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 organic growers and everyone else interested in a healthy, earth-conscious life style? Here’s where to dig up the details on everything from how to garden and design ideas to heirlooms and safe, natural lawn care.

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Bees Still In Peril

Honey Bee ColonyBee deaths accelerate in 2014.

Beekeepers lost over 42% of their colonies in the 12 months that began in April, 2014. This came after a year when total winter losses were 23%, less than the 30% average losses per year since 2005.

The figures come from the Bee Informed Partnership, a collaborative effort between university research laboratories, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The Partnership is dedicated to studying bee health on a “large scale” rather than in individual lab experiments. And that means data collection. (more…)

Businesses Responding To Consumers Demands For Safe Foods

Safe Food ChoicesOrganic Sales Up, Antibiotics, GMOs Out, and Other Healthy Eating News.

Businesses from giant chicken suppliers to fast food chains and super markets seem to be hearing demands from consumers for healthy, humanly raised, and safe foods. Encouraging news on the sales of organic produce plus announcements from major restaurant chains and the corporations that supply them suggests that consumer concerns about pesticides, GMOs, and antibiotics in their food is having more than a ripple effect in the industry. (more…)

Farm-To-Table Boosts Garden Tourism

Skagit Valley Tulip FestivalOrganic produce, local-source dining and rural pleasures tempt visitors.

It’s Tulip Festival month in the Skagit Valley of Washington state, one of the country’s primary tulip bulb production sites. Long before those bulbs are harvested, acres and acres of the tulips flower. When they do hundreds of thousands of visitors come to see the richly and variously colored blossoms on a scale that’s hard to imagine.

Planet Natural’s Pacific Northwest correspondent reports that when the flower-lovers show up, usually in the month of April (flowering came as much as two weeks early this year), they boost the local economy in ways that benefit everything from road side-stands selling rhubarb to nearby motels and restaurants. (more…)

Contaminated Potting Soil and Compost

Potting SoilBagged soils can contain herbicides, gnats, and other unsavory problems.

Stories about compost possibly contaminated with heavy metals from sewage waste and disastrous herbicides turning up in potting soil aren’t new. In 2010, the University of Maryland Extension put out a “Gardener’s Alert! Beware of Herbicide-Contaminated Compost and Manure.” The Ohio State University Extension put out a fact sheet on one persistent pesticide showing up in compost that kills off tomato, eggplant and other nightshade family vegetables as well as beans and sunflower.

But it seems more recently that gardeners are starting to pay attention to other problems that come with mass-produced, commercial potting soils and compost: the importation of pests and disease into your garden or indoor grow space. (more…)

Apples Lead New “Dirty Dozen” Pesticide Report

Produce GuideWhich non-organic fruits and vegetables to avoid, plus a “Clean Fifteen.”

The Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce — the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen — is always anticipated. Fruits dominate the top half of the list. Apples again are number one, then come peaches, nectarines, strawberries, and grapes, followed by celery, spinach, and bell peppers.

The rankings are based on a six-point evaluation that includes a percentage count of tested items found to have pesticides. 99% of apples tested and 98% of peaches were found to hold pesticides. The rankings also figure in the concentration of pesticides on each test piece. (more…)

Factory Farm Pigs and Food Safety

The Chain: Farm Factory and the Fate of Our FoodCruel, contained hog raising threatens our health and the environment.

One of our favorite sights each spring in Montana is the running of the piglets. We’d visit a small, Bozeman area organic pork producer up the west side of the Bridger Mountains to see all the little, new-born piggies take it outside.

They had a big pasture to roam and all of a sudden, as they stood rooting and rummaging around, one would take off and the rest would follow. They’d race far south, shoulder to tiny shoulder, make a wide turn, and then came streaming back. Call it a mini-stampede. The sheer joy of it never failed to make everyone laugh.

Of course, most hogs don’t enjoy that kind of life. Reading Ted Genoways’ recent book The Chain: Farm Factory and the Fate of Our Food we flashed on how hard it is not to focus on a single argument against big, meaning giant, agriculture. Humane living conditions and treatment, like those above, are easy for the small farmer. But the giants, always interested in improving the bottom line, find it more efficient –meaning more profitable — to cram pigs — standing room only — in pens with concrete floors. (more…)

Cruel Livestock Research

Factory FarmingWhat constitutes humane treatment of farm animals?

A recent expose of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Meat Animal Research Center has focused attention on animal cruelity by factory farms and big agriculture. The crowding and debeaking of chickens, the confinement of sows when giving birth, the feed lot conditions of cattle; all these issues (and more) have drawn attention to the livestock industry and its pursuit of extracting profit from animals. But this article raises a whole new set of concerns. (more…)

Horitculture Programs: Good Grows Here

Senior Garden ProgramThe popularity of urban farming, garden therapy, and organic produce means more jobs and education.

This article about vocational training at Nebraska’s world-famous Boys Town — it’s the site of our favorite Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney movie — got us thinking about gardening programs designed to educate. Boys Town has always had roots in agriculture. I remember driving by there as a kid and seeing large greenhouses standing next to rows of corn and other crops. It fit right in among the surrounding farmland. (more…)

BPA Water Bottle Substitute Worse Than BPA

Plastic Water BottlesChemicals in plastic water bottles continue to threaten health.

Those cute little stickers on that new water bottle I’m carrying around that announce that the plastic is “BPA Free”? They were reassuring after a lifetime of carrying water in containers made of who-knows-what. Now, even BPA-free bottles are suspect. Who could have predicted?

And while the news requires quick, specific action to switch to an alternative, safe bottle, it also signals an over-reaching issue concerning human health. Replacing a dangerous chemical with other manufactured chemicals never solves the problem. And sometimes it makes it worse. (more…)

The Spirit of Gardening

Spirit GardeningGardens nourish the soul as well as the body.

I like gardening – it’s a place where I find myself when I need to lose myself. –Alice Sebold

Your practical and down-to-earth Planet Natural blogger is usually all about the work of gardening, the planning, the digging, the weeding. But this time of year, when the days are short and outdoor garden activities (but not the indoor) have all but come to an end, we find that our garden continues to nurture us even as we nurtured it during the growing season.

The physical rewards of gardening — the work that makes us healthy and strong, the fruits and vegetables produced and the nourishment gained from it — are a wonderful reason to keep a little garden patch. But we can’t deny the spiritual rewards that gardening gives us. Gardening, like family and gainful work, keeps us whole. (more…)

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