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.
The Dirty Truth About Biosolids
By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural
Compost is rightly celebrated as the perfect soil amendment and a great way to recycle green waste. But not all compost is created equal. In fact, commercial compost based on “biosolids” or sewage sludge can be downright dangerous.
You know what biosolids are, right? Solids made from bio materials, just what the term suggests. One can’t help but think of Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Except biosolids don’t smell so sweet. And what’s in this name is otherwise known as shit.
Truth is, “biosolids” is a marketing term, a euphemism for sewage sludge. Sewage sludge is what remains of everything flushed down the sewers — human and animal feces, industrial chemicals, medical waste, oil products, pesticides, home cleaners — after the water is removed. The Environmental Protection Agency says it’s okay to call “biosolids” compost. The marketers who came up with the term biosolids (they did it by holding a contest) want you to think of it as natural. To that end, they’ve invested a ton of resources. (more…)
By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural
There are plentiful reasons to grow herbs indoors: basil pesto, rosemary chicken, maple and marjoram-roasted turkey, fresh oregano pizza sauce, tarragon salmon, cilantro-flavored salsas and spicy chive dip. The rise of gourmet home cooking as well as the popularity of fresh, home-raised and locally-grown foods has increased demands for fresh herbs. Why not grow your own, year `round? With modern advances in grow lights, growing mediums and self-contained hydroponic systems, raising herbs inside a small corner of your home can add year-round flavors, scents, even profits to your life.
Kitchen gardeners have long grown herbs on windowsills, under kitchen fluorescent bulbs and next to indoor orchid lights (see How to grow herbs indoors during winter). The success of these practices, touted in articles, videos and a few misinformed books, varies greatly. There’s seldom enough light in even the sunniest windowsill to yield more than an infrequent harvest, say a pinch of rosemary in February or a few basil leaves at Christmas. Standard fluorescent lamps could help plants over winter and even produce some harvests depending on how close and intense the lights were. Having herbs under lamps two or more feet away might do little more than keep perennials like oregano, rosemary and sage alive, sometimes barely, until they could be transplanted back in the outdoor garden. (more…)
Why Grow Plants in Pots?
Container-grown plants can be an addition to an already flourishing landscape or a garden all by themselves. By planting in pots, buckets, whiskey barrels, grow bags, or whatever else you find around the house, you’ll be adding aesthetic interest and practicality to your yard and home.
Container gardening is useful when…
• you want to move warmth-loving plants into the house for the winter.
• controlling the soil quality is desired.
• there isn’t much space available.
• you want to grow fresh, yummy herbs and veggies (or pretty flowers) year-round.
• adding height, texture and variety to the yard is important. (more…)
Healthy soil is the basis of healthy plants and a healthy environment. When garden soil is in good shape there is less need for fertilizers or pesticides. As author and respected gardener Frank Tozer writes, “When building soil you not only improve your plants health, but you can also improve your own.”
Organic soil is rich in humus, the end result of decaying materials such as leaves, grass clippings and compost. It holds moisture, but drains well. Good organic garden soil is loose and fluffy — filled with air that plant roots need — and it has plenty of minerals essential for vigorous plant growth. It is alive with living organisms — from earthworms to fungi and bacteria — that help maintain the quality of the soil. Proper pH is also an essential characteristic of healthy soil.
Confused about fertilizer numbers? What value do they have in organic gardening? A plant needs nutrients to survive. Most of these are provided by the soil, but soil varies tremendously in nutrient amounts, soil type, pH, and nutrient availability.
The three main nutrients that have been identified as absolutely necessary for plants are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). These three are also known as macronutrients, and are the source of the three numbers commonly found on organic fertilizer labels. The numbers found on our All-Purpose Fertilizer, for example, are 5-5-5. This is the percentage by weight of the N, P, and K found in the fertilizer. (more…)
In a perfect world, your garden’s soil would provide all the nutrients plants need. But in the real world, garden and lawn soil — and thus the plants that live in them — often need a little boost. Improving the soil is the number one thing you can do to improve your garden, yard or landscape and organic fertilizers can help.
All plants need:
• Macronutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium
• Secondary nutrients – sulfur, calcium and magnesium
• Micronutrients – iron, manganese, zinc, chlorine, boron, copper and nickel (in very small quantities)
Organic fertilizing can be as easy or as technical as you want it to be. For gardeners who don’t wish to spend a lot of time figuring out what individual plants want, there are commercial blends that can be used on all plants.
For those who like to treat each plant as an individual there are singular fertilizers or mixes for every kind of plant. Often fertilizing protocol changes as the plant grows. Keep reading to review the best fertilizing method for you. (more…)
Why not use chemical fertilizers? It’s a reasonable question. After all, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ARE chemicals, so where is the advantage in these bags of heavy, grainy stuff, that need to be measured and mixed and then dug in, when you can just pick up a small plastic bottle of the blue stuff?
There are several organic fertilizer benefits, some purely altruistic, others much more self-interested. First of all, most chemical fertilizers provide only that well-known trio, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These three, known as the macro-nutrients, are indeed required in greater quantity than any others, but they are only three of the thirteen nutrients plants need. The three chemicals that qualify as secondary nutrients, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium are generally ignored, as are the trace nutrients, boron, chlorine, manganese, iron, zinc, copper, and molybdenum. While these are needed in far smaller quantities than the macro-nutrients, they are still essential.
This might not matter if plants could just get these other nutrients from the soil, and this is indeed what usually happens. But over time, and in several ways, chemical fertilizers can interfere with plants’ ability to take up nutrients. (more…)
Here’s a list of some organic fertilizers you can encounter:
Manure for the garden comes from cow, sheep, poultry and horses. Pretty self-explanatory. Manure is known as a “complete” fertilizer; it has a lot of organic matter, but is low in nutrients. Manures are most valuable as organic soil amendments and mulches. Note: Beware of using fresh manure as a fertilizer because it can burn plants.
Blood meal is dried, powdered blood collected from cattle slaughterhouses. It’s such a rich source of nitrogen that gardeners have to be careful not to over-apply and burn the roots of their plants. Apply just before planting to stimulate green leafy growth.
Bone meal is finely ground bone. A by-product from animal slaughterhouses, it is a great source of calcium and contains up to 15% phosphate. Bone meal promotes strong root systems and flowering. It is often used when growing flowers, bulbs and fruit trees.
Shellfish fertilizer or shell meal is made from crushed bones or shells from crab or other shellfish. It is a great source of calcium in addition to phosphorus and many trace minerals. One benefit of shellfish fertilizer: it contains chitin which encourages the growth of organisms that inhibit harmful pest nematodes. (more…)
Gardeners have been saving seed ever since we settled into one place and started growing our own food. Thanks to seed saving, and passing them down from one generation to the next, we have the heirloom seeds and plant varieties that are so prized today. It’s only since the end of World War II that growers have had the option of buying affordable, high quality commercial seeds; before that saving your own seeds or trading with neighbors was the only way to procure prospective plants.
Saving garden seeds at the end of each growing season can be a great cost saving measure and a way to duplicate last year’s delectable harvest. It’s also a good way to preserve plants that grow best in your own backyard. By carefully selecting individual plants that flourish in your garden and saving their seed, you can create strains that are well-adapted to local growing conditions. (more…)
Practical and Aesthetic Reasons for Growing America’s Heritage Vegetables
By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural
When it comes to heirloom vegetables, what’s in a name? Plenty when it’s the historic Caseknife Pole Bean, a hardy runner that was the most common bean grown in Civil War-era gardens. Its pods, as you can guess, resemble a knife sheath. Or take the Sutton’s Harbinger Pea, introduced in England by the Sutton Seed Company in 1898 and winner of a Royal Horticultural Merit Award in 1901. One of the earliest peas, then and now, Harbinger lives up to its name by giving the first harvests of the gardening season’s bounty. Then there’s the flavorful Dr. Wyche’s Yellow Tomato, developed by an Oklahoma-based circus owner, Dr. John Wyche, who fertilized his garden with elephant and tiger manure.
The most famous story connected to an heirloom vegetable’s name has to be that of the Mortgage Lifter Tomato. The Mortgage Lifter was developed during the Great Depression by a guy named “Radiator Charlie.” When his West Virginia radiator business suffered because of the economic calamity, Charlie took to his garden and in a few years, through careful cross-pollination, had developed a huge, meaty tomato that bred true. He sold starts of these tomatoes for $1.00. In a few years, he sold enough tomato plants to pay off his largest debt: a $6,000 mortgage. (more…)