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The Life of a Gardener

Organic Farming Love at First Bite

Ann and NickI don't know about anyone else, but I have been waiting for spring since December! The calendar claims that spring is here, yet we just got some snow showers today. Meanwhile, peppers and eggplant have been started indoors and little Nicholas has gotten some sprouts today! In the conflicting attitudes of the seasons, what could ever cheer a gardener up?


Talking about spring, of course! In my English class, we had to write an argumentative paper on a controversial topic of our choosing, and I did mine on organic farming! That paired with the beginning of the gardening season work and improvements that are going on bring the relaxation and comfort of that sweet springtime breeze.

Nick and I have been busy with some small improvements that will make a huge impact! First, Nicholas (my little brother) is joining us this gardening season! He is 6 and is super excited to be having a part in the garden. He is growing a couple of the basic things such as corn and peppers, and is also growing some things bigger than himself, like 200-pound pumpkins and watermelon. He chose his plants himself and can't wait until spring!

Secondly, Nick and I have made two simple compost bins. All you need is a round garbage can and a power drill. The link says to roll the can, however, I have found that stirring or mixing with a shovel works too, as long as you don't get too ferocious. Composting is a great way to consistently add beneficial microbes to the soil in your garden, and it's really inexpensive too! It is a miracle on what can be composted!

compostable materials

Nick and I are also working on setting up some kind of rainwater-collection unit that we could also store grey water in. This saves the earth's freshwater (freshwater only makes up 3 percent of the earth's entire water and only about 1.5 percent is actually accessible because most of it is located in underground wells and caves that can be unstable to drill into), and as long as it doesn't include harsh chemicals, will give an abundance of garden water for those hot, humid days.

Other simple water conservation methods are using a watering can to water at the base of a plant instead of sprinkling over top (which could potentially scorch the plant) or by simply using a 2-liter bottle and drilling holes in it and burying it close to a group of plants. This method can increase plant productivity due to the oxygen being sent through the soil along with water. It also prevents soil crusting and reduces pests by not attracting those who like standing water. It keeps water cooler and not as much gets evaporated by the sun.

Some other cool stuff happening right now: Beekeeping at Nick's house and making "mini-greenhouses" with milk jugs. Here's the link to make a simple $20-ish compost bin.

Compost bin 1 compost bin 2

Now to the essay ... (just saying, I am kind of proud of this because I got my first 100 percent on a written paper! And it took like forever to write and research). Without further delay:

Organic Farming: Love at First Bite

Organic food and farming are back on the rise with close to $30 billion in reported sales in 2011 alone. Skeptics of organic farming believe there is a lesser yield, organic produce costs more, and that conventional produce and organic produce have the same health benefits; however, in side-by-side studies, organic farming reaped double the yields compared to conventional farming, especially in times of drought; costs the same as, if not less than, conventional produce when it is bought in season; and shows greater amounts of beneficial antioxidants and fatty acids. Organic farming is more beneficial to the Earth and its life than modern, conventional farming methods.

Skeptics of traditional, organic farming question the competency of organic produce due to many factors. Due to using only organic means of pest control, and without modern techniques to improve the food, organic produce yields may be considerably less than conventional produce. Another cause of worry may be the contamination of organic crops because of lack of antibiotics and other supplements to destroy bacteria spread throughout the plants and animals. If store-bought organic produce was shipped to the United States from another country, there could be many harmful bacterias and diseases based upon different regulations and practices of organic agriculture.

Even meat, milk, eggs, and produce grown and made here in the United States could be filled with bacteria due to grazing practices of organic farms and animals. It is unpredictable what kind of substances these free range animals may be eating that can cause contamination in the food lines. The lack of evidence to support organics paired with the higher price to pay for organic fruits and vegetables makes organic foods not worth the cost or effort for many families. Stanford scientists also concluded there are few differences between organic and conventional produce and there may be few changes to the human body after making the switch.

There are multiple new studies, however, that show many benefits not known before that confirm each other and disprove older studies that state there are few to minimum differences between produce grown by organic agriculture and produce grown by conventional agriculture. The Rodale Institute just wrapped up a 30-year study conducted side-by-side of conventional and organic crops. This study showed that organic crops pulled their weight and ended up with the same amount of produce as conventional, and in years of drought, organic crops were more productive. Organic produce also beat conventional produce economically. Organic produce cost equal or even less than the price of conventional produce, especially when it was bought in season.

Land where food was grown organically is also worth more, studies show. This land is, at average, $558 per acre per year in returns compared to the return of only $190 per acre per year in returns for land where produce was grown conventionally.

Research the United Nations conducted also shows organic growing of crops helps the economy by providing more jobs per hectare than conventional, and that organic farmers make $20,249 more on average than conventional farmers. More studies also show that organic produce is equally or less likely to be contaminated by harmful bacteria even when grown out of the country than conventional produce. Organic produce is also stock-full with beneficial fatty-acids like Omega-3 found in fish, antioxidants linked with reducing cancer risk, and higher levels of vitamins and minerals. It also contains less of the harmful substances found in conventional produce, such as glyphosphate, organochlorine insecticides, organophosphate insecticides, sewage sludge, which is entirely banned from organic produce, phthalates, Omega-6 fatty-acids found in foods like potato chips, and toxic metals, such as cadmium. Because these harmful substances are found in lesser amounts, or not at all in organic produce, the human body is better protected from a range of diseases including cancers, metabolism damage, infertility, obesity, learning disabilities, birth defects, diabetes, and so much more!

Organic foods are the better choice because of all the great benefits to the economy, health and the planet. It is much cheaper to grow due to the fact that the grower does not have to budget in money for weedkillers and pesticides. It should be common sense to avoid pesticides, weedkillers and insecticides anyway because they were made for killing life, after all. In places where organic farming is mainstream, the economy improves. Beneficial insect numbers increase in these areas, pest numbers decrease, and children can run freely without worry of chemicals soaking into their feet from "just treated" lawns. Children grow up healthier and with a reverence for nature and its natural processes.

The hazardous material from conventional agriculture may eventually be cleansed from the environment, but it will take a lot of time and a lot of hard work. The farmland being used by those practicing modern, conventional farming methods will be unable to produce crops in a little over a decade, maybe even less. Even organic meat and dairy will come out on top and will make humans healthier without the chlorine baths and phosphate that is pumped into the conventional meats. Factory-farming and modern day tactics and breeding methods of plants and animals in inhumane conditions, leads to disease, higher food prices, death of our wonderful buzzing, busy bees, and sickness in humans due to all the additives being passed down the food chain. Organic farming and traditional tactics lead to a better economy, better health, and a better world.

Organic farming will improve the health of the earth and all the life it supports. Even though skeptics state that there are many reasons not to have organic agriculture, they are being proven wrong by the mountainous piles of studies and evidence rising against them. Organic agriculture can lead society back to traditional agricultural practices for a better, greener earth.

The Grand FALLnale of Summer

Ann and NickEveryone gets a little sad when the heat waves of summer roll away and take with them popsicles, fresh garden watermelon, shorts and tank tops, and most of all the fresh produce from your backyard. Unless of course you have a year-round garden, or grow pumpkins and squash. In that case, you may still have a couple more weeks. Nick and I were blessed with quite a few watermelon and a couple good pumpkins.


watermelonAs gardeners, we may be a little sad to see our main season crops wither away and the frost creep in and kill the others, but fall is a great time to go to apple orchards, carve pumpkins, and eat s'mores while telling ghost stories around the campfire.

Fall starts giving us those sentimental feelings that come around during the holidays. And of course, Thanksgiving is in sight and we get to stuff ourselves more than the turkey we are eating.

Well, Nick and I were thinking of where to go for our date in October, and we decided to go to Boggio's Apple Orchard. We decided then that it would be even more fun if we brought my brother, Nicholas, with us too. We had fun going through all of the activities in the orchard including picking more pumpkins to carve and a giant jumping pillow. There were pony rides for the chikldren, which we could not convince Nicholas to go on, hayrack rides, pedal cars, a giant treehouse slide that Nicholas loved, and a petting zoo with rabbits, goats, sheep that baa'd loudly, llamas, ducks, and a camel! We bought some animal food and each fed of us fed one of the animals. Nick fed the goats with Nicholas, and I fed a llama. The goats would lick your hand like a dog does.

corn binThe orchard also had a silo filled with 3 feet of corn kernels you could dig in. We had lots of fun, and even ran into our youth minister David and his wife, Meg, and their two boys, and also Rico and Ashley and their two boys. So after we were all done spending money on festive food like homemade fudge and apple cider donuts, we all went out to dinner at Culver's. It was a fun time for everyone.


llama  totem 



tree measurements  slide

Fall also brings leaves, and lots of them. Nick and I spent some time one Sunday raking up some and making a huge pile. We also constructed a fort using a wood board, a barrel, and the leaves. It was quite warm and comfortable inside. Summer may have all day and night fun, but I think that fall brings serenity to the gardener because after all our hard work, we get rewarded with the fruits of our labor and memories and happiness with family in friends.


leaf fort  memories2

The Calm After the Storm

Ann and NickOver the weekend here in Central Illinois, we had many storms that brought lots of rain. The adjacent road to Ann's house floods with the least amount of rain, and it is nerve wracking for the families in that area whenever the weatherman calls for rain several days in a row. But this past weekend was one that not only had thundershowers throughout the late night/early morning, but winds strong enough to blow the wind sideways.

The next day, Ann woke up to leave for school and went out to her backyard like she does every morning only to find chaos. Every tomato cage in the yard was toppled flat to the ground. Having to leave to the bus stop, Ann had no time to start the cleanup and adjustments after every storm. We have had storms strong enough to tilt the tomato cages of course, but they had never knocked them flat.

So that day, I picked Ann up after her tennis practice, which ended at 5. We went back and found that it wasn't just as bad as we had thought ... it was worse. The tomato cages created a domino effect, knocking over the bell peppers. We were glad to find that the peppers were not harmed and were able to be righted with a little easy coaching and replanting. The tomatoes took the worst of the damage. They were completely uprooted, stems were snapped in half, and two of the tomato cages were even broken in spots. The tomato cages can be welded back together, and I hope to do that sometime before next planting season. But there was no such hope to be able to fix the tomato plants. We picked off all the tomatoes and now have them wrapped in newspaper to help them turn red. It is very sad and frustrating to have one entire part of your garden destroyed over one night, but we are still going strong with the rest of our plants.


Flooded street


One of the best parts after a storm is the search for a rainbow. We found one (not the one pictured. That one was taken at a different time.) We took the rainbow as a sign that everything happens for a reason and we can try again next year.

We also had a last-minute invitation to go on a Farmer's Crawl in Livingston County here in Illinois. We visited two farms. It is amazing how much variety there is in the great creatures and critters of the earth. We got to see many animals and new ideas to add to our list: pigs, Muscovy ducks, honeybees, other varieties of ducks, many varieties and crosses of chickens, puppies, many dairy goats, beautiful white peacocks, and Ann's little brother Nicholas' favorite, kittens. We saw many new ideas about where and how to plant. White buckets filled with dirt and then buried in the ground to decrease weeding time and growing in hay bales.

Nicholas Swiskoski

So although we had the annoying, frustrating part of this weekend, we also had the fun enjoyable times. We also found out that Nick's mom Bonnie is thinking/planning on getting honeybees.

– Ann and Nick

Everything Has a Beginning

Ann and NickHi! We are Ann Swiskoski and Nicholas Dimmig. We are teens who have always loved nature and gardening, and we have been gardening separately before this year, when we decided to have a garden together. It turned from just a little dream Ann had to a little project to call our own; and with the help of her great-grandmother (who gave us $20 to start), we made that dream become so much more.


We now do a small-scale business we had christened AnNick's Garden after a common nickname our friends called us. We then were given the suggestion to change it to AnNick's Organics and loved the name. We are learning many new things we would love to share, along with the stories of trials, and stories of humor. We are organically gardening pumpkins, tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, cucumbers, and yellow wax snap beans this year and hope to expand to more next year.

Photo: Chan