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Whats up in the organic world for June 19-23


*** For Healthy Cover Crops: Learn About Seed Sources













*** Nurse says tea good for what ails


*** Ethanol Facility Powered by Renewable Energy From Dairy Waste Planned For Fair Oaks Dairy Farm in Indiana


*** POSITION:   Extension Educator, Fruit & Ornamentals, Berrien County




For Healthy Cover Crops: Learn About Seed Sources!

Brook J. Wilke and Sieg Snapp, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University


        Perhaps you have experienced problems establishing cover crops on your farm, even during relatively good growing conditions. Often, inadequate moisture and cold temperatures make establishment and growth of late summer and fall seeded covers difficult, but what about the times when these limiting factors just could not explain the poor stand? A potential solution to this problem is learning more about your cover crop seed. Where and when was it grown?  Is it a named variety? How was the seed processed? How old is it? These are just a few of the questions you might ask before purchasing cover crop seed if you want to reduce the risk of poor establishment and growth.

        Plants are plastic, meaning that they can adapt in certain ways to handle different environments. But genotypes will usually be most productive in their natural habitat. A classic experiment performed by Clausen, Keck, and Hiesey in 1940 showed that three varieties of sticky cinquefoil (Potentilla glandulosa) were naturally found at three different altitudes. When the three ecotypes were grown together at each of the three altitudes, they were all proportionally most productive in their native habitat. Cover crop species follow these same general rules and it matters where your cover crop seed is produced. Often, legume cover crops are grown for seed in U.S. west coast states such as Oregon and Washington, where the climate is quite different than what is found in upper Midwestern states.

        For example, hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) is often cultivated in Oregon for seed and then sold through retailers in Midwestern and Eastern states. This hairy vetch variety is most likely adapted to an environment that has a much milder temperatures and year round gentle precipitation rather than the variable rainfall and harsh cold temperatures in the fall and winter that we face in the upper Midwest. It may grow on your farm, but probably not as well as a variety that was produced in closer proximity with similar environmental conditions. Sometimes hairy vetch sold in Michigan may have establishment problems and grow poorly.  If this is observed, determine where the seed was produced, and if it is a genetic type that is adapted to the Midwest. Also make sure your seed is inoculated with the proper strain of Rhizobium, a bacteria that is essential for nitrogen fixation and legume growth. Legume cover crop establishment is difficult enough, and finding the right variety or selection will improve the success of your cover crop in the environments found on your farm.

        It may also be helpful to evaluate the time of the year when the cover crop seed was grown. Cover crops can be sown at different times of the year and still produce seed sometime during their lifetime. However, some species such as winter rye and winter wheat generally require vernalization (winter stress) to bolt, flower and produce seed.  A few varieties of cereal rye are summer annuals and do not require this vernalization to produce seed. These generally are less winter hardy varieties. The same goes for winter annual legumes. Hairy vetch varieties grown in areas with very harsh winter environments such as Minnesota are most likely cultivated as a summer annual and will not necessarily be winter hardy, even in relatively warmer climates. Finding a commercial source that produces seed locally, or growing your own seed, are some of the ways that farmers can insure that cover crop seed is suited to an area.

        Many identified cultivars are available for the cover crop species we use. Cover crops such as red clover and winter wheat have been cultivated for many years and numerous cultivars have been developed. Buying a named variety of a cover crop will reduce genetic variability and help insure cover crop establishment and successful growth.  Common varieties are generally more inexpensive but carry the risk of having changed over time, which may actually increase or decrease establishment and growth (depending among other factors on whether they were exposed to local selection pressure or selection pressure in a different climate). An example is the dry or cold fall conditions found in the upper Midwest, where common varieties produced locally may be more genetically diverse and exhibit more balanced germination and growth across fluctuating environmental conditions. Don’t be afraid to use diverse assemblages of cultivars or cover crop species to buffer strenuous fall environmental conditions and stabilize your cover crop establishment. Often times, retailers will mix species and varieties of seed for you, but it is important to communicate your environmental conditions and the type of mixture required for different cover crop uses on the farm.

        Cover crop seed is cultivated, harvested and sorted (if necessary) in several different ways. Certain techniques will be much more destructive to the seed than others. Perhaps you have had an experience where your seed was cracked or had a high amount of chaff. Be specific about obtaining seed that was harvested to be planted again and not just for grain. Also, inquire about the age of the seed before purchasing it. Since cover crop seed is not mass produced, it is sometimes stored for several years before being planted. In some cases, storage time will have moderate effect on germination rates, but when available, obtaining fresh cover crop seed is ideal.  

        You may find yourself asking questions like, “Should I buy the seed that was grown in my county five years ago or last years seed from 2,000 miles away?” Or, “Do I want the crimson clover cultivar that establishes well in dry conditions but might not over-winter on my farm?” Don’t deliberate on questions like these so much that it causes you to lose sleep, but keep in mind that minor details may make a large difference when establishing cover crops during variable growing conditions in the fall. If you are considering saving your own cover crop seed, this will require understanding of the reproductive systems of different species.  Information is widely available regarding how to select and save seed from many plant species, including websites such as and general information about cover crop rates and seeding techniques for Upper Midwest cropping systems is available at





The United Sates Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now accepting public comments regarding the commercial approval of a genetically engineered plum, known as "C5." The approval of C5 would be the first widely released genetically engineered (GE) tree in the United States. Approval of C5 will also pave the way for more GE tree and fruit varieties, including peaches, cherries, and apricots. GE tree pollen can drift for several miles, leading to contamination of neighboring organic crops and indigenous trees. The USDA is currently accepting public comments on this issue.

Learn more and Take Action:




A lawsuit filed by the United Farmworkers of America against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has forced the agency to begin phasing out a highly toxic organophosphate pesticide that has contaminated food and poisoned farmworkers. The pesticide, azinphos-methyl ("AZM"), is used on a variety of food crops, including potatoes, cranberries, and peaches. AZM is a highly toxic neurotoxin derived from nerve agents used during World War II. In 2001, the EPA found that AZM posed unacceptable risks to farmworkers, but due to industry pressure, the agency kept it on the market. "This pesticide has put thousands of workers at risk of serious illness every year," said Erik Nicholson of the United Farmworkers of America. The EPA will phase out AZM over the next four years. 

Learn more:




The largest retailers and distributors of milk and dairy products in the U.S. are considering eliminating rBGH from their products. According to the trade journal Dairy Food and Market Analyst, Wal-Mart and Dean Foods have begun pressing suppliers for a larger supply of milk produced without rBGH, in response to increasing consumer demand. The synthetic hormone rBGH is a genetically engineered drug designed to make dairy cows produce more milk. The controversial hormone has been banned in Europe and Canada due to its links to increased risks for cancer and antibiotic resistance. Despite these bans, 18% of U.S. dairy cows, especially those on factory-style farms, continue to be injected with the drug. Over the past few years, millions of consumers have switched to milk and dairy products from organic farms, which ban the use of rBGH and antibiotics. Starbucks, by the way, is still serving up coffee drinks across the country that are laced with rBGH--another good reason to patronize local independently owned coffee shops that offer organic and Fair Trade alternatives. 

Learn more:



More and more… our body knows what it needs!! I always said, “When you crave a food it because you are lacking something contained in that food/drink.”   Cheers!!!

COFFEE PROTECTS DRINKERS' LIVERS: A study published in the journal "Archives of Internal Medicine" indicates that coffee may greatly reduce the risk of liver damage in those who consume alcohol regularly. Every daily cup of coffee reduced the incidence of cirrhosis, a condition that destroys liver tissue, by 22 percent, according to researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program. However, Dr. Arthur Klatsky, the leader of the study, said the results "should not be interpreted as giving a license to drink without worry, because of all the other problems connected with drinking." adding, "the only proper advice is to drink less." 

Learn more:


BEER INGREDIENT REDUCES PROSTATE CANCER RISK: A new study from researchers at Oregon State University reveals that a natural ingredient found in beer may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. The ingredient, found in the hops used to brew beer, is xanthohumol, and belongs to a group of plant compounds called flavonoids that can trigger the death of cancer cells along the surface of the prostate gland. Researchers are quick to point out the amount of xanthohumol in beer is far too low to be of any benefit, estimating it would require consuming a case of beer per day to activate the positive effects. German brewers have already responded by creating a beer with ten times the amount of xanthohumol, marketing it as a "healthy beer."

Nurse says tea good for what ails

Garden supplies ingredients for medicinal blend.

Traverse City Record-Eagle

, Mich.
-- As the midmorning light filtered through her kitchen windows, Angela Macke sipped a cup of tea and looked out at the vines and gardens and fruit trees just starting to awaken for spring.

Dotting the fertile valley around her Leelanau Peninsula home and sloping down the surrounding hillsides, the gardens supply the herbs and flowers and some of the fruits that find their way into her signature teas and tisanes.

Since leaving her job as a registered nurse at Munson Medical Center to become a master gardener, Macke has been more in tune with the rhythms of nature and the peace and satisfaction that working among it brings. They're the same feelings she associates with the ancient ritual of tea, which she's enjoyed all her life.

"For many people, drinking tea is about this simple lifestyle, about slowing down and spending time with kids and family," said Macke, who has a husband and two young children.

A native of Whitehall, Mich., Macke's interests in gardening, health and tea converged a few years ago when she began to research her favorite beverage. Though she was already sold on the medicinal benefits of tea, having experienced them to relieve an autoimmune disease, she said she discovered that most tea bags contain lower grades of tea with ingredients that are crushed rather than whole.

Deciding she could do better, she began to blend her own high-quality loose leaf teas using herbs and flowers from her organic gardens, giving them away as Christmas gifts. Teas in loose leaf form not only taste better, but have more benefits, she said.

What began as a hobby soon blossomed into a cottage industry called By the Light of Day. Now Macke produces 36 blends of black, green, white and oolong teas, plus fruit melange, chakras, tisanes -- an infusion of anything but tea -- and red tisanes.

With names like Leelanau Licorice and Peaceful Peninsula, the premium organic teas are as beautiful and fragrant as they are tasty. Each is blended by hand in 5-pound batches in her certified organic kitchen, then stored in chests away from heat, light and moisture.

"It's the real article," said Macke, whose tea leaves come from certified organic and fair trade farms in Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Taiwan and China. "This is how tea is blended historically."

Starting with a base leaf, she scents it with oil, then adds herbs, flowers, fruits and other ingredients she either freeze-dries or dries in an oven or food dehydrator. Careful drying extends the tea's shelf life, she said.

"With my teas, it's forever because it's down to three percent moisture. Normally it's three years," she added.

In keeping with her philosophy that people need to know what they're putting in their bodies, Macke lists all the ingredients in her teas. For instance, her Creamy Earl Gray blend starts with black Assam tea scented with oil of bergamot and vanilla, and includes vanilla beans, blue cornflowers and lavender.

Most of the ingredients are grown on her 12-acre property, almost a quarter of which is given over to thousands of herb and flower plants like cornflowers and chrysanthemums, lemon balm and lemon grass, chamomile, lavender and assorted mints. She harvests them all summer long. There are also assorted berry bushes, fruit trees and grapes for raisins.

Other fruit is supplied by local Community Supported Agriculture farms or, in the case of tropical fruit, by other U.S. organic farms.

Little by little, Macke is also growing her own tea. She purchased 10 tea plants called Camellia sinensis from a North Carolina nursery and is clearing land for more every day.

Although the evergreen shrubs are indigenous to Asia -- Zone 8, as compared to northern Michigan's Zone 5 -- she's hoping her property offers the right combination of light, air, drainage and slightly acidic soil to allow them to thrive.

On the market for only a year, Macke's tea line is sold at nearly two dozen locations around the region and as far away as Lansing, Grand Rapids and Frankenmuth, Mich. It's also served at several area restaurants.

"Tea is being touted as having a lot of health benefits, so people are picking up that message," said Bruce Vaughan, owner of Silver Tree Deli and Cafe, a Suttons Bay delicatessen and wine and spirit shop where Macke's teas are sold and served. "And teas are less acidic so they don't tend to mess with your stomach like coffee does. With black tea, you can still get a nice punch of caffeine."

Since introducing Macke's line, the store has gone from preparing tea the generic way -- with a bag in a cup of hot water -- to brewing and serving it in individual teapots, Vaughan said. More and more, customers are turning to the coffee alternative.




Vicki Morrone

Organic Vegetable and Crop Outreach Specialist

Michigan State University

C.S. Mott Sustainable Food Systems

303 Natural Resources Bldg.

East Lansing, MI 48824


517-282-3557 (cell)

517-353-3834 (fax)

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