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Cover Crops? Smother Crops!

Alfalfa CropPlanting green manures to out-compete weeds eliminates the need for risky herbicides.

Organic gardeners know the value of sowing cover crops. Often referred to as “green manure,” cover crops are thought most valuable for what they return to the soil. Protecting the soil from hard rains, wind erosion, and other effects is seen as a side benefit. And, too, a cover crop discourages weeds, by crowding them out or inhibiting their growth.

Sometimes, cover crops are planted primarily to control weeds. Planted with this purpose in mind, cover crops become smother crops. They work best when dealing with perennial weeds but can also help starve out annuals when used over consecutive seasons. And they can be as effective (or more) on some of the worst perennial weeds. Let me tell you a story. (more…)

Water Purity and Organic Gardening

Watering the GardenThe small things we do to keep pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals out of our water supply.

The recent events in West Virginia have us thinking about water. In the meantime, we keep up on the situation, with help from Ken Ward Jr.’s excellent reporting at the West Virginia Gazette.

We do our bit in protecting water resources, foregoing chemical fertilizers and pesticides in our home space, keeping them out of the soil, keeping them from running off to streets and storm drains. Most of the benefit comes right on the ground where we live — the knowledge that the fruits and vegetables we grow, the yard where our children play, both are free of potentially harmful chemicals. But we also like to think of ourselves as making a contribution to overall water purity. An event like the one in West Virginia — the drinking water for some 300,00 people poisoned — makes us realize how small our backyard contribution is against massive spills on the commercial level.

We want clean, safe water coming into our homes and going into our gardens. The West Virginia incident shows us just how vulnerable and fragile our water resources are. Safe supplies of water have long been a global issue. Adequate supplies and water rights have long been a fixture in the U.S. Always an issue in the West, water rights and distribution are sparking battles between states and various interests. (more…)

Crop Rotation In the Home Garden

Rotating Garden CropsPlan your spring planting to control disease, weeds, and pests while boosting soil quality.

We’ve all heard of the benefits of crop rotation in large scale agriculture. And we all know that those benefits can transfer to our home gardens. Even the smallest of gardens can benefit from crop rotation, even if crops are only moved a few feet each year. Crop rotation is especially important to the organic grower because it precludes many of the problems that lead to the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides.

Exactly what are the benefits? Rotating crops is especially critical to preventing disease from getting a foot hold on certain vegetables you might plant. The bacteria and spores that attack specific plants can survive winters and infect those plants again the following year. The good news is, once in the soil they can’t travel far. You’ll do more to move them around with your spring cultivation than anything they might do on their own. If you plant the same hosts that those diseases are looking for, you’ll provide them with the ability to re-establish and become even more severe. Plant something from another group of vegetables that don’t normally host the problems, and they’ll eventually disappear. (more…)

Cheerios and GMOs

CheeriosGeneral Mills will market GMO-free Cheerios. Big deal?

The battle to label foods containing GMOs has seen some obvious setbacks in the last year. When the ballot initiative in Washington State went down this fall, many pundits could only see the defeat. What the results also reveal is a groundswell of support for labeling GMOs, evidenced by the narrow margins of defeat after the GMO industry (food manufactures, corporate agriculture, and genetically modified seed producers) outspent pro-labeling forces by millions and millions of dollars.

Food producers might be beginning to realize the marketing potential of declaring their products GMO free. General Mills has announced that they will make their best selling cereal Cheerios without GMOs. (more…)

Arctic Vortex Gardening

Winter Soil ProtectionProtecting garden soil and starting seed outdoors in the dead of winter.

The harsh weather much of the country is experiencing means something to our gardens. Ground will freeze where it seldom freezes. Snow will visit places it seldom sees. Those familiar with snow and cold are seeing more of it.

What does this mean for our gardens? Bare soil frozen at extremely cold temperatures is subject to frost heave. Microorganisms, worms, and other living components of our earth are lost as they retreat as deeply as they can.

Mulching before the the cold weather sets in will moderate ground temperatures and protect soil. A good snow cover also helps. When the forecast is set for extreme cold, it might be a good idea to add more mulch – you’re mulching your garden, right? Those places already with snow cover, forget it. I was going to recommend that you go out and shovel fall leaves, if you can find them, and snow on top of what’s already blanketing your garden. But I’d forgotten how cold your toes and your cheeks get when you’re outside and it’s 15 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees above zero or colder. And I forgot how fast the wind will scatter any leaves you turn over. No doubt you mulched well ahead of winter weather. That will have to do. (more…)

The Whole Seed Catalog: A World of Heirlooms

The Whole Seed CatalogThe Whole Seed Catalog is a compendium of news and information about the growing of heirloom vegetables and flowers.

This time of year, the joys of outdoor gardening are often reduced to time spent indoors going through seed catalogs. It’s always an exciting day when one arrives in the mail or pops up fresh online (we applaud those seed and gardening companies who push their online catalogs as a way to stay in touch while saving paper — trees! — and the fuel burned to distribute them). The catalogs are all well-thumbed — or clicked through — by the time orders are placed. Seed and gardening catalogs can be a valuable source of information — that’s always been behind the philosophy behind our business — as well as a spark to the imagination and an instigator of dreams.

The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company has taken the notion of a seed catalog a step further. Baker Creek — we carry many of their heirloom seeds — is probably the most active commercial heirloom seed business serving the home gardener. (The Seed Savers Exchange, an important player in the heirloom seed scene is a non-profit . . . we carry some of their products as well). In addition to their regular seed catalog, a massive tome as is, they’ve published The Whole Seed Catalog for 2014 as well. (more…)

Seed Sprouting … With Kids!

Sprouting SeedsLearn along with your children while growing delicious, nutritious sprouted seeds.

We do most of our January gardening indoors, in an armchair browsing seed catalogs, online and not. Otherwise, it’s taking care of the plants we grow inside and sketching plans for our outdoor gardens and landscapes. It’s still too early to start seeds for outdoor planting but, on an ambitious day, we start assembling the items we’ll need: pots and flats, growing medium, heat mat, and whatever else we’ll want come February.

All that doesn’t mean we’re not growing things to make our winters meals both tasty and healthy. We’re sprouting seed! Beans, peas, grasses (wheat, alfalfa, clover), even peanuts. And mostly we’re leaving the work for others anxious to do it… the kids! Nothing gets children involved in growing things more quickly than sprouting. The results begin happening in days, right there to be seen in the sprouting jar. None of this waiting a week or more to get something poking out of the soil. In the time it takes to see results from a seed planted in soil, we’re eating fresh sprouts. (more…)

New Year News

News FlashGMOs questioned, labeling laws, xeric grass, and the popularity of gardening.

– In Europe, the number of scientists and other experts contesting EU chief science adviser Anne Glover’s statement that genetically modified foods are no less risky than conventional, natural grown foods continues to grow. Over 275 specialists have signed a document that states that GM foods have not been proven safe and that existing research raises concerns, according to GM Watch, a European organization that monitors and reports on issues relating to genetically manipulated food sources.

Dr Angelika Hilbeck, chair of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), which published the statement, told GM Watch, “We’re surprised and pleased by the strong support for the statement. It seems to have tapped into a deep concern in the global scientific community that the name of science is being misused to make misleading claims about the safety of GM technology.” (more…)

Gardener’s New Year Resolutions

New Year's ResolutionGardening practice, like the garden itself, can always be improved. We resolve to do more, do better.

I’ve always liked the idea of New Year’s resolutions even if I wasn’t completely successful in keeping them. I can get behind the idea of taking stock of where you are, what you need to change; all with an eye to improvement or the realization of a goal or two. It’s good medicine.

Gardeners have more opportunity at this than most. Sure, everyone at least considers turning over a new leaf at the beginning of the year. But gardeners consider these resolve-to-make-it-better ideas when they plant in the spring, put the garden to bed in the fall, and all winter long as they peruse seed catalogs, read old gardening journals, and draw schematics that show exactly where the tomatoes will go. They’re always resolving to do something. (more…)

Winter Growing: Heating Greenhouses

Winter GreenhouseKeep your winter greenhouse productive with these heating and heat-conserving ideas.

Greenhouses are wonderful places, especially in the spring when benches are filled with brilliant green starts, and in the summer, its doors and roof vents propped open, with cucumbers trailing from the ceiling and tomatoes ready for picking. But in winter? Not so much. Overwintering herbs and potted plants cluster together for warmth. A few brown, leafless cucumber vines hang from an overhead trellis. Kale and spinach are over-picked and the seeds you planted have yet to sprout. (more…)

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