Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Growing a Small Container Garden for Health

There’s a buzz right now and it all has to do with GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms. Using genetic engineering of the organism itself scientists can create an entirely new one from the original. And these modifications are purported to be beneficial as it will allegedly increase the food supply.

The jury is still out as to how healthy these practices are and many people are skeptical of what all this engineering of our food will do to our bodies. That was one of the main reasons my husband and I decided to start a small container garden in our yard.

According to the article What are GMOs? by Theresa Phillips

"Despite efforts to control gene expression there are many unanswered questions and issues that arise and stand in the way of full acceptance of GMOs by the public. Fear of the unknown is one cause of public reluctance to use GMOs and GEMs. However, this concern is validated whenever a specific case proves the technology has gone awry, and is widely publicized. Examples of this are products that have allegedly caused the mass destruction of non-target insect populations by genetically modified cash crops or bioethical issues surrounding questions of seed ownership once a crop has been harvested, and issues over the cost of seeds and availability to farmers."

As you can plainly see the issue is a big deal and something everyone in the United States and beyond should be invested in learning about as they do their shopping.

In an effort to reduce, and soon eliminate, GMOs from our diet we decided to grow a healthy number of veggies in our small container garden.

This year in just seventy-five square feet, split between two areas in the backyard, we grew spinach, carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes. Plus we had some basil, parsley, rosemary and lavender interspersed with the veggies.

We already harvested the spinach and broccoli. Sadly the cauliflower didn’t make it. Our meals have made use of fresh herbs and just recently we pulled up three huge hauls of carrots.

Now the tomatoes are coming. And oh my goodness are they ever!

It feels great, literally and figuratively, to be eating fully organic food that we grew in our own backyard. I wish I could say I was the green thumb in this household but my husband is the growing genius around here.

As our resident gardening authority, I asked him what he did to create such a healthy bounty in our yard and he happily replied,

Choosing plants that would yield a big crop in a small space, and ones that we enjoyed eating, was key.  Small space gardens are easier to keep watered here in the desert, and all in all require very little extra care beyond water and mulch.

Big crop in a small space was an understatement when it came to the number of carrots we pulled up this spring. We’re both excited to have veggies and herbs to munch on through this early part of summer here in Phoenix. Plus I know they’re free of pesticides, additives, and/or modifications other than those nature intends - like a split in the skin or an unexpected color.

Do you want to grow your own veggies to avoid GMOs? Matt has some tips to make your garden grow in a small space.

Matt’s suggestions for a successful small space garden

► Water in the early evenings - the plants can then absorb the water overnight before the evaporation of the day sets in.
► Water slowly and deeply - I use a garden hose with homemade holes poked at strategic locations for each plant and run it for about an hour when I water.
► Train your plants to be more drought resistant.  Water them daily when first planted, but ease them off slowly.  Even here in the desert, I only water every 2-3 days for about an hour, and our tomatoes have very little leaf wilt or signs of stress.
► The smaller the container or space, the more often you need to water, but do less water more often.  Don’t drown your poor plants!!
► A nice thick layer of mulch!  It helps retain the moisture, and will keep the plants warm in the spring and cool in the summer.

I hope you have a chance to get out in your own yard and consider growing something delicious in a small container garden this summer so you too can live GMO free!

Where do you get your veggies? Do you know where they originated? Do you have space for a small garden or have a Farmer’s Market close by to acquire fresher, healthier vegetables? Talk about your experience in the comments!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Chill Out: Five Ways to Beat the Summer Heat while Staying Eco Conscious

Hello from sunny, and scorching, Phoenix, Arizona! It is mid-May and our temperatures have already started hitting the low 100 range on a somewhat regular basis. I can’t say for sure if this is early since it’s only my third summer here but it sure feels early. I started looking for alternatives to beat the summer heat while staying as eco conscious as possible.

Here are five simple things anyone can do to stay cool and comfortable even on the hottest summer days.

Adjust the thermostat by two degrees

This sounds like a small thing but by setting our air conditioner to kick on at eighty degrees instead of seventy-eight we can save approximately 2% in energy costs. The reverse can also be beneficial to cost and energy saving – turn the thermostat down in the winter. The two degrees on either end will barely be noticeable to the body but it will sure be noticed by the wallet when the savings roll in over the course of the year.

Block passive solar from entering the house

I use heavy weight velvet drapes in the living room and dining room, darker lined curtains in the bedroom, and wooden blinds in the kitchen. What do all these rooms have in common? They’re on the south face of our home where the sun pours in during the entire day. The curtains on the front of the house (north face) are lighter weight and lighter colored. Sunlight can still brighten up the house from these windows but the warming that comes with the sun doesn’t have to bake our rooms in the process. Once the sun passes by each of the windows I can pull back the curtains to let late afternoon light into the home. Bright and sunny doesn’t have to mean hot and wasteful!

Cover the pool

We opted to purchase a home with a pool, something we use just about every day from May through October. Not only does jumping into the pool help to cool us off (another way to eliminate air conditioning!) but it’s a soothing water feature in our yard. However, a pool uses a lot of water which is not only a hit to the wallet but is also a tough thing to justify wasting even a drop of here in the desert. When we first bought this place there were weeks we lost a full inch (or more) from our pool. By installing a simple solar cover (trimmed to fit our uniquely shaped pool) we are able to save from massive evaporation in our dry climate and not only cut back on the water bill but also extend our swimming season on either end of the summer.

Run the ceiling fans, not the AC

Installing ceiling fans is another great way to keep cooling (and heating) costs down. We leave our fans circulating all the time as it keeps continuous airflow through the house even when the air conditioner is off.

Invest in natural fiber clothing

I’ve seen a whole bunch of adorable sun dresses and other summer clothing on display recently but I’ve walked away from purchasing because of one reason – man-made fibers. Polyester and nylon may feel like they’re lighter weight because they’re so light to the touch but it’s an illusion. Synthetic threads such as those don’t breathe the same way a natural fiber like cotton, bamboo, hemp, etc. breathe because they are tighter woven in order to maintain a specific shape. Wearing them close to your skin will actually keep you warmer because the body’s internal cooling system (sweat) gets trapped under their surface with no way to escape. A natural fiber will help to wick away perspiration from the body but also release it into the air more quickly meaning the sweat can help keep the body cool. Cotton, bamboo, hemp, linen, etc. are wonderful alternatives to synthetic fibers and your cool bod will thank you for making the investment!

With just a few simple steps those of us in warmer climates will enjoy their hot and steamy summer by staying cool as a cucumber in the crisper drawer!