Dig Deeper

Want the scoop on the latest gardening tips – both indoors and out — as well as in-depth news and information on issues important to natural growers and everyone else interested in a healthy, earth-conscious life style? Here’s where to dig up the details on everything from soil amendments and organic pest control to heirlooms and safe, natural lawn care.

Your Grandfather’s Apples

Heirloom Apple TreeHeirloom apple trees yield treasures from the past.

This time of the year, when cider presses across the country are squeezing day and night, is a good time to consider the bounty of apples we enjoy. We’re not talking about the stacks of Gala and Fuji and Granny Smith that decorate the produce sections of our local supermarkets. We’re talking about the heirloom apples we find in farmers markets and produce stands, and in our backyard gardens or those of our neighbors, apples with names like Grand Alexander, Cornish Gilliflower, and Macoun (pronounced “McCowan”), apples that taste nothing like the commercial fruits flooding grocery stores. These apples, with various origins and histories, are a link to our past as well as a direct connection to a heritage that may have been lost if not for some persistent and skilled fruit growers. (more…)

Fall Pest Prevention

Garden Clean UpCleaning out garden debris also takes out harmful insect eggs and larvae.

We’ve been updating articles on the Planet Natural Pest Problem Solver — a handy resource for the organic gardener and those interested in Integrated Pest Management in our “Learning Center” pull downs on the homepage — and, in particular, going over sections on cabbage worms, asparagus beetles, loopers and the like. It occurred to us that with many pests that overwinter in decaying plant matter, there’s one thing you can do at the end of the season to put all those seedling stealing, leaf-eating, cabbage-ruining worms and beetles at a distinct disadvantage. Clean-up!

Taking away the foliage where the moths have laid eggs, where pupae hide, where a worm has burrowed into a green stem like a sleeping bag and is hoping for a mild winter, eliminates the chance that these pests will emerge in your garden come spring to start the destructive cycle all over again. Not only does removing the remains of your garden take out the pests hiding there, it also reduces the presence of disease and fungal wilt. (more…)

What is Gluten? How You Can Garden for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle

Preparing VegetablesCeliac disease is a significant intestinal problem that affects around 1 in 133 people. Sufferers of this disorder often exhibit symptoms of a physical intolerance to gluten after eating foods containing the protein. The high incidence of this disease has led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require that food manufacturers follow strict guidelines when labeling their products as “gluten-free.” While many food companies now offer gluten-free alternatives to popular snacks and meals, making changes in the diet to include whole foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, can significantly improve the condition. For celiac sufferers, growing a personal vegetable garden can ensure that fresh produce free of gluten-free contaminants is always available. (more…)

Many Benefits of Sensory Gardens

Child GardenA sensory garden is a garden environment that is designed with the purpose of stimulating the senses. This stimulation occurs courtesy of plants and the use of materials that engage one’s senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. These types of gardens are popular with and beneficial to both children and adults, especially those who have sensory processing issues, including autism and other disabilities. To get the maximum use from a sensory garden, it is important to take into account for whom the garden is primarily intended. It is also important to understand what plants and features will best achieve the atmosphere that is desired.

Kids who have sensory processing disorders tend to have extreme reactions to sensory stimulation in that they are either stimulated too much or too little. This can be caused by a number of factors, such as autism, brain injury, and premature birth, to name a few. (more…)

The Truth Behind Food Labeling

Food LabelingThere’s a movement to make organic and natural food labels mean something.

In our world, words like “organic” and “natural” are pretty clear-cut. But that’s not true when it comes to their use on food labels. Use of the word “organic” is controlled by laws and regulations. Some of those rules don’t make sense. The rules that do make sense, the necessary rules (like no pesticide use) aren’t often enforced. Globalization has complicated the issue. Has anybody checked to see those walnuts from Kazakhstan are really organic?

Peter Laufer has. His book Organic: A Journalist’s Quest To Discover the Truth Behind Food Labeling raises some troubling questions (and some troubling answers as well) about the global organic food trade. We’ve plugged it before. (more…)

GMO Labeling and Barcode Apps

Barcode AppIt’s time for honest nutritional information on all food products.

News this week from the Aspen Ideas Fest that Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilask suggested some day consumers might have an app on their smart phones or a barcode reader that would reveal a trove of nutritional information about the products it scanned, including whether or not it contained genetically modified ingredients. (Video of his complete and wide-ranging discussion with former ag secretary Dan Glickman is here.)

In a follow-up interview, Vilsak said, “The F.D.A. and U.S.D.A. could help coordinate the compilation of information. That way you wouldn’t create a misimpression about the safety of a product, which could happen depending on how something was labeled.” Shoppers would use their phones or scanners at the store to read the codes that would reveal all the information gathered on their make-up and nutritional values. (more…)

Organic Brewing

Organic HopsHome brewers are growing their own.

Making beer at home is equal parts chemistry, hard work, and American tradition. We’ve been fascinated by the stories of homebrewers who grow their own hops and, if they have room, their own barely for malting.

Home made beer always carries a certain “terroir,” that oft-used term to describe wine and other foods’ local flavors, coming from soil and climate conditions, even the space in which it was brewed. We’ve met homebrewers who used fruits and berries, herbs, and chiles from their own organic gardens to flavor their beers in ways that made them especially unique. (more…)

Avoiding Water Stressed Plants

Watering PlantsMake sure your plants don’t receive too little or too much water.

Though it’s not true everywhere — the forecast today for Bozeman includes a 40% chance of scattered showers — we’re fast approaching that time of the growing season when your garden, lawns and flower beds included, need to be closely monitored for moisture. How do we know when our plants aren’t getting enough water? They tell us.

Water stress is the term used to denote any moisture-related problems that plants might have. This includes too much water as well as too little. Water stress can also be caused by the quality of the water given to the plants. Water containing too many dissolved salts or grey (recycled) water that contains pollutants can also stress plants. (Phosphorous, found in many home detergents and soaps, can actually aid plant growth if proper amounts aren’t exceeded… Tip: use natural cleaning products.)

As every gardener knows, determining when plants need water is easy: their leaves wilt. But of course, you don’t want to get to this point. When you spot wilting, you’ve already stressed your plant. (more…)

Wanted: More Compost

Compost PileFaster composting for all your lawn and garden uses.

It’s a common complaint among us gardeners this time of year, and not just this time of year: We need more compost. When you’re working it into your garden soil, side dressing the plants in your borders and the transplants in your vegetable patch, even spreading it in the lawn to insure a healthy, weed-smothering and pest resistant carpet of green, well, you can go through a lot of compost rather quickly. You don’t want to skimp. But its hard not too when you have so many places in your landscape calling out for rich, organic soil amendment and only a limited amount of production capacity. (more…)

Farm-To-Table, GMO Ban News

Farmer's MarketSupporting locally grown food means supporting local farms; time line of GMO measure.

Farm-To-Table Controversy: An ongoing discussion erupted into a full-scale controversy over the weekend when Dan Barber, co-owner of New York City’s ground-breaking, local-sourced Blue Hill Restaurant, published an opinion piece in The New York Times that seemed to accuse supporters of the farm-to-table movement of being naive. How dare he?

Turns out that Barber was just taking a deeper look at something that we’ve come to accept as absolutely good: small farmers bringing their crops directly to consumers. He uses his own experience — Barber is also on the board of directors and runs the restaurant at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in New York’s Hudson River Valley — to discover just what we’re leaving out of our conception of the farm-to-table revolution. But first — and this is the part that surprised many people — he starts out with a contradiction. (more…)

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