10 New Vegetables and Herbs for Your Garden This Spring
By Brian Barth
Looking to spice it up this year in the old vegetable patch?
Plant breeders are always rolling out new varieties and reviving forgotten heirlooms that offer tantalizing tastes. Here are a few to consider.
1. Habanada Pepper
Row 7 Seed Company, the new seed supplier founded by chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill Stone Barns fame, has a growing selection of never-before-seen vegetable varieties, including this twist on a famously hot pepper. It has habanero flavor without all the heat. Get it? "Nada" of the "haba"?
2. Georgia Cabbage Collards
This low-growing collard forms loose heads with a cabbage-like flavor. An old-fashioned hybrid that was likely once grown throughout the South, this variety was nearly lost until a man named Bobby Prevatte, who inherited seeds from his grandparents, brought it to the attention of botanists. It's now available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
3. Mouse Melon
While it may look like a watermelon that has been shrunk down to the size of a grape, this traditional Mexican vegetable is more closely related to cucumbers. New to North American palates, it's suddenly a hot item at specialty seed companies. The flavor is cucumber-like but with a delightful bite — it's often described as a cucumber that's already been pickled.
4. Ground Cherry
This unique crop looks like a cherry tomato but comes wrapped in a papery husk like a tomatillo. A relative of both vegetables, the ground cherry has a flavor that's a cross between the two: sweet and tomatoey, with a piquant aftertaste. As a bonus, it's not susceptible to the myriad pests and diseases that plague tomato plants.
Hailing from the high Andes, this ancient vegetable has recently found its way onto American plates. It's the tuberous root of the South American sunflower, which grows readily in North American soils. Raw yacón has a crunchy texture, with a flavor somewhere between celery and green apples. It's often added to salads, but it can also be cooked like a sweet potato.
6. Honeynut Squash
Another recent invention of the folks at Row 7 Seed Company, this is, essentially, a miniaturized version of butternut squash. The idea behind the company is to develop new vegetables bred specifically with chef-level culinary attributes. Honeynut squash, which has quickly become the darling of foodie circles, is Row 7's first smashing success. It concentrates all the flavor of a full-size butternut squash into a smaller, more potent package.
7. Tree Collards
These purplish-green collards grow on spindly stalks up to 10 feet tall. The flavor is sweeter and nuttier than standard collards. Even more impressive is their perennial nature: Unlike annual vegetables, tree collards produce year after year without replanting. Unfortunately, they only do so in mild-winter regions (prolonged temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit will kill the plants). The good news is that you can grow them in a pot and cut the stalks down to a reasonable size before you bring them indoors for winter.
8. African Blue Basil
Speaking of perennial plants, here is a rare perennial basil, though it, too, dies when the cold weather arrives unless you bring it indoors. African blue basil isn't blue, but it is beautiful, with purple-tinged foliage and flowers. It grows into a compact, rounded shrub that looks more at home in a flower border than a vegetable garden.
9. Roman Camomile
German camomile — the kind that's typically brewed for tea — grows as a spindly, weed-like plant. Roman camomile — its distant cousin — grows as a flat green mat, about three inches tall, that tolerates foot traffic and can be used as an herbal lawn. A cold-hardy perennial, it has a similar flavor and fragrance to German camomile (an annual) but is much more concentrated. Use it as an ingredient in sweet iced tea, or simply sprawl out on the plant for an aromatherapy session.
10. Lavender Mint
Plant breeders are always coming up with new varieties of mint — a plant that is unusually amenable to genetic tinkering (we're talking old-fashioned breeding here, not genetic engineering). There's chocolate mint, pineapple mint and lemon mint, among many others. Now, there is also lavender mint. With two of the world's most popular herbs combined into one, what's not to like?
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.