Review: Earthbox self-watering planter

Read the marketing literature, and the EarthBox sounds like a revolutionary approach to growing plants.  I was skeptical.  The truth is, it’s a self-watering planter with a very nice amount of attention to detail.  For example, they provide the right amount of fertilizer to use.  A plastic cover to reduce evaporation.  A nice fill tube and overflow hole.  Little stuff like that, but you know what?

It adds up to something great.

I’ve owned two of these.  The first, while I was living in California, produced a tomato plant over six feet high.  The second, in Colorado, has done a fantastic job of growing peas, beans, and cucumbers in a water-scarce climate.  I love it and can always count on the EarthBox to take care of the plants, giving them the right amount of fertilizer and water while I sit back and do nothing.  It’s available for about $50 at Amazon, in both organic and non-organic versions.  It’s large and heavy once you fill it with dirt and water, but still fits in nicely on a deck or patio, where hopefully you can keep the local wildlife away from it.

Which brings me to the one drawback…animals.  A raised bed is easily covered with deer netting to protect your crops, but this standalone planter doesn’t lend itself nearly as well to that.  That six foot tomato plant I mentioned?  It produced countless tomatoes.  I ate ONE, just one measly tomatoe from that whole plant.  The rest were enjoyed by squirrels, who were rude enough to eat the tomatoes before they were ripe enough for us to harvest for human consumption.  So, when planning a garden, be sure to look around your backyard…the EarthBox will help your plants grow fantastically well, but who’s going to enjoy the fruits of that?

What the food industry is selling us

Ready to be grossed out about our food supply?  Ok, here goes, thanks to this great article over at (check it out for more juicy details…).

Do you like honey?  Do you think it’s *really* honey?  Think again.  The common practice is to buy honey from China, which, let’s face it, has a reputation for reducing cost at expense of quality.  When it comes to honey, that means stripping out the pollen (so its true source cannot be determined), and adding corn syrup and artificial sweeteners.  Buy local if possible, to avoid this.

Soy sauce?  Perhaps, but you’re just as likely to be eating flavored corn syrup and not even know it.

But hey, buying a whole, all natural chicken is ok, right?  I mean, it’s just a chicken, nothing added, right?  Yeah right, you wish.  Ever hear of plumping?  You probably don’t want to.  It’s a process whereby the raw chicken meat is injected with saltwater, chicken stock, seaweed extract, or other mystery ingredients to make the meat tastier and juicier.  We’re not talking about this being exclusive to ‘chicken nuggets’ and other processed mystery meat, no, this is done to whole chickens.  This also has the benefit (to the corporations) of increasing profits, as prices are typically per pound, and you’re paying for 15-30% saltwater instead of chicken.  Oh, and it still gets to wear its ‘all-natural’ label, because, even if it’s not all chicken, it’s all natural ingredients inside that wrapper.  Nice, huh.

Then of course there’s meat glue, where they take the little scraps of meat that don’t form big enough pieces for steak and, well, they glue them together to make a steak.

Ok, so skip the chicken and beef and get some fish, right?  How about some nice salmon?  That pink color comes from the shrimp and krill they eat.  Except the salmon you’re eating probably never had a single shrimp or krill in its life because most salmon consumed today (~95%) was raised on fish farms.  Its meat ends up a gray color, but that doesn’t sell well…so they dye it pink.  Hamburger and sausage is often dyed to a more pleasing red color as well (using a dye that causes cancer in mice…).

What about nice, yummy Kobe beef…is that any better?  Ha!  The rules that apply to Kobe beef production aren’t in compliance here…it’s basically illegal to produce Kobe beef.  Even worse, there’s no regulation on the use of the term “Kobe beef” outside of Japan, so as long as it’s beef, hey, Kobe it is then!  Chances are, unless you ate some in Japan, you’ve never, ever had Kobe beef.

How do you think olive oil is made?  From olives, right?  Yep!  Well, that and sunflowers!  While not legally accepted (people DO go to jail for this one), some extra virgin olive oils actually have been found to contain up to 80% sunflower oil (that’s only 20% olive oil!).  It’s an industry that’s at least trying to get it right, but corruption and greed are making it tough.  Your best bet is to get only ‘extra virgin’ oil, since others (like ‘light’) have been refined and are less natural.  Don’t shop based on the color of the oil, it’s meaningless.

These are just a few disturbing examples of what are thought of as natural, basic foods – not heavily processed items like cheetos (let’s not even go there…).  So, if you care about what you’re eating, what can you do?  As you see, not a lot.  However, you can start buy buying local…go direct to the source, where possible.  Get a quarter of a grass fed cow delivered (clean out your freezer first!).  Plant a garden.  Avoid ‘status’ foods like Kobe Beef that are carrying a heavy marketing message.

Good luck!


No surprise here, but a recent article at talks about over-consumption on a global scale, how we’re consuming more than this planet can produce.  Think of it in terms of personal finance…we’re spending more than we’re making each money, and out savings account is going to run out (with no interstellar ‘banks’ to extend us credit!).

What I really found interesting though was the chart below, that illustrates how the carbon footprint of different food varies.  It’s amazing how bad cows are for our environment, especially compared to other meat options like pork or chicken!

Can GMO be a good thing?

“Genetically Modified” is a term that can mean a lot when it comes to plants, and I think that’s going to be an interesting issue in coming years.  On the one hand, Monsanto is modifying corn to produce a pesticide, and the idea of eating that scares me (just a warning, you’re probably already eating this!).  However, there are applications for GM plants that I’m more supportive of.  For example, scientists are working on making plants more drought-tolerant.  Considering how human-caused climate changed is predicted to alter future weather patterns, and the increasing demand for food due to a rising global population, I think GM applications like this will be necessary.  They also seem to pose less risk to consumers.  However, I fear that consumers will reject ALL GM foods based upon the results of some of the more scary ones, rather than open their minds to the idea that some GM foods may be OK.  History has shown that it’s not a matter of using science to show whether foods are safe or not; just look at how many Americans reject the indisputable science behind climate change.  This is more of an emotional and social issue, and I honestly don’t know what the answer is…but I do think this is a debate we’ll be having in coming years.

Our food supply is global

As a nice reminder of just how linked our global climate and food supply is, bluefin tuna off the California coast are showing levels of radiation indicating exposure at the Fukushima power plant in Japan.  It’s not a high enough level to cause immediate concern, though should serve as a reminder of just how small this planet is, and how the actions of one country can affect the others.

Read more over at Scientific American.

Blue strawberry?

Wow, talk about genetically modified food.  A BLUE strawberry?  Crazy stuff.  It seems the goal wasn’t to create a blue strawberry, but rather, one that would be resistant to freezing – which this one is – and the color was just a side effect.  Scientists took the gene that makes a type of antifreeze in flounder fish, and added it to an otherwise normal strawberry planet.  This abomination is the result.  This GMO field is one that really scares me…I recognize we may require widespread adoption of GMO in order to feed growing populations, but I’m concerned about the unknown side effects of creating living organisms like these.

Read more over at Care2.

Pink Slime in School Lunches

As a follow-up to the story about pink slime in school lunches, the USDA has essentially given it the green light.  While officially it will be up to the individual schools to decide if they want to serve this to their kids or not, the reality is that with school budgets already incredibly reduced nationwide, they have no choice but to save a buck or two wherever they can.  It’s what the taxpayers are asking for – increased efficiency in schools, reduced expenses, without really considering the consequences of that request.  Sigh.

So, what can you do if this is something you care about as a parent?  Well it’s simple – pack a lunch for your kid(s).  Also face the reality, that while disgusting and potentially bacteria-laden (micro-biologists consider this a high risk food product), this pink slime is theoretically OK to eat and the real impact on a body is probably minimal, especially if ingested in moderation.

Keep pink slime out of school lunches!

Ok, so some of you are reading this headline and are a bit confused, I realized.  Pink slime?  Yeah, it’s what passes for hamburger in our schools and fast food restaurants.  Treehugger has a recent article about a whistleblower from this industry, check it out for all sorts of background info.

Anyway, there’s a petition at to ask the USDA to stop the use of pink slime in the National School Lunch Program.  They’re closing in on their goal of 300,000 signatures and need your help!  You can find the petition here.

What is in a ‘burger’?

When you order a hamburger from a fast food restaurant, what do you think you’re eating?  Just meat?  Yeah, you wish.  The actual percentage that’s real muscle tissue ranges from 2-15%.  What’s the rest?  Ammonia-treated trimmings, or ‘pink slime’ as it’s been described.  McDonald’s recently announced they’ll stop using pink slime, now what about the rest of them?  Check out the video below, and for more on this, read this article at Care2.


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