Integrated Pest Management: Common Sense Compendium

Gardener's GuideThe Gardener’s Guide to Common Sense Pest Control cuts out the harmful chemicals.

For years, The Gardener’s Guide To Common Sense Pest Control was the go-to book on how to control harmful insects in our trees, yards, and gardens without the use of dangerous chemicals. Inspired, as the authors tell us, by the publication of Rachel Carson’s now-classic Silent Spring in 1962, it sought ways to control harmful weeds and insects naturally as well as effectively.

The Gardener’s Guide operated from two perspectives: that chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides were dangerous to humans and the environment, and that they encouraged “the rapid growth of insect resistance.” In other words, not only were pesticides harmful, they were over a short time, ineffective.

Now a new edition of The Gardener’s Guide to Common Sense Pest Control, “completely revised and updated” is available. Written by William Olkowski, Shelila Daar, and the late Helga Olkowski, with editor Steven Ash, the new edition is the most complete and most accurate volume on the various ways to control insects without using risky and ineffective chemicals. In a broader sense, it’s also an authoritative guide to sustainable gardening, with an emphasis on using locally successful plants (ones suited to your particular climate and altitude conditions), nurturing healthy soil, conserving water and energy, sending less waste to the landfill (composting), and encouraging beneficial insects and other creatures by creating and protecting wildlife habitat. (more…)

Natural Organic Holiday Shopping … for Kids!

Gardening GiftsGardening gifts for children; fun, educational, and great for the entire family.

I don’t know about you, but this weekend I intend to get some holiday shopping done. Most gardeners are plan-ahead, industrious sorts and I’m sure a lot of you have finished your shopping or are well on your way to wrapping it up (ho ho!). That’s not usually how I roll. But allow me to make the same declaration I make all year long — shop locally — and let’s look at that column on the shopping list that can often be most difficult: kids.

It’s often said that gifts should reflect the giver as well as those receiving the gift. My — and I hope your — interest in organic growing and all things natural is often mirrored in the gifts I give. That can be easy when you’re giving to adults. Kids? Everything seems plastic, disposable, and often designed to numb the mind rather than stimulate it. But what if, just what if… (more…)

Winter Care for Houseplants

Houseplants in WinterLight and humidity help plants thrive indoors during the cold, dark months.

Like all plants, indoors and out — and especially like the outdoor plants we bring inside — our beloved houseplants need special care and consideration during the winter months. Treating them as we do during the warm, well-lit spring and summer months just won’t do.

While there are a number of indoor gardening practices that change or vary during the winter, the two most important have to do with light and humidity. Whether its philodendrons, ficus trees, asparagus ferns, prayer, spider, or snake plants — or any of the many, many others — a little knowledge goes a long way to not only allowing your indoor plants to survive but thrive during the winter months. (more…)

Landscaping With Native Grasses

Native GrassesNative and ornamental grasses add texture, movement to the xeriscape.

Now that our lawns, garden plots, and everything else is covered in a blanket of snow — a blank slate of sorts — we start to think about how we want them to look next spring and summer. What we’re picturing during this dose of dead-of-winter-in-late-fall weather is grass, not the kind that comes in rolled strips and requires mowing and lots of water. We’re thinking of bold, unique grasses that require far less watering and no mowing whatsoever (though we might be trimming them back in the late fall or winter).

Why are we thinking grasses? For the reasons already stated. They need less water than a lawn and less care. They’re much more adaptable to organic growing without chemical fertilizers. (more…)

Forcing Bulbs for Winter Color — Indoors

Forcing BulbsPlanning and proper planting can put beautiful blossoms in your home for the holidays.

Not a year goes by, not a holiday season approaches, that we wish that we had started some flower bulbs in containers for indoor growing so that we might give the gift of color to our nearby friends and relatives. And not a year goes by that we realize we didn’t plan far enough ahead. Think of delivering bright red amaryllis to the hosts of the neighborhood Christmas party or bringing a cluster of paperwhite blossoms on sharp green leaves to Aunt Susan when she hosts a holiday dinner. Having plants ready to go for the last weeks of December means preparing in September and even August to make sure bulbs will be willing to grow just when you want them to.

Forcing bulbs for the holidays is a matter of persuasion. You must fool them into thinking (thinking is a relative term here) that they’ve gone through winter and are approaching spring. We do this buy digging or buying bulbs late in the summer and then keeping them in the refrigerator for two or three months. Then we pot them up, whether in organic compost or potting soil for bulbs including amaryllis, or in pebble pots or glass containers for paperwhites. (more…)

Allelopathy and the Science of Companion Planting

Allelopathy PhilosopherHow rye grass and other allelopathic plants can cut weeds and boost fertility.

Companion planting has long been part of the organic gardeners tool kit. We’re all aware that some crops aide in the growth of other crops. The “three sisters” — corn, squash and beans — are probably the best known example of different plants that do well when planted close by. Other plants are known to repel pests. Geraniums are often planted in the garden to repel leafhoppers, corn earworms, even mosquitoes. And planting legumes — beans, field peas, hairy vetch – where heavy feeding vegetables will later grow helps increase soil nitrogen.

One problem with these principles is that there’s little scientific study to back up what we know from experience. And, in the case of companion planting, some of the scientific “proof’ can be questionable (scroll down). But science is beginning to take a serious look at one form of companion planting known as allelopathy. Scientists have discovered that certain plants have the ability to produce toxic substances that inhibit the growth of other plants. And when those “other plants” are common weeds, well, the ears of organic gardeners begin to perk up. (more…)

Beauty Bark or Living Ground Cover?

Living Ground CoverWe love mulch, but why not fill empty space with something green and living?

Don’t get us wrong. We love mulches of all sorts. But one kind of mulch we’ve seen too much of is beauty bark. You know what we’re talking about. That chipped or shredded bark often bought in bags, sometimes sold in bulk, that’s used to cover bare ground around trees, in various landscape beds, and other open space. It’s become a suburban American cliche.

The stuff can often be attractive, sure; and give off a delicate scent, especially if it contains cedar. It does what mulch is supposed to do: keep down weeds, slow moisture evaporation, prevent run-off from heavy rain. And it does break down and add organic matter to your soil. But it doesn’t necessarily do these things as effectively as other mulches. Weeds can often find a way through chunks of bark and the acidic nature of most barks means you’ll have to monitor and adjust soil pH for the plants around it. And beauty bark is expensive, unless you live near a sawmill and can get it for free. And it needs replacing from time to time. The biggest argument we have against beauty bark? It doesn’t flower. (more…)

Small Business = Local Business

Main Street MontanaThe value of locally owned businesses to our communities, to ourselves.

With the time for giving thanks upon us and Small Business Saturday coming soon — tomorrow! – we can’t help but take time to consider the blessing of our small, locally owned businesses. Yes, we’re one of them, but we’re part of a great American tradition: small employers who hire local employees to deliver the best in goods and services. Yes, we’re all behind the Small Business Saturday movement, even though its major sponsor is a giant credit card company that profits from businesses big and small. But small business to us means local business, the businesses that make our communities unique and productive. (more…)

Growing, Enjoying Ornamental Gourds

Ornamental GourdsDried, carved or used in centerpieces, gourds from the garden bring color, cheer to the Thanksgiving season.

With apologies to turkeys everywhere… what says Thanksgiving more than a beautiful centerpiece of ornamental gourds? Gourds have become such a symbol of the late fall season that one of our favorite literary magazines has done a tongue-in-cheek essay about such displays (sorry, no link; too much profanity and, well, this is a family blog). Growing gourds is easy, especially where there’s a longer growing season and, with the rise of interest in collecting and supplying heirloom seeds, their types and availability have mushroomed over the last few years.

Ornamental gourds are of two types. The soft shell gourds (Curcubita pepo) are the type most commonly used for fall centerpieces and other decorations. The hard-shell type, those that we dry and make bowls, birdhouses, even musical instruments from (Lagenaria siceraria) are usually larger and need a longer growing time. (more…)

Natural Insect Control With Bats

Brown BatBats feed on pests from cucumber beetles to termites. Put them to work for you.

Bats get a bum deal. Thought of as blood suckers and destroyers of fruit, bats are seen as frightening pests when in fact almost all are beneficial. Those blood sucking bats? Out of some 1,000 species only three actually take blood from mammals. And those live only in the Central American tropics. Most of the fruit bats live in the tropics as well. The bats, like the tiny Indiana bat that populates most of the midwest and east? They’re not blood suckers. They’re bug suckers. Over 70% of all bats — and more in the U.S. — are insectivores.

A single brown bat can eat between 600 and 1,000 flying insects in an hour, some 5,000 in a single night. And not all insects that bats eat fly. They’ll also pluck tomato hornworms, cucumber beetles, codling moths, earworms (like the kind you find in corn) and stink bugs. If there are insects that plague your garden (like grasshoppers) or you (mosquitoes), well, suddenly bats don’t seem so terrible. (more…)

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