Drying Herbs

Drying HerbsIn many parts of the country, the beginning of August is the time to harvest and dry herbs. Many leafy herbs have budded and are ready to flower… the perfect time to harvest for drying. Herbs at this stage — just ahead of flowering — have the most flavorful, aromatic oils. Some herbs — basil, rosemary, lemon balm, parsley and rosemary — can be harvested multiple times over the course of the summer. It’s best to harvest in the morning after the dew has dried. Inspect your pickings carefully for dead or diseased leaves or signs of mold. Most herbalists recommend rinsing herbs and gently shaking them dry. We’ve always felt that rinsing removes valuable oils and try to keep it at a minimum, especially after a previous day’s rain.

Herbs with a lower moisture content — oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, savory, dill, sage — do well with hanging and air drying. They may be simply inverted, the stems bound together by string, and hung from a rafter or any overhang that allows circulation around the entire bunch. Keep your herbs from exposure to sunlight. Check frequently for signs of mold or mildew. (more…)

Composting Paper

Shredded PaperIn a previous post, we recommended adding paper or cardboard to a compost heap that’s too moist. Paper will absorb water as well as provide short-term air space to aide in circulation if it’s crumpled. That suggestion, as pointed out by one of our more careful readers, brought up an entirely different subject: is composting paper safe? The answer is yes. And no.

Paper — made from wood pulp — seems a likely addition to compost because of its source: nature. Newspapers have long been held as a good source of “brown” component in the brown-green, carbon-nitrogen balance that compost piles need (so much so that adding too much paper will tip the balance). But paper might also contain some harmful ingredients in the form of inks, dyes and other treatments. These days, most newspaper inks are soy-based, a good thing for the environment (though the soy used in inks is likely from GMO sources). But some inks may still contain petro-chemicals or pigments if they include color as most papers do. Also newsprint may hold some chlorine from the bleaching process. Newspaper is bleached less than most commercial office papers but may still contain some chlorine. (more…)

Xeriscape Landscaping

XeriscapingLandscaping with minimal water or only the moisture nature provides was dubbed “xeriscaping” a few decades back and the term has caught on. The word comes from combining the Greek word for “dry” and “landscaping.” Thought to have originated with the water-conscious experts at Denver Water, the city’s municipal water provider, the term has seen growing use over the last few drought-burdened seasons. The principles of xeriscape landscaping are principles dear to organic gardeners’ hearts. Soil improvement, mulching and wise planning are all part of the successful xeriscape. Proper watering is key. And the rewards include savings on water bills (or protecting your well’s ground water supply) as well as healthy, rewarding, easy-to-maintain lawns and gardens.

The practice of xeriscaping, a child of the mountain West, is spreading across the suburbs of the Midwest and South as this season’s severe drought challenges gardeners and landscapers across the country. In doing so, it’s also spreading organic gardening practices to those who never saw fit to use them before. Of course, this can only be a good thing for our environment, for our families, and the future of gardening. (more…)

Getting Tough With Powdery Mildew

Powdery MildewIt’s the time of year when powdery mildew raises in its dusty, unattractive and growth-sapping cloud. It’s the most common and widespread of fungal diseases, attacking both fruit trees, ornamentals and vegetable plants. Controlling it presents special challenges to the organic gardener. And this summer’s weather patterns — warm and dry — tend to favor its spread.

With its patchy, gray, talcum-like dust that covers leaves and stem, powdery mildew is easy to spot. Detecting it early is one of the many reasons to regularly give your plants close inspection. Once it turns black, which signifies that it’s starting to fruit, you’ll have real problems controlling it from spreading. While the fungal threads that make up powdery mildew stay on a plant’s surface and aren’t as harmful as some other diseases, they can retard growth and affect flavor, especially on fruits. Controlling powdery mildew starts in the spring by choosing plant varieties that are resistant to the fungus. Give your mildew-susceptible plants plenty of room so that air can circulate between leaves and stems. (more…)

Managing Moisture In Compost

Compost PileThe record drought locked on many (and we mean many) parts of the country calls for home gardeners as well as commercial interests to rethink their watering strategies. Equally important to organic gardeners is the moisture content of their composting pile. Moisture in compost is critical and having too much or too little can slow or sour the process. Having too little will slow or stop the composting process. Having too much moisture in the pile will fill the necessary air spaces and turn the process into an anaerobic digester something most garden composters want to avoid (though it is an accepted composting technique with its own set of requirements).

How do you know if your compost pile needs watering? Most expert composters suggest a moisture content of 40% to 60%. A quick, hands-on visual check should tell you if the pile is too dry: it will lack heat and there’ll be little evidence of organic material break down. If you compost is too wet, it’s probably slimy and smells bad. A good rule-of-thumb is the sponge test: your compost should have the consistency and moisture content of a wrung-out sponge when you squeeze it. (more…)

Just Beet It

Garden BeetsTrue confessions: I don’t like canned or pickled beets. There was a time that I did, living in the cloudy Pacific Northwest and growing lots of root vegetables because we could, including turnips and rutabagas. Garden beets grew especially well. I loved their tops or “greens” as they’re called and still do (beets are in the same family as chard). But every fall we’d pull beets, always leaving some in the ground under heavy mulch cover for greens in the spring, and the canning process would begin. The first month or so of eating canned beets multiple times a week, I did fine. But by the end of January? I didn’t want to see another dinner plate stained red.

There are a lot of reasons people don’t like beets. So who would have guessed the that beets are suddenly big? Foodies, fancy restaurants and home chefs are all finding tasty thing to do with beets. And a lot of the credit goes to heirlooms, specifically the Chioggia beet. The Chioggia, also referred to as the bulls-eye beet or the candy stripe are extra flavorful. An heirloom that originated in Italy, it’s different in more ways than color from the Detroit Golden heirloom beet (or simply “golden”… see number 3 pick on this post), the previous darling of the beet set. (more…)

One Bad (Genetically Modified) Apple

GMO ApplesWhile most of the GMO attention these days is focused on the upcoming vote on California’s “Right To Know” initiative, another GMO controversy has boiled to the surface, this time with apples. Okanagan Specialty Fruits corporation has developed a genetically modified apple — known as the “Arctic Apple” — that does not brown, or at least doesn’t brown as quickly, when exposed to the air. The fruits are also not as susceptible to bruising, a problem that results in apples being refused by buyers at both the distribution and consumer levels. The controversy has spread across British Columbia’s apple growing regions and now, with articles in The New York Times and other publications, is gaining more focus in America.

The Arctic apple, so far developed as Granny Smiths and Golden Delicious (Galas and Fujis are on the way), contains a synthetic gene that sharply reduces production of polyphenol oxidase, an enzyme responsible for the browning. The introduced gene is taken from the apple itself and then inhibits the production of genes that result in the browning agents. (more…)

Small Stores, Big Advantages

Local BusinessPlanet Natural prides itself on being a small, specialty business. We don’t just stock gardening supplies. We stock natural, organic gardening supplies. We don’t stock just any household cleaner. We stock natural household products that are safe to use around your family. We don’t add just any new product that comes along. We examine it, see what others say about it, and try it ourselves. We don’t just carry a wide selection of products. We carry a select variety of products, products we’ve selected for their effectiveness and reliability ourselves.

There’s a growing movement that supports independent, small stores over large, corporate-owned “big box” and national merchandisers. It’s a movement that’s part of and parallel to the small, self-reliant, local farm and food movement that is sweeping the nation. Planet Natural is proud to be part of both movements, movements that emphasize the home-grown, locally-control, smaller-is-better philosophy that’s so prevalent in our national discourse but so often missing from business and economic discussions. (more…)

Aphids and Ladybugs

Organic Pest ControlThese warm and often humid days of mid-summer bring the first signs of an unsightly pest: aphids. Aphids don’t do much damage when there’s only a few around. It takes clusters of them — and there usually are by the time they’re found — to make leaves curl and yellow as they deposit their sticky “honeydew” made from the moisture taken from the plants on stems and on the underside of leaves. If left untouched, this substance turns black with the presence of sooty mold fungus. Roses are often the victim of aphid infestations.

The more damage you have, the harder it is to rid your plants of aphids because they hide inside curling leaves. Often, the presence of ants is an indicator of an aphid problem. Nasturtiums are a known aphid favorite. Think of them as an early-warning device. If you’ve previously had aphids in or around your garden, you should check them frequently. Aphids are wind-borne creatures. If your garden is large, check the upwind section most carefully. (more…)

Love Those Gardening Blogs

garden-blogsThere are so many great gardening blogs on the web…who can follow them all? Here are some interesting links we’ve discovered recently. Any to add?

–Chris at Backyard Gardening Blog makes it sound too good to be true: “What if I told you there was a way to have a greener lawn, that needed less water, less fertilizer, attracted beneficial insects, and yes, it would be greener?” he asks. The answer is probably already in your back yard. (We especially like the “less water” part.)

The Manic Gardener (aka Kate Gardner) has a great article AND podcast(!) from Lee Reich about keeping a garden weed free. And there’s not a single mention of RoundUp.

–Elizabeth Licata has a novel way of how to look at all the maintenance her outdoor plants require this time of year. It involves the late screenwriter/director Nora Ephron, mascara and washing your hair. (Guys should take a clue.)

–Chicago-based GardenInACity from Jason and Judy Kay has an interesting and practical way of looking at the issue of including native plants — or excluding exotics, however you’d like to look at it — in your garden. Teaser: the answer — not what you might think — has to do with the word “carefree.” (more…)

Page 47 of 50« First...102030...4546474849...Last »