Organic Gardens

Few pursuits are as rewarding as growing your own organic garden. Not only do you get to enjoy the fruits of your own labor, but you have the satisfaction of knowing that the produce you are eating was grown free of chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. Growing organically produces healthy, more diverse ecosystems which are better able to resist significant pest damage… naturally!

We continually add articles to this section, so please check back often. Also, you can share tips and ask questions over at our Organic Gardening Forum page.

Organic Gardening Guru – How to Grow Organically

Organic Gardening GuruKnowledge is the key to successful organic gardening. Planet Natural has compiled much of the information you’ll need – from the basics of getting started to finding organic solutions to specific problems – here.

The Dirt on Growing Organically

Organic gardening, once seen as something practiced only by health nuts and hippies, is no longer a fad. Everyone wants the food we serve to our families as well as our environment to be safe and healthy. This desire for safety – wanting to do no harm to our families and the world around us– is the central reason people grow organically. The more we learn about chemical herbicides and pesticides, the more we see the effects of synthetic fertilizers and genetically modified crops, the more we realize that we must protect ourselves from them. Growing organically is a way of taking control, an attempt to make the foods you serve full of the good things your family needs, and free of the things they don’t. (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…)

The Tools You Need To Garden

Yard & Garden ToolsHow to select and care for gardening tools.

Seems folks we talk to have been using their garden tools most of the winter and not for snow shoveling. For those who haven’t, it’s time to clean, sharpen, and oil, as well as check the handles and their attachment to the working end of the tool, if you didn’t do it last fall. We’ll be digging dirt soon.

Top quality, comfortable-to-use garden tools make the work of gardening a joy (“work” and “joy”:  no contradiction there). A good shovel or turning fork with an ageless ash handle and some family history behind it is both a functional tool and a source of pride. How do you describe the feeling you get watching your kid edge his garden patch with the spade your grandfather used? (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…)

Rewilding Your Home Landscape

Native LandscapingGardening with nature in mind’s new buzz word.

What is “rewilding?” Valerie Easton’s Natural Gardener column in a recent issue of The Seattle TimesPacific NW Sunday magazine puts perspective to the Johnny-come-lately gardening term. The piece, called “In Harmony With Nature,” is sort of a celebration of rewilding which, she notes, only first appeared in the dictionary in 2011. She says, “I like to think that in the gardenesque sense of the word, rewilding represents a desire to meddle less and celebrate nature more.”

Less meddling sounds like less work to me. Needles to say, your mostly-industrious Planet Natural blogger likes the idea of less work. (more…)

Apples Lead New “Dirty Dozen” Pesticide Report

Produce GuideWhich non-organic fruits and vegetables to avoid, plus a “Clean Fifteen.”

The Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce — the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen — is always anticipated. Fruits dominate the top half of the list. Apples again are number one, then come peaches, nectarines, strawberries, and grapes, followed by celery, spinach, and bell peppers.

The rankings are based on a six-point evaluation that includes a percentage count of tested items found to have pesticides. 99% of apples tested and 98% of peaches were found to hold pesticides. The rankings also figure in the concentration of pesticides on each test piece. (more…)

Gardening with Chickens

Raising Backyard ChickensNatural fertilizer and pest control from the birds that give us eggs and companionship.

Our friend the gourmet cook likes to talk about the flavor of fresh eggs as opposed to those you might get from the supermarket. He became so obsessed with using eggs only days old, rather than weeks (or even months), ones produced by backyard chickens with a well-rounded diet that, well, he eventually got some birds of his own.

He’d give me a half carton of his cherished product when the laying cycle was at its peak and those backyard eggs were indeed excellent. Everything you look for in a good, truly naturally nourished egg is there, especially that rich, gooey flavor. He claims that not only are his quiches and other egg dishes better (his hard-boiled eggs are divine) but that his eggs are the key to his baking success. (more…)

Growing Self- Seeding Perennial Flowers

Perennial Flower GardenEasy-to-grow, beautiful perennials are an attractive way to fill-in landscape space.

Flowering perennials are a good-news, bad-news sort of thing when it comes to your flower beds. Most of the news about these attractive, inexpensive and easy-to-grow, self-sowing flowers falls into the “good” category.  More good news: the “bad” side of the equation can be tamed with a little advance planning.

Flowering perennials are perfect for filling space in your garden. If you’re sowing them directly into the soil, they’ll come up in a crowd that gives a nice, natural contrast with the annuals we set out as single plants. (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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