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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 gardening is 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 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.

The Many Benefits of Kale

KaleOkay, beets may have won the “Vegetable of the Year” honor in 2012 — at least, in Duluth — but in our book, er, garden journal, the benefits of kale make it the repeat winner. Why? It’s one of the easiest vegetables to grow and it’s packed with nutrition. We stir-fry it with pancetta to make a fancy pasta, with bacon when we’re not being so fancy, and with grated cheese (and sometimes an egg) when we’re cooking vegetarian. But we like it best simple, lightly steamed and drizzled with a little olive oil or lemon juice.

We’ve grown kale in various seasons and places: near the cold Pacific on the wet and cloudy Olympic Peninsula where harvests came year-round with the help of a cold frame, in the middle of winter near the beach in Southern California (no cold frame required), and summers in Montana where we were able to pick it early in spring from well-mulched plants held over from the previous season as well as late (late!) into December with the help of a little plastic and — sometimes — a snow shovel. With kale, it seems the more difficult the growing conditions, the better it tastes. (more…)

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…)

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.

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Growing More In Less Space

Vertical Vegetable GardeningIntensive or square foot gardening uses space more efficiently than traditional methods. Instead of wasted room between rows of crops, the garden area is maximized — that way you get the most vegetables, fruits and flowers in the smallest amount of growing space.

Even if you have plenty of room in your backyard, intensive gardening can require less work while still providing lots of heathy plants. Usually there is less weeding involved since plants are spaced closer together and every bit of garden space is cultivated throughout the entire growing season. However, because there is less room between crops, weeding will need to be done by hand or with smaller garden tools — there will not be enough room for machinery. Another drawback — to some people — is that because plants are always growing, they are not all ready to harvest at the same time.

Raised Beds

A raised bed is simply when the level of the soil is higher than the surrounding ground. The Ohio State University Extension has listed several benefits of gardening in a raised bed. A few of these benefits are: (more…)

Growing Watermelon

WatermelonsSweet, cool and refreshing… there’s nothing like growing watermelon in your own backyard garden. A heat-loving annual, it can be grown in all parts of the country, but the warmer temperatures and longer season of southern areas especially favor this delicious plant. In cooler areas choose short-season varieties and do whatever it takes to protect them from frost.

Site Preparation:

Choose a location where your plants will get full sun and good air circulation. A gentle, south-facing slope is ideal. Watermelons can grow in many kinds of soil, but prefer a light, sandy, fertile loam that is well-drained. Add generous amounts of manure, compost and leaves to your garden and work the soil well prior to planting. Watermelons like lots of water. Keep the soil moist at all times. (more…)

Growing Tomato Plants

Tasty TomatoesWhile technically a fruit, growing tomato plants is a vegetable gardeners delight! Nothing beats the taste of  fresh, vine ripened heirloom tomatoes from the home garden. Originating in Central and South America, tomato plants are grown in an ever increasing range of colors, sizes and shapes with the recent interest in heirloom cultivars fueling further interest (see History of Tomatoes).

Site Preparation:

Tomatoes are very deep rooted and don’t need nearly as much water as most people believe. They will do much better in the garden soil than in pots and require plenty of sun. Plant after the soil has warmed in the spring in rich, fast draining soil which has been amended with ample amounts of organic compost and calcium to prevent blossom end rot.

How to Plant:

Allow enough space (1-1/2 – 2 feet) between tomato plants to permit good sun penetration and air circulation. Plant the tomatoes deep in the soil, up to the first set of leaves or deeper. Roots will form all along the stem. Water deeply (long periods of time, once or twice a week) to encourage roots to grow down into the soil. Once the plants are established, start them on a biweekly fertilizer program. (more…)

Growing Chard

Swiss ChardSwiss chard is in the beet family but unlike the beet, which is grown for the edible root, chard is grown for the tender foliage. Vitamin rich and nutritious, home gardeners growing Swiss chard are rewarded with its succulent, mild-flavored leaves that can either be eaten raw or cooked like spinach.

Site Preparation:

Chard is best grown in soil that is rich in organic matter, fast draining and high in nitrogen. It requires full sun (but tolerates partial shade) and regular water. Work well composted manures or blood meal into the soil to boost nitrogen levels. Foliar applications with an all-purpose organic fertilizers and kelp 2-3 times during the growing season will boost production.

How to Plant:

Make your first plantings directly into the garden two to four weeks before the last expected frost. Sow seed 1/2 inch deep and 1-3 inches apart. Thin rows as plants mature and eat the tender shoots in salads. Chard is a prolific grower and can tolerate mild frosts. (more…)

Growing Sweet Potatoes

Sweet PotatoesNative to Central and South America, sweet potato is one of the most important food crops in tropical and subtropical countries. Growing sweet potatoes, a tender, warm-weather vegetable, requires a long frost-free growing season to mature large, useful roots.

Factoid: More than 40% of the national supply of sweet potatoes comes from North Carolina.

Site Preparation:

Sweet potatoes are not truly potatoes, but a thick root of a tropical vine. They need full sun, well-drained soil (preferably sandy loam) and plenty of room to thrive. Sweet potatoes are not heavy feeders, but they do require a good balance of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. Work in a low nitrogen organic fertilizer before planting; too much nitrogen produces leafy growth at the expense of the roots. (more…)

Growing Squash

SquashSquash, including zucchini, gourds and summer squash, are members of the cucumber (cucurbit) family and require the same planting conditions as pumpkins. Growing squash in the home garden is relatively easy providing you are patient enough to wait for warm weather. Squash will not germinate in cold soils and the plant is easily damaged by frost.

Note: Planet Natural offers are large selection of non-GMO, heirloom squash seeds. Best of all, they’re shipped free!

Site Preparation:

Squash are annual plants which do best in full sun (may require partial shade in hotter environments) and require ample amounts of water and soil rich in organic matter. Natural fertilizers, such as compost and manures, and other slow-release plant nutrients, are effective when tilled into the soil prior to planting. Do not plant in areas where other cucurbits have been cultivated over the past four years.

Tip: Use black plastic mulch to warm the soil, prevent weeds and increase yields. (more…)

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