You want to make your lawns and landscapes, the places where your children play and your vegetables grow, as safe as possible. We provide the information – and practical experience – to help you do it.
Lawns & Landscapes
Reading through Danny L. Barney’s new book Storey’s Guide To Growing Organic Orchard Fruits (Storey Publishing) not only got us to thinking about what it takes to grow apples, pears, cherries and other fruits without chemical sprays, but also, like a lot of things, made us nostalgic.
Your sentimental, fruit-crazy Planet Natural Blogger grew up on a small orchard back in Nebraska that was sprayed heavily every year. My father was in the pest control business and had access to the compounds and equipment. I remember him fogging the whole place in an effort to keep the mosquitoes and other insects down. Insects weren’t the problem, and needless to say the sprays did nothing to alleviate our real problem, blight and blemishes (and we still ended up with mosquitoes anyway). He didn’t wear a mask or respirator when doing this and neither did we. But we loved to run through the fog much to his chagrin (Note: Dad’s long gone but we’re still healthy).
Maybe it was in reaction to this that — like a lot of former hippies — when we took to the land, we adopted an organic lifestyle. Those of us old enough to remember the Alar apple scare of 1989 probably aren’t surprised to know that the conventionally-grown fruits we buy are still tainted with harmful substances. Some of these chemicals are especially bad for children. (more…)
So you didn’t aerate the lawn last fall … and it needed it? It’s not too late in most parts of the country to aerate your organic lawn. And, if your lawn’s not organic, now’s the perfect time to begin converting it. And aerating is a big part of the change.
- Why aerate? Your lawn may suffer from compaction, especially if you and your family are on it a lot (and you should be… why else would you have one?). Many of the lawn problems we blame on insects, lack of water, and poor fertilizer are actually due to compaction. The more your soil is compacted, the more likely you are to have problems with thatch. When you aerate – or “aerify” as my gardening dictionary calls it – you allow more oxygen into your soil, you help prevent run-off, and you break up grass roots, further encouraging them to grow. And you do it all without harmful chemical fertilizers! (more…)
When planning your vegetable garden, don’t forget to consider edible flowers. They’re not only attractive garnishes for salads and plate designs (or “plating” as chefs say) but they add an element of beauty to the garden. And they have practical benefits — like attracting pollinators — even before they’re harvested.
My grandmother was the first to feed us flowers, namely petunias of which she’d put one on the plate with our salad (she’d also put one behind her ear when her hair was pulled back but that’s another story).
We’ve been adding nasturtium blossoms to salads for years; in fact creating whole salads with nothing but their blossoms when we had an abundance. At first we considered them only as decoration. Later we learned to savor their petals, popping them into our mouths straight from the plant as we walked around the garden, enjoying their spicy, sometimes peppery flavor. Nasturtiums are easy to grow and make a great companion plant. (more…)
No mow lawns are gaining a lot of attention and for good reason. In times of drought and increasing water bills, a water-intensive carpet of grass may not be practical. Some homeowners find raising their own organic vegetables where grass once grew a more effective use of space. Others find lawns just too much work and expense, especially when cared for using conventional, fertilizer-and-herbicide methods that result in harmful runoff and other environmental hazards.
Lawn alternatives are gaining in popularity what with the rise of xeriscape gardening and native-plant gardens. Evelyn J. Hadden’s book Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives (Timber Press) makes plenty of arguments for replacing your grass with landscaping rocks and paving stones, with drought hardy indigenous plants, with vegetable gardens, or with shrubs and fragrant mixes of perennial and annual flowers and herbs. But before you plunge ahead, there’s still one important thing to consider… do you really want to get rid of your lawn?
Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger, a firm believer in function over form (but a lover of beautiful form as well), suggests you consider the use of your lawn. Is it a family gathering spot? Do you use it for play and recreation? Do you have children and pets with a need for outdoor activity? Do you like to picnic and just lay out on the grass? For all or any of these reasons (especially that one about children), you have a need for a lawn. But if its just a place to admire, walked on only when you’re mowing? Maybe not. (more…)
It’s hard waiting this time of year…for spring. Lots of us like to hurry the season by bringing in cut branches from pussy willow, flowering crab apple, and any other soon-to-blossom shrubs or fruit trees and “forcing” the trimmed branch to flower. Once it does, the branch — or several placed in a vase tall enough to hold them — brings us what we’re waiting for, the beautiful and often fragrant blossoms that have yet to appear out in the still- cold, early spring world.
There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on exactly how to do this. My grandmother used to bring in lilac twigs as soon as she saw signs of budding and just stick them in a jar with water. Her rule: the closer they are to blossoming outside, the better they’ll blossom inside.
But for those of us trying to get a jump on the season — albeit indoors — here’s some additional suggestions. Grandma was right about making sure there were signs of budding before bringing in any branch you hope to flower. Don’t be fooled: leaf buds will often appear a bit earlier than the buds that will break into blossoms. Learn to identify which are which (not a hard thing to do). (more…)
For some of you mild climate types, it’s already too late. For us here in high altitude Santa Fe, where the first sign of budding is just ahead, it’s last call. For those of you in more temperate, colder climates… now’s the time to do your spring pruning. Did we say spring pruning? Actually, technically, what we mean is late-winter pruning, no matter what season the calendar claims. (It won’t yet be “late” winter, let alone spring, in some northern locations come March 21.) Our job is to get the pruning done before the sap starts to flow, which, of course, depends on the particular climate conditions of wherever we are.
Spring is a good time to prune because the pruning “wounds” won’t be exposed for as long to harsh conditions now that the growing season is just around the corner. Your tree’s shape and branches are more visible without its leaves. Dead and dying limbs are more easily spotted. This makes finding what to prune easier to see. (more…)
Terracing — building level steps on sloping ground — is a technique that has been used since ancient times by farmers around the world to grow crops and gardens. Think the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the beautiful terraced rice paddies of Asia. Terraces are one of a landscapers great tools in steep and hilly country. If your property tilts as much or more as it runs level, you might want to consider terrace gardening in your yard.
As part of good backyard conservation practice terraces can play a role in xeriscaping and water conservation. Not only do they allow you to reclaim space from the hillside to plant vegetables or flowers and shrubs — terraces can be very decorative — they’re also a great hedge against water runoff and soil erosion. They can also create warmer, sunnier micro-climates for growing light-and-heat-loving plants and vegetables. Now — in the dead of winter — is the perfect time of year to start visualizing your hillside alive with tomatoes, trailing vines, and stands of beautiful blossoms. (more…)
No doubt you’ve heard that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the United States. 2012 was also a year of severe drought in as much as 60% of the country. Winter has not alleviated the dry conditions and predictions for some areas see the drought continuing at least into the spring. Lesser known facts: the drought may have done more damage — some $60 to $100 billion worth — than Hurricane Sandi ($75 billion). The drought also contributed to the spread of the deadly carcinogenic mold aspergillis in last season’s corn crop. The fungus is deadly to humans as well as livestock. Scientific American reports that up to half of the corn crop in Missouri was contaminated with the mold. By contrast, 8% was damaged in 2011.
Drought — again depending on where you live — made itself known in your lawn and garden with higher water bills, more pest infestation, and smaller yields. While there’s still some disagreement among (mostly) reasonable people on the causes of our current heat and drought extremes — Global warming? Natural cycles? Some combination of both? — there’s one thing that can’t be denied. We must prepare for more of the same.
Xeriscaping, the practice of wise-water use in landscapes and gardens, has become more important as drought continues. Originating in the arid mountain West, the practice has become more popular across the country in these water-conscious times. Not surprisingly, the most efficient, far-reaching tool in the xeriscape gardeners tool box is organic gardening practice. (more…)
Surprisingly — or not — garden planning has become more important the smaller my garden gets. When I started out with the first plot of my very own back some (garbled) years ago, I had plenty of room. It was easy to plot crop rotations year to year and find space for vegetables I’d never tried before. Sure, I’d pour over the seed catalogs, then order too much. I’d draw up a plan that I often deviated from when I actually put my garden in. Because the entire, quarter-acre space was in full sunlight when the sun indeed shone there in the rainy Pacific Northwest, I didn’t have to worry about plants to grow in shaded parts of the garden (except for that spot just north of the Jerusaleum artichoke patch). But I did have to worry about selecting vegetables that grew well in cool, cloudy locations, pretty much the same thing.
I often tried to raise vegetables that weren’t really suited to my growing conditions. Catalog descriptions made those wonderful plants so desirable! But after a few years I’d learned my lesson. With the help of local, experienced gardeners, I found the types of corn that would (mostly) make it to harvest despite the conditions, tomatoes that would set fruit if not ripen up, and winter squash in enough of a hurry that we’d harvest fruit late in the season. (more…)
The press is fascinated with stories about communities that go after front yard gardeners. Some areas have covenants or (worse) laws making gardening in one’s front yard a no-no. These often are affluent enclaves where investment-minded owners are nervous about protecting their property values. But not all. Sometimes regular communities, in a freedom-quashing pursuit of conformity, will take up the cause; as if front yard gardens might hurt the price of real estate.
The most recent article is this long look from The New York Times. Time magazine got in on the action last year. According to them, it’s all about “meddling local officials gone off the deep end” and the relative value of all that, care-intensive grass (vs. something you can eat) grown for the questionable purpose of keeping up appearances.
Of course, this isn’t an issue in every community. While living long ago in anything-goes Venice, California, we grew tomatoes, peppers, basil and squash in hardly-raised beds as well as lettuce and other greens along the path that led to our front door. This was on a walk street, a lane where the houses didn’t face a street but only a sidewalk, and we weren’t the only ones growing vegetables out our front door. (more…)