Light Right (Indoor Plant Lighting)

Plant LightingHere’s a trick question: What’s the single most important factor when growing indoors? The answer is, of course, that there’s no single factor that determines success. Plant lighting, temperature, water, potting conditions and nutrients all play an inter-related role. All are crucial. You can’t separate one from the other. You may have perfect light in religiously timed and measured lumens. But if your plants don’t have enough moisture, or they’re exposed to extreme temperature variations, well, all that money you spent on lights is wasted. Likewise, if you put plants out on your sun porch — plenty of light! — but the dead-of-winter sun shines in only six hours each day, your plants will do little but maintain (if that). Worse, if that six hours of sunlight heats the room beyond what the plant can bear — or if it loses a lot of heat through all that glass at night — your plants will be lucky to survive the variations let alone flourish.

Forget the trick questions. Instead, we offer this absolute statement: The most wide-spread misconception concerning indoor plant lighting is that your plants will do fine in a sunny windowsill. “Growing” is the key word here. You may be able to overwinter houseplants or a potted herb or two in a sunny window. But for growth? You need to recreate the complete, concentrated, and long light conditions that plants experience outdoors during the summer. (more…)

Plan On Planting Apple Trees Now

Apple TreeThere’s no more rewarding investment than planting trees. Apple trees that you plant early next spring may start yielding fruit in three to four years. But they’ll be giving joy almost immediately. Planting apple trees with your children can be especially rewarding. They’ll grow right along with your kids. A picture journal that begins at the first day of planting and continues through the years, with your kids standing right alongside their tree in each picture, will give you family memories that will last a lifetime, as will the tree itself.

Now you might be thinking that I’m jumping the gun here in late October. Nearly everyone recommends planting fruit trees in the spring, although you can get away with it in the fall if you have mild winters and protect the newly transplanted roots with plenty of mulch. But good organic tree-planting practice starts in the fall even if your trees won’t go in the ground until spring. We went to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to find out more. Here (with some additions) is what they recommend. (more…)

Sugar Is Sweet; Let’s Make A Pumpkin Pie!

Heirloom PumpkinsWe finally had our first hard freeze here in Northern New Mexico, two weeks late of the average. Now, I’m sure most of you, including those in my beloved former-hometown of Bozeman, MT, are well beyond that point. Anyway it got me to thinking about how closely we’d be listening to weather forecasts in the fall, watching the patterns, and waiting until just the last moment to get in the winter squash and sugar pumpkins. Usually a light frost would first do some damage to the vines, warning enough that it was time to go out with a short, sharp knife and get them in. But sometimes a hard frost would just descend from the sky — like it did here last night — and, well, if caught napping it might mean the loss of one’s valuable crop.

And that got me thinking even further. We always grew pumpkins as a food crop. None of this giant pumpkin stuff for us. Why’s that? Well, truth-be-told, we love pumpkin pie. And that got us thinking even further. Lately, we’ve seen strange heirloom pumpkins offered around town and at Farmer Markets, like the blue Jarrahdale pumpkin from New Zealand, the oblong Rouge Vif d’Etempes and the pale Long Island Cheese pumpkin. But all our lives, we’ve grown only one kind of pumpkin, the ubiquitous small sugar. (more…)

Resisting the Anti-GMO Labeling Blitz

GMO LabelingOur friends in California report a barrage of anit-Prop 37 ads on their televisions, thanks to the big money donors who are so afraid that people might be honestly informed about an issue important to them and their families’ well-being. But despite their best efforts to nip this food-awareness thing in the bud, California’s Proposition 37, the GMO labeling bill, is starting to gain more national exposure, not exactly what Dow, Monsanto and the other chemical corporations fighting the proposition want. And that publicity focuses on what’s the most important issue to fans of organic food and gardening: the use of pesticides — the over-use of pesticides — in the fields that produce our basic crops.

Last Friday, Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stoneyfield Organic, author of the new book Label It Now: What You Need To Know About Genetically Engineered Foods appeared on the HBO series Real Time With Bill Maher. He did a great job explaining the GMO labeling issue and why it’s important, especially regarding the increased use of pesticides. We’d link but HBO knocks down videos of the discussion on YouTube almost as soon as they appear. And your concerned Planet Natural Blogger would never link you directly to HBO… they can do their own advertising. (more…)

Let’s Talk Root Vegetables – Turnip, Parsnip and Rutabaga

Root VegetablesOr maybe that should be Rutabaga, Turnip, Parsnip as rutabaga and turnips are closely related in many ways (in post Revolution America rutabagas were called “turnip-rooted cabbage”, according to Jere Gettle) and parsnips — bless their sweetness — are quite different. But all three are root vegetables and we love them this time of the year because 1) they’re easy to grow, especially in the late season (well, maybe not parsnips that usually need a long season to mature); 2) they’re well adapted to cool and short growing season (even parsnips); 3) they taste even better after cold weather and frosts have set in; and 4) they keep well, sometimes for months in a cool basement, root cellar or refrigerator.

Then why do I see you out there holding your nose? Is it because they have that cabbagey twang (well, not parsnips) that gets your mouth vibrating like a guitar string when you take a bite? Get over it! My sense is that if you like cabbage, you’ll like turnips and rutabagas. It’s the texture, I believe, combined with that taste, that puts most people off. (more…)

GMO Food Labeling News: Not Good

Genetically ModifiedCalifornia’s Proposition 37, the GMO food labeling rule which will appear on the state’s November 6 ballot, registered a nearly 80% approval rating in early polls. But no longer. The Los Angeles Times reported on two polls that show the support for the proposition has slipped, in one poll to 48% favoing and 42% disapproving with 11.5% of voters still undecided. The reason? Can you say big money advertising blitz? You can see the results of the Pepperdine University/ California Business Roundtable Survey here (scroll down to see Prop. 37 charts).

We’ve already reported on where the big money spent to defeat the proposition is coming from. You can visit BallotPedia’s Proposition 37 site to update the information (again, scroll down for donor lists). So what are the anit-37 ads saying? That there are too many exclusions. That alcohol will be excluded from labeling. That dog food will be labeled but meat for human consumption will not. That, that… Well, you get the point. Savvy voters should always be suspicious when the forces seeking to kill a ballot measure claim it should be defeated because it doesn’t go far enough. In this case, they seem to be arguing that we need even more GMO labeling would be a better thing than some (which means “most”) GMO labeling. Of course, what they really want is no GMO labeling at all. (more…)

Gleanings, Seedings, Weedings

Autumn ColorsHere’s a few short items pulled from the web, most related to gardening news previously addressed, one even fresh plucked. Feel free to suggest links and add further information to any of our posts (and don’t forget corrections!). Help make this a conversation. And thanks to those who have!

A local worm rancher responding to our post on the uses of straw bales in gardening, says we missed one. He suggests that bales make good worm corrals in the winter, keeping your worms working, if ever so slowly in the cold weather, and keeping them from burrowing out of the pile and into the ground. Bales make good insulation, no doubt about it; these days, they’re even used to build green homes. As the bales break down the following spring and summer, they can just be added to the compost pile or used for mulch. We looked into it further: some gardeners build complete worm systems out of hay bales. Hay bales… the gift that keeps on giving. (more…)

Gardening With Straw Bales

Hay Bale GardenThis is a great time of year — when farmers are looking to get rid of old ones (something that happens in the spring as well) — to pick up one or two staw or hay bales. You might also be able to buy straw bales at your local nursery or gardening store but they’ll probably cost more. They make great seasonal decorations … put a trio of various shaped pumpkins on one (or a stack of two or three) in a strategic place visible to passersby, balance a sheaf of cornstalks against it if you have them and voila: Autumn’s great visual symbol of harvest. Then, when the season is over, you can break them up and use them in your garden and compost pile. Or can you?

The problem with straw mulch is that it often contains seeds. Gardening with hay bales, in our experience, is even worse; they contain more seed than a nursery in March (not everyone makes the distinction between “hay” and “straw” … see this article for the benefits of using hay). The best straw comes from wheat or oats, if you can get it. Most of the seed has been removed depending on how effective the farmer’s thresher is and how much weed has grown in his field. But I still wouldn’t put it in your compost heap unless it’s hot enough to destroy the seed. (more…)

Precautions When Canning Tomatoes

Canning TomatoesFor years, we canned tomatoes and homemade tomato sauce the way grandma taught us: using the water bath method. This involved packing sterilized jars with hot (cooked) fruit or tomatoes and boiling for a designated amount of time, usually an hour or more for tomatoes. That’s not true anymore. In this age of increasing food contamination, you don’t want anything bad to come out of your kitchen. What could happen? Listen to what Renee R. Boyer, Assistant Professor, Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech; Julie McKinney, Project Associate, Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech…

… high-acid foods prevent the growth of spores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can’t be killed by boiling. Foods with a pH more than 4.6 allow the spores to grow. If spores of C. botulinum are allowed to grow, toxin will form, and consumption of C. botulinum toxin is deadly. Symptoms from the consumption of this toxin develop within six hours to 10 days and include double and blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, and muscle weakness. Paralysis of breathing muscles can cause a person to stop breathing and die unless mechanical ventilation is provided.

Didn’t mean to scare you. But this is serious business. Take precautions. (more…)

Fall Garden Cleanup

Garden Clean UpStop Next Season’s Plant Disease… Now!

Of all the mistakes I’ve made growing vegetables — and I’ve made plenty — the biggest (or right up there) has to do with not taking the time for a good garden cleanup before winter. I can barely bring myself to tell you.

One year, like most years, a fall frost hit the garden and I didn’t bother to get it covered. It withered squash vines and wilted the late plantings of lettuce and spinach. I should have been out there right away, removing all the dead vines, pulling the spinach (some of the lettuce made it back) and not given disease a chance to get a hold in the weakened plants. But I didn’t. And then, after a wet snow, I just let it all go, not putting the garden to bed until well into November. I didn’t know it yet, but by then my lack of action guaranteed that my spinach and chard crops for the next year would be compromised and keeping my squash vines growing would become a battle. (more…)

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