Worm Castings: Plant Superfood

Worm CastingsThe benefits of making and using nature’s best organic compost at home.

One thing we’ve noticed over the last few years of haunting nurseries and other stores selling garden supplies is the growing availability of worm castings. Big box home and garden stores — even Walmart — now carry the best soil amendment nature provides.

What makes worm castings so great? It’s the worm. As it digests the organic materials it consumes, it refines them. Nutrients, including minerals, are reduced to their most usable form. The castings have a neutral pH of 7.0. (more…)

Start an Organic Asparagus Patch

Asparagus BedNothing says spring like steamed, green spears of organic garden asparagus.

When I was a kid, we had an asparagus bed out at the far end of the backyard. It was already there when my parents bought the place, thus saving us the two to three years of waiting after planting before taking the first harvest. The plants were so big that in the fall, after the spears had grown tall and sent out thin, fern-like seed branches, we kids would burrow into the center of the patch to hide.

The best part of growing asparagus came in the spring when the first spears emerged, often beginning before we’d put in our vegetable garden. Most kids didn’t like asparagus but I did — maybe it was all the butter I’d slather on — and going out to harvest enough spears for dinner added to my appreciation. If memory serves, cutting asparagus from the ground was the first time I was allowed to use a knife. (more…)

GMO Eggplant Forced On Developing Countries

Genetically Modified EggplantGenetically engineered Bt brinjal, thought to ward off pests, is an apparent failure. But that doesn’t stop its promotion.

The introduction of genetically modified eggplant or “brinjal” as its called in Bangladesh, India, and other places in the East, has been hard to follow here in the U.S. What has emerged in the U.S. media is mostly cheer leading based on the claims that the GMO brinjal will increase yields and fight malnourishment. This message is applied to the larger one: it’s foolish and against science to resist GMOs when they improve human lives.

If only it were true. (more…)

Succession Planting Increases Small Garden Production

Multiple PlantingsHow to maximize crop yields from small space vegetable gardens.

At different times in our gardening life, small plots have forced us to take growing space seriously. It was in a small backyard corner space that we first tried square-foot gardening. We started succession plantings — raising one crop then, after its harvest, immediately replacing it with another — in a couple raised beds in a California front yard.

While square-foot vegetable gardening has been one of our staples no matter where we lived, succession planting becomes a more complicated proposition the further north you go. We have cousins down south that brag they’re growing different crops in succession all year long. In the midwest, we once got three crops in, if memory serves, greens and radishes, followed by bush beans, followed by turnips that came out of the ground sometime after the first hard freeze. (more…)

Businesses Responding To Consumers Demands For Safe Foods

Safe Food ChoicesOrganic Sales Up, Antibiotics, GMOs Out, and Other Healthy Eating News.

Businesses from giant chicken suppliers to fast food chains and super markets seem to be hearing demands from consumers for healthy, humanly raised, and safe foods. Encouraging news on the sales of organic produce plus announcements from major restaurant chains and the corporations that supply them suggests that consumer concerns about pesticides, GMOs, and antibiotics in their food is having more than a ripple effect in the industry. (more…)

Legume Inoculants Increase Yields, Keep Plants Healthy

Garden Pea PlantNitrogen-fixing bacteria and organic compost for peas, beans, and healthy soil.

Now that we’re well into pea planting season and bean planting isn’t far behind, we’ve been considering the practice of inoculating pea and bean seeds with nodule-forming, nitrogen-fixing Rhizobium bacteria, commonly known as legume inoculant.

We’ve inoculated our peas and beans every year for so long that we take for granted the nitrogen that it will return to the garden and the growth benefits to our plants. Those years we forgot to order or otherwise just didn’t have inoculant enough to go around have shown us the difference. Nitrogen may be invisible but its presence can be seen in better growth and soil health. (more…)

Organic Artichokes For the Garden

ArtichokesGrowing artichokes as edibles or ornamentals at home.

Artichokes, once the domain of cool, coastal climates and inland areas of moderate temperatures, are moving into gardens where they’ve never be seen before. Even Utah (PDF) is growing artichokes.

It may be that warmer, longer summer seasons are encouraging gardeners in zones previously not suitable to growing artichokes to try their luck. But there are other factors at play as well.

One of the reasons is the popularity of recently available heirlooms that are offered next to the classic “Green Globe” variety. Restaurants and gourmet growers are offering types of artichokes that were unknown not long ago. (more…)

Roundup Linked To Cancer, Monsanto Throws Hissy-Fit

Roundup and CancerWorld Health Organization review of pesticide used on GMOs attacked.

Monsanto came out swinging after the the World Health Organization said that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is “probably” carcinogenic. The review, conducted by WHO’s International Agency for Research In Cancer, found that glyphosate increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma as well as DNA and chromosomal damage.

Monsanto’s emphatic press release of March 20 attacking the very consideration of that probability was followed by a string of media stories that gave full airing to the corporation’s complaints. At the same time, some reporters — Alice G. Walton at Forbes and Mark Bittmann at The New York Times  — began to question what they were hearing from the chem-ag giant. (more…)

Timing Important for Pest and Disease Problems

Plant ProblemSpring is the time to deal with caterpillars, black spot on roses, and other plant problems.

The use of natural and organic methods for pest and disease controls on lawns and gardens is time sensitive, more so than using chemical sprays that will persist in the landscape. Whether you’re using beneficial insects to fight off a an aphid infestation, liquid copper to rid your roses of fungus or disease, or applying Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) to do in cabbage worms, timing is everything. And early in the season — springtime — is often the right time to prevent problems down the road. (more…)

Farm-To-Table Boosts Garden Tourism

Skagit Valley Tulip FestivalOrganic produce, local-source dining and rural pleasures tempt visitors.

It’s Tulip Festival month in the Skagit Valley of Washington state, one of the country’s primary tulip bulb production sites. Long before those bulbs are harvested, acres and acres of the tulips flower. When they do hundreds of thousands of visitors come to see the richly and variously colored blossoms on a scale that’s hard to imagine.

Planet Natural’s Pacific Northwest correspondent reports that when the flower-lovers show up, usually in the month of April (flowering came as much as two weeks early this year), they boost the local economy in ways that benefit everything from road side-stands selling rhubarb to nearby motels and restaurants. (more…)

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