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.

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. (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. (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…)

Overwintering Plants Indoors

Overwintering PlantsTo keep potted plants alive through the winter, know your plants, know your conditions.

Friends that read this blog are always anxious to offer criticism, point out mistakes, and otherwise find things I’ve said that just might not be true in every case. Rather than get all defensive, we’ve learned to engage our fact-checkers, address the questions and, more often than not, learn something in the process.

So when a couple of longtime gardeners began taking exception to some of the things I said in “Overwintering Potted Plants,” I paid attention. Much of what they commented on wasn’t about out-and-out mistakes. Most of the corrections and considerations my friends made were of the “not true in every case,” and “you failed to make the distinction,” and, best (or worst, depending on your point of view) “you promised the moon” sort. So let’s start with the moon.

Overwintering plants is an imperfect art. Success is relevant to the conditions and, let’s face it, most seasons present a day or three of special conditions. In general, conditions are changing. It’s not unusual to lose plants that you bring indoors; in fact, it should be expected. Success, measured when those plants are taken back outside and then thrive, is an achievement and should be celebrated. Failure is the way you learn to be successful. (more…)

How to Make a Succulent Frame

Succulent FrameAn attractive, hardy succulent garden to hang on your wall like fine art.

The more we learn about and grow succulents, the more we love them. They’re compact and beautiful, with fleshy “fat leaves.” Those thick, engorged leaves come in beautiful paddles, tight rosettes, and a variety of other attractive, snaking swollen fronds. Succulents do well in arid areas and are tolerant of heat swings of the sort you might find in a desert (as long as it doesn’t freeze hard). It doesn’t take much to grow them as long as you remember a few succulent principles. Never over water; succulents carry their own. What do you think makes those fat leaves? (more…)

Quick Efficient Composting

Compost TumblerGetting the most from your tumbler.

Our correspondent in Santa Fe, New Mexico writes in to tell us of an encouraging sight he sees. One of the city’s schools is flanked by a number of raised garden beds where the students grow vegetables in the spring and summer. Nearby are a half-dozen compost tumblers into which he’s seen students loading the remains of those gardens as well as leaves and kitchen scraps. This extends the students’ lessons that start with simple seeds. Not only are they learning about plants and other aspects of biology, they’re learning about recycling waste, building healthy soil, and the science behind decomposition. Imagine the possibilities.

The main thing this sight brings to our New Mexican friend (he admits) is jealousy. He only has one compost tumbler and he wishes, like the students, he had more.

The benefits of compost tumblers make them perfect for most home gardeners. They keep their contents neat and contained. Not all of us think that a compost heap is a beautiful thing (right, dear?) but even those who see a pile of decomposing leaves and grass clippings as an eyesore can’t slight the sight of an efficient compost tumbler. The best thing about them? They make accomplishing the act of composting much easier. Why spend time with a garden fork turning over a heavy and unruly heap every few months when a few cranks and turns mixes your compost and provides the aeration it needs to work effectively? (more…)

Contaminated Chicken: Thoughts For Organic Gardeners

Chicken ProductionSalmonella outbreak emphasizes importance of small producers and homegrown vegetables.

No doubt you, like us, have been following the recent news about contaminated chicken. No need to go into the details. But for those who need to catch up, Portland’s The Oregonian has done a good job covering the story and food-issue columnist Mark Bittman over at The New York Times has provided not only background but insight into the story behind the story. (more…)

Manure, Antibiotics, Compost

Composting ManureIt’s common knowledge that the commercial livestock industry stuffs its cattle, hogs and chickens with antibiotics. A new study shows just how dangerous the practice is. A review of 440,000 patient records in Pennsylvania found that those who lived near farms and areas where manure was dumped were 38 percent more likely to develop a MRSA infection. MRSA is one of the most insidious and deadly antibiotic-resistant infections confounding the medical world today. The bacteria attacks skin and other soft tissue.

The study has important implications for growers and family gardeners who purchase and use steer and other types of manures — or commercial compost containing manure–for garden use. Working with or near such manure could unnecessarily expose you to MRSA and other antibiotic resistant infections. (more…)

Plant Bulbs In Containers for Spring Flowers

Planting BulbsAmong spring’s greatest visual joys is a fat container sporting thick green spears of emerging tulips, daffodils, and other flowers. And when the flowers emerge tightly circled, like beautiful eyes following wherever you go, there’s little that can compare. The time to make sure your spring will be full of beautiful flowers from bulbs is now, in the fall, to give them a chance to establish roots and to chill-out over the winter, just like most gardeners do.

Don’t get us wrong. We love spring blossoms from bulbs as they poke out from the thawing ground, sometimes even through the snow, in our borders and gardens. And there’s little that’s as impressive as a huge plot of daffodils, their bright petals announcing sunny days, turning through the day as they follow the light. But growing bulbs in containers is a great way to add spot-specific color and interest. They’re especially useful to the small gardener, even apartment dwellers with verandas, in that they provide a space for growing color where none may have existed. Best of all? Growing them is easy.

Almost any spring-flowering bulb will do for container planting. And as you plan your bulb containers, consider planting major flowering bulbs like tulips, gladiola, and daffodils with smaller flowers like crocus, snowdrops, windflower, or grape hyacinth (though the latter tends to spread and take over pots). Combinations of bulbs will give you both staggered blooms and a layered, understory appearance. (more…)

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