Bokashi for Christmas

Bokashi CompostingYesterday after the big feast, your friendly and conservation-minded Planet Natural Blogger noticed something he notices every year at Thanksgiving: how much food is being discarded. The abundance made me think of all the foodstuff that becomes waste and how much methane it generates once in the landfill. And just like that, I had something to put at the top of my Christmas list: a Bokashi bucket!

Bokashi is a self-contained, anaerobic method of composting that accepts things that, for reasons of pests, varmints and sanitation, shouldn’t go into your regular compost heap. Bokashi is actually the bran or other grain meal that is innoculated with beneficial, highly active microbes that will turn food scraps into a useable compost tea. This tea is so potent you wouldn’t want to use it directly on plants right away. Instead it’s allowed to mellow over a period of a couple weeks, then diluted; or buried in your garden soil in increments that temper its life-boosting power. (more…)

Turkey Time

Turkey DinnerDid you know that turkey manure is one hot fertilizer with slightly more nitrogen than chicken manure? Though the difference is slight — and actually disputed by the University of Minnesota — one thing’s clear. Turkey manure, like other poultry manure, is a valuable source of phosphorous, potassium, and, yes, nitrogen. It also contains other valuable nutrients and microbes that your plants will appreciate.

If you’re lucky enough to have your own little homestead with a turkey or three trotting about — we’re told they make acceptable country pets and a single male strutting around can be as decorative as a peacock — or live near (but not too near) a source of good organic turkey manure, take advantage. Most likely, it will be available as “litter,” mixed in with sawdust, straw, feed and other components to be swept or shoveled off the coop floor (wear a mask). No matter how your turkey droppings come, you’ll want to compost the manure before using it in gardens. (more…)

Inside House Plants

The Unexpected HouseplantIt’s never to early to start thinking about those holiday gifts you’ll be buying even if, like your friendly Planet Natural Blogger, you’re a last minute shopper. (Remember… we said we’re only thinking about holiday gifts… the buying still comes last minute.) Because we ascribe to the idea that knowledge is power, especially when it comes to gardening, we often choose books to give to our nearest and dearest. Here’s a new book that we think is especially suited for, well, just about anyone. Tovah Martin’s The Unexpected Houseplant is a fascinating and refreshing way to look at the growing things we raise indoors. It’s perfect for those who already decorate their homes with green things as well as those who don’t but might like to.

Martin is a Connecticut-based, organic gardener who write extensively on the craft of growing things. Her previous book is The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Display for Plants and Nature. She’s also a busy blogger — check out plantwise.com — and she’s published in magazines ranging from Horticulture to Country Gardens. More than just a gardener, Martin is a crusader for growing and the gardening life-style. Her books aren’t simple how-to’s but seek to convert readers to gardening with their not-so-subtle emphasis on aesthetics and gardening as lifestyle. “I’m doing my best to demonstrate how plants can change your psyche when you welcome them into your life,” she writes in the introduction to The Unexpected Houseplant. And that includes welcoming them inside your home as well as outdoors. (more…)

Things We’ve Learned: Leaves

Autumn LeavesWe think of gardening as a never-ending learning process. Just when something makes sense, we learn something new — or remember some detail we’d forgotten — and suddenly, Doh!… we feel like Homer Simpson. Such is the case with using leaves in the garden. We used to have so many. We’d heap up our compost piles and spread them over our garden. One not-so-bright day in November we decided that if we turned them into the soil they wouldn’t blow around as much. And, come spring, they’d decompose faster into the soil, enriching it with mineral-rich humus. Win-win!

No, lose. Even though we knew that carbon-rich materials use up nitrogen as they break down, we didn’t put it together with our garden soil, which of course we wanted to be nitrogen-rich. By turning those leaves into the soil, we were guaranteeing that we’d be losing some nitrogen for next growing season. Same thing happens with other carbon-rich materials: wood chips, sawdust, pine needles; even shredded paper and cardboard if you’re using it. Turning them directly into the soil will deplete nitrogen.

Of course, there’s a simple solution. Put those leaves into your compost heap with enough “green” (nitrogen-rich) materials to finish the resulting product. You don’t need much. Experts tell us that 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen will do the trick If you don’t have enough nitrogen, the composting process comes to a halt. (more…)

Groundwater Contamination from Nitrates

Field SprayingNot so many years ago, my brother-in-law, a Nebraska farmer, made a discovery. The well from which his family pulled their drinking water, a source that had served his family for generations, was polluted from nitrates. The pump house was located near their home on the side of a hill. Near the top of the hill and for hundreds of acres beyond, were the contoured, non-irrigated fields where he grew corn one year, soy beans the next. To maintain productivity and following fertilizer company directions, he had spread nitrogen supplements in a huge, single dose, year after year.

The practice didn’t cost him his water supply. But it did cost him a hefty chunk of change to put in an expensive water purification system. Luckily, his young children were none the worse for it. But it’s common knowledge that nitrates in water cause blue baby syndrome or methemoglobinemia a disease that interferes with the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen where it’s needed. Methemoglobinemia can also affect adults who have digestive problems that don’t allow them to break down nitrates in the gastric system. Nitrates are also linked to some cancers. (more…)

Let It Snow

Early SnowfallWe had the first snowfall of the year here in Northern New Mexico this weekend. The mountains are blanketed and long patches of the white stuff remain in the shadows of the pines and junipers here at the relatively modest elevation of 7,200 feet. Of course, further north in the Rockies, they’ve already had plenty — thanks, Brutus — as well as in the plains. New England has been covered in white just a week after hurricane Sandy brushed the area. The upper midwest? They saw their first snow a month ago.

While first snow accumulations signaling the end of another season can trigger a sense of melancholy in outdoor gardeners, others take solace in the beauty of their snow-draped landscapes. It’s important to remember that snow has valuable benefits for your lawn and garden. It’s insulating factors help protect tender roots from hard freezes. Some bulb plants love a blanket of snow for their winter sleeping. An early snow makes it easier to harvest those remaining root vegetables than it would be if the ground froze solidly. (more…)

Dealing With GMOs

Grocery ShoppingWhat to make of the defeat in California of Proposition 37, the GMO labeling initiative? When all across America, voters seemed to ignore the hundreds-of-millions of dollars thrown at important races by Super PACs and other unrestrained donations, the voters of California — or at least a significant percentage of them — took the onslaught of negative ads to heart.

One theory about this discrepancy says that the ads from Monsanto, Coca-Cola, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and others were just more effective due to the fact that, unlike groups of disgruntled billionaires, these overweight corporations were well experienced in advertising and public relations campaigns. Their ads were just plain more effective. Why? Maybe they weren’t all that honest. Then again, it’s not as if American voters aren’t familiar with misleading and deceptive political advertising. (more…)

Saving Flower Seeds

Saving SeedOne of the last — and most meaningful — end-of-season tasks is saving flower seeds for planting next year. We’re not talking about those hybrid seeds you got from the catalog. We’re talking about open-pollinated heirlooms, flowers that have been around longer than grandma. Their names are familiar and come together like words in a poem: Calendula, Four O’Clocks, Morning Glories, Petunias and Poppies.

If you’re lucky, you’ve been saving seed since you were a child, going out with grandma and gathering pods, seed heads or the seeds themselves for careful drying and preserving. Back when, we would put the seeds in grandma’s old pill bottles. Today we put them in tightly-sealed baggies. (more…)

Planting Cover Crops

Cover CropsI’ve been called out for not recommending planting cover crops earlier in this blog. Okay, guilty! Cover crops, especially legumes, are best planted a couple weeks ahead of the first killing frost — as if our changing weather patterns give us any clue as to when that’s going to happen — to give them time to germinate. Legumes usually take longer to germinate. But if you haven’t planted? Experience tells us it’s not too late, depending on your climate and the precautions you take.

Grasses — ryegrass, winter rye, winter wheat and wheat grass, oats — germinate more quickly and there fore are more suitable for late planting. But some legumes — hairy vetch for example — are more adaptable to cold climates and will germinate if planted late, especially if you get a string of warm days in the late season. Buckwheat is a good grass choice for colder climates. Not only does it germinate more quickly than legumes, it’s a quick grower. (more…)

Why GMO Labeling?

GMO Labeling IssuesCalifornia voters — and everyone else across the country — go to the polls Tuesday. Californians will cast a historic vote on whether or not to label the use of Genetically Modified Organisms in our foods. The question at hand is simple: should consumers have the right to know if the foods they buy contain GMOs? But the issue itself is not simple and has been clouded by a flood of anti-labeling ads broadcast across the state. As we and many others have stated before, it’s about more than just whether or not GMOs are harmful to humans (some decidedly are, the jury is still out on others). It’s about unbounded pesticide and herbicide use and the health of our environment, it’s about our willingness to accept monoculture and corporate control over the production of our food, it’s about the survival of heirloom, organic, sustainable and non-engineered crops and farming; it’s about our children; it’s about who owns and controls the very seeds we put in the ground.

The assault from chemical companies and big agri-food producers has been overwhelming. Monsanto alone has spent more than all the Proposition supporters combined. And the latest news isn’t good. A poll conducted by the California Business Roundtable and the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy finds the measure going down — it once led by a wide margin — with 39% in favor and 50% opposed. (more…)

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