2 acre farm: July 2010

2 acre farm

The experiences, trials, and lives on a small farm in rural Illinois.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bacillus Thuringiensis

The title of this post may sound a bit scary with the Latin name but Bacillus Thuringiensis is a harmless natural bacterium also known as "BT", harmless to everything but moth and butterfly larva that is. Its toxic nature towards these creatures is why it ranks high on organic farmer's insecticide list. Some of the most destructive pests in agriculture are larva or caterpillars. Interestingly enough BT has gotten a bad reputation because it is what has been genetically modified into field corn and cotton, instead of dusting or spraying, to control the destructive larva.

In contrast Carbaryl sounds relatively harmless unless of course you know its chemical name, 1-naphthyl methylcarbamate, heck not only is it scary sounding but you can't even pronounce a word with a hyphenated "1" at the front of it. Really you can't. Carbaryl is the active ingredient in many common synthetic insecticides like "Sevin".

I bring these two up because it is interesting to me how Carbaryl comes off as relatively harmless while BT is this nasty thing associated with genetically modified organisms (GMO) and the cooperate chemical giant Monsanto. I also am talking about this now because I recently overheard a conversion at the market between a farmer and customer about “Sevin”. It went something like this:

Customer: “Did you use any pesticides on these (crops)?”
Farmer: “Only Sevin.”
Customer: “Is Sevin dangerous.”
Farmer: “No you can eat crops the same day you spray Sevin on them.”
Customer: “So it isn’t like Round-Up (an herbicide by the way not an insecticide whatsoever).”
Farmer: “Oh No, nothing like Round-Up!”

First of all you cannot even begin to compare an herbicide and a pesticide due to the fact that if both are used they are rarely sprayed at similar times. Herbicides are almost always sprayed early in the season before planting or shortly after. Pesticides are generally sprayed to protect the fruit of the crop which occurs in most cases much later. The issue with herbicides has more to do with their affects on the environment than our health. I am not saying herbicides have not been linked to health issues I am just making a point that the farmer should have pointed out how incomparable they are. He probably should have also mentioned that he uses Round-Up himself but that’s another story.

Moving on I would like to share some information from Cornell Universities’ Cooperative Extension website on Carbaryl via a series of quotes: “Carbaryl is a wide-spectrum carbamate insecticide which controls over 100 species of insects on citrus, fruit, cotton, forests, lawns, nuts, ornamentals, shade trees, and other crops, as well as on poultry, livestock and pets. It is also used as a molluscicide and an acaricide. Carbaryl works whether it is ingested into the stomach of the pest or absorbed through direct contact. The chemical name for carbaryl is 1- naphthol N-methylcarbamate.”, “Carbaryl is moderately to very toxic” , “Direct contact of the skin or eyes with moderate levels of this pesticide can cause burns” , “Inhalation or ingestion … resulting in nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea and excessive salivation.”, “Carbaryl is lethal to many nontarget insects.”, “The destruction of honeybee populations in sprayed areas is sometimes a problem.”, and “Accumulation of carbaryl can occur in catfish, crawfish, and snails, as well as in algae and duckweed.” It goes on and on but I’m not trying to write a novel. You can find this information here: http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/carbaryl-dicrotophos/carbaryl-ext.html You will find a lot more information by searching for Carbaryl Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) which will warn you to wear gloves and goggles when handling. You also need to seek immediate medical attention if you ingest it according to these sheets.

You will be hard pressed to find similarly dramatic information on BT. Most warnings include generalized cautions like flushing eyes with water if eye contact occurs or drinking water if ingested. I found nothing about immediate medical treatment, being toxic, causing burns, or killing bees. Most of the warnings are the same thing you would do if you got sand in your eyes or mouth, flush it out.

This very long post basically boils down to a few simple morals. 1.) BT is not a big bad nasty chemical. In no way do I agree with Genetically Modified Seeds or GMO's (such as those used in Corn, Soy, Cotton, Canola, etc.), nor do I use or promote them; I am simply referring to BT in its natural form. 2.) Educate yourself. While most farmers at the market are generally honest and knowledgeable not all of them are. Now, more than ever, we as consumers need to educate ourselves and be aware.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Bringing Back Ground Cherries

As many of our market customers have discovered, we at 2 Acre Farm enjoy growing unusual and unique produce, such as Aunt Molly's Ground Cherries. Have you heard of them? We hadn't, or at least not until we ordered the seed. We knew it would be a gamble to plant them in the first place, seeing as we had no idea what they would taste like (with the exception of the seed description, which can sometimes be deceiving) or how adventurous the market goers would be (which proved to be a valid concern. Since introducing them only two people at the market, thus far, have even known what they are). From the start we had an idea that we would need to educate our customers on eating and using them. Which we did... and of course it doesn't hurt to give out samples. So for the past few weeks we have been doing this and to our delight they are catching on.

It has been very exciting to create a sort of mini market for such an obscure but wonderful fruit. What also makes this exciting is their placement on Slow Food USA’s endangered foods list called “Ark of Taste”. So we have gotten a real sense of accomplishment by helping preserve a piece of agriculture.

Of course I can’t mention our ground cherries without talking about what they are used for.
First it must be understood that their best quality is their ability to be eaten raw as is (well without the husk of course), in salads like cherry tomatoes, in fruit salads, or any other way you can dream up. Since they have high pectin content they are an excellent candidate for jams, jellies, pies, and tarts. They are also used as a substitute for mango or pineapple in sweet salsa. Search the internet and you will find plenty of recipes. By the way...these little gems only contain 72 calories per cup and are full of vitamins!

Pictured: (left) Once the Ground Cherries turn a yellowish color they are ready to pick. If they aren't picked in time the huskes will preserve the fruit as they lay on the ground, even becoming sweeter as the husk dries. (right) A Ground Cherry pie baked by Aimee's grandmother, aka "Momadee".