As the gardening and growing seasons get underway across North America, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the choices. Rolling racks filled with greenery tower above us at nurseries and garden centers, offering limitless options.
If you want to grow a non-GMO garden this season, here are some tips from the Non-GMO Project to start you on your way.
While GMOs are a standard feature on North American farmland, the home gardener isn't likely to unwittingly purchase and plant GMO seeds. That's because farmers who grow GMO crops must sign technology-use contracts with the corporations that make them, protecting the GMO developers' intellectual property but eroding farmers' right to save seeds.
However, home gardeners are emerging as a target market for some newer GMOs, including the purple tomato. The GMO tomato will likely be launched at farmers' markets, ultimately being available to home growers. Selling GMO seeds to home gardeners significantly departs from historical restrictions on farmers who grow GMO commodity crops and the Non-GMO Project staff are monitoring the story as it develops.
Fewer chemicals, more life
Most GMOs are engineered to produce an insecticide or to withstand the application of herbicides, making them a clever way for chemical companies to sell more chemicals. Since GMOs came onto the scene in the 1990s, pesticide use has skyrocketed across American farmland. So, while most genetically modified seeds aren’t typically commercially available to the home grower, you can still vote with your dollars on the chemical industry's other cash cow: pesticides.
If a challenge in your yard has you reaching for a quick chemical fix, take a beat. Consider how you could solve the problem with a physical or biological intervention rather than a chemical one. For example, planting cover crops on otherwise bare soil makes it easier to pull out the odd weedy interloper by hand. You can keep insect pests in check by offering shelter, food or water sources to the beneficial creatures that consume them. Wherever possible, add more life instead of more chemicals. Your garden and your community will thank you.
GMO-derived ingredients can appear in other garden supplies, such as fortified potting soil mixes or fertilizers. For example, soy or alfalfa meal can be used to boost nutrition in soil amendments — and both are made from crops considered at high risk of being GMO. Animal-derived ingredients, such as bone or feather meal, could be sourced from livestock that consumed GMOs in their feed.
Choosing non-GMO supplies can help to build and protect our non-GMO inheritance. To avoid GMOs, look for the Non-GMO Project Verified mark or choose certified organic products.
Food for thee (and bee)
The benefits of growing even a portion of your own food are massive. It cuts down on waste, reduces the carbon footprint of transporting crops hither and thither and you get the exercise and stress reduction of time spent outside. Plus, home-grown food is delicious and often very pretty. There’s a perfect crop for everyone: Partial shade in the yard? Try some early-season greens. Are you an apartment-dweller? Keep herbs on the windowsill year-round. Live in a cave? Grow mushrooms.
Humans owe a debt of gratitude to the birds, bees and butterflies that pollinate more than ¾ of the world's flowering plants, including much of our food. These fantastic creatures have faced habitat loss and steep population decline in recent years and deserve a helping hand. Many seed companies sell pollinator-specific seed mixes — sprinkle seeds generously for a beautiful, low-maintenance flower garden and pollinator buffet. Or share your herb garden with our flying friends. Woody perennials such as thyme and rosemary produce blossoms that feed the pollinators and leaves that can be used in the kitchen.
To start the season on the right note, we leave you with this delightful factoid: Did you know that honeybees tell one another about the best feeding spots with an impressive "waggle dance"? They can accurately communicate the direction and distance of a food source with well-thought-out choreography. That means for every pollinator patch planted, somewhere there is a bee dancing about it. In that spirit, we wish you a joyful growing season as you tend to your bit of paradise.