Our ancestors were pretty smart about finding ways to protect their produce, and nature does a nice job of keeping things safe to eat as well.
Any return to a caveman diet means living without modern pesticides. That may seem impractical to those who have grown up with picture-perfect tomatoes that look like they came out of a movie screen and taste like the packaging they came in, but it doesn’t mean that every apple will have a worm and every tomato will be half-eaten by bugs.
In fact, there are plenty of natural ways to grow fruits and vegetables without pesticides, and many of the techniques are centuries old. Using manure as fertilizer , for example, has long been a family farm staple.
Such fertilizing requires some extra labor, but it has the advantage of using a waste product to naturally add nutrients to the soil and protect the plants from harm.
It fell out of favor on the bigger farms that were more concerned with churning out as much as they could in as short amount of time as possible. They figured they would worry about the long-term effects on the food and the land sometime down the road.
But that time is now for many. Both in agribusiness and in the farmers’ markets, the older ways are again becoming popular.
Crop rotation has been a trick farmers have used forever. Rotating what is grown on a particular patch of soil helps keep the nutrients from draining away, and can even help the next generation of plants grow bigger and better than ever.
For example, some farmers plant rye immediately after the corn harvest, which serves two purposes. It gets an extra round of crops in and protects the fields in the spring.
That’s because the decomposing rye releases what amounts to a natural weed-killer, keeping the fields in good shape for spring. Similarly, planting oats after the corn harvest not only results in some great grains for oatmeal, it also grows thick and crowds out weeds.
Many plants have natural ways of protecting themselves from insects or other predators. Grains, beans and potatoes are safe bets; they have natural toxins that make them dangerous when eaten raw, but also serve as deterrents for bacteria or creatures that might attack other vegetables. Apples punish those who eat the seeds, which contain toxins.
In addition, some plants can be used to draw predators away from the primary crops. Some flowers, such as marigolds, can be sprinkled among the vegetables to both draw the attention of pollinating insects and take advantage of their naturally produced repellent for more harmful bugs.
And have you noticed how sometimes other people don’t want to stand too close if you’ve eaten a lot of onions or garlic and not brushed your teeth? They have the same effect on many insects as well when planted among food that they would ordinarily savor.
Sometimes, it seems like we did know more centuries ago than we do today. Perhaps rediscovering and reemphasizing natural methods of crop protection can lead to tasty produce, and have a much more positive effect on the environment, too.
Alfablue, January 2012