Sunday, May 17, 2009

Most Pesticide-Ridden Foods

Check out this list I found this list via Trader Joe's (my favorite store these days). The list, from the environmental working group, details 47 commonly purchased produce items in order of pesticide load. I've also heard of "the dirty dozen" foods, which lists the 12 worst foods in terms of contamination by hormones, pesticides, and the like. It also offers explanations for each item's inclusion on the list, such as this rather disturbing detail about a staple in our house:

"4. Apples. With 36 different chemicals detected in FDA testing, half of which are neurotoxins (meaning they cause brain damage), apples are almost as contaminated as strawberries. Peeling non-organic apples reduces but does not eliminate the danger of ingesting these chemicals. Go organic, especially for children."

The dirty dozen list is topped by meats and dairy items. I already buy organic milk and we never buy any meat except chicken, but of course we consume a lot of cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products like kefir. I have to confess that I'm vigilant about purchasing "natural" foods (no chemicals), but I'm hit or miss about organic because they can be shockingly expensive. These two lists really help me choose which foods must absolutely be organic, and which can be conventional. Here's a summary:

The dirty dozen:
1. Meats
2. Dairy
3. Strawberries (good thing we went to an organic farm last week to pick!)
4. apples
5. tomatoes
6. potatoes (ack! who knew?)
7. spinach and other greens
8. coffee
9. peaches
10. grapes
11. celery
12. bell peppers

The Environmental Working Group lists only produce, but includes 47 items listed by chemical load so you can make your own choices and be aware. The worst offender? Peaches. The "best"? Onions and avocadoes. Check out the websites. It's eye-opening!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Keeping the Home Garden Going Strong

A home vegetable garden, especially organically grown, is a labor of love; the gardener has to keep vigilant with water and food and a careful watch for pests and disease.

I keep a compost pile beside the garden, adding my household wastes like coffee grounds, strawberry tops, eggshells, and fruit peels. I planted marigolds to repel bugs. But what I really need is earthworms and ladybugs.

I need earthworms for my compost pile and my vegetable garden, since it's a large raised-bed garden instead of in the ground where earthworms might naturally be. Also, ladybugs eat aphids and other garden pests.

I found a great online source for both: Gardening Zone. This is a great site with all kinds of helpful information as well as good prices for the things we need! I am a bit of a squeamish type (I close my eyes during all those gross surgery scenes on Grey's Anatomy), so getting worms in the mail grosses me out just a bit, but I figure the alternative is waiting for a good rain and them dashing out and plucking the buggers off the sidewalk.

On the other hand, that sounds like a wonderful--and free--way to entertain the Nature Kidz next time it rains.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

How did you spend Mother's Day?

I spent Mother's Day at Vollmer's Farm in Bunn, NC. The farm is an off-the-beaten path location with all the trimmings for a fun family-friendly outing. Complete with "horse" swings made of old tires and an adorable "train" ride in mini cars designed to look like cows, the main attraction is the produce--right now, organic pick-your-own strawberries are in season. Yummy. This farm is the only one in the state of North Carolina with certified organic strawberries. Kidz can eat them right out in the strawberry patch as they pick. We picked 7 pounds in very short order, only nibbling one or two each in the process. For $12 per basket, we get fresh berries and the basket is ours to keep.

This is a lot of strawberries. How do we plan to use up these nutritious (1 cup has 49 calories, more than a full day's vitamin C, and lots of fiber) little gems? Well, Nature Kid the Younger gave me a chocolate melting pot for Mother's Day, so I served some up to be dipped in chocolate (you can use organic chocolate for this task). Some will grace cereal, and the rest will be frozen for smoothies and winter oatmeal in months to come. I might even bake a few loaves of strawberry bread for summer cookouts (it can be frozen and thawed later).

Now is the time to seek out local farms for produce-picking fun. You can find the places closest to where you live at Pick Your
What fun.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Creating a Raised-Bed Organic Veggie Garden

Here's a great idea for fun and educational summer activities for your nature kidz. My Kidz and I have planted an organic veggie garden with the help of Nature Dad, who built the frame for us. Because our soil is rocky clay and therefore not so good for growing things (and really, really hard to dig), we decided to go this route--and we also got to choose the soild we'd use, which is a nutritious mix of compost, peat moss, and topsoil. The entire investment was less than $100, much of that taken up by materials for the wooden frame and the fill dirt, which can be used year after year, so future years should be very inexpensive. And well worth the effort if all goes as planned!

Here are the directions if you want to make one of your own:

1. Build a wooden frame. We made ours by cutting an 8-foot piece in half, and using two 10-foot pieces. Screw them together with deck screws and install metal l-brackets for extra security. Place where you want to plant. You'll need a spot easily accessed for watering and weeding, and which gets at least 6 hours of sun per day.

2. Line bottom with newspaper to prevent weed growth. Fill with a soil mixture that's equal parts compost, peat moss, and topsoil. Stir to mix before filling (I put a pile of each part on a drop cloth, stirred, then shoveled in).

3. Add plants. I recommend Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. It's an excellent resource and even gives some good ideas for keeping pests out of your veggie garden.

We planted carrots, corn, peas, two kinds of bell peppers, watermelon, and tomatoes. We chose two varieties of tomatoes--one that matures in 60 days, one in 80 days, so hopefully our harvest is spread out a bit. We also planted a blueberry bush a month or so ago and hope to reap that harvest this summer, too!

I also recommend getting your veggie plants locally. If you have a farmer's market you have a great resource. We got ours at the State Farmer's Market in Raleigh, NC.