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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.

The Charm (and Flavors) of Heirloom Vegetables

Heirloom VegetablesPractical 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…)

Beneficial Insects for Pest Control

Beneficial InsectHow 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:

Resistance

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…)

Natural Born Pest Killers

Pest ControlRemedies 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 control 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…)

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

Pest ManagementLong 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…)

How to Get Rid of Bugs Organically

Bug ProblemThe more we discover about synthetic pesticides, herbicides and insecticides the more we learn how unhealthy they are for the environment and the people and animals that live in it. Pesticides can create more problems than they solve.

Spraying garden chemicals to get rid of bugs and weeds not only cause health risks, they often aren’t even that effective. Initially, they will kill off a lot of pests, but eventually these pests can develop resistance to the pesticide and come back even stronger. Another problem is the side effects many synthetic pesticides can have on unintended targets (think of DDT and birds).

The best plan is to avoid the need to use pest control in the first place by starting with healthy fertile soil, matching your plants to the soil type, ensuring proper sunlight levels and watering conditions, and using appropriate organic fertilization and pruning, when necessary. But, if that doesn’t work there are many alternatives to chemical pesticides that can reduce pests while leaving a healthy environment for your plants, pets and family. (more…)

Lawn and Garden Chemicals

Mixing Garden ChemicalsThe Problem with Pesticides, Herbicides and Fertilizers

At one time garden chemicals were championed as the panacea for agricultural shortages and deficits. Pesticides, it was said, were the technological answer to dealing with insects, weeds and other intruders that nature sent the farmer’s way. Herbicides increased yields by decreasing weeds. And chemicals kept soils fertile, making for more vigorous, more productive crops. Over time, we’ve learned that these claims are exaggerated if not completely false.

But these synthetic products have a down-side, one that threatens the environment and the very future of food production. Chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides poison our waters, our soils, other living creatures and our own bodies. Their effectiveness, touted by big budget, corporate-driven marketing plans, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In light of these trade-offs, and the fact that healthy and potentially more effective organic alternatives exist, why should we risk our soils, our water and the health of our children? (more…)

Good Bugs in Your Garden

Ladybug LarvaePredators, Parasites and Pollinators — oh my!

Attracting or importing beneficial insects — “the good bugs” — into your yard or garden is a great way to reduce the number of detrimental insect pests without having to resort to toxic pesticides or insecticides.

There are four categories of beneficial insects:

Predators are generally larger than their prey and consume many pest insects throughout their lifetime. They are often considered general feeders, which means that they eat a variety of insect species. Unfortunately, some predators, like the voracious praying mantis, will eat just about anything in its path, including other beneficial insects. Both immature and adult predatory insects consume garden pests and some feed on pollen and nectar at various stages of their life-cycle. (The picture above shows a ladybug larvae feeding on aphids.) (more…)

Vegetable Gardening 101

Organic VegetablesIf the thought of a ripe, juicy tomato makes your mouth water, or imagining snapping a crisp pea makes your fingers itch, then vegetable gardening is for you. Everyone knows that home grown veggies and fruits taste a million times better than the varieties purchased at the grocery store. So, go ahead and grow your own — it’s easy to do.

Planning Your Garden

Whether you are starting a new garden or improving an existing one, it’s best to start with a plan. A well-planned vegetable garden will not only be more successful, it will be better organized and easier to manage. Consider the following: (more…)

Tomato Gardening 101

Tomato GardeningEveryone knows that homegrown tomatoes taste an order of magnitude better than ones that come from the grocery stores’ shelves. They are fresher, juicer, sweeter and just plain delicious. Tomatoes grown for supermarkets are bred for their firmness, hardiness, ability to withstand travel and even color. That also makes them bland, mealy and not very tasty.

So, consider growing tomatoes on your own; there are plenty of varieties to choose from and you can grow them until they are perfectly ripe and delicious.

Tomato Garden Essentials

Sunshine
More than anything, tomatoes need sun. Full sun, for that matter and no less than 8-hours per day. If your garden plot receives less than ideal amounts of sunshine (and the warmth it provides) you can still grow beautiful tomatoes, but will have to improve conditions for them to thrive.

(more…)

Theme Gardens: Now there’s an idea!

Butterfly GardenYou may not know the term “theme gardens,” but you’d recognize one if you saw one. A Japanese garden is a theme garden. So is an herb garden, and a rose garden, and a rock garden. A garden with only shades of blue has a theme, as does a maze, or a garden with a dozen fountains, or one with a little gnome behind every second bush. Any garden organized around some unifying idea is a theme garden.

Clearly, there’s an infinite range of choices, for theme gardens can be arranged around types of plant (such as gardens growing roses, growing herbs, and even growing vegetables) or around colors, shapes, or the type of visitors you wish to attract, such as butterflies, honeybees or birds. Other options include a country, a historical period, or an ethnic group. Examples of ethnic gardens include the Japanese garden mentioned above, or the African American Garden described by the DuSable Museum of African American History, an Italian garden, or the Native American garden grown by an elementary school in Illinois (see link below).
(more…)

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