Contaminated Potting Soil and Compost

Potting SoilBagged soils can contain herbicides, gnats, and other unsavory problems.

Stories about compost possibly contaminated with heavy metals from sewage waste and disastrous herbicides turning up in potting soil aren’t new. In 2010, the University of Maryland Extension put out a “Gardener’s Alert! Beware of Herbicide-Contaminated Compost and Manure.” The Ohio State University Extension put out a fact sheet on one persistent pesticide showing up in compost that kills off tomato, eggplant and other nightshade family vegetables as well as beans and sunflower.

But it seems more recently that gardeners are starting to pay attention to other problems that come with mass-produced, commercial potting soils and compost: the importation of pests and disease into your garden or indoor grow space. (more…)

April Lawn and Garden Tasks

Early April GardenGet a good start on growing season with these spring-time, how-to yard and garden chores.

Is April the garden’s busiest month? Suddenly, there’s so much to do, like start putting a garden in. Many websites put up monthly task lists, often suited to their specific region. Here’s some April gardening tips and chores that have served this gardener well over the years.

Fertilize fall-planted garlic with a high-nitrogen source, like blood meal or bat guano. Got onion sets that over-wintered? Now’s the time to start hitting them with nitrogen boosts, maybe fish fertilizer, periodically until their tops go soft and wilt in the coming summer. (more…)

Selecting Nursery Plants

Nursery PlantsNot able to grow your own? Here’s how to choose the best vegetable and flower starts.

Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger, in anticipation of the season that may have already arrived, has been going through Jim Fox’s excellent 2013 book How To Buy the Right Plants, Tools & Garden Supplies (Timber Press), particularly the chapters on choosing healthy nursery plants. Seems with recent life complications — we all have them, from health to weather to a family move — a lot of people didn’t get their vegetables started at home this year.

That’s okay. There’s actually still time to start even tomatoes and pepper seedlings indoors if you can supply the perfect conditions to encourage growth. But there’s an easier way: buy plants from a reputable nursery. (more…)

World Health Organization Links Roundup and Cancer

Glyphosate Roundup CancerNew glyphosate review finds it a probable cause of lymphoma, chromosome damage.

A review by the World Health Organization recently determined that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is “probably” carcinogenic. As reported in a study in the The Lancet (free registration required), the review, done by WHO’s International Agency for Research In Cancer, found that glyphosate increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma as well as DNA and chromosomal damage. It implicates other pesticides as well. (more…)

How to Stratify Seeds and Improve Germination

Garden SeedsRefrigerate seeds before planting to improve germination.

It’s not always so simple as just sticking seeds in the ground. There are a number of techniques and treatments that encourage seeds to germinate. We’ve all soaked wrinkled-skinned pea and other big seeds to help loosen those skins and make water absorption easier. Or we’ve nicked hard skin seeds with a sharp blade or even a fingernail (scarification) for the same purpose.

Then there’s stratification, the act of simulating winter conditions — cold and moist — to prep seeds for their usual germination temperatures come spring. This can involve placing them in the refrigerator, usually in some kind of moist potting soil. Or it can mean storing seeds outside during winter in a sealed plastic bag or covered container, again with grow mix. (more…)

Damning Report on Genetically Modified Foods

GMO Food CampaignPublic relations groups doing the agri-chemical industry’s dirty work against GMO labeling.

We’re often drawn into discussions with intelligent people about the value of genetically engineered crops and the foods that contain them.

These friends, professors among them, often embrace the accepted wisdom tossed about by commercial media outlets — that nature has been genetically modifying plants, often with help from humans, for centuries and that genetically modified crops are providing better yields and higher nutrition in both developed and developing countries. To think that they might be a hazard is to be anti-science. (more…)

The Tools You Need To Garden

Yard & Garden ToolsHow to select and care for gardening tools.

Seems folks we talk to have been using their garden tools most of the winter and not for snow shoveling. For those who haven’t, it’s time to clean, sharpen, and oil, as well as check the handles and their attachment to the working end of the tool, if you didn’t do it last fall. We’ll be digging dirt soon.

Top quality, comfortable-to-use garden tools make the work of gardening a joy (“work” and “joy”:  no contradiction there). A good shovel or turning fork with an ageless ash handle and some family history behind it is both a functional tool and a source of pride. How do you describe the feeling you get watching your kid edge his garden patch with the spade your grandfather used? (more…)

Economics, Water Drives Soil Conservation Farming

Soil ConservationNo-till, reduced pesticide and herbicide, cover crop farming methods on the grow.

Organic gardening practice that emphasizes soil quality in our backyard vegetable patch and landscape is one thing. Improving our nation’s farm soils, acre by acre, is another.

So it was with a smile that your cheerful Planet Natural blogger ran across this announcement of the 2015 Tri-Basin Natural Resources District Soil Conservation Award from south-central Nebraska.

The winner, Greg Linder of Loomis, Nebraska, is something of an American inspiration for both the generations of farming his family represents, as well as his efforts to protect two of his county’s greatest resources: its soil and water. It’s worth reading the whole story. (more…)

Tips and Tricks For Spring Garden Planting

Spring PlantingHere’s how to get your vegetable garden off to a great, early start.

Even if much of the country is still locked in winter, many places are warming up to garden planting season. Here’s a roundup of tips and strategies to help insure those first seeds that go in your garden survive the variable conditions of spring.

Plan. You’ll want to carefully choose where you’ll sow the first seeds of peas, greens, and other garden crops. It makes sense you’ll want them in the best conditions. You’ll also want to look to the future, to when and where you’ll plant long season, heat-loving seeds and transplants of things like tomatoes and squash. Remember, too, that late June and July heat may cause your first crops, especially greens to go to seed. There’s a balancing act involved. (more…)

Rewilding Your Home Landscape

Native LandscapingGardening with nature in mind’s new buzz word.

What is “rewilding?” Valerie Easton’s Natural Gardener column in a recent issue of The Seattle TimesPacific NW Sunday magazine puts perspective to the Johnny-come-lately gardening term. The piece, called “In Harmony With Nature,” is sort of a celebration of rewilding which, she notes, only first appeared in the dictionary in 2011. She says, “I like to think that in the gardenesque sense of the word, rewilding represents a desire to meddle less and celebrate nature more.”

Less meddling sounds like less work to me. Needles to say, your mostly-industrious Planet Natural blogger likes the idea of less work. (more…)

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