Stretching the Growing Season

March 27, 2015  
Filed under Home & Garden

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Greenhouses, like this one constructed by New England Greenhouse Structures of Jericho, give Vermont plant enthusiasts a head-start on the growing season. (Contributed photo)

Gardeners get creative to keep window of opportunity open longer
By Adam White

With the mercury buried at 17 below on a late February morning, David LaDuke stood looking through the glass of a horticulture greenhouse attached to his Jericho home. Mesmerized by the swirling patterns of frost feathers, he fought the urge to raise his hand to the glass and leave a print.
“It’s so beautiful, you don’t want it to end,” LaDuke said.
But for all of winter’s beauty, gardeners do very much want it to end. The growing season in Vermont is notoriously short; locals joke that a year in the Green Mountain State consists of “ski season, mud season and the Fourth of July.”
That abbreviated growing season has given rise to a thriving sub-industry within gardening, based on keeping open as long as possible the window of time for plants to thrive – or even survive. From simple row covers to elaborate greenhouses, a wide range of helping hands are available to anyone with a green thumb.
“It’s all about extending the season,” said LaDuke, owner of New England Greenhouse Structures in Jericho. “Our summers are so short, but I believe that with the right mindset you can have a longer growing season on both ends.”
Row Covers & ColdFrames
No one knows that race against time better than farmers. Rob Rock of Pitchfork Farms in Burlington’s Intervale considers it “gambling” when trying to beat spring out of the starting gate and outlast winter at the finish line.
“You’re hoping to beat the elements, but there’s a limit; it’s some skill and a lot of luck,” said Rock, whose 16-acre, organic vegetable farm provides produce to a number of area restaurants and stores. “But if you can use your ingenuity and get an extra three or four weeks in either direction, it can make a big difference.”
Rock said the simplest tools for stretching the season are row covers. Typically fashioned from a woven material such as burlap or fabric, row covers work best when “floated” over plants rather than resting directly on them. Anchoring the edges with soil prevents the covers from blowing away.
“It’s like putting a blanket over your crop,” Rock said. “If you use little hoops to keep it up, it can make a big difference on cold nights and give you an extra month from the first frost date. You can keep kale going until Christmas.”
The next step up would be cold frames, a sort of miniature greenhouse typically constructed using recycled windows. The functionality of opening and closing the windows allows the grower to condition plants to changing temperatures, a method that works particularly well with sensitive crops such as tomatoes and eggplants.
“We’ve used cold frames in the spring, to harden off transplants that were started in a greenhouse,” Rock said. “We started onions from seed while there was still snow on the ground, and if we had planted those straight into the ground in April they would have struggled.
“The cold frames help toughen them up, and it makes a big difference.”
Container Gardening
The ability to start plants indoors is important to season extension, and the key to doing so is container gardening.
Also an ideal choice for those with limited space and sunlight, container gardening affords strict control over otherwise natural elements that are important to the growth cycle of a seedling.
“Container gardening allows you to get a jump on the season, because you can use warm soil right away,” said Betsy Combs of Gardener’s Supply in Williston. “Usually, you have to wait for the ground to thaw, not just at surface level but several feet down, below frost level.”
Artificial, full-spectrum light sources can also be used to help bolster plant health and growth. The containers themselves can range from commercially available pots to just about any receptacle one can imagine.
“Almost anything can be used as a container – including an old shoe,” Combs said with a laugh.
One of the major benefits of container gardening is that plants can be easily moved from one location to another, to take advantage of certain elements.
“I like to put plants in my driveway, because it absorbs heat and warms them up,” Combs said. “If there is concern of frost, I can pull them into my garage overnight without needing to cover them.”
The container approach is a natural fit with garden planning as well. Combs said Gardener’s Supply offers a document listing optimum start dates for various vegetable, herb and flower seeds, allowing growers to formulate a strategy for starting their crops.
“You figure out what you want to plant and work backward,” Combs said. “It makes gardening not seem so overwhelming. It can be intimidating, but it’s really not hard.”
Greenhouses
Those whose ambitions – and plants – outgrow container gardening can venture beyond, into the nearly endless possibilities afforded by a greenhouse.
From simple hoop-and-polypropylene covers to full-fledged aluminum-and-glass structures, greenhouses take the concept of a controllable growing environment and expand it.
“It’s all about the user’s space, and what they need,” said LaDuke, who has built more than 400 greenhouses during his 29 years in the business. He added that gardeners are often creative thinkers, which makes for an enjoyable process designing a greenhouse together.
“I like to work with interesting individuals,” LaDuke said. “People who want a garden and enjoy having their hands in the dirt are often neat people to talk to.”
The blank-canvas nature of the process –  LaDuke custom builds each structure – usually leads to a one-of-a-kind product, despite the fact that ready-made greenhouses can effectively be purchased right off the shelf.
“I don’t remember the last time I sold a kit out of a catalog,” LaDuke said.
Whereas many gardeners view a greenhouse strictly from a viewpoint of functionality, others – particularly those interested in attaching the structure to their homes – see an opportunity to add a dynamic new living space.
“It allows them to go out there in their robe and slippers, and have their morning coffee out there with the flowers,” LaDuke said. “And it doubles as a passive, solar heat source; they can open the door, and the heat from the greenhouse will move into the house and can easily heat two or three rooms.”
With the help of a greenhouse, a gardener can effectively have a growing season that stretches from late March into November – a far cry from what Mother Nature affords. It also creates an environment that LaDuke believes can help relieve the mental monotony of a long, cold Vermont winter.
“As we age, it becomes more of an issue to stay inside,” LaDuke said. “A greenhouse can make winter shorter, at least when it comes to your mindset.”
As well as your taste buds, according to the farmer, Rock. “Having fresh spinach to eat at Thanksgiving is a pretty neat trick,” Rock said.

How to Find the Best Health Information Online

March 27, 2015  
Filed under Health & Wellness

By Alan Lampson

If you’re like most Americans, you’ve used the Internet to look for health information or to try to diagnose a health problem, and it’s easy to understand why. In modern health care, many conditions have multiple treatment options, so there are a lot of decisions that need to be made. And if you’re like most patients, you want to be involved in making those decisions. Fortunately, the Internet is a convenient, low-cost and confidential way to be an amateur medical researcher, which can help us feel better equipped to partner with our providers in making the best possible choices.
But determining which of the thousands of health care sites can be trusted is a daunting task – here are some tips to help you get started.
First, simply looking at the website address can tell you a lot. If you see “.com,” that means the information is coming from commercial companies that are attempting to sell you a product or service. Look carefully to make sure you aren’t clicking on advertisements that are typically intermixed with more legitimate content.
Other website sponsors include health care organizations such as hospitals and organizations that act as advocates for specific diseases, for example the Alzheimer’s’ Association or the American Cancer Society. These web addresses ends in “.org.” Lastly, there are websites sponsored by local, state or federal government agencies that end in “.gov.”
Regardless of the source, there are several key points to keep in mind when evaluating a website:
Who runs the website?
Who pays for the website?
What is the website’s purpose?
What is the original source of the website’s information?
How does the website document the evidence supporting its information?
Who reviewed the information before the owner posted it on the website?
How current is the information on the website?
How does the website owner link to other sites?
What information about users does the website collect and why?
How does the website manage interactions with users?
It is not always possible to answer all the above questions when you are viewing a website. However, if you use sites known to be reliable, accurate and easy to understand, you have a better chance of finding the information you need.
Government Websites
There are several very good U.S. government websites that are authoritative and up to date. One of these is designed specifically for consumers, MedlinePlus – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/. Beyond all of the information you’d expect from a comprehensive site, you can learn about herbs and supplements and even watch videos of surgeries.
Other helpful sites
The University of Vermont Medical Center Healthwise Online Health Library: This website is useful for finding general health information.
https://www.uvmhealth.org/medcenter/Pages/Wellness-Resources/Online-Tools-and-Information.aspx
NIHSeniorHealth: This website has topics of particular interest to seniors.
http://www.healthfinder.gov/
Vermont Physician Profiles: Information about physicians from the state licensing board.
http://healthvermont.gov/hc/med_board/profiles.aspx
ClinicalTrials.gov: This website is for locating information on clinical trials and can be searched by disease, treatment or trial location.
http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct/gui/
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Look here for clinical studies of complementary and alternative medicine.
https://nccih.nih.gov/
Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health: This website has information on the purity and effectiveness of dietary supplements.
http://ods.od.nih.gov/

Remember, you should never try to diagnose your own illness. The information you find on the Internet can be a starting point for a discussion with your health care provider. Because appointments are usually pretty brief, it is best to prepare a list of questions ahead of time.
The  Internet can be a great source for health information, but you need to know where to look. Use sites that are recommended by reputable sources and always keep in mind the who, what, where and why of any website.
If you need help finding health information, you can contact the staff at the Frymoyer Community Health Resource Center at the University of Vermont Medical Center at 847-8821 or e-mail resourcecenter@UVMHealth.org. Its services are free.

Alan Lampson is a Level II Consumer Health Information Specialist and the Lead at the Frymoyer Community Health Resource Center at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Top 6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Doctor Visit

March 27, 2015  
Filed under Health & Wellness

It’s easy to feel rushed at a doctor’s appointment or unsure of the information and instructions you’re given. But with a little preparation you can become your own health advocate and feel like you’re getting the most out of your doctor visit.
“The medical system is complex and can be overwhelming. In order to get the best possible outcomes, it really helps to be an active consumer,” says Dr. Karen Joynt, a health policy researcher and a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Use the following tips to take a more active role in your health care.
1. Prepare for the visit
How many times have you left a doctor’s office only to think of a question you wish you had asked during the appointment? To avoid that, make a list of questions in the days leading up to your visit. The questions can be about something complicated, such as your treatment, or simple, such as whether you should get a flu shot, Dr. Joynt says. “Make sure you write down your questions. It’s so easy to forget what you wanted to ask when there’s time pressure and lots of things happening at once,” she adds.
2. Share your symptoms
Volunteer information about your symptoms and other health concerns, even if you’re not asked. “The physician needs to know why you’re there and what’s bothering you,” Dr. Joynt says. “If it’s a general follow-up, think about the things that are health issues for you. Are you struggling with insomnia, or feeling sad all of the time, or having more heartburn than usual?” The more information your physician has, the better he or she can get to the bottom of what’s causing your ailment.
3. Ask questions
Don’t hesitate to ask questions and voice concerns as they occur to you during the appointment. Dr. Joynt says patients often want to seem cooperative, and not appear pushy or ask what seems like a “dumb” question. “But remember, it’s your body and you are the person who needs to understand the plan,” she says. “It’s far better to be pushy than not know what to do to take the best possible care of yourself. It’s okay to say to your doctor, ‘Wait, I want to make sure I understand what you’re saying. This is important and I want to get this right.’” Make sure you write down the answers.
4. Bring a friend
Because appointments can be a little confusing at times, it helps to have an extra set of ears to pick up on instructions and other information. Dr. Joynt recommends bringing a friend, spouse or adult child to an appointment. “It’s not because you can’t make your own decisions,” she explains. “It’s because it’s just so hard to keep track of all the information. Having someone who can take notes and be your scribe can be helpful, because it can be overwhelming to hear news about a new diagnosis or complicated changes to your medications.”
5. Bring medications
Dr. Joynt says everyone should have a current list of medications to show the doctor, but many don’t. An upcoming appointment is a good reason to put your list together.
“It helps you get organized and helps the doctor understand what you’re taking,” Dr. Joynt says. “For example, your physician may not know that another doctor has started you on a new medication.”
Include the names of the medications, the doses and the schedule of when you take those medications. Include vitamins, supplements (such as calcium) and over-the-counter medicines (such as heartburn remedies). Dr. Joynt adds that you could also simply put all of your pill bottles and other medications in a reclosable plastic bag. That’s easier for you because you don’t need to write down complicated names and doses.
6. Get a recap
Before leaving your appointment, ask for a recap. “Ask the doctor to repeat the instructions you’re supposed to follow,” Dr. Joynt advises, “and make sure you’re both on the same page. Write things down, so you can remember what you talked about after the appointment.”
Finally, be sure you know how to contact your doctor’s office if you have further questions. How are you supposed to let them know if the treatment is—or isn’t—working? How do you get in touch with someone?

From The Harvard Health Newsletter, Feb. 2015

Become an Advocate for Alzheimer’s

March 27, 2015  
Filed under News

ALZ Advocates_2015_opt

By Dan Bean

Last month, the Vermont Statehouse was brightened by the purple sashes of advocates for continued funding for Alzheimer’s research who came to Montpelier to meet with their local representatives. Concurrently, Vermont Chapter Executive Director Martha Richardson, Dr. Susan Wehry, Commissioner of the Dept. of Aging and Independent Living, Dr. Karen Hein of the Green Mountain Care Board and Tara Graham, Executive Director of The Arbors, were testifying before the House Committee on Human Services.
A recent report from the  Alzheimer’s Association highlighted the fact that the $600 million in this year’s federal budget is well below the $2 billion-a-year level that most experts feel is necessary to reach the goal of a treatment or cure by 2025, the deadline established by Congress in its National Alzheimer’s Plan. If such a treatment, (which would delay of the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years) were implemented by that deadline, it would save the government $220 billion in five years, and repay the investment in three years.
Today, five million Americans have Alzheimer’s. Estimates predict 13 to 16 million will by 2050.  With an effective treatment, that number could be 8 million.
While the Vermont representatives support this effort, the bottom line is that the U.S. Congress must be convinced that such an investment has to be made, and soon.
To become an Advocate for Alzheimer’s, contact the Vermont chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association at 316-3839 or visit www.alz.org/vermont.

Dan Bean is an Ambassador Advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association Vermont Chapter.

Tasteful: Good morning granola bars

March 27, 2015  
Filed under Food

By Jan Kenney

I recently decided to re-think granola bars. They sounded healthy, they pack well, and they taste pretty good. However, after reading the nutrition information on the side of the box, and the price tag, I nixed that idea. But then I got to thinking, “How hard could they be to make at home?”
Turns out they aren’t hard or time-consuming at all. And the bonus is that I get to control what goes into them. I don’t need all of the preservatives that the packaged variety contain. I can control the sodium. Organic ingredients are an option. They can be gluten- and dairy-free. And I can cut them into whatever size suits.
I prefer the ‘squishy’ version of granola bars over the hard, crumbly kind, ones that were not too sweet and didn’t fall apart. Then I got out my cookbooks and searched the Web and began experimenting.
The homemade bar that I have based this recipe on is from the Smitten Kitchen (smittenkitchen.com/blog/2010/02/thick-chewy-granola-bars/. )
I have made some modifications to fit my taste and nutritional preferences. I added powdered milk because I figured I could sneak some calcium in. I also added a little bit of coconut oil for flavor, but also because it seemed to help the bars adhere together better.
The fun thing about granola bars is how flexible they can be. One can add crushed up pretzels, the last handful of Rice Krispies, cinnamon chips, pumpkin seeds, dates, dried banana chips – its your choice.
Now that I’ve made them a few times, I can make a batch in about 35 minutes, and 20 of those are baking time.
They’ve been a hit at our house. I hope they make mornings at your house easier, too.

Soft Granola Bars
(With thanks to the Smitten Kitchen for inspiration)
Ingredients
3 cups oatmeal (old fashioned or quick)
1 cup of oatmeal finely ground in blender or food processor
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 to 3 cups of add-ins*
2/3 cup of peanut butter or other nut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or maple extract)
1/2 cup of honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup dry milk (optional)
3 Tablespoons water
1/4 cup of coconut oil

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment paper.
Mix together the dry ingredients. Place the remaining ingredients in a microwave-friendly bowl and heat for 1 minute or until peanut butter is soft. Stir and pour over the dry ingredients. Mix until well blended. (If there is dry oatmeal still at the bottom of the bowl, add a little more honey/syrup.)
Spread everything into your prepared pan. Firmly press the mixture down and into the corners of the pan with a rolling pin or a wooden spoon. Putting a piece of plastic wrap that has been lightly sprayed with baking spray over top before packing can help if sticking is a problem.
Bake the bars for 20-25 minutes, until they are starting to brown around the edges. They can bake for another 10 minutes if you like them crisper.
Let cool to luke-warm. Cut into bars or squares. Let them cool completely, then wrap individually or store in airtight container.
*Suggestions: dried cranberries, dates, apricots, coconut, crushed pretzels, Rice Krispies, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pecans, dried apples, chocolate chips, dried pineapple, Bran Buds, flax, sesame seeds, raisins, wheat germ.