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. (more…)

Worm-Like Parasite Attacks Garden Pests

Insect Parasitic NematodesThese microscopic soil predators control all kinds of grubs, pupae and insect pests.

The more we learn about the pests in our garden, the more we come to love beneficial nematodes. Part of this comes from our study of various grub and worm pests that spend part of their lives in the soil. The other comes from an enthusiastic acquaintance who once upon a time had what he calls an “insurmountable” problem with hornworms among his tomatoes.

Mr. Enthusiasm’s story is a curious example of the trial-and-error ways we come to learn about the gardening craft. And it’s also about the value of an Integrated Pest Management program, one that uses a variety of practices to deal with pests at all stages of development, not just when we start noticing damage to our fruits and vegetables. (more…)

GMO Ballot Issues Focus Attacks

Label GMOsAs Colorado and Oregon vote on GMO labeling, media continues to miss big picture.

It’s deja-vu all over again. As Colorado and Oregon prepare to vote on the latest round of GMO labeling initiatives, the press continues to let the pro-grocery, no-labeling forces set the agenda. Media accounts frequently take the arguments of initiative opponents without challenge. They focus on narrow, single-exclusion issues like the “chewing gum exemption” and other forms of smoke-blowing. And, they overwhelmingly report, there’s no proof genetically engineered food products are any different than naturally-bred hybrids. (more…)

Fall Soil Preparation

Soil PreparationAutumn’s the time to soil test, clean out pests, and add amendments.

You’ve heard it said a thousand times, many of those times on these very pages: the key to a great garden is great soil. Working the dirt in autumn can be a relaxed, pleasant experience, not as intense or rushed as the heavy-turning, fine-tuning soil preparation of springtime. The things you do now, in the days of fall, go along way to ensuring a quick, healthy start come next growing season.

You’ve cleaned out this year’s garden (or are about to), disposed of any plant debris that may harbor disease or insect pests and composted the rest. Here’s what we like to do ahead of putting our plot down for the winter under a protective blanket of mulch. (more…)

Living With Compost Tumblers

Spinning ComposterA years-long relationship yields some composting lessons.

We’ve always been fans of compost tumblers. We’ve had one, then two around for a few years now. Everybody likes them. They keep the composting process contained and out of sight, an important improvement (as our neighbor sees it). And they corral the sweet smell of soil production, a smell that some — see “neighbor” in previous sentence — don’t find to be the sweet perfume that comes of making organic soil amendment like we do.

Of course the real reason for having a tumbler has to do with efficiency. Done right, a compost tumbler can turn out one, two, or three and more batches of compost yearly depending on where you live and the length of your growing season. (more…)

Perfect Cabbage, Organic Miracle

Organic Garden CabbageThe priceless rewards of growing unblemished cabbage organically.

Our correspondent in Washington state’s Skagit River Valley farm country writes in:

We’re seeing all the signs of late harvest in farmers markets, small farms, and family gardens lately: winter squash of all sorts, pumpkins, turnips and rutabaga, beets, last crops of spinach that had been second planted in late summer. And then there’s cabbage.

We love big, tight heads of cabbage from plants that we set out right at last frost and then, these past months, watched grow. Like all long season crops, cabbages are prone to problems just because they’re around so long. Pests, always on the come and go, have all that time to find them. (more…)

“Natural” Foods and Genetically Engineered Crops

Grocery StoreConsumer Reports finds current labeling misleading; supports GMO label bills.

The respected pro-consumer publication Consumer Reports is touting two studies that both support the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. One study found that foods including breakfast cereals, snack chips and baby formula frequently contained GMOs, even if labeled “natural.” A second study polled a thousand Americans on their beliefs about food labels. It found that 64% of those polled believed that products labeled “natural” were free of GMOs, even though they’re not. (more…)

Fall Pest Prevention

Garden Clean UpCleaning out garden debris also takes out harmful insect eggs and larvae.

We’ve been updating articles on the Planet Natural Pest Problem Solver — a handy resource for the organic gardener and those interested in Integrated Pest Management in our “Learning Center” pull downs on the homepage — and, in particular, going over sections on cabbage worms, asparagus beetles, loopers and the like. It occurred to us that with many pests that overwinter in decaying plant matter, there’s one thing you can do at the end of the season to put all those seedling stealing, leaf-eating, cabbage-ruining worms and beetles at a distinct disadvantage. Clean-up!

Taking away the foliage where the moths have laid eggs, where pupae hide, where a worm has burrowed into a green stem like a sleeping bag and is hoping for a mild winter, eliminates the chance that these pests will emerge in your garden come spring to start the destructive cycle all over again. Not only does removing the remains of your garden take out the pests hiding there, it also reduces the presence of disease and fungal wilt. (more…)

Food Issues and Organic Growing

Locally Grown FoodsIs the farm bill money spent on promoting organics and locally grown foods worth it?

Your friendly Planet Natural blogger is all about assuring your family gets truly organic fruits and vegetables by growing them at home. But he’s also all about access to quality organic produce, raised on local farms and sold locally at co-ops, farm stands and store fronts, and at farmers markets.

No one I know grows enough of everything. Most of us with modest-sized gardens feel lucky if we can plant a couple short rows of sweet corn that yield enough ears for a big picnic and a couple family dinners. When we do buy produce — and we buy a lot of it with great joy — we want to now that it was grown naturally and nearby. It’s great to buy from a producer — a farmer! — that you know and trust. (more…)

GMO Pesticide “Enlist Duo” Moves Forward, Hawaiian GMO Ban Stopped

Spraying WeedsDupont doubles down on spray resistant super weeds.

When the United States Department of Agriculture said in January that it was ready to grant approval to a new pesticide known as “Enlist Duo” developed by Dupont AgroSciences, the resulting outcry delayed the planned final approval which the USDA had promised in “a few months.” The outcry only became louder in April when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it too was ready to grant approval. Unless it’s been done in secret, no such blanket approval has been made. And that’s for good reason. (more…)

Gardening Basics: Plant Anatomy

Plant AnatomyPlants are diverse living organisms that can be found from your back yard to all over the world. Archaeologists have even discovered fossils of plants! While some plants produce pretty flowers or delicious fruits or vegetables, other types of plants serve as food for animals or even as their shelter. Today some plant experts suggest that there are some 315,000 different varieties of plants! While these different types of plants vary dramatically in appearance and location, many of them contain the same basic parts.

Rooted in Plant Roots

Arguably the most important of the plant, even though we rarely see them, a plant’s roots or “root system” do so many different important jobs for the plant. The roots anchor the plant into the ground and transport water and vitamins from the soil that the plant needs to grow and develop. The root system also stores important nutrients when there may not be nutrients (like during the winter) to keep the plant alive and healthy. If plants were unable to store nutrients for future use they wouldn’t be able to live nearly as long. (more…)

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