Archive | Crops

Glyphosate: A Toxic Legacy

Journalist and Author Carey Gillam Shares Decades of Research into Monsanto and its Ubiquitous Weed Killer

Carey Gillam discusses glyphosateCarey Gillam is a Kansas-based journalist turned glyphosate geek. Her first book, Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science, fills a gaping hole in the literature and is getting excellent reviews. Erin Brockovich says Whitewash “reads like a mystery novel as Gillam skillfully uncovers Monsanto’s secretive strategies.” Publishers Weekly says, “Gillam expertly covers a contentious front” and paints “a damning picture.” And Booklist calls it “a must-read.” Gillam brings more than 25 years in the news industry covering corporate America to her project investigating Monsanto’s premier product and the malfeasance that surrounds it. During her 17 years employed by the global news service Reuters she developed her specialty in the big business of food and agriculture. Besides covering topics like economic policy, corporate earnings and commodities trading, she was pulled away to write about presidential politics, natural disasters and a range of other general news and feature topics. Two years ago she became Research Director
 with U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit consumer group that pursues truth and transparency in America’s food industry. Gillam says she always knew she “wanted to be a journalist, to build a career on the simple pursuit of truth. My work is based on the belief that by sharing information and ideas, airing debates, and unveiling actions and events critical to public policy, we help advance and strengthen our community — our humanity.”

Interviewed by Tracy Frisch Continue Reading →

Growing Great Garlic

Garlic is a great low-maintenance cash crop. Brian Fox planted 35 pounds of garlic in his garden 11 years ago. He now plants 700 pounds every October using 15 tons of hay mulch at Salem Mountain Farms in northeastern Pennsylvania. He harvests about 4,000 pounds the next summer. “I can’t imagine stopping,” he said. “It’s certainly a satisfying thing to grow. It’s one of those things we see in the spring before actual leaves start growing on trees.”

How to grow garlic

Brian Fox plants 700 pounds of garlic every October and harvests 4,000 the next summer.

He is not super busy when garlic needs attention. He hand-pulls it after his busy planting season in June and early July.

“It’s a natural fit with the things we do on the farm,” he said. “We isolate it from everything else.”

Fox started with a mentor and has since been able to pass along his knowledge. He presented a workshop to more than 40 farmers entitled “Growing Great Garlic: Three Years to a Low-Maintenance Cash Crop” at a Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) field day.

“Eight or 10 were people I knew who just wanted to see how I did things,” he said. “Others were looking for something to grow or had been growing garlic on a small scale.”


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Growing Beans: A How-To Guide

Staple and comfort food icon, the bean has played an essential role in the survival of people and animals since ancient times. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence that old-world legumes (len­tils, peas, broad beans, chick peas, and soybeans) were used as food for more than 10,000 years in eastern Asia. Caches of lentils have been found in Egyptian tombs, signifying the reverence paid to this plant. In “His­tory of Legumes: Man’s Use of Legumes” (, Jason Ladock writes that “Legumes are second only to the cereal grasses as sources of human food and ani­mal forage.”

Growing beans is easy, and, when dry, they can be stored for long periods of time without losing viability if they are kept in a cool, dry, dark environment.

Beans are easy to grow, and, when dry, can be stored for long periods of time without losing viability if they are kept in a cool, dry, dark environment.

Why are legumes so popular? Le­gumes, members of the bean or Fabaceae plant family, have many significant at­tributes. Beans are high in iron, potassium and magnesium, and are also an important source of protein and fiber. They are easy to grow, and, when dry, can be stored for long periods of time without losing viability if they are kept in a cool, dry, dark environment. Beside their nutritive benefits, the USDA Soil Quality Institute reports that beans have an ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen with the help of symbiotic Rhizobia bacteria living in their roots.

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Electrical Conductivity: The Pulse of the Soil

Soil consultants have traditionally used electrical conductivity to measure salinity. Conductivity can tell us much more about the physical structure and health of the soil, though, and can help  indirectly measure crop productivity.

electrical conductivity - the pulse of the soilWhen we walk into our home on a dark night, the first thing we usually do is turn on the lights. With the flip of a switch we complete the electrical circuit, initiating the flow of electricity to the light bulb and illuminating our home.

In the human body, electricity controls the flow of blood from the heart to all the organs. In the same way that flipping a switch turns on a light, electrical signaling in the body tells the heart when and how often to contract and relax. These electrical signals can be altered by the intake of nutrients. For example, the intake of high-salt foods can lead to a higher pulse rate. A higher pulse rate forces the heart and other organs to have to work harder in order to function properly. This extra work certainly puts added stress on the body. In contrast, consuming a balanced form of energy can reduce the stress put upon the body.

Waking up in the morning and only consuming caffeine does not give you the same energy as waking up and eating a balanced breakfast. While both inputs may increase your readiness in the morning, they affect the human body in different ways physiologically. Inputs into any biological system, whether human, animal, plant, or soil, affect the system in unique ways. Continue Reading →

Homemade Fertilizers

With the economy and farm finance more and more problematic, interest is growing in running farms with fewer, more accurate and less expensive inputs and homemade fertilizers can help cut costs and keep fertility on the farm.

homemade fertilizer

Vermiwash made in a small biodynamic apple orchard in the
Himalayan foothills of Uttaranchal in sight of Nanda Devi, India’s second highest

Formerly we’ve overdosed with a plethora of harsh fertilizers — especially nitrogen. As a result we’ve burned up the better part of our soil carbon, and this has reduced our rainfall.

By burning off carbon, we have created droughts even as ocean warming has sent more evaporation into the atmosphere. We have ignored that few things have more affinity for hydrogen than carbon, and if we want rain to adhere to and permeate our soils we need to build soil carbon.

We thought salt fertilizers were cheap, and the stunning results encouraged us to wish away any hidden costs, no matter that earthworms disappeared simultaneously with the food chain that supported them. Our soils got hard and sticky as magnesium stayed behind while nitrates leached, carrying away silicon, calcium and trace minerals. The soil fused when wet, shed water when it rained, and we continued to get less for more.

As if this wasn’t enough, the mind-set we were sold was get big or get out. As our net margins dried up and our future prospects evaporated, our water dried up and our land became exhausted. Continue Reading →

Aphid Control: Lady Beetle as Beneficial Insect

Lady bugs eat aphids

The convergent lady beetle is a common species of lady beetle.

When searching for aphid control measures, turn to nature first. Numerous vendors sell beneficial insects via their websites along with offering plenty of useful information. For example, ARBICO Organics (Arizona), Orcon (California), Gardens Alive (Indiana), and Nature’s Control (Oregon) sell insect predators in large numbers and at least one vendor sells it as a “beneficial insect program” with weekly shipments adjusted to your pest control needs. Note that beneficial insects are slow acting in pest outbreak situations, so use beneficial insects preventively when pests are in low populations and have not overwhelmed the crops you are trying to protect. Follow the release instructions that come with the products, and modify your spray schedule to adjust for the presence of beneficial insects.

Aphid Control: Convergent Lady Beetle

The convergent lady beetle is a very common species of lady beetle among the numerous others present in any crop field. The convergent beetle is common in Alabama and also a very popular beneficial insect sold by companies. The insect name comes from the two white lines seen on the thorax of adult beetles that seem to merge together on the top. Continue Reading →