A Brief History of Tomatoes

Heirloom TomatoesHigh summer is here, and you know what that means: fresh, local tomatoes. If you don’t have plants of your own, you probably know someone who does. Whether transformed into your favorite sauce or salsa, or simply eaten whole with a little salt, tomatoes are one of the season’s most rewarding edible treasures. And to celebrate, today we explore the history of this delicious, world-renowned fruit.

Native to western South and Central America, tomatoes were first used in cooking by the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans. Though the exact date of domestication remains a mystery, by 500 BC tomatoes were being cultivated in southern Mexico and other areas. Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes may have been the first to transfer the tomato to Europe, though it’s also possible that Christopher Columbus did so as early as 1493. Over the next several centuries, tomatoes spread throughout Europe and into the Caribbean, the Philippines, and into Southeast Asia. By the late 17th century tomato recipes were beginning to appear in Italian and Spanish cookbooks, yet it was not until the early 18th century that tomato cultivation was confirmed here in North America.

Today there are around 7,500 tomatoes grown worldwide. Heirloom tomatoes, open-pollinated varieties grown for more than 50 years, are becoming increasingly popular. Here at Blue Moon we offer a blend of delicious heirloom and hybrid tomatoes, including Cherokee, Caiman, Lola, Sunkist, Copia, and Azoychka.

green tomatoesNo matter how you slice it, tomato season is a very special time of the year!

By |July 31st, 2015|News|0 Comments

Five Ways to Deter Garden Pests!

 

shannon-veg-gardenSummer’s here and your garden’s in full swing. And so are those pesky garden pests, working overtime to make a mockery of all your hard work. Today we discuss 5 safe and natural ways to keep those pests at bay.

1. Hot sauce and dish detergent

Would you enjoy a soapy hot sauce dressing with your veggies? Well, neither would the mammals—deer, woodchuck, groundhogs—who’ve been hanging around your garden. Mix one tablespoon of liquid detergent and a half bottle of hot sauce in a watering can, add water, and apply to your plants’ leaves. Reapply after heavy rain or storms.

2. Crushed Eggshells

Painless to you or me, crushed eggshells are like razors to caterpillars, slugs, snails, and other soft-bodied invaders. Rim your favorite plants with a couple handfuls of these guys, and you’ll be breathing easier and sleeping better. And as an added benefit, eggshells are rich in calcium and make an ‘egg’cellent fertilizer!

3. Beneficial Bugs

It’s a bug-eat-bug world out there, and you need a few good bugs to keep the bad bugs at bay. By planting a few well-known vegetables/flowers, you  can be sure to recruit a whole bunch of these good bugs.  Tomato plants protect cabbage plants against diamond back cabbage moth invasion. Nasturtium repels cucumber beetles from cucumbers. Sweet alyssum attracts bugs that help protect potatoes; dwarf zinnias do the same for cauliflower. And birds eat bugs of all stripes, so keep a bird bath/feeder nearby!

images4. Fencing

Good fences make good neighbors, especially if your neighbors are rabbits, deer, or groundhog! Make sure your fence is at least 1 foot deep and 5 foot high—ground hogs can dig deep, and deer can jump high! Adding a layer of beveling around the top of your fence provides an added assurance against groundhogs, who are renowned climbers!

 

5. Traps

Every pest has a weakness. A dishful of beer is irresistible to a slug—they’ll dive in and drown.  A yellow bowl filled with water will attract and drown flea beetles. And so on. By placing these traps around the edge of your garden, pests will be drawn out; not in.

By |July 17th, 2015|News|0 Comments

The Vanishing Small Farm

downloadEverywhere, all over the country, all around the world, small farms are disappearing. According to a USDA report, after peaking at 6.8 million in 1945, U.S. farms fell sharply until the early 1970s; by 2002, only 2.1 million farms remained. If you’ve lived long enough, chances are you remember a few of these small farms,  perhaps fondly.

But why is this happening? Exactly what forces are at play here? And is there any cause for hope?

Part of the blame can be laid upon farmers’ children’s unwillingness to take over a business that requires them to work up to 16 hours a day during the growing season, while making a fraction of what they could make elsewhere. That plus the modern social stigma associated with farming—toiling in the dirt just isn’t as glamorous as practicing law or medicine—have lead to an overall decreased interest in farming.

But an even larger factor is the ever-increasing expenditures associated with farm ownership. Since 1984, production expenses skyrocketed to $197.5 billion, or 88 percent of gross cash income. And the cost of just living on a farm—healthcare, electricity, heat, etc.—now exceeds an average of $47,000 per year, often less than net income.

The rise of supersize factory-farms presents another obstacle. As more and more farms consolidate and incorporate, involving themselves in distribution, processing, and storage procedures, smaller farms are squeezed out. Add to that Wall Street speculator’s recent zeal for farmland ‘investment’—buying up large swaths of land, driving up prices—and it’s easy to see why small farms are on the decline.

download (1)And then there’s subsidies. Taxpayer-sourced monies paid to industries to produce goods at artificially cheap prices (to suppress social unrest and encourage export competitiveness) have had a devastating effect on small farmers, forcing them to sell their goods at unsustainably low prices. Subsidies are also to blame for chronic overproduction which further drives down prices.

Though this trend does not show any immediate signs of reversing, the rise of organic farming—both small and large scale—has helped soften the blow. Indeed, as a recent Mother Jones piece concludes, organic farming is now more profitable than conventional. The fact that consumers are willing to pay more for a premium product is good news for small farmers everywhere who are looking to keep doing what they love.

 

By |July 3rd, 2015|News|0 Comments

Powered by Bicycle: The Future of Sustainable Farming

main bike pictureEveryone knows bikes are a great way to exercise, enjoy the outdoors, or even commute. But did you know bikes can be converted into useful agricultural tools and machines? From weeding, harvesting, planting, threshing, shelling, winnowing—bikes can do it all. And without greenhouse emissions and expensive repair bills. The following are a few ways that show the awesome power of pedals!

 

 

 

Hauling, as every farmer knows, is essential to agriculture. This pedal powered winch winchdoes the work of a tractor or horse. ( A winch is a hauling or lifting device consisting of a cable that winds around a horizontal drum, turned by a crank.) Harrowing, seeding, raking, and cultivating are just a few of the jobs that a pedal-powered winch can perform.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ergonomic weederPlanting, transplanting, and weeding can also be facilitated by cycle power, as demonstrated by this ingenuous pedal-powered machine developed by Rob Rock and Andrew Crawford of the Arethusa Collective Farm. Farmers using this device saw a 28% decrease in hand weeding, and a 9% decrease in transplanting.

 

 

 

 

shellingPedal-powered devices can even be used for threshing, winnowing, and shelling. Threshing is the process by which the grain is removed from the plant, and winnowing is the process of removing the grain from the chaff. This particular design can even be quickly reconfigured to function as a traditional bike!

 

 

 

Doubtless the future holds many more such sustainable pedal-power inventions as these!

 

 

By |June 19th, 2015|News|0 Comments

The Mysterious and Fascinating Life of Roots

imagesWhen we think of roots, most of us think of pale, fibrous, slimy-looking tubes whose only purpose is sucking water out of soil. If we’re gardeners or farmers, we also think of roots as food. But roots do much more than siphon water and provide food—they’re the cornerstone of plant function. And in many ways they are more fascinating than the leaves, blossoms, and fruits they help produce.

Of course, roots’ main job is to deliver water and minerals. They are, in essence, the starting point of the plant’s vascular system. But roots also serve as a plant’s anchor; act as a repository for carbohydrates, sugars, and proteins; and ensure the plant’s survival during the long cold winter months.

Often a root system occupies a larger space than the plant it supports, comprising up to one-third a plant’s overall mass, it’s total length reaching into the hundreds of miles! There are, generally speaking, two types of root systems: tap and diffuse. Tap systems are those with many smaller rootlets branching off a single, main root. (Think carrots and dandelions.) Diffuse systems are comprised of many thin roots which draw from even thinner and smaller rootlets (corn and rye).

Root health is in large part determined by soil quality. Roots require biologically-rich, well-aerated soils. Excessively waterlogged or compacted soils, or soils that are otherwise oxygen deficient, can lead to shallow root growth.

Roots also have an intriguing relationship with microorganisms. Rhizobium, a well-known soil bacteria, converts atmospheric nitrogen into an organic nitrogenous compound that acts as a fertilizer. These bacterial clusters present themselves as nodules on roots.

Some more fun root facts:

  • Roots grow from their tips, but only in warm weather.
  • By splitting rocks into smaller pieces, roots contribute to soil-creation.
  • Each root is covered with tiny hairs through which water and minerals are absorbed
  • The roots of a South African wild fig tree can exceed depths of 390 feet!
  • Eighty percent of all plant disorders are caused by root/soil problems.

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By |June 5th, 2015|News|0 Comments