method of avoiding mineral depletion. Home gardens are under the control of the gardener, who feeds the soil with composted kitchen waste to a large variety of other organic matter. This supports soil life with needed macro/micro minerals and nutrients that in turn, supplies the vegetables with a balance of absorbable minerals (20) and other nutrients in a desirable on-demand release.
Another factor in food nutrition is freshness. Fresh vegetables are more nutritious than canned goods, some frozen goods, and imported produce. Canned veggies are cooked, then have stabilizers, salt, and preservatives added which make them a poor choice for people with health issues. Cooking and draining of food can result in a 75% loss of potassium. Blanching of frozen veggies causes the loss of water-soluble vitamins (like B vitamins), but removes few of the fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, E, and carotenoids. 30% of vitamin C is lost in freezing. For more information refer to the USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors (2003). Imported or distant produce is typically picked raw, then treated with ethylene or other agents for a ripe appearance and a fresh look. However time and the disrupted ripening process of fruit can severely affect its nutritional quality and flavor. Food from the local grower or home garden can always be picked fresh and can have flavor comparable to vine ripe tomatoes.
The ‘mystery factor’ of our food supply is a major residual concern for most people. The ‘mystery factor’ can be “Where did this food come from?” or “Are any harmful pesticide residues or biologicals in or on the food?” or “What is the true nutritional value?”. A recent TV documentary stated that only 2% of food from China is inspected. A close inspection of supermarket pork may reveal that it came from Haiti or another third world country. Also there are only 3 major food suppliers of food in this country. Their main concern is growing food for a profit. It must look good, taste fair, have a long shelf-life and above all – be sold. Therefore, the best approach to obtaining good nutritional food without the ‘mystery factor’ is to buy local quality food or grow it yourself.
So there are healthy benefits in growing your own food. You can control fertility, pesticide usage, harvest time and choose many types of flavorful, nutritious vegetable varieties. Garden produce can lower your grocery budget, or it may even produce income from a Farmers Market. It is a pleasant endeavor that can improve physical and mental well-being.

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