Tag Archives: Non-GMOs

The Secrets of Growing Great Tomatoes

By Carol Rossi, The Bounty Garden’s Seedling Instructor

The best thing about home-grown tomatoes (besides their delicious flavor of sweet sunshine) is that they can be grown pretty much anywhere you have a patch of reliable sunlight. You just need to know the attributes and requirements for your particular growing situation.

If all you have is a couple large pots on a balcony you are still set to produce some beautiful tomatoes. Just ensure the pots are located so they receive a minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight – this is one growth requirement where tomatoes will not compromise. Next, replace the soil in the pots every growing season with a fresh batch of potting soil that is rich in nutrients and organic matter. Tomatoes are nutrient gluttons so you can use a mix that is high in nitrogen and phosphorus and without worrying about over-feeding them. Now select the proper variety for your pots. Look for dwarf (or patio) size, or small-fruited “determinates” such as cherry, grape, and pear tomatoes. Determinates grow to a certain size and then stop so they are perfect for small spaces and also don’t require much support. The small, cone-shaped tomato cages should suffice but instead, I recommend the heavy-duty kind instead of the spindly wire type. Train determinates to support their stems on the cage but don’t prune them. They will reward you by covering themselves with wonderful, tasty tomatoes.

If you are a lucky gardener with lots of room you definitely have more options!  Tomatoes come in early, mid-season, and long (or main) season varieties, so for an extended harvest period all you have to do is mix up the varieties. Choose early cultivars for half your plants, one intermediate, and the remainder long season. Because the early varieties put a lot of energy into quick production, the fruit tends to be smaller and less flavorful than the long season types that luxuriate long summer days on the vine. But put in some Early Girls and you can be eating tomatoes in late June or early July while looking forward to the August arrival of Big Boys, Mortgage Lifters, and Brandywines. You can also choose “paste” varieties, such as Black Plum and San Marzano, which make great sauces, but are less juicy and tangy than the “table” or “slicing” types. Just be aware that while small and intermediate size tomatoes can be grown in 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight per day the standard and big sizes require a minimum of 12 to 14 hours daily.

With all that room you may select indeterminate cultivars which, theoretically, can grow as large as conditions allow. They will require a strong trellis where vines can be tied, or a heavy-duty cage 5 to 6 feet high and 2 feet around. Google “tomato cages” and get some inspiration, but don’t skimp on support because broken vines result in far fewer tomatoes. Pruning an indeterminate will also reduce the amount of the crop, although some gardeners still trim them back to increase the size of individual tomatoes and keep the vines manageable. The choice is dependent on your philosophy!

Tomatoes like their space. You can plant dwarfs and cherry tomatoes 18” apart but all the others need at least 24” between plants. Don’t crowd them because they are heavy feeders and compete for soil nutrients. They are also sun lovers and sun blockers so you must ensure each plant gets the sunlight it needs.   They will produce well if grown in a single row (never in a block) where they each get an equal share of sunlight and nourishment.

Care and cultivation are the same for potted or in-ground tomato plants.  Tomatoes don’t need (and don’t like) a lot of water. Water them well at planting and you should not have to water them more than once weekly. One weekly deep watering is MUCH better than regular shallow watering. Uneven watering will also promote a condition known as blossom-end rot—consistency is key. Don’t get water on their leaves because this promotes disease.

Tomatoes are also the nutrient gluttons of the vegetable world, so you will need to supplement their feeding throughout the long growing season. Spray plants with compost tea, seaweed extract, or a similar fertilizer two weeks after transplant. Spray them again at flowering, after first fruit is set, and then weekly when plants start producing. You can use a foliar feed or a soil-soak to keep them happy. The mid to late season varieties should produce until the first rains of fall start in October. Then you can clip any remaining vines with green tomatoes and hang them in your garage to ripen.

Tomatoes define the summer!  There are no excuses not to get growing! Learn more about The Bounty Garden at https://thebountygarden.wordpress.com/  and Sustainable Danville Area at http://www.facebook.com/sustainabledanvillearea


Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News/Alamo Today:






Food For Thought

Tip of the Month – January 2013   By Cynthia Ruzzi

Food For Thought   Having just concluded the ‘Thanks-ukah-mas-year’ eating fest, many of us are facing the first week of our New Years’ resolution to stop eating convenience foods filled with empty calories, fats and chemicals. Perhaps our indulgence – or hard work – during the holiday makes us shy away from the thought of more family meals, but it is now more important than ever to eat together.

Eating as a family weaves the fabric of the relationship.   With everyone in the family heading in different directions during the day, family meals at home are a perfect time to work together to enjoy simple pleasures and connect on a regular basis. Family meals provide more than enhanced nutrition.  A shared family meal provides nourishment, comfort and support for those we love. Our children learn about the world every day from many sources and the dinner table is a perfect opportunity to provide a routine time to share within a family space.  Celebrate your family and come together at your table to explore family culture, food, teach your children dining and conversational social skills and get in touch.

Eating as a family is less expensive, more efficient and healthier.  Avoiding convenience foods and cooking at home is often more economical, healthy and tasty. Serving organic, fresh foods that are minimally processed and locally sourced guarantee improved nutrition and because they have more natural flavor, whole food can be prepared simply – saving time in the kitchen.  Incorporating herbs, vegetables and fruit from your garden or the farmers’ market enables a child to learn about where our food comes from.  You’d be surprised how much broccoli a kid will eat when the child has tended and picked it themselves.

Eating as a family teaches children food sustainability.  As part of the evenings’ blessing and discussion take time to recognize where the food on our table comes from to encourage understanding and appreciation of the bounty.  Few of us know where bananas come from or have traveled the distance one has to take to come to our table.  Exploring the origin of foods as part of the evening meal provides an opportunity to discuss everything from farming, to manufacturing, packaging and even disposal – or hopefully, composting.

Eating as a family takes practice.  With every new practice, there are sure to be some difficulties and adjustments.  Professionals say that the less time a family spends eating together at home, the more awkward those first few experiences will be, so first, try setting a goal for two times a week. Here’s two suggestions critical for success:

  • Turn off the mobile/texting devices.  View the family meal as a time to ‘plug into each other’ and avoid the distraction of phone calls and text messages that remind everyone of the world beyond the family.
  • Get the whole family involved in the planning, shopping and preparation.  Learning to plan, shop and cook a meal are invaluable skills for children when they leave home.  You’d be surprised how impressed girls will be when your son cooks a meal instead of going to a restaurant for a date.  Engaging everyone in the shopping helps each member appreciate what food costs.  Even young children can be helpful in the kitchen given a little direction. You’d be surprised how quickly the time flies when all hands are engaged making a family dinner.

FOOD FOR THOUGHTSustainable Danville Area feels so passionately about food that along with The Danville Library we present a three-part speaker series FOOD FOR THOUGHT to nourish our spirit, our mind, our body and the environment.  Our January talk Get Your Family Back to the Table – with Real Food – January 23rd 6:30pm at Veterans Memorial Building 400 Hartz Ave. brings you two speakers: Heather Clapp, Co-owner of Jules Organic Thin Crust Pizza who understands there’s time when you need to eat outside the home without forgoing nutrition. Heather, dedicated to educating her three active boys on where real food comes from, will provide inspiration to create organic vegetarian meals that will sustain and nourish your entire family and Lisa Evaristo, Co-owner of Back to the Table Cooking & Baking School, also a parent of three children, teaches families that spending time cooking together, then sitting down and sharing a great meal is where the magic happens.

Apple GYGSFood is also the topic of our first 2013 Green Your School SummitJoin us January 15th 4pm at SRVHS, special guest, Town of Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich kicks off the afternoon with speakers, Cindy Gershen, Founder of Wellness City Challenge and Dominic Machi, Director of Food Services, SRUVSD.  Cindy will share the importance of nourishing our children with whole, healthy food and Dom will update us on “What’s Cooking in the Lunchroom”.  For more information, visit events on http://www.sustainabledanville.com or join us on Facebook.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News



Is it Scrumdidilyumptious?

Tip of the month – october 2012

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville Area

I still remember seeing the movie Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory as a childThe magical world with a river of chocolate, a drink that made Charlie and his Grandpa float in the air and ‘the most amazing, fabulous, sensational gum in the whole world’ containing a three-course dinner captured my heart!

But would we chance such biotechnological confections if they were available to us?  Would you risk turning your child blue and blowing up like a blueberry, similar to the nit-wit character Violet in the movie, just to save time in the kitchen?  Dinner in a piece of gum would surely be the end to family meals and aren’t our teachers already dealing with ‘floating students’ on five hour energy drinks?

In my effort to eat healthier, I’ve been shopping the outside aisles of the grocery stores for the past few years.  The perimeter is normally where you find the ‘real food’ or at least where you find produce, the meat and fish counter, dairy products and breads.  Processed foods like sugared cereal, bottled juices and sodas loaded with corn syrup, packaged cookies, chips and even power bars dominate the middle aisles of most stores. Entering this dominion I need to arm myself with reading glasses to check labels for sugar and fat content and use a ‘chemical-speak’ dictionary to understand the rest of the packaged ingredients.  But recently, Prop 37, the GMO Food Labeling Initiative has me wondering whether my shopping technique is the best defense for purchasing the healthiest foods.

GMOs or ‘genetically modified organisms’ is the term for plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology.  Biotechnology, also known as generic engineering combines DNA from different species, mixing plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. Nearly 80% of processed foods available in the US contain GMOs.  These include products that contain ingredients with corn, soy, canola, flax, rice – even sugar beets, papaya, zucchini and yellow summer squash. However, it’s not always obvious since ingredients listed in ‘chemical-speak’ may be derived from these crops like (but are not limited to) Xanthan Gum, Sucrose, Monosodium Glutamate, Maltodextrins, Citric Acid and of course High-Fructose Corn Syrup.  Even milk, meat, eggs and honey can contain GMOs because of feed for animals and other inputs.

Most GMOs are designed to produce their own insecticide to fight bugs or survive the farmer spraying herbicide to kill competing weeds. GMOs promise drought tolerance and increased yields to make food more plentiful.  Opponents connect GMOs with environmental damage and site cases of large seed companies going after farmers for growing crops that have been hybridized by wind and/or birds.  I’d love a solution to end world hunger, but I’m worried about the unknown, long-term impacts of GMOs on people and the environment.  If nearly 50 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan and all of the countries in the European Union have restrictions or bans on the production and sale of GMOs, then why do US manufacturers’ consider GMOs safe for us to eat?

I depend on my food producer to be transparent about their ingredients. We ask the farmer how they fertilize and combat pests, the butcher if antibiotics or hormones were used raising the meat, if the fish is sustainable and we definitely check labels on packages carefully before purchase. If a manufacturer can list sugar, fat and ‘new and improved’ then certainly they can list GMO-derived and allow me the choice to decide if the product is right for my family.  Currently, the Non-GMO project offers the only third party verification for US products. Their website, www.nongmoproject.org  and their nifty i-phone app offers a complete list of Non-GMO verified foods which I use to decide what trade-offs to make when shopping.

Interested in learning more about GMOs & food? Join SRVHS Environmental Club and Sustainable Danville Area for a filming of the documentary, Future of Food on Wednesday, October 10th at 6:30pm in the San Ramon Valley High School Performing Arts Center 501 Danville Blvd.  Suggested donation $5.


Help Breath of Hope Chiropractic and Sustainable Danville Area fight local hunger. Now there are two places in Danville to donate fresh vegetables and fruits to our local food pantries:

Wednesdays 7:30am – 3:00pm 822 Hartz Way (Inside lobby of the office building behind Burger King)

Saturdays 9:00am – 1:00pm Loaves and fishes at Danville’s Farmers Market, Prospect and Railroad Ave.
Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News


FOOD: Local, Free-Range or Organic?

Tip of month – june 2012

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville Area

Doesn’t it seem like feeding ourselves and our family has gotten a lot more complex in the last few years? Deciding on the best food options at the grocery store is time consuming and sometimes difficult. Is the fresh, organic broccoli trucked from thousands of miles away better for you than the conventional broccoli grown and frozen 200 miles from your home?

We want to feed ourselves and our family well. We want to do right by our farmers and their workers, our environment and our local economy. Yet, if we’re going to spend more of our paycheck on food, then don’t we want to make sure that there’s a payback in taste and nutrition? Hence the dilemma: when shopping, should you buy local, free-range or organic food?

So why is eating local a big deal?  According to the WorldWatch Institute, food consumed in the U.S. typically travels 1,500-2,500 miles to reach our plates.  In fact, the energy used for food production accounts for about 20% of all fossil fuel used in the United States.  A local-eating pioneer, Joan Gussow, once said that shipping a strawberry from California to New York requires 435 calories of fossil fuel but provides the eater with only 5 calories of nutrition. Based on that, what you eat may be as important as what you drive.

When you shift your diet toward local foods, you are protecting nearby farms, reducing carbon emissions and supporting your local economy.  Besides being better for the environment, local food generally tastes much better because it is picked when it is ripe and is much fresher when we eat it.  Eating fresh, local food allows you to capture nutrients that will have otherwise diminished over the many miles conventional foods normally take to reach your plate.  However, it seems to me that if the ‘fresh, local food’ is grown conventionally using chemical pesticides (or in the case of meat antibiotics and hormones) it defeats the benefits of buying ‘fresh’.

When I shop at local farmers market, I ask vendors, ‘How do you grow your vegetables (or raise your meat)?  These open-ended questions (instead of ‘do you spray pesticides on your crop?) usually reveal which farms are passionate about sustainable, healthy growing practices.   And let’s face it, if I’m going to pay more for farmers’ market products then I want to make sure I’m not just paying for atmosphere.

Is free-range the ‘wild west’ of eating? The term ‘free range’ implies that the animal is allowed to roam freely instead of being contained in any manner.  However, USDA regulations apply only to poultry and indicate that the animal has been ‘allowed access to’ the outside. The USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range, nor the duration of time that an animal must have access to the outside. So cowboy, free-range isn’t a guarantee that your chick has ever left the hen house – where they have been trained to find food and water.  Hence, that grass stomping hen may only be more nutritious for you when the term free-range is partnered with ‘no antibiotics, no hormones, organically-fed and/or grass-fed’.

Do you need to eat only organic food?  Did you know that if your food doesn’t say 100% organic it can contain unhealthy chemicals? If a product label says ‘Made with Organic Products’ it means that only 70% of the products need to be organic in that food item.  However, organic products can be twice as much as conventional items, so if you must make a trade-off between which products to buy organic then use a resource like the Dirty Dozen List from the Environmental Working Group.  They offer a downloadable list for your wallet and you can find the complete list at http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list/.

In the end, it’s pretty basic.  The more you know about your food sources and the more you eat whole, unprocessed foods, the healthy you’ll be. If you are interested in learning more about how our food choices affect ourselves, our family and our community, then please join us Thursday, June 21st 6:30 pm.

The Danville Library is sponsoring this month’s Sustainable Danville Area Forum with two special speakers.

Linda Riebel, author of ‘The Green Foodprint: Food Choices for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet’ will talk about the main guidelines to environmentally wiser food and share many options, so you can tailor Earth-friendly eating to your own lifestyle.  Linda Riebel, Ph.D., is an environmental educator on the faculty of Saybrook University, where she helped create the sustainability program. She serves on the board of Sustainable Lafayette (helping create the farmers’ market, Earth Day and Food Day events, among other things), and has published and lectured about sustainable food for over ten years.

Danville Area Sustainble Business leader Joey Mazzera from Green Apple Acupuncture (www.greenappleacupuncture.com) will reveal the ten most important herbs to integrate into your diet for a holistic approach to healthy living.  Joey is a licensed Acupuncturist and received her Master’s Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from The American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco.  For more information visit us at www.sustainabledanville.com and https://www.facebook.com/SustainableDanvilleArea.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News