You Bet Your Garden

Are GMO’s contaminating your compost?


Listen to the full show:

Mike explains why you must get rid of diseased clippings, how to conquer squirrels once and for all, tips for getting air and light to your eggplants, how to eliminate kudzu from your landscape, tricks to get the most out of your tomatoes, and what to do about GMO presence in your compost.


Question of the Week:

My community organic garden receives compost that has always seemed really excellent. But I made the mistake of asking what went into it, and learned that some of the raw ingredients were leftovers from a university food service. I know they’re not serving organic food, so I have to assume that some of the ingredients include GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

It’s my understanding that at least some herbicides and chemical pesticides can break down into harmless substances during the composting process. Is the same true for GMOs? Are they rendered inert?

One reason I’ve become so suspicious was a supposedly organic fertilizer I found in the garden center of a ‘big box store’ whose list of ingredients included chicken litter. I knew that the chickens probably weren’t raised organically, and that their feed would likely contain GMO corn—so I decided to err on the side of caution and not purchase the fertilizer. Then I learned about the problems with arsenic in chicken litter and was really glad I passed! Any insight you could shed on the risks of using compost that might contain GMOs would be appreciated.

— Margaret from State College, PA

Learn about GMO presence in your compost &amp crops »


Highlights from show for August 17, 2013:

Get rid of diseased clippings

Anne from Naugatuck, Connecticut is hoping Mike can lay down the law and settle a gardening dispute between herself and her husband: should weed and diseased plant clippings be left on her property or thrown away? “You are correct, diseased plant parts should go in the trash,” Mike says.


Conquering squirrels

Bob from Morristown, New Jersey has had no success with any motion activated sprinklers or deer repellant to keep the squirrels on his property from eating his tomatoes. Mike understands his frustration, “The only thing I can now suggest is that you go out and you get a big roll of chicken wire and you rig some kind of cage with a lid on it…squirrels are evil!”


Getting air and light to your eggplants

Chris in Greenbrook, Pennsylvania is looking to find out what may have gone wrong with his eggplants that caused the leaves to turn yellow and fall off. “When you put your eggplants into your pot I want you to put one of those tomato cages around it and I want you to buy what’s called floating row cover,” Mike explains. “Hang that over top of the cage…it will let all the air and light and rain in but it will keep the insects out!”


Eliminating kudzu

In Tri-cities, Tennessee Kristen is hoping to get some advice on how to successfully eliminate the invasive kudzu from her large property. “By mowing the kudzu down for a full season, you’ve depleted the energy reserves in that thing’s roots severely. So it’s not dead yet, but it is really weak and unhappy. So just keep up the mowing, prevent it from photosynthesizing, and you are following the rope-a-dope method of getting these plants under control,” Mike encourages.

  • Wandering in a kudzu forest. Photo by Flickr user jjjj56cp


Getting the best out of your tomato plants

Mike from Long Branch, New Jersey wants some pointers on how he can increase the number of tomatoes he gets per plant. Unfortunately for him, he has seemingly done all the things an organic gardener shouldn’t do. “You are almost being an environmental criminal by adding those chemical salts so close to the ocean,” Mike McGrath says. “Next year what I suggest…is you build some nice raised beds with the compost. No more peat moss, no more lime! You’re like the mad scientist of tomato growing.”


— This week’s post was written by Jolie Higazi, You Bet Your Garden Intern




  • Douglas Danger Manley

    I was disappointed with Mike’s avoidance of the actual question in the Question of the Week this week, which was essentially, will genetically-modified foods in compost cause health problems. Instead, he focused on other things, such as fertilizers, arsenic, and pesticides, none of which is specific to foods that have had their DNA modified in some capacity.

    The proper way to respond would have been to debunk the myth that “genetically modified” organisms are in some way intrinsically bad. Breeding, cross-breeding, and “classic” farming are all mechanisms that shape DNA in future organisms. Genetic modification is just a man-made shortcut that has the potential to do great good for food, people, and the planet. Instead, Mike dodged the issue and instead talked about things that are definitely bad while saying practically nothing on genetically modified foods.

    • Sarah Kaizar

      Hi Douglas — GMO’s in food is a complex issue as well. You may be interested in this video piece produced by WHYY’s Friday Arts, in which Tim Mountz of Happy Cat Farms talks about the history of GMO’s and the potential hazards of their presence in produce: (It’s a short piece — just under 5 minutes!) http://video.whyy.org/video/2299065556/



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