Preparing Garden Soil

Organic Garden SoilHealthy soil is the basis of healthy plants and a healthy environment. When garden soil is in good shape there is less need for fertilizers or pesticides. As author and respected gardener Frank Tozer writes, “When building soil you not only improve your plants health, but you can also improve your own.”

Organic soil is rich in humus, the end result of decaying materials such as leaves, grass clippings and compost. It holds moisture, but drains well. Good organic garden soil is loose and fluffy — filled with air that plant roots need — and it has plenty of minerals essential for vigorous plant growth. It is alive with living organisms — from earthworms to fungi and bacteria — that help maintain the quality of the soil. Proper pH is also an essential characteristic of healthy soil. (more…)

What’s in a Number?

Fertilizer NumbersConfused about fertilizer numbers? What value do they have in organic gardening? A plant needs nutrients to survive. Most of these are provided by the soil, but soil varies tremendously in nutrient amounts, soil type, pH, and nutrient availability.

The three main nutrients that have been identified as absolutely necessary for plants are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). These three are also known as macronutrients, and are the source of the three numbers commonly found on organic fertilizer labels. The numbers found on our All-Purpose Fertilizer, for example, are 5-5-5. This is the percentage by weight of the N, P, and K found in the fertilizer. (more…)

A Gardener’s Guide to Fertilizers

Organic FertilizersIn a perfect world, your garden’s soil would provide all the nutrients plants need. But in the real world, garden and lawn soil — and thus the plants that live in them — often needs a little boost. Improving the soil is the number one thing you can do to improve your garden, yard or landscape and organic fertilizers can help.

All plants need:

  • Macronutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium
  • Secondary nutrients – sulfur, calcium and magnesium
  • Micronutrients – iron, manganese, zinc, chlorine, boron, copper and nickel (in very small quantities)

Organic fertilizing can be as easy or as technical as you want it to be. For gardeners who don’t wish to spend a lot of time figuring out what individual plants want, there are commercial blends that can be used on all plants. (more…)

Organic Fertilizer Benefits

Healthy PlantsWhy not use chemical fertilizers? It’s a reasonable question. After all, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ARE chemicals, so where is the advantage in these bags of heavy, grainy stuff, that need to be measured and mixed and then dug in, when you can just pick up a small plastic bottle of the blue stuff?

There are several organic fertilizer benefits, some purely altruistic, others much more self-interested. First of all, most chemical fertilizers provide only that well-known trio, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These three, known as the macro-nutrients, are indeed required in greater quantity than any others, but they are only three of the thirteen nutrients plants need. The three chemicals that qualify as secondary nutrients, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium are generally ignored, as are the trace nutrients, boron, chlorine, manganese, iron, zinc, copper, and molybdenum. While these are needed in far smaller quantities than the macro-nutrients, they are still essential. (more…)

What’s the Big Stink About Organic Fertilizers?

FertilizersHere’s a list of some organic fertilizers you can encounter:

Manure for the garden comes from cow, sheep, poultry and horses. Pretty self-explanatory. Manure is known as a “complete” fertilizer; it has a lot of organic matter, but is low in nutrients. Manures are most valuable as organic soil amendments and mulches. Note: Beware of using fresh manure as a fertilizer because it can burn plants.

Blood meal is dried, powdered blood collected from cattle slaughterhouses. It’s such a rich source of nitrogen that gardeners have to be careful not to over-apply and burn the roots of their plants. Apply blood meal just before planting to stimulate green leafy growth.

Bone meal is finely ground bone. A by-product from animal slaughterhouses, it is a great source of calcium and contains up to 15% phosphate. Bone meal promotes strong root systems and flowering. It is often used when growing flowers, bulbs and fruit trees.

Shellfish fertilizer or shell meal is made from crushed bones or shells from crab or other shellfish. It is a great source of calcium in addition to phosphorus and many trace minerals. One benefit of shellfish fertilizer: it contains chitin which encourages the growth of organisms that inhibit harmful pest nematodes. (more…)

Saving Garden Seeds

Saving SeedGardeners have been saving seed ever since we settled into one place and started growing our own food. Thanks to seed saving, and passing them down from one generation to the next, we have the heirloom seeds and plant varieties that are so prized today. It’s only since the end of World War II that growers have had the option of buying affordable, high quality commercial seeds; before that saving your own seeds or trading with neighbors was the only way to procure prospective plants.

Saving garden seeds at the end of each growing season can be a great cost saving measure and a way to duplicate last year’s delectable harvest. It’s also a good way to preserve plants that grow best in your own backyard. By carefully selecting individual plants that flourish in your garden and saving their seed, you can create strains that are well-adapted to local growing conditions. (more…)

The Charm (and Flavors) of Heirloom Vegetables

Heirloom VegetablesPractical and Aesthetic Reasons for Growing America’s Heritage Vegetables

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

When it comes to heirloom vegetables, what’s in a name? Plenty when it’s the historic Caseknife Pole Bean, a hardy runner that was the most common bean grown in Civil War-era gardens. Its pods, as you can guess, resemble a knife sheath. Or take the Sutton’s Harbinger Pea, introduced in England by the Sutton Seed Company in 1898 and winner of a Royal Horticultural Merit Award in 1901. One of the earliest peas, then and now, Harbinger lives up to its name by giving the first harvests of the gardening season’s bounty. Then there’s the flavorful Dr. Wyche’s Yellow Tomato, developed by an Oklahoma-based circus owner, Dr. John Wyche, who fertilized his garden with elephant and tiger manure. (more…)

Venus Fly Traps

Venus Fly TrapBy Kim Haworth

I know this will sound stupid, but I’m sitting in my office weeping into my keyboard because some damn fool stole my Venus Fly Traps. I adored them, and now they are gone. These adorable little plants did everything but talk back to me. All through the summer, they caught everything from yellow jackets to beetles to those big mosquito eaters. I would stop for my morning visit and see the leaves shaking furiously, accompanied by ghastly buzzing. The little plants held onto their pray like grim death. There were even some volunteer Sundews that grew in the same pots with the fly traps and they were absolute murder on the ant population. The little executioners captured everything except spiders, which I have the feeling were too smart to fall for their lures. I have never had plants that gave me so much pleasure, and now they’re with somebody who doesn’t know how to care for them.

It’s not like they looked great or anything. They were well into their dormant period so some of the leaves were black and withered, the saucer was green and scummy and the leaves that were left each held the remnants of a grisly meal. Why would anybody steal something like that? (more…)

Beneficial Insects for Pest Control

Beneficial InsectHow to properly use beneficial garden insects to control pests.

Although chemical pesticides are widely used in many agricultural systems, the complete reliance on chemicals is no longer a feasible approach to pest control for the following reasons:

Resistance

The major disadvantage which continues to erode the effectiveness of conventional insecticides is the ability of the pests to develop resistance. Approximately 500 insects and related pests (mites) have shown resistance. In fact, some cannot be controlled with today’s chemical arsenal.

Secondary Pest Problem

Even chemicals which are effective against pests often kill or interfere with beneficial insects and other organisms. The situation created then allows an insect (not the usual pest, but another insect taking advantage of the available food) to rapidly increase in number since no predators are in the field to prevent the population explosion. Sometimes the resulting (long-term and economic) damage is greater by the secondary pest than by the pest originally targeted. (more…)

Ladybugs for Garden Pests

Ladybug and LeafLadybug, ladybug, fly away home, Your house is on fire, your children all gone.

Most of us know that classic rhyme from childhood, but adults, particularly gardeners, have a new-found appreciation of the humble ladybug. That’s because certain species, including the most common one – Hippodamia convergens – prey on pests. There’s at least one Internet website that refers to ladybugs as the “Tyrannosaurus Rex” of the Insect World because of its predator tendencies.

Like many insects or animals, ladybugs, while useful, are misnamed. It isn’t a bug, but a beetle. Beetle lore has it that the ladybird beetle – as it’s known in Europe – was named after the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages. Today they are native to almost all parts of North America with approximately 400 different species with 98 of them residing in Florida along with retirees and other lovers of sunshine. Worldwide, entomologists have identified some 4,500 species. (more…)

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