Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jazz in the Garden … and Thoughts of Spring

There’s a jazz jam in the garden. No, the zucchini isn’t sitting on a piano bench. The cauliflower isn’t holding drum sticks. But, there’s a sweet sound of music coming from the soil if you have an ear to hear the rhythm in the garden. Spring is when the garden melodies start warming up.

Like a piano, melodic, emanating beautiful chords, the garden flowers delight the soul and sustain the bees. The bass is a steady force, bursting with strength and an occasional solo that arrests the background chatter for a spell. So it goes with the hearty root veggies, the incredible parsnip, the dependable potato and the oh-so-edible rutabaga. The drums are in the background, hardly noticed, but crucial to keep order in the combo. Compost is also unnoticeable, but without it growth is sporadic and spindly. The compost is crucial for a virtuoso harvest.
Happy first day of spring!
Throwing a flashy saxophone attention-grabbing riff into the mix is like walking past the pepper patch. The orange habaneros, bright red cayennes and yellow banana peppers grab your attention and slow your step while you think about spicing up the stew pot.

Brass horns provide a solid background with flashes of harmonic brilliance when they take center stage. So does the reliable tomato, sometimes in a sauce, but also topping a salad, adding color, flavor and pizazz. The trombone can slide in like a wild card and take over the gig. A little arugula in the salad has the same effect. So does basil, pesto-ing to center stage, or blueberries that harmonize with just about anything. 

The vocalist is the main course, like wild caught jumbo shrimp or grass fed local beef. She is the center stage ingredient, but gives room to the others to shine on their own.

Though all members of the combo are artists in their own right, it takes them all performing together to bring the audience to their feet, demanding an encore. The same goes for the garden. It takes the entire lot of to make a feast.

Inspiration for this post came from a night at the Acton (Massachusetts) Jazz Café. We hope your garden produces a symphony of flavor. -G.H.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Buying Seeds: Organic vs Inorganic

As we place our orders for the few packets of seeds needed to populate a smallish garden, I began to question, why buy organic seeds? We are fortunate to have three in-state companies to choose from: Johnny’s, Pinetree, and Fedco. All three companies run their own seed trials, while Fedco states that they also cultivate relationships with many small farmers in sourcing their inventory. And all three offer a selection of organic seeds. Why pay a little more for seeds that are grown free of chemicals? I questioned whether plants grown from inorganic seeds will be just as organic as the methods used to raise them. I thought I’d put the question to a google search.
Seeds for this year's garden are both saved and bought
What turned up were several reasons for choosing organic seeds over inorganic.  The reasons seemed to ditto each other from one site to another. Three main ideas were presented. One stated that plants grown for seed production may require heavy use of chemicals. These may include herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. An argument could be made that, to produce seed, a plant grows for a longer time. In the case of biennials such as kale and parsley, the plants must be grown into their second year. This would then translate into a heavier use of chemical additives than for plants grown for crops.

Yet another reason given was that organic seeds are better adapted to organic growing methods than those that were subjected to chemicals. None of the sources indicated the presence of studies to prove this point. I would want to see a study that might involve a range of food plants. The comparison would then look at any differences in how well the plants got started, the general health of the growing plants, and any difference in yields. Without studies, I’m not convinced.

A final reason addressed ethical concerns. Buying organic seeds is one of many ways to encourage organic growing in general. This reason is one that I wholeheartedly agree with. It is certainly a wonderful thing to encourage organic farming and gardening in as many ways as possible. Knowing that our foods are free of chemicals is one advantage to organic growing, with another being that organic is far, far better for the environment and therefore the ability of our planet to sustain life.

Are there downsides to organic seeds? Only one popped up in my research. These seeds are often more expensive. This seemed like a minor point especially since we buy so few. It would be great to have access to research documenting how organic differs from inorganic throughout the life cycle of the plant. Until this kind of research becomes available, we can choose to buy organic on the basis of issues of sustainability, and in hopes that they will indeed present improved performance. Even if it means paying a bit more. -jmm