One evening a few weeks ago, Marty and I arrived home to find two dozen ears of sweet corn propped up against the chainsaw-carved “welcome bear” at the entrance to our B&B. We were ecstatic, but who done it? No note, no text, no phone message was left from the A-maize-ing donor. It was several days before a friend of ours in Anacortes, Washington, fessed up, but we didn’t wait for permission to start eating it. Corn on the cob is not only tasty and fun to eat (as in, playing with your food), it’s one of the safest vegetables you can buy, according to the Environmental Working Group, or EWG.

What does safe mean? Some conventionally grown (not organically grown) fruits and vegetables are more of a health risk than others – especially for children. That’s because conventional agriculture continues to use large quantities of toxic pesticides. As a result, USDA researchers detect pesticide residues on much of the fruits and vegetables they test. That’s where the EWG comes in.

When you shop for groceries, it’s a good idea to read the labels. And when you buy fruits and vegetables, it pays to be a food watchdog. The EWG has created a Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which they update each year. The guide, downloadable from www.foodnews.org, ranks pesticide contamination of 48 popular fruits and vegetables. Listed in EWG’s guide is The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen – based on results of more than 35,200 samples of produce tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. 

There are more complete lists posted on EWG’s website, but here is The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen:

 

The Dirty Dozen (Foods high in pesticide residue)

At the top are strawberries, followed by spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes 

 

The Clean Fifteen (Foods low in pesticide residue)

Sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, sweet peas (frozen), papayas, asparagus, mangos, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit. (Note: A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce).

Why is it important to eat organic food whenever possible? Kris Carr, a New York Times best-selling author, speaker, and health and wellness advocate says that we vote with our dollars. “Even if it’s not every time you get groceries, each organic purchase is a vote for better health and policies.”

Better still is to grow as much of your fruits and vegetables as possible. Granted, it’s not practical to grow cantaloupes and bananas in Kodiak, but the bounty of produce that we can grow here never ceases to amaze visitors who sample our salads served on a dinner cruise. A typical response is, “This is kale? Are you kidding? At home, kale would be tough as shoe leather!”

So count your blessings, engage your garden to its max, and shop smart. Meanwhile, fall is here and it’s time to continue the process of putting the garden to bed. So let’s talk about how to how to over-winter your geraniums.

Have you ever heard of Pagophobia? It’s the fear of frost or cold. There is no pill to relieve Pagophobia’s symptoms, but there are many things you can do to hold back its effects. For example, you can fly to Mexico for a few weeks or you can, say, overwinter a few geraniums. 

Now it’s tempting to bring your beloved geraniums in the house where they’ll continue to bloom all winter (it’s that Pagophobia thing), but in the warm, dry, low-light environment they can become scrawny looking. If you insist on including geraniums in your household routine though, triple-check for pests first. For that matter, all outdoor plants that you bring inside should be quarantined from the other plants for a couple of weeks. It’s a sad day when you accidentally introduce pests to your indoor environment.

 

Over-wintering geraniums

Prune your geraniums back, leaving an equal amount of root mass and top growth. 

If you want to root cuttings, hold off pruning until February. Whether you prune right away or in February, re-pot the mother plant in fresh potting soil at pruning time. 

For cuttings, take 4- to 6-inch lengths. Put the cuttings in containers filled with moist vermiculite.

Then, set the cuttings and mother plants in a cool, well-ventilated room with about 12 hours of daylight. Come October 20 though, our days will have shrunk down to 10 hours of daylight, so you’ll need to supplement with fluorescent lights. Keep the lights six inches above the tops of the plants.

Oops, I’ve reached my weekly word allotment. I had better wind things up before I scare anyone who has a tendency toward Megalophobia, the fear of large things. Know someone who is afraid of vegetables? That would be Lachanophobia, according to the full phobia list at www.phobialist.com.

 

Marion Owen is co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, which is available through Amazon. To learn how to garden in Kodiak, sign up for Kodiak Growers Facebook group, and chat with folks at local retailers and farmer’s markets. You can find Marion Owen on Facebook, Instagram or visit her blog at https://marionowen.wordpress.com

 

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