Grow Herbs Indoors

Growing basil and other herbs through the winter under lights is easy. Here’s how.

Growing Herbs IndoorsBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

There are plentiful reasons to grow herbs indoors: basil pesto, rosemary chicken, maple and marjoram-roasted turkey, fresh oregano pizza sauce, tarragon salmon, cilantro-flavored salsas and spicy chive dip. The rise of gourmet home cooking as well as the popularity of fresh, home-raised and locally-grown foods has increased demands for fresh herbs. Why not grow your own, year `round? With modern advances in grow lights, growing mediums and self-contained hydroponic systems, raising herbs inside a small corner of your home can add year-round flavors, scents, even profits to your life.

Kitchen gardeners have long grown herbs on windowsills, under kitchen fluorescent bulbs and next to indoor orchid lights (see How to grow herbs indoors during winter). The success of these practices, touted in articles, videos and a few misinformed books, varies greatly. There’s seldom enough light in even the sunniest windowsill to yield more than an infrequent harvest, say a pinch of rosemary in February or a few basil leaves at Christmas. (more…)

Front Yard Vegetable Gardening

Front Yard GardenThe press is fascinated with stories about communities that go after front yard gardeners. Some areas have covenants or (worse) laws making gardening in one’s front yard a no-no. These often are affluent enclaves where investment-minded owners are nervous about protecting their property values. But not all. Sometimes regular communities, in a freedom-quashing pursuit of conformity, will take up the cause; as if front yard gardens might hurt the price of real estate.

The most recent article is this long look from The New York Times. Time magazine got in on the action last year. According to them, it’s all about “meddling local officials gone off the deep end” and the relative value of all that, care-intensive grass (vs. something you can eat) grown for the questionable purpose of keeping up appearances.

Of course, this isn’t an issue in every community. While living long ago in anything-goes Venice, California, we grew tomatoes, peppers, basil and squash in hardly-raised beds as well as lettuce and other greens along the path that led to our front door. This was on a walk street, a lane where the houses didn’t face a street but only a sidewalk, and we weren’t the only ones growing vegetables out our front door. (more…)

Hybrid Seeds Past & Present

Seed PacketsAs your friendly, memory-challenged Planet Natural Blogger goes through the newly arrived seed catalogs, he marvels at the latest crop (heh) of F1 hybrid seeds to hit garden store racks. Then we start to wonder: what happened to that supposedly high-yielding, easy-to-grow, delicious hybrid tomato or lettuce or squash that was such a sensation back in whatever year it was?

In the catalogs this year, we find a new hybrid tomato with the word “super” in its name, a sweet corn designed to grow in pots, and a spaghetti squash glorified with the name of an ancient Roman city. Will any of them still be around in 10 years? Some, like Burpee’s Early Girl Hybrid have survived the test of time. Others, like the Moreton tomato, celebrated in the mid-Atlantic states for its “Jersey” taste, disappeared when the Harris Seed Company which owned its patent stopped producing it. Luckily, Rutgers University has helped bring it back.

And that’s the problem — at least one of the problems — with F1 hybrids. Like GMO crops, they are owned by the business that holds their patent. No one else can offer the seed unless they buy the patent or it expires. It’s a great way to corner the market. No wonder new hybrids are advertised with such superlatives. (more…)

Study: Herbicide Use Up, GMOs To Blame

Organic Farm (No Spray)A study published in September calculates that the use of herbicide has increased some 527 million pounds in the period between 1996 and 2011. The study from Charles M. Benbrook of Washington State University’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources, blames the increase on the rise of GMO crops in the U.S.

The irony here, of course, is that the corporate manufacturers of GMO crops and their complementary herbicides have vehemently declared that GMO crops lead to a reduction in herbicide use. That argument, along with other spurious claims was used to defeat California’s Proposition 37, the GMO labeling initiative, in November. Read the abstract of the study here.

The study also concludes that after years of decline, pesticide use is also on the increase. Again, the reason is GMO use. Farmers who plant those herbicide and pesticide resistant crops have continually applied more of the substances to their fields as both weeds and insects adapt to the chemicals. (more…)

New Year’s Resolutions

Gardening ResolutionsThe world is resolution happy this time of year. And why not? The start of a new year, though just a day on the calendar, gives us a chance to show resolve (a quality sorely needed, especially among our political class), to reconsider, to calculate, to make decisions, to be resolute; all the thing a resolution implies. Your humble and determined Planet Natural Blogger thinks a resolution is a commitment to just try harder. In that spirit, here is his list of New Year’s gardening and organic lifestyle resolutions when it comes to the realm of gardening and organics. Please feel free to add other gardening and natural lifestyle resolutions that I may have overlooked or which apply to your particular situation.

1) To use no harmful chemical spray, herbicide or pesticide on our lawn, garden or trees; in other words, to use organic solutions whenever possible.

2) To institute a program of integrated pest management to control harmful insects.

3) To buy and plant more heirloom seed. With this, goes the commitment to improve and expand methods of saving heirloom seed from plants grown in our own garden; in short, to establish our own line of heirlooms to grow year after year. (more…)

Seasons Gleanings

Happy HolidaysDid you notice? The sun came up seconds earlier this morning. The winter solstice has passed. Though there’s plenty of cold weather left — the year’s coldest weather comes after the solstice — our hemisphere’s tilt back towards the sun means warmth and light are on the horizon. And more warmth and more light means… gardening!

Okay, those days are still months off. These are the days we go back through our gardening journals, we study seed catalogs, we make sure the living things in our homes — green and not — are well-taken care of. Still dealing with last minute holiday tasks? For your last minute shoppers, here’s a list of gift ideas that just might save your reputation as a thoughtful and generous person. It’s an oldie but a goodie… we especially like the last idea; a “promise” gift that involves an activity or helping out a friend or family member. Still looking for blooms on your Christmas cactus? Here’s helpful suggestions for all your Christmas-themed houseplants including poinsettias and Norfolk pines. (more…)

Last Minute Local Shopping

Bozeman, MontanaOnce again your friendly but prone-to-procrastination Planet Natural Blogger has left his holiday shopping until the last weekend. This is not the overwhelming problem for us last-minute shoppers that it appears to be. There’s an easy solution. Shop local! Your locally-based retailers probably have just the thing to delight those on you gift list. In fact, when you’re looking for unique, thoughtful gifts that show you had the recipient in mind — as well as in your heart — local business often have that one-of-a-kind item that stand apart from the same ol’, same thing that everyone is buying at the big box store. Better yet! It may have been produced locally, too!

Now, we’ve written on the advantages of shopping locally before. But all the pluses — supporting the local economy and your neighbors who work at locally-owned business (ie, profits stay in town rather than being shipped to Arkansas or some place) — are magnified this time of year. Especially this time of year, it’s great to shop in a cozy place with helpful, present-and-available clerks who have the time to help and make suggestions. Considering the size of your town, you might even know these people. In our humble estimation, that’s what makes a great shopping experience. (more…)

Poinsettias Past Christmas

Christmas PoinsettiaCaring for poinsettia plants after the holidays.

Who hasn’t received a velvety, red-leafed poinsettia as a gift or purchased one or more for their home during the holiday season? And how many of those poinsettias survive the year to flower again next holiday season? Hmmm…

Long ago and far away when I was a school teacher, I was given a beautiful poinsettia by one of my darling, young students. It had obvious problems, planted in a small plastic pot filled with a dry concoction dominated by Styrofoam chips. Obviously, its grower didn’t intend for it to last into the new year. Ignorant of growing poinsettias but generally knowledgeable about what plants needed, we repotted it on the solstice, thereby saving the plant but loosing its blossoms.

With its rootball in a big new home filled with nourishing, compost-laden soil mix, our poinsettia thrived, though it never again blossomed. It seemed to grow best during fall and winter and over the years became something of a twisted bonsai with its circling branches decorated with spare green leaves. (more…)

The Many Benefits of Kale

KaleOkay, beets may have won the “Vegetable of the Year” honor in 2012 — at least, in Duluth — but in our book, er, garden journal, the benefits of kale make it the repeat winner. Why? It’s one of the easiest vegetables to grow and it’s packed with nutrition. We stir-fry it with pancetta to make a fancy pasta, with bacon when we’re not being so fancy, and with grated cheese (and sometimes an egg) when we’re cooking vegetarian. But we like it best simple, lightly steamed and drizzled with a little olive oil or lemon juice.

We’ve grown kale in various seasons and places: near the cold Pacific on the wet and cloudy Olympic Peninsula where harvests came year-round with the help of a cold frame, in the middle of winter near the beach in Southern California (no cold frame required), and summers in Montana where we were able to pick it early in spring from well-mulched plants held over from the previous season as well as late (late!) into December with the help of a little plastic and — sometimes — a snow shovel. With kale, it seems the more difficult the growing conditions, the better it tastes. (more…)

Phosphorus Apocalypse

Phosphorus MineWorried that we’re facing the end of the world on December 21st as supposedly predicted by the Mayan Calendar and supported by mass marketers of survival gear? Your timid and easily-frightened Planet Natural Blogger says don’t bother. We have bigger, more reality-based problems to face. Of course, I’m talking about the exhaustion of the world’s supply of phosphorous fertilizer.

Every gardener worth her or his compost knows what phosphorus is. It’s the “P” in the N-P-K ratio. Plants need phosphorus for photosynthesis. It helps plants develop strong root systems, increases resistance and helps plants utilize CO2. It stimulates growth in the first part of a plants life and helps increase yields in their last stage. Its use over the last century is credited with fueling the so-called “green” revolution, the ability of commercial farming to feed the world’s exploding population. It’s also important to humans, necessary for respiration, metabolism and building strong bones. We get phosphorus from the fruits and vegetables we eat. (more…)

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