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.

Cities Embrace Composting Programs

Composting ProgramFood waste as well as lawn and garden wastes never see the landfill.

Recycling programs that include composting yard and garden wastes, difficult to find 20 years ago, have become the rule in America’s urban centers. And, as of 2012, 100 American cities include food and kitchen wastes in their composting programs.

Cities that now compost food wastes include Portland and Salem, Oregon, San Francisco, California, and Boulder, Colorado. And their number continue to grow. The cities of Los Angeles and San Diego allows their waste haulers to compost food waste from restaurants and hotels. In 2013, then New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg launched an ambitious campaign to recycle the city’s food waste. This would include not only waste from restaurants and other commercial interest, but from residents as well after pilot programs discovered a surprising rate of interest among households. (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…)

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…)

Dangerous Herbicide, Dangerous Business

Water FaucetResearchers looking into atrazine targeted by its maker.

Last week’s blockbuster article in The New Yorker about flamboyant researcher Tyrone Hayes and the crusade to discredit his research on the herbicide atrazine has refocused attention on a controversy that’s been brewing over the last decade. Atrazine, banned in Europe, is the second most frequently used herbicide in the U.S., second only to glysophate, also known as Roundup. It’s commonly used on farm crops, on golf courses, and by professional lawn care services.

Atrazine has been around since 1958. In the last several years, its affects have caused alarm among water managers and the general public, so much so that some 40 water systems from six different states sued Syngenta, the European-based conglomerate that manufactures the compound, in an attempt to get them to remove the herbicide from their water supplies. (more…)

Crop Rotation In the Home Garden

Rotating Garden CropsPlan your spring planting to control disease, weeds, and pests while boosting soil quality.

We’ve all heard of the benefits of crop rotation in large scale agriculture. And we all know that those benefits can transfer to our home gardens. Even the smallest of gardens can benefit from crop rotation, even if crops are only moved a few feet each year. Crop rotation is especially important to the organic grower because it precludes many of the problems that lead to the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides.

Exactly what are the benefits? Rotating crops is especially critical to preventing disease from getting a foot hold on certain vegetables you might plant. The bacteria and spores that attack specific plants can survive winters and infect those plants again the following year. The good news is, once in the soil they can’t travel far. You’ll do more to move them around with your spring cultivation than anything they might do on their own. If you plant the same hosts that those diseases are looking for, you’ll provide them with the ability to re-establish and become even more severe. Plant something from another group of vegetables that don’t normally host the problems, and they’ll eventually disappear. (more…)

Bee Decline and Chemical Companies

Bee HiveBayer CropScience claims its pesticides aren’t involved in colony collapse, blames mites.

Your friendly Planet Natural blogger doesn’t like to think of himself as the cynical sort. But then you read something in the news and can’t help but shake your head. It seems that the Bayer CropScience corporation, the manufacturer of neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide that’s been implicated in the colony collapse disorder that’s decimating bee populations around the globe, has taken it on themselves to find the “real” culprit in bee decline. And what have they come with? It’s the varroa mite!

While the mite has long been a foe of bees and beekeepers, its presence doesn’t explain the extreme decline that bee colonies have suffered in the last several years. Many scientists, and many more beekeepers believe that the relatively new class of chemical known as neonicotinoids is responsible. The European Union recently banned the chemicals so that its effect on bees could be studied. (more…)

Allelopathy and the Science of Companion Planting

Allelopathy PhilosopherHow rye grass and other allelopathic plants can cut weeds and boost fertility.

Companion planting has long been part of the organic gardeners tool kit. We’re all aware that some crops aide in the growth of other crops. The “three sisters” — corn, squash and beans — are probably the best known example of different plants that do well when planted close by. Other plants are known to repel pests. Geraniums are often planted in the garden to repel leafhoppers, corn earworms, even mosquitoes. And planting legumes — beans, field peas, hairy vetch – where heavy feeding vegetables will later grow helps increase soil nitrogen.

One problem with these principles is that there’s little scientific study to back up what we know from experience. And, in the case of companion planting, some of the scientific “proof’ can be questionable (scroll down). But science is beginning to take a serious look at one form of companion planting known as allelopathy. Scientists have discovered that certain plants have the ability to produce toxic substances that inhibit the growth of other plants. And when those “other plants” are common weeds, well, the ears of organic gardeners begin to perk up. (more…)

Small Business = Local Business

Main Street MontanaThe value of locally owned businesses to our communities, to ourselves.

With the time for giving thanks upon us and Small Business Saturday coming soon — tomorrow! – we can’t help but take time to consider the blessing of our small, locally owned businesses. Yes, we’re one of them, but we’re part of a great American tradition: small employers who hire local employees to deliver the best in goods and services. Yes, we’re all behind the Small Business Saturday movement, even though its major sponsor is a giant credit card company that profits from businesses big and small. But small business to us means local business, the businesses that make our communities unique and productive. (more…)

Natural Insect Control With Bats

Brown BatBats feed on pests from cucumber beetles to termites. Put them to work for you.

Bats get a bum deal. Thought of as blood suckers and destroyers of fruit, bats are seen as frightening pests when in fact almost all are beneficial. Those blood sucking bats? Out of some 1,000 species only three actually take blood from mammals. And those live only in the Central American tropics. Most of the fruit bats live in the tropics as well. The bats, like the tiny Indiana bat that populates most of the midwest and east? They’re not blood suckers. They’re bug suckers. Over 70% of all bats — and more in the U.S. — are insectivores.

A single brown bat can eat between 600 and 1,000 flying insects in an hour, some 5,000 in a single night. And not all insects that bats eat fly. They’ll also pluck tomato hornworms, cucumber beetles, codling moths, earworms (like the kind you find in corn) and stink bugs. If there are insects that plague your garden (like grasshoppers) or you (mosquitoes), well, suddenly bats don’t seem so terrible. (more…)

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