Plant Thinning

Thinning SeedlingsTips and techniques for thinning vegetable seedlings.

What’s the hardest thing — at least for us — to do when gardening? Thinning. We’ve worked so hard to prepare our soil and get seeds in the ground. Now here they come, all crowded together and struggling against their too-close neighbor. We know that if we want our plants, be they lettuce, radishes, or green beans, to grow quickly and be healthy, we’ve got to get in there and cull the herd. But, but… they’re our little plants! They represent our hopes and dreams! Can’t we just let them go and see what happens?

No. Now is not the time for sentimentality. Crowded plants not only discourage growth, they encourage pests and disease. Crowded seedlings shade each other from the sun. As they get larger, it only gets worse. Crowded root vegetables, including turnips, beets, and radishes, won’t develop useable roots if they’re crowded.

The earlier you thin your freshly germinated garden plants, the faster they’ll grow. We’ve recommended gradual thinning in the past, as well as using thinning as a means of collecting greens for the first spring salad. But really, you don’t want to wait that long. (more…)

Protests Against Monsanto, GMOs

Monsanto ProtestsToday, as this is written, is the big day: the world-wide protests against Monsanto and GMO food. While your usually politically active Planet Natural Blogger will be traveling to visit his dear mother on the plains of Nebraska, a place where more than a few bushels of genetically engineered soy is grown, and won’t be participating in any rally (yes, there’s one right here at home, and, too, in our beloved, former home as well, we can’t help but be there in spirit. Here’s hoping our organic community, no matter where they may be, will report back on what happened Saturday in their location. Here’s a partial list of all the May 25th events that were scheduled to be held. Scroll way, way down to find the United States.

In the meantime, here’s an article detailing the history of Monsanto (notice that this article claims to have been monitored by U.S. Counter Terrorism apparatus) beginning with the company’s founding in 1901. Notice that Monsanto has been involved in a lot since then, including the manufacture of aspirin and the production of the first atomic bomb. The piece also gives a good accounting of Monsanto’s role in genetically modified crop production and the various tactics it’s used against farmers. (more…)

Old-Fashioned Peonies

Growing PeoniesPlanting, growing and caring for peony flowers.

Your old and wizened Planet Natural Blogger was fortunate to grow up in a Midwestern city where the peonies always blossomed just in time for Memorial Day. Grandma and grandpa were growing peonies in abundance on the sunny side of the house and all around their vegetable garden. We’d collect big bundles of the beautiful flowers, softball size and larger orbs of pink and white, wrap them in damp newspaper, lay them in the trunk of a car, and take them to the cemetery.

Even as a kid I saw them as the perfect graveside decoration, their big flowers causing the stems to bend towards the ground, their large, colorful petals shedding like tears on to the ground. And it was always a joy to visit cousins up north later in the season and find peonies in bloom all over again. (more…)

Sowing the Seeds of Change

Organic SeedsAfter decades of limited availability and dismissal as a counter-culture industry, heirloom and organic seeds are the center of interest as never before. This phenomenon has been going on for a few years, but its continued growth and the promise of an even bigger future can make even the most cynical of us more optimistic.

Look around. Organic seeds are available in an ever-widening array of outlets. Nurseries, even hardware stores now stock organic seeds. Even my local grocery store stocks them as do our local food co-ops. Not only are they more widely available, they’re available in wider selection. Seed companies that weren’t even on the radar a few years ago now put out big glossy catalogs offering heirloom and “pure seeds.” Large activist organizations, like the Seed Savers Exchange, have dedicated themselves to preserving our garden seed heritage. Smaller, local organizations and exchanges are also popping up. (more…)

Early Garden Harvest

Heirloom RadishOur Farmers Market here in 7,000 foot high Santa Fe, New Mexico is now in full swing. Drawing from farms in the lower, warmer and dryer areas south of town as well as the cooler, mostly higher, and slightly damper north, the market is filled with greens and other early season vegetables despite the fact that frost can occur into June depending on the variable elevation and micro-climates. Here are some take aways from this early harvest and what they might mean for your garden and even your lifestyle.

Yes, greens, as you might expect are to be found in abundance. Lettuce, both mixed mesclun and small heads of leaf lettuce were everywhere as well as arugula, baby chard leaves and some spinach (we weren’t sure why there wasn’t more spinach around and nobody seemed able to tell us… is it because small farmer avoid the crop since it’s so voluminously represented these days in our grocery stores and organic markets?). (more…)

Hybrids, GMOs: Not the Same

GMO Seed vs HybridNot an online discussion about the dangers of genetically modified foods goes by without someone claiming, “What’s the big deal? They’re no different than any other hybrid. Hybrids and cross-breeding are genetic manipulations, just like GMOs. The only difference is that they’re done in the laboratory.”

Okay, maybe that last bit is true. And there are similarities. It’s true that both hybrids and GMOs are genetic manipulations. Hybrids can occur naturally or they might be facilitated by humans. GMOs are always created in laboratories. GMOs and many F1 hybrids may both be realized in controlled conditions, but one is simply doing nature’s work: pollinating. GMOs involve gene splicing. Both are patented by the business/corporate owners (full disclosure: not all F1 hybrids are patented). What does the GMO patent mean? That you better be careful.

But there are differences. The negative effects of GMOs on diversity and organic crops are markedly more serious than corporate- controlled hybrids. You can grow the “Heritage Hybrid Tomato” or the “Brandy Boy Hybrid” organically (marketing alert: notice how these relatively recent hybrids carry names that suggest heirlooms). (more…)

Soak Seeds Before Planting

Soak Garden SeedsIn most parts of the country, the process of sowing seed directly into the garden is in full swing. Either the first seeds of the season are going into the ground or, for those in milder climates, the second planting is commencing. In some northern regions, gardeners are still waiting for the end of over-night frosts and/or the soil to dry sufficiently. No matter. Everybody’s thinking of getting in their garden. And everybody wants to get a jump on things.

While we frequently urge patience on those who might plant too soon, there is a way to get quicker germination once your seeds are in the ground, a technique known to almost every gardener and practiced universally: Soak your seeds before planting. Soaking garden seeds, both vegetable and flower seeds, will swell and soften them and get their little embryonic selves thinking about coming out into the light of day. Here’s some things to consider when soaking seeds.

– First, which seeds are most appropriate for soaking? Big seeds. Wrinkled seeds. Seeds (as best you can tell) with hard coats. In the vegetable garden, this means peas, beans, corn, pumpkins and squash; even chard and beets. Smaller seeds — lettuce, radishes, carrots, and the like — are hard to handle once their soaked and don’t really need it anyway. Flower seed to soak? Sunflower, lupine, sweet pea, nasturtium take well to soaking. (more…)

Bowman v Monsanto: Company Wins Seed Patent Case

Monsanto SeedMonday, the Supreme Court ruled against 75-year-old farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman who had been sued by the Monsanto Corporation for patent infringement when Bowman planted soy seed he bought at a local grain elevator. The Court ruled that it was illegal for Bowman to plant seed harvested by fellow farmers. Monsanto’s patent controls prohibit replanting of seed from crops they’ve raised, requiring farmers to buy seed each year, thus assuring the corporation’s profit while destroying generations of traditional farming practice.

Some 93% of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered.

Bowman’s lawyer, Mark Walters, told Bloomberg News in an e-mail that the ruling “makes infringers out of 95 percent of America’s soybean farmers, dependent on the grace of a single company to avoid liability. ”A pro Monsanto patent attorney said simply, “this is fantastic for their business model.” (more…)

The Dirty Truth About Soil Health

Soil HealthIt’s a point we’ve made often: healthy soil is the key to organic gardening. Whether you’re growing vegetables, ornamentals, or a lush, durable lawn, the health of your soil is what makes it all possible.

Healthy soil is living soil, filled with billions of microbes and beneficial, microscopic fungi; nematodes, earthworms and other beneficial organisms. It’s alive. Frank Tozer, in The Organic Gardeners Handbook says that growing plants is the secondary activity of the organic grower. The first? Growing soil. Grow soil full of organic material from compost, full of living organisms, and the other necessary ingredients plants require, and growing gardens, without chemical fertilizers and the use of pesticides and herbicides to control problems,  becomes vastly easier.

Healthy soil, it turns out, may not be important to just the gardener but to the planet as well. It seems that soil health is the basis of the earth’s store of biodiversity. When we lose healthy soil, we lose everything. (more…)

Sweet Corn: Hybrid and Heritage

Sweet CornYour friendly Planet Natural Blogger was standing in line yesterday at the grocery store — one with a focus on healthy eating and a claim that it never uses GMO products in its store-label items — when an equally friendly checker commented on the fact that we were buying ears of sweet corn. “I have relatives in the Midwest,” she said, “and they say that they put the water on to boil before they go out and pick sweet corn for dinner.”

Well, your talkative PN Blogger, raised in the Midwest, had heard this before and, indeed, had told the story himself a number of times. And having just read up on the history of corn, we felt we had to put our two cents in (though what we said was probably worth half that).

“That’s good, old fashioned, home-grown corn,” I explained. “This commercial stuff has been bred to keep it sugars longer, so it can be shipped and held before sale. But it’s not as good, it’s not as sweet as good, home-grown sweet corn. The sugars in homegrown sweet corn aren’t as stable. But the corn is tastier.” (more…)

Page 20 of 51« First...10...1819202122...304050...Last »