Heirlooms, Hybrids, and GMO’s

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You see the terms heirloom, hybrid, and GMO tossed about quite a bit in gardening catalogs, garden publications, and elsewhere within the mass media. These topics are discussed and debated, but are often misunderstood by the general public. In an effort to clear up this misunderstanding, I’m going to define exactly what these terms mean.

Plants that are labeled as heirloom, or pure strain, are plants that “breed true.” Seeds produced from these plants will produce new plants that will be very similar to the parent plant. However, these plants must be pollinated by the exact same cultivar in order to keep the genetics pure. Example: a Brandywine tomato plant is a pure strain cultivar of tomato plant. Seeds from the fruit of Brandywine plants will produce a new generation of Brandywine tomatoes, and the plants and fruit will closely resemble that of the Brandywine tomato from whence those seeds came. The term heirloom also refers to the fact that the cultivar is often passed down through generations of families or communities, just like passing down furniture or jewelry. The term open-pollinated is sometimes used to describe an heirloom or pure-strain cultivar, but this can be misleading. Technically, an open-pollinated plant is one where pollen is transferred from flower to flower via wind, insects, birds, humans, or other natural means. This might result in pollen being transferred within the same cultivar, but it could also involve cross-pollination with another cultivar, resulting in mixed-genetics or hybrid offspring. All heirloom cultivars are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated cultivars are heirloom.

Hybrid cultivars are plants that have been created by cross-pollination – putting the pollen from one cultivar on the flower of a different one. This can occur randomly in nature, but is usually done by human beings under controlled conditions. Example: the Brandy Boy tomato cultivar was created by crossing the Brandywine cultivar with the Better Boy cultivar. Hybridization often results in a stronger, higher yielding plant that can have the best of both worlds of the parent plants. The Brandy Boy tomato has all of the flavor of the Brandywine combined with the disease resistance of the Better Boy. However, the genetics of the Brandy Boy are not pure, this the seeds cannot be saved from generation to generation. If you were to try to save and plant the seeds from a Brandy Boy, the resulting plant and fruits would not look like the parent. The taste might also be different and the disease resistance less vigorous than expected.

Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO’s are living entities (plants or animals) that have had their genetic material altered in some way. Here is where the semantics gets tricky. The very act of cross-pollinating one plant with another is a form of genetic modification. This is a perfectly natural process, whether it occurs in nature or by humans. The resulting plants, fruits, and vegetables are perfectly natural, and excepting minor genetic differences, are no different from their pure strain counterparts. A Brandywine and a Brandy Boy tomato in the end are still tomatoes, and at the cellular level, still contain tomato DNA. Genetically engineered organisms, on the other hand, are living entities that have had their genetic structure altered in the laboratory. Example: inserting genes from a fish into the genetic structure of a tomato would result in a tomato plant that has both tomato and fish DNA. This does not occur naturally, and it is this form of genetic modification that has many people up in arms.

I am not going to debate the merits and detriments of genetic engineering. That’s a whole other topic that’s outside the scope and intent of this article. My intent here is to clarify what all of these terms mean so that when you do get into debates about them, you can make sure that you are clear on the meaning of what you are debating. Whether you are for or against doing anything with genetics, remember that all genetic engineering is genetic modification, but not all genetic modification is genetic engineering. If you grow a hybrid plant you are growing a GMO. But this is not the same as the GMO that is often denounced as “Frankenfood.” That is the result of genetic engineering, an entirely different kind of GMO.

I hope I’ve succeeded in clearing up any misconceptions you may have had regarding these terms.

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The Food Of The Gods

Apollo

 

In many of my classes and presentations, I often refer to cheese as “the food of the gods,” and not just because of its wonderful and complex flavors, aromas, shapes, and colors. While not on par with ambrosia, the drink enjoyed by the gods of ancient Greece that also had the power to confer immortality on any mortal who drank it, cheese has indeed played a part in the rituals and ceremonies of the many religions that have been part of the history of mankind.

In Greek mythology, the god Aristaeus, son of Apollo and Cyrene, was taught by nymphs the art of cheesemaking and beekeeping. After mastering these arts, he then passed this knowledge on to mankind.

Homer’s sang the praises of cheese in his Odyssey and describes how the Cyclops was producing and storing sheep’s and goat’s milk and cheese.

In ancient Britain, the architects of Stonehenge would offer cheese, milk, and yogurt to their deities as part of their religious ceremonies, while keeping meat for their own consumption; meat was viewed as impure and not suitable for deities. Milk itself was viewed by many tribes around the world as being a symbol of purity because of its white color.

Cheese is also mentioned three times in the Bible.

And Jesse said unto David his son, Take now for thy brethren an ephah of this parched corn, and these ten loaves, and run to the camp of thy brethren. And carry these ten cheeses unto the captain of their thousand, and look how thy brethren fare, and take their pledge. — 1 Samuel 17:17-18

And honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness. — 2 Samuel 17:29

Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese? – Job 10:10

So if you ever questioned whether or not you should be eating cheese, I’m here to tell you that the answer is most emphatically yes. If it was deemed worthy of being offered to the ancient deities of Britain, given to man by a Greek god, and served to the armies of the biblical Israelites, then it should be good enough for us.

If You’re Not Elite, Then Your Cheese Won’t Be Sweet

Cheeses

 

Cheese is a living food. No, I don’t mean that cheese is capable of rising up off the plate and dancing the mambo. And if your cheese is dancing the mambo, then you may want to consider cutting back on the wine you’re drinking with it.

By “living” food, I’m referring to the thousands of microorganisms (bacteria and mold) that play a part in turning milk into cheese. Nearly all types of bacteria will coagulate milk, but not all will produce a coagulated product that will look, smell, and taste good enough to become cheese. So you have to be selective about the kind of bacteria you allow into your milk.

When you make cheese, you are, in a way, hosting a very exclusive party. Sound silly? Well then let me ask you this. When you throw a party at your home, do you throw open your front door and shout to the neighborhood, “Hey, I’m throwing a party here! Everybody’s invited, and be sure to bring along your friends and relatives!” No, of course you don’t. Because if you did, then God knows what kind of riffraff and miscreants you’d be allowing into your home. When you throw a party, you privately invite the “right” kind of people – friends and family members whom you like and whom you trust will contribute to a fun evening without drinking all your booze or wrecking your home.

The same concept holds true for cheesemaking. If you left a carton of milk setting around for two weeks, you’d have a carton of coagulated milk, but one that would look awful and smell worse. It would not be something that you want to even attempt to turn into cheese. That’s because when you opened that carton, you invited every kind of bacteria in the air — the good, the bad, and the mightily awful — to come in and coagulate your milk. Any good bacteria that coagulated the milk into something tasty were overshadowed by the bad bacteria turning it into something disgusting.

When you make cheese, you only allow in certain kinds of bacteria – bacteria that have been scientifically proven will coagulate milk in such a way that it will produce curds that look, smell, and taste good. That is why we add starter cultures to our milk. These cultures contain these scientifically-tested microorganisms that will contribute to the look and taste of the finished product. Furthermore, certain kinds of cheeses require other types of bacteria or mold to make them into specific cheese. If, for example, you want to make Blue, Gorgonzola, or Stilton cheeses, you will need a mold — Penicillium roqueforti. Only Penicillium roqueforti can provide the bluish color and specific flavor that turns your block of curd into blue cheese. Want to make Swiss, Gruyere or Emmenthal cheeses? Then you’ll need Propionic shermanii bacteria, because they are the ones that form the holes.

So if you want to make cheese, then you have to become a bit snobbish. Don’t allow just any bacteria into your milk-house. Only allow the elite bacteria. The “correct” bacteria will give you the right cheese.

The Gardener Will Interview You Now

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How did your garden perform for you this year? Were you happy with the results of your labors? Did everything you planted meet or exceed your expectations? Or did you have clearly defined expectations to begin with – other than just a great garden with lots of vegetables?

If you’re not happy with the results from this year’s garden, may I suggest a new approach? Think of yourself as the CEO of Your Household, Inc. One of your functions as CEO is to provide enough nourishing food to feed the employees of Your Household, Inc. (a.k.a. your family). One of your initiatives for next year is to meet part of that food need with fresh fruits and vegetables, and one of your strategies for accomplishing that is to grow, rather than purchase those fresh fruits and vegetables. To make this happen, you have to hire a Director of Fruit and Vegetable Growth (a.k.a. a garden). This Director of Fruit and Vegetable Growth must be able to provide specific kinds of fruit and vegetable outputs to maximize the nutritional needs and the eating pleasure of Your Household, Inc.

How can you be certain that your future Director of Fruit and Vegetable Growth will meet expectations? Just as a company has to interview prospective employees to make sure that they hire the best employees that will perform the functions for which they’ve been hired, you must interview your Director of Fruit and Vegetable Growth to make sure that it will be capable of delivering the aforementioned expected fruit and vegetable outputs.

At this point, you may be thinking, “The Garden Troubadour has truly lost his marbles.” If you haven’t yet figured out what I’m really saying, then allow me to express it in plain English. You’ve got to determine exactly what you want out of your garden – what kinds and cultivars of fruits and vegetables you want to grow. Perhaps you are just starting to garden and you want to begin with the classics – tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. Maybe you really have a hankering for fresh corn on the cob, and you want it to be as sugary sweet as can be. If that’s what you want, then in next spring’s garden, you may decide not to plant cucumbers and instead, use that space for corn. Furthermore, you’ll research available cultivars and perhaps choose a sh2 cultivar such as Illini Xtra Sweet, which can retain its sugar content for as long as ten days before that sugar begins to convert to starch.

Maybe all your tomato plants died from verticillium wilt in this season’s garden. Frustrating, no doubt, but you’re not yet ready to give up on tomatoes. So in next year’s garden, you plant a cultivar like Better Boy, which is resistant to verticillium wilt.

By now you get the picture. To have a successful garden, you have to think like a CEO. You have to know what you want your garden to accomplish for you, what fruit and vegetable crops to “hire” to make that happen, and how you’re going to develop them in your organization (a.k.a. garden).

It has been shown time and again that corporations that do not have adequate strategies for growth usually end up going out of business. The same is true of your gardening efforts. If you want your Director of Fruit and Vegetable Growth to succeed (a.k.a. provide you with bumper crops of colorful, flavorful, and nutrition-packed fruits and vegetables), then you have to “hire” the right garden and provide him with the inputs he needs to succeed.

The Worth of a Gardener

Me with Sue and Judy's Garden

 

Your garden is something to be proud of, no matter how it turned out. A bumper crop of sweet, crunchy, mouthwatering fruits and vegetables is something to celebrate; a less than perfect garden can generate many lessons and a feeling that your garden will be a bigger success next year.

It’s great to be proud of your garden. But there is something of which you should be more proud of, or maybe I should say someone. That someone is you! Yes, you! You decided that you weren’t going to accept the flavorless, artificially colored, pesticide-laden supermarket produce. You decided to do something about it by making the effort to put a seed (or a plant or a tuber) in the ground and grow something better looking, better tasting, and better for you. You raised a bumper crop of those delicious fruits and vegetables and you shared them with family and friends. The efforts and dedication of you and others like you have made a small contribution to the overall health and well-being of the world around you.

So dare to hold your head up high and proclaim to the world, I’m a gardener! And from one gardener to another, I salute you! Keep up the good work! Our world needs your talents – as well as your fruits and vegetables!

Take Two Fungi and Call Me in the Morning

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Those of us who grow our own mushrooms know how fresh and flavorful they can be. And I previously discussed the nutritional power of the mighty mushroom. But mushrooms may also have therapeutic benefits as well. Fungus for the diseases among us? Seriously? Yes indeed! Here are just a few ways that mushrooms may help us feel better.

Anti-cancer effects – Mushrooms are loaded with antioxidants, which are important agents in neutralizing free radicals. Free radicals can damage cells, which may then become cancerous. Mushrooms also contain selenium, which can potentially detoxify some cancer-causing substances in the body. Scientific studies have shown that turkey tail mushrooms, when taken in combination with other therapeutic agents may be effective against cervical and other types of cancers. Lion’s mane mushrooms have been shown to be effective in the treatment of esophageal and other gastric cancers

Cardiovascular health – Mushrooms are high in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, all of which are important nutrients for a healthy cardiovascular system. Potassium and sodium together help regulate blood pressure. Eating mushrooms, which are low in sodium and high in potassium may help to lower blood pressure. The beta glucans in shiitake mushrooms have been shown to be effective in lowering blood cholesterol. Studies on patients with high blood pressure and high cholesterol have shown that when given reishi mushrooms their cholesterol and blood and blood plasma viscosity were all significantly lowered

Immune system enhancement – Studies on turkey tail mushrooms have shown that they can increase interferon production, and scavenge superoxide and hydroxyl free radicals. They have also demonstrated anti-viral activity, possibly even inhibiting HIV infection. Reishi mushrooms have shown potent action against sarcoma, as well as stimulating macrophages and increasing levels of tumor-necrosis factor (TNF-α) and interleukins

So someday you may be able to throw away your pills, because the mighty mushroom will cure all your ills!

A Time of Change

Those foxes barking at the moon
Tell me easy weather will soon be gone
Frost is in the air
Change is everywhere, darling
This time of year, a change comes over me

― Dillon Bustin, Almanac
Slowly but surely, the world around us is changing as Earth’s Northern Hemisphere prepares for its long winter sleep. Squirrels are gathering nuts for winter food. Birds are flying south since food here will soon become scarce. And the lazy warm days of summer are turning into the cool nights of autumn, soon to be followed by the frigid snow-covered days of winter. Change is, indeed, everywhere, as Dillon Bustin sings.

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It has been said that the only constant is change; that change is inevitable (except, of course, from a vending machine). The changes of autumn all around us make an excellent time to look back at our year and think about any changes we might like to make in our own lives. Yes, I know the tradition is to do that on New Year’s Day via the resolution. But let’s face it — New Year’s resolutions are well nigh worthless. They’re made in the heat of a holiday moment with a lot of fire and gusto that quickly gets put out by the snows and cold of winter. But carefully thought out life changes made in the lengthening cool nights of autumn have a better chance of sticking.
Fall is indeed a time of change. Let it change you too.

To Dog or Not to Dog — That is the Question

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Last month, I spoke of the different kinds of animals that should be welcomed into your garden because they prey on or repel the critters that are generously helping themselves to your garden bounty. But we’ve been overlooking one animal that lives very close to you. In fact, he may even be a member of your very own family! No, I’m not talking about your mother-in-law or your brother-in-law. I’m talking about man’s best friend — Canis familiaris – the dog.

 

Allowing the family dog to roam around your yard near the garden or even inside the garden is a great way to keep the critters away. Most dogs will naturally chase squirrels and rabbits, and even opossums and raccoons would rather be left alone then have to deal with a dog. Besides, since you’re feeding it all that expensive, high-class, natural ingredient dog food, your dog ought to be earning his keep by contributing to your gardening efforts.

 

If you’re going to use your dog as a critter repellent, there are several things to consider. First, consider the kind of dog you have. A retriever, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, or Great Pyrenees will probably do an excellent job of scaring off the garden thieves. A Chihuahua, Yorkshire Terrier, or a Dachshund – probably not so much. Second, if your dog likes to dig, then letting him in the garden is probably not a good idea. Better to have a high fence, and let the dog do its work outside the garden. Lastly, if your dog has a lazy or cowardly personality, it probably won’t make a very good critter repellent.

 

A dog by itself probably won’t be enough to keep the marauding critters away all of the time. But combined with other repellents – fences, odor-emitting products, predator urine, etc., the family pet can be another tool in your arsenal of critter chasers.

Friends in High and Low Places

One of the tasks in cultivating a garden is the never ending battle to keep marauding critters from helping themselves to the fruits of your labor. We erect fences, put up scarecrows, sprinkle predator urine, put up row covers, and all the other different methods of keeping the four and six-legged thieves out of your garden. And despite all our efforts, the aphids, beetles, squirrels, rabbits, and other creatures still manage to make off with part (or sometimes all) of our harvest.

 

What’s a gardener to do? Well, why not meet thief with predator? Why not encourage the animals that prey on these garden thieves to take up residence in your backyard? Why not let the same Mother Nature that would despoil your bounty protect it as well?

 

Who are these predators of which I speak? Allow me to elaborate.

 

Bats – Bats are voracious eaters of insects. Bothered by mosquitoes? The bats will take care of the problem for you! Note – bats are not going to get caught in your hair and they are not going to suck your blood. They are not horrible vicious creatures to be feared and reviled. They are an important member of the ecosystem and should be welcomed with open arms!

 

Bat

 

Birds – Bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, grosbeaks, and nuthatches will happily devour such pests as larvae, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, etc. And if you’re having problems with rabbits, mice, voles, and other rodents, then birds of prey such as hawks and owls will dispose of them.

 

 

Frogs and toads – Invite these wonderful amphibians into your garden and they will repay you by hungrily devouring any six-legged creature that dares invade your garden.

 

 

Lizards – Anoles, or the North American version of the chameleon, will climb to the tops of plants to eat the insects there. Skinks are fast-moving lizards that will work the ground level and eat slugs, snails and other ground-dwelling garden marauders.

 

 

Snakes – Yes, snakes! What I said previously about bats also applies to snakes. Snakes are not slimy horrible creatures to be feared and destroyed. They are a vital part of our planet’s web of life, and can be another ally in your battle against garden pests. Garter snakes feed on slugs. So do sharp-tailed snakes – and they’re especially fond of Japanese beetle grubs. Rubber boas eat mice and voles, while gopher snakes prey on mice and rats.

 

 

Spiders – All right, everybody repeat after me. Spiders are our friends! And for a vegetable gardener, there’s no better friend than the members of order Araneae. There is no end to the insects they will eat — aphids, armyworms, leafhoppers, flea-hoppers, leafminers, spider mites, caterpillars, thrips, plant bugs, cucumber beetles, grasshoppers, scarabs and flies to mention only a few. And very few are venomous to humans. So don’t destroy them. Welcome them!

 

Wolf Spider

 

So how to you attract these natural allies to your garden? We’ll discuss that in the next blog post.

Don’t Let Autumn Get You Down

Country Road Autumn

The leaves of brown came tumbling down, remember
That September — in the rain.

― Harry Warren and Al Dubin, September in the Rain

 
I don’t know about you, but the coming of autumn brings on some wistful feelings inside. Seeing the multicolored leaves careening earthward reminds me that the long warm days will soon be replaced by long cold nights. And snow. Lots of snow.

 
Autumn also brings on feelings of bewilderment as to how the days managed to pass by in the twinkling of an eye. Wasn’t it only yesterday that the snow had finally melted away and the earth was bringing forth new life? Didn’t school just let out a few days ago? Why am I now seeing back to school sales in the stores? And wasn’t it just recently that I turned over the soil in the garden and planted the seeds and/or seedlings? Where did spring and summer go?

 
Autumn can also bring on feelings of regret for all the things we said we were going to do but didn’t. The friends not visited; the vacations not taken; the new hobbies not tried; etc. Once again, we let obligations, real or imagined, get in our way. Like thieves in the night, we’ve allowed them to steal time from us — time that should be spent enjoying all the warmth and joy that the spring and summer have to offer.

 
But even now, it’s not too late. Cold weather doesn’t start popping up until late September or early October. Bone-chilling cold doesn’t start coming around until November and the snow doesn’t start rearing its ugly head until late November or early December. There is still time to enjoy the warmth before it’s all over. So visit that friend. Throw that party. Take that vacation — even if it’s only for a weekend. And whether or not you planted a vegetable garden in the spring, you can also plant a fall vegetable garden. Those same cool season crops you planted in the spring, work equally well in the fall.

 
So do it now, while the days are warm and still somewhat long. Then you’ll have no time for bewilderment and regret, as it will be replaced by sweet memories that will keep you warm all winter long.