New Technology and Old Time Gardening

Edyn Garden SensorSolar-powered monitoring and control of garden conditions holds promise.

Developing and using new technology has been part of gardening since ancient peoples first started fashioning stone tools for digging. Nearly all advances in agricultural development, from the first use of antlers as a hoe to the gas-powered roto-tiller (and its big brother, the tractor and plow) have come from technological development. Not all of them have necessarily been good. But most of them are done in the name of advancing the science and craft of food production (some seem done purely for selfish profit-motives).

In terms of home gardening, technology hasn’t really changed that much since our grandparent’s days. And most of the recent advancements, things like electronic soil testers and digital moisture meters are useful advances that help make it easier to gather the information we need for best growing conditions. Some technical advancement, like this and this, are purely mechanical, things that grandpa’s crazy inventor neighbor probably thought up but never brought to market. Then there’s these things, devices that made an ancient practice easier, faster, and all-around more convenient. (more…)

Tea From Your Own Garden

Herbal TeaGrowing traditional and herbal teas at home is explained in a new book.

We’ve grown herbs in our garden and surrounding landscapes for more years than we remember. Most of them — basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, and the like — were raised for our modest culinary uses. That said, we’ve always grown utility herbs, like mint, that we used in cooking (mint jelly), flavoring (a sprig in iced tea or planted atop some whipped-cream crowned dessert) or for tea (we don’t need to spell this one out). We’ve also used various, usually flowering herbs as ornamentals in flower beds. Some herbs (PDF) are great used in water-conscious, xeriscape gardens. (more…)

Controlling Weeds By Design

Landscape DesignDefeat unwanted plants in your landscape by planning ahead.

A spark of warm weather and everything’s growing great guns in the garden. And that includes the weeds. Time to get down on our knees and start pulling the plants in our vegetable gardens and flower beds that don’t belong.

If only we’d planned to control them from the start.

Attacking weeds at ground level by pulling them is often the organic gardener’s last line of defense. Though we’re doused in advertisements this time of year showing us how easy it is to spray a dangerous herbicide — they don’t tell us about the dangerous part — that will rid our lawns of dandelions and otherwise kill the green invaders in our landscapes, spraying just isn’t our thing. (more…)

These Bugs Raise A Stink

Stink BugHow to identify and control the brown marmorated stink bug.

They landed on our shores in Pennsylvania some 15 years ago and have since spread across the country, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. Voracious feeders, they’re not content to destroy our food sources. They’ve come to occupy our homes in ways that have changed the very nature of our lives. In an all-0ut effort to stop the invasion, humans have joined forces to bring an end to their march across America. And while some progress has been reported, the battle is far from over. (more…)

Wanted: More Compost

Compost PileFaster composting for all your lawn and garden uses.

It’s a common complaint among us gardeners this time of year, and not just this time of year: We need more compost. When you’re working it into your garden soil, side dressing the plants in your borders and the transplants in your vegetable patch, even spreading it in the lawn to insure a healthy, weed-smothering and pest resistant carpet of green, well, you can go through a lot of compost rather quickly. You don’t want to skimp. But its hard not too when you have so many places in your landscape calling out for rich, organic soil amendment and only a limited amount of production capacity. (more…)

Farm-To-Table, GMO Ban News

Farmer's MarketSupporting locally grown food means supporting local farms; time line of GMO measure.

Farm-To-Table Controversy: An ongoing discussion erupted into a full-scale controversy over the weekend when Dan Barber, co-owner of New York City’s ground-breaking, local-sourced Blue Hill Restaurant, published an opinion piece in The New York Times that seemed to accuse supporters of the farm-to-table movement of being naive. How dare he?

Turns out that Barber was just taking a deeper look at something that we’ve come to accept as absolutely good: small farmers bringing their crops directly to consumers. He uses his own experience — Barber is also on the board of directors and runs the restaurant at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in New York’s Hudson River Valley — to discover just what we’re leaving out of our conception of the farm-to-table revolution. But first — and this is the part that surprised many people — he starts out with a contradiction. (more…)

Fennel & Fenugreek

Fennel SeedsGrowing seeds for healthy, flavorful herbal teas.

When your culinary-conscious and sustainably minded Planet Natural blogger needs seed for cooking, he usually buys them, already dry, from one of our fine herb stores. They’re used to spice-up some homemade dishes, say flavoring some Middle Eastern cooking with the sharp, licorice flavor of anise or adding some zing to a curry with cilantro seed. When we want to save seeds from our garden, it’s usually for saving some particular heirloom favorite, and most often one of the more easily collected like tomato, cucumber, or winter squash. (more…)

Oregon Counties Vote To Ban GMO Crops

Oregon GMO LabelingPassage complicated by state’s “Monsanto Protection Act.”

Oregon, now one of the major battlegrounds in the battle against GMOS, made news again last week when Jackson and Josephine counties on the state’s southern border with California voted overwhelmingly to ban the growing of crops that are genetically modified (PDF). The area, like much of Oregon, has a large number of organic and local farms who are threatened by genetic pollution spread from GMO crops.

The victory in Jackson County came despite a massive infusion of cash from outside interests to defeat the measure. As reported by Oregon Live, $1 million was collected in the attempt to defeat the measure. Some $455,000 of that total was donated by six bio-tech companies including Monsanto, Syngenta, and Dow. The rural county, with a population of 206,000, has 120,00 registered voters. Supporters of the bill raised some $300,000. (more…)

Taking Care of Fruit Trees . . . Organically

Fruit TreeA comprehensive guide to fruit and nut tree problems for organic growers.

Nothing causes organic gardeners more worries, and more temptation to resort to harmful sprays and other treatments, than problems with fruit trees. You might disagree — after all, the pest and disease problems we have with our plants depends on what we grow and where we grow it — but anyone that’s had to deal with blights, cankers, or caterpillars knows there’s little guidance and few cures that don’t resort to spraying something awful on the trees and bushes that produce the fruits our children will eat. (more…)

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…)

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