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…)

Food Pathogens: Let’s Get Dirty!

Organic SoilOrganic gardeners know that a little dirt never hurt anyone. Of course, it’s a different story if the dirt your vegetables grow in contains herbicides and pesticides. Now Jeff D. Leach, in this op-ed piece in The New York Times argues that a little dirt is crucial to our well-being.

Leach is the director of the Paleobiotics Lab in New Orleans. He’s something of an anthropologist of human biology. His take in this article and others is that our fear of food pathogens has led to a sanitized diet that no longer provides us the beneficial microbes that fought off the diseases borne by the contamination found in industrial agriculture. “Increasing evidence suggests that the alarming rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders during the past few decades is at least partly attributable to our lack of exposure to microorganisms that once covered our food and us,” Leach writes. He goes on to suggest that “reintroducing some of the organisms from the mud and water of our natural world would help avoid an overreaction of an otherwise healthy immune response that results in such chronic diseases as Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and a host of allergic disorders.” (more…)

Compost for Summer Lawns

Lawns and CompostThe arrival of summer reminds us that it’s not too late to nourish your lawn the healthy way with compost. As lawn-spraying services expand their grip on suburbia it’s important to remember that using organic practices to encourage grass in your yard protects your pets and family from harmful chemical fertilizers and herbicides. Spreading compost on lawns now — not too deep; you don’t want to smother the grass blades — will help it stay lush and weed-free by nourishing the soil beneath it. It will greatly increase beneficial microbial activity in your soil, benefiting your lawn even more. And it’s a good way to treat the spots in your lawn that are thin, brown and unhealthy. (more…)

Oh, Oregano

OreganoWhen the abundant moisture of spring has given way to drier summer conditions, it’s time to plant oregano. Both culinary and decorative — it’s delicate blossoms will attract pollinators to your garden as well as make for attractive additions to salads — oregano is one of the most rewarding herbs to grow. It can be started from seed, but buying plants is the easiest way to get them started (they can also be propagated from cuttings or from root divisions). Oregano is hardy to zone 5 and can be overwintered in zone 4 with a thick covering of straw or mulch. It’s a perennial and will provide tasty leaves and flowers for years before it becomes too woody and sharply flavored. To encourage longevity, cut plants back almost to the ground at the end of the growing season. Often grown in containers, oregano also grows well in terraces and rock gardens. A Mediterranean plant, it likes full sun but will tolerate some shade, as I found out growing it in an old tub under a pear tree in the Pacific Northwest. Oregano isn’t fussy about soil conditions but does require good drainage. It needs little water and is perfect for moisture-sensitive xeriscapes. (more…)

Father’s Day In the Garden

Father's DayNo matter what part of the country you live in or how far along your garden is, Father’s Day is a great time of the year to step back and enjoy your work. In many areas, greens are already being harvested, peas are beginning to pod, bush beans are in blossom, and tender baby carrots and turnips come easily from the ground. At higher altitudes and in northern climates, germination is in its early stages and young transplants — tomatoes, peppers and squashes — are taking root and standing tall. Spring flowers have faded or are long gone, summer blossoms are making their bright appearance. Everything is green, healthy and striving to grow strong. (more…)

Mickey Hearts GMO Foods

Epcot Center GMOsFrom Natural News, a public education website anyone interested in keeping up with GMO issues should follow, comes this not-so-surprising information. Disney, at its Florida-based EPCOT Center (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) has for years been hosting biologists from the United States Department of Agriculture who have been growing genetically-modified fruits and vegetables. The story was originally broken by Susan Fehrenbacher over at Inhabitant, but it’s been no secret. The USDA announced back in 1996 in its Agricultural Research magazine that it was working with Disney “to communicate the science of agriculture. We do this by showcasing various tools — such as biotechnology…” The site, a two-acre facility sponsored by Nestlé USA, is called Living With the Land. Nestlé is one of the world’s largest pro-GMO corporations. In 2006, it obtained a patent on a genetically-engineered coffee. (more…)

Seed Bombs: Fighting the Filth

Seed BombsThe guerrilla gardening movement has blossomed as it’s moved from the underground (heh, heh) into the light of day. What is guerrilla gardening? It’s the practice of planting — you might also say beautifying or greening — neglected, vacant land, both public and private. Sometimes this involves edible plants, sometimes decorative (or both). The act, despite its obvious benefits, is frequently illegal and anyone participating should be aware of the consequences, even if they’re seldom applied. Thought the history of the movement has not been recorded — it’s a guerrilla movement, remember? — it reputedly began in New York City and other urban centers during the 1970s when much land was abandoned and public spaces were often ignored. (more…)

Mesclun Greens

Mixed GreensNot so long ago, the word mesclun was unknown to everyone but hippies hard of hearing. Now the mix of garden greens is a favorite among gourmet restaurants and gardeners who love the crisp, occasionally spicy taste of loose leaf lettuces. As grown in its place of origin — Provencal, France — mesclun is a specific mix of chervil, arugula, lettuces and endive. In American gardens, anything goes: red and green loose leafs, Asian greens, kale, even radicchio.

One of our favorite gardening practices — inspired by Mel Bartholomew’s now-classic Square-Foot Gardening — is to stake out a two-by-two foot square in the garden and freely sow a mesculun mix, either one purchased ready-to-go or one we’ve mixed ourselves from favorite greens (deer tongue, rosso, black-seeded Simpson, mizuna , kale, Asian mustard, arugula and garden cress). We sow them into the corners and across the middle. A quick raking and tamping, followed by a thorough watering, is enough to get them growing. (more…)

Summer Lawn Care Tips

Summer Lawn MowingJune is here. Even in high elevation and northern locations — where we’ve just set out plants and are seeing germination from the previous weeks’ seed sowing — we’ve already mowed our lawns a handful of times. In earlier zones, we’ve been mowing for months. No matter where we live, it’s time to review some lawn mowing tips and tricks.

How is summer mowing different than spring mowing? It’s less frequent. As spring moisture conditions give way to the dryness of summer, lawns grow less quickly. Higher temperatures also encourage faster moisture evaporation. The most important thing you can do at this time of year is to encourage moisture retention. The best way to do it? Set your mower to cut less grass. Generally, three-and-a-half, even four inches is a good height for the most common grasses (Bermuda, zoysia and other warm-climate grasses can be cut shorter). This is the highest setting on most mowers. Carrying a yardstick around your lawn and measuring different places — shaded and not, northern exposure and southern exposure — will give you a good idea how your grass is faring (and bring a kid-friendly pun to the common usage of the word “yardstick”). Longer grasses in your yard help shade the ground, thus lessening moisture evaporation. Shading the ground also discourages weed seed from germinating. Different types of grasses require different mowing heights. (more…)

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