Organic Vegetable Gardening A Few Words About Tomatoes

Everybody loves tomatoes. And the taste best when picked from the vine, walked to the butcher block, sliced, and put on the homemade bread with lettuce, bacon, and mayonnaise. My mouth is watering at the thought. First we have to grow the tomato.

Tomatoes come in a numerous varieties, heirloom and hybrid. I just like to eat them. From grape sized and red to gigantic and purple, you can get tomatoes in a virtually unlimited array of colors and sizes. They all grow between three to four feet for you determinate varieties and seven to fifteen feet for your indeterminate varieties. All tomatoes need twenty-four to thirty six inches of space to spread out. If you use deep beds, you can plant a bit closer together and train the vines vertically. The majority of the roots are in the top eight inches of the soil with some fibrous spreading roots going four plus feet down. They like their soil to have a pH of 6 to 7.

Tomatoes love eight or more hours of full sun per day. They cannot tolerate frost and should be started indoors and transplanted to your garden after the last chance of frost. Where I live in Tennessee, that is tax day here in the US, April 15. Did I follow my own advice? Of course not! I planted early and had to cover my tomatoes because we had a frost. Some stakes and old packing blankets over the tomatoes brought them through just fine. They look great and are moving toward the sandwich as I write.

When you do plant your tomatoes, if in rows they should be 18 to 24 inches apart. If you use deep beds as I do, they go 12 inches apart and should be trained up a trellis. Tomatoes love water and should get one to one and half inches per week either from rain or watering. Apply compost or slow acting fertilizer in spring. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and require light supplements every couple of weeks throughout the growing season. Go easy with the nitrogen. You will be well served by spraying your plants with the liquid seaweed extract.

I have had trouble over the years with the tomato hornworm. You know you have them when you see holes in your leaves and black droppings in the foliage of your lovely tomato plant. If you spray your plant with water, the hornworms thrash about and let you know where they are. You will recognize them from the large (3 to 5 inches) , green, caterpillar appearance. The dead giveaway is the horn on their head. They are relatively easy to control by picking of early in the season. You can also dust with BT (bacillus thuringiensis). If the infestation is too awful, use pyrethrum twice, three days apart.

Whiteflies have been the bane of my existence on more than one occasion. The little bugger secrete honeydew that encourages fungus causing the plant to weaken, turn yellow, and die. So sad. You know you have them because your plants start to turn yellow and, when the plant is shaken, a flying could of dandruff flies around your tomato. Insecticidal soap will get rid of the pestilence. If that doesn’t work, use the pyrethrum twice, three days apart.

Hey, have fun and eat the delicious tomatoes. I know I can’t wait.

Harry J. Anslinger and the Campaign against Marijuana

Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in the world. Despite its current legal status it only became criminalised within the last century, before which it was both a regularly used recreational drug as well as a medically prescribed drug for dealing with a wide range of ailments from glaucoma to cancer and multiple sclerosis. So if merely a century ago Marijuana was a widely used and medically acknowledged drug how did it manage to reach the criminalised status that it now holds?

In America the criminalisation of cannabis began as a relatively slow and understated process with certain states outlawing its use starting in the District of Columbia in 1906. A couple of states followed this example and outlawed the use of cannabis throughout the 1910s and 20s but it wasn’t until the 1930’s that the criminalization of cannabis became a major issue.

The reason that cannabis became such a huge issue was the launch of a massive smear campaign against marijuana lead by Harry J Anslinger from 1930 to 1937. Harry J Anslinger started his career as the Assistant Prohibition Commissioner in the Bureau of Prohibition before he was promoted to the position of Commissioner in the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930. Anslinger held this position for 32 years, but it is his campaign against marijuana, which dominated the first 7 years of his tenure, that he is most widely remembered for.

Anslinger made heavy use of the mass media in order to spread his anti-cannabis message. Anslinger notoriously fabricated a number of stories tenuously linked to police reports that he published in his “Gore File” and used to turn the public against the drug and gain backing for its criminalisation. Among the accusations he levied were “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”; “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”; “You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.” These accusations were designed to pray on the worries that many American’s had about the number of immigrants entering the country.

A more interesting point relating to this is that Anslinger wanted the growth of all marijuana plants outlawed; including those that yield no intoxicating chemicals and can only be used to produce the extremely versatile textile hemp and cannabis oil which can form a cheap and effective base for fuels, paints and plastics. Anslinger and his primary supporter, William Randolph Hearst, both had considerable interest in the petrochemical industry and it has been suggested that the anti-cannabis campaign was primarily designed to eliminate hemp as a competitor.

No matter the reasons it is clear that Harry J Anslinger and his anti-cannabis activism played an enormous role in the national criminalisation of the drug, something which is still strongly debated to this day.

Make Your Goal Living the Simple Life

A recent article in the New York Times “the Island where People Forget to Die” by Dan Buettner really got my attention. I am a registered dietitian and yes it is a good goal to lose weight if you need to, and to lower your cholesterol, blood sugar and triglycerides if you are on medications for these conditions. I suggest a full examination not of your body, or weight but your total lifestyle. Coincidentally I am writing this article during the recent “Franken storm”. My “normal lifestyle” has changed to a much simpler one. This situation has given me reason to pause.

This article is a must read. It identifies a man in his mid-60’s diagnosed with lung cancer and given nine months to live. He chooses to return to his ancestral roots in Ikaria Greece. What occurred was astonishing. He adopted the local ways of living and his strength started returning. The years passed and his health continued to improve. Today, at 97 years old, three decades later he is cancer-free! He never received chemo therapy, took drugs or sought therapy of any sort.

So what happens on this island that improved this man’s health? Geographically the air and water have been identified as being responsible for extending life. There have been other communities with centenarians. There are similarities within all these communities that can be helpful for all of us to heed.

The residents of this island choose to have a simple life. Their day starts late morning with a breakfast of goat’s milk, wine, sage tea or coffee with bread and honey. Lunch includes beans, potatoes, greens and whatever home grown seasonal vegetables are available. Often dinner is small with bread and honey. Meals and social times extend late into the evening sharing stories, wine and or teas. The Ikarians farm their own vegetables, raise their own animals, and enjoy drinks made from locally grown herbs. Their focus is not on monetary success, multitasking and watching the clock; instead they choose to enjoy an enormous sense of community and time for daily naps.

As an RD I counsel patients and together we create goals. My initial assessment includes information for genetics, lab values, as well as diet and exercise habits. Very often it comes to light that my patients are under stress or don’t have a social network, in addition to other weight and health issues. The Ikarians don’t seem to have these stressors and they certainly seem to enjoy socializing with a close community of friends. Could these differences make so much difference with health? Research has indicated that dementia, cardiovascular disease in addition to cancer have been delayed or totally avoided.

The Times article has brought more of my attention to the importance of “way of life”. So let’s examine this way of life that seems to be so beneficial. Our cultural ways of multitasking, rushing and watching the clock are not included in Ikarian residents thought processes. Focus on taking naps, enjoying the social aspect of eating and having a lifestyle that naturally includes being active as opposed to gym time seem to reap impressive health advantages. Everyday life includes daily walking, gardening, and heavy manual labor. Another topic that I found extremely relevant was not particularly what these residents eat but what they do not eat such as sugar and soda. Their diets are based on the Mediterrean diet, a plant based format for Ikarians consisting of goats milk, wine, teas, coffee, whole grains, honey, beans, and home grown vegetables. The Mediterrean diet emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This diet includes moderate amounts of alcohol but limited dairy and meat products.

Low intake of saturated fat is associated with lower risk of heart disease and olive oil has been found to reduce bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. Tryptophan found in nuts, seeds, legumes, soybeans and other soy products, tuna, shellfish and turkey is one of ten essential amino acids. The body uses tryptophan to synthesize serotonin which is helpful in regulating appetite, as well as elevating moods and increasing the ability to enjoy beneficial sleep. Coffee, also included in Ikarian diets, has been controversial but of late research credits it with lower rates of diabetes, and heart disease. Basically to summarize, the additional benefits of the Ikarian diet include fewer pesticides, more foods in their natural form and choices that are loaded with beneficial vitamins and minerals. There is no mention of packaged and processed foods or beverages.

This wonderful article really got my attention. It ended by the cancer victim showing no further signs of cancer, and returning to the US to ask his doctors if they could explain what happened. When the interviewer asked “What happened?”this former cancer victim replied “My doctors were all dead.”