Pea Trellises: Form and Function

Trellis and TendrilsYour friendly Planet Natural Blogger was at his local community farm yesterday working as a volunteer and, among all the activity, noticed the major push was putting up pea trellis. These were heavy duty pea-vine supports, made with metal snow fence poles and cattle fence. The stakes were driven into the soft, tilled soil and the volunteers putting them up kept to the paths between rows so as not to disturb the soft, fine, seed-ready soil.

Anyway, the sight of it as I chased the tumbleweeds lifted from my wheel barrow by the spring breeze, brought back memories, as many things do for your nostalgic, old-fashioned PN Blogger. Peas have always been part of our gardens and putting up pea trellis is one of the gardening season’s first tasks.

I’ve never had to string trellis down several 60 foot rows as these people were doing, but I’ve made about do with many types of pea trellises in gardens big and small over the years. For a big pea patch in my quarter-acre vegetable garden, I strung three-foot-high chicken wire along cedar stakes cut from scraps gathered at the local mill. Still the peas climbed up and over the fence, making for a tangle that always seemed to hide another pod — or several — come picking time. In one tiny, short-term plot, I braced an old rose trellis in the ground for the peas to climb up either side. Needles to say, they never reached the top. (more…)

Spring Pruning

Pruning Apple TreesFor some of you mild climate types, it’s already too late. For us here in high altitude Santa Fe, where the first sign of budding is just ahead, it’s last call. For those of you in more temperate, colder climates… now’s the time to do your spring pruning. Did we say spring pruning? Actually, technically, what we mean is late-winter pruning, no matter what season the calendar claims. (It won’t yet be “late” winter, let alone spring, in some northern locations come March 21.) Our job is to get the pruning done before the sap starts to flow, which, of course, depends on the particular climate conditions of wherever we are.

Spring is a good time to prune because the pruning “wounds” won’t be exposed for as long to harsh conditions now that the growing season is just around the corner. Your tree’s shape and branches are more visible without its leaves. Dead and dying limbs are more easily spotted. This makes finding what to prune easier to see. (more…)

GMO Patent To Expire & More

GMO Soybeans–It’s been known for sometime that the GMO patent on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 1 soybean will expire in 2014. As early as 2011, Monsanto claimed that it would not stand in the way of farmers who would use what will become the generic drug equivalent of their Roundup Ready 1 seed, purchased from what ever seed company would pursue making the supposedly herbicide -resistant soy beans.

Why would a company with a somewhat evil reputation for protecting its seed patent allow this to happen? First, remember that the genetically engineered soybean is resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup, the most intensively applied agricultural herbicide in the U.S. Even those farmers who choose to grow the generic, knock-off soybean presumably will still be buying Monsanto’s Roundup to spray on their crops. (more…)

Damping Off In Seedlings

Damping OffMy grandfather used to say that gardening is like cooking. You never walk away from the stove.

What he meant, of course, is that gardening requires a lot of attention. Sticking seeds in the ground and just letting them go is akin to throwing some onions in oil over a hot burner and walking off. When it comes to controlling damping off, the fungal attack that destroys seedlings before they have a chance to flourish, attention to detail can be the organic gardener’s best tool, especially when it comes to watering.

Damping off is a common problem for those starting seeds indoors. But it can also be harmful to seeds planted directly in the garden. Shortly after emerging, seedlings develop a discolored, often black color at the soil line. This rot eventually claims the plant. There’s also a pre-emergence form of damping off that rots the seed before it’s had a chance to germinate. A number of fungi present in soils will cause young seedlings to die. And all of them like wet conditions. Not all fungi are evil … some are beneficial.

This is where attention comes in. If your seeds are growing in flats or starting pots, don’t keep them overly moist. Allow the soil to become dry before watering. Make sure drainage is good. Soil can dry on the surface but be saturated at the bottom of a pot. Again, monitor conditions closely. There’s a fine line between soil reaching a crumbly dryness and drying out rock solid at which point the seedlings tender roots will also dry and shrivel. Not good. (more…)

Bird Decline Linked to Toxic Pesticides

Song BirdIt’s no secret. For years, we’ve known that bird species in America’s farmlands and grasslands have been in steep decline. The assumption was that this was due to habitat removal caused by agricultural expansion and the spread of cities into land once devoted to farming. Now a new study from Canada not only confirms the bird decline but challenges the commonly held wisdom. What’s doing away with all those birds? Pesticides.

News sources both large and small have called attention to the study. You can read it here (PDF). A 2009 interview with the study’s leader, Dr. Pierre Mineau, can be found here. Take away quote: “What I find really shocking is when a company does studies that show significant impacts and then continues to market the pesticide around the world. Take granular carbofuran. The first time they did the tests for the EPA they found 799 dead birds of a single species (a lark) in a few fields. Other species were affected also but not in such numbers. Nevertheless, it took about 15 years for that product to be removed from North America – it continues to be used worldwide.” (more…)

Grocer Promises GMO Labeling

Whole FoodsThe natural and organic grocery chain Whole Foods Market has announced it will require labeling of all products it carries that contain genetically engineered, GMO ingredients by the year 2018. With several states facing popular movements and legislative drives to require GMO labeling, Whole Foods’ move suggests it’s seen the writing on the wall.

Whole Foods is not the first natural/organic grocery supplier to deal with GMOs. The on-line organic grocer shopOrganic relaunched it business last year and declared it would offer only GMO-free products. While both businesses claim altruistic motivations, they’re also aware of the bottom line. Says shopOrganic in its press release, “Recent studies show that more than 90% of Americans would like to know whether or not their food contains genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). (more…)

Composting Manure

Cow ManureHere’s a question we’ve been thinking about: why compost manure? It’s one of those questions we felt we knew the answer to — and we did — but that a reconsideration brought up all the variables and exceptions we’ve either learned from experts or from our own hard experience. So let’s deconstruct. Does all manure need to be composted before being used in the garden? If so, what’s the best ways to compost it? And finally, what about chickens?

We bring that last bit up because more and more people, both in the country and in cities, are keeping chickens. And chickens, er, emit some of the richest manure a gardener could hope for, high in nitrogen and phosphorous and full of other nutrients. Best is the fact that a chicken’ digestive system kills weed seeds — 98%! — that might otherwise be spread to the garden. Fresh chicken manure needs to be composted because it contains so much nitrogen that it will discourage germination of many vegetable seeds and burn young seedlings. Which ones? Ironically, it’s those that require a lot of nitrogen later on as they grow. (more…)

Celeriac: Looks Funny, Tastes Great

CeleriacMost years, your friendly and curious Planet Natural Blogger likes to plant something in his garden that he hasn’t tried before. How well he remembers that first sowing of kohlrabi back some (garbled) years ago! Now it’s a family favorite.

We’re expecting the same thing to happen with celeriac, sometimes known as celery root. Why we haven’t tried growing this classic cool weather crop previously is a mystery. Garden vegetable books always sing its praises and the words that usually attract us — easy to grow with few pest problems — often accompany the catalog accounts of this Medusa’s head of the vegetable world. Yes, she may be ugly but what sweetness she holds inside!

Then we were thumbing through an advance copy of Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd’s upcoming book To Eat: A Country Life (it’s due to be published in June). Eck and Winterrowd, the authors of several gardening and country living books, are the master landscapers behind Vermont’s North Hill Garden. Winterrowd passed away in 2010 making To Eat the team’s last book. In it, they write knowingly and poetically about what they raised at North Hill, everything from apples to wild salad. (more on this book when it nears publication). (more…)

Seed Control and GMO Companies

Seed ControlWill Monsanto take control of your vegetable patch?

By Bill Kohlhaase for Planet Natural

It’s all about seed control for Monsanto and the other corporate manufacturers of genetically engineered, GMO crops. So it’s no surprise that Monsanto has made moves to control garden seed as well. In the last several years, a number of international agri-conglomerates have consolidated their hold over the very seed and nursery starts we plant in our gardens. This brings some of the same problems — loss of seed diversity, spiraling seed costs, and general deficiencies in seed quality — that crop growers around the world face from the owners of genetically-modified seeds. And it’s happening under our noses right in our own backyards. (more…)

Organic Tomatoes = More Nutrition

TomatoesDo you have your tomato starts started? If you need motivation, here’s the latest. A study published last month in PLOS One, the international, peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal, showed what a lot of us always suspected: organic tomatoes contain certain more nutritional factors than conventionally grown tomatoes.

You can read the study here. Don’t let its title — “The Impact of Organic Farming on Quality of Tomatoes Is Associated to Increased Oxidative Stress during Fruit Development” — discourage you. What it boils down to is that organic tomatoes contain more Vitamin C and more phenolic content than chemically fertilized, pesticide-dependent tomatoes.

You know what phenols are, right? Okay, neither really did we. From the report: “a large range of secondary metabolites in fruit and vegetables as phenolic compounds act as elicitors that activate Nrf2, a transcription factor that binds to the antioxidant response element in the promoter region of genes coding for enzymes involved in protective mechanisms.” Shorter version: they’re compounds that deliver antioxidants, otherwise known as phytochemicals. (more…)

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