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Dodging E. Coli Contamination on the Farm

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Dodging E. Coli Contamination on the Farm

Environment

Dodging E. Coli Contamination on the Farm

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

If you really miss your spinach at home, here's an alternative. You can try growing your own. Barbara Damrosch of Four Season's Farm in Harborside, Maine wrote the book The Garden Primer, and she is a columnist for the Washington Post. Barbara, welcome to DAY TO DAY. And how easy is it to grow your own spinach? You're in Maine, which is not - well, not spinach country to my thinking.

Ms. BARBARA DAMROSCH (Author, The Garden Primer; Columnist for Washington Post): Well, you wouldn't think so, but believe it or not, spinach is a year round crop for us. We could plant some right now in a cold frame or a simple greenhouse, and if you sow it right about now, you will have growing leaves all winter. They won't grow as rapidly in the low light of winter, but you will always get fresh growth coming out of the center of the plant that you can keep picking. And the wonderful thing about spinach is that you can pick it and pick it and pick it and, you know, it'll just - you'll always have just enough for a salad or just enough for some steamed spinach with garlic or something like that. And then we'll have a spring crop as well.

CHADWICK: As a non-gardener, you're saying if I planted just a little bit of -a window box or something with spinach, that would produce and continue to produce and produce?

Ms. DAMROSCH: Well, I've never tried it in a window box, and I don't know how big your window box is. You know, the bigger the better. Some people sow spinach in the fall and then just let it germinate before frost, and then it will start to re-grow as the days start to lengthen in late January or early February, depending on where you are.

CHADWICK: If you're growing your own spinach, is there any concern about bacteria such as E. coli?

Ms. DAMROSCH: You know, in any farming or in life there's always a danger of things like that. There are many ways that E. coli can get into a crop. It could be from water, either for irrigating or for washing. It could be the people who handle it, have it on their hands for one reason or another. It could be from using manure that isn't completely composted in your soil. Or it could be from, you know, your dog getting into the garden and tracking some manure he's picked up on his feet as he went through a cow field or something like that. So it's - you know, it's good to practice good garden hygiene and keep critters out of it as best as you can, and also use manure that's very well composted. It should look like soil. It should have no odor. It should be thoroughly broken down.

CHADWICK: If I were to plant spinach today...

Ms. DAMROSCH: Uh huh.

CHADWICK: How soon might I be eating that spinach?

Ms. DAMROSCH: Well, that's a good question, because it could depend on a lot of things - how fast it germinates, how warm it is. But the great thing about spinach and all these other crops that can be thinned is that you can eat those thinnings in a salad. So if you were to sow a row of spinach, I would try to sow it about one inch apart in the row. And then when you see those little things come up - this will be in just a few weeks - you'll get little plants that are about two inches tall. At that point, you can thin so that the space between each plant is about the size of your fist, and then eat those thinnings in a salad - well-washed, of course, which you always want to wash whatever comes out of your garden, no matter how safe you think your conditions are.

CHADWICK: Barbara Damrosch, the author of The Garden Primer, a columnist for the Washington Post, with solutions for the absence of spinach. Barbara, thank you.

Ms. DAMROSCH: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Stay with us. NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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