Vegetable

There’s few things more rewarding than growing vegetables in your own backyard. The fresh taste of a vine ripened tomato or snap pea harvested at its flavorful peak is second to none. Vegetable gardens are a great family activity, one that provides rewarding outdoor exercise. And knowing that your organically-grown veggies carry none of the risks of today’s commercial, factory-farm produce can be priceless.

To ensure you raise the best-tasting, most nutritious food for your family — in ways that make your garden as safe and healthy as it can be — takes planning, know-how and experience. Click the blog articles here for information on locating your new garden plot, improving soil health, selecting the best vegetable varieties for your growing conditions, and caring for your plants — naturally! — all the way to harvest.

Share ideas or ask specific questions over at our Vegetable Garden Forum. Planet Natural’s community of avid gardeners can help.

How to Stratify Seeds and Improve Germination

Garden SeedsRefrigerate seeds before planting to improve germination.

It’s not always so simple as just sticking seeds in the ground. There are a number of techniques and treatments that encourage seeds to germinate. We’ve all soaked wrinkled-skinned pea and other big seeds to help loosen those skins and make water absorption easier. Or we’ve nicked hard skin seeds with a sharp blade or even a fingernail (scarification) for the same purpose.

Then there’s stratification, the act of simulating winter conditions — cold and moist — to prep seeds for their usual germination temperatures come spring. This can involve placing them in the refrigerator, usually in some kind of moist potting soil. Or it can mean storing seeds outside during winter in a sealed plastic bag or covered container, again with grow mix. (more…)

Tips and Tricks For Spring Garden Planting

Spring PlantingHere’s how to get your vegetable garden off to a great, early start.

Even if much of the country is still locked in winter, many places are warming up to garden planting season. Here’s a roundup of tips and strategies to help insure those first seeds that go in your garden survive the variable conditions of spring.

Plan. You’ll want to carefully choose where you’ll sow the first seeds of peas, greens, and other garden crops. It makes sense you’ll want them in the best conditions. You’ll also want to look to the future, to when and where you’ll plant long season, heat-loving seeds and transplants of things like tomatoes and squash. Remember, too, that late June and July heat may cause your first crops, especially greens to go to seed. There’s a balancing act involved. (more…)

Planning A Kitchen Garden

Backyard Kitchen GardenHow to grow greens and other vegetables right outside your back door.

The term “kitchen garden” is bandied around a lot these days. But what exactly does it mean? We’ve always considered it a vegetable garden in proximity to the kitchen door or whichever portal to the outdoors is closest to the kitchen. Proximity, of course is relevant, and almost any garden plot inside your property growing food no matter how far from the kitchen door qualifies.

As I’ve worked over fresh ideas for my landscape — otherwise know as “the yard” — I’m hoping to turn some features near the back door into vegetable and herb patches. (more…)

Tomato Planting Techniques

Transplanting Tomato PlantsTransplanting tomato starts changes root structure. Here’s how to best plant tomatoes.

Your not-so-young Planet Natural blogger was taught by his grandfather long ago to get as much of a tomato stem under the soil as possible when transplanting. This encouraged strong, new root growth. And I’ve been planting tomato starts, whether from nurseries or my own basement (under T-5 flourescents), that way ever since.

Grandpa, always a good teacher, pointed out the short, fine hairs on the tomato’s stem and explained that once underground they would produce lateral roots (though I’m pretty sure he didn’t use the word “lateral”). Since then, I’ve told many a kid the same story. (more…)

Bitter Herbs: Dandelion and Other Garden Tonics

Dandelion GreensHow to grow bitter herbs, greens, and roots organically.

The seed catalogs are coming in and that gave me and my brother-in-law something to talk about over the holiday weekend. Since when did mega-seed selling Burpee stop selling dandelion seed? We couldn’t find it in the 2015 catalog. Brother-in-law went over to his shelf and pulled out the 2014 catalog. Nope. (Full disclosure: They do have dandelion listed online. Go figure.)

This seemed strange because growing bitter herbs, dandelion among them, is once again all the rage because of their reported health benefits. Besides dandelion’s super-rich vitamin content, it’s also — like most bitter plants — known to be a digestive aid and de-toxifier. It’s said to give a healthy boost to the immune system. Dandelions have something of a cult-following among gardeners, the health-conscious, and gourmets who cherish the greens in the same way they cherish radicchio, another bitter plant. (more…)

Pest Prevention, Soil Testing …

Garden Work…and other garden tasks we should have done this past year.

Your friendly Planet Natural blogger is not ready to start making New Year’s gardening resolutions just yet. But with the new year in mind and our ongoing resolve to be a better organic gardener year after year, we’ve gone back through our gardening journal and found problems that we might have solved, if only … well, you know the rest.

So, in the interest of growing better organically, here’s some things we could have done better last growing season. (more…)

Growing Pea Shoots

Organic Pea ShootsGrow your own pea, sunflower and other shoots for the kitchen table.

Your friendly, gourmet-minded Planet Natural blogger likes to keep up on cooking and restaurant trends when planning next year’s garden. Why else would we have tried growing radicchio not so many years ago? (Since then, it’s become a favorite, though it needs a little growing attention.)

This year, we’ve taken note of how many restaurant salads, especially at restaurant’s that feature organic, locally sourced foods, add pea tendrils to their salads. Those curling lengths of green add visual interest to a bowl of greens as well as adding something of a snap pea flavor to the cornucopia of tastes that come with mixed green and mesclun salads.

Of course, you don’t have to wait until spring to grow pea shoots for your salads. You can do it indoors and within weeks have a bumper crop of curly, tasty tendrils to add to salads or use as plate decorations. Like growing sprouts, growing shoots indoors makes a wonderful family project, one in which your kids will probably be glad to take part. (more…)

The Best Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie…might just be made from squash.

Squash pie. My grandmother didn’t make them — rhubarb pie was her specialty — but I knew households where women did. Those households almost always, as I remember, had gardens with winter squash patches.

Well, squash pies, sometimes masquerading as pumpkin, are all the rage this year. And butternut squash is the favorite choice, as this big-stuff newspaper video or this featured recipe from America Public Media’s popular radio program Splendid Table demonstrate.

Your desert-loving Planet Natural blogger wouldn’t say anything against pumpkins. But I would say something against canned pumpkin fillings. Canned fillings are often tasteless, little more than a bulky way to carry the sweet and spice flavor we associate with pumpkin pie. (more…)

Growing Pumpkins For Fun and Pie

Pumpkin PatchPumpkins are easy to grow organically.

My grandfather used to say that a jack-o-lantern was a waste of a good pumpkin. He grew a pumpkin patch at the end of his garden that would spread out over the rough lawn that bordered it. The next year he’d move it to the other side. He’d get a handful of fruits each year and he didn’t want any of them to go to Halloween carving (see “grandma” below).

Grandpa loved pie and he especially loved pumpkin pie which he ate absent whipping cream or any other adulteration. Grandma was celebrated for her pie crusts, though we often wonder what her great grandchildren would think of the cube of lard that was always in the back of the refrigerator. No matter what time of day grandpa took a piece of pie — including as a bedtime snack — he washed it down with a cup of coffee. He seemed immune to caffeine. (more…)

Growing Shell Beans

Shell BeansHeirloom “cooking beans” are nutritious, delicious, and easy to grow.

Our correspondent writes in to say the most beautiful things he saw at the last farmers market this fall were the large bowls of heirloom shell beans in colors and patterns he’d never seen before. He bought a couple of the four offered: two cups of the surprisingly popular Jacob’s Cattle, each bean big and colored like a Hereford, and a cup or so of brilliant, unusually black and white, yin-yang patterned “Calypso.”

Interest continues to grow in what our great grandmothers called “cooking beans,” dried shell beans that often require soaking and long cooking times, a process that many time-squeezed home cooks forego in favor of pre-cooked, canned beans. (more…)

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