Organic Lawn Care 101 – Lawn Maintenance

Lawn CareThe Grass is Greener … and Safer!

Lawns may have been invented in Europe, but they’ve reached their apotheosis in North America. For those in the U.S. of A, that green, green grass ranks right up there with apple pie, backyard barbecues and softball. For Canadians it’s proof of place, both a responsibility and a privilege, like wearing decent clothes when you leave the house. Keep your teeth clean and your grass green. In the lower 48 states and much of southern Canada, grass is practically an obsession.

The problem with the perfect lawn is that it wreaks havoc on both your wallet and the environment. Between 30 and 40 million acres of land in the U.S. are devoted to turfgrass (see Curbing the Lawn), and Americans collectively spend big bucks — about $40 billion annually — on seed, sod and chemicals. In Canada, which has around one tenth the population of the U.S., sales from all lawn care products have risen steadily over the past five years, to over $2 billion by 2007. (more…)

Tomato Gardening Guru – How to Grow Tomatoes

Tomato Gardening GuruGrowing Killer Tomatoes

It’s a true story, and one to give a prospective gardener pause: the young couple decides to grow their own tomatoes, and when the summer is over, they manage to harvest a single fruit.

How did they do it, one wonders? Is tomato gardening so difficult that only the few, the botanically exalted, should try it? To judge from the number of books and articles on the subject, one would think it must be so. Indeed, the amount of information out there can be as intimidating as the prospect of a one-tomato harvest.

It’s easy to get bogged down in fine-tuned instructions on testing soil pH, the precise timing and placement of mulches, the selection of heirloom varieties and the rest of it. Actually, though, the basics are pretty — well, basic. If the couple had asked a friend to water their plants on the weekend they left town, all would have been well. (more…)

Herb Gardening Guru – How to Grow Herbs

Herb GardeningGrowing Herbs Cultivates Good Taste!

We all know and love herbs. Chances are that you’ve already used a product today that has an herbal ingredient. The soap you showered with this morning used lavender for its scent. The organic wool sweater that you’re wearing may have been dyed using herbs. The aspirin you took after lunch is derived from a plant and some experts say that more than 25 percent of drugs currently on the market contain plant extracts. Tonight, when you sit down to your roast beef dinner, your carrots will be graced by tarragon and your potatoes adorned with rosemary. Herbs make everything smell, taste and feel better. (more…)

Rose Gardening Guru – How to Grow Roses

Rose GardeningStop and Grow the Roses

“Of all the flowers, me thinks a rose is best.” – William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

There’s something about roses. More than 1.2 billion cut roses are purchased in the United States every year, most of them on Valentines Day. (Mothers Day comes second.) Millions of gardeners cultivate roses, some exclusively. In fact, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Rose Societies.

As the symbol of love, roses have inspired musicians, poets and authors. Shakespeare alone mentioned roses more than 50 times in his poems and plays. (more…)

Beneficial Insects 101 – A Good Bugs Guide

Good Garden BugsIt’s A Bug Eat Bug World!

Danger lurks in a backyard garden. Aphids, cutworms, mealybugs and other pests are preying on your vegetables and flowers. Who’s an organic gardener going to turn to for help? Forget nasty, expensive chemicals, enlist the aid of “good bugs” that will battle and help control pest outbreaks and won’t even ask for a thank you, let alone a pay check.

Gardeners turn to biological control (PDF) for help and to reduce or eliminate the need for chemical pesticides. These insects are the natural enemies of garden pests. That’s great news for growers because it means there is an effective, non-toxic approach for solving your bug blues. But the benefits don’t stop there! Read on… (more…)

Composting 101 – How to Make Compost

Composting 101Welcome to COMPOSTING 101, Planet Natural’s go-to guide for turning what unsuspecting folks call yard waste into garden magic. Here you’ll find all you need to know about the best ingredients, containers, techniques, time-honored wisdom and common mistakes that will let you build the healthiest soil your plants will ever see.

3 Essential Elements for Perfect Compost

It’s time to let you in on a little secret: this type of soil building is the perfect lazy person’s gardening project. Unlike weeding or double-digging, which take lots of time and physical effort, a compost pile pretty much takes care of itself. Build it right, and it will transform your growing expectations. (more…)

Onion Tool, GMO Labels, & Bats!

Onion SeedlingsUsing a dibble, deception from a GMO front group and $50 billion worth of pest control done by flying mammals.

More on planting onions: A cranky computer kept us from getting in everything we wanted in our previous post on long-day, short-day onions. Starting onions from seed indoors is easy enough. What’s difficult is setting the delicate transplants or sets in the ground (transplants usually just have roots, sets have developed a small onion bulb). Burying sets too deeply means slow growth and small onions. Putting transplants in the ground requires getting the root to hang vertically and not twisted or laying on itself. How to get it right?

Use a dibble. The dibble, or onion tool as it’s sometimes called makes a straight hole as deep as the dibber allows. This allows you to hang the delicate root of the transplant vertically inside the dibble hole. To make sure the root stays straight, lower it to a depth that’s deeper than you want it set, then carefully lift it up as you fill the dibble hole with soil. Onions, depending on their size, should be spaced a good five inches from one another. The dibble is also useful when planting garlic. (more…)

Planting Onions In the Home Garden

Garden HarvestThe type of onion you plant depends on your latitude.

Almost every gardener I know buys onion starts in the spring and gets them in the ground as much as a month before the first frost. It’s true that some of our friends living in more moderate climes will stick onions starts, if they can find (or grow them) in the ground in the fall, mulch heavily, and keep their fingers crossed. My experience tells me that onions don’t do well with hard freezes and that making it through the winter depends on luck and how well insulated you can keep the young plants.

I’ve also known a gardener or two who go to the trouble to start their own onion seed, both indoors and out. The reason they do this is selection. While most nurseries carry only a few (if more than one) types of onions ready as sets, buying seed allows you to choose your favorite tasting varieties, often not available as set. And it gives you a chance to make sure you have the right onion for your location on the planet. (more…)

Kids and Cabbage, Exploding Cows & Global Warming

Farmed and DangerousNews items on student gardening programs, marketing food by resisting factory farms, and the complications of climate change.

Learning about gardening one cabbage at a time:  Let’s start with some good news. Bonnie Plants, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of plant starts, has announced the winners of its 3rd Grade Cabbage Program. A winner, randomly chosen from each state, will receive a $1,000 savings bond to be applied to the student’s future education.

While only one winner gets the savings bond, there are no losers in this program. Bonnie supplies millions of cabbage starts around the country to classrooms that choose to participate. Included with the starts are lesson plans that help teachers teach the fundamentals of plant growth. That the students learn their lessons well can be seen in the pictures of the cabbages they’ve grown. (more…)

Wide Row and Intensive Gardening

Intensive GardensGetting the most from your vegetable garden while saving space, water and work.

I give my grandfather a lot of credit when it comes to teaching me the craft of gardening. But he wasn’t right about everything. Or, at least, not all of his techniques were the most productive. Like grandfather demonstrated year in and year out, I started off planting vegetables in neat-lined rows, one plant following the other. I did this for everything: carrots, beets, lettuce, corn, even squash and pumpkins. It was just the way he did it and always had.

Circumstance eventually changed my thinking. Given a tiny front yard, I began spacing plants together in enclosed, raised beds. As long as I could reach the center of the beds, everything was fine. (more…)

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