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…)

How to Make a Succulent Frame

Succulent FrameAn attractive, hardy succulent garden to hang on your wall like fine art.

The more we learn about and grow succulents, the more we love them. They’re compact and beautiful, with fleshy “fat leaves.” Those thick, engorged leaves come in beautiful paddles, tight rosettes, and a variety of other attractive, snaking swollen fronds. Succulents do well in arid areas and are tolerant of heat swings of the sort you might find in a desert (as long as it doesn’t freeze hard). It doesn’t take much to grow them as long as you remember a few succulent principles. Never over water; succulents carry their own. What do you think makes those fat leaves? (more…)

I-522 Defeated, GMA Celebrates

GMO LabelingEven as big, out-of-state corporate money triumphs, the struggle to spread the truth about GMOs continues.

Those of us who live one time zone later than Washington State woke up this morning to disappointing news: I-522, the Washington State initiative to label foods containing genetically-modified ingredients is going down to defeat and by a sizable margin. While votes are still being counted as of this writing, it appears that the difference won’t be made up. At one point in September, polls showed the initiative was ahead by 45%. How did it end up losing by 10%? (more…)

GMO Labeling Initiative I-522: Down to the Wire

I 522 GMO Labeling InitiativeThe voting is on in Washington (tomorrow is election day there) and it’s time to take a last look at I-522, the GMO labeling initiative, before the results are decided. Final results in fund raising? The No forces have raised $22 million shattering the all time record. Meanwhile, funds raised in support of the measure total $6.8 million, not a bad take in a race like this. But then look who they’re up against.

Surprisingly, not all the big corporate donors that contributed to defeat the California initiative have dumped money into Washington. Speculation is that some of the corporations who have healthy, natural product lines don’t want to be seen on the wrong side of this issue, like Lever Bros. who now owns Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. (more…)

Voters Swayed On GMO Labeling Initiative

GMO LabelingCorporate Money, Deceit Threaten Washington’s Initiative 522

You friendly Plant Natural blogger likes to remain cheerful! upbeat! and optimistic! Today? Not so much and with good reason. A recent public opinion poll in Washington State shows that support of the GMO Labeling Initiative that would require labeling of foods containing genetically-modified ingredients has changed a negative 41% since the big-money interest ads attacking the initiative were rolled out in September. The momentum connected to such a swing suggests that the initiative, still favored by plus 4% of the public, is in danger of being defeated. The initiative enjoyed a 45% lead just six weeks ago. (more…)

Cooking With Kids: Nutrition, Health, Gardening

Sylvia's TableA new cookbook, SYLVIA’S TABLE, talks about growing and preparing food with children.

Sylvia’s Table: Fresh, Seasonal Recipes From Our Farm to Your Family isn’t your ordinary cookbook. Sure, it’s filled with great recipes, all of them using fresh, often home-grown ingredients. But its designed with kids in mind. In addition to the recipes, it features essays on the various foods that author Liz Neumark harvests and prepares. It also gives glimpses into the practice of sustainable farming and organic gardening, including growing tips. And it has useful suggestions on cooking with kids, including such things as how to safely teach children to use kitchen knives for slicing.

The book’s emphasis is on healthy, natural foods. But that doesn’t limit what you’ll find here. How does Kale Crisps, Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Hearty Winter Beef Stew, Butternut Squash Bread Pudding, and Caramelized Peach and Ginger Crisp sound? If you know someone who has children and loves to cook as well as garden, this book would make a wonderful present. (more…)

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