Patience When Planting Peas: The Payoff

Pea PlantsWait for the right soil temperatures and conditions before planting peas.

This time of year we’re thinking peas. Peas are always the first thing to go in our garden and the common wisdom — “plant as soon as the soil can be worked” — is our cue to get into the garden as soon as the soil dries enough that it doesn’t ball up when squeezed in our fists. Peas are also a cool weather crop, doing best in spring and early summer but also planted in late summer-early fall in places where winter doesn’t jump the shark as soon as October comes around.

Not only great eating — we were all about serving curls of fresh pea shoots in salads before it became popular in gourmet, farm-to-table restaurants — peas serve another purpose that promotes well-being in gardeners. They give us something to do in the weeks (and months ) ahead of when the rest of the garden goes in.

If you’re like me, you’re chomping at the bit once March rolls around and garden season is imminent. It’s like waiting for Christmas when you’re a kid. Sometimes you just can’t keep your hands off the presents even before the big day. (more…)

Agricultural Water Use and the California Drought

Agricultural Water100 billion gallons of water, in the form of alfalfa, shipped to China. How can we use less water to grow the produce needed in this country? (Hint: small, sustainable, organic farms.)

Here’s one effect of the drought in California and elsewhere: there’s been a lot of fascinating reporting on water use in commercial agriculture. And the amounts of water that go into some crops, and where those crops are headed, has created something of a controversy. (more…)

Buy Plant Starts? Or Grow Your Own?

Vegetable Starts

How to get the best organic and heirloom vegetable starts for your garden.

Organic gardeners are faced with a dilemma this time of year. How do we obtain organically raised vegetable starts for placement in our gardens? The best answer of course is to start them ourselves. This allows us to control all the variables — the seed, the starting mix, any amendments or rooting formulas we might use — without using or having any unnecessary concern for herbicides, pesticides, inorganic soil additives, or such chemicals as growth regulators. (more…)

What’s Left In the Root Cellar

Root CellarUsing, not losing, what remains of last year’s harvest.

We were fortunate to have a root cellar when we had a small hippie homestead years ago in the Pacific Northwest. While we often think of root cellars as being underground, or part of a basement — a good thing as being below ground, surrounded by earth, moderates the cold outdoor temperatures — our “cellar” more resembled a tiny cabin. With its thick cedar log walls stacked tightly against each other and a dirt floor, we were able to keep some of the summer’s bounty — mostly root vegetables and squash, but also onions and a cabbage or two — well through the winter. (more…)

Springtime Soil Testing

Soil TestingMaking sure your garden soil has the proper pH and amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium now helps guarantee growing success.

We often talk about the fact that successful gardening, especially successful organic gardening, requires healthy soil. But how do you know if your soil is healthy? Adding lots of organic material helps assure that your soil is alive with microbes, maintains a balance of nutrients, and has good drainage. But what about its acid-alkaline balance (the measurement known as pH)? What about the nutrients that plants need to be healthy and resist pests and diseases? (more…)

Tips For Indoor Seed Starting

Starting SeedsMoisture control, proper containers, and good starting mix are key to seedling success.

We’re smack dab in the middle of the seed starting season, or maybe just getting ready to start in more northern climes. It seems like a good time to review some tips for starting seeds and growing seedlings indoors ahead of outdoor planting. And while the basics of seed starting are pretty simple, there are always some tried-and-true tricks as well as some timely reminders to make your seed starting experience a worthwhile one. First time seed starter or someone who just wants to review the basics? Try here.

Most Important: The one thing we’ve found to be most important among many important things when starting seeds indoors? Moisture control. This means not only controlling the moisture in your starting mix, but providing the proper drainage. And, in the circular, everything-is-related-to-everything-else world of gardening, this means using the right starting mix. (more…)

What’s In Your Food? GMOs, Chemicals, And Our Right To Know

FDA LabelingNew FDA labeling rules include added sugars. And why the bread on that sandwich might taste like a yoga mat.

The big food news this week is the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement that it will update its Nutrition Facts Label requirements “to reflect the latest scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.” Part of this change deals with portion size. These have been changed in some cases — like increasing the single portion of soda from 12 to 20 ounces — to reflect sizes that are more commonly consumed. We’ll agree that’s a good thing if indeed the change makes figuring what you’re getting from what you consume without having to do any extra math. (more…)

Home Grown Brussels Sprouts

Brussel SproutsPlan now to start and grow one of the garden’s most nutritious plants.

Brussels sprouts have enjoyed a surge in popularity lately. Much of that is due to the fact we’ve realized how good they are for us. Those little miniature cabbages — they are actually quite different from cabbages even though they belong to the same family, the crucifers, as do kale, broccoli, and kohlrabi — are a gold mine of necessary nutrition.

Brussels sprouts contain a lot of cardiovascular disease fighting and cholesterol lowering fiber — 13% of a man’s daily requirement in a one cup serving (9% of a woman’s) — as well as lots of vitamins C and K for bone health, carotenoids for healthy vision, and a surprising amount of protein for a vegetable — 3 grams per serving. Another attraction: that single, one cup serving has only 38 calories. Here’s the complete nutrition rundown.

But the thing that’s really made Brussels sprouts so attractive is their use in the kitchen. Brussels sprouts had gained something of a bad reputation for a couple reasons. The first was the quality of the sprouts sold at the market. Often harvested during the still-warm months, or shipped up from southern countries in the spring, they didn’t have the advantage of taking on some cold weather just as they were ready for harvest. Everyone knows that a light frost brings out a sweet flavor in any of the crucifers. (more…)

Better Pest Management

Pest ManagementCompanion planting, interplanting, and healthy soil tricks that keep pests away from your vegetables.

We like the way Edward C. Smith thinks about insect pests. As he states in his fine book The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, he treats pests (and that includes disease) as predators on the hunt. “Just as lions select the weakest wildebeest, aphids are drawn to the weakest plants,” he writes. “Anything you can do to improve growing conditions for a plant makes the plant less likely to be attacked by pests and disease. Good pest management means understanding that pests and diseases are not problems in themselves, but symptoms of the problem.”

Smith doesn’t use the term Integrated Pest Management. But of course, that’s what he’s doing: not using chemical pesticides to take care of his problems (which often causes even more garden problems in addition to exposing you and your family to dangerous compounds) but instead using a variety of non-chemical techniques to discourage and control insects that might want to invade his plants. (more…)

Organic Gardening Guru – How to Grow Organically

Organic Gardening GuruKnowledge is the key to successful organic gardening. Planet Natural has compiled much of the information you’ll need – from the basics of getting started to finding organic solutions to specific problems – here.

The Dirt on Growing Organically

Organic gardening, once seen as something practiced only by health nuts and hippies, is no longer a fad. Everyone wants the food we serve to our families as well as our environment to be safe and healthy. This desire for safety – wanting to do no harm to our families and the world around us– is the central reason people grow organically. The more we learn about chemical herbicides and pesticides, the more we see the effects of synthetic fertilizers and genetically modified crops, the more we realize that we must protect ourselves from them. Growing organically is a way of taking control, an attempt to make the foods you serve full of the good things your family needs, and free of the things they don’t. It’s a way of making the places where your children and pets play as safe as they can be. It’s a sign of respect to both your fellow humans and the environment as a whole. (more…)

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