Indoor Gardens

Improvements in plant lighting have helped indoor gardening grow by leaps and bounds. Today it’s possible to produce large quantities of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, succulents and all kinds of beautiful flowers in your own home all year round! Here, we discuss the latest news and information related to grow lights and hydroponics to houseplants and plant propagation.

How to Make a Succulent Frame

Succulent FrameAn attractive, hardy succulent garden to hang on your wall like fine art.

The more we learn about and grow succulents, the more we love them. They’re compact and beautiful, with fleshy “fat leaves.” Those thick, engorged leaves come in beautiful paddles, tight rosettes, and a variety of other attractive, snaking swollen fronds. Succulents do well in arid areas and are tolerant of heat swings of the sort you might find in a desert (as long as it doesn’t freeze hard). It doesn’t take much to grow them as long as you remember a few succulent principles. Never over water; succulents carry their own. What do you think makes those fat leaves? (more…)

Enjoy Fresh Herbs Year Round

Fresh Herbs“Winter’s herbs are summer’s herbs, too, but they seem to matter more in winter,” writes Joe Eck and the late Wayne Winterrowd in their warm and wise book To Eat: A Country Life. The book, out earlier this year, is a celebration of gardening and cooking with the harvest, a wonderful poem, in prose, to the life-long, life-affirming relationship between growing and eating. If you haven’t picked up a copy — it will make wonderful winter reading — I suggest you do.

The chapter that’s on our mind most these autumn days is the one on winter herbs. The authors make several good points, maybe the most important of which is that fresh herbs are much more complex and flavorful than dry herbs. We appreciate our home-grown fresh herbs in the winter for the very reason that they bring a bit of summer into our kitchens. Another is that the herbs that go best with winter cooking — dishes like stews, soups, roasts, even omelets — are those that can be overwintered successfully for fresh harvests, with some work and preparation, even in Vermont where Eck and Winterrowd’s North Hill Farm was located. What are those herbs? Bay, sage, parsley and rosemary. (more…)

Micronutrients Essential for Plant Health

Fertilizing with MicronutrientsWe all know the nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, calcium, sulfur — that are important to plant health. We call them macronutrients. But there’s a whole list of micronutrients that are also key, in much smaller quantities, to the health of your plants. These plant micronutrients — boron, iron, zinc and others — not only assure healthy growth, they help your gardens fight off pests and diseases.

The best long term way to keep your garden soil rich with the micronutrients it needs is by adding compost. The living things that go into compost — grass clippings, leaves, plants trimmings — already contain various amounts of micronutrients. Their presence in your compost guarantees that you’re returning those micronutrients to the soil.

But what if you can tell (PDF), because of yellow leaves or other signs of weakness (or from you extension services soil test), that your soil is deficient in micronutrients? Your plants are well on their way and it’s too late to effectively amend the soil. What can be done to give them a quick boost full of the micronutrients they need? (more…)

Plant Growth Regulators: Safe?

Plant Growth RegulatorIt may be too late in this season for us to start our own vegetables and flowers rather than buy nursery stock. But there’s a good reason we should at least be aware that the starts we purchase at the nursery or big-box home supply store may have been treated with plant growth regulators (PGRs). It’s also a good reason, short of growing our own, to make sure the nursery stock we buy is from a reliable organic dealer.

The term PGR has come to include many things, not all of them potentially harmful. But technically, a PGR is a spray or chemical used to treat seed or growing plants that, through cellular mutation, makes the plant in some way more desirable, often more to the seller than the buyer.

PGRs are used for a host of reasons and function in a number of ways. They are commonly categorized and regulated as pesticides but mostly deal with growth, flowering and fruiting issues. Some, especially those used to encourage rooting, are organic compounds. But most of those used in commercial agriculture — and that includes the sale of nursery stock — are synthetically derived. (more…)

Starting Seeds Starts Now!

SeedlingsFebruary the first marks the kickoff of a new gardening season. That’s when starting vegetable seeds indoors begins, at least for those lucky dogs in zones 8 and 9 and, even for them, only long-held seedlings like celery and onions. (Who even considers mostly frostless zone 10 except for those few of us — not me — that live in sub-tropical Florida?) For the rest of us, the time is fast approaching. You’ll want to be prepared. Time to gather up the things you’ll need to get your seedlings off to a good start.

First, the basics, not the least of which is good, fresh seed, carefully chosen for your particular needs and growing conditions. The second is soil, or more specifically, planting mix. A soil-less mixture of peat (green gardener alert!) and vermiculite or some other planting medium like coconut coir is ideal. If you use some combination of compost or garden soil, be sure to sterilize it first by baking in an oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes (pew!) or by using another method. This will prevent your seedling from “damping off” or falling prey to other diseases. What’s going to hold that growing medium and your seedlings? There’s a variety of starting pots and flats available for all your needs, some of them organic and environmentally sound. If you’re reusing pots, be sure you sterilize them by soaking in a mild bleach solution then rinsing them thoroughly. (more…)

Starting Seeds Indoors

Starter PotsBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Starting plants from seed just might be the second most enjoyable act of procreation you’ll ever experience. In addition to the fun — starting seed is the perfect cure for those late-season winter blahs — raising your own plants offers practical and aesthetic benefits. You’ll get an earlier start to your garden and you’ll be able to raise vegetable and flower varieties not offered as starts by your local garden store or nursery. You’ll have plants that are healthier, vigorous, more disease resistant and ideally chosen for your personal growing conditions. And you’ll be able to choose vegetables that taste better, produce earlier and store longer. You might even save some money. Often a single start from your local garden supplier costs as much as a whole packet of seed. Plus, the satisfaction you’ll receive watching plants that you started yourself go into the garden is priceless. Your kids will love watching the miracle of growth from seeds they started themselves… and they’ll learn something as well. (more…)

Grow Herbs Indoors

Growing Herbs IndoorsBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

There are plentiful reasons to grow herbs indoors: basil pesto, rosemary chicken, maple and marjoram-roasted turkey, fresh oregano pizza sauce, tarragon salmon, cilantro-flavored salsas and spicy chive dip. The rise of gourmet home cooking as well as the popularity of fresh, home-raised and locally-grown foods has increased demands for fresh herbs. Why not grow your own, year `round? With modern advances in grow lights, growing mediums and self-contained hydroponic systems, raising herbs inside a small corner of your home can add year-round flavors, scents, even profits to your life.

Kitchen gardeners have long grown herbs on windowsills, under kitchen fluorescent bulbs and next to indoor orchid lights (see How to grow herbs indoors during winter). The success of these practices, touted in articles, videos and a few misinformed books, varies greatly. There’s seldom enough light in even the sunniest windowsill to yield more than an infrequent harvest, say a pinch of rosemary in February or a few basil leaves at Christmas. (more…)

Last Minute Local Shopping

Bozeman, MontanaOnce again your friendly but prone-to-procrastination Planet Natural Blogger has left his holiday shopping until the last weekend. This is not the overwhelming problem for us last-minute shoppers that it appears to be. There’s an easy solution. Shop local! Your locally-based retailers probably have just the thing to delight those on you gift list. In fact, when you’re looking for unique, thoughtful gifts that show you had the recipient in mind — as well as in your heart — local business often have that one-of-a-kind item that stand apart from the same ol’, same thing that everyone is buying at the big box store. Better yet! It may have been produced locally, too!

Now, we’ve written on the advantages of shopping locally before. But all the pluses — supporting the local economy and your neighbors who work at locally-owned business (ie, profits stay in town rather than being shipped to Arkansas or some place) — are magnified this time of year. Especially this time of year, it’s great to shop in a cozy place with helpful, present-and-available clerks who have the time to help and make suggestions. Considering the size of your town, you might even know these people. In our humble estimation, that’s what makes a great shopping experience. (more…)

Poinsettias Past Christmas

Christmas PoinsettiaWho hasn’t received a velvety, red-leafed poinsettia as a gift or purchased one or more for their home during the holiday season? And how many of those poinsettias survive the year to flower again next holiday season? Hmmm…

Long ago and far away when I was a school teacher, I was given a beautiful poinsettia by one of my darling, young students. It had obvious problems, planted in a small plastic pot filled with a dry concoction dominated by Styrofoam chips. Obviously, its grower didn’t intend for it to last into the new year. Ignorant of growing poinsettias but generally knowledgeable about what plants needed, we repotted it on the solstice, thereby saving the plant but loosing its blossoms.

With its rootball in a big new home filled with nourishing, compost-laden soil mix, our poinsettia thrived, though it never again blossomed. It seemed to grow best during fall and winter and over the years became something of a twisted bonsai with its circling branches decorated with spare green leaves. (more…)

Container Gardening 101

Container GardeningTips and techniques for gardening in containers, hanging baskets and window boxes.

Container-grown plants can be an addition to an already flourishing landscape or a garden all by themselves. By planting in nursery pots, buckets, whiskey barrels, grow bags, or whatever else you find around the house, you’ll be adding aesthetic interest and practicality to your yard and home.

Container gardening is useful when…

  • you want to move warmth-loving plants into the house for the winter.
  • controlling the soil quality is desired.
  • there isn’t much space available.
  • you want to grow fresh, yummy herbs and veggies (or pretty flowers) year-round.
  • adding height, texture and variety to the yard is important.

(more…)

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