Backyard Gardening: Organic Life in the City

Written by: Joshua MacAran

A pile of vibrant tomatoes, lettuce, asparagus, zucchini, broccoli, and radishes

A pile of fresh, healthy, vibrant organic vegetables!

Organic produce is often expensive and not always delicious – unless you grow it yourself! Setting up a backyard or window will garden is easy, fun, and economical.

The benefits of organic gardening are enormous and have a much greater scope than the benefits of organic eating. You get delicious, pesticide free vegetables at a low cost. You spend time working with plants and nature, which according to Floriculture Chair Dr. Charlie Hall of Texas A&M “helps people concentrate better in the home and workplace. Studies show that tasks performed while under the calming influence of nature are performed better and with greater accuracy, yielding a higher quality result. Moreover, being outside in a natural environment can improve memory performance and attention span by twenty percent.” You get gentle exercise in the comfort of your own home. Best of all, you’ll often harvest more than you can eat. The extra can be preserved for the winter or shared with family and friends. You will probably find that your children, friends, and family are curious about your gardening adventures. They’ll definitely appreciate the fruits of your labors! Remember that you can start with just a few plants, so don’t be intimidated.

The first step is to make a place to plant something. If you have a back yard, then you already have a great place to start. A front yard is just as good! If you don’t have any soil at all in your home, then you can buy or make window boxes, or use large pots. Don’t let lack of funds discourage you. All kinds of recycled materials can be nailed together or modified to serve as plant pots. Many sizes will work but for a producing vegetable, the container should be two to three feet deep, a foot and a half across or wider, and needs to have holes for drainage. Most vegetables benefit from afternoon sunlight, so put them in a west facing window or a location that isn’t too heavily shaded by trees or other buildings. Another great option if you want to do some larger plants but don’t have a good yard for it is to find a community garden in your area.

Soil is the next consideration. To keep it simple, most soil is fine for growing food. If there is an entrenched colony of grass you’ll want to take a shovel and dig up the first six inches, or until you have more dirt than root. If there are farms in your area you can often get free manure, which is a great way to add some nutrients to your soil, but it isn’t a necessity. Make sure to take some time to break up your soil so that it has good drainage. Most city soil is quite compacted. Use your shovel to break up another six inches of soil below your seeds so that your plants have room to spread their roots.

The third step is to decide what to grow and when to grow it. Each climate zone has different growing times, but the rule of thumb is most vegetables are planted in spring after the last frost and harvested in summer. There are many winter crops, especially if you’re in warm climate, including kale, salad greens, beets, peas, and winter squashes. Check http://www.thevegetablegarden.info/planting-schedules to find your planting zone and a schedule for planting specific crops in your area. They also have some great information about how many plants of each type you would need to feed your family. If you’re just starting out, tomatoes and zucchini are easy and produce a lot. Just be careful with the zucchini – they’ll take over as much as space as you give them! Swiss chard is another easy produce for beginners.

Buy some seeds at your local garden store, or better yet save and dry seeds from the vegetables you eat at home. Plant them one half inch below the surface of the soil (in rows if you don’t want a mess!) and don’t pack the soil too tightly on top. Water them every day in the beginning. If seeds are too much hassle and you have a little extra money, you can also buy seedlings from a nursery or farmer’s market.

As they grow larger, you can spread your waterings out. All soil falls somewhere between sand and clay. If your soil is heavy clay (when it dries, it’s in a hard clump like dry clay), then you can give it a large amount of water once or twice a week, and the soil will retain the moisture. If you have a lot of sand in your soil you will need to water more two or three times a week because sandy soil has much faster drainage. Neither type is better – they’re just different.

How much should you water your plants? Leave them in a small puddle, let it drain, and then water them enough to leave another small puddle. If you’ve been watering the same area for 10 mintues, then you’ve watered enough and you probably have very sandy soil.

Take a little time each week to remove unwanted grass and plants that don’t look like the rest of them. This should take you less than 20 minutes. Don’t worry too much about the little clumps – go for the more mature weeds! Try to pull them out at the base and get as much of the root as you can. Grab some gardening gloves so you don’t mess up your hands too badly. In a few months you’ll have the proud experience of eating your very own organic produce!

There is a lot to know about growing plants, but at its heart organic gardening is very simple. It’s fun to get out and get a little muddy, and having a backyard garden is a great way get a little more green in your life. Plant, water, and nurture your vegetables, and they will grow for you.

Tips and Tricks to Eating Smarter

Written by Elaine Zuo

Looking to improve your diet and eat healthier? Try these simple changes for a better you:

Woman gazing at fruit

Opting for fruit and vegetables can lead to a healthier you

  • Buy smaller dishes and taller glasses. Optical illusions abound even in what we use to serve our food: People tend to overestimate vertical lengths and underestimate horizontal lengths. When asked to pour equal amounts of liquid into a short, wide glass, people poured more than when they did the same for a long, tall glass. Regarding a similar principle, the same amount of food in a large dish compared to that in a smaller dish was regarded as less food than the amount in the smaller dish.
  • Chew slower. Many of us have busy lives to run and do not have time to eat leisurely, but don’t let scarfing down your lunch on a short work break completely impact your eating habits. Try to take any opportunity to savor the meal and let your digestive system do its job. You’ll be more likely to stop eating while letting your stomach achieve the same amount of satisfaction.
  • Sneak fruits and veggies into your daily diet. Although it would be best to consume fruit and vegetables on their own, you can easily add these excellent sources of vitamins, fiber and antioxidants to your usual meals as tasty, healthy accents. Top cereal or yogurt off with fruit slices, or choose a vegetable drink to accompany your lunch. Carrots and broccoli can accentuate the taste of a meatloaf, soup or even pasta sauces.
  • Keep food in the kitchen and healthy foods at eye level. Don’t bring your food into the living room or your work space. You will eat less if snacks are not placed all over the house and within easy reach. Healthy foods, on the other hand, will seem more appealing if easily accessible.
  • Drink water. Substitute sugary sodas with a tall glass of H2O. Not only do you miss out on unwanted calories, but you will be fuller before the meal and thus prevent overeating. It’s also important for digestion and gives you a boost of energy along with combating dehydration.
  • Choose fish and beans. These two underrated food items help keep your health and weight in check. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can lower your bad (LDL) cholesterol and reduce risks of cancer, so be sure to indulge in a fillet. Beans are not only fibrous, but contain iron,  folic acid and protein as well. Mix the two for a delicious fish and beans taco, and your body will have a ready arsenal of health-promoting nutrients.

Although these tips will certainly better your diet and lifestyle, the most important thing to have backing them up is a healthy mindset. Keep your goals in mind and you will kick any bad dietary habits that may arise.

Plant-based foods decrease risk of health problems

Written by: Shauna Bannan

Several flavonoid-rich fruits and vegetables

Common flavonoid-rich fruits and vegetables.

People who add a moderate amount of flavonoids, plant compounds found in food and beverages, to their diets are less likely to suffer from serious health problems, recent studies show.

There are over 4,000 compounds classified as flavonoids, many of which can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as tea, beer, wine, nuts, and soy. Research suggests that the naturally occurring plant compounds have a number of beneficial effects on human health, including a reduced risk of cancer, asthma, stroke, and heart disease.

A recent study conducted on nearly 100,000 older U.S. adults found that those who consumed the most amount of flavonoids were less likely to die of heart disease or stroke, compared to those who consumed the least amounts, over the next seven years. The participants were divided into groups of five – based on their flavonoid intake. One-fifth of those with the highest level of plant compounds were 18 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular trouble than the group with the lowest intake.

A study conducted at UCLA found that smokers who consumed high levels of these compounds in their diets were less likely to develop lung cancer.

“What we found was extremely interesting, that several types of flavonoids are associated with a reduced risk of lung cancer among smokers,” said Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang, a researcher and professor of public health and epidemiology at UCLA. “The findings were especially interesting because tobacco smoking is the major risk factor for lung cancer.”

Zhang suggests that flavonoids may prevent cancer cells from blocking, in addition to blocking the formation of blood vessels that tumors develop.

The secret lies within the compound’s antioxidant activity. Like other antioxidants, flavonoids provide the body with protection against cellular damage. Due to the common high intake of fruits, vegetables, tea, and wine, these plant-based compounds may, at times, have stronger antioxidant abilities than those of vitamins C and E.

Many of these foods are consumed on a daily basis. Most vegetables, particularly those that are green and red, contain high levels of the compound. Tree fruits, spices, and beverages, including red wine and tea of all types, are also among a long list of flavonoid-rich foods.

“Even adding one serving of flavonoid-rich food a day could be beneficial,” said Marjorie L. McCullough, lead researcher of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. “Flavonoid-rich foods are the types of foods we should be eating anyway.”

U.S. Agriculture Exports Are On The Rise

Corn is one of the biggest export products from the U.S.

Agriculture in the United States could see a big boost over the next year as the U.S. Department of Agriculture aggressively promotes exporting fruit products to countries like China and Canada.

Currently there is a large demand for our agricultural produce such as fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts, especially in Hong Kong.  Since the beginning of 2010 there have been $5.9 billion in export sales, which is a $200 million increase from last year.

The growing number of exports has been a major plus to the economy and speaks well of the products we are delivering.  The USDA expects those numbers to continue to increase as the Obama administration continues to pursue export relationships with other countries.

The most popular commodities grown in the United States so far have been wheat and corn with cotton and nuts also in high demand.  Countries like Russia and China have such a low harvest rate on these items that is cheaper to buy from abroad, which is great news for the United States.

With so many areas in the world having a decreased agricultural demand the United States is about to make a major impact on food supply, which benefits our farmers and foreign relations.

Vegetable Soup Simple Recipe

Simple Vegetable Soup

6 carrots, peeled and diced
2 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 zucchinis, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, peeled and diced
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large onion, sauteed
Handful of barley
Salt
Pepper
2 whole cloves fresh garlic

Place all ingredients in pot, cover with water, boil, and then let it sit for 2-3 hrs on a low flame.
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