Okra – Superfood Superstar

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Okra – Superfood Superstar.

That Little Boy Arthur David…Now He was A Biscuit Eater!

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This is supposed to be an article that focuses on healthy eating and bread spreads, but first a little perspective.  Going back to my childhood, my family and I, but especially me, ate a lot of bread and any variety of it.  We ate biscuits, rolls, bread pudding, sandwiches, and just bread by itself.  I loved bread then and though I have personal restrictions in place, I love bread now.  I get a warm feeling, probably originating from my stomach, just thinking about it and the many ways I consumed bread.  If I was outside playing, it was easy to run into the house and grab a slice of bread and head back out.  I would pack my jaw with the stuff (Wonder Bread was perfect for this) and like some sort of rodent nurse off of it until it was gone and then I would get another slice.  Then there were the peanut butter and Alaga syrup sandwiches.  Alaga is a cane sugar syrup, and it is darker and thicker than most syrups.  I think it is a little sweeter too.  It, the sandwich, tastes just like those “Maryjane” candies.  Sticky and sweet…yum.  Looking back, if there is one thing that put me on the track of being a diabetic, it was probably my love for bread and whatever I could put on it, which was almost always sweet and at portions that would probably kill me now.

Yes, I was a real bad bread lover.  My brothers and I would have eating contests, like who could eat the most biscuits, rolls, pancakes (it’s not politically correct to say but we totally embraced the “Sambo” approach to eating pancakes) and syrup sandwiches or sopping syrup off of a plate that had margarine added to it.  Boy if only I knew then what I know now.

So now I am a diabetic and my situation has made me more sensitive and smarter about what I consume and when I consume it.  Now I only have 1 to 3 slices of bread a day and some days not even that.  My choice of spread is still peanut butter but a small jar of preserves can last me two months easy.  So what about the stuff we put on our bread, bagel or muffin?  What’s good for you and what’s not so good?  Thanks to the July/August of Diabetes Management magazine, I can tell you.  Knowing more about the nutritional content of bread spreads and the right portion size may help you to prevent becoming a diabetic or help you in other ways, especially in losing weight.  It is okay to use these products in small amounts, but let’s not do what I did as a child.  Did it hurt, maybe not…but it certainly didn’t help either.

All of the bread spreads discussed here contribute calories in the form of fat, sugar, or both—but some are better choices than others.  I hope that you can use this as a guide to help you to enjoy what you are eating while avoiding consuming too much saturated fat, trans fat, and sugar.

Butter

Basic Info:

  • Butter must be at least 80% milk fat by weight
  • One tablespoon of butter contains 100 calories, 11 grams of fat (of which 7 grams are saturated fat and about ½ a gram is trans fat), and 30 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol.
  • Whipped butter has fewer calories and less fat than regular butter.  It has air whipped in during processing.
  • One tablespoons of whipped butter contains about 70 calories, 8 grams of fat (5 of them saturated fat) and 20 mg of cholesterol.
  • Light butter spread has even fewer calories and less fat than whipped butter.  Some of the fat is replaced with water or gelatin.
  • One tablespoon of light butter spread has about 60 calories, 7 grams of fat (2 of them saturated), and 7 mg of cholesterol.

American Diabetes Association Recommendation:

  • Calories from fat should make up no more than 20% to 35% of the total calories you consume.
  • In addition, 7% of your total calories come from saturated fat, and that you avoid trans fat whenever possible.
  • A person that consumes 1,500 calories per day, this works out to about 33 to 58 total grams of fat, with no more than 12 grams of saturated fat.
  • The ADA recommends a maximum daily cholesterol intake of 200 mg.

The reason behind these recommendations is that diets high in saturated fat and trans fat are believed to increase your risk of heart disease by raising blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol, which promotes atherosclerosis (hardening and clogging of the arteries).  A high intake of dietary cholesterol can also raise blood LDL cholesterol levels.

Consumers who want the taste of butter but less saturated fat may want to try products that blend butter with oil (usually canola, olive, soybean, and/or flaxseed oil).  These products still have around 100 calories per tablespoon but only 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.  Oil-blended butters also come in light varieties, which decrease the calorie content to about 50 calories per tablespoon and the saturated fat to around 2 grams.

Brand Best Buy (serving 1 tbs.)

Challenge Spreadable Butter (Salted/Unsalted Whipped Butter): 70 calories; 7 grams of fat; 70 fat calories; 5 grams of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Land O’Lakes Spreadable Butter (Salted Whipped Light Butter): 45 calories; 5 grams of fat; 45 fat calories; 3 grams of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Margarine

Basic Info:

  • Margarine is made from a single oil or a blend of oils and must contain at least 80% oil.  (The other 20% is mostly water or nonfat milk).
  • Margarine is most commonly made from soybean, corn, safflower, canola, cottonseed, and sunflower oils, and some products also contain olive or flaxseed oils.
  • It is available solid, in sticks; soft, in tubs; even softer, in squeeze bottles; and liquid, in sprays.
  • Regular margarine contains approximately 100 calories and 11 grams of fat, of which 2 grams are saturated, per tablespoon.
  • Because margarine is made primarily from vegetable oil, it is cholesterol freeCholesterol only occurs in foods of animal origin.
  • Most of the fat in margarine is monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.  These “fats” are known as “good” fats because they are good for your heart, your blood cholesterol levels and your overall health.
  • One type of polyunsaturated, Omega-3 fatty acids, may be especially beneficial to your heart by protecting against irregular heartbeats and lowering the risk of heart attacks.  Fish oil, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, is added to some margarine products.

Does this mean I should switch back to margarine?

American Diabetes Association recommends…

That as a consumer you need to be careful and make sure you read the labeling of any margarine product.  Some margarine products contain trans fat, which is created during food processing when liquid oils are solidified by adding hydrogen.  (Trans fat also occurs naturally in small amounts in animal foods, which why butter contains some trans fat.)  If the words “partially hydrogenated” appear in the ingredients list on a margarine package, the product contains trans fat.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows food manufacturers to list 0 grams of trans fat in the Nutrition Facts panel if the food has less than half a gram per serving.  If you eat more than one serving, though, it can add up.

  • Margarine spreads are lower in fat than regular margarine because more water is added.  Most spreads contain about 70 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 1-2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.
  • Light margarine spreads are 50% lower in calories and fat than regular margarine.

All margarines (and most butter spreads) are supplemented with vitamin A, often in the form of beta-carotene.  Some products are fortified with other vitamins and minerals.  Margarines may also contain plant sterols, which lower LDL cholesterol without lowering HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or “good”) cholesterol.

Brand Best Buy (serving 1 tbs.)

Blue Bonnet (Soft Spread): 40 calories; 4 grams of fat; 40 fat calories; 1 gm. saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Country Crock Spreadable Margarine (Calcium Plus Vitamin D Fortified): 50 calories; 5 grams of fat; 50 fat calories; 1 gram of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Fleischmann’s Original Spread (Olive Oil): 60 calories; 6 grams of fat; 60 fat calories; 1 gram of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (Calcium & Vitamin D or Light)45 calories; 5 grams of fat; 45 fat calories; 1 gram of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Parkay Spreadable Margarine (Light): 45 calories; 5 grams of fat; 45 fat calories; 1 gram of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Smart Balance Spreadable Margarine (Light Omega-3 Buttery Spread): 50 calories; 5 grams of fat; 50 fat calories; 1 gram of saturated fat; 0 trans fat

Cream Cheese

Basic Info:

  • Cream cheese is an unaged cheese made from cow’s milk.  Emulsifiers are used to make cream cheese firm.  The USDA requires regular cream cheese to contain at least 33% fat and no more than 55% water.
  • Cream cheese is high in calories, fat and saturated fat.
  • Two tablespoons of regular cream cheese contain 90 calories, 9 grams of fat (of which 5 grams are saturated fat), 120 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2 grams of carbohydrate.

Spreadable cream cheese varieties include regular, whipped, light, one-third less fat, and fat free.

  • Regular spreadable cream cheese contains 80 calories and 7 grams of fat (of which 4 ½ grams are saturated) per two-tablespoon serving.
  • Whipped, light, and one-third less fat cream cheeses contain about 60-70 calories and 5-6 grams of fat (including 3 grams of saturated fat) per two-tablespoons.
  • Fat-free cream cheese contains 30-40 calories per two-tablespoon serving.
  • Fruit-flavored cream cheeses contain more carbohydrate (from added sugar) than the unflavored cream cheese: about 6 grams in two tablespoons.
  • Flavored varieties, such as Kraft Philadelphia Snack Delights, which contain flavorings such as milk chocolate, dark chocolate, cinnamon, and caramel, can contain as much as 110 calories, 7 grams of fat (of which 4 grams are saturated), and 12 grams of carbohydrate in two tablespoons.

Brand Best Buy (serving 2 tbs.)

Philadelphia Fat Free: 30 calories

Philadelphia Fat Free (Strawberry): 40 calories

Philadelphia 1/3 Less Fat (Strawberry): 70 calories; 4 grams of fat; 40 fat calories; 2 trans fat

Jams, Jelly and Honey

Basic Info:

Jam, jelly, fruit preserves, fruit butter, and honey are high in sugar and therefore high in calories and carbohydrates.

1st the Differences

  1. Jam is made from the pulp and juice of fruits and has a semi-gelled texture.
  2. Apricots, berries, plums and peaches are the most common fruits used to make jam.
  3. Jelly is made from just the juice and is clear and firm.
  4. Preserves are made from whole berries or uniform pieces of larger fruits, such as peaches and pears.
  5. Fruit butters are made from fruit that is cooked until softened, then processed into a smooth consistency.  Peach, apple, pear, plum, and pumpkin are common fruit butter flavors, and spices such as cinnamon or cardamom are sometimes added.

Jams, jellies, preserves, and fruit butters taste sweet due to their fruit content, but many also contain added sweeteners.  Always check for sources of added sugars on the ingredients list.  Common nutritive (calorie-containing) sweeteners found in jam and jellies include corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is a combination of fructose and dextrose.

Some products are sweetened with concentrated fruit syrup or fruit juice.  However, those products, often labeled “100% fruit.” May be no lower in sugar and carbohydrate than products sweetened with sugar or corn syrup.  Whatever the sweetener source, it’s important to check the Nutrition Facts panel on the label to know the carbohydrate content.

Honey is slightly higher in calories and carbohydrate than most jams and jellies.  It contains 60 calories and 17 grams of carbohydrate per tablespoon.

Some food manufacturers make jams and jellies with a lower sugar and carbohydrate content.  Being a diabetic means that this is what I spend my money on.  Unfortunately most stores do not feature a wide variety of diabetic or sugar-free jams, jellies or preserves.  Depending on their ingredients and calorie counts, these products may be labeled “low calorie,” “no sugar added,” “low sugar,” “light,” “sugar free,” or “reduced sugar.”  In place of sugar or corn syrup, they may be sweetened with fructose, sugar alcohols, low calorie sweeteners such as aspartame or sucralose, or a combination of low-calorie sweeteners and sugar alcohols.

What do you know about sugar alcohols?  I didn’t know much about them until after I became diabetic and I was encouraged to read the nutrition labels on what I was buying/eating.  Sugar alcohols are a group of carbohydrates that have lower calorie counts than sugars and starches—about 2 calories per gram versus 4—because they are incompletely absorbed in the gut.  Sugar alcohols you may see on ingredients lists include lactitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, isomalt, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysate.

Sugar alcohols are not considered sugars for labeling purposes but they are listed on the Nutrition Facts panel:  Check for grams of sugar alcohols under total carbohydrate.  Be aware that sugar alcohols have a laxative effect on some people—you may want to limit your intake.

Personally, I was told to avoid the “tol” group altogether.  Sugar free does not mean carbohydrate free and I need to watch my consumption of carbs too.

Brand Best Buy (serving 1 tbs.)

Fifty50 Fruit Spread (Strawberry): 5 calories

Knott’s Berry Farm (Light Preserves, Strawberry): 20 calories

Smucker’s (Low Sugar, Strawberry)25 calories

Smucker’s (Sugar Free, Concord Grape Jam w/Splenda): 10 calories

Smucker’s (Sugar Free, Strawberry Preserves w/Nutrasweet)10 calories

Welch’s (Spread, Natural Strawberry)30 calories

Welch’s (Reduced Sugar Spread, Strawberry Spread, Strawberry)20 calories

Welch’s (Grape Jam or Jelly)50 calories

Peanut Butter and Nut Spreads

PeaNUT…PEANUT BUTTER!  Oh my god this is it…this is my favorite or should I say it’s my favorite right now.  Before I was trying to mind my health, I was good for 3 or 4 peanut butter and strawberry/apricot/peach or cherry preserves sandwiches a day.  My sandwiches were always thick with the preserves oozing out of the right places around the edge of the bread.  The peanut butter was spread evenly across the bread (only white bread) and nowhere on the sandwich were the contents unevenly applied.  My sandwiches where perfect!  Thick!  HEAVY!!  A meal unto itself.  Sadly, I can’t do that anymore L.  My dietician says one slice of bread.  It’s not a sandwich unless it has two.  Who wins this debate?  Most of the time I do (she’s not around to stop me), but I try to exercise a little harder and longer for my indulgence.

But, enough about me, lets talk about peanut butter and nut spreads.  They are both made by grinding nuts into a paste.  They can be “all natural,” meaning they are made just with nuts, or they can contain added oils, sweeteners, and other ingredients.

Peanut butter must contain a minimum of 90% peanuts with no artificial sweeteners or preservatives.  Some brands add a stabilizer to keep the peanut butter fresh and the oil from separating; old-fashioned, or “natural,” peanut butter does not contain stabilizers, so the oil separates and must be stirred back in before using.  Don’t pour off the separated oil, or the peanut butter will become too thick to spread.

Basic Info:

·        Peanut butter is a good source of protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron, but it also derives around 70% of its calories from fat.

·        One serving of peanut butter is indicated on food labels as two tablespoons, and one serving contains 16-18 grams of fat, which includes 2-3 grams of saturated fat.

·        Because partially hydrogenated oils are frequently added to achieve a creamy texture, peanut butter may contain added trans fat.  Some, however, contain fully hydrogenated oils, which do not add trans fat.

·        Peanut butter spreads were developed as reduced-fat alternatives to peanut butter.  They contain 60% peanuts and provide 12 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat per serving.

Please be aware that when fat is reduced, sugar is often added, which may increase the carbohydrate content.  Since reduced-fat peanut butter is often not significantly lower in calories, and the carbohydrate content may double, there may not be significant health benefits to choosing it over regular peanut butter.

Hazelnut

Another nut-based product that is growing in popularity is hazelnut spread.  Hazelnut spread is a mixture of sugar, oil, hazelnuts, chocolate or cocoa, vanilla and milk.

  • The best-known hazelnut spread, Nutella, contains 200 calories, 12 grams of fat (including 4 grams of saturated fat), and 21 grams of carbohydrate in two tablespoons.
  • Nutella is higher in saturated fat than peanut butter because it contains palm oil, which is high in saturated fat, and its high amount of carbohydrate comes from added sugar.
  • The protein content of Nutella is only 2 grams per serving, compared to 7 grams per serving in peanut butter.
  • For a lower-sugar alternative try Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter, which contains 180 calories, 15 grams of fat (of which 3 grams are saturated), and 12 grams of carbohydrate per two-tablespoon serving.

Best Brand Buy (serving 2 tbs.)

Fifty50 (Creamy or Crunchy)190 calories; 16 grams of fat; 140 fat calories; 2 grams of saturated fat

Jif (All varieties*): 190 calories; 15-16 grams of fat; 130-140 fat calories; 2-3 grams of saturated fat

*Jif Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter Spread12 grams of fat; 100 fat calories; 2 grams of saturated fat

Laura Scudder’s All Natural Peanut Butter (Smooth Reduced Fat)190 calories; 12 grams of fat; 110 fat calories; 2 grams of saturated fat

Peter Pan (Creamy Whipped)150 calories; 12 grams of fat; 110 fat calories; 2 grams of saturated fat

Skippy (Natural Super Chunk, Reduced Fat Creamy/Super Chunk)180 calories; 12 grams of fat (Natural Super Chunk 17); 110 fat calories (Natural Super Chunk 150); 2 grams of saturated fat (Natural Super Chunk 3)

Source: Diabetes Self-Management (July/August 2013) – “Bread Spreads” by Lea Ann Holzmeister, RD, CDE

The Vegan Chronicles: June Axelrad

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pig

As you all know, regular or casual followers of this site, I am very concerned about health and diet issues(see list below) that I personally face and some that our society and cultures in general face. So today, after a serious, but fun conversation with my old friend, June Axlerad, we are going to dive in a little more on the subject of vegetarianism and the vegan lifestyle. June is “almost” a vegan and because she is so passionate about vegan-ism, I asked her if she would like to write today’s article. Being a vegan is no passing fancy for June. For as long as I can remember she has been a vegetarian (I think that’s what it was called 40 years ago) a fact that I must have overlooked even as I have had to change a lot of my eating habits. I bet she has some great tips for me as I try to include more vegetables in my meal plans. I now consume about 60 percent less meat than I use to eat. No, it’s probably not where I need to be but I am getting there. Several of my friends are starting to have meatless meal days and what started out as just one day a week has grown to a few, so there must be something going on other than fanaticism.

June is just as passionate about gardening and has taken an interest in supporting the gardening program, Project Sweet Tomato and its two schools, Nolan Elementary-Middle School and John R. King Performing Arts Academy.

This article is simply about motivation. What motivated June, and I am sure many others, to embrace a life program that goes way beyond individual sustenance. Vegan-ism is also about the environment. It’s about protecting and valuing what makes this world worth living in. I learned that from my conversation with June, so let’s read on!

June writes…

If you have ever considered giving up or cutting down on meat, or have belittled or mocked someone who does not partake of animals, this article may be for you. You may find some of it disturbing or offensive but I must speak what I know. Vegetarianism for me is not a restriction or a deprivation. It is so intrinsically a part of me that I have actually had nightmares about biting into meat.

I have not [except by accident or deceit] let animal flesh or any forms thereof, i.e. broth, pass my lips for 14 years. Prior to that I had numerous ’stints’ as a vegetarian. It was much harder to be vegetarian in my younger years, restaurants didn’t offer choices and there were few substitutes available. I can tell you that even as a child, I would see road kill and think “that is what I’m eating.” It was not a pleasant thought.

So why, might you ask, do I not eat meat? I might turn that around and ask “Why do you not eat your dogs and cats?” I do not see a distinction between pets and farm animals. They are all sentient beings, in other words they feel affection, they feel pain, and they feel fear. Pigs are more intelligent than dogs. They are loving and will roll on their backs to have their bellies rubbed. Chickens love to climb on your lap. I suggest reading The Good, Good Pig by Sy Montgomery or The Pig Who Sang to the Moon”by Jeffrey Masson. For an almost unbearable description of what happens in slaughterhouses you might read a chapter in Skinny Bitch”, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin which describes not only the horror the animals endure, but how traumatized the workers become. There are anecdotes of workers purposely inflicting pain, and of terrorized pigs running to and nuzzling the slaughterers for comfort. I can most assuredly say that if you eat pig, you are eating terror in all its manifestations. Pigs know what is happening to them and release large amounts of cortisol in their terrified state. Essentially you are eating fear and the toxins associated with fear. Can you really justify such cruelty with “I have to have my bacon”? There are many bacon substitutes and if you allow yourself some compassion you will get used to them, and dare I say, start to like them.

Many people feel they are doing well by only eating chicken. I must respond by saying that chickens endure more cruelty in their short, painful lives than probably any other “food” animal. I highly recommend Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals” in which he depicts the horrors he uncovered via secret forays into chicken factories [by no means can they be called farms.] He also dedicates one of the pages of the book to delineating the actual living space of a chicken. These wretched creatures cannot spread their wings nor turn around. They never see sunlight. Their beaks are lopped off as chicks sans any pain killer so they do not peck at and damage the meat .Sometimes their claws grow around the mesh cages and their waste products drop on the poor creature below them Conditions are appallingly unsanitary. “Free-range” is a myth, unless you are buying from a private individual who actually lets their chickens roam, but again, the end result is slaughter. Again, this is what you are putting in your mouths. What I find most disturbing is the “specials” i.e. 12 chicken wings for $2.00. Six chickens suffering untold pain and horror all to garner a few cents profit?

I could mention the health benefits which are numerous, and the environmental benefits, also of great extent. Perhaps that is for another day. I will end with a short story about the anger vegetarians seem to invoke just by choosing not to encounter meat. I was with my daughter and her friend at a deli. My daughter had not yet made the decision to forgo eating animals. I watched as the young woman used the same knife and gloves to make the sandwiches. I was hungry and could have ordered a veggie selection but decided I didn’t feel up to explaining why I didn’t want her to use the gloves which had just handled meat, nor the knife which had just sliced through flesh. I finally decided to venture forth and ask that clean gloves and a clean knife be used. She yelled loudly to her coworker “She’s being fussy!” I wonder if I would have evoked the same reaction had I said I kept Kosher, was Muslim, or had allergies. So if you are not inspired to give up eating animals, please think twice before telling your vegetarian friends to “just pick off” the pepperoni on a pizza.

Peace,

June Axelrad

For anybody that thinks that June is being a little extreme when she describes what goes on at our slaughterhouses or the chicken farms, I suggest that you go online to the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) website archives and check out some of the documentaries they have aired about our food preparation system. It is absolutely shocking and disturbing seeing what they do to the animals we eat and the environmental problems they create and do not take responsibility for. Watching those films have had an effect on my diet and I am definitely more selective about what I eat, where it comes from and how it is prepared. Not just from the cruelty to animals aspect but from what they put into or onto the food we are supposed to eat. That is why my garden is so important to me. Probably just as important as it was to our forefathers that farmed this land decades ago. Grow your own and you know what’s in it.

Thank you June for a nice, but too brief, look into the world of a vegan. I hope you write a few more articles for me and my readers, and perhaps share a few recipes with us too. I think it would be a blast to learn more about being a vegan and stripping away the fear of a very positive lifestyle program.

Food, Health & Nutrition Articles:

Going Rogue…With A Raw Food Diet! (6/15/12

A Chance To Try Something Different…Something New! (4/27/12)

Nutrition…Are You On The Right Track? (3/7/12)

Where Do Healthy Kids Eating Habits Begin? Why At Home Of Course! (3/7/12)

Happiness Is A Warm Gun…Yes It Is!!! (1/17/12)

Cravings……….What Do You Reach For? (9/15/11)

Am I Getting Enough? (7/29/11)

The Front In The War Against Cancer…The Home Garden (5/16/11)

The Benefits of Organic Food – Update March 29,2011 (3/29/11)

Are You Fighting For Your Children’s Future? (2/14/11)

 

 

All Good (?) Things Come To An End!

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It’s Tuesday, October 30, 2012 and I am enjoying fresh vegetables from my organic garden.  Just yesterday I cooked collard greens, boiled potatoes, cornbread with a side of slice tomatoes for my mom.  The greens and the tomatoes were from my garden.  After that super hot and drought-like summer, I am totally amazed that there is anything out there, let alone it being edible.  In addition to the greens and tomatoes, I’ve got yellow squash, peppers, and tomatillos “on the bush” too, so to speak.  This is in spite of the pronounced chill in the air that we’ve had since the middle of September, with a few exceptions.

I know I said I wasn’t going to keep track of what I harvested but I decided to do it anyway.  I am a fool in love when it comes to gardening and it didn’t make sense to abandon the process for one year just because this summer didn’t turn out as well as the year before.  But all things considered, it wasn’t a bad year…it was a good year and if things had been slightly different I would have had a great yield.  At the end of the day my yield was off nearly 45% from the previous year

Vegetable                                                 2011                2012                Diff +/-

 

Cabbage/Greens/Lettuces/               31.5 lbs.        21.3 lbs.          -10.2 

Broccoli

 

Beans (all varieties)                            16.3 lbs.         2 .4 lbs.          -13.9

 

Peppers (all varieties)                        19.75 lbs.      12.53 lbs.      -7.22

 

Tomatoes (all varieties)                      121.47 lbs.   66.54 lbs.     -54.93

 

Tomatillos                                                9.01 lbs          4.84 lbs.         -4.17

 

Zucchini/Squash/Cucumber               22.5 lbs        22.63 lbs.     +0.13

 

Onions/Shallots                                      9.0 lbs.        .25 lbs.             -7.75

 

Herbs                                                        1.0 lbs           0.625              -0.375

 

Totals                                                      230.53 lbs       132.16 lbs.      -98.37

 

Surprised?  Yeah, so am I!  I am surprised that it did so well. There are some very unique things going on which I should explain so that the numbers make more sense to you.  For example…

  1. I didn’t plant as many tomatillo (2 vs. 4), pepper (24 vs. 51) or tomato plants (34 vs. 34, of which only 14 were not cherry/small tomatoes vs. 5 in 2011) as I did in 2011.
  2. I didn’t plant onions.
  3. My zucchini yield was off this year but the yellow squash made up the difference.  Cucumber yield was about the same or slightly more.
  4. Cabbage production was down significantly (small heads) whereas the greens and broccoli were up.  I did not plant any head lettuces just the leafy varieties.
  5. The bean output was just pitiful.  More plantings than in 2011 and far less yield, the worst ever in 6 years.
  6. 2011, I literally went crazy…planting and cramming as much into the garden as I could.  And when I ran out of room I bought pots and bins.  The goal was to not have to work as hard in my garden this year as I did in the previous year.  I think that there is a happy medium and I am confident I will find it in 2013.
  7. I hand-watered the garden. I didn’t want to water the weeds (which, thankfully I didn’t have many)!   I hand-watered in 2011 too, but it got to a point that I had to use the hose.  2012, though I had fewer plants they needed just as much attention.  Look at the number of plants (see point #1) I had in both years.  Hand watering takes time!  I felt like I was working myself like my mother likes to work my “government mule” ass.  I overworked myself in 2011 and wasn’t going to make the same mistake in 2012…and yet I watered AND WATERED!  I was averaging between 90 – 100 minutes every 2 or 3 days through the middle of August.  Hot days took longer.  The plants looked like they were doing great even with the heatwave, but with the notable exception of the tomatillo plants, which unexpectedly grew to nearly seven feet tall, they were all rather spindly and ultimately kind of weak looking.  But like I said, the numbers were there but the size and weight wasn’t.

In spite of the overall low production, I did have a spell there, for a while, where my dining room table was loaded with vegetables of all kinds. There was more room out of the refrigerator than in so anything that didn’t have to be refrigerated right away stayed out.  My plan was to can and freeze as usual, but there was an insufficient amount of the tomatoes I wanted to can and not enough beans to do a proper freezing project with.  When I did manage to freeze something it actually seemed like it was a lot but in reality I spent only three days in the kitchen, which I intentionally spread out over the days.

I did eat more of the veggies this time.  Since preserving them wasn’t going to work, I took the time to enjoy my garden in the moment…most of the time the veggies were picked that very day.  I had something substantial from the garden every two to three days.  I highly recommend the GRP (Garden Resource Program) Salad Mix of lettuces and their All Greens Mix (great for stir-frys).  I got compliments from everybody that I shared produce with and in spite of my low yield I still shared a lot.  Rotating at the top of the popularity list were the Purple Cherokee Tomatoes, Collard Greens, and the Cubanelle, Sweet Banana and Yellow Hot Peppers.  I had never tried to grow the Cherokee tomato variety nor had I ever had a Cubanelle pepper.  The peppers grew to a very nice size and the tomatoes had a very unique and sweet taste.  Anybody living in Detroit that owns or plans to start a garden should check out the Garden Resource Program at www.detroitagriculture.net.  It’s a great program and resource.

Another pleasant surprise was the shallots!  I didn’t think that I grew that many (20 oz.) but I have been using them about once a week since they were harvested at the end of July.  This was also the first year that my green bell peppers grew to size.  I only had 6 (out of 8) plants that actually grew some and they were beautiful.  I ate these while I froze the Cubanelle and the Sweet Banana peppers.  I was afraid to attempt to let them mature to red because I thought I was pushing my luck with the squirrels.  But, ultimately, I had nothing to worry about.

I had fewer problems with the squirrels due to the inflatable snakes I had in the garden.  In fact, I didn’t lose one pepper to the squirrels and at the worst I probably lost only about 4…maybe 5 tomatoes before the “I didn’t care” mentality took hold (October 20th).  Even now, the squirrels avoid going into the garden…hahahaha!  The garden was also fenced all around, so I didn’t have problems with rabbits either.  The sad thing was that my birds didn’t stop by and visit.  I always thought that the birds came from miles and miles away and I really enjoyed the different colors they brought to my window throughout the day.  But the snakes kept them away too.  Oh well, I guess it was the appropriate trade off, because there is a particular type of black bird that would come into my garden en masse and they would be as destructive as the squirrels.  They loved to attack any green shoot coming out of the ground and fight amongst the squashes.  But this, the year of the snakes, meant no birds…ces’t la vie!

So all in all, I enjoyed this year’s garden very much and I am sorry to see it end.  As I conclude this blog on Monday, Nov. 5th, I am proud to say that I got the most out of it I could.  Imagine picking hot and sweet peppers and tomatillos as late as Nov. 4th.  I had tomatoes out there were still ripening too!  They were small but not much smaller than the heat stricken tomatoes I had in the summer.  And I will concede that they didn’t taste as good either, but still…man…it’s “freakin” November and I was pulling healthy productive plants out of the ground.  What a summer (climate change and all) and what a fall…all good things (?) do come to an end!

P.S. I can’t wait until next year!  I have already planted nearly 60 cloves of garlic of four different varieties (Music, Japanese, Kilarney Red and Chesnok Red) in two 20 ft. long rows.

Thanks to John Adams, Jenni Littsey, and the Garden Resource Program for helping to make this year’s garden fun!

What Was It Really Like This Summer?

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If you read my blog, “Green Thumb?  Maybe…Maybe Not!” you know that I described on a personal level, as well as a regional and national level, how hot it was this summer and how the heat affected my garden and anybody else that took the time to put seeds in the soil.  Well how hot was it really?  Here’s a breakdown from the month of May thru August (courtesy of the National Weather Service)…

May

Despite a near normal month of April, we experienced the third warmest month of May in the history of weather record keeping.  The average spring temperature (March, April, May) was 55.2, which was a full two degrees warmer than the previous record of 53.1.  May was characterized by persistent warm temperatures along with episodes of record or near record temperatures.  Only three days in the entire month (the 10th, 17th and the 31st) featured below normal temperatures, as the remaining 28 days saw daily average temperatures rise to at least 10 degrees above normal on 10 occasions, including 2 days of 90 degrees.  Those two 90 degree days happened a month early than the average date (June 19th) for Detroit’s first 90 degree temperatures.  The highest temperature for the month was registered on May 28th at 95 degrees.  The average temperature for the entire month was 65.3 degrees.  The normal average was 59.7, so May 2012 was 5.6 degrees higher than the norm, tying it with May 1896 for the third warmest May in history.

# Days 70+ Degrees          # Days 80+ Degrees          # Days 90+ Degrees

13                                            8                                              2

Rain/Precipitation: 1.72 inches

June

June started with unseasonably low temperatures.  May 31st the temperature was a lowly 65 degrees and June 1st followed at only 62 degrees.  After recording 13 straight months of above normal temperatures, it did seem like a change might be in the air to start the season.  I took advantage of the cooler weather to aggressively put seeds and plants in the ground.  After June 1st we had only one other day (June 5th) that was below 70 degrees (6/5 was 69 degrees) as the hovered in the 80’s and 90’s most of the month.  In fact, there were only 6 days in the 70’s (6/2: 75; 6/4: 72; 6/6: 79; 6/11: 77; 6/13: 74; 6/25: 76).  This was the first real sign of the drought-like conditions that was to affect the entire Midwest and other parts of the country.

The first 90-degree temperature of June and the third of the year occurred on June 9th and by the time the month ended; we hit 90 degrees 8 more times.  This meant that in two months (May and June) we had already hit 90+ degrees eleven times which is amazing since Detroit only averages eleven 90+ degree days a year.  With June being as warm as it was it resulted in an average temperature of 50.3 degrees for the first six months (Jan.1 thru June 30) of the year also…another record.  The previous record for the first six months of the year was 1998, the “Super Nino” year, with 49.1.  As I have pointed out in previous posts, the warm weather had to have an affect on the crops.  Consecutive hot days and warm nights probably impacted on the growth cycle of the plants.    The average low was only 60.6 with 13 days above the 60-degree mark.  The hottest day of the month was June 28th when it hit 99 degrees.

# Days 70+ Degrees         # Days 80+ Degrees           # Days 90+ Degrees

6                                              13                                            9

Rain/Precipitation: 1.31 inches

July

If anybody thought that June was hot (and it was), July was hotter and I do mean HOTTER!  July, the warmest month on record nationally, was the second warmest month ever recorded in Detroit.  The average temperature of 79.0 fell just –0.3 degrees short of the all-time hottest month, which occurred exactly one year ago (July 2011).  The heat also prolonged the streak of warmer-than-normal months for Detroit to 15, dating back to May 2011.  In similar fashion to last summer, extreme heat quickly built across the southern plains and Midwest early in the warm season.  However, very dry conditions allowed the heat to expand northward much more aggressively than in the year prior.  The result was prolonged near-record or record heat across all of southeast Michigan that lasted not only through June, but July as well.  By the end of the month, record heat and dry air had resulted widespread severe drought conditions across southeast Michigan.  Because thunderstorms are relatively inefficient at alleviating drought conditions, the multiple episodes of extreme weather that occurred did little to ease drought concerns.  But the storms did do some damage…

Taken July 5, 2012 by Jenni Littsey

These pictures were taken on July 5th after a major thunderstorm hit my mother’s neighborhood.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt!

The extreme heat resulted in the high temperature reaching 90 degrees or higher on 13 days in July, raising the total for 2012 to 24 days for the year at that point.  More than doubling the annual average of 11.  At that pace it was possible to beat the all-time record of 39 90+ days, which was set in 1988.  Additionally, the 100 degree threshold was crossed 3 times (July 4th, 7th and 17th), marking only the 3rd time in Detroit’s historical record that 100 degrees has been reached more than 3 times in a calendar year.  The hottest days were July 4th and the 17th when the temperature hit 102 degrees.  The record warm start to the year was also prolonged through July.  The average temperature of 54.5 degrees exceeded the previous record of 52.9 (Jan. thru July 1921) by 1.6 degrees.  Overall the average temperature for the month was 89.6 degrees or +6.2 degrees above the 83.4 degree monthly normal, and the second warmest month on record.

# Days 70+ Degrees                # Days 80+ Degrees       # Days 90+ Degrees

1 (July 19th)                              17                                            13*

*Includes 3 100+ degree days

Rain/Precipitation: 3.67 inches

The extremely dry weather conditions left me wondering how the neighborhood wildlife survived during these times.  It had to be pretty hard for the birds, as they need plenty of water.  That probably explains why I didn’t see as many as usual except for the days after a big rain.  I watered the plants in my garden by hand so as to not waste any and as a result there was absolutely no standing water anywhere.  The squirrels, however, probably got through it all by eating more vegetation (leaves, etc.).  One would think that my garden, which was full of succulent plants and all, would be an ideal target, but I strategically placed inflatable snakes in the garden and that has kept them at bay, even now.  The weather probably affected the amount of babies the squirrels had (giving birth in July) so there weren’t as many needy mouths to fill.  Still, when I look up at the trees, they don’t have as many leaves on them as usual.  C`est la vie!

August

What can I say about the month of August?  One thing we do know is that it was still hot…very, very hot!  August continued the record-setting trend of higher than normal temperatures (average temperature 83.4, which was +2 degrees over the norm, 81.4) for 16 consecutive months.  The higher than average temperatures in August also extended the record high temperature average from January thru August.  I am totally convinced now that there is such a thing as global warming (as if there was any doubt).

August started out with 8 straight days of 80+ degree weather, picking up where July left off (12 consecutive days of 80+ degree weather).  The average temperature for those 8 days was a whopping 89.2 degrees.  There were 6 more days that were 90+ degrees increasing the total for the year to 30 days.  The hottest day was Aug. 31st when the temperature hit 95 degrees and the coolest day of the month was Aug. 11th when the thermometer registered only 71 degrees.  For the first time since June (69 degrees on June 5th) we had temperatures below 74 degrees.  So that means we had 64 days in row where the temperature got no lower than 74 degrees, during which time the average temperature was 88.3 degrees.  Now that’s HOT!  The 4-month average (May – August) was 83.3 degrees, 5 whole degrees difference.  It’s no surprise that no matter whom I spoke to, people’s gardens suffered quite a bit.  With the scant amount of rain we got through that stretch (4.9 inches =  .07 per day or just slightly more than ½ inch per week), the problems I had with watering (just enough or too much) now appear to be understandable (Green Thumb?  Maybe…Maybe Not!).  But, what I still don’t get is how well the community garden at Nolan Elementary-Middle School did.  Planted where it got full sun for the entire day and subject to the non-focused watering technique of young girls and boys (some times they missed entire rows of plants) AND to also have to deal with a limited supply of water, the garden did more than just survive…it THRIVED!  Plus, it had to go through hurricane like damage from vandals.  Am I jealous?  You bet I am…lol!  You can’t beat results and Nolan’s Fierce Gardeners ultimately had a fantastic year. Look for their upcoming success story on their blog, “Planting The Seeds.”

# Days 70+ Degrees         # Days 80+ Degrees            # Days 90+ Degrees

9                                              16                                            6

Rain/Precipitation: 2.25 inches

Is This The End?

Is this the end?  Well, we will just have to wait and see.  So far this the temps have stayed pretty consistent with the rest of the summer: Sept. 1 = 84; Sept. 2 = 81; Sept. 3 = 89; Sept. 4 = 81; Sept. 5 = 89; Sept. 6 = 86; Sept. 7 = 79.

Last year (2011) the month started out strong too: Sept. 1 = 92; Sept. 2 = 98; Sept. 3 = 95; Sept. 4 = 78; Sept. 5 = 64; Sept. 6 = 67; Sept. 7 = 63

But once the temperature dropped on Sept. 5th it mainly stayed that way for the rest of the month and for the remainder of the year.  The warmest day was Sept. 12 when it hit 84.  The coldest day was the last day of the month, Sept. 30 when it dropped to 55 degrees.  There were 16 days when it was 70 degrees or below.  The average temperature for the entire month was 72.5, which actually isn’t all that bad.  But, that would be considered to be a “spring-like month” compared to the temperatures we have experienced this year.

Do we have anymore 90+ degree weather on the horizon and will we break the aforementioned record of 39 days, set in 1988?  Only time will tell.  One thing is for sure, this was one helluva summer…definitely one for the books!

Green Thumb? Maybe…Maybe Not!

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This year has proven to be a real challenge for gardeners and farmers around the world.  Though there are a lot of people (mainly politicians) that want to discredit all notions of global warming there are a lot of signs or indications, whether it be heavy snowfalls, severe rainstorms or the consistent high heat  and drought-like conditions, that point in that direction.  You’d have to live on another planet not to be aware of the impact the climate has had on cost of living now and perhaps into the future.  Fruits and vegetables are going to cost more this year.  Our feed crops for animal consumption have been hit pretty hard too.  Creating a domino effect that virtually ensures that the meat we eat, beef, poultry and pork, will cost more.

If you have been watching our local and national newscast, you have seen how the high temperatures of this summer have affected the crop production in many of our key states.  The corn in Indiana is about half the size it should be.  Wheat production in many of the plain states is way off.  High heat and the lack of rain has been a recipe for disaster.  And what is truly amazing is that despite or inspite of the extreme weather conditions, weeds…and I do mean WEEDS,  continue to grow and do very well.  The lack of rain or watering has not stop the weeds from “uglying” up our lawns, gardens or indoubtedly our farms.   Maybe weeds will be the crop of the future.

Many of my friends have asked how I and my garden are dealing with the summer of 2012, so I have quite a few pictures I would like to share with you all that show how I am handling things.  I must admit my green thumb feels like it’s only a green pinky.  I do not believe I will have the same production from my 2012 garden that I got from the 2011 effort.  Tomatoes are smaller, bean production is off and some things like carrots never sprouted.  Afraid that my zucchini and squashes were parched, I probably over watered them.  Even plants, like peppers, that typically enjoy hot weather conditions are undersized.  My expectations are so low as of now, I am seriously considering putting away my scale (courtesy of the Garden Resource Program) for the summer.  Gardening is a lot of fun, but it is a lot of work too.  I have worked harder to have fun  this year than any previous year.  And even with all of my whining and complaining I still believe it will be worth it.

Stage One – June

I am off to a good start…

Check out that soil!

New fencing to keep out the rabbits and the squirrels…hahaha!

So much promise…so much to look forward to!

Stage Two – The Beginning of July

The first week of July…Nice!

After this, virtually no rain for the rest of the month!

Stage Three-The End of July

Cucumbers…looking good!

Yellow Wax Beans

Now, I know you are all looking at this and saying what in the H*** is he talking about?  Well, there are times when even I look at it and ask myself the same thing.  But don’t let the green grass fool you.  It is brutal out there…absolutely brutal.  Some plants are doing very well and some are well below normal expectations.  I have re-planted beans three times.  My pole beans are a total disaster.  The yield from my zucchini and squash, as previously mentioned, is so low it is almost disgraceful.  I do have to accept the fact that somethings, especially the weather, are totally out of my control.  Oh, but I will more than make do though.  Again, as previously noted, my lettuces and greens are doing exceptionally well.  It still looks like I will get a lot from my Yellow Wax Beans.  All varieties of my tomatoes will ultimately do well…they just won’t be as large or as plentiful as they have been in the past.  My peppers, all types, will have a banner year.  So I will survive, but the price for surviving has gone up…way up.  Because to get what I have, I have had to work twice as hard this year to get even close to the output of previous years.  That’s right…twice as hard!

Is it worth it?  Easy answer…”Yes it is!”  Since I preserve a lot of what I grow, I will appreciate my efforts whenever I go to my freezer and pull something out that I grew this summer.  Plus, the most significant benefit will be the money saved.  A quick visit to my local supermarket has already proven that too.  Prices are already starting to rise while the quality, unfortunately, is going down.  Growing my own is still the best way…the most cost efficient way to eat fresh, quality food on a daily basis.  Without a doubt it has been a struggle this year…a real test of my green thumb (and the rest of my fingers).   But guess what?  I can’t wait until next year.

Related articles on this site…

  1. Compost Tea…A Most Beneficial Brew!
  2. I Thought That All Dandelions Were Good For Was Making Wine!
  3. 10 Things That Successful Gardeners Know or Do!

Are you having problems with your garden this year?  Drop me a line…misery loves company!  Also, the people at the Greening of Detroit are a good resource for dealing with problems you might have with your garden.  Contact Lindsay Pielack (313) 285-2300 or go to www.detroitagriculture.net.

Going Rogue…With A Raw Food Diet!

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Around this time last year I was having a conversation with a very talented friend that lives in Canada about gardening and one of the subjects that was discussed was why we were into gardening.  I stated my reasons which all sounded like the tried and true textbook reasons of a health-conscious man but my friend said that she was motivated because she wanted to focus on embracing a raw food diet/lifestyle.  She went on to recite a particular passage from the bible that Genesis 1:29 “And God said, Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.  You shall have them for food.”  The implication is that we are to eat these things raw, without cooking or processing. Cooking is unnecessary!  Well for me, I thought that what I was doing with a lot of the food from my garden, some of which I ate raw, had me positioned to reap a lot of the benefits of a raw food diet intentionally or coincidentally!

But a television talk show showed me that I could do even better with greater benefits.

The Raw Food Diet vs. Diabetes

On a recent weekday afternoon I stumbled upon a segment on the Dr. Oz talk show where he and his guest had an animated conversation about the benefits of a raw food diet (more will be said about the benefits later).  The guest referenced/used a video that is called Raw for 30 DaysRaw for 30 Days is an independent documentary film that “chronicles six Americans with diabetes who switch to a diet consisting entirely of vegan, organic, live, raw foods to reverse diabetes naturally.”  More can be found, along with a trailer for the video, at: http://www.diet-blog.com/07/raw_for_30_days_can_diabetes_be_cured.php.

On this site you will learn that there are three variants of raw food diets: vegan, vegetarian and raw animal food diets.

  • Vegan raw food diets focus solely on fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.  No animal products are consumed.
  • Vegetarian raw food diets consist of primarily of plant foods, but also include foods like dairy, honey, and eggs.
  • Raw meat diets focus on consuming animal products that can safely be eaten raw, such as organ and muscle meat, raw dairy, and sashimi (raw fish), but also includes fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, but not grains. 

The Benefits of A Raw Food Diet

According to the site Death to Diabetes the health benefits of a raw food diet are:

  • Increased energy
  • Stabilized blood glucose levels
  • Improved skin appearance
  • Better digestion
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Reduced risk of diabetes
  • Reduced risk of cancer

The raw food diet contains fewer trans fats and saturated fat than the typical Western diet.  It is also low in sodium and high in potassium, magnesium, folate, fiber, and health-promoting chemicals called phytochemicals.  At least 75% of food consumed should not be heated over 116 degrees F. 

These properties are associated with a reduced risk of the abovementioned diseases.  A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that consumption of a raw food diet lowered plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations

There are specific cooking techniques that will make your food/meals more digestible and add variety to your diet.  Techniques, such as…

  • Sprouting seeds, grains and beans
  • Juicing fruit and vegetables
  • Soaking nuts and dried fruit
  • Blending
  • Dehydrating food

Here’s a short list of some of the equipment you will need to effectively execute a raw food diet.

  • A dehydrator, a piece of equipment that blows air through food at a temperature less than 116 degrees F.
  • A good-quality juice extractor for juicing fruit and vegetables.
  • Large glass containers to soak and sprout seeds, grains, and beans
  • Mason Jars for storing sprouts and other food

There are a few precautions for those interested in undergoing a raw food diet regimen.  The diet may not be appropriate for:

  • Children
  • Pregnant or nursing women
  • People with anemia
  • People at risk for osteoporosis

People also need to be aware that certain nutritional deficiencies can occur on the raw food diet, including:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • B-12 (The Journal of Nutrition study found that a raw food diet increased levels of homocysteine due to vitamin B-12 deficiency)
  • Protein
  • Calories

Critics of the raw food diet say while its true that some enzymes are inactivated when food is heated; it doesn’t matter because the body uses its own enzymes for digestion.  In addition, cooking makes certain phytochemicals easier to absorb, such as beta-carotene in carrots.

Obviously, this is one diet that is probably easier to do living on the west coast where access to a multitude of fresh vegetables is easy.  But it does make sense, even if I don’t go all the way with it.  One of the best reasons for having an “organic garden,” is that I can go out anytime and pluck something off of a bush or vine and pop that sucker right in my mouth where the flavor explodes on my tongue and makes my nostrils swell and my eyes bulge…not really, but it is pretty close to that.  You really can’t go wrong, since a diet that follows the recommended nutritional guidelines includes a lot of the strategies used as the basis of a raw food diet, any diet filled with high levels of fruit and vegetables along with properly prepared and portioned meat servings will position you to have a long and healthy life.

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