24 May, 2016

June Gloom Brings On Powdery Mildew...

Ah, June.

Oftentimes we refer to June Gloom – it's part and parcel of our climate. This year we've had the May Malaise and the April Anguish. Will June forego its gloom and set us free?

Somehow, I doubt it.

June Gloom is a phenomenon of our climate. Historically, June is an overcast month with little breeze.  It is hot enough, and lacks sufficient air movement and hard direct sunlight, to foster the growth of fungi on the leaves of your plant.  And once given the chance, the fungi doesn't stop at just making them ugly; it kills them.

The problem is not just the lack of sunlight from the morning cloud cover. Powdery mildew, which is a common name for many different kinds of fungi (each plant species has at least one fungi which are called “powdery mildew” - some lucky plants have more than one!) does not need moisture to live but does survive in heat – of which we have plenty. We have exacerbated this problem by walling our gardens off from neighbors with walls allowing the air in our gardens to remain stagnant. The price we pay to gain a little privacy in our crushing metropolis.

" I have this white stuff on the leaves of my plant..." 
When someone says, “I have this white stuff on the leaves of my plant...” It's probably powdery mildew. The first thing I do is think of the recent weather and the second thing I do is ask, “Is your garden enclosed by a wall?” Not always, but more often than not, the answer is yes. Some folks just live in an air pocket that fosters the mildew – others may have trees shading the plant in the sunniest part of the day - but all of us are faced with it. All the squashes, melons, cucumbers and even other plants can get powdery mildew.

My grandfather used sulfur to combat most fungi. It's simple and it's not very toxic. However, sulfur and squash family members (including, melons, cucumbers, zucchini – all those big leaved climbers) are stressed by sulfur and most authorities discourage sulfur on those plants.

Once your plants have it, cut severely affected leaves from the plant. If is is so bad you are removing too much of the plant to produce a crop, toss the whole plant. If you have it now, you have time to even buy fresh seeds and start over. This is what I do – except for winter (hard rind) squashes. Those I take away the most offending leaves only and leave the rest and try to nurse the plant along till the squash is ripened. I've almost always been successful.

The first action you might try is to wash it off with a hard stream of water - I know it seems counter-intuitive, but if you can wash the spores off the leaves, you may well forestall a more devastating infestation.

Some folks have reported good control using 10% milk in water (1 cup milk; 9 cups water, for example – any amount milk with 9 times of the same amount of water) sprayed to cover.

Cornmeal has been effective as well. 1 cup of cornmeal in a muslin bag, left 24 hours in a gallon of water can be sprayed or splashed over affected plants. If you choose to spray something, do it as soon as you can.  Every day the powdery mildew stays, it becomes harder to avoid damage. 

There are those who used baking soda, but I don't like these kitchen recipes as they are NOT benign in the soil. They can change the soil and kill the critters in the soil, so I leave them be. (The concept of using vinegar in the garden appalls me as it is very harmful to soil critters!)

If you cut off infected leaves, do not try to compost them. Your compost will not probably kill the fungus and you'll only reinfect future gardens with i

NO fungus is worth poisoning your plants or the critters in the ground.  We will all survive even if the squash looks like hell.  It's OK.  I've looked like hell some days and no one dumped me with sulfur or worse.

Thank God...

20 May, 2016

GMOs: A Failed Concept

The problem we’re facing, however, is not about lack of sustainable solutions. The problem is that Big 6 pesticide companies like Monsanto — supported by USDA and backed by the U.S. government's export-driven trade agenda — have built up an agricultural economic system that puts multinational corporations' profits above people's well-being, and locks farmers into these unsustainable practices. – Marcia Ishii-Eiteman Apr 16, 2015  in GroundTruth (www.panna.org)

It's tough these days to be against genetic engineering of our food. Articles in Slate and The New Yorker make us look like looney fringe nut cases and the House of Representatives voted by a large margin to ban labeling of foods that have genetically altered ingredients in them. It's bleak. Science, they tell us, is against us and we are just paranoids.

Mesquite beans - mesquite may become an important food crop
in the coming years if Global Climate Change continues to manifest.
Mesquite can take very cold and very hot temperatures and still produce
a crop which is ground into a very nutritious (and delicious) flour.
A lot of what we are reading about the success of GMO crops is paid for by the biotechies themselves pushing this stuff. When you get a study that proves them wrong, they go after that researcher, not by refuting the research, but by slandering the researcher and attempting to ruin his or her career. It takes more guts than most people have to see their careers ruined and their name dragged through the mud, ergo, not much research disparaging genetic alteration gets very far along. (On a good note, recently the French scientist, Serillini, won a defamation lawsuit against Monsanto for their slander campaign against him.)  

Thank God, in recent months, glyphosate has come under scrutiny. This is a shining chance to thwart at least that segment of genetic engineering. Not only is it a suspected human carcinogen, as declared by the World Health Organization, but reportedly appearing in such benign places as mothers' breast milk as reported by Moms Across America.  They noted that their sample of women was aware of GMOs and had worked for some time to avoid GMOs. Of course, the herbicide has been used to dry out grains like wheat (which s not commercially genetically altered) after harvesting, so simply avoiding GMOs will not stop glyphosate in your diet. In addition, testing showed considerably more glyphosate in the mothers' urine samples – way over what was found in the urine of European mothers in a study conducted in 2013. Now several counter studies to the breast milk study have responded indicating that the MAA study was wrong, but of course, Monsanto can buy (and has bought) favorable test results in the past, so who to believe? When there is any question about research, I like to trust those who aren't benefiting financially from the results, but who is that? Please note the MAA study is only preliminary but the World Health Organization's findings have got to be accorded some significant weight.  

We have yet to know how ten organic wines produced in CA got significant amounts of glyphosate in them, but that has been all over the news lately.  Another example, I think, of the idiocy of claiming that GMO agriculture and non-GMO agriculture can co-exist. 

Those of us familiar with the lying nature of Monsanto are not surprised that the biotech giant has lied (and continues to lie) about glyphosate, the main ingredient in their popular Round Up weed killer. Remember they told us it was not only benign once in the soil, but also that it did not persist in nature; both claims are obviously incorrect. Did they somehow just overlook these facts or did they consciously lie about them? Take your pick, with Monsanto's track record on DDT, PCBs and their lies about those and other products, I'll believe the latter. If corporations are people, Monsanto should be placed on a lie detector.

But honestly, we do not need to argue these facts with all the biotech apologists and paid off cronies. We have a bigger truth that they cannot assail.

GMOs will court inevitable starvation in those countries that use them as the primary source of their food...

That is the simple honest truth.

We can prove that we have far fewer varieties of plants on our store shelves today thanks to the GMO boom and it will only get worse. It is this loss of genetic diversity that will be the cause of famine. Instead of having a robust variety of different kinds of the same produce, there are only a few genetically altered varieties to work with. Our acres and acres of corn are all planted with very similar genetic varieties. This means a pathogen that can attack one field, can attack many fields and suddenly you have a destroyed corn (or soy or whatever) crop. Prices go up – poorer folks suffer disproportionately, hunger in America.

To the labs creating these 'new' varieties in their labs, this is seen as a boon. After all, they can find the flaw in the pathogen and GMO a new variety that resists it and having more products to sell. But in truth, it is only a new marketing gimmick – a new variety every year making investors and the company richer.  But each new variety is not really a new variety in the whole - it has one chromosome turned off - or on - and such changes in a plant's genetic make-up is just as easy for the pathogen to overcome.

Conventional breeding would breed a different way. First off, we'd have many varieties in the field and some would be resistant and would find more people planting it next year. Conventional breeders would attack the problem in a different way. Genetic alterations of a crop operate in a specific way called “vertical” breeding – one trait is changed for the crop to survive. The one gene variation is easy for a given pathogen to circumvent. Conventional breeding happens “horizontally” and is much harder to thwart by a given pathogen. These are generalizations and there are exceptions, but generalizations tend to become generalizations because they are more often than not (and by a margin) true.

This was the genesis of the Irish Potato Famine. The blight attacked the two kinds, genetically similar, of potatoes grown in Ireland and these potatoes were the only food that most of the Irish peasants had to depend on. (Before someone calls to me task for oversimplifying it, I know the “God sent the blight but English brought the famine” but this is an article on crop diversity, so please forgive me this time. The same thing could happen here, in the US in a heartbeat. We are one of the most food insecure societies on earth because of our current dependence on genetic engineering. This will only get worse if Congress continues to take the biotech money and biotech lies and allow our health, our environment's health and our food diversity to continue to deteriorate at the alarming rate it is currently.  

Mind you, this is only one of many reasons we need to move away from the genetic engineering option to the traditional way of breeding new plants and also move away from the massive amounts of pesticides we use to grow our food.  

The end game of this is too big to loose!  If we do not save our varieties of seeds and continue the tradition of saving our seeds from the big bullies, we will find our food supply locked up by the corporations and then what do we have?  We all wish to eat.  

Let it be healthy food, not patented and laced with poison or contaminated with genetic engineering.