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…)

Knee High In Garden Corn

Garden CornCorn is our country’s great vegetable. Since its seeds first migrated up from Mexico and spread across the world, corn has served as an all-American symbol as well as one of its favorite food crops.

Growing — and eating — garden corn is the source of countless family memories. Generations have grown up watching seeds the size of their finger tips turn into towering stalks with ears. How many of us actually laid between rows on a summer night to find out if it was true you could hear the corn grow? We still follow grandma’s directions: the first thing to do when picking corn is put the pot on to boil, so not a moment off the stalk is wasted. And we remember grandma cutting the kernels from the cob so grandpa — bless his dentures — could enjoy it even if he didn’t have his God-given teeth. How many times were we told that it was hot enough to pop corn right in the garden? Who can forget the unique sweetness of fresh-picked sweet corn? (more…)

Tomatoes: Taste? Or Color?

Garden TomatoesIt’s no secret that most commercially grown tomatoes taste lousy. Now scientists have discovered the reason: a gene mutation, the one bred into tomatoes to yield consistent color. It seems that tomato breeders discovered the gene about 70 years ago and began to cross-breed it into nearly all commercial tomatoes so that they would have an attractive red color. There was just one problem. Adding the redness gene “turned-off” flavor genes, the ones that created more sugars and carotenoids, various compounds in the tomato that contribute to flavor. The result? Tomatoes that look good but taste like paper. Here’s the abstract of the studies that determined the effects of the “redness” gene. Now we’d like to see the marketing studies that motivated commercial growers to think consumers prefer perfect red fruits without regard to taste. (more…)

Who’s Fighting GMO Labeling?

GMO LabelingIt’s no surprise that Monsanto, Dupont and others are pouring big money into California to fight the state’s GMO labeling referendum which will be on the ballot November 6. How they’re doing it — through surrogate organizations — is right out of the grand American political tradition of ironically-named organizations. Front groups help hide the players behind these organizations. And what could be more ironic that hiding the identities of the companies and individuals who are fighting a right-to-know initiative?

AlterNet, the independent news gathering service, estimates that several big front groups will spend $60 to $100 million fighting the initiative. One of the largest is The Coalitition Against Costly Food Labeling. Their website lists such scary articles on topics including how GMO labeling will hurt the poor and limit your food choices. Who exactly is behind the CACFL? The names aren’t surprising. According to the article, it’s composed of the “Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), whose members also include Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta, all producers of GMO seed and related products, as well as many large food processors and supermarket chains. (more…)

Joys of Bok Choy

Bok ChoiOne of the most beautiful sights in the summer garden is the deep, rich green color of bok choi leaves, bunched like a bouquet, standing above the creamy white stalks that support them. The form and intense shades of the plant almost — almost — keep us from reaching down and cutting it off at ground level. There’s only one thing we like better than growing bok choy in the garden: the sight of this cabbage family member chopped, stir-fried (maybe with some garlic) and heaped next to a dollop of brown rice.

Bok choi or pak choi, or pak choy is a cool weather crop that does best planted in early spring or late summer. It can be successfully sown mid-season if it’s harvested very young before it has a chance to go to seed (strangely, very cool weather will also cause it to go to seed). Cabbage moths and other pests are more active in late summer so you’ll want to protect your plants with row covers. The secret to growing attractive, loosely bunched, erect choi is to plant sparingly and thin judiciously, allowing as much as eight inches between the larger varieties. The good news is that the thinnings can be added to stir-fry no matter their size. (more…)

Protect With Row Covers

Row CoversThere’s a sinking feeling that comes when you spot the first cabbage moth hovering over your garden. Traditional gardeners use some of the worst chemical sprays to control them. And that doesn’t always work, especially as the larvae eating your plants mature. (Personally, I’d rather eat worms than pesticides.) Organic gardeners hunt for egg clusters on the underside of leaves and smash them, pluck the worms that they find and even snatch the egg-laying moths right out of the air (okay, I was successful doing that once). Other natural solutions include using Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) a bacteria that attacks certain larvae. Or you can try Neem oil, which works on a variety of pests and fungal problems. (more…)

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