Thursday, January 24, 2013
Good Berry News
January 24, 2013
The latest update on women's health makes for good eating: three weekly servings of blueberries or strawberries can help cut the risk of a heart attack by as much as one-third.
This finding follows a review of health information obtained from 93,600 women ages 25 to 43 enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study II. The participants completed questionnaires about their diet every four years for 18 years.
In analyzing the data, the researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the UK's University of East Anglia, noted that women who reported eating the most berries had a heart attack risk that was 32 percent lower than those who ate blueberries or strawberries only once a month or less, even if their diets were otherwise rich in fruits and vegetables.
The berries may have made the difference because of the anthocyanins they contain - the investigators said that these naturally occurring compounds may help dilate arteries, counter the buildup of plaque and provide other cardiovascular benefits.
The berries' positive effects were apparently independent of other heart attack risk factors, such as age, high blood pressure, family history of heart attack, body mass, exercise, smoking, caffeine or alcohol intake.
The study was published in the January 15, 2013 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
Dr. Weil's take? This is very good - but not surprising - news about the health benefits of blueberries and strawberries. They are both anti-inflammatory, good sources of fiber, rich in flavonoids and carotenoids, and offer immune-boosting antioxidant activity.
Dr. Weil enjoys berries and recommends eating them frequently. Because commercial strains of berries may be heavily sprayed with pesticides, however, he recommends buying only organic varieties.
I recommend that you grow blueberries. They are delicious, fruit-bearing shrubs and they are very easy to grow.
They are nice contained looking plants (they do get tall) and the berries are easy to harvest. They can be grown in pots and thrive. There are many different varieties bred for all different climates. It is best to research what grows best in your area.
In the Sacramento Valley, several highbush blueberry varieties do well. Some of those varieties that do well here are Bluecrop, Blue Ray, Cape Fear, Georgia Gem, O'Neal, Ozark Blue, Sharp Blue, Sunshine Blue and especially Reveille. Try out several varieties in your garden so you can extend your harvesting season. This will also improve pollination for a better crop.
Plant blueberries where they are protected from the hot afternoon sun and drying winds. They grow well where Azaleas and Rhododendrons thrive in your garden. They like moist soil, but good drainage with lots of organic matter and mulch. They like the soil to have a ph of 4.5-.55 (which is much more acidic than our soil in the valley), and they will show you an iron deficiency when the ph isn't right. It has been recommended that if planting in pots, moist woodchip mulch be added to the potting medium to help the acidity. Instead of adding peat moss for acidity (which is not sustainable) add leaf mulch, pine needle mulch, sawdust mulch, or ground woodchip mulch.
Now, you can just enjoy eating fresh blueberries right out of your own garden. If you have too many, they freeze well or can be dried for storage.
My friend Susan Setzler in Virginia shared this hint: When you dry blueberries, you need to prick each one a little so they don't dry on the outside and not get dry in the middle (case hardening) and then they will spoil in storage, unless you freeze them.
Friday, January 04, 2013
We first got our Worm Factory Worm Bin in July right after the holiday. We set-up our bin on July 8th and on the 10th our live worms (Eisenia fetida or red wigglers) arrived in a relatively small cardboard box with holes punched all around it.
I hurried to the door soon after it was delivered around 4pm to retrieve it from the hot front porch. The high temperature was 106 degrees that afternoon. That was the hottest day we had had. Very unfortunate. I know the mail trucks don't have air-conditioning. We had watched the Worm Factory video about vermicomposting and we knew that the worms handle cool temperatures much better than warm and 106 degrees is very hot - too hot for the red wigglers.
After bringing them into the house and opening the cardboard box to cool down for awhile, I opened the sack they came in and poured them into their new home. They were pretty limp and not active. Now was the watch and wait period to find out if they could recover from a horrendous mail trip like that. My take on it is that many of them (1000 to start I think) did not make it. After their rest period they did not go through the handful of kitchen scraps as expected. It has been very slow going.
We bought the 5 tray Worm Factory bin and of course started with one tray. Finally in Sept.-Oct. we graduated to two trays, with the first tray still containing egg shells with what we hoped were nests of babies and also some material that was still not completely broken down.
Finally in December, after adding a third tray, I was able to make my first harvest of our very own worm castings. This is one trays worth of worm castings. This is so exciting!
The worm bin and its contents are so fresh. It smells good - a very very mild earthy scent and feels good in the hands. The small pieces that are not dark brown in the mixture are pieces of egg shells (brown eggs). I crushed many of the shells, but also added some that were half shells as well as small pieces. Part of the mix sent with the Worm Factory kit included some small pumice rocks which a couple can still be seen. No other material is evident in our very first harvest of worm castings. Pumice rock and Coconut coir block for worm bedding came with the bin, as well as a thermometer, a scraper and the yellow rake shown in the picture above.
Below is some great information from the Worm Factory - there is a difference between Vermicompost and worm castings.
First you need to determine if you have true worm castings, or vermicompost. What's the difference?
Worm castings are essentially worm poop. Worm castings are the result of the red wiggler worm eating the decomposed organic matter and passing it through their gut.
Vermicompost is a combination of worm castings, decomposed, and/or partially decomposed organic matter that has not yet been processed by the worms. Vermicompost may contain some organic matter that is still identifiable. Generally, vermicompost will mostly be made up of worm castings. However, if you still have a small amount of decomposing organic matter it will decide how you store your vermicompost.
The partially decomposed organic matter in vermicompost continues to break down during storage. If you store actively decomposing organic matter in an airtight container it will cause anaerobic decomposition, which results in foul-smelling, plant-toxic by-products. Also if the vermicompost dries out it prevents further decomposition, and often causes it to become impossible to re-wet (hydrophobic).
The best way to store vermicompost is to first dry it until it is damp, not wet. This will ensure sufficient air penetration through the material to prevent anaerobia. Once it is damp, you will want to store it in a non-airtight container. If you store it this way the vermicompost slowly stabilizes in an aerobic environment and has a shelf life of more than three years.
Storing true worm castings is much easier, since they are essentially stable and can be both stored in airtight packages and dried to 5% moisture with no loss of plant growth impact.
In order to test if you have vermicompost or true worm castings you can seal a small handful in an airtight plastic bag. When you open the bag after a few days and it smells like deep, earthy soil, then you have worm castings. If it smells putrid and foul then you have vermicompost and should be stored in a non-airtight container.