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. (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. (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. (more…)

GMOs, Hyperobjects & Great Grandma’s Diet

Grandmas KitchenHow to think about food, both wholesome and genetically modified.

False Assumptions and GMOs: The spread and use of genetically modified crops in the production of food is a highly controversial topic… no need to tell you that. The arguments for their use are often based on false assumptions. This wonderful article from Ensia, a magazine that comes from the University of Minnesota’s environmental department, highlights some of the wrong thinking in terms of increasing food production that is often sold to us as an important reason for the growing of GMO crops.

The writer, Jonathan Foley, reminds us that most of the GMO crops grown aren’t grown as food and are only involved indirectly in the production of other, processed foods. Here’s how it opens:

You’ve probably heard it many times. While the exact phrasing varies, it usually goes something like this: The world’s population will grow to 9 billion by mid-century, putting substantial demands on the planet’s food supply. To meet these growing demands, we will need to grow almost twice as much food by 2050 as we do today. And that means we’ll need to use genetically modified crops and other advanced technologies to produce this additional food. It’s a race to feed the world, and we had better get started. (more…)

Starting An Orchard: Plan Ahead

Backyard OrchardFall’s the time to consider planting fruit trees in the spring.

The onset of winter weather signals the beginning of one of gardening’s most enjoyable past times: dreaming! If you dream of providing your family with healthy, organic fruits as well as vegetables, if you’re craving to grow your own apples, pears, or peaches, if your desire for sustainability means buying less and less conventionally-grown produce from grocery stores, then now’s the time to start planning your own orchard.

Most fruit tree growers, especially in northern climes, prefer spring planting (though fall can be a possibility where conditions and the availability of nursery stock make it practical… some actually prefer it). Whenever you plan to plant your orchard, the time to start planning is today. (more…)

GMO Labeling On the Ropes?

GMO LabelingGrocery Manufacturers Association declares victory, plans action on national level.

Yes, there’s some finger pointing going on after the defeat of Washington State’s GMO labeling initiative earlier this month. But, surprisingly, not really all that much. Most of it is directed at the huge amount of money spent by seed companies Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and the Grocery Manufactures Association that fought against labeling. But there are other issues here.

Maybe the central question here is how something like labeling, an idea with consistent high support among the public, can be so easily defeated. (more…)

Garden Tasks for November

November GardeningGardening isn’t over until the ground freezes.

For a lot of us, November marks the end of our outdoor gardening season. There’s still puttering to do: cleaning and oiling tools to be put away for the winter, bringing indoors any potted plants we may still have outside, trimming back and protecting roses; that kind of thing. Often we’ll wait for a sunny (relatively) warm day to do these things. But as all of us have heard said — thank-you, Coach Kruger! — it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And in gardening, that means it ain’t over until the ground freezes, no matter what the calendar says. (more…)

Beekeeping, Small Farming, and the Environment

Bee HiveLessons from the hive about pesticides, organic practice, and sustainability.

We’ve been reading environmental activist and author Bill McKibben’s new book Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist (here’s an excerpt) and finding it entirely fascinating. It’s the story of McKibben’s life in 2011, the year he and his organization 350.0rg spent time protesting the XL Pipeline that would carry tar sands from Canada to the refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

You don’t have to be a strong opponent of the pipeline or even actively engaged in fighting global warming (or even worried) to enjoy this book. True to its subtitle, it tells how McKibben, an environmentally supportive author from Vermont, became educated in the ways of politics and activism during a year that preceded a national election even as the country experienced a crippling, almost nation-wide drought and record shattering heat. (more…)

Overwintering Plants Indoors

Overwintering PlantsTo keep potted plants alive through the winter, know your plants, know your conditions.

Friends that read this blog are always anxious to offer criticism, point out mistakes, and otherwise find things I’ve said that just might not be true in every case. Rather than get all defensive, we’ve learned to engage our fact-checkers, address the questions and, more often than not, learn something in the process.

So when a couple of longtime gardeners began taking exception to some of the things I said in “Overwintering Potted Plants,” I paid attention. Much of what they commented on wasn’t about out-and-out mistakes. Most of the corrections and considerations my friends made were of the “not true in every case,” and “you failed to make the distinction,” and, best (or worst, depending on your point of view) “you promised the moon” sort. So let’s start with the moon.

Overwintering plants is an imperfect art. Success is relevant to the conditions and, let’s face it, most seasons present a day or three of special conditions. In general, conditions are changing. It’s not unusual to lose plants that you bring indoors; in fact, it should be expected. Success, measured when those plants are taken back outside and then thrive, is an achievement and should be celebrated. Failure is the way you learn to be successful. (more…)

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