USDA Approves GMO Apples

GMO Arctic AppleWill genetically modified apples ruin the fruit’s healthy reputation?

We’ve previously addressed the controversy over genetically modified apples being developed, not by Monsanto, but by a specialty Northwest grower. The apples have been engineered to resist browning and bruising, making them more suitable, it’s claimed, to being served as slices. Surprisingly, a number of established apple growers have questioned the need for the GMO varieties that are set to be marketed under the name “Arctic.”

Now the Department of Agriculture has given approval for planting of the genetically modified apple. The company behind the apple, British Columbia-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits, expects small, test-market production in 2016 and larger sales of both trees and fruit coming after that. So far, the apple is available in two strains derived from Golden Delicious and Granny Smith, Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny. Fuji and Gala GMO varities are in the works. (more…)

Plant A Winter Garden Patch

Winter GardensTake advantage of warm winter weather to sow kale, spinach, and other greens for early spring harvest. Here’s how.

Our far-flung correspondents in the west, unlike those in the east and midwest, are all reporting balmy weather these first weeks of February. It’s as if we’ve skipped spring fever this year and gone directly to spring.

Warm temperatures in the Pacific Northwest are bringing early blossoms to ornamental trees, explosions of blooms from some rhododendrons and everywhere thick, lush grass. Even at 7,000 feet above sea level, Santa Fe New Mexico is recording daytime temps in the 60s. Folks are planting greens and perennials, often in containers, and the whole country side is greening up. (more…)

Growing Self- Seeding Perennial Flowers

Perennial Flower GardenEasy-to-grow, beautiful perennials are an attractive way to fill-in landscape space.

Flowering perennials are a good-news, bad-news sort of thing when it comes to your flower beds. Most of the news about these attractive, inexpensive and easy-to-grow, self-sowing flowers falls into the “good” category.  More good news: the “bad” side of the equation can be tamed with a little advance planning.

Flowering perennials are perfect for filling space in your garden. If you’re sowing them directly into the soil, they’ll come up in a crowd that gives a nice, natural contrast with the annuals we set out as single plants. (more…)

Sales of Non- GMO Foods Push Market

Grocery ShoppingMore and more shoppers are buying foods free of GMOs. And that’s good for farmers.

The Wall Street Journal (behind a pay-wall) had a recent story about farmers choosing to raise non-GMO crops because the demand for them was growing exponentially. In fact, it appears that at least two boxed breakfast cereals will use the non-GMO label to help boost sales.

The Journal‘s article provided some evidence that critics of General Mills’ introduction of a GMO-free Cheerios are wrong. Those critics are suggesting that the move to offer a product without ingredients from genetically modified crops is akin to economic suicide. They claim that no one will want them and they’re too expensive to make. (more…)

Planning A Kitchen Garden

Backyard Kitchen GardenHow to grow greens and other vegetables right outside your back door.

The term “kitchen garden” is bandied around a lot these days. But what exactly does it mean? We’ve always considered it a vegetable garden in proximity to the kitchen door or whichever portal to the outdoors is closest to the kitchen. Proximity, of course is relevant, and almost any garden plot inside your property growing food no matter how far from the kitchen door qualifies.

As I’ve worked over fresh ideas for my landscape — otherwise know as “the yard” — I’m hoping to turn some features near the back door into vegetable and herb patches. (more…)

Tomato Planting Techniques

Transplanting Tomato PlantsTransplanting tomato starts changes root structure. Here’s how to best plant tomatoes.

Your not-so-young Planet Natural blogger was taught by his grandfather long ago to get as much of a tomato stem under the soil as possible when transplanting. This encouraged strong, new root growth. And I’ve been planting tomato starts, whether from nurseries or my own basement (under T-5 flourescents), that way ever since.

Grandpa, always a good teacher, pointed out the short, fine hairs on the tomato’s stem and explained that once underground they would produce lateral roots (though I’m pretty sure he didn’t use the word “lateral”). Since then, I’ve told many a kid the same story. (more…)

Old Malls Grow Green

Rooftop FarmingRoof-top farms and green-house gardens help reclaim agricultural land from urban sprawl.

All those big malls that were built in the 1970s and 1980s? You know, the kind that had a big anchor store or two and many, many often smaller retails outlets, a multi-plex movie house, and a food court?  They’re beginning to close — completely — in growing numbers.

Some two-dozen have closed across the country since 2010 says the mall tracking group Green Street Advisors. Robin Lewis, co-author of The New Rules of Retailing, has predicted that at least 30% of the behemoth retail complexes will close in the near future.  What to do with all that empty space? (more…)

Best Direct Sow Flowers

Flower GardenLots of annual flowers take to seeding right in the ground.

We’ve made no secret that we intend to start more of our annual flowers indoors, under lights, to set in our landscapes once temperatures cooperate. And as we were putting together a list for an impending order, we realized that we should also consider the flower seed we’ll order to sow directly in the ground.

Direct seeding works well in places like borders or other patches where a number of plants are desired. And the best flowers for these borders are ones that germinate and mature quickly like cosmoszinnias, or marigolds. (more…)

Cruel Livestock Research

Factory FarmingWhat constitutes humane treatment of farm animals?

A recent expose of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Meat Animal Research Center has focused attention on animal cruelity by factory farms and big agriculture. The crowding and debeaking of chickens, the confinement of sows when giving birth, the feed lot conditions of cattle; all these issues (and more) have drawn attention to the livestock industry and its pursuit of extracting profit from animals. But this article raises a whole new set of concerns. (more…)

Gearing Up For Starting Garden Seed

Growing SeedlingsNow’s the time to gather up what you’ll need for growing vegetable and flower seeds indoors.

We’ve been browsing through the seed catalogs that are trickling in, not all of them in the mail, and scribbling down names of some new choices we might try. Our big annual order, full of old favorites, will get sent in a couple weeks. But seeds aren’t the only thing we’ll need.

While we consider which seeds to order, we also take stock of what we’ll need to get them growing. We’ve talked a lot in the past about ways to keep your starts healthy and from getting too leggy. And those things are important. (more…)

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