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Archive | Eco-Living & Health

America’s Native Bamboo

Mention the word “bamboo” and visions of China, panda bears and exotic jungles readily come to mind for most of us living in the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, the majority of the 1,450 species of true bamboo found throughout the world originate in Southern and Southeastern Asian countries, with a few scattered species found in Africa and the beech forests of Chile in South America.

River or giant cane is the largest and most noticeable of the three native types of bamboo.

Some bamboo species grow more densely than any forest you can imagine and produce giant canes as big around as a small tree, while others are as diminutive as a clump of native big bluestem prairie grass to which all bamboo is related. In fact, bamboo belongs to the true grass family Poaceae which contains some 10,000 recognized species and represents the fifth-largest plant family on Earth.

The United States is home to three very distinct native species of bamboo, which are collectively known as cane.

Native Bamboo: Cane History & Ecology

When the first Europeans set out to explore the New World they encountered massive canebrakes so dense they were nearly impenetrable. These natural obstacles were so massive that explorers had to navigate around them, sometimes for miles. While cane was present in much of the southern and southeastern half of the United States, the largest canebrakes in North America were found along the edges and floodplains of major rivers such as the Mississippi and its tributaries. Continue Reading →

Increasing Soil Organic Matter Through Organic Agriculture

Numerous scientific studies show that soil organic matter provides many benefits for building soil health such as improv­ing the number and biodiversity of beneficial microorganisms that pro­vide nutrients for plants, including fixing nitrogen, as well as controlling soilborne plant diseases. The decom­position of plant and animal residues into SOM can provide all the nutri­ents needed by plants and negate the need for synthetic chemical fertilizers, especially nitrogen fertilizers that are responsible for numerous environ­mental problems.

Organic (above) vs. conventional (right). The higher levels of organic matter allow the soil in the organic field to resist erosion in heavy rain events and capture more water.

The year 2015 was declared the International Year of Soils by the 68th UN General Assembly with the theme “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life.” I was particularly pleased with the theme because this is a message that we in the organic sector have been spreading for more than 70 years, and at first we were ridiculed. Now there is a huge body of science showing that what we observed in our farming systems is indeed correct.

“Organic farming” became the dominant name in English-speaking countries for farming systems that eschew toxic, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers through J.I. Rodale’s global magazine Organic Farming and Gar­dening, first published in the United States in the 1940s. Rodale promot­ed this term based on building soil health by the recycling of organic matter through composts, green ma­nures, mulches and cover crops to increase the levels of soil organic matter as one of the primary management techniques.

Continue Reading →

Regional Crops: Preserving Diversity

Regional crops that fed our ancestors and provided a sense of place are disappearing, but some growers and researchers are dedicated to the continuation of these old favorites, refusing to allow them — and our food roots — to disappear.

Jenny Caleo performs a pollination experiment on beach plums.

Whether indigenous or introduced, wild-harvested or cultivated, these food crops at one time held great importance in their various localities. Interest in less commonly known specialty crops is increasing, even while their growing popularity is sometimes accompanied by controversy.

This article will examine four of them.

New England Roots

It goes by many names: Cape White turnip, Westport turnip, Eastham turnip. These names — all taken from New England locales — are used in lieu of its official one: the Macomber rutabaga. Traditionally a part of southern New England Thanksgiving celebrations, this rutabaga is a New England notable, although rutabagas — a hybrid between turnips and wild cabbage — are not native to the United States.

“It’s very similar to parsnips,” said Chris Clegg of Four Town Farm in Seekonk, Massachusetts. “It is not nearly as bitter as purple top rutabagas or bland as yellow rutabagas,” and is quite popular in the region. Continue Reading →

Harvesting Honey: Tips & Tricks for Efficient Extraction

When I think about harvesting honey it brings me back to my childhood. When I was a small child I would stay with my grandparents for a week at a time. They lived on a small farm and were self-sufficient. They didn’t have electricity, so they heated and cooked with wood. I remember they had raspberries, and I would help pick with my grandmother. I thought I was doing a lot of work but I was probably more trouble than help.

After we picked the raspberries, she took them in the house and cleaned them, and then she cooked them on her woodstove to make jam. Then she put them in a glass jar. She melted beeswax and poured a thin layer on top, sealing it. Then she put a lid on it to keep varmints at bay. When we visited on Christmas my grandmother would take a knife and cut the wax off. She would put the jam on fresh-baked bread, and it was just as good as the day she canned it.

The honeybee and its cousin, the ant, are the only two insects that live all winter on their stored food. Just like my grandmother, the honeybee cans honey. Instead of putting their honey in a glass jar they make miniature six-sided, 4.9 mm containers out of wax. These are placed horizontally with the top tilted slightly upward. Continue Reading →

Dog Food: Healthy Alternatives

We are a nation of pet owners where nearly three out of four households own at least one domestic animal — 96 million furry feline friends and 81 million canine companions. And while we may love them (and spend $58.5 billion on them annually to demonstrate that love), we don’t feed them well.

Tripe, turkey, lamb, beef liver and other organ meats make good food for man’s best friend.

“If you’re not controlling their food intake, you’re allowing someone else to do it for you,” says master dog chef Micki Voisard. “Most of us wouldn’t eat commercial dog food and chances are, if they knew what was in it, our dogs wouldn’t eat it either. Feeding your animal dead, processed food, produced months before you purchased it causes more problems than it solves.

Some crunchable kibble is so loaded down with everything but the kitchen sink that I see dogs hyped up like teenagers on Red Bull.”

An advocate of “real food versus dead food,” Voisard notes, “When Hill’s put the word Science in front of the word Diet a few decades ago, I think we lost our last bit of common sense in the dog feeding world.”

Her concerns are shared by a growing audience, one that represents a lot of consumer buying power. In a Wall Street Journal article titled “May – National Pet Month,” it was reported that pet food varieties labeled organic now generate $2.9 billion in annual sales. Wisely, the writer did add the caveat that “while organic labels (for humans) are approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, separate pet food standards don’t exist.” Continue Reading →

Full Nutrition with Sea Solids & Wheat Grass

Rancher, Farmer and Professor Don Jansen Discusses the Hidden Hunger of Plants, Animals

Don Jansen is shown here in front of the hydroponic garden at Gulf Coast University. The sign tells of an experiment by Ocean Grown Foods, Inc. The nutritional uptake of various plants, weight and production were all made parts of the experiment.

The short biography that usually attends the presentation of an Acres U.S.A. interview is in fact contained in the questions and answers that follow. Here it is enough to point out that our conversation with Don Jansen of Fort Myers, Florida, is really a follow-up to the re-publication of physician Maynard Murray’s exposition of his pioneering work with sea solids, Sea Energy Agriculture, coauthored with Tom Valentine in 1976.

How a college professor with a Nebraska ranching background made the transition from the High Plains to Florida’s hydroponic scene makes for one of the most enlightening interviews conducted by Acres U.S.A. over the past 32 years. Here we proceed to unlock some of the ocean’s secrets as the nutritional center of gravity for planet Earth.

Don Jansen was a student and disciple of Dr. Maynard Murray, and he has now inserted lessons learned on pastures, in fields, gardens and hydroponic beds into the wheat grass juice remedy made famous by Ann Wigmore. Continue Reading →