Keeping Mice From Your Compost Heap

Mouse in Compost PileMice in your compost bin can be a problem year-round, but especially in the winter.

We love mice, as long as they’re in a children’s book. Out in the real world? Not so much.

Mice are associated with everything from Lyme disease to hantavirus. Many of the diseases they transmit are harbored in their feces and it’s hard to top the disgusting feeling you get finding tiny, black mouse cylinders all over a kitchen counter. Don’t think the disease potential is bad or only doesn’t happens outside the dusty southwest? Read this poor fellow’s story (spoiler alert: he survives).

You probably do a good job keeping mice from inside your home. But keeping mice out of your compost is a different proposition. (more…)

Bring the Kitchen Garden Indoors

Indoor Kitchen GardeningGrowing herbs, greens and sprouts inside during winter months.

Like a lot of gardeners, your friendly, year-round Planet Natural blogger likes to keep the harvest going even when the snow flies. That often means growing a few things indoors. Elizabeth Millard’s new book Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden (Cool Springs Press) makes an argument for growing vegetables indoors 12-months a year.

Millard doesn’t just do the easy stuff that lots of us do, like grow sprouts in jars and herbs in pots on the windowsill. She wants us to broaden our horizons with pea and popcorn shoots, wheat grass and mushrooms. She has chapters on indoor growing of potatoes, beets, chile peppers and other crops that most of us would rather tackle during the outdoor growing season. In short, she’s an enthusiast.

We like her style when growing something like chard, kale, or lettuce. She treats everything like a house plant. Everything gets its own pot and everything serves double, decorative duty. You might enjoy eating the modest amount of greens you can grow in a standard pot in a single sitting, but you’ll enjoy the presence of healthy growing greens for days on end. (more…)

How Do Earthworms Survive Winter?

EarthwormHint: It’s the slime.

Maybe your friendly Planet Natural blogger ate too much pie. But during a free hour in our recently passed holiday, he sat quietly — no football, no television — and thought about his garden and the ongoing cold snap. Then, as Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Akyroyd) says in the film Ghostbusters, it just popped in there. What happens to worms in winter?

Now every gardener loves earthworms. They’re tunneling helps keep your soil porous and conduct moisture. They feed on decaying matter, leaves and other plant matter, as well as fungi, bacteria and nematodes, then excretes them as vermicompost or worm castings, one of the most potent soil amendments there is. As the Colorado State University extension department puts it, both the structure and fertility of your garden soil are in the care of earthworms. (more…)

GMO Vote, Leaf Mold, High-Tech Farming … And Pie!

High-Tech TractorShort-takes on natural gardening topics we’re following.

As we enter a new month, your (mostly) timely, inquisitive Planet Natural blogger takes a minute to catch up on a handful of issues.

–Oregon GMO Labeling Vote: The final vote count is in and Oregon Initiative 92 to label products that include genetically modified ingredients is so close that a recount, scheduled to start December 2, has been called. Initial reports from The Oregonian on the day after the election had the measure failing narrowly. That margin — 812 votes or 0.05% of the total — turned out to be closer than imagined and now the race is too close to call. This is encouraging news, no matter what the final tally shows. Corporate forces, as usual in these votes, vastly outspent the pro-labeling side and the closeness of the Oregon vote suggests that they’ll even have to spend more to spread their misinformation. (more…)

Shopping, Eating Local

Local Shop OwnerThe global economy demands we support local business of all kinds.

Sure, the folks at Oxford Dictionaries has crowned “vape” as word of the year. But if it were up to us, we’d choose another word, not at all new, but prevalent in so many discussions we’ve had this year. We’d choose “local.” All year long, we’ve been encouraged to shop locally and support local business. “Local sourcing” is the hottest restaurant trend of the year.

In the sense that all politics is local, so is economics. Without strong local economies, towns just vanish. Walmart and the other big box and franchise stores never contribute to these towns. In fact, they’re a big reason that certain small town mainstreets in the plains, in the mountain states, in the south and midwest — heck, all over the country — are now a shadow of their former selves. (more…)

The Best Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie…might just be made from squash.

Squash pie. My grandmother didn’t make them — rhubarb pie was her specialty — but I knew households where women did. Those households almost always, as I remember, had gardens with winter squash patches.

Well, squash pies, sometimes masquerading as pumpkin, are all the rage this year. And butternut squash is the favorite choice, as this big-stuff newspaper video or this featured recipe from America Public Media’s popular radio program Splendid Table demonstrate.

Your desert-loving Planet Natural blogger wouldn’t say anything against pumpkins. But I would say something against canned pumpkin fillings. Canned fillings are often tasteless, little more than a bulky way to carry the sweet and spice flavor we associate with pumpkin pie. (more…)

Grassroots GMO Triumph

Organic Farm WorkersProtecting farmland and economies from GMO contamination.

The recent loss of GMO labeling efforts in Oregon (barely) and Colorado (not so close) have been a set back for pro-labeling forces, a set-back that raises question of how concerned consumer groups can ever win against massive amounts of money and a flood of advertising.

The cover story of the Seattle Times PacificNW Sunday magazine this past week, “Seeding A Movement: Little San Juan County takes a stand against the GMO giants” written by Brian J. Cantwell, reminds us that there have been small but significant victories in the fight to halt the takeover of our food supplies by the corporate behemoths that patent genetically modified crops and related products. (more…)

How to Start Your Own Organic Garden

Tomato GardeningTips for beginners who want to grow organic vegetables and landscape plants.

Starting and maintaining an organic garden is not very different from a regular one. Using common tools and planting processes, you can experience high yields of crops right in your own backyard. Knowing which plants grow best in your particular region and climate can help ensure your garden’s success. Exercising natural pest solutions for gardens can protect the integrity of your crops and your soil’s potential for another productive yield the following year. Read these tips to learn how to get started with your organic garden.

Getting Started

When choosing a space to plant your garden, it’s important to select an area that is open, arid, and is exposed to at least 7 hours of sunlight a day. Planting in natural ground has many benefits, including providing the nutrients providing for a great yield. If, however, your soil isn’t in optimal condition or you live in an area with little to no soil, you may try a raised bed or a container garden. (more…)

Household Cleaners and Child Poisonings

Toxic DetergentReduce risks by properly storing and using safe, non-toxic soaps and detergents.

The recent news that in the years 2012-2013 poison control centers received over 17,000 calls about children ingesting product from laundry soap detergent pods has your concerned Planet Natural Blogger thinking. That’s a call every hour. What can be done to protect the kids? We certainly can’t package colorful, candy-shaped poisons in containers that look like candy jars.

The findings come even as the pods — they’re also available for automatic dishwashers — are only a small part (6% in 2013 ) of the household detergent markets. Those 17,260 kids reported in the study were all six years old or younger. One-third of them were between the ages of one and two. (more…)

It’s A Small (Farm) World: Organic Growers In Russia

Russian Farm MarketRussian ban on imported meat, milk and produce spurs farm-to-table revolution.

Your friendly, neighborhood Planet Natural Blogger, like pretty much everyone with an organic garden in the backyard, supports locally-grown, small farm, sustainable agriculture. We buy a lot of organic grains, vegetables, fruits and meats because, well, we simply can’t raise anything close to our yearly needs of everything in our yard’s growing space. We like to buy them from responsible, nearby farmers as much as possible. But there are seasons — like the one we’re in now! — where that isn’t always possible, excluding things like meat, milk, eggs and root vegetables. Everything else comes from elsewhere. (more…)

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