Winter In the Garden

Winter GardenMay your holiday season, like your gardening season, be joyous.

We love the first days of winter, the last days of the year. We love these days as much as we love the growing season, but in a different way. We think there’s a reason so many faiths have holidays this time of year and, it seems to us, people are just a bit more considerate, more thoughtful, more generous, and more out-going this time of year. We’ve passed the longest night of the season, the winter solstice, and now the sun’s slow climb in the sky, spending more time with us each and every day until the summer solstice, is something of a beacon of hope, a reason to anticipate the return of our gardens and landscapes from their winter sleep. (more…)

Ornamental Berries for the Holidays

Holly BerriesRed holly and ornamental berries of all hues bring color to winter gardens.

Almost any holiday display with trees or pine boughs or bunting is enlivened by a show of bright red berries. They’re like a splash of color on the cold gray winter. We equally, probably more so, like to see berries outdoors, naturally, in our yard and neighborhood. If those berries are in your yard, you’ll probably recall the spring blossoms that preceded them. We love to see ornamental berries in our hedges and against fences, especially when a light touch of snow gives them sharp contrast.

Of course, this time of year we’re seeing holly berries. Holly played an important holiday role when we lived on the rainy Pacific coast. We’d cut holly early and let it dry in our attic, making sure to keep an eye out for mold. When it came time to ship presents back east, we’d pack the boxes with holly. The holly served as both protective padding but also as decoration once it made it back to the high plains. (more…)

Should We Label GMO Foods “Natural”?

GMO FoodsThe National Grocery Manufacturers Association wants us to believe that black is white.

We knew that the forces allied against GMO labeling — not just the large chemical corporations that manufacture genetically manipulated plant seeds and the products (herbicides, pesticides) associated with them, but stand-ins for the corporate food industry as well — would go on the offensive after defeating labeling initiatives in Washington State and California. Now we’re getting a clue as to the direction this movement will take.

Grist reports that the National Grocery Manufacturers Association, a group that provides name cover for corporations including Coca-Cola, ConAgra and General Mills as well as Bayer CropScience, has written the Food and Drug Administration. The letter declared the Association plans to push for use of the label “natural” on foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. The New York Times also has the story. (more…)

Bee Decline and Chemical Companies

Bee HiveBayer CropScience claims its pesticides aren’t involved in colony collapse, blames mites.

Your friendly Planet Natural blogger doesn’t like to think of himself as the cynical sort. But then you read something in the news and can’t help but shake your head. It seems that the Bayer CropScience corporation, the manufacturer of neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide that’s been implicated in the colony collapse disorder that’s decimating bee populations around the globe, has taken it on themselves to find the “real” culprit in bee decline. And what have they come with? It’s the varroa mite!

While the mite has long been a foe of bees and beekeepers, its presence doesn’t explain the extreme decline that bee colonies have suffered in the last several years. Many scientists, and many more beekeepers believe that the relatively new class of chemical known as neonicotinoids is responsible. The European Union recently banned the chemicals so that its effect on bees could be studied. (more…)

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. (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. (more…)

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