Ask Well: Does Boiling or Baking Vegetables Destroy Their Vitamins? –

Ask Well: Does Boiling or Baking Vegetables Destroy Their Vitamins?


To what extent does heating (boiling, baking) foods like vegetables destroy vitamins?

Asked by Bartolo


It’s true that cooking methods alter the nutritional composition of fruits and vegetables, but that’s not always a bad thing. Several studies have shown that while cooking can degrade some nutrients, it can enhance the availability of others. As a result, no single cooking or preparation method is best, and that includes eating vegetables raw.

Many people believe that raw vegetables are packed with more nutrition than cooked vegetables, but, again, it depends on the type of nutrient. One study of 200 people in Germany who ate a raw food diet found that they had higher levels of beta carotene, but their plasma lycopene levels were well below average. That’s likely because fresh, uncooked tomatoes actually have lower lycopene content than cooked or processed tomatoes. Cooking breaks down the thick cell walls of many plants, releasing the nutrients stored in them.

Water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C and vitamin B and a group of nutrients called polyphenolics seem to be the most vulnerable to degradation in processing and cooking. Canned peas and carrots lose 85 to 95 percent of their natural Vitamin C. After six months, another study showed that frozen cherries lost as much as 50 percent of anthocyanins, the nutrients found in the dark pigments of fruits and vegetables. Cooking removes about two-thirds of the vitamin C in fresh spinach.

Depending on the method used, loss of vitamin C during home cooking typically can range from 15 percent to 55 percent, according to a review by researchers at the University of California, Davis. Interestingly, vitamin C levels often are higher in frozen produce compared with fresh produce, likely because vitamin C levels can degrade during the storage and transport of fresh produce.

Fat-soluble compounds like vitamins A, D, E and K and the antioxidant compounds called carotenoids fare better during cooking and processing. A report in The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry concluded that over all, boiling was better for carrots, zucchini and broccoli than steaming, frying or serving them raw. Frying vegetables was by far the worst method for preserving nutrients.

But when it comes to cooking vegetables, there are always tradeoffs. A method may enhance the availability of one nutrient while degrading another. Boiling carrots, for instance, significantly increases measurable carotenoid levels compared with raw carrots. However, raw carrots have far more polyphenols, which disappear once you start cooking them.

And while many people think microwaving is bad for food, vegetables cooked in a microwave may have a higher concentration of certain vitamins. A March 2007 study looked at the effects of boiling, steaming, microwaving and pressure cooking on the nutrients in broccoli. Steaming and boiling caused a 22 percent to 34 percent loss of vitamin C. Microwaved and pressure-cooked vegetables retained 90 percent of their vitamin C.

The bottom line is that no one cooking or preparation method is superior for preserving 100 percent of the nutrients in a vegetable. And since the best vegetables are the ones you will actually eat, taste should also be factored in when deciding on a cooking method. The best way to get the most out of your vegetables is to enjoy them in a variety of ways — raw, steamed, boiled, baked and grilled. If you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, you don’t have to worry about the cooking method.

A Southeast Asian Treat, Tasty in Any Configuration –

When it comes to Vietnamese-style rolls like this one, filled with lobster meat, cucumber and fresh herbs, a few questions tend to arise.

Q. Is it spring roll or summer roll?

A. Call it either one. (We’re talking here about fresh salad rolls you find in Vietnam, which usually contain a few cooked prawns, along with herbs and rice vermicelli.) But since it’s summer, and since these salad rolls are ideal summer fare, I’m going to stick with summer roll.

Q. But aren’t spring rolls fried?

A. Not necessarily. The fried ones go by many names: imperial rolls, egg rolls, nems. But they are also, confusingly, sometimes called spring rolls.

Q. Aren’t they hard to make?

A. They are not at all hard to make, with a bit of practice. Still, unless you grew up assembling them, there is a learning curve, and dexterity is required.

Now then, about these not-quite-authentic-but-awfully-delicious summer rolls. They make a fine lunch, wrapped in a lettuce leaf and dipped in a gingery, lime, hot peppery sauce. Cut small, they can be served with drinks, or they could be an elegant first course at a sit-down dinner.

To prepare a summer roll, first moisten dry rice-paper wrappers (most Asian markets sell them) in a bowl of warm water. It will take only 30 seconds or so to soften each sheet of rice paper, at which point you must grasp the wrapper in both hands and lay it flat on a cutting board. Though they come in all sizes, a 12-inch wrapper is easiest to use; otherwise use two 8-inch wrappers per roll, overlapping them somewhat on the board.

The filling needs to be placed at the bottom third of the rice paper circle. I like to start with fresh herbs, especially basil leaves and cilantro, then I add other elements — here, just-cooked lobster meat, cucumber and avocado. Next, the sides of the circle are folded in and then the rolling begins, from the bottom. It’s important to wrap the filling as tightly as possible for a firm roll, which makes it both easier to cut into pieces and easier to eat. You’ll feel a tinge of pride when you master the technique.

But if by chance, despite your best efforts, your lobster rolls become unruly and fall apart, no need for despair. Just plop the perfectly good remains on a plate, drizzle with the dipping sauce and call it a rice noodle salad.


awakening the inner pharmacy Spirituality |

More than 5,000 years ago, ancient yogic seers discovered the mind’s infinite capacity to heal the body. They understood that we are all inextricably woven from the fabric of the natural world and therefore have unlimited access to the intelligence, energy, joy, abundance and health of the universe.

A powerful way to cultivate the mind’s intrinsic healing power is by nourishing the five senses. Just as the body’s tissues are made from the food we eat, our mind is created from the sensory input we take in. By surrounding ourselves with nurturing sensory experiences rather than toxic ones, we will experience greater vitality and well-being.

Therapeutic Sounds

Every sound has a physiological effect. When we listen to a beautiful piece of music or the sound of waves crashing on a shore, our body produces chemicals that make us feel joyful and support health and wholeness. On the other hand, when we’re subjected to noise pollution, we may become tired, irritable and stressed.

You can experiment with music and sound to create your own acoustic therapy. In general, if you’re feeling sluggish, listening to rock and roll, passionate classical pieces and rap music can invigorate you. For someone who is feeling angry or overheated, nature sounds such as falling rain are calming. Gregorian chants and soothing New Age songs can alleviate anxiety. Since we each have a unique response to different types of music, the key is to tune in to your body and discover which sounds are healing and inspiring for you.

Healing Touch

We all need loving physical contact to stay healthy. In fact, as mammals, human beings are born with the need to touch and be touched. Regular massage and therapeutic touch lead to greater immune function, improved circulation and more restful sleep. In addition to receiving professional massage treatments, you can give yourself the gift of a daily self-massage, which also provides numerous healing benefits.

Uplifting Sights

The visual impressions you take in profoundly affect your body, mind and emotions. Watching violence in movies or on television activates the body’s stress response, while viewing beautiful images such as a sunset or your child’s face causes your body to produce soothing, pleasure-enhancing neurochemicals.

Seeking out nourishing sights is as important for your health as nutritious food, so begin to surround yourself with uplifting images rather than toxic ones. When you watch the clouds drift by, look at an amazing painting, or enjoy a brilliant bouquet of flowers, you cultivate your innate capacity for health and balance.

Vitalizing Tastes

In Ayurveda, food is categorized into six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. If you include the six tastes in a meal, you’ll receive the nutrients you need and you’ll feel completely satisfied and energized. On the other hand, if one or more of the tastes are missing from a meal, you may feel full but unsatisfied and find yourself snacking two hours later.

Healing Aromas

Olfaction is our most primitive sense, connecting us directly with our memories and feelings. Scientific research shows that smells have the power to soothe, energize and relax. When we smell a substance, we’re actually absorbing some of its molecules, making aromatherapy a form of natural medicine. Here are some specific suggestions for balancing fragrances:

Invigorating: Lemon, Orange, Clove, Cinnamon.

Cooling: Jasmine, Mint, Lime, Rose

Calming: Lavender, Vanilla, Sandalwood, Neroli

You can also use a process known as neuro-associative conditioning to consciously link a healing response to a given smell. Begin by choosing an aroma you especially like and inhale it whenever you’re feeling relaxed, peaceful or happy; your body will begin to associate pleasurable feelings with the smell. Before long, just a faint whiff of the fragrance will trigger a healing response in your physiology.

By making conscious choices about the sensory impressions you ingest, you will invigorate the inner pharmacy of your mind and body and you’ll awaken your natural vitality and enthusiasm.

Food52’s Top 5 Recipes to Reinvent How You Cook With Oats | Whole Foods Market

Oats can (and should!) be celebrated in so many recipes beyond oatmeal – from savory, creamy risottos to chewy granola bars and everything in between. Forget about that processed oatmeal of breakfasts past and embrace these five recipes that give hard-working oats the attention and treatment they rightly deserve.

Peas Porridge Hot (Oat Risotto with Peas)

Photo by James Ransom

Recipe: Oat Risotto with Peas

Not just a comforting and savory brunch dish, this risotto-like preparation of oats would be great for dinner paired with some greens, or as a side to chicken or juicy portabella mushrooms. Don’t skip the step of toasting the oats or you’ll miss out on the deep, nutty flavor it brings.

Heavenly Oatmeal Molasses Rolls

Photo by James Ransom

Recipe: Heavenly Oatmeal Molasses Rolls

These supple, rich rolls have just a hint of sweetness to them – they’re chewy, tender and full of deep flavor from the molasses, but versatile enough to complement (rather than overwhelm) a variety of main dishes. We love the ease of the first refrigerator rise, and these are virtually guaranteed to come out looking beautiful, with their butter-slicked and oat-flecked tops.

Oatmeal and Lavender Shortbread

Photo by James Ransom

Recipe: Oatmeal and Lavender Shortbread

These shortbreads are sublime thanks to an almost coconut-ty texture and lovely nuttiness from the oats, plus lavender as a delightful and graceful finishing note. Enjoy them right out of the oven if you want, but they’re even better the next day: a little sturdier for packing and with a deeper flavor.

Cavatelli with Asiago Oat Crumbs

Photo by James Ransom

Recipe: Cavatelli with Asiago Oat Crumbs

This is a cookie dough experiment gone wrong, and we couldn’t be happier for the kitchen disaster. You’ll swear the crumb mixture tastes familiar, and you’ll agree – a dough once destined for cookies is a revelation on pasta.

5 Minute, No Bake Granola Bars

Photo by James Ransom

Recipe: 5 Minute, No Bake Granola Bars

A granola bar you don’t have to bake, with a recipe that won’t tie you down. As the title suggests, these granola bars will take you five minutes from start to finish, tops. Here, oats headline in sweet, salty snack bars, and are balanced with a mix of nuts, dried fruit and nut butter. Add or subtract whatever you want (chocolate chips! sunflower seeds!) for a completely customizable snacking experience.

What are your favorite ways to eat oats, beyond oatmeal? Share your comments below!

Natural News Blogs Natural vs GMO vs Organic » Natural News Blogs

Natural vs GMO vs Organic

When we shop, what we purchase is our “vote”. That buy, tells a company we want that product; even though you may not know you have bought an unhealthy product. This is how companies promote their product the most, no matter how good or bad it is; if it’s purchased frequently then it makes them money!

Please Read below and reconsider your purchases:

“Natural” the term by itself generally is conventionally grown. The word “Natural” means it has just become a ‘sale method’ used by the company to make the public think that these products are good for you! Always read the labels, if there are a lot of names and additives you do not understand; like dyes, chemicals or forms of sugar—then it’s not going to be healthy! Sometimes these foods come from GMO seeds or animals treated with drugs or bad feed which they would never tell you! Many companies will feed you anything with the term, “Natural”, to help increase their profits.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) means that the seeds used to grow that food have been changed, the “Genes” or the DNA in the seed, was modified by inserting a gene from another family of organisms or to add a chemical/pesticide. So—who wants DNA from a fish, maybe if you want to grow fins, or perhaps sheep DNA, only if you want to grow wooly hair! What makes this unhealthy for our bodies is that your body, your cells, do not recognize this as food and it confuses the cells. This confusion to our cells can bring about abnormal disease results. For instance, allergies will appear because cells in the immune system mistake the substance as an outsider, it attacks and builds up antibodies against that bad DNA. Or the GMO seed can cause abnormal growth since our cells are pre- programmed and not knowing what else to do with invaders will grow a wall around it as a form of protection. This would be the cells normal behavior but it may start a tumor or a blockage depending on where it is in the body. So I question; do you really think you want to eat this?

Organic is a very popular but misunderstood word. Organic means food grown with no chemicals, no pesticides, no GMO seeds and if its meat, fish or chicken it also includes no hormones and no antibiotics.

Yes, it can be a little more expensive but organic is much safer, it contains more healing power; for it is much more nutritious than natural, conventional or GMO.

Additionally, that means you are not eating empty calories, so actually, your saving money in the process per a European Study in 2008 which found organic fruits and vegetables contain 40% more disease fighting compounds and antioxidants than conventional equivalents. In organic milk the Omega 3’s are 68% higher. Other studies confirm organic grown foods have more Vitamin C, iron and mineral content plus three times a higher quality protein.

All this means is that if it is Organic it’s a higher nutrient content per calorie, per serving and per dollar; besides it‘s tastier, fresher and has more flavor!

Do remember when you read conflicting study results to ask yourself who funded this study and was it a good study! Many of these quote studies are done with questionable parameters and also fudged—I am sure that you realize results need to be in the best interest of the funded company; so what if they are lying to the general public!

Amy Dean, DO, founder of EcoLogical Internal Medicine in Ann Arbor Mich. and President of American Academy of Environmental Medicine says that even though GMO’s have not been studied on humans, its animal studies (closest to our type of body system), shows that they cause changes in the immune system, disrupt fertility and even trigger aggression and anger. She has seen many patients with very similar reactions. Too to many to be just coincidental. Dean recommends avoiding them by eating organic or foods labeled as non-GMO as much as possible.

How to tell if it’s Organic:

General Key Codes at the Supermarkets:

  • Organically grown—code # starts with 9 and has 5 digits
  • Conventional grown—code # starts with 4 and has 4 digits
  • GMO grown—code # starts with 8 and has 5 digits

Local Farmers Markets have started up everywhere. This is the best way to be sure of how your fruits, vegetables and meats were grown, best bargains, most nutritious and the freshest. Here market produce is in most cases, just picked that morning or the day before and are in their highest nutritious state. In comparison to your grocery store which has stored, shipped and packed produce picked many days and weeks ahead, so naturally at much lower nutritious state by the time you buy!

Talk to the farmer himself to find out growing methods many are organic but not certified (due to high cost of certification), and others may be certified organic, but all are superior for health. Supporting your local farmers also helps your local community.

So please start voting where it counts, when you purchase your food!

Cilantro: More Than An Herb, It Can Purify Water Too |

Cilantro: More Than An Herb, It Can Purify Water Too

158475869Creative Crop / Getty Images

The next time you find yourself facing some questionable drinking water, look for some cilantro.

At least that’s what a team of U.S. and Mexican researchers made up of undergraduate students suggest.

The research team, lead by Douglas Schauer of Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette, IN, along with colleagues from the Universidad Politécnica de Francisco I. Madero in Hidalgo, Mexico, have been studying the region of Tule Valley near Mexico City to identify cheaper ways to filter water. Mexico City has long dumped its waste water in the valley, and the contaminated water is then used by regional farmers to irrigate crops. Once in the edible foods, heavy metals such as lead and nickel can make their way to consumers, where they can contribute to neurological and other health problems. “The organic toxins we can take care of pretty easily with a number of different methods, but the only way to really get rid of those heavy metals is to treat them with filtering agents like activated charcoal (like what’s found in a Brita filter), but those types of materials are kind of expensive,” says Schauer. “They are a little expensive for us to use, but they are very expensive to the people living in that region.”

(MORE: Hazardous Haze)

After testing various samples of plants from cacti to flowers, the researchers determined that cilantro is the most prevalent and powerful so-called bioabsorbant material in the area. Bioabsorption is the scientific term for using organic materials often found in plants, that when dried, could replace the charcoal currently used in filters. The team suspects that the outer wall structure of the tiny cells that make up the plant are ideal for capturing metals. Other plants, like dandelions and parsley may also provide similar bioabsorbant capabilities.

Schauer says ground-up cilantro can be inserted into a tube into which water is passed through. The cilantro allows the water to trickle out but absorbs metals, leaving cleaner drinking water. Dried cilantro can also be placed into tea bags that are placed in a pitcher of water for a few minutes to suck out the heavy metals. “It’s something they already have down there, it takes minimal processing, and it’s just a matter of them taking the plants and drying them out on a rock in the sun for a couple of days,” says Schauer.

Because cilantro isn’t an essential crop, using it as a purifier won’t take away from people’s food needs in the region, and the relative ease with which the plant grows also makes it a realistic option for cleansing water.

(MORE: Pollution in Utero)

So far, the researchers reported success in removing lead and nickel with their cilantro filters, and are studying how well the herb can removed other heavy metals found in the Tule Valley water such as arsenic and mercury. “We are hoping we can look at how cilantro absorbs those metals, and see if those metals work in some kind of synergy when they come into contact with the biomass,” says Schauer. “We need to look at mixtures of metals to see if cilantro evenly pulls all the metals out.”

How much cilantro would it take to effective make contaminated water drinkable? Schauer says a handful of cilantro will nearly cleanse a pitcher full of highly contaminated water of its lead content.

The researchers are presented their findings at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

[tag Cilantro More than An Herb]

Why Lots Of Grass-Fed Beef Sold In U.S. Comes From Down Under : The Salt : NPR

Why Lots Of Grass-Fed Beef Sold In U.S. Comes From Down Under
Patricia Whisnant, who runs Rain Crow Ranch in Doniphan, Mo., says her grass-fed beef can compete with the Australian product because it has a better story American consumers can connect with.Enlarge image

Patricia Whisnant, who runs Rain Crow Ranch in Doniphan, Mo., says her grass-fed beef can compete with the Australian product because it has a better story American consumers can connect with.

Courtesy of Rain Crow Ranch

Beef from cattle that have grazed only on pasture is in high demand — much to the surprise of many meat retailers, who didn’t traditionally think of grass-fed beef as top-quality.

George Siemon, a founder of Organic Valley, the big organic food supplier, says the push for grass-fed beef started with activists who wanted to challenge a beef industry dominated by factory-scale feedlots. In those feedlots, cattle are fed a corn-heavy diet designed to make the animals gain weight as quickly as possible.

Today, Siemon says, grass-fed has grown beyond that. “It has a naturalness that seems to attract the mainstream market,” he says.

But if you look carefully at the labels on grass-fed beef, especially in mainstream supermarkets like Safeway and Stop & Shop, you’ll notice something peculiar. Quite a lot of this beef is coming to the U.S. from half a world away, in Australia.

Patricia Whisnant knows about this through personal experience. She and her husband own Rain Crow Ranch in southern Missouri, which has become one of the country’s largest grass-fed-beef producers. Several thousand cattle graze on more than 10,000 acres of grassland on the ranch itself and other farms nearby. “They roam around; they actually live a life that’s behaviorally and biologically appropriate for that ruminant animal,” says Whisnant.

The Whisnants have some big customers, including Whole Foods. A couple of years ago, an even bigger potential customer came to visit. It was a meat broker, a company that wanted to supply this increasingly popular product to mainstream supermarkets. The visit went well, but as Patricia Whisnant tells the story, the brokers also located another supplier that was bringing in grass-fed ground beef from Australia.

That Australian beef was 75 cents or a dollar cheaper per pound. And Whisnant lost the deal. “They said, ‘We’re sorry, you can’t match that price, so we’re going with them,’ ” Whisnant recalls.

Nobody collects information on exactly how much of the grass-fed beef that Americans eat comes from abroad. Theo Weening, the global meat coordinator for Whole Foods, says his company buys very little. “We probably import maybe 3 percent. The rest is regional, local; that’s what we really push for,” he says.

But you’ll see plenty of Australian-origin beef in other supermarkets. Organic Valley, meanwhile, gets all of its grass-fed beef from Australia. There’s also a lot of grass-fed beef coming in from Uruguay and Brazil.

So why does the U.S., the world’s biggest beef producer, have to go abroad to find enough of the grass-fed variety?

Curt Lacy, an agricultural economist at the University of Georgia, says some of the reasons are pretty simple. Weather, for instance. In most of the U.S., it freezes. In Australia, it doesn’t. So in Australia, as long as there’s water, there’s grass year-round.

And then there’s the issue of land. “If you’re going to finish animals on grass, it takes more land,” Lacy says. Grassland in Australia is relatively cheap and plentiful, and there’s not much else you can do with a lot of it, apart from grazing animals.

As a result, Australian grass-fed cattle operations are really big. In fact, they’re the mainstream. Seventy percent of Australia’s beef production comes from cattle that spent their lives grazing. And when beef operations are large-scale, everything becomes cheaper, from slaughtering to shipping.

On Monday, the U.S. company Cargill announced a new deal with Australia’s second-biggest beef producer — a company called Tey’s. Cargill will now sell more Australian beef in the U.S., both grass-fed and grain-fed.

Grass-fed-beef producer Whisnant says she still has one big advantage. “We have a story behind what we sell,” she says. It’s a story about her family, their ranch and her sons, who have just joined the business. Some consumers will pay more for that story.

And to reach the other consumers, American grass-fed operations are trying to get more efficient, too. Many are growing in size. The Whisnants have built their own slaughtering operation. They’re also selling meat via the Internet. Maybe someday, American grass-fed beef won’t seem quite so expensive, compared with the Australian competition.

How to Build a Straw Bale Garden – Modern Farmer

How to Build a Straw Bale Garden

When I moved into my new Philadelphia rowhouse, I was determined to grow the vegetable garden that had eluded me all those years in a cramped Manhattan apartment. But reality struck with the first thrust of my shovel: my soil — a cocktail of concrete shards and construction debris mixed with a bit of sand and dirt — was useless.

Faced with the expense (OK, and effort) of building raised beds, I decided instead to go cheap and easy: a straw bale garden. So I called up Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens, and lead authority on all things straw.

Karsten argues that straw is an ideal “container” for growing vegetables. “The hollow tubes are designed by Mother Nature to suck up and hold moisture,” he told me. And as the insides of the bales decompose, they provide a rich medium for vegetable growth.

You can put together a straw bale garden right on your lawn, your driveway (oh yes, your neighbors will love you) or anywhere that gets at least six to eight hours of sun. It’s especially good for growers who live in northern climes with shorter growing seasons — the bales heat up much quicker than soil, stimulating early-season root growth.

Here’s the method that has made Karsten the go-to guru for straw bale gardening:

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1. Source your straw

You can toss the dice like I did and purchase straw bales from your local garden center, but it’s best to source them direct from the farm. If you want to garden organically, the person at the garden center won’t likely know how the straw was grown. To help connect farmers with growers, Karsten has set up a user-generated marketplace, but it’s still too small to be useful to most gardeners. Remember, straw is easiest to come by in the fall. If you arrange your straw bale garden before the winter, you’ll be all set to plant when springtime comes.

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2. Position your bales

Before you set up your bales, lay down landscape fabric to prevent weeds from growing up through the bales. Arrange the bales side by side in rows, with their cut sides up. The strings that bind the bales should run across the sides, not across the planting surface. The strings will help keep the shape of the bales as they start to soften and decompose.

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3. Condition the bales

Two weeks before you plant, you have to get the bales cooking. This means wetting and fertilizing the bales for roughly 10 days to start composting the inner straw. For the first six days, put down 3 cups of organic fertilizer per bale every other day, and water the bales to push the fertilizer down and thoroughly saturate the straw. On the off days, simply water the bales. (Tip: try to ignore the neighbors staring suspiciously from their windows.) Days 7 through 9, lay down 1.5 cups of organic fertilizer each day and water. Day 10 put down 3 cups with phosphorus and potassium (bone or fish meal mixed with 50% wood ash works like a charm).

If you stick your finger into your bales, they’ll be hot and moist. You’ll start to see some “peppering” — black soil-like clumps that signal the beginning of the composting that will continue through the growing season. If mushrooms sprout up, rejoice — they won’t harm your plants; it means the straw is decomposing as it should.

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4. Build a trellis and greenhouse in one

One of the coolest things about straw bale gardening is that it combines the best of container gardening with vertical gardening. Karsten recommends erecting seven-foot-tall posts at the end of each row of bales, and running wire between them at intervals of 10 inches from the tops of the bales. As your seeds sprout, you can use the bottom wire to drape a plastic tarp to create an instant greenhouse for those chilly early-season nights. And as the plants begin to grow, the wire works like a vertical trellis, supporting your cucumbers, squash and assorted viney vegetables.

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5. Time to plant

If you’re planting seedlings, use your trowel to separate the straw in the shape of a hole and add some sterile planting mix to help cover the exposed roots. If you’re planting seeds, then cover the bales with a one to two-inch layer of planting mix and sew into this seedbed. As the seeds germinate, they’ll grow roots down into the bale itself. While you’re at it, plant some annual flowers into the sides of the bales, or some herbs — it’s otherwise underutilized growing space, and will make the garden a whole lot lovelier.

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6. Look, ma — no weeding

If you lay a soaker hose over your bales, you’ve pretty much eliminated all your work until harvest. That’s because your “soil” doesn’t contain weed seeds. There’s one caveat, though — if you didn’t get your straw from a farmer (guilty as charged), there’s a chance your straw (or, worse, hay that was sold as straw) contains its own seed. If your bales start to sprout what looks like grass, you can beat back the Chia pet effect by washing the sprouts with diluted vinegar. If you don’t mind the look though, the grass shouldn’t harm your plants, and will likely die off from the heat produced by the bale’s decomposition.

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7. The harvest after the harvest

When the harvest season ends, the bales will be soft, saggy and gray — but that’s exactly what you want. Because when you pile the straw together and leave it to compost over winter, you’ll have a mound of beautiful compost to fill all your pots and planters in the spring.

Nicole Cotroneo Jolly (@nicolecotroneo) is a journalist, filmmaker and founder of How Does it Grow?a series of food education videos that trace our food back from the fork to the field.

Plants and AnimalsGardenGardeningHow ToStraw Bale Gardening

Space Farming: The Final Frontier – Modern Farmer

Space Farming: The Final Frontier – Modern Farmer

NASA looks to grow fresh veggies, 230 miles above the Earth

By Jesse Hirsch on September 10, 2013

Photographs by Stephen Allen

Last year, an astronaut named Don Pettit began an unusual writing project on NASA’s website. Called “Diary of a Space Zucchini,” the blog took the perspective of an actual zucchini plant on the International Space Station (ISS). Entries were insightful and strange, poignant and poetic.

“I sprouted, thrust into this world without anyone consulting me,” wrote Pettit in the now-defunct blog. “I am utilitarian, hearty vegetative matter that can thrive under harsh conditions. I am zucchini — and I am in space.”

An unorthodox use of our tax dollars, but before you snicker, consider this: That little plant could be the key to our future. If — as some doomsday scientists predict — we eventually exhaust the Earth’s livability, space farming will prove vital to the survival of our species. Around the world, governments and private companies are doing research on how we are going to grow food on space stations, in spaceships, even on Mars. The Mars Society is testing a greenhouse in a remote corner of Utah, researchers at the University of Gelph in Ontario are looking at long-term crops like soybeans and barley and Purdue University scientists are marshaling vertical garden design for space conditions. Perhaps most importantly, though, later this year NASA will be producing its own food in orbit for the first time ever.

And if space farming still seems like a pipe dream, the zucchini also served a more tangible purpose. It kept Pettit and his crewmates sane.

You Can Eat It, Too

Growing food in space helps solve one of the biggest issues in space travel: the price of eating. It costs roughly $10,000 a pound to send food to the ISS, according to Howard Levine, project scientist for NASA’s International Space Station and Spacecraft Processing Directorate. There’s a premium on densely caloric foods with long shelf lives. Supply shuttles carry such limited fresh produce that Gioia Massa, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA, says astronauts devour it almost immediately.

Levine and Massa are part of the team developing the Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE) program, set to hit the ISS later this year. This December, NASA plans to launch a set of Kevlar pillow-packs, filled with a material akin to kitty litter, functioning as planters for six romaine lettuce plants. The burgundy-hued lettuce (NASA favors the “Outredgeous” strain) will be grown under bright-pink LED lights, ready to harvest after just 28 days.

NASA has a long history of testing plant growth in space, but the goals have been largely academic. Experiments have included figuring out the effects of zero-gravity on plant growth, testing quick-grow sprouts on shuttle missions and assessing the viability of different kinds of artificial light. But VEGGIE is NASA’s first attempt to grow produce that could actually sustain space travelers.

NASA’s space lettuce will<br /> be rigorously evaluated.1
NASA’s Nicole Dufour (left) and Gioia Massa perform prelaunch testing<br /> on lettuce sprouts, under LED grow lights.2
Microbiologist Mary Hummerick performs lettuce testing.3
A set of<br /> test sprouts growing in pillow-packs.4
Inside the main Vegetable Production System program testing lab at Kennedy Space Center.5

  • 1NASA’s space lettuce will
    be rigorously evaluated.
  • 2NASA’s Nicole Dufour (left) and Gioia Massa perform prelaunch testing
    on lettuce sprouts, under LED grow lights.
  • 3Microbiologist Mary Hummerick performs lettuce testing.
  • 4A set of
    test sprouts growing in pillow-packs.
  • 5Inside the main Vegetable Production System program testing lab at Kennedy Space Center.

Naturally, the dream is to create a regenerative growth system, so food could be continually grown on the space station — or, potentially, on moon colonies or Mars. The Outredgeous lettuce is slated as a first-phase vegetable, quick to grow and loaded with antioxidants (a potential antidote for cosmic radiation). Later veggies may include radishes, snap peas and a special strain of tomato, designed to take up minimal space.

Plant size is a vital calculation in determining what to grow on the space station, where every square foot is carefully allotted. Harvest time is also of extreme importance; the program wants to maximize growth cycles within each crew’s (on average) six-month stay.

4 Other Mars Food Missions

  1. 1The Mars Desert Research Station The MDRS is a program of the Mars Society, a mixed group of scientists and space enthusiasts. In the remote territory near Hanksville, Utah, researchers have attempted to simulate conditions on Mars, including a greenhouse to grow their own food. The science of growing is still rudimentary at MDRS; the goal is to gauge effects on participants’ overall well-being.
  2. 2University of Guelph Unlike VEGGIE, this Canadian program is looking seriously into long-term crops like soybeans and barley.
  3. 3Purdue University Dr. Cary Mitchell of Purdue believes that farming in space is all about the vertical, similar to urban farming advocates here on Earth. Mitchell, a major proponent of LEDs, has been working for years on vertical farming initiatives that can be repurposed for space living.
  4. 4South Pole Using indoor greenhouses, Dr. Gene Giacomelli has spearheaded research on Antarctica, intended to replicate conditions in space. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, this testing evaluates psychological benefits to South Pole residents, with the thinking that space conditions are similarly isolating.

Leafy greens are ideal, ready to be consumed as soon as they’re plucked from the soil. Potatoes or sweet potatoes, not very good raw, fall into what Massa calls “midterm level” — plants NASA may test further down the line. The most outlandish crops would be wheat and rice, taking longer to grow and requiring bulky milling equipment. Clearly, plants that need processing make less attractive candidates for space travel.

Levine says NASA has tested strains of quick-growing dwarf wheat on past space missions. But growing this kind of crop on a large scale, with the intention of providing long-term sustenance, is still a ways off. “At this point, the break-even cost is far too high for serious bioregenerative agriculture,” Levine says. “Six heads of lettuce make a nice supplement to the crew’s diet, but isn’t going to feed them for the long-term.”

A Garden for Major Tom

But the plants aren’t just for eating — they act as a form of emotional sustenance called horticultural therapy. It’s based on the simple idea that plant care is a balm for the human psyche. According to the Horticultural Society of New York, which has practiced this therapy with Rikers Island inmates since 1989, the list of gains is long: “stress reduction, mood improvement, alleviation of depression, social growth, physical and mental rehabilitation” and general wellness.

Naturally, these benefits are highly prized in space, where even the sturdiest astronauts may be pushed to their limits. “It can be pretty harsh out there, confined to a small metal box,” says Levine. “Caring for a plant every day provides vital psychological relief, giving astronauts a small remembrance of Earth.”

During this six-month stay Pettit brought the space zucchini up with “two new crewmates” — broccoli and sunflower plants — as a personal project. He didn’t have fancy equipment, and only a little soil.

He gave the plants sun by shuttling them between space station windows, and grew them in a plastic bag, feeding them a liquid made from composted food scraps. The crew never tried eating the plants; Pettit jokes it would have felt like cannibalism.

“We considered them crew members,” he says. “It was delightful to have those plants around, to feel the little hairs on a leaf tickle your nose, to see that sunflower in full bloom. It changed our whole experience.”

Massa thinks VEGGIE could promise similar psychic gains to space station astronauts. For one thing, there’s the splash of color provided by the sanguine plants, chromatic relief in a sea of whites and beiges. The program’s second phase will include flowering zinnias, for even more visual vibrancy.

Not to mention, caring for plants can conjure up unknowable associative memories. A childhood harvest, perhaps, or a forgotten summer stroll through the garden. “These are the intangibles,” says Massa. “Will the astronaut nurture each plant like a pet? Will he stumble on a forgotten memory?”

Waiting Is the Hardest Part

The first batch of space-ready lettuce is something of a tease for the NASA crew — once harvested, it will be frozen and stored away for testing back on Earth. No one is allowed to eat anything before the plants are thoroughly vetted for cosmic microbes.

Where’s the Beef in Space?

  • In 1982, the Kids’ Whole Future Catalog made some surprisingly accurate speculation on the future of space farming. In addition to growing plants hydroponically and composting waste, the book suggested astronauts may soon raise space rabbits as a meat source. Far-fetched? Maybe not. Researchers all over the world have spent years studying the most viable proteins for space missions. In choosing the right animal, the biggest concerns are size and waste creation; naturally, scientists in Japan and Mexico have studied edible space insects. Also in Japan, experiments on closed-loop life support systems have recently been performed on small goats. Neither bugs nor goats have yet been launched into space, but Russian crews have performed extensive experiments on one potential food source: the Japanese quail. Crews have sent quail eggs up for study since 1979, with the first ones actually hatching in 1990. Since then, Russian cosmonauts have nurtured baby quails from birth, hand-feeding them and studying their adaptive abilities. The downside? “The cosmonauts grew attached and had trouble killing them,” according to Dr. Gioia Massa of NASA.

These space germs are often fairly benign, akin to the natural bacteria that build up in any moist root bank. Russian crews are allowed to consume vegetables grown on their side of the space station, but microbe standards are strict and unwavering on U.S. space missions. Massa says NASA’s surgeons set these levels based simply on quantity, without regard for “good” or “bad” germs. After the first lettuce harvest is tested, she hopes for reevaluation of the microbial standards, with specific dispensations for agriculture.

But once that hurdle is cleared, Massa has high hopes for the program. Her team has been testing the system in NASA labs since 2011, working out the bugs and evaluating the technology. The growth chambers themselves, created by the Wisconsin company Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC), are lightweight and easily stored, with relatively simple watering and lighting systems. Each unit requires little space, but could easily be replicated on a large scale. And unlike its clunky, power-draining predecessors, the whole setup requires about as much energy as a desktop computer. “It’s really an ingenious little system,” she says.

As space travel becomes increasing a public-private partnership, NASA is not alone in testing out food programs. “We can’t afford to keep shipping water, oxygen and Kraft dinner to the moon indefinitely,” says Mike Dixon, one of the foremost researchers on grow-your-own-space-food. Dixon is a professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, and his program is looking at the viability of longer-term crops, like soybeans. Other efforts are focusing on vertical farming design; some researchers are replicating Mars-like conditions on Earth, like the South Pole.

For Massa, this is the realization of a decades-old dream. As a teenager in Florida, she was both a member of her local Future Farmers of America chapter and — like many kids of the ’80s — a space superfan. Her career path was shaped early by a teacher of hers who attended a NASA educational program called “Energize the Green Machine,” speculating on the future of space farming.

Now, after devoting a life to getting here, Massa is on the brink of space farming’s launch.

She mulls over the implications. “Do I think this could hold the keys to our future?” she asks, then pauses. “Yes, I suppose I do.”

Diary of a Space Zucchini

Don Pettit’s Space Zucchini had two friends in space, Broccoli and Sunflower. They loved to pal around. As you can tell, the astronaut’s relationship to his budding garden was quite intimate. From the blog:

March 26: I have new leaves! I am no longer naked to the cosmos. They are not as big as before however they are just as green. Broccoli and Sunflower have leaves as well and are vibrant. We all have happy roots. This is a hard (sic) to explain to a non-plant, but I am feeling very zucchini now.

June 6
: Last night we observed a little black spot on the Sun…Gardener and his crewmates observed the little black spot move across the Sun through a special filter. Sunflower, Broccoli, and I can look directly at the sun with no filter. We all were smiling.

June 9
: Great news; I have a baby brother sprout! Gardener just showed me baby Zuc. He is strong and healthy and ready to move from the sprouter into his own aeroponic bag. While Broccoli and Sunflower are great companions, there is nothing quite like having a zucchini to zucchini conversation.

June 17: 
Excitement is in the air. Gardener said we will soon be returning to Earth. Our part of the mission is nearly complete and the new crew will take over for us. I am a bit worried about Broccoli, Sunflower, and me. If Gardener leaves, who will take care of us? And what about little Zuc? He is now a big sprout and ready to branch out on his