Planet Natural: The Blog

Planet Natural BlogWelcome to the Planet Natural Blog, a clearinghouse for all things green and growing. What are we about? Organic gardening, sustainability, and the natural lifestyle, of course. That means you’ll find how-tos on raising healthy, great-tasting, heirloom vegetables, growing beautiful landscapes and flowers, composting, and improving soil health. We’re all about controlling weeds without harmful herbicides and pests without toxic pesticides. We’re engaged in conserving water and xeriscape gardening, growing herbs, and raising cover crops, and all the wise-use practices that make for sustainable, healthy gardens and landscapes.

The practice of organic gardening is as old as gardening itself. It’s only in the last several generations that farming and gardening has embraced the chemical fertilizers and risky pesticides that lead to short-term production gains while sacrificing our soil, our wildlife, and our very health. (more…)

Growing Holly for the Holidays

Winter HollyFind the right kind of holly for your landscape and grow it!

We love the ever-green, natural plants associated with the holidays: the firs and pine trees celebrated in song, the poinsettia, mistletoe  (actually a parasite that attaches itself to trees from which it draws water and nutrition). But our favorite, despite the fact that no presents go under it, is holly.

We had a large holly bush growing against the south side of one of our out-buildings when we lived on a small hippie homestead in the Pacific Northwest. Partially shaded a couple hours each day by two very large Douglas firs that were several yards away, the bush grew up to the roof and supplied a bounty of sprigs and red berries each year without any care from us. (more…)

Food Safety … Who’s Paying Attention?

Hog FarmNew pork program calling for quicker, less thorough inspection creates issues.

The safety of our food supply is a critical issue to those of us who care about the health and well-being of our families. But those issues seldom surface in the mainstream media and then only when death or a massive recall is involved. Smaller, localized news items and changes in the regulatory and inspection systems that are supposed to guard us from contaminated food often pass under the radar.

That thought occurred to us this past week when we read investigative journalist Ted Genoways’ opinion piece about changes in U.S. pork inspection already being tried at a number of packing plants and soon, possibly, to be rolled out across the entire industry. Here’s how that piece opens:

IF, thanks to an experimental inspection program, a meatpacking firm produces as much as two tons a day of pork contaminated by fecal matter, urine, bile, hair, intestinal contents or diseased tissue, should that count as a success? (more…)

Growing Pea Shoots

Organic Pea ShootsGrow your own pea, sunflower and other shoots for the kitchen table.

Your friendly, gourmet-minded Planet Natural blogger likes to keep up on cooking and restaurant trends when planning next year’s garden. Why else would we have tried growing radicchio not so many years ago? (Since then, it’s become a favorite, though it needs a little growing attention.)

This year, we’ve taken note of how many restaurant salads, especially at restaurant’s that feature organic, locally sourced foods, add pea tendrils to their salads. Those curling lengths of green add visual interest to a bowl of greens as well as adding something of a snap pea flavor to the cornucopia of tastes that come with mixed green and mesclun salads.

Of course, you don’t have to wait until spring to grow pea shoots for your salads. You can do it indoors and within weeks have a bumper crop of curly, tasty tendrils to add to salads or use as plate decorations. Like growing sprouts, growing shoots indoors makes a wonderful family project, one in which your kids will probably be glad to take part. (more…)

GMOS and Pesticides: Votes, Heart Disease & Seed Diversity

GMO Crop HarverstOregon GMO recount, new Roundup study, heritage seeds threatened.

As the deadline for release of the recount in Oregon nears, we’re reminded that genetically engineered crops create a myriad of problems that aren’t often considered by GMO-labeling foes. Evidence of growing threats to organic farming, seed stocks, and to our health from the herbicides that genetically engineered crops are designed to resist continues to grow. Even liberty and democracy are at stake. Some recent news, a study, and an informative article addressing seed diversity and the dangers of monoculture farming all suggest how complex — and important — the GMO issue is. (more…)

Keeping Mice From Your Compost Heap

Mouse in Compost PileMice in your compost bin can be a problem year-round, but especially in the winter.

We love mice, as long as they’re in a children’s book. Out in the real world? Not so much.

Mice are associated with everything from Lyme disease to hantavirus. Many of the diseases they transmit are harbored in their feces and it’s hard to top the disgusting feeling you get finding tiny, black mouse cylinders all over a kitchen counter. Don’t think the disease potential is bad or only doesn’t happens outside the dusty southwest? Read this poor fellow’s story (spoiler alert: he survives).

You probably do a good job keeping mice from inside your home. But keeping mice out of your compost is a different proposition. (more…)

Bring the Kitchen Garden Indoors

Indoor Kitchen GardeningGrowing herbs, greens and sprouts inside during winter months.

Like a lot of gardeners, your friendly, year-round Planet Natural blogger likes to keep the harvest going even when the snow flies. That often means growing a few things indoors. Elizabeth Millard’s new book Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden (Cool Springs Press) makes an argument for growing vegetables indoors 12-months a year.

Millard doesn’t just do the easy stuff that lots of us do, like grow sprouts in jars and herbs in pots on the windowsill. She wants us to broaden our horizons with pea and popcorn shoots, wheat grass and mushrooms. She has chapters on indoor growing of potatoes, beets, chile peppers and other crops that most of us would rather tackle during the outdoor growing season. In short, she’s an enthusiast.

We like her style when growing something like chard, kale, or lettuce. She treats everything like a house plant. Everything gets its own pot and everything serves double, decorative duty. You might enjoy eating the modest amount of greens you can grow in a standard pot in a single sitting, but you’ll enjoy the presence of healthy growing greens for days on end. (more…)

How Do Earthworms Survive Winter?

EarthwormHint: It’s the slime.

Maybe your friendly Planet Natural blogger ate too much pie. But during a free hour in our recently passed holiday, he sat quietly — no football, no television — and thought about his garden and the ongoing cold snap. Then, as Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Akyroyd) says in the film Ghostbusters, it just popped in there. What happens to worms in winter?

Now every gardener loves earthworms. They’re tunneling helps keep your soil porous and conduct moisture. They feed on decaying matter, leaves and other plant matter, as well as fungi, bacteria and nematodes, then excretes them as vermicompost or worm castings, one of the most potent soil amendments there is. As the Colorado State University extension department puts it, both the structure and fertility of your garden soil are in the care of earthworms. (more…)

GMO Vote, Leaf Mold, High-Tech Farming … And Pie!

High-Tech TractorShort-takes on natural gardening topics we’re following.

As we enter a new month, your (mostly) timely, inquisitive Planet Natural blogger takes a minute to catch up on a handful of issues.

–Oregon GMO Labeling Vote: The final vote count is in and Oregon Initiative 92 to label products that include genetically modified ingredients is so close that a recount, scheduled to start December 2, has been called. Initial reports from The Oregonian on the day after the election had the measure failing narrowly. That margin — 812 votes or 0.05% of the total — turned out to be closer than imagined and now the race is too close to call. This is encouraging news, no matter what the final tally shows. Corporate forces, as usual in these votes, vastly outspent the pro-labeling side and the closeness of the Oregon vote suggests that they’ll even have to spend more to spread their misinformation. (more…)

Shopping, Eating Local

Local Shop OwnerThe global economy demands we support local business of all kinds.

Sure, the folks at Oxford Dictionaries has crowned “vape” as word of the year. But if it were up to us, we’d choose another word, not at all new, but prevalent in so many discussions we’ve had this year. We’d choose “local.” All year long, we’ve been encouraged to shop locally and support local business. “Local sourcing” is the hottest restaurant trend of the year.

In the sense that all politics is local, so is economics. Without strong local economies, towns just vanish. Walmart and the other big box and franchise stores never contribute to these towns. In fact, they’re a big reason that certain small town mainstreets in the plains, in the mountain states, in the south and midwest — heck, all over the country — are now a shadow of their former selves. Yes, there are other reasons as well. When a town loses its school its most certainly doomed. But the economics of small town life demands that a small town have a lively economy of its own. That means keeping the money spent there and not siphoning it off to Arkansas or some other corporate headquarters. (more…)

The Best Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie…might just be made from squash.

Squash pie. My grandmother didn’t make them — rhubarb pie was her specialty — but I knew households where women did. Those households almost always, as I remember, had gardens with winter squash patches.

Well, squash pies, sometimes masquerading as pumpkin, are all the rage this year. And butternut squash is the favorite choice, as this big-stuff newspaper video or this featured recipe from America Public Media’s popular radio program Splendid Table demonstrate.

Your desert-loving Planet Natural blogger wouldn’t say anything against pumpkins. But I would say something against canned pumpkin fillings. Canned fillings are often tasteless, little more than a bulky way to carry the sweet and spice flavor we associate with pumpkin pie. (more…)

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