The ReNewable Garden- bringing you composting, fertilizers, flowers, herbs, vegetables, and the right equipment and know how that will help make your outdoor gardening the best it can be. As we all become a lot more aware of what goes into the fertilizers we buy and the food we eat, the more we want to become self sufficient and ensure that we protect ourselves and are homes by using the right resources. ReNewable Garden will not only provide you with reviews on what will help make your yard or garden the envy of the neighborhood, but we will also provide some valuable tips on how to turn your garden into a healthy food resource.

Community Gardens in Partnership with Local Natural Retailers and Youth-Oriented Organizations


MegaFood™, a pioneer in the health and wellness category, will partner with three local New England retailers and youth-oriented organizations of their choosing to build community gardens in areas with limited access to healthy foods. With this initiative, MegaFood aims to provide food-focused educational opportunities to help fill the nutritional gap at an early age, while improving lives and inspiring others to do the same.

Throughout the summer, MegaFood will offer its own employees as volunteers to work with local natural retailers in installing the gardens. These retailers, as the center for health and wellness in their communities, are resources for individuals of all backgrounds and income levels.

"We believe that it's extremely important to better connect our next generation to their food, and to each other," says MegaFood CEO Robert Craven. "That's why our program starts with our local natural retailers and pairs them with a like-minded community partner.  MegaFood brings the garden and helping hands, retailers bring knowledge and education, and community partners bring the next generation of kids.  It is our hope that through this shared value model all participants will gain from working together, and that ultimately our children are left with a better understanding of where their food comes from."

Participating natural retailers include:

New Morning Market (Woodbury, Conn.)

New Morning is placing its garden on location. The store is partnering with The Woodbury Food Bank & Naugatuck Youth Services for weekly harvesting of the fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. "This is a great opportunity to partner with one of our trusted supplement brands and to further both of our missions," says Emily Hunt, New Morning's Customer Care Coordinator. "The garden wall is a tangible example of New Morning Market building a healthy, sustainable, local food community. We will be able to use the garden as an educational tool and share the harvest with our community."

A Market (Manchester, N.H.), in partnership with the Manchester Boys & Girls Club:  

A Market has partnered with the Manchester Boys & Girls Club for the location of its garden. They aim to help kids better connect to food, become more creative and adventurous eaters, and ultimately begin practicing better overall nutrition.

Cambridge Naturals (Cambridge, Mass.), in partnership with the Conley School: 

Cambridge Naturals chose the Conley School, located in Greater Boston, for the placement of its garden. Led by a teacher passionate about soil, compost and sustainability, the students will come back from summer to a harvest festival to celebrate the fruits of their labor.

"We firmly believe that in order to inspire others we must begin with our MegaFood Family first. Through the implementation of MegaFood's "Pursue Passion Time" program, we've inspired nearly a quarter of employees to help with the garden installs this summer, making an everlasting impact on their hearts and minds and really fulfilling their whole self," says Ashley Larochelle, Vision Activation Manager at MegaFood. "Fulfilled employees are happy employees, and happy employees want to change the world with us!"

Other community partners include the Windham Center School in Windham, N.H.; the YMCA of Greater Londonderry, N.H.; the Moore Center in Manchester, N.H. and the YMCA in Manchester, N.H

The Seeds of Change® Brand Grows

Its Grant Program


For the fifth consecutive year, Seeds of Change®, the leading producer of sustainably grown seeds and nutritious organic foods, is announcing the launch of the Seeds of Change® Grant Program. The Grant Program will provide much-needed funding to organizations across the United States that focus on telling the seed-to-plate story through sustainable, community-based gardening and farming programs. From now through March 28, schools and community organizations can apply for 24 grants totaling $300,000. Recipients will receive $20,000 or $10,000 grants to support new or existing initiatives.

"The Seeds of Change® Brand is committed to growing healthier, more sustainable communities. Our annual Grant Program promotes the seed-to-plate journey by supporting local school and community gardens," said Andrew Cops, Marketing Director for Seeds of Change®. "This year we are making an even bigger, and more personal, impact by awarding the four highest level grant writers the opportunity to further their organic education with a Seeds of Change® gardening mentor and an opportunity to focus on the best gardening practices."

In an effort to positively impact local gardens in a big way, this year's Seeds of Change® Grant Program will offer $300,000 of funding, split between school and community programs. In addition to the grants, grant ambassadors at the $20,000 recipient level will be awarded the opportunity to attend an organic conference and receive a personal Seeds of Change® garden mentor. To help enhance the environmental, economic and social well-being of gardens, farms and communities nationwide, the 24 grants will be distributed as follows: two (2) $20,000 grants and ten (10) $10,000 grants for school programs; and two (2) $20,000 grants and ten (10) $10,000 grants to fund community programs.

A portion of the Seeds of Change® "1% Fund," the company's commitment to donate one percent of its sales, is allocated to support the annual Grant Program.

For more information about the Seeds of Change® Grant Program, please visit Fans of the organic food movement can also follow the program on social media by tracking #SeedsofChangeGrant and by visiting the brand's Facebook or Twitter pages.

About Seeds of Change® Grant Program

To enter, visit the Seeds of Change® grant website at to complete an application and see the Program Guidelines. Applicants are encouraged to answer questions about how their organization or project helps educate its community about the food they eat through sustainable gardening and farming.  From March 31 through April 18, 2016, applications will be available for public voting. The top 50 organizations, 25 schools and 25 community organizations that receive the most votes will then move onto the final judging phase. Grant recipients will be announced around May 3, 2016.

About Seeds of Change®

Seeds of Change® was founded in 1989 by passionate gardeners with a vision to make organically grown seeds available to gardeners and farmers, while preserving countless heirloom seed varieties in danger of being lost to the "advances" of modern industrial agriculture. For 27 years, we have remained true to our original vision by offering a wide selection of organic seeds including heirloom, traditional, and rare seeds. Our seeds are produced through a network of certified organic family farms and professional growers. Through these partnerships, we continually cultivate study and develop seeds with the goal of producing the finest certified organic varieties to share with our fellow gardeners and farmers. In 1997 our business expanded to also include Organic Food inspired by the notion that great taste and sustainability go hand in hand.   We now offer a wide variety of Ready to Heat organic Rice and Grain varieties.

Farm From A Box

Farm From A Box is a modified shipping container containing a complete, off-grid solar powered toolkit for community farming.

Adam,” the first working Farm From A Box debuted at a  ceremony at Shone Farm, in Forestville, California last week.

Its been referred to as a ‘Swiss-Army knife’ of sustainable farming and contains many of the vital components needed for a totally off-grid 2-acre farm; including solar panels and deep cycle batteries, a solar powered pump and irrigation equipment, water purification system, LED lighting, charging facilities and basic farming tools.

The system combines components from leading companies including SMA, Trina Solar and Trojan Battery.

This kit can easily be used to provide local, organic food for a school or community group. It can help jumpstart food production and stabilize a community after a disaster,” says its creators.

It can act as an alternative to standard food aid, providing the means for struggling communities to grow their own food source without dependence on outside relief.

Adam’s agro-ecological methods and technologies will be tested and monitored by staff and students from Santa Rosa Junior College.

The innovative concept offered by ‘Farm from a Box’ is a terrific example of how to empower communities in developing regions to provide for themselves,” said Bryan Godber of Trojan Battery.

Trojan is pleased to play a vital part in the ‘Farm from a Box’ worthwhile mission to help developing regions establish a stable infrastructure for sustainable food production.”

Farm From A Box is a for-profit social enterprise with a goal of building a model of lifting rural communities out of poverty – permanently.

When the basic needs of water and food security are met, other community needs can prosper, such as education, health and entrepreneurship.

The group is also currently launching a pilot project in in Batu Ziway, in the Rift Valley region of Ethiopia.

Shone Farm is a 365-acre outdoor learning laboratory for the Santa Rosa Junior College’s Agriculture/Natural Resources Department. It includes 120 acres of forest, 100 acres of pasture, 70 acres of vineyard, 12 acres for crop production, and 4 acres of olive and apple trees.

Some Advice for Fall Gardening

In September, the weather starts to moderate a little in a lot of places, and with the cooler temperatures comes a renewed desire to get out in the garden. Here are some of the things to do this month.

September Garden Tips

Fall is for planting- trees, shrubs, bulbs, grass seed, mums, asters, pansies and the list goes on. The cooler temperatures, and more plentiful rainfall makes fall a wonderful time to plant. An added benefit to fall planting is that it gives you a head start for next spring. Plants that are planted in the fall will be all settled in and ready to grow when the ground thaws and temperatures warm up next spring.

Late summer and fall weed control is much more critical than most of us believe. Perennial Weeds.  This is the best time to eliminate perennial and vine type weeds such a Canadian Thistle, Field Bind Weed, Poison Ivy and many others. During this season plants are moving food from the leaves to the roots for winter storage. Sprays applied to weeds and brush now are more easily translocated from the leaves to the roots insuring the best possible control.

Here are some recommendations:

Thistles-Thistle Down, by Monterey, is the best product on the market today for thistle and many other hard to control weeds. It is expensive, but it works.

Poison Ivy – Poison Oak & Ivy Killer, by Bonide will usually eradicate this vine with one application.

Grass in flower and shrub beds – Grass Beater kills the grass without harming broad leaf plants.

General Weed Control –Kleen Up, kills both annual and broadleaf weeds. It works like Roundup, but better.

Winter Germinating Annual Weeds – These are the weeds that are such a problem in our gardens during April and May. They germinate in late summer to fall remaining unnoticed during the winter and ready to create havoc in spring. . The solution is to apply Amaze during September, which is a granular pre-emergence herbicide, which puts an end to weeds as they germinate. Take care not to use Amaze around plants you desire to reseed.

Start fall clean-up in the flower beds, cutting back anything that has finished blooming and is looking tattered. Leave plants such as sedum, ornamental grass, and others that offer winter interest.

Dispose of diseased or pest-ridden plant material in the trash, although these materials can be composted, this should only be done if you’re certain that your compost pile reaches hot enough temperatures to kill any pathogens or over-wintering insects/eggs.


Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs.  The new plants will have several months to grow new roots and will be ready to grow early next spring.  Select accent plants for your landscape that will provide autumn colors. Trees that have red fall color are Flowering Dogwood, Maples, Oak, Serviceberry, Smoke Tree, Ginkgo, Sour /Black Gum, Ornamental Pear, and some Crab Apples. Shrubs with stunning fall foliage include sumac, viburnum, winged euonymus and Barberry, Spiraea, Fothergilla, Oak Leaf Hydrangea, Itea, Chokeberry, Clethra, and Blueberry.

Allow plants to finish the summer growth cycle in a normal manner. Never encourage growth with heavy applications of fertilizer or excessive pruning at this time. Plants will delay their dormancy process that has already begun in anticipation of winter in the months ahead. New growth can be injured by an early freeze.

Water newly planted trees and shrubs to provide sufficient moisture and prevent winter damage. Add a three inch layer of organic mulch such as shredded bark around the base of plants to retain soil moisture and regulate soil temperature. Keep the mulch a few inches away from stems and trunks.

Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs.  The new plants will have several months to grow new roots and will be ready to grow early next spring.

Trees that bleed or are susceptible to disease if pruned in the spring may be pruned now.  This includes maples, birch, black walnut, oaks, honey locust and mountain ash. Prune young trees to a single central leader; remove broken, crossed or rubbing branches; and gradually remove lower branches.  Always make proper pruning cuts just beyond the branch collar but not leaving stubs.

Give evergreen hedges a final trim to ensure they are neat for the winter.

Are You Getting Ready For Gardening Season?

It’s that time of the year for people in the Northern Hemisphere to start planning and planting their summer gardens. If you haven’t begun yet we want to share some ideas and tips on how you can become garden-smarter while being eco-friendly.

10 Tips for a More

Sustainable Garden and Yard

1. Go organic. Eliminate chemicals from your yard and garden. Organic fertilizers last a lot longer and won’t cause lawn, flower or veggie burn like a chemical fertilizer will. Many chemicals to get rid of bugs these days are “systemic” and stay in the plant for months and even years and kill the bees and other beneficial insects.

2. Use mulch in your garden. Mulch is a home run. It keeps weeds from sprouting, it keeps moisture in the ground so you don’t have to water as often, it adds organic matter to your garden, and it looks nice.

3. Plant natives. Those trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses that are native to your area are well acclimated to your climate and pests. You can plant and they will take care of themselves.

4. Save seeds. Growing from seed saves you money, allows you to grown interesting varieties, and raise crops that are uniquely adapted to your garden conditions. You can get seeds by saving your own, your neighbors, favorites from the farmers market, and even from the produce and fruits you buy at the grocer.

5. Lose your lawn. Lawns in America are a big drain on the pocketbook and time while not providing food for your family or critters. Add decorative flower beds with natives. Start using at least a part of your lawn for growing herbs, fruits and vegetables for you and your family. Nothing is better tasting and better for you than fresh out of the garden and onto the table.

6. Water less. Purchase natives and look for drought tolerant in the descriptions of plants and seeds you are buying. Set up a rain barrel to use for the flower beds. Use drip hoses instead of sprayers these can save up to 70 percent on water. Use mulch in not only your flower beds but also your garden beds. Go organic on lawn care. Organic, all natural lawns are more tolerant of the summer conditions and need less water to survive.

7. Grow your own food. You can easily add fruits and veggies to your existing flower gardens. You can easily expand your garden beds to accommodate herbs and veggies. If you don’t have room for a flower and veggie garden bed, you can grown anything in a self watering pot. There has been a bonanza of new container varieties developed over the last few years. It is easy to grow and eat from the garden spring, summer and fall.

8. Plant perennials. Annuals take a great deal of inputs to grow from seed each year. With perennials, you get the benefit of the inputs for years and years versus just one. Don’t forget about perennial edibles, too! Herbs are a great beginners choice.

9. Compost. Don’t throw those table scraps in the trash to just go sit in a landfill someplace. Re-use their nutritional value in your garden by composting them. There are basically three types of composters: a bin that you layer browns/greens and it takes a year to break down, a tumbler type that you throw the browns/greens together and crank daily to mix up giving you compost in a couple of weeks, and an electric type that can be used indoors or outdoors that gives you compost in a couple of days. Why throw out all those food nutrients when you can reuse them in your own garden for free?

10. New methods for the lawn itself. For your lawn, mow high. The higher grass shades the ground, causing the soil to not dry out as quickly and helping keep some weeds from growing. Use an electric or manual lawn mower. We purchased a self propelled electric mower this past year and it works great! Don’t buy the typical seed mix. Purchase low growing grasses so you only need to mow monthly instead of weekly.


the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) published a comprehensive digital guide to the key federal farm and food programs that support sustainable farm and food systems. The Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs will help farmers and non-profit organizations navigate the numerous farm bill and other U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that have been championed by NSAC.

“The Grassroots Guide will be a valuable resource for farmers as they look for opportunities and financing to grow their farms and help build a more sustainable farming system,” says Juli Obudzinski, Senior Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “The Guide is specifically targeted to the farming community and distills very technical federal policies and programs in a way that is accessible to farmers and consumers alike.”

The Grassroots Guide includes up-to-date information on conservation, credit, rural development, research, and food programs authorized in the farm bill and other pieces of federal legislation – including recent policy changes made in the 2014 Farm Bill.

This new resource details over 40 federal food and farm programs that provide funding to farmers and organizations for conservation assistance, farm real estate and operating loans, outreach to minority and veteran farmers, beginning farmer training programs, value-added enterprises, support for farmers markets and farm to school programs, and more. The Guide is organized into the following topic areas:

  • Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers

  • Conservation and Environment

  • Credit and Crop Insurance

  • Food Safety

  • Local and Regional Food Systems

  • Organic Production

  • Renewable Energy

  • Rural Development

  • Sustainable and Organic Research

For each program included, the Guide provides plain-language explanations of how the program works, who can utilize the program, examples of the program in action, step-by-step application instructions, additional resources, and a brief overview of the program’s history – including legislative and administrative changes and historical funding levels.

“Searching online for resources aimed at supporting sustainable producers and grassroots organizations can be a daunting task; we hope this Guide proves to be a handy quick reference for producers, would-be producers, and the organizations that work with them,” says Sarah Hackney, Grassroots Director with NSAC.

This digital Grassroots Guide will be updated continually as new programs are finalized and modified both by USDA and Congress in the years to come. To access the Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs, visit NSAC’s publications page at


For those who have not yet suffered a hard frost this winter, there is still time to have mother earth help you and your vegetables!

The days when everyone had an underground cellar full of produce may be gone, but here's a simple technique that will give you sweeter, crisper winter vegetables than any you can buy at the grocery store. This method takes advantage of the fact that some vegetables can survive freezing temperatures and remain fresh, even when buried under a blanket of snow.

Storing your vegetables in the ground during winter is a good idea. You can store carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, celery, rutabagas, cabbages, leeks, kale, and spinach in the garden through winter by using this mulching technique.

1. Before hard frosts begin, hoe soil over beets, carrots, and other root crops to protect any exposed shoulders, but keep the green leaves uncovered to let the plants continue to grow and sweeten.

2. For the best flavor, allow cold tolerant crops to grow for as long as possible. If early hard frosts are predicted, cover plants with blankets, row covers, loose straw, or leaves; then uncover them when temperatures rise above freezing, so they can continue to grow. During cooler fall nights, these crops will accumulate higher levels of sugars, making them better tasting to us and more able to survive freezing


3. A winter deepens in milder regions, cover the crops with a light mulch to keep them in good shape through much of the season. In colder northern regions, bury the plants with leaves or straw just before the ground begins to freeze. A 1-foot-deep mulch should protect the crops and keep the ground from freezing in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5. Use more in colder areas and less in warmer regions.

If you put the leaves into trash bags, the wind won't carry them away, and they'll be easier to move aside when you want to harvest the crops. If you've had trouble with mice or voles, set a few traps to catch any critters before they set up winter housekeeping in the mulched vegetable beds. In most years, your snugly mulched crops will remain alive and ready to use all winter long. (If you allow any unharvested carrots, beets, or cabbages to grow again in spring, they will flower and produce seed for you.)

Getting Sustainable Agriculture  Done

in South Dakota

The Dakota Lakes Research Farm in Pierre, South Dakota is dedicated to researching ways to strengthen the agriculture economy. The sustainable agriculture operation is a nonprofit and is operated by South Dakota State University.

Area farmers who care deeply about the state’s land’s well-being founded the nonprofit over 30 years ago. Dr. Dwayne Beck is the Research Farm’s manager. Beck is known for his crop rotation “rules,” which can help crops resist pests naturally. He also believes that soil moisture, nutrient management, and the use of cover crops, such as soybeans, wheat, legumes, lentils, brassicas, and canola, can help soil quality, too.

Grist recently lauded the nonprofit for its work, which aims to help South Dakota Farmers test land-friendly farming methods. The members experiment with “soil-nurturing” and “resource efficient agricultural methods.” The operation has been pesticide-free for 13 years (the project uses crop diversity, as stated above, instead). One of the project’s more lofty and admirable goals is to become fossil fuel neutral by 2026.

Overall, the organization’s farmers work with Beck to plan research projects and capital improvements. The funds for the research program come from the University (such as from grants) and from production profits at the Station (also known as the Main Station) – where three quarters of the organization’s land resides. The other 360 acres is on the organization’s North Unit. In 2000, the North Unit was purchased to research the West River area’s soils. This area has always been farmed using no-till methods. The no-till method allows for earthworms and nightcrawlers to prosper. These bugs and worms are able to create tunnels that can help rainfall reach soil.

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More Environmentally Friendly Lawns

Many homeowners strive to have the picture-perfect green lawn. But how can that be achieved in an environment where water in parts of the country is becoming scarce and the use of pesticides and fertilizer is being discouraged?

Researchers from two Big Ten universities hope that they will be able to find an answer. Scientists from Rutgers University and the University of Minnesota, both members of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation — an academic consortium of Big Ten universities — will be working together over the next five years to develop an environmentally friendly grass that is more resistant to disease and drought and a better economical choice for homeowners.

The scientists have received a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find a way to make fine fescue, a highly drought-tolerant grass native to Europe and used throughout the world in grazing pastures, ornamental landscaping and home lawns less susceptible to disease and wear.

"We're trying to make the low-maintenance grass less vulnerable to disease and more wear-tolerant for homeowners' lawns," said Austin Grimshaw, a research technician at the Center for Turfgrass Science in Rutgers' New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, who is working with colleagues Stacy Bonos and William Meyer on researching fine fescue.

"Tall fescue is very common on lawns," said Bonos, an associate professor of plant biology and pathology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. "Tall fescue uses more water than fine fescue, and it requires more fertilizer to maintain green color. Fine fescues maintain density and stay green with almost no water or fertilizer."

Besides making fine fescue tougher and less dependent on fungicides and fertilizers, better for the environment and more economical for homeowners, Bonos said researchers also need to gain a better understanding of what homeowners and groundskeepers want in a lawn and how best to market the grass.

Areas Of Drought May Be Seeing More
Cracks In Soils - Why?

In areas affected by drought, residents may be seeing more cracks in their soil. Are these serious?

According to Eric Brevik, a professor at Dickinson State University, some soils have a high content of clay minerals known as smectites. When smectite clays get wet, water moves into a space between the structural units that make up the clay mineral. The presence of the water molecules pushes the structural units apart, causing the clay mineral to expand, or swell.

When these clays dry out, the water molecules are removed from the inter-structural spaces and the clays shrink. When this shrinking takes place in millions of clay structural units in a volume of soil, the shrinking can be enough to create large cracks in the soil. Soils with a high shrink-swell clay content are known as Vertisols.

Vertisols are found in several places in the United States, including the Gulf Coastal Plain of Texas, the Mississippi River Valley from Illinois to the Gulf Coast, central Montana, western South Dakota, and the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota. Other major Vertisol regions in the world include central India, eastern Australia, and eastern Sudan and South Sudan.

Where has all the soil gone?

You may hear the phrase: “We are losing our soil.” Sounds serious… But how do we lose soil? Nick Comerford, a member of the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) and professor at the University of Florida, provides the answer.

Soil erosion is the movement of soil by wind or water, and it’s through erosion that soil is “lost.” If it is an organic soil, we also lose it by subsidence, which happens when an organic soil is drained and its organic matter decomposes.

We lose about 1.7 billion tons of soil per year from just our cropland. That is a lot, but it’s better than it used to be. Over the past 25 years, we have reduced soil erosion by over 40%, mainly by conservation practices such as conservation tillage, terracing, cover crops, and grass waterways. It can take roughly 500 to 1000 years to form one inch of soil, depending on the climate and the material from which soil forms.

With that in mind, it is not hard to see that soil is a non-renewable resource and worth protecting. Since the soil is the source of water and nutrients for plants as well as a bioreactor to purify and filter water, it is crucial to our quality of life.

Soil erosion occurs when the soil is not protected from the elements. Remove the plants and mulch from mineral soil and things start to happen. Raindrops can break apart the soil making it easier to move it by wind and water. The water’s ability to enter the soil is reduced and more water now can flow over the top of the soil. Unfortunately, water is powerful and can carry away soil particles if it flows overland. Since water flows downhill, that’s where the soil goes once water erosion begins.

Where does the soil end up? It might end up at the bottom of a hill, or it might end up in a river or stream or in the ocean, or it might end up in a reservoir. If the soil ends up in reservoir, it limits the space for water and has to be removed by a very expensive process called dredging. If the soil dries out while it is unprotected, then wind can pick it up and move it downwind.

Organic soils can be drained. When drained, they decompose and this is called subsidence. In the Everglades area of Florida where soils have been drained for agriculture, organic soils have lost as much as five feet or more of their organic matter. Organic soils are preserved by not draining them. Letting them stay saturated with water allows them to continue to build over time.

Soil erosion is expensive. It costs the United States about $44 billion per year. Preventing erosion means taking care of the soil. That means protecting it with mulch and plants, not plowing on steep slopes, and maximizing the amount of water that enters the soil while minimizing the water that runs over the soil.

Study examines cadmium uptake
in New Zealand pastures

New Zealand’s pastoral landscapes are some of the loveliest in the world, but they also contain a hidden threat. Many of the country’s pasture soils have become enriched in cadmium. Grasses take up this toxic heavy metal, which is then eaten by the cattle and sheep that graze them. The problem is not unique to New Zealand; cadmium-enriched soils being reported worldwide.

The concern is that if cadmium concentrations rise to unsafe levels in meat and dairy products, human health and New Zealand’s agricultural economy could be jeopardized. That so far hasn’t happened.

But, New Zealand isn’t taking any chances. Brett Robinson, a scientist with New Zealand’s Lincoln University, recently published an article in the Mar. 21, 2014 edition of the Journal of Environmental Quality that gives some solutions to the problem.

The use of phosphate fertilizers over many decades—contaminated with cadmium—created the current conditions. These practices continue today. Robinson and his team are trying to determine which soil factors most strongly affect soil cadmium concentrations. They found that soil pH, iron concentrations and total cadmium levels were excellent predictors of how much cadmium is biologically available for plants.

Robinson’s work also shows ways to keep the cadmium from being taken up by plants. His research showed that more acidic soils increased the cadmium that is available to plants. So, using lime to prevent soil acidification could help “lock” the cadmium in the soil.

Similarly, iron oxides bind cadmium tightly and hold it in soil. Robinson is working with the coal-mining company, Solid Energy New Zealand, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology to determine whether certain soil amendments will reduce plant uptake of cadmium. Robinson’s research can also be applied worldwide to help with cadmium contamination.

Homemade Organic Fertilizer

Because garden supplies are about half of a family's yearly food intake, I do all I can to maximize my vegetables' nutritional quality. Based on considerable research and more than 30 years of vegetable growing, I have formulated a homemade fertilizing mix that works great in most food gardens. I call it Complete Organic Fertilizer, or COF. It is a potent, correctly balanced mixture composed entirely of natural substances. It's less expensive than similar commercially compounded organic fertilizers, and it's much better for your soil life than harsh synthetic chemical mixes (see "Chemical Cautions" below).

The use of COF plus regular, minimal additions of compost has a long track record of producing incredible results. I've recommended this system in all the gardening books I've written over the past 20 years. Many of my readers have written back, saying things like, "My garden has never grown so well; the plants have never been so large and healthy; the food never tasted so good."

Complete Organic Fertilizer

To concoct COF measure out all materials by volume: that is, by the scoop, bucketful, jarful, etc. Proportions that vary by 10 percent either way will be close enough to produce the desired results. Making this formula by weight is more difficult and I suggest you do not try to. I blend my COF in a 20-quart plastic bucket, using an old one quart saucepan as a measuring scoop. I make 7 to 14 quarts of COF at a time.

At any cost of materials this mix is a good value when judged by the results it produces, but COF can be unnecessarily expensive unless you buy the ingredients in 50 pound sacks (20 kg) from appropriate vendors. Urban gardeners may have to do a bit of research to find rural suppliers. Farm and ranch stores as well as feed and grain dealers are the best sources for seed meals and kelp meal, which are typically used to feed livestock. If I were an urban gardener, I would visit the country every year or two to stock up. The other ingredients usually can be found at garden shops, although garden centers may sell them in smaller sized packages at relatively high unit prices. You also may find the these items on the Internet but they will be less costly from farm/ranch supply stores.

Seed meals and various kinds of lime are the most important ingredients (keep reading for "Basic Organic Fertilizer Ingredients"). These alone will grow a great garden. Gypsum is the least essential type of lime, but it contains sulphur, a vital plant nutrient that is deficient in many soils. If gypsum should prove hard to find or seems too costly, don't worry too much about it — simply double the quantity of inexpensive agricultural lime. If you can afford only one bag of lime, in most circumstances your best choice would be ordinary agricultural limestone. The most fundamental nutrient ratio to get right in your soil is the balance of calcium to magnesium; it should be about 7 (calcium) to 1 (magnesium).To achieve that you could alternate agricultural lime and dolomite. First go through two bags of ordinary ag lime and then use one bag of dolomite lime. I strongly disagree with the many Rodale Press home gardening publications that insisted dolomite lime is the best single choice. Repeated use of dolomite has caused many organic gardens to become hard and compacted, making it seem that even more compost was needed than was actually required. Had the same soil had its magnesium to calcium ratio brought into proper balance, it would have loosened up by itself, seeming as though huge quantities of compost had been added.

COF Cautions

COF must not be spread more than one time each year or else you risk adding too much lime. The amount of lime in COF was carefully calculated to provide just enough calcium and magnesium and sulphur as essential plant nutrients but not enough to massively change the soil pH or overload your soil with calcium and magnesium. If you are planting a following crop in the same year and wish to increase fertility in that bed or row, if the earlier crop had already received the usual amount of COF do not use COF again until next year. Instead, spread and work in only seedmeal at the rate of 3 to 4 quarts per 100 square feet. If you have lots of money and care about your health, a better supplemental fertilizer is three to four parts seedmeal and one part kelp meal.

Calvert Green