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.

Onion Types: Long-Day or Short Day?

Garden HarvestThe type of onion you plant depends on your latitude.

Almost every gardener I know buys onion starts in the spring and gets them in the ground as much as a month before the first frost. It’s true that some of our friends living in more moderate climes will stick onions starts, if they can find (or grow them) in the ground in the fall, mulch heavily, and keep their fingers crossed. My experience tells me that onions don’t do well with hard freezes and that making it through the winter depends on luck and how well insulated you can keep the young plants.

I’ve also known a gardener or two who go to the trouble to start their own onion seed, both indoors and out. The reason they do this is selection. While most nurseries carry only a few (if more than one) types of onions ready as sets, buying seed allows you to choose your favorite tasting varieties, often not available as set. And it gives you a chance to make sure you have the right onion for your location on the planet. (more…)

Wide Row and Intensive Gardening

Intensive GardensGetting the most from your vegetable garden while saving space, water and work.

I give my grandfather a lot of credit when it comes to teaching me the craft of gardening. But he wasn’t right about everything. Or, at least, not all of his techniques were the most productive. Like grandfather demonstrated year in and year out, I started off planting vegetables in neat-lined rows, one plant following the other. I did this for everything: carrots, beets, lettuce, corn, even squash and pumpkins. It was just the way he did it and always had.

Circumstance eventually changed my thinking. Given a tiny front yard, I began spacing plants together in enclosed, raised beds. As long as I could reach the center of the beds, everything was fine. (more…)

Indoor Winter Gardening Revolution

Winter Garden IndoorsMore and more gardeners are growing inside their homes.

One of the highlights of our Superbowl Sunday — we won’t let on who we were rooting for — had to do with gardening. Our friend, the gourmet gardener, had invited us over for the game. The feast, as it often is at his home, was the best part of the day. But before kickoff, he showed us something he was extremely proud of: a crop of baby greens growing under fluorescent lights hung from the cupboards above a kitchen counter. I started thinking freshly picked salad.

Well, that wasn’t to be. The lettuce in his two grow trays probably wouldn’t have been enough for the seven of us that had gathered to watch the game. And our friend, not the selfish sort at all, probably wanted to enjoy the labors of his work with his wife… who can blame him? But just the sight of those fresh greens bathed in that soft light was somehow satisfying. Forget the snow cover and the brutally cold temperatures outside. Our friend was (nearly) ready to harvest! (more…)

Eggplant Requires Heat, Patience

Garden EggplantTime eggplant starts to go out when soil temperatures warm.

Funny how almost everything that comes up this time of year can get you thinking about gardening. A friend who writes about food was recently extolling a dish he had at one of those Asian fusion restaurants: pot stickers stuffed with a savory blend of walnuts and mushrooms set on a bed of cubed, roasted eggplant. Now those pot stickers — Chinese stuffed pockets that resemble ravioli that were, in this case, pan-fried — sounded great. But what our friend raved about was that roasted eggplant. It’s mild taste showed off the high-grade oil it had been roasted with as well as the earthy flavors of the pot stickers’ stuffing. Its texture, at once firm and springy, contrasted with the melt-in-your-mouth filling inside those pockets. (more…)

Old Seed? Or New?

Seed ViabilityHow long seeds last depends on the type of seed and the conditions in which it’s stored.

Your thrifty Planet Natural blogger has had good luck storing leftover seed (PDF) he’s purchased from year to year … except when he didn’t. Not too many years ago, we stocked up on spinach seed for all the repeated planting we’d planned. There was plenty left over — that summer was cool and damp, so our first crop took longer than we expected and our second crop barely leafed out before the first frost arrived. We stored our leftover seed as we usually do: inside its packet in a tightly sealed glass jar down in our cool basement.

When spring came around, we planted the seed we bought the year before, just as we’ve often done with the previous season’s extras. And even under near ideal growing conditions — we know because we kept track in our journal — we were rewarded with poor germination. The seed that did germinate didn’t do well, its leaves small and stunted. We wondered if we had too much nitrogen in the soil. Too much nitrogen often inhibits early germination of greens. But the lettuce we planted nearby, some of it from saved seed, did just fine. Could it be that spinach seed doesn’t keep as long as lettuce? (more…)

Hybrid Sweet Corn – Sweeter Than Ever

Market Sweet CornBut there’s no sugar-coating restrictions on its use.

Sugar-enhanced (“se”) sweet corns have been all the rage over the last few seasons. Seed companies have touted some of their products with phrases like “sweetest ever” and “candy sweet.” These naturally bred hybrids — no, they’re not genetically modified — seem to answer the All-American craving for sugary satisfaction. Now there’s an even more sugary designation for sweet corns — “supersweet” or “sh2″ — for those table corns that are all about the sugar.

With names like ‘Sweet Riser,” “Kandy Korn,” and “Sugar Ace,” these se and sh2 corns, most of them commercially grown, offer marketing potential in a way that plain-old sweet corn can’t. You don’t need to rush them home from the market and plunge them in boiling water to enjoy their sugary flavor. They’ve been bred to hold their sugars longer. One of the ironies in the advertising of these corns is the tie in to “old-fashioned” flavor. Of course, old fashioned flavor is available to anyone who’ll grow their own. You don’t need a new hybrid variety to enjoy delicious sweet corn. (more…)

First Steps in Growing Peppers

Pepper PlantsStarting your own hot and sweet pepper seeds indoors gives you selection, growing options, and enjoyment.

Does it seem too early here in the middle of January to be thinking about starting pepper plants indoors? Not at all. Choosing which peppers to grow, and which seed to buy is an important part of the process. You not only want peppers that will do well under the conditions found in your summertime garden — especially the length of the season — you also want peppers suited to your taste. Finding just the right peppers for your growing conditions and palate takes some study and experience.

Lots of gardeners I know don’t bother growing their own pepper starts. Buying established nursery starts makes it easy to control the timing of putting the plants in your garden as well as eliminating the work of potting seeds yourself. But the problem is selection. Even though nurseries have begun offering more varieties of pepper starts — hot and sweet – they’re still just a trifle compared to the many varieties available to those willing to grow their own starts. The bigger the selection the more chance you’ll have matching seeds to your growing conditions and taste. And growing a variety of peppers, maybe one or two plants of each you’ve chosen, allows you to address the various tolerances to pepper heat that will exist among your friends and family members. (more…)

Seed Sprouting … With Kids!

Sprouting SeedsLearn along with your children while growing delicious, nutritious sprouted seeds.

We do most of our January gardening indoors, in an armchair browsing seed catalogs, online and not. Otherwise, it’s taking care of the plants we grow inside and sketching plans for our outdoor gardens and landscapes. It’s still too early to start seeds for outdoor planting but, on an ambitious day, we start assembling the items we’ll need: pots and flats, growing medium, heat mat, and whatever else we’ll want come February.

All that doesn’t mean we’re not growing things to make our winters meals both tasty and healthy. We’re sprouting seed! Beans, peas, grasses (wheat, alfalfa, clover), even peanuts. And mostly we’re leaving the work for others anxious to do it… the kids! Nothing gets children involved in growing things more quickly than sprouting. The results begin happening in days, right there to be seen in the sprouting jar. None of this waiting a week or more to get something poking out of the soil. In the time it takes to see results from a seed planted in soil, we’re eating fresh sprouts. (more…)

New Year News

News FlashGMOs questioned, labeling laws, xeric grass, and the popularity of gardening.

– In Europe, the number of scientists and other experts contesting EU chief science adviser Anne Glover’s statement that genetically modified foods are no less risky than conventional, natural grown foods continues to grow. Over 275 specialists have signed a document that states that GM foods have not been proven safe and that existing research raises concerns, according to GM Watch, a European organization that monitors and reports on issues relating to genetically manipulated food sources.

Dr Angelika Hilbeck, chair of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), which published the statement, told GM Watch, “We’re surprised and pleased by the strong support for the statement. It seems to have tapped into a deep concern in the global scientific community that the name of science is being misused to make misleading claims about the safety of GM technology.” (more…)

Growing, Enjoying Ornamental Gourds

Ornamental GourdsDried, carved or used in centerpieces, gourds from the garden bring color, cheer to the Thanksgiving season.

With apologies to turkeys everywhere… what says Thanksgiving more than a beautiful centerpiece of ornamental gourds? Gourds have become such a symbol of the late fall season that one of our favorite literary magazines has done a tongue-in-cheek essay about such displays (sorry, no link; too much profanity and, well, this is a family blog). Growing gourds is easy, especially where there’s a longer growing season and, with the rise of interest in collecting and supplying heirloom seeds, their types and availability have mushroomed over the last few years.

Ornamental gourds are of two types. The soft shell gourds (Curcubita pepo) are the type most commonly used for fall centerpieces and other decorations. The hard-shell type, those that we dry and make bowls, birdhouses, even musical instruments from (Lagenaria siceraria) are usually larger and need a longer growing time. (more…)

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