Friday, April 17, 2009

Grow Your Own Medicine

Last week I provided strategies for growing your own vegetables. If you choose to do that you’ll not only be eating fresher and healthier food, you’ll avoid harmful chemicals and pesticides. This is more important today than ever before for a couple of reasons: Much of the food we consume comes from bioengineered plants, and those plants are much more dependent upon chemicals than the plants they’ve replaced. As a result, we’re exposed to chemicals to a much greater extent than we were in the past. Additionally, much of the food we consume today comes from foreign suppliers, including China, where regulations and inspections are not as thorough as they should be. And unfortunately, only a small percentage of food imports are inspected as they enter the United States.

While your garden might include great-tasting tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and so on, you might also consider growing medicinal crops. Many people have already switched to alternative medicine due to the high cost of conventional medicine, while others choose alternatives when conventional medicine fails. The possibility of a dramatic cure, improved quality of life, and increased life expectancy are a few more reasons some people choose alternatives.

Of the medicinal crops that you might consider, Bitter Melon is one that can be used to treat a variety of disorders, including diabetes and HIV. Bitter Melon is a green, cucumber shaped fruit, with gourd-like bumps. While all parts of the plant have been used, the fruit is the safest and most prevalent part of the plant used medicinally. Rich in iron, bitter melon has twice the beta carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, twice the potassium of bananas, and contains vitamins C and B 1 to 3, phosphorus and good dietary fiber. It is believed to be good for the liver and has been proven by western scientists to contain insulin, act as an anti-tumor agent, and inhibit HIV-1 infection. Multiple clinical studies have clearly established the role of Bitter Melon in people with diabetes. Practitioners of Chinese medicine have been using it for hundreds of years with good results. In the Philippines, Bitter Melon (known as Ampalaya) is also used to treat infections, fevers, and rheumatism.

Bitter Melon contains an insulin-like principle, known as plant-insulin, which has been found effective in lowering blood and urine sugar levels. The diabetic should take the juice of about four or five fruits every morning on an empty stomach. Bitter Melon seeds can be added to food in a powdered form. Fresh juice from the leaves of Bitter Melon can be used to treat a variety of disorders. To prepare a Bitter Melon extract:

Wash and finely chop the leaves.
Add 6 tablespoons of the chopped leaves in 2 glasses of water.
Boil it for 15 min. in an uncovered pot.
Cool down and strain.
Drink 1/3 cup of it 3x a day.

Although research supports the use of Bitter Melon as a treatment for many conditions, it is not clear what dose is safe and effective. Bitter Melon should be used cautiously, with close monitoring by your health care provider.

Need seeds? Let me know.


Check out Garden Web, Asian Vegetables section, for information about growing Bitter Melon. As you search for additional information, keep in mind that Bitter Melon is also known as Ampalaya and Bitter Gourd.

Other Links:


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Strategies for Eating Healthy

“Eat your vegetables and you’ll grow up strong and healthy”, we were told as children, but things are different today. Today, much of our food comes from overseas, and hardly a week goes by without news of a tainted food product, usually from China. China’s agricultural exports to the United States surged last year, and I expect to see many more disturbing articles in the future. And sadly, we can’t rely on product labels for healthy eating. Some farmers in China are taking advantage of confusing rules to falsely label food. Chinese authorities have vowed to fix the problems, but the disasters keep coming.

Since the United States subjects only a small fraction of its food imports to inspection, it’s up to each of us to see that our families are eating healthy. With these things in mind, here are my suggestions:

1. Grow your own food. Preserve some of it for off-season consumption.

Canning, freezing, and storing food in a root-cellar are a few of strategies you might consider.

2. Buy locally-grown organic food when it is in season.

You can often find bargains, and will benefit by preserving some of those crops for off-season consumption.

3. Learn to grow food in the winter.

If you have a sunroom, or even a south-facing windowsill, you can grow your own vegetables and herbs year-round. Since full-sized plants might present a space problem, investigate dwarf plants instead. Red Robin, for example, is a tomato plant that grows to a height of only 16 inches, and produces bunches of great-tasting cherry tomatoes.

If you decide to grow your own vegetables indoors you’ll need to provide the right conditions for plant growth. This can be a little tricky, since each type of plant will have somewhat different needs. The small plant stand shown here includes a heater, and a shop light with fluorescent tubes. Upper and lower levels contribute to an efficient use of space.

Here are some things you'll need to know in order to grow dwarf tomato plants:


Seeds germinate best at about 70 to 80 degrees F.

The ideal temperature for new seedlings is about 60 to 65 degrees.

Mature plants need warmer temperatures for setting fruit (70 to 85 degrees).

Plants can tolerate night-time temperature drops, but avoid going below 50 degrees.

Avoid temperatures above 90 degrees. Extreme temperature variations will affect production.


Provide at least 6 hours of sunlight per day for seeds that have sprouted. More sunlight, up to 16 hours per day, will produce better tasting fruit. If potted plants will be getting light from a closed window, place the plants as close to the window as possible. If necessary, supplement natural sunlight with the light from a cool-white fluorescent bulb. For this to be effective, the light must be placed within a few inches of the top of the plants.


Use a good quality seed starting soil. Repot, when necessary, in a good quality potting soil. Provide good drainage and avoid compaction of the soil. The bottom of the pot should have holes to allow excess water to drain. Red Robin will do well in an 8” diameter container, but you can try a smaller one if your space is limited. If the plant cannot support the weight of the fruit, stake it with a ¼” stick or dowel. Tie the main stem to the stake with cotton or nylon cloth. Do not use string or thread.

Water and feeding:

Use an organic fertilizer formulated specifically for tomatoes according to the instructions on the package. Don’t use fertilizer heavy in Nitrogen. That will result in lush plants with very little fruit. Occasionally, use water with 1 tablespoon per gallon Epsom salts. This provides additional magnesium for the plants.

Avoid watering from the top. Too much dampness at the base of the plant can result in a fungal problem. It is best to water from the bottom, allowing the potting soil to soak it up. Do not add more water than can be soaked up by the plant.


Plants breathe. Use a fan to circulate air through the leaves or open a window (weather permitting). A strong breeze not only helps with respiration, it helps stalks and stems grow sturdy. Remember that roots need air also. Avoid watering too much, and soil compaction.


Once a day, shake or tap plants that have produced flowers. This allows the plants to pollinate, and therefore, set fruit. A gentle breeze also helps with pollination.

Saving Seeds:

Cut a ripe tomato in half, scoop out the seeds and pulp, and place in a jar with a little water and cover with plastic wrap. Stir the seeds a few times a day for the next 2 or 3 days. During the fermentation process, the good seeds will separate from the gelatinous covering and sink to the bottom after which time you can pour off the liquid and junk. Rinse the seeds with cool, clean water. A fine mesh strainer or even coffee filters work. Dry seeds thoroughly before storing.

Additional Information:

Gardening, indoor or outdoor, not only reduces your exposure to harmful pesticides, you’ll enjoy fresher and tastier food and cut your grocery bill. Exercise and fresh-air are a couple more benefits you’ll experience as a gardener. But, there’s more! Have you ever considered growing medicinal crops? Check back next week for more information on that subject.


Here is a good source of seeds and information:

Garden Web is one of the best informational sites I’ve found:

Washington Post article about tainted milk from China:

More bad news from China:


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

GeoBulb (LED) vs CFL (Compact Fluorescent)

I’m always on the lookout for products that reduce my carbon footprint while saving me money, and I don’t mind paying a premium price for a product if I can expect to benefit in the long run. At first glance the C.Crane GeoBulb seems to be such a product, so I’ve decided to take a closer look.

My first task was to get as much information about the GeoBulb as possible. I would have liked to try it out before writing a review, but since it sells for a whopping $119.95, I decided to rely on whatever data I could find instead. Fortunately, the C.Crane website not only lists specifications, it also provides a chart comparing the GeoBulb to incandescent bulbs and CFL’s. Since I’m not interested in incandescent bulbs, I’ll limit this discussion to CFL’s and the GeoBulb bulb only. My comparison assumes that the GeoBulb provides about the same amount of light as a 13-watt CFL bulb. Here is my line-by-line evaluation:

Life Span:

C.Crane claims that CFL’s last up to 2,500 hours, and the GeoBulb lasts up to 30,000 hours. Interesting data from C.Crane, since Sylvania claims that the average rated life of their CFL’s is 10,000 hours. This skews the results significantly.

Bulb Cost:

C.Crane claims that the cost of a CFL bulb is $5.00. Absurd! I’ve found 13-watt CFL’s from $1.65 to $2.49. I can buy more than 50 CFL’s for the same price as one GeoBulb!

Cost of Electricity:

It's easy to calculate the cost of electricity. My calculations are based on 13-watts for the CFL, and 7.5-watts for the GeoBulb. C.Crane lists the cost of electricity for 30,000 hours of operation at $44.73 for CFL’s, and $25.81 for the GeoBulb. Those calculations are based on electricity at 11.47 cents per kwh. Although my electric rates are somewhat lower than that, I won’t argue with C.Crane’s cost of electricity data.

Total Cost:

C.Crane claims that the total cost (bulb + electricity) for CFL’s is $104.76, while the total cost for the GeoBulb is $145.76. My calculations are based on longer CFL life and lower CFL cost:

Total Cost for CFL’s (3 bulbs plus electricity): $49.68
Total Cost for GeoBulb (1 bulb plus electricity): $145.76

Hazardous Material:

C.Crane correctly states that CFL bulbs contain mercury, a hazardous material, while stating that the GeoBulb has no hazardous materials. While it is true that CFL’s contain mercury, it is a very small amount, and it’s sealed within the bulb. Recycled CFL bulbs are not harmful to people or the environment.

Cost to Run:

C.Crane claims that the cost to run a CFL for 12 hours a day for one year is $6.53, while the cost to run the GeoBulb for the same amount of time is $3.77. C.Crane offers no additional explanation of how it arrived at the $6.53 for the GeoBulb, and I find that data hard to believe. Roughly calculated, at 30,000 hour lifespan, the cost would be about $17.00 per year for the bulb, and another 50 cents for electricity. On the other hand, one CFL should last about 2 years under similar conditions, and would use about $1.00 worth of electricity. Here are my figures:

CFL cost to run: $1.82
GeoBulb cost to run: $17.50

Other Considerations:

The GeoBulb and the CFL share some common benefits as well as limitations. Both will cut electricity use when compared to ordinary incandescent bulbs. However, heat build-up can shorten the lifespan of both, and neither type should be used outdoors. The GeoBulb, as well as most CFL's, can't be used with a dimmer switch.


It didn’t take long for me to decide not to buy the GeoBulb. Information from the C.Crane website, a few web searches, and some simple calculations provided enough information. I need not look into other issues, such as the quality of light from the GeoBulb, or whether the claim of 30,000 hours is accurate. CFL’s just make more sense at the present time. I find it disturbing that the C.Crane Corporation chooses to post incorrect, or outdated at best, information on their website. The public will not embrace energy-efficient products if they can’t trust the claims of those who sell them.

Here is a link to the C.Crane website: