Monday, February 17, 2014

Monsanto Returns to Old-Fashioned Plant Hybridizing to Improve Veggies??

Well, yes, they've dropped Genetic Modification for more traditional plant breeding techniques - but with a very sophisticated, technological twist.

Here is an article you need to read, written by Ben Paynter for Wired Magazine.

Monsanto's New NON-GMO Veggies

Paynter does a great job of lining out both Monsanto's history and their new project. It's long. For the weary, here's my book report version:

Monsanto has a bad name in the gardening world.  Having successfully created and heavily marketed profitable genetically modified plants,Monsanto embarked on a crusade to obtain patents for not only their own creations, but any other available plants that might have economic interest. The corporation sued small farmers who attempted to save seed from their plantings for the next season, a long-standing farming tradition. US corporate farms planted thousands of acres with genetically modified, highly productive, chemical resistant wheat, corn and soybeans, despite the fact that, even to date, there are no major studies indicating whether long-term consumption of GMO crops, especially those with new "built in" pesticide components, are healthy for human/animal consumption.

Not Monsanto, this is one of my Forellenshuss lettuce plants
Consumers (people like you and me) became worried about these "super" crops and with good reason.  Monsanto is a chemical company - originally created to market saccharin, then expanding into sulfuric acid, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) - a known environmental pollutant - and even Agent Orange.  Hardly a health company!  In the last few years, one modified corn produced by Monsanto was pulled by the EPA due to severe allergic reactions when eaten, another pesticide-containing mutant was found to be killing Monarch butterflies (and, I assume, any other visiting butterflies as well).  European countries refused to import or plant GMO crops, a huge monetary failure for Monsanto.  And, finally - and probably the most significant trigger - McDonald's and Heinz refused to buy Monsanto's GMO crops for their foods.

Enough pressure seems to have been exerted to cause Monsanto to reconsider its methods - and to launch a return to Good Old Cross-Breeding, also called hybridizing, to create new," improved" vegetables and fruits.  No weird chemical components, just a very, very, very efficient look at the genome mapping they used to create the GMO crops - and some expert plant breeding/crossing.

Is it all Good Guys at Work from now on?  Well, no.  And probably never.  Monsanto still prohibits seed saving and regrowing of its hybrids - although seed saving from hybrids is usually a lost cause anyway - and many of the fruits are tastier because of a highly ramped-up sugar content.  But at least it's not inserting chemicals into the genes of our food plants and, even at higher natural sugar levels, it beats feeding kids fakes like Juicy Juice.

Bottom line point?  Dollars talk.  When you don't buy a product like GMO foods, corporations lose money. Corporations don't like to lose money.  They WILL CHANGE to find a product you will buy.  When your buying habits change large corporations like Heinz and McDonald, US corporations will CHANGE to keep their big customers.

Don't want tortured chickens?
Use your dollars. 
Buy humanely raised poultry and eggs.
Spend a little more.
Corporations will notice.
They will change.
Don't want sick beef, miserable pigs, chemically laden fruits and vegetables?  Use your dollars.  Buy locally, know your sources, spend what it takes to get healthy food.  Why?  Because when agribiz corporations see where your money is going, they will chase it.  They will CHANGE their production practices and their products in whatever way it takes to keep your dollars.

They may not give a damn about your health - but, baby, they love your bucks.
Use them wisely.
Change the world.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gardening Blues...too cold to garden!

Cold. For Days.
Really cold.
It was in the teens at night this past month - maybe even an occasional middle of the night single digit disaster. Snow that feel more than a week ago is still clustered in dingy piles at the edges of parking lots.

That kind of winter weather is not a huge problem if you are gardening north of Zone 7, where this sort of thing is expected.  The pines, like this one - so beautifully frosted with ice - are not bothered a pinch.

Not so nice for my figs and Loquats, Pineapple Guava (Feijoa), bananas and kiwi here in Baha Virginia Beach.

As the first very temporary thaws are coming through, I'm assessing the damage to the tender fruit plantings around the farm.

It ain't pretty.

The Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) are hit hard, with browned out and withered foliage.  No question that the little fruits just beginning to form from December's blossoms are not going to make it.  There won't be a Loquat harvest this year.   {{{ sigh }}}

Bananas are dead to the ground - maybe even further. Depends on how the basal growth fares. No fruits, obviously, but maybe the foliage will come back.  Ours never have fruited but that doesn't keep each year from being a disappointment....

The Pineapple Guava (Feijoa sellowiana) look badly burned but they will still flower and fruit in the summer. This is leaf damage so far, not anything worse.

I'll be doing a careful check of the figs next to see how badly the tips have been desiccated.  I don't think we'll be doing cuttings this year, but we'll see.