Archive for February, 2010

Come say hi in JoCo

It’s a great weekend for getting out of the house. If you’re in the neighborhood of the Overland Park Convention Center, stop out and see us. We’re at the Johnson County Home and Garden Show all weekend.

It started yesterday, but there’s still time to come out and see all the fun stuff. The Johnson County Master Gardeners have a booth, and county horticulturist Dennis Patton is on the list of speakers. Also speaking is Patricia Lanza, author of Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens.

You can find Mike and I on the second floor near the show office. Come say hi.

Posted by: Roxie


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Drop everything right now and go to read this story in the New York Times.

You didn’t do it? Let me tell you a few key words: Bribery, mold contamination, canned tomatoes, Kraft. Now go read it. I’ll wait for you.

Yes, surprise, surprise. There’s evidence of deceit and corruption in the food processing industry. And we’re paying for it with a certain level of mold in our tomato puree. (Note to scientists: Could this be part of the reason antibiotics don’t work as well as they used to?)

Basically, officials who recently arrested and indicted  Frederick Scott Salyer, an official at one of the nation’s largest tomato processors (SK Foods) claim he bribed purchasing managers  at Kraft to get SK’s tomatoes into their products. Frito-Lay, B&B and Safeway also have been implicated. Prosecutors also say that SK shipped millions of pounds of bulk tomato products with falsified documents  concealing high mold counts or deviations in the acidity level and age of the products.

No one was sickened, apparently, and prosecutors say there was no immediate health threat. But wait a minute.  Acidity levels? Those of us who home can tomatoes are used to reading all kinds of dire warnings about acidity levels. Just about every recipe for canned tomatoes sternly tells us not to skip the added acid, like lemon juice, to make sure there’s high enough acidity to prevent botulism. If the acidity levels were off in those grocery store cans, there could have been a much worse problem to deal with. (In lieu of a Kraft official response, click here for the company’s web site statement on food safety and quality.)

So I guess we can count ourselves lucky the feds got involved when they did.

On the other hand, how many spoonfuls of mold have we been inadvertently eating?

This subject meshes neatly with a conversation we had last night at our talk at the Kansas City Library. (And BTW, thanks to the library folks for such a great venue and turnout! Visit here to see what other programs the library offers. We understand KC Star TV critic Aaron Barnhart will be there tonight with his new book.)

One of our questioners pointed out that if you rarely use tomato puree, it would be more worthwhile and cheaper than gardening to go to a deep discount store, as she did.

Granted, those stores do provide cheap food. But then again–mold, questionable acid levels. Is cheap the only thing that’s important when it comes to feeding our families?

Well, you know what I’m going to say, now, don’t you? Yes, it’s a pain cooking down those tomatoes and running them through the food mill. Yes, it’s hot and uncomfortable those few hours a year I’m standing in front of the stove. But for me, anyway, it’s well worth it. And when I’m too old or sick to do this any more–well, let’s hope we’ve got better watchdogs in place over the big food processors so things like this don’t slip through.

Posted by: Roxie

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While it might not be salty or savory — as far as we know, anyway –our new  cracker farm is on the grow.

If you read the  previous post, you  know all about how the Triscuit box invited us to “Join the Home Farming Movement!”  (As for the rest of you, the background is a mere scroll away.)

On Sunday, we did, indeed, join by soaking in water the 2.5 inch square piece of paperboard that was hidden inside the box.  After a few hours of immersing the seeds — two to 4 is suggested —  Mike peeled the square apart to reveal a half dozen basil seeds.

At least we think they’re basil seeds.  We are the kind of folks who always trust what the boxes tell us.

Mike then planted the  twin squares into pots  (at left) filled with soil-less mix, wet them down and set our “farm” on the counter between the sink and the kitchen window.

Ten to 12 days from now our crop should be up, the cracker box said, and so we’ll see. February/March is not exactly basil-growing weather here in the Midwest. We usually direct-seed basil into the garden in mid May, when it’s much warmer and there’s more likelihood of success.

But who knows? This could work out.

Meanwhile, we should mention that at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday we’ll  be giving yet another talk and signing books at the downtown  Kansas City library. The helpful folks there offered to set up equipment for our power point presentation. But Mike told the library guys that would mean we’d have to learn how to use power point.

And we will, eventually. But for now, our book talk remains low tech.

KC’s newest sustainable living group

That seemed to work last week when we gave a program at the North Kansas City Library. It was there that Mike Hoey told us about his efforts to form a “Transition Town” group in Kansas City.

The transition movement is not well known in the United States, at least so far. It was created by Rob Hopkins of the UK as an outgrowth of his work teaching sustainable living and building there. If we understand it right, the “transition” is toward city and town structures that do not rely on fossil fuel as their main energy source. On his web site, Hopkins explains that group members are interested in replanning cities and economies in ways that are both sustainable and enjoyable. He seeks to find the positive in the transition.

Hoey says he’s working with Kansas City Community Gardens to form a local version of this effort. His web site is fairly new. You can visit here.

Posted by: Mike and Roxie

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Whadya know, a snack garden

I love Triscuits  They’re probably my favorite crackers. Or at least they’re right up there with Ritz and Town House and Club and Saltines and, well – Roxie would tell you that I have serious cracker self control issues.

Such a Triscuit fan am I that in less than a week I almost single handedly emptied a 9.5 ounce box of crackers without noticing there was something different about the package.

The front of the box could have read “Warning: Contains Rat Poison,” and I never would have known it, unless I overheard the paramedics calling the poison control center during the ambulance ride.

Just shoved my meaty paw into the box time and again until finally, one sad day, nothing came back but tiny, needle-like shards of processed wheat.

So the other night, as I was about to break down the empty package of Triscuits , these words on the front of the box jumped out at me for the first time:

“Join The Home Farming Movement!”

What the?

Had Nabisco somehow genetically engineered wheat so that snack crackers can now be grown from seed alongside the makings for salsa or onion dip?

Or was something even screwier at work.

Turns out, the folks at Kraft Foods’ Nabisco brand are, like everyone else in corporate America, jumping on the green bandwagon. Specifically, they’re capitalizing on the popularity of home grown or locally grown foods.

“Join the Home Farming Movement!” the front of the box said. And on the back:

“What is home farming? It’s a chance to experience the simple joy of growing your own vegetables and herbs, no matter where you live.”

And guess what?

“It’s easier than you think!”

Exactly what Roxie and I have been preaching on this blog and in our book.

You can do it,  yes you can, etc.

No one needs a huge backyard to grow veggies. You can plant in small, raised beds. Or in pots. Or even a plastic baby pool on the rooftop (see page 18 in the book).

Little did we know, though, that in this age of miniaturization, home farming doesn’t require even that much space.

The beginnings of your home farm can fit onto a 2.5-inch square attached to the inside of  a cracker box.

A farm in the hand is not a farmhand

“To help you get started, we’ve included real seeds in 4 million boxes of Triscuit…”

Don’t worry. The seeds aren’t sprinkled on the crackers. They’re concealed between the paper layers of the square in my hand at right.

“Plantable basil seed card inside box!” the box says, and there is also a five-step set of instructions on “How to grow your own home farm!”

We’re going to give it a try since we at Mike and Roxie’s Vegetable Paradise love adventure. Expect a followup post in 10-12 days, which is how long it supposedly takes for the seeds to sprout.

Good timing, too, because 10 days from now we’ll be into March 1 and that’s when Nabisco has set  the Triscuit home farming web community to begin forming.

“…connect with other home farmers…”

And put some cheese on that cracker.

Posted by: Mike

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It’s begun

A bag of soil-less seed starting mix, a few plastic pots and about an hour well spent was all it took to officially start the 2010 gardening season. We now have a tray of broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes and eggplants sitting happily in the basement–the start of a brand new year.

We got our seed shipment a week ago (except for the “chocolate” cherry tomato, which is on backorder) but only got around just yesterday to opening up the packages and getting out the supplies.

I’m taking a minute to treasure this time. Nothing has been eaten by bugs or succumbed to mysterious disease. There’s been no drought or powdery mildew. For a few days, anyway, I can fantasize about a story-book perfect year of seasonal temperatures and timely rainfall that awaits.

Sigh. Then it’s back to reality.

Our babies

Posted by: Roxie

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A garden show recap

One of the great things about gardening is that you’re constantly learning new and fascinating things from other gardeners. Mike and I just spent three days at the Metropolitan Lawn and Garden show at the American Royal. Our purpose was to sell copies of our book, and we did! (Thanks, guys and gals.)

But even more fun was the chance we had to chat with many other area gardeners and to listen to inspiring talks from the presenters on stage.

It was our intention to do numerous blog posts and tweets from the booth, but unfortunately the WiFi signal was too spotty for this. And anyway,  we were too busy meeting all the nice folks who stopped by.

So here’s a little recap:

The marquee speaker for the whole show was Ed Begley, Jr.–actor (St. Elsewhere, Best in Show) who has become well known as a promoter of energy conservation. You can catch his reality show “Living with Ed” on Planet Green.

Begley talked many times upstairs in the area of the home show dedicated to sustainable living (home energy audits, solar and geothermal heating options, etc.). So his talks were not about gardening per se.

But he does have a backyard garden with vegetables and fruit trees. It also has one of my favorite summertime toys–a solar oven. (Will we ever see solar cooking season again?)

Anyway, he’s been walking the walk since the 1970s, so he had a lot of good experience–successes and failures–to share about his electric car and home energy audit. Both Mike and I (but especially Mike) came away feeling more hopeful about the future and determined to do even more next year.

For more about Begley, click here or here.

Author Amy Stewart had a fascinating talk about poisonous plants that have played a part in history. Her talks were at the garden center stage, and since our booth was right next to the garden center stage, we heard them numerous times. (Spoiler alert: If you ever hear her talk, the secret answer is “tobacco.”)

She’s best known for Flower Confidential, a backstage look at the flower business. But Wicked Plants is her latest. She says  poisonous plants have been blamed for historic outbreaks of “demonic possession,” and  a toxic algae’s affects on bird behavior became incorporated into the Hitchcock movie, The Birds. Her book is available at Rainy Day Books and other bookstores. Here’s her website.

We also had many people stop by and tell us of their gardening successes and frustrations. Several people wanted to talk about critters, including a man from Independence who said he’s had success deterring deer by sprinkling urine (human) around the area. Another couple said nothing worked for them against deer until they put up a tall fence (deer fence have to be at least 7 feet high)

A couple of people told us about their container gardens, including one woman who couldn’t figure out why her  healthy looking tomato, which got enough light and water, did not bear fruit. And, if she’s reading this, I thought of a couple more things to look into: Is your container big enough? If you planted a big, indeterminate variety, you’ll need to make sure you have enough room in the pot for sufficient roots. Also, we talked about whether it gets enough sun, but I never asked whether your area could be overly hot. If you have sun reflecting off the house and deck and it’s already 90 degrees outside, it may just be too hot for the plant to set fruit. So try giving it a little relief from the sun, if you think that might be a problem.

Anyway, we had a great time. Thanks for dropping by to visit!

Posted by: Roxie

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Things are  just getting started at the Metropolitan Lawn and Garden Show  out at the American Royal today, but we at M&RVP are on the job. This morning we got a chance to walk around a bit before things opened up and it is, excuse the expression, awesome. Across the hall is a home remodeling show and upstairs is the “Green Zone” full of info on solar and wind power options for individual homeowners, among other things.

Cool things I saw: Two booths with parrots and other live birds; a place selling worm castings; a setup with model trains for the outdoor garden; the Kansas City Orchid Society; the Missouri Master Gardeners; a place touting home wind turbines; concrete that looks just like brickwork. And lots of places were giving out freebies.

Oh, and Ed Begley, Jr., actor/crusader for low-footprint living, will be there later tonight and for several presentations upstairs Saturday and Sunday.

Our booth is just to the right of the Garden Stage–right across from a guy selling chimaneas. We’ve got books, we’ve got a free recipe handout and, as you can see from the pic, we brought along Horace, our scarecrow.

Good times. Good times.

Posted by: Roxie

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