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.

Amazing Amaranth

AmaranthRaised for its seeds and leaves, this quinoa cousin is easy to grow where summers are warm.

I’ll admit it right up front. I’ve never grown amaranth. But I’m going to consider it for next year (and no, it’s not too early to start planning next year’s garden). Why? We’ve always been interested in growing grains as part of a desire for self-sufficiency. And then we’ve been learning about what a nutritional powerhouse amaranth is. The biggest reason? We saw amaranth growing in a nearby garden. It’s beautiful red seed heads were one of the most striking things in the entire garden.

Amaranth is a favorite grain for those on gluten-free diets. It’s protein is near complete and easily digestible. It contains high amounts of lysine, the one amino acid that most flour substitutes are deficient in. You can buy amaranth flour in some health food stores. (more…)

Late-Season, Cold Hardy Cover Crops

Winter RyeProtect, nourish garden soil by growing organic, winter cover crops.

Planting cover crops — green manure — early enough in the fall has always been something of a problem for me. We all know the advantages that cover crops give our soil. They blanket it over the long winter, protecting it from erosion, keeping it from hardening and preventing the leaching of valuable nutrients by rain and snow. Their roots keep the soil aerated. They protect against the dangers of a deep freeze, thus preserving beneficial microbes and other organisms that help keep your soil healthy. They help prevent the spread of weeds. Best, cover crops add green material to the soil, material that supplies nutrients as well as nitrogen. They’re one of the most valuable tools in the organic gardener’s playbook. (more…)

Fall Is Garlic Planting Time

Garlic BulbsHow to grow garlic? Give it the right soil and weather conditions.

Fall is an important time for growers of garlic. Savvy garlic growers know that cloves planted in the fall yield larger bulbs than those planted in the spring. Some garlic partisan’s will tell you garlic that experiences a winter in the ground will taste better but we’ve never been able to conduct a side-by-side taste test. That’s because all the growers we know plant their garlic in the fall.

But it is true that garlic planted in warmer regions needs an exposure to cold to grow properly. Hardneck garlics need a cooling period — two or three weeks at 40 to 50 degrees — before planting to grow properly in areas where soils temperatures stay warm. (more…)

Why You’ll Always Have To Grow Tomatoes . . .

Homegrown Tomatoes. . . or buy them from your small, local organic farmer. Answer: that homegrown, heirloom tomato flavor.

This article on efforts to produce a tastier commercial tomato is, frankly, sad. We all know the problem with grocery store tomatoes (PDF): they’re bland if not completely tasteless. Compare them to the most mediocre tomato grown in someone’s back yard and that mediocre tomato shines by comparison. Compare them to any decent, heirloom tomato from your garden or a small, local, organic farmer and, well, there’s no comparison.

Not only do homegrown and small farm organic tomatoes taste better than commercial tomatoes, they have more nutrition. (more…)

Hot Peppers? Sweet Peppers!

Growing PeppersHow to grow healthy, flavorful sweet and bell peppers.

Here we are in the last days of August and peppers are growing everywhere. They’re hanging big and bright in our gardens, the produce sections boast an abundance, and farmer’s markets offer bushels of varied-colored, varied-sized peppers of types we’ve never seen. In places like New Mexico where chile peppers are deeply embedded in the culture, spiciness and sweetness come together. It’s no joke to say that as summer progresses, so does the heat, at least when it comes to peppers.

With all the attention given to hot and hotter peppers, we want to make sure that you don’t overlook those other pepper plants, the ones grown for flavor and sweetness rather than heat. They’re often called sweet peppers, and frequently limited to traditional bell peppers, the kind every gardener has grown at some point. But we’re talking about the wide and ever-expanding variety of mildly or even barely spicy sweet peppers that have been commonly called wax and Hungarian peppers, the type that do well in stir-fry, gazpacho, and pickled. (more…)

Beautiful, Delicious Eggplant

EggplantHow to grow eggplant from seed.

A friend likes to tell the story of how he almost proposed marriage to a woman who made indescribably delicious eggplant parmigiana. Then he found out it was the woman’s mother who was the genius behind that wonderful eggplant dish. So he proposed to the mother instead. The woman, a widow in her 80s, refused because our friend didn’t garden. “Where am I going to get the good eggplant and tomatoes I need?” she protested.

The mother had it right. The sad truth here is that it’s tremendously difficult not only finding good tomatoes in commercial grocery stores but good eggplant, too. All of our favorite dishes are only as good as the ingredients that go into them. Growing eggplant (and tomatoes) yourself gives you a decided advantage when making parmigiana. If you’re lucky, you’ll find good, organic eggplant in your local farmers market. But growing your own is best. (more…)

Tomato Patrol

Tomato WormOrganic tomato pest control means keeping a sharp eye.

A friend, an avid organic tomato grower, has started her harvest and you know what that means. Tomato Festival! The festival usually runs from the first weeks of August right up to the first frost (at which point it becomes Green Tomato Festival or the Wait-Until-These-Tomatoes-In-the-Windowsill- Ripen Fest).

The event, held in kitchens around the country, is an unofficial celebration of one of our most cherished home-gardening products. Our friend grows heirlooms and so far this year has a bounty crop of golden jubilee, a juicy, subtly flavored orange tomato, as well as big, bold brandywines, and a few unusual, tremendously sweet, strangely colored chocolate stripes. (more…)

Lesson In Brussels Sprouts

Brussels SproutsPatience, persistence required while growing brussel sprouts.

Your healthy, vegetable loving Planet Natural Blogger loves Brussels sprouts. Those firm little heads with a mild cabbage flavor are wonderful with just a touch of butter or olive oil, smothered in a cheese sauce, or baked into a casserole. Our experience growing them provides an object lesson in how we learn the craft of organic gardening, one that involves success followed by a succession of problems that are solved one-by-one, often with same or similar solutions, followed by a return to success. Happy ending! (more…)

Grow A Straw Bale Garden

Straw Bale GardenGardens made of straw bales are great for tomatoes, potatoes, and all your favorite vegetables.

It’s this year’s hottest way (heh) to garden! And it’s also a social media phenomenon! It’s straw bale gardening. Ever since the publication of his book, Straw Bale Gardens (Cool Springs Press), Joel Karsten has become something of a gardening celebrity, making television and YouTube appearances, being interviewed by major papers, and gathering a Facebook following that counts over 27,000 likes.

We’ve written about using straw as mulch and bale gardens whether straw or hay, before. Karsten has really refined the technique which basically revolves around one thing: the bales are composting as the plants grow. The heat generated by the composting straw gives the vegetables planted in them a distinct advantage. Warmer “ground” temperatures stimulate root growth. Karsten capitalizes on this by pulling plastic tents hung from wires strung over his bale rows to trap that generated heat, thus giving him an early start and warm early conditions there in his Roseville, MN home. (more…)

Hybrid Broccoli Controversy

BroccoliWant the tastiest healthy broccoli, hybrid or heirloom? Grow it yourself.

That so-good-for-you vegetable — broccoli — is in the news. A “dream team” of botanists, agrarians, and marketers has come together at Cornell University to create a broccoli that will grow in areas where the heat-sensitive cruciferous won’t normally grow. And therein lies the problem. Since nearly all commercial broccoli is grown in California, the plant suffers days of transportation before its delivered to midwestern, southern and eastern markets, a time that saps the broccoli of its fresh taste and snap. The new hybridized broccoli can withstand the relative evening warmth and humidity that has made successful commercial farming of broccoli east of the Rocky Mountains difficult. The New York Times  has the story. (more…)

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