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…)

Grow, Eat Shell Beans

Shell BeansHeirloom “cooking beans” are nutritious, delicious, and easy to raise.

Our correspondent writes in to say the most beautiful things he saw at the last farmers market this fall were the large bowls of heirloom shell beans in colors and patterns he’d never seen before. He bought a couple of the four offered: two cups of the surprisingly popular Jacob’s Cattle, each bean big and colored like a Hereford, and a cup or so of brilliant, unusually black and white, yin-yang patterned “Calypso.”

Interest continues to grow in what our great grandmothers called “cooking beans,” dried shell beans that often require soaking and long cooking times, a process that many time-squeezed home cooks forego in favor of pre-cooked, canned beans. (more…)

Safe Food At Home

Eating DangerouslyEating Dangerously discusses the risks, the politics, and the practices that keep meals safe.

Your friendly, health conscious Planet Natural Blogger frequently champions one course to guarantee you’re putting the safest, organically grown food on your family’s table: grow your own. And almost immediately after making that declaration, I provide the caveat: it’s near impossible for us to grow anywhere close to the quantity and variety of food we need for our modern diets.

I’ll admit that this position is something of a cop-out. It leaves unaddressed all the issues connected with the food we buy. It leaves off at discussing just how bad highly processed foods can be for us, how destructive and careless the industry of big agriculture and corporate food is. What exactly does that leave us with? How do we find the healthy foods we want to serve our families and how do we handle it once we have it? (more…)

Your Grandfather’s Apples

Heirloom Apple TreeHeirloom apple trees yield treasures from the past.

This time of the year, when cider presses across the country are squeezing day and night, is a good time to consider the bounty of apples we enjoy. We’re not talking about the stacks of Gala and Fuji and Granny Smith that decorate the produce sections of our local supermarkets. We’re talking about the heirloom apples we find in farmers markets and produce stands, and in our backyard gardens or those of our neighbors, apples with names like Grand Alexander, Cornish Gilliflower, and Macoun (pronounced “McCowan”), apples that taste nothing like the commercial fruits flooding grocery stores. These apples, with various origins and histories, are a link to our past as well as a direct connection to a heritage that may have been lost if not for some persistent and skilled fruit growers. (more…)

Worm-Like Parasite Attacks Insect Pests

Insect Parasitic NematodesThese microscopic soil predators control lawn grubs and all kinds of garden pests.

The more we learn about lawn and garden pests, the more we’ve come to love beneficial nematodes. Part of this comes from our study of various grub and worm pests that spend some of their lives in the soil. The other comes from the enthusiastic stories we’ve heard about the value of these microscopic pest destroyers.

The stories offer curious examples 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 lawns or 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…)

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