What’s In It For Us?

Fruits-And-Vegetable-Image-Wallpaper

 

Fruits and vegetables. We grow them and we eat them. But why? The USDA says we should be consuming five or more servings per day. But what do they do for us — for our bodies? Why can’t we just forget about them and eat only hamburgers, brats, and bacon?

 
Allow me to state this as plainly and directly as possible. The reason why we eat fruits and vegetables is for the same reason why we eat most any kind of substance classified as food. Our bodies need specific elements in order to synthesize and renew the substances that act as building blocks for our bones, muscles, teeth, skin, hair, and vital organs. Without a constant supply of those essential elements, our bodies would eventually wither and die.

 
I’ll say it again. Without a constant re-stocking of the vital elements that come from the food we eat, we would die. Check out. Shuffle off this mortal coil. Purchase a one-way ticket on the graveyard express. Furthermore, this withering and dying will be slow, agonizing, and painful.

 
We eat meat, fish, eggs, and beans for protein. Our bodies break down this protein into amino acids, which our bodies then use to assemble muscles, tissues, hair, nails, skin, etc.

 
We also eat meat and fish, along with tree nuts, oilseeds, and dairy products for essential fats, which our bodies break down to fatty acids, then re-assemble into cell membranes and adipose tissue. It’s also essential as a source of stored energy, and as a mechanism for absorption for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

 
And fruits and vegetable? What do they provide?

  • First and most important, fruits and vegetables are a source of water, which is critical for essential biochemical functions too numerous to list here.
  • Fruits and vegetables are a source of many of the vitamins and minerals which act as co-enzymes within our physiology. Without these co-enzymes, our bodies would not be able to function.
  • Fruits and vegetables are sources of antioxidants which protect the body from cancer and other diseases and oxidant stress. They also boost the immune system to help our bodies fight off these diseases and stress should they gain a foothold and begin to propagate.
  • Lastly, fruits and vegetables are sources of non-starch polysaccharides, which are a type of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. This dietary fiber absorbs excess water from the colon, which allows for smooth and easy passage of fecal matter from the body, and prevents the development of conditions like chronic constipation, hemorrhoids, colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and rectal fissures.

 

And no, you cannot get all of this from pills! Pills may provide the vitamins and minerals that are present in fruits and vegetables. But fruits and vegetables also contain many other as yet undiscovered nutritive factors which cannot be found in pills.

To maximize the nutritional benefit that we get from fruits and vegetables, we should consume those that are as fresh as possible. And there is nothing fresher than fruits and vegetables that you grow in your very own garden. Plus, they taste a whole lot better too.

That, my friends, is what’s in it for us.

So keep growing and eating those crunchy, delicious, mouth-watering fruits and vegetables. Grow them as if your life depended on it. Because it does.

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Clean Makes Green

Seedstarting Containers

 

Clay pots, transplant flats, seed trays, etc. These are just some of the many devices we use to start our seeds. And most of the time, they work just fine. But occasionally the seeds we plant will start sprouting and looking healthy. Then, for no apparent reason, they will die off.

 
What happened? Disease. Certain spores, fungi, and bacteria can infect seedlings and weaken and/or kill them. These organisms may be present in the pots and seed trays that you re-use. Many of these can survive quite nicely in a dormant state. Then when soil is added and seeds planted, the organisms “wake up” and begin feeding on your tender young seedlings?


What can we do about it? The answer is simple. Clean and sterilize your containers. The Philadelphia County Master Gardeners recommend the following procedure for effectively cleaning and sterilizing your containers:

 

  • Soak pots and other planting containers in warm, soapy water to loosen fragments of matter. Use a scrub brush to scour the pots clean, scrubbing off any debris as well as mineral/salt deposits.
  • Use steel wool for difficult to remove stains, and rinse with warm water until all the soap runs off.
  • Make a bleach solution: 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. This is equivalent to 1.5 cups of regular strength bleach and 13.5 cups of water. (Our note: if you are using concentrated bleach, use 1 cup of bleach to 14 cups of water.)
  • Completely submerge pots and planting containers in the solution and soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Completely submerge pots and planting containers in the solution and soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Upon removing the containers, rinse with warm water.
  • Scrub lightly with soapy water (using unscented dish soap) and rinse well until soap runs off and water runs clear. Inspect for remaining residue and repeat the procedure if necessary. (If stains or residue remain after the sanitation process, do not reuse the pot.)
  • Lay containers out to dry for 24 hours before using. If possible, dry pots in direct sunlight for some of that time. Exposure to the sun can help to kill off certain bacteria.

 

Thoroughly washing and disinfecting your containers will greatly reduce the odds that your seedlings will be weakened or killed by a disease causing organism. And although it seems like a lot of unnecessary work, the healthy seedlings you germinate and transplant will make your efforts well worth it.

Corn — It’s Not Just For Dinner Anymore

What comes to your mind when you hear the word corn (besides my jokes)? Most of us think of the sweet corn that we eat directly off of the cob — boiled and flavored by butter and salt. Well, sweet corn is just one of the many kinds of corn that are grown worldwide. There are different types of corn grown for different purposes. Stand back — because I am now about to impart to you some kernels of knowledge!

 
Dent corn — This is the kind of corn that you are seeing when you drive through the rural areas of Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and any other Corn Belt states and see vast fields of tasseled, silken stalks. It is called dent corn because of the “dimple” that is present in each kernel. According to the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), dent corn accounts for approximately 99% of all corn production in the U.S. Dent corn is not meant for direct human consumption, as it is too starchy and bland. Instead, dent corn is used for livestock feed, corn syrup production, and ethanol manufacture.

Dent Corn

Flint corn — Flint corn is similar to dent corn in terms of usage (livestock feed corn syrup, etc.). It is named for the hard, glassy outer shell surrounding each kernel. It is grown mainly in Central and South America. US corn growers prefer dent corn because of its higher yield. Also, most of the research and breeding of corn in the US has been performed mainly on dent corn.

Flint Corn
Flour corn — The kernels of flour corn contain a very soft starch, which makes for an easier grind and a finer textured product for baked goods.

Flour Corn
Pod or Indian corn — This type of corn has colorful kernels (beyond the standard yellow) and is grown mainly for ornamental purposes. This is the corn you see on Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations. After the holidays are over, you can then grind this corn to make cornmeal.

Indian Corn
Popcorn — Popcorn kernels consist of a hard outer shell surrounding a soft starchy interior. After popcorn is harvested, it must be dried to a specific level of moisture so that when heated, the moisture inside will turn to steam, which will then burst through the outer shell and create the snack that has accompanied many a movie. Take away the butter and salt, and popcorn is actually a very healthy snack.

Popcorn
Sweet corn — This is the product we all know and love that has graced many a picnic or barbecue. Sweet corn is harvested when the kernels are immature. As a result the interior of the kernel contains sugar instead of starch, giving the product a sweet taste. Hence, the name.

Sweet Corn
So now you know more about this amazing grain that feeds our livestock, decorates our homes, and provides us the means to get drunk while we are enjoying a delicious treat of sweet kernels.

Flowers Too Soon = Yield Too Little

You go to your local nursery or big box store and purchase some tomato plants. They’re healthy and strong, and oh look — they already have a few flowers on them or maybe even a a couple of baby tomatoes. Terrific, you think. They’re already starting to produce. What a great crop I’m going to have this year!

 
Sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m gazing into my tomato crystal ball, and I see your future tomato crop consisting of exactly those few tomatoes you see today — and no more. But it’s not too late, my friend. You can change this dismal prediction. All you have to do is remove those few flowers and tomatoes.

Crystal Ball Gaze
“What,” you roar loudly, “are you mad!? Yank the few flowers and tomatoes off my babies? Then I won’t get anything!” On the contrary, oh ye of little faith. Removing those early flowers and fruits is the key to your bumper crop. Allow me to explain.

A plant’s main goal in life is to continue its species. So they will always put reproductive growth ahead of vegetative growth. Your tomato plants will put all their energy from their leaves into those few flowers and tomatoes that exist now. As a result you will get a few fruits on your plants.

The operative word here is “few” — as in few leaves and few tomatoes. Your small plants don’t really have a lot of leaves right now. That translates into very little energy to put into producing a few large tomatoes. Reproduction is stressful to a plant, and can take days or weeks to accomplish. A plant needs all the energy and time they can muster to succeed and not exhaust themselves in the process. A large plant has plenty of leaves, and thus has plenty of energy to put into tomatoes. A small plant, however, does not. Your tomatoes will waste the precious little time and energy it has to give you those few fruits. Picking them will then signal to the plant that it’s time to start producing vegetation again. But guess what? It’s now August. How much time does that plant have left to produce more leaves and more fruit? Mighty little!

Pulling of flowers and small fruits while the plant is still small, however, forces that plant to produce more vegetation. Then when the plant is bigger, it will have all the vegetation and energy it needs to produce that bumper crop. And that’s what you’ve been looking for!

 
I know it sounds counterproductive, but sacrificing a few flowers now, will lead to more tomatoes later. So go ahead! Pull those flowers off of those tomato youngsters! You’ll thank me for it later!

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