Bees, Butterflies Both Battling Demise

Protect our PollinatorsPesticide use may leave us a world without pollinators.

With good news comes bad. Preliminary reports from the winter of 2013-2014 gathered by the Department of Agriculture and the Bee Informed Partnership have found that loss of honey bee colonies from all causes was 23.2%, down from 30.5% the previous winter. For the full 12 months — April 2013 to April 2014 — the 7,183 beekeepers who responded to the survey reported losing 34.2% of their 670,568 colonies.

The full report can be found here.

How is this good news? The 23.2% figure is well below the 8-year average total loss of 29.6% and much less than the 36% loss suffered in 2007-2008. But hopes that bee colony collapse numbers have turned a corner are premature. (more…)

A Garden Plot Of Their Own

planting-tomatoesGet kids interested in gardening by giving them their own space.

Your friendly, family-oriented Planet Natural blogger has fond memories gardening as a child with dad and mom, grandma and grandpa, and even an uncle or two. That’s when and how we first learned to garden, not just the craft and practice of it, but also how we learned to love it. That love has lasted throughout our life.

We started at a very young age, toddling out to the garden with grandma to pick strawberries — they tasted so good! — or helping grandpa pull weeds. Not everything we pulled at first were weeds, but with patience, and kind words on what was good and what was bad, we soon learned just what should get plucked. Later we helped dad mark rows and plant seeds. We learned about the conditions and the patience required to see those seeds sprout. Come harvest time, we learned the right way to pinch a pea pod from the vine, break an ear of corn from the stalk, or gently twist a tomato from the plant. (more…)

Healthy Yards, Healthy People, Healthy Planet

Healthy Kids, Healthy LawnThe movement to take the poisons from our lawns is growing.

We love this time of year when the grass is coming up thick and green and we need to mow almost once a week. But it’s also the time of year when we’re assaulted by lawn care companies wanting us to sign up for a full season’s worth of care. What’s that care consist of? Why spraying fertilizer and herbicide, of course.

Now we’ve addressed using harmful chemicals on our lawns before. And we still think that a good solution, especially where saving water is important (and that’s a lot of places these days), is to plant a xeric, drought-tolerant lawn. But lawns are wonderful things, certainly for those of us who have families. They are the places our children play, where our pets roam, where we gather with friends and relatives to recreate or just enjoy the solace of being outdoors. We want them to be as safe as possible. (more…)

Where the Wild Things Are

Garden HabitatHome gardens provide habitat for birds, butterflies, and wildlife.

All of us organic gardeners know the value — the necessity! — of attracting pollinators and beneficial insects. We know that making our landscapes friendly to birds can decrease the trouble we have with problem insects. Why, we’ve even come to see bats as beneficial creatures that will devour multitudes of pests in a single night.

But we also know the damage that insects and wildlife can do to our vegetables. Aphids, cabbage loopers, slugs, tomato hornworms, and so many others can destroy our plants before the harvest. Deer will eat our lettuce and raccoons our corn before we have the chance. Crows might pluck the seedlings from our soil just for fun. (more…)

Lessons From the Garden

CrowA crow, a row of seedlings, and repeated frustration spotlight the adaptability and ingenuity of gardeners.

A friend of this blog, someone who’s good at seeing the big picture, writes in to tell us about a problem solved and how it reflects on the art and craft of gardening. It’s a good example of how we develop our gardening techniques over the years by paying attention, considering all the variables, and measuring the results. We’ve added a few follow-up links in his story, as we do in ours:

Our family loves sweet corn and every year I plant a “square” of corn; four or five-foot long rows, two of the rows planted a week or two after the first rows went in, an often in-vain attempt to extend the harvest. Somehow the corn all seems to arrive at the same time no matter how I stagger the planting. (more…)

Your Antibiotics Don’t Work? Blame A Cow.

Drug Resistant BacteriaHow drug-resistant bacteria became a life-threatening problem.

It seems that cataclysmic predicaments of the sort that threaten widespread hardship and demise are multiplying. Yesterday’s release of the National Climate Assessment that claimed America is already suffering the effects of climate change — everything from drought, wild fires, and increased storm intensity to the spread of asthma and bark beetles — can be added to a list that includes (but not limited to) contamination of drinking water, increasing toxins and contamination of our food supply, the effects of over population, environmental pollution of all sorts, and the spread of exotic diseases. (more…)

Charlotte’s Web … In Your Garden

Garden SpiderSpiders are beneficial too!

Our Integrated Pest Management program has long included encouraging and buying, when necessary, beneficial insects. Ladybugs, praying mantis, aphid predators and parasites, lacewings, leafminers, thrips, whitefly parasites, and others offer a virtual arsenal against the specific insects the would do our garden harm. Knowing which ones to use against what problem pests is valuable knowledge for gardeners seeking to avoid harmful chemical sprays, dusts, and other poisons.

There’s one beneficial predator not generally considered and, for the most part, not commercially available (except as pets) that can play an important role in keeping your garden clears of pests: the spider. Unfairly thought of as dangerous and a nuisance, especially when discovered inside your home, spiders are actually an effective predator in the garden and, despite our fears, mostly aren’t dangerous (with some exceptions). (more…)

Last Call for Planting Fruit Trees

Planting Fruit TreesApple, peach, cherry, plums and others planted now can provide a lifetime of rewards.

In a practice — raising one’s own food — that’s full of satisfying activity, there’s little as satisfying as planting fruit trees. Fruit trees planted this season will, in a few years, provide us a lifetime of nourishing harvests, harvests that we will enjoy with our children, harvest that, with the right care of our trees, will nourish their children as well. And there’s hardly a more joyful experience than picking a ripe plum or peach or apple or handful of cherries and enjoying them right there in the shade of your own orchard. (more…)

No-Dig Gardening

No Dig GardenHow working less makes growing easy (and maybe better).

Grandpa always said there was no such thing as a lazy gardener. And he was right. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make gardening easier while still making it effective. “No-dig” gardening also known as “sheet mulching,” is one of those ways.

Right now, no-dig is all the rage. It was originally popularized in the 1970s when Fukuoka Masanobu, an organic gardener who pioneered ways for growers to be more productive, published his book One Straw Revolution. You can find a good history of no-dig vegetable gardening as well as an in-depth how-to, can be found over at Treehugger’s excellent blog. (more…)

GMO Labeling Victory In Vermont

GMO LabelingState passes GMO labeling bill despite lies, corporate threats.

The Vermont House of Representatives on Wednesday of last week passed a bill requiring the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients. The bill, passed earlier by the Senate, will now go to the governor’s desk. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has indicated he will sign it.

The bill passed the House on a vote of 114 – 30. The usual corporate bullying techniques were used to no avail.

The vote capped a 20 year effort in Vermont to pass various types of legislation designed to protect consumers and organic farmers from GMO products. Unlike Maine and Connecticut, which earlier passed bills to label GMO products contingent on being joined by labeling in other states, the Vermont bill is stand alone, putting the requirement in effect regardless of the action of other states. (more…)

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