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.
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 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 Organic 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…)
How to Properly Use Beneficial Insects
Although chemical pesticides are widely used in many agricultural systems, the complete reliance on chemicals is no longer a feasible approach to pest control for the following reasons:
The major disadvantage which continues to erode the effectiveness of conventional insecticides is the ability of the pests to develop resistance. Approximately 500 insects and related pests (mites) have shown resistance. In fact, some cannot be controlled with today’s chemical arsenal.
Secondary Pest Problem
Even chemicals which are effective against pests often kill or interfere with beneficial insects and other organisms. The situation created then allows an insect (not the usual pest, but another insect taking advantage of the available food) to rapidly increase in number since no predators are in the field to prevent the population explosion. Sometimes the resulting (long-term and economic) damage is greater by the secondary pest than by the pest originally targeted. (more…)
Remedies for Home Pest Control
Not everybody likes cucumbers. You may be interested to learn that ants hate cucumbers, especially cucumber peels. You’ll especially appreciate that fact if you want to get rid of them. Just spread some cucumber peels – the more bitter, the better – where ants enter your home and they should get the message. Consider cucumber the “anti-welcome” mat for ants.
Cucumbers are one example of home pest control. It’s using natural and generally non-toxic ingredients to repel or get rid of bugs including ants, wasps, mites, moths, flies and other insects.
People are slicing up cucumbers instead of spraying Bug-Be-Gone because they don’t want toxic chemicals in their homes or in their garden sheds. There is growing evidence that synthetic pesticides pose a health risk to humans and animals.
Here at Planet Natural, we have a whole slew of natural pest solutions, including Orange Guard ($8.95) which uses d-limonene, or orange peel extract, to control insect pests; Organic Mosquito Fogger ($8.50), which uses plant oils, like geranium, rosemary and peppermint, to kill and repel mosquitoes; as well as a variety of traps including the Indoor Fly Trap ($6.95) and Pantry Pest Trap ($6.95). (more…)
Long term natural pest control is the most cost effective approach to managing insect pests. This method provides stable, continuous suppression of pests by promoting their natural enemies. The long term approach is also the least toxic method of controlling insects. Chemicals, used only as a last resort, are normally not needed.
Why not just spray?
Most chemical insecticides have very poor aim: they cannot target a particular kind of insect, but blast everything in their path, killing not just the pests but their predators as well. The white flies will go, but so will the ladybugs which feed on them. This means, ironically, that these products are effective for only a limited time. Because they cut such a broad swath through the insect kingdom, they leave a “hole,” an ecological niche, into which the pests can easily return–unless you spray again, and again. Toxic insecticides, therefore, are a tactic of limited use.
There’s another compelling reason to avoid toxic sprays, and this is their tendency to move up the food chain. Remember DDT? This was the insecticide used so widely in the fifties and sixties, until it was found to be weakening the eggshells of birds who fed on the poisoned insects. (more…)