Worms In the Garden

Garden WormsEveryone knows how great worms are for the garden. They increase your soil’s porous qualities by tunneling, they cluster around decaying matter consuming fungi, bacteria, and nematodes and excreting them as vermicompost or worm castings, one of the most potent soil amendments there is. You’ve gone to great lengths to attract earthworms to your garden by adding compost and other organic matter to your soil or maybe you purchased worms to add. (Garden worms are different than composting worms. If you do have a source of garden worms, make sure your soil is “worm-ready” with plenty of organic material or you’ll lose them). But what happens to worms in the garden as soils dry?

Worms, of course, need adequate moisture to survive. You’ve probably used mulch and kept your garden soil moist enough to sustain them. But what about your lawn, now that it’s dormant, and you’re doing what you can to save water? What about the worms? (more…)

Who Supports Labeling GMO Foods?

California’s Initiative 37Those following the battle to pass California’s Initiative 37 — the bill that will require labeling GMO foods (do we really need to tell you what GMO means?) — will be interested to read The Cornucopia Institute’s report “Agribusinesses Owning Natural/Organic Brands Betray Customers: Fund Attack on GMO Labeling Proposal in California.” Some of those organic food product companies we all love (sorry) and (maybe) trust have joined with the anti-Prop 37 forces to defeat the initiative. Guess it’s the end of a beautiful love affair.

Some other interesting info in the report: 70% of the public supports GMO labeling (a good thing); “new contributions to fight the measure [have] rolled in from the biotechnology industry and food manufacturers, totaling over $23 million, according to the California Secretary of State. This dwarfs the approximately $3 million contributed by proponents of GE labeling” (very bad news). The post has a chart that graphically shows who the players are. And if you scroll down a bit, on the right margin is an illustration that shows which politicians and government office holders (otherwise known as “public servants”) have direct connections to Monsanto. Sad fact there is it’s not so surprising. Anyway, go read the report. Knowledge is power. (more…)

Late Season Garden Planting

Fall PlantingAugust is the time of year our garden would turn chaotic. Trailing plants like cucumbers and spreading plants such as squash would take over wide swaths of ground that were formerly occupied — if our spring planning was any good — by spinach, lettuce, kale and other greens which, if not harvested would be doing their best to go to seed. These we would pull and throw in the compost… we didn’t care about lettuce seeds compromising our compost and usually the seeds hadn’t dried enough to survive the process. Then, anywhere there was space, we’d sow little squares or circles of late season vegetables, things like mache (corn salad), kale, spinach and arugula, especially arugula, or anything else we had left in our seed bin. If there was some bare ground under one of those big shady squash leaves, we’d stir in some seed under them. The worst thing that could happen is that we’d be turning them back into the soil. The best? Picking a salad just before the snow arrived. (more…)

Drought, Corn and Genetic Engineering

GMO CornDrought has been big news this summer, no more so than regarding its effect on America’s corn crop. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that it has put renewed emphasis on corn raised for energy production (ethanol) and the amount that goes into making high-fructose corn syrup with all its connections to obesity. The down side? What about genetically engineered corn that resists drought?

This article in The Washington Post and a related blog post on its “Wonk Blog” tells us something we might have guessed: Monsanto has developed a so-called drought-tolerant corn. We’re reminded of the dictum that’s been bandied about the last several years: Never let a good crisis go to waste. Monsanto, apparently, has taken that to heart. It goes without saying that the claim to drought resistance is something of a stretch.

Is there a silver lining to these articles? Scroll down through the Wonk Blog and find some doubters (enter the Union of Concerned Scientists – PDF). (more…)

Plants On Walls

Living WallYou already know about green roofs. But green walls? Yes! A friend interested in interior design introduced me to the notion of living walls and it didn’t take much to discover how fast the idea is catching on. Also called “vertical gardens,” the idea is being championed by a number of eco-minded builders of both large buildings and small. Businesses devoted specifically to living walls are popping up, self-contained living-wall units are available and some cities are encouraging their use.

Vertical gardens can be designed for both inside and outside walls. The benefits are many. Most obvious are aesthetic. “When I walk by, it’s calming, just a little more serene, maybe a little bohemian,” says one living wall owner in this Wall Street Journal story. “I call it Prozac on a wall,” says another. A living wall adds color, texture and interest. But that’s not all. Having a wall of plants will naturally filter the air, removing pollutants that make indoor air often more dangerous than out. Indoor living walls provide insulating value, reducing heating and cooling costs. On outside walls, a vertical garden will help protect the structure from strong sunlight as well as keep it cool. Outside living walls also shield the inside from noise. Inside living walls improve acoustics. (more…)

Plan Your Indoor Gardens Now

Indoor GardensIt’s August and there’s plenty of late summer chores to be done outside. But it’s also the time to start planning your indoor garden for fresh, winter harvests. The bounty you’re enjoying now from you outdoor garden will be sorely missed once the frost forms and the snow flies. But if you plan now, you can enjoy fresh greens, herbs — even tomatoes! — from a carefully planned indoor winter garden. Or maybe you just want to brighten your indoor environment during the cold dark months with beautiful indoor plants or flowers. And, planning now, allows you to take advantage of off-season special deals when buying the containers, indoor grow lights, and hydroponic supplies you’ll need. Starting now means you can surprise your holiday guests with fresh salads and herbs despite the winter wonderland. (more…)

Compost In the Xeriscape

Steaming Compost PilesIt seems that no matter the problem we face in our gardens, the answer — or at least a part of the answer — frequently includes compost. This is certainly true in xeriscape gardening, the process of using minimal moisture effectively. Soil conditioning is one of the seven principles of xeriscaping. Soil that retains moisture while still allowing moisture to move through it is the goal. While there are many amendments that can be added to particular kinds of soil — clay or coarse — to help them conduct and retain moisture properly, the first and best step (because it also adds valuable microorganisms to the soil) is composting. (more…)

Abundant Recipes: Summer Squash

Summer SquashThere’s only one thing more abundant this time of year than zucchini and crookneck: summer squash recipes! Of course, squash isn’t the only thing coming in abundance from our gardens in August. And there-in lies a clue as to how we should use this bounty. What grows together, goes together.

That’s exactly the principle Dani over at Clean and Delicious operates under when putting together her Raw Summer Squash Salad with Feta and Tomato. She combines squash, cherry tomatoes (who doesn’t have a lot of those in the garden now?), basil, olive oil, lemon juice, feta cheese, and salt and pepper into a refreshing first course. Our variation? Add a pinch (or three) of chile flakes to bring out the flavors. (more…)

Avoiding GMOs

GMO CornA friend asks, “What’s the big deal? You’re an organic gardener.” (“As best I can,” I reply, knowing there are few absolutes in gardening). “Why don’t you grow what you need? You want to eat non-GMO corn? Eat the corn you grow. Don’t buy it in the store.”

If only it were that simple.

Yes, my friend, by being something of a know-it-all, shows how little he knows. The problems associated with GMOs are far more complicated than just avoiding their purchase. There are problems of cross-pollination of GMO crops with crops in our organic garden. There’s the loss of biodiversity. And, avoiding GMO products in our grocery stores is not as easy as he thinks it is. (more…)

Talkin’ Potato Blight

Harvesting PotatoesAugust is often the make or break month for potatoes. No doubt, if you’ve planted a few rows (or a lot) of potatoes, you’ve already dug a few plants for new potatoes which are usually ready two weeks or so after the plants blossom. But if you’re waiting until the first frost so you’ll have big tasty tubers for winter storage, now’s the time to be on alert. Warms days with high consistent humidity encourage blight, as does wet weather. The problem with potato blight is that once it starts, it’s nearly impossible to make it disappear completely. Still there are things you can do to prevent and impede potato disease. The ultimate goal is to keep them from the tubers. (more…)

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