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.

Legume Inoculants Increase Yields, Keep Plants Healthy

Garden Pea PlantNitrogen-fixing bacteria and organic compost for peas, beans, and healthy soil.

Now that we’re well into pea planting season and bean planting isn’t far behind, we’ve been considering the practice of inoculating pea and bean seeds with nodule-forming, nitrogen-fixing Rhizobium bacteria, commonly known as legume inoculant.

We’ve inoculated our peas and beans every year for so long that we take for granted the nitrogen that it will return to the garden and the growth benefits to our plants. Those years we forgot to order or otherwise just didn’t have inoculant enough to go around have shown us the difference. Nitrogen may be invisible but its presence can be seen in better growth and soil health. (more…)

Organic Artichokes For the Garden

ArtichokesGrowing artichokes as edibles or ornamentals at home.

Artichokes, once the domain of cool, coastal climates and inland areas of moderate temperatures, are moving into gardens where they’ve never be seen before. Even Utah (PDF) is growing artichokes.

It may be that warmer, longer summer seasons are encouraging gardeners in zones previously not suitable to growing artichokes to try their luck. But there are other factors at play as well.

One of the reasons is the popularity of recently available heirlooms that are offered next to the classic “Green Globe” variety. Restaurants and gourmet growers are offering types of artichokes that were unknown not long ago. (more…)

Grow, Enjoy Rhubarb

Rhubarb PlantHealthy, delicious recipes from a dependable, cool-weather, garden perennial.

Our correspondent in Northwest Washington’s Skagit Valley, home to family farms, organic growers, nurseries and a surprisingly rich country dining scene, reports that farm markets and country produce stands were open over the weekend with two products: asparagus and rhubarb.

Of all the early season crops, these two are often the most anticipated and the first to harvest. (more…)

Make Soil For Your Raised Beds

Raised Bed GardenStraw bale gardening and other tips to build the best soil for your raised beds.

Adding some raised beds to your garden this year? Great idea. I’ve seen it said that raised beds produce about four times the amount of produce as do row crops. Plants seem more vigorous there in early season, probably because the soil in a raised bed warms faster than that in the garden patch. As gardeners, we love early season growth.

None of this is true, of course, if the soil in your raised bed isn’t at its best. And that’s the great things about raised beds. You can dig them out and fill them as you like. Think of them as a controlled experiment in which you’re looking for just the right, airy mix of organic materials — including beneficial microbes and other living things — and naturally occurring nutrients like nitrogen and minerals. (more…)

Plant Now For New Spring Potatoes

New Potato HarvestHow to grow tender, young “new potatoes” right in your own garden.

“New potatoes,” those harvested small and early, are all the rage in America’s kitchens and for good reason. They’re often fork- sized (well, close), retain their shape when cooked up, and come out nice and tender. They’re also a touch sweet. They haven’t developed long enough for their sugars to turn to starch. And that makes them the perfect accompaniment to late spring- early summer meals when they go well with other early vegetables from your garden.

They’re also great for early season potato salads. (more…)

Selecting Nursery Plants

Nursery PlantsNot able to grow your own? Here’s how to choose the best vegetable and flower starts.

Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger, in anticipation of the season that may have already arrived, has been going through Jim Fox’s excellent 2013 book How To Buy the Right Plants, Tools & Garden Supplies (Timber Press), particularly the chapters on choosing healthy nursery plants. Seems with recent life complications — we all have them, from health to weather to a family move — a lot of people didn’t get their vegetables started at home this year.

That’s okay. There’s actually still time to start even tomatoes and pepper seedlings indoors if you can supply the perfect conditions to encourage growth. But there’s an easier way: buy plants from a reputable nursery. (more…)

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…)

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