Heirlooms to the Rescue

Heirloom SeedsWe often think of saving seeds in literal terms: letting flowers and vegetables go to seed, whether edible at that point (squash, tomatoes) or not (lettuce); separating and cleaning the seeds, drying them, and then protecting them until we’re able to plant again. But there’s a larger issue here, one that’s apparent when you consider that 94% of the seed varieties available to farmers and gardeners in 1900 have been lost, never to be grown again. Today, many of us are involved in saving seeds from extinction. To quote an old ecological saying: extinction is forever.

Today’s activists — there’s no better word for them — have taken those extinctions to heart and are on a quest to save as many varieties of seeds as they can. Janisse Ray, author of The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food is one of them. Ray’s book is a sort of manifesto on the practice and importance of seed saving. (more…)

Drought and the Home Garden

Summer Garden HeatNo doubt you’ve heard that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the United States. 2012 was also a year of severe drought in as much as 60% of the country. Winter has not alleviated the dry conditions and predictions for some areas see the drought continuing at least into the spring. Lesser known facts: the drought may have done more damage — some $60 to $100 billion worth — than Hurricane Sandi ($75 billion). The drought also contributed to the spread of the deadly carcinogenic mold aspergillis in last season’s corn crop. The fungus is deadly to humans as well as livestock. Scientific American reports that up to half of the corn crop in Missouri was contaminated with the mold. By contrast, 8% was damaged in 2011.

Drought — again depending on where you live — made itself known in your lawn and garden with higher water bills, more pest infestation, and smaller yields. While there’s still some disagreement among (mostly) reasonable people on the causes of our current heat and drought extremes — Global warming? Natural cycles? Some combination of both? — there’s one thing that can’t be denied. We must prepare for more of the same. (more…)

Cold Frame — Hot Box

Vegetable StartsCold frames are a great gardening accessory, giving you a place to harden off transplants before putting them into the garden, giving seeds a head start in germination just before the last frost, and giving warm weather crops — tomatoes, peppers, eggplants — a warm boost when the days and evenings might still be cool. In general, they’re a great way to extend the growing season from either end, spring and fall. Building one is simple. Resourceful gardeners make them from scavenged wood and reclaimed window sashes. But you can also build them from scratch, allowing you to use materials that will better withstand the elements while putting your woodworking skills to use. And, of course, you can buy them as kits.

The English, because of their cool, moist summers, are great champions of cold frames, often incorporating them right into the design of their homes. The English row house often features cold frames along the south or west side of the building, often made of the same brick as the home. While most of our cold frame experience is of the salvaged wood type, we’ve also seen some pretty nice set ups built by those who are more handy than we are. (more…)

GMO Labeling Zombies

GMO Labeling ProtestDid they think they could kill off the GMO food labeling efforts by beating it back in California? To the anti-GMO labeling forces, what’s happening must be like one of those horror films in which the monster is chopped to pieces and all the pieces rise up as a new monster. Several states are well on their way or have already introduced legislation to require GMO labeling. The latest is New Mexico. The bill, introduced by Senator Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, would require all foods that contain GMO ingredients be labeled as such as well as requiring all GMO produced livestock feed be labeled.

New Mexico isn’t alone. On January 3 of this year, supporter of a Washington State labeling Initiative submitted the 350,000 signatures necessary to get I-522 “The People’s Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act” on the next ballot. At least some 20 states have seen legislation introduced recently or host movements to require GMO labeling. See a list of them, with contact websites, here. In addition, Just Label It! continues to push the issue on the national level. (more…)

The Effect of Pesticides on Beneficial Insects

Pesticide EffectYour industrious Planet Natural Blogger has been reading up on beneficial insects lately for a project he’s doing and has been reminded of several things. First of all, how important the role of beneficial insects is; yes to the organic gardener with pest problems but also to the environment at large. Secondly — and sadly — the effect of pesticides on predatory and parasitic insects. Now it’s not as if we need reminding of that last fact. But it underscores the extent of the consequences pesticide applications carry. And it calls to mind the balance, both the one naturally occurring in the environment and the one organic gardeners try to establish in their garden by introducing beneficial insects when called for.

Many beneficial insects — lady beetles, spined soldier bugs, minute pirate bugs; even praying mantis in some areas — exist naturally and are frequently spotted by gardeners. Others — predatory mites, trichogramma wasps — are present but harder to spot, their number increasing only in response to pest infestations. It’s important that all gardeners learn to identify them, so as not to confuse them with insects that harm your plants. (more…)

Starting Seeds Indoors

Starter PotsBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Starting plants from seed just might be the second most enjoyable act of procreation you’ll ever experience. In addition to the fun — starting seed is the perfect cure for those late-season winter blahs — raising your own plants offers practical and aesthetic benefits. You’ll get an earlier start to your garden and you’ll be able to raise vegetable and flower varieties not offered as starts by your local garden store or nursery. You’ll have plants that are healthier, vigorous, more disease resistant and ideally chosen for your personal growing conditions. And you’ll be able to choose vegetables that taste better, produce earlier and store longer. You might even save some money. Often a single start from your local garden supplier costs as much as a whole packet of seed. Plus, the satisfaction you’ll receive watching plants that you started yourself go into the garden is priceless. Your kids will love watching the miracle of growth from seeds they started themselves… and they’ll learn something as well. (more…)

Why Heirloom Seed?

Heirloom SeedsImagine growing the same fruits and vegetables as Thomas Jefferson or Luther Burbank. Imagine your garden filled with bright colors, odd shapes and a variety of foods that could inspire even the most jaded vegetable-hater to take a bite. Heirloom seed produces fruits, vegetables and flowers that have been passed down for generations for their good taste, vibrant colors, pest resistance and other beneficial traits.

Today there is a trend toward locally grown and organic foods. At the same time as mega-corporations are producing genetically altered, dyed, bland foods that are often covered in pesticides, many people are starting to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Not only is home grown food likely to be safer and healthier than commercially produced fruits and vegetables, it tastes better, too! (more…)

Hazardous Harvest (GMOs)

GMO TomatoWhat GMOs mean to organic growers.

By Bill Kohlhaase for Planet Natural

When U.S. District Judge for New York Naomi Buchwald threw out a lawsuit in February filed by The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) and dozens of other plaintiffs against the Monsanto Corporation, she struck a blow against organic growers, small farmers and concerned citizens across the country. The suit, filed in March of 2011 on behalf of organic farmers and seed growers by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBAT), was a preemptive measure designed to prohibit Monsanto from filing future lawsuit against growers whose fields may have inadvertently been contaminated by genetically-modified crops — known as GMOs — patented by Monsanto. This contamination can be caused by wind-carried seed, bird droppings, neighboring farmers losing seed in transport near a non-GMO field, or other unintended methods. Once Monsanto discovers its patented GMOs in a field where the plants volunteered even without the farmer’s knowledge, its legal team goes to work. (more…)

Garden Planning: Form and Function

Vegetable GardenSurprisingly — or not — garden planning has become more important the smaller my garden gets. When I started out with the first plot of my very own back some (garbled) years ago, I had plenty of room. It was easy to plot crop rotations year to year and find space for vegetables I’d never tried before. Sure, I’d pour over the seed catalogs, then order too much. I’d draw up a plan that I often deviated from when I actually put my garden in. Because the entire, quarter-acre space was in full sunlight when the sun indeed shone there in the rainy Pacific Northwest, I didn’t have to worry about plants to grow in shaded parts of the garden (except for that spot just north of the Jerusaleum artichoke patch). But I did have to worry about selecting vegetables that grew well in cool, cloudy locations, pretty much the same thing. (more…)

Is Your Compost Made of Sewage Sludge?

Biosolids in CompostThe Dirty Truth About Biosolids

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Compost is rightly celebrated as the perfect soil amendment and a great way to recycle green waste. But not all compost is created equal. In fact, commercial compost based on “biosolids” or sewage sludge can be downright dangerous.

You know what biosolids are, right? Solids made from bio materials, just what the term suggests. One can’t help but think of Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Except biosolids don’t smell so sweet. And what’s in this name is otherwise known as shit. (more…)

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