Dig Deeper

Want the scoop on the latest gardening tips – both indoors and out — as well as in-depth news and articles 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.

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Growing More In Less Space

Vertical Vegetable GardeningIntensive or square foot gardening uses space more efficiently than traditional methods. Instead of wasted room between rows of crops, the garden area is maximized — that way you get the most vegetables, fruits and flowers in the smallest amount of growing space.

Even if you have plenty of room in your backyard, intensive gardening can require less work while still providing lots of heathy plants. Usually there is less weeding involved since plants are spaced closer together and every bit of garden space is cultivated throughout the entire growing season. However, because there is less room between crops, weeding will need to be done by hand or with smaller garden tools — there will not be enough room for machinery. Another drawback — to some people — is that because plants are always growing, they are not all ready to harvest at the same time. (more…)

Food Safety … Who’s Paying Attention?

Hog FarmNew pork program calling for quicker, less thorough inspection creates issues.

The safety of our food supply is a critical issue to those of us who care about the health and well-being of our families. But those issues seldom surface in the mainstream media and then only when death or a massive recall is involved. Smaller, localized news items and changes in the regulatory and inspection systems that are supposed to guard us from contaminated food often pass under the radar.

That thought occurred to us this past week when we read investigative journalist Ted Genoways’ opinion piece about changes in U.S. pork inspection already being tried at a number of packing plants and soon, possibly, to be rolled out across the entire industry. Here’s how that piece opens:

IF, thanks to an experimental inspection program, a meatpacking firm produces as much as two tons a day of pork contaminated by fecal matter, urine, bile, hair, intestinal contents or diseased tissue, should that count as a success? (more…)

How Do Earthworms Survive Winter?

EarthwormHint: It’s the slime.

Maybe your friendly Planet Natural blogger ate too much pie. But during a free hour in our recently passed holiday, he sat quietly — no football, no television — and thought about his garden and the ongoing cold snap. Then, as Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Akyroyd) says in the film Ghostbusters, it just popped in there. What happens to worms in winter?

Now every gardener loves earthworms. They’re tunneling helps keep your soil porous and conduct moisture. They feed on decaying matter, leaves and other plant matter, as well as fungi, bacteria and nematodes, then excretes them as vermicompost or worm castings, one of the most potent soil amendments there is. As the Colorado State University extension department puts it, both the structure and fertility of your garden soil are in the care of earthworms. (more…)

Shopping, Eating Local

Local Shop OwnerThe global economy demands we support local business of all kinds.

Sure, the folks at Oxford Dictionaries has crowned “vape” as word of the year. But if it were up to us, we’d choose another word, not at all new, but prevalent in so many discussions we’ve had this year. We’d choose “local.” All year long, we’ve been encouraged to shop locally and support local business. “Local sourcing” is the hottest restaurant trend of the year.

In the sense that all politics is local, so is economics. Without strong local economies, towns just vanish. Walmart and the other big box and franchise stores never contribute to these towns. In fact, they’re a big reason that certain small town mainstreets in the plains, in the mountain states, in the south and midwest — heck, all over the country — are now a shadow of their former selves. Yes, there are other reasons as well. When a town loses its school its most certainly doomed. But the economics of small town life demands that a small town have a lively economy of its own. That means keeping the money spent there and not siphoning it off to Arkansas or some other corporate headquarters. (more…)

Household Cleaners and Child Poisonings

Toxic DetergentReduce risks by properly storing and using safe, non-toxic soaps and detergents.

The recent news that in the years 2012-2013 poison control centers received over 17,000 calls about children ingesting product from laundry soap detergent pods has your concerned Planet Natural Blogger thinking. That’s a call every hour. What can be done to protect the kids? We certainly can’t package colorful, candy-shaped poisons in containers that look like candy jars.

The findings come even as the pods — they’re also available for automatic dishwashers — are only a small part (6% in 2013 ) of the household detergent markets. Those 17,260 kids reported in the study were all six years old or younger. One-third of them were between the ages of one and two. (more…)

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…)

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