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Climate

Sunshine, precipitation, heat, cold, seasonal variations, altitude; all are critical considerations when planning and maintaining a successful garden. Knowing which plants do best in your climate, which conditions encourage growth, and how drought and other weather changes can affect what and how you grow is essential to wise gardeners. We discuss the issues — from shade and frost-tolerant plants to heat and drought-resistant gardens — important to every grower.

Using Cold Frames: A Year Round Gardening Tool

Cold Frame GardeningGive you plants a head-start and shelter from the cold with a versatile cold frame.

Springtime sees your friendly, think-ahead Planet Natural blogger putting his cold frame (PDF) to heavy use. Now, in a time of year where frosts are still possible, many of our indoor vegetable starts are almost ready to go into the garden. They need to get use to being outdoors. Many of them can’t survive the night-time cold but can when protected inside a cold frame, maybe draped with a blanket on the coldest nights. (more…)

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…)

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…)

Facing Drought

Drought in the GardenWhat should gardeners do in the face of water shortages?

We don’t have to tell you. The news from many parts of the west is all about drought. You can find accounts of what’s being faced, including the potential for cutbacks and rationing, here, here, and here. And the forecast for the coming months doesn’t look good.

No matter if you believe that drought is just a part of the natural cycle (it is) or is a product of global warming (we don’t see this as an easy either-or question but think both factors could be in play), dealing with a lack of or more expensive water is something that gardeners frequently face. Even as a back-to-the-land, ex-hippie in the 19(garbled) living on the edge of the rain forest in Washington State we had summer months without rain some years that meant the buried reservoir that collected water from our spring filled more slowly and even ran dry when we watered our rather large garden. That’s the problem with water: you run out just when you need it most. (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…)

Winter In the Garden

Winter GardenMay your holiday season, like your gardening season, be joyous.

We love the first days of winter, the last days of the year. We love these days as much as we love the growing season, but in a different way. We think there’s a reason so many faiths have holidays this time of year and, it seems to us, people are just a bit more considerate, more thoughtful, more generous, and more out-going this time of year. We’ve passed the longest night of the season, the winter solstice, and now the sun’s slow climb in the sky, spending more time with us each and every day until the summer solstice, is something of a beacon of hope, a reason to anticipate the return of our gardens and landscapes from their winter sleep. (more…)

GMOs, Hyperobjects & Great Grandma’s Diet

Grandmas KitchenHow to think about food, both wholesome and genetically modified.

False Assumptions and GMOs: The spread and use of genetically modified crops in the production of food is a highly controversial topic… no need to tell you that. The arguments for their use are often based on false assumptions. This wonderful article from Ensia, a magazine that comes from the University of Minnesota’s environmental department, highlights some of the wrong thinking in terms of increasing food production that is often sold to us as an important reason for the growing of GMO crops.

The writer, Jonathan Foley, reminds us that most of the GMO crops grown aren’t grown as food and are only involved indirectly in the production of other, processed foods. Here’s how it opens:

You’ve probably heard it many times. While the exact phrasing varies, it usually goes something like this: The world’s population will grow to 9 billion by mid-century, putting substantial demands on the planet’s food supply. To meet these growing demands, we will need to grow almost twice as much food by 2050 as we do today. And that means we’ll need to use genetically modified crops and other advanced technologies to produce this additional food. It’s a race to feed the world, and we had better get started.

Foley points out that much of this need for more food really isn’t due to an increasing population. It’s due to changing diets. As economies grow and people become richer, they eat richer diets. This means more meat, more dairy, more processed products. Foley argues that we need to change our thinking about our diets and the kinds of food we eat. Only then will we have enough food to feed our ever-increasing global population. (more…)

November in the Garden

November GardeningGardening isn’t over until the ground freezes.

For a lot of us, November marks the end of our outdoor gardening season. There’s still puttering to do: cleaning and oiling tools to be put away for the winter, bringing indoors any potted plants we may still have outside, trimming back and protecting roses; that kind of thing. Often we’ll wait for a sunny (relatively) warm day to do these things. But as all of us have heard said — thank-you, Coach Kruger! — it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And in gardening, that means it ain’t over until the ground freezes, no matter what the calendar says.

How so? As long as you can get a spade in the ground, the ground can still be worked. That means you can still plant bulbs for spring blooming. Lots of experts will tell you that bulbs need to be planted around the time of the first frost and several weeks ahead of the ground freezing. We’ve found that this isn’t necessarily true. Bulbs planted well after the first frost will do quite well as long as the freeze is gradual and not the result of a sudden and prolonged cold snap. The main thing here is to avoid over watering. Everyone knows bulbs don’t like wet feet. When the solid freeze comes you don’t want your bulbs to be too damp which may cause them to be damaged. (more…)

Beekeeping, Small Farming, and the Environment

Bee HiveLessons from the hive about pesticides, organic practice, and sustainability.

We’ve been reading environmental activist and author Bill McKibben’s new book Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist (here’s an excerpt) and finding it entirely fascinating. It’s the story of McKibben’s life in 2011, the year he and his organization 350.0rg spent time protesting the XL Pipeline that would carry tar sands from Canada to the refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

You don’t have to be a strong opponent of the pipeline or even actively engaged in fighting global warming (or even worried) to enjoy this book. True to its subtitle, it tells how McKibben, an environmentally supportive author from Vermont, became educated in the ways of politics and activism during a year that preceded a national election even as the country experienced a crippling, almost nation-wide drought and record shattering heat. (more…)

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