Foraging Wild, Organic Foods

Foraging FoodSpring is a wonderful time of year for foraging food. Greens — dandelions, nettles, wild asparagus, miners lettuce, ramp — are especially fine this time of year and spring mushrooms notably morels, rival the mushrooms picked in the fall. Some wild plants, including fiddleheads, are edible only when they first emerge (and one should be cautious eating even these). Even though nature is doing the gardening for you, it’s important to remember that you want even your foraged plants grown the way you grow in your garden. Organically.

We’ve been amazed at the interest in wild foods that’s grown over the last few years. There’s been a plethora of books released on the subject and classes on identifying, picking and cooking with foraged foods are offered in both rural and urban locations. Even restaurants and gourmet chefs, long-time users of wild mushrooms, have gotten in on the fad, flavoring their dishes with wild greens. Ramp, that favorite east coast spring green that was once harvested by eager Italian immigrants and seen as a measure of class distinction, is now so popular now that it rates a kitchen story and recipes in a major American newspaper. (more…)

Starting A Garden

Starting A GardenWe’ve written a lot about planning your garden, which plants go where, crop rotation, companion planting, and the like. But what to do when you’re starting a garden or want to create a second (or a third) garden space?  Where is the best place for your new garden to go? What factors should you consider when starting it?

Often we don’t have a choice. Our yards are small. Everything is heavily shaded except for that one spot over there. If we put the new garden right in that sunny spot in the middle of the yard, where will we play badminton on the fourth of July? Choosing where to put a garden space is a problem a lot of us don’t have.

But if we’re lucky enough to have the space where a choice is in order then it’s important we choose wisely. It’s safe to say that we already know the principles. What’s best for the plants you want to grow? Here’s a brief and most likely incomplete list of principles to consider when starting a garden. Feel free to add things we may have overlooked and other suggestions that will assure you convenience and make your plants a growing success. (more…)

Growing Organic Fruit

Organic ApplesReading through Danny L. Barney’s new book Storey’s Guide To Growing Organic Orchard Fruits (Storey Publishing) not only got us to thinking about what it takes to grow apples, pears, cherries and other fruits without chemical sprays, but also, like a lot of things, made us nostalgic.

Your sentimental, fruit-crazy Planet Natural Blogger grew up on a small orchard back in Nebraska that was sprayed heavily every year. My father was in the pest control business and had access to the compounds and equipment. I remember him fogging the whole place in an effort to keep the mosquitoes and other insects down. Insects weren’t the problem, and needless to say the sprays did nothing to alleviate our real problem, blight and blemishes (and we still ended up with mosquitoes anyway). He didn’t wear a mask or respirator when doing this and neither did we. But we loved to run through the fog much to his chagrin (Note: Dad’s long gone but we’re still healthy).

Maybe it was in reaction to this that — like a lot of former hippies — when we took to the land, we adopted an organic lifestyle. Those of us old enough to remember the Alar apple scare of 1989 probably aren’t surprised to know that the conventionally-grown fruits we buy are still tainted with harmful substances. Some of these chemicals are especially bad for children. (more…)

Eat Organic, Live Longer

Eating Organic ProduceA recent study clearly demonstrates the health and longevity benefits of eating organic produce over conventional produce… if you’re a fruit fly. The study designed by a then 16-year-old Texas student not only won her top honors in the national science fair competition, it added to a growing body of evidence that eating organic — despite stiff food industry-sponsored denial — is indeed healthier.

The study also illustrates the value of engaging your children in family nutrition, gardening, and life-style choice discussions. The fruit fly study winner was inspired to put the organic question to the test after hearing her parents discuss the issue.

The award winning study not only won Ria Chhabra the national science fair competition but also publication in a respected scientific journal and access to nearby university labs usually available only to graduate students at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The study, as a few news sources pointed out, stood in stark contrast to an infamous Stanford study that suggested organically raised produce was no more nutritious than conventionally raised produce. (more…)

Healthy Turf — Aerate the Lawn!

Aerating the LawnSo you didn’t aerate the lawn last fall … and it needed it? It’s not too late in most parts of the country to aerate your organic lawn. And, if your lawn’s not organic, now’s the perfect time to begin converting it. And aerating is a big part of the change.

  • Why aerate? Your lawn may suffer from compaction, especially if you and your family are on it a lot (and you should be… why else would you have one?). Many of the lawn problems we blame on insects, lack of water, and poor fertilizer are actually due to compaction. The more your soil is compacted, the more likely you are to have problems with thatch. When you aerate – or “aerify” as my gardening dictionary calls it – you allow more oxygen into your soil, you help prevent run-off, and you break up grass roots, further encouraging them to grow. And you do it all without harmful chemical fertilizers! (more…)

Latest: Household Chemicals and Climate News

Household ChemicalsHousehold Chemicals in Cleaning and Personal Care Products — Think the home cleaning and personal care products are safe? Check out this opening line from an article published over the weekend by The New York Times investigative journalist Ian Urbina:

Many Americans assume that the chemicals in their shampoos, detergents and other consumer products have been thoroughly tested and proved to be safe. This assumption is wrong.

It’s a pretty shocking way to get your attention about an issue that has a pending solution. The Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 was recently introduced by U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). The Act would improve the safety of chemicals used in consumer products including household cleaners and personal care products like soaps and shampoos; increase public information on chemical safety, protect our most vulnerable populations and disproportionately affected “hot spot” communities, reform EPA’s science practices to ensure the best available science is being used to determine chemical safety, and support innovation in the marketplace and provide incentives for the development of safer chemical alternatives. (more…)

Fast (Fresh, Organic) Food

Fast FoodA reader and friend has pointed out that I seem to have an old-school view of the patience required to be a successful gardener. She’s suggested that your friendly, all-in-a-rush Planet Natural Blogger actually finds more timely gardening gratification with fast growing, quick-to-harvest greens that not only are ready in a short amount of time but also offer nutritional and flavor benefits that longer-grown vegetables don’t match.

That kind of growing for us anxious types is the subject of Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz’s The Speedy Vegetable Garden, a new book that shows the patience we’re always urging gardeners to display isn’t really necessary when it comes to some harvests.

We’ve mentioned Diacono and Leendertz’s book before in regard to growing microgreens and certainly used it as reference when talking about sprouts and edible flowers. But in a half-dozen chapters they also address quick cut-and-c0me-again salads as well as quick-harvest vegetables. (more…)

GMO Corp’s Power

Academy of Nutrition and DieteticsThose of us involved in the struggle to protect our families and the environment from genetically modified crops know one thing: the deck is stacked, the dice are loaded when it comes to enlisting political powers to our side. Even those in oversight or government organizations can face intimidation from the corporate powers that be. Here’s the latest example as reported by The New York Times, involving the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

A dietitian working on a panel charged with setting policy on genetically modified foods for the academy contends she was removed for pointing out that two of its members had ties to Monsanto, one of the biggest makers of genetically modified seeds.

Why is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (A.N.D.) important? Because it’s influential with politicians and frequently cited when establishing policy. It’s considered, and claims to be, objective. But that might just be a mirage. (more…)

Edible Flowers

Edible FlowersWhen planning your vegetable garden, don’t forget to consider edible flowers. They’re not only attractive garnishes for salads and plate designs (or “plating” as chefs say) but they add an element of beauty to the garden. And they have practical benefits — like attracting pollinators — even before they’re harvested.

My grandmother was the first to feed us flowers, namely petunias of which she’d put one on the plate with our salad (she’d also put one behind her ear when her hair was pulled back but that’s another story).

We’ve been adding nasturtium blossoms to salads for years; in fact creating whole salads with nothing but their blossoms when we had an abundance. At first we considered them only as decoration. Later we learned to savor their petals, popping them into our mouths straight from the plant as we walked around the garden, enjoying their spicy, sometimes peppery flavor. Nasturtiums are easy to grow and make a great companion plant. (more…)

Lawns . . . Or No-Mow Yards?

No Mow LawnNo mow lawns are gaining a lot of attention and for good reason. In times of drought and increasing water bills, a water-intensive carpet of grass may not be practical. Some homeowners find raising their own organic vegetables where grass once grew a more effective use of space. Others find lawns just too much work and expense, especially when cared for using conventional, fertilizer-and-herbicide methods that result in harmful runoff and other environmental hazards.

Lawn alternatives are gaining in popularity what with the rise of xeriscape gardening and native-plant gardens. Evelyn J. Hadden’s book Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives (Timber Press) makes plenty of arguments for replacing your grass with landscaping rocks and paving stones, with drought hardy indigenous plants, with vegetable gardens, or with shrubs and fragrant mixes of perennial and annual flowers and herbs. But before you plunge ahead, there’s still one important thing to consider… do you really want to get rid of your lawn?

Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger, a firm believer in function over form (but a lover of beautiful form as well), suggests you consider the use of your lawn. Is it a family gathering spot? Do you use it for play and recreation? Do you have children and pets with a need for outdoor activity? Do you like to picnic and just lay out on the grass? For all or any of these reasons (especially that one about children), you have a need for a lawn. But if its just a place to admire, walked on only when you’re mowing? Maybe not. (more…)

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