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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!

Pea Trellises: Form and Function

Trellis and TendrilsYour friendly Planet Natural Blogger was at his local community farm yesterday working as a volunteer and, among all the activity, noticed the major push was putting up pea trellis. These were heavy duty pea-vine supports, made with metal snow fence poles and cattle fence. The stakes were driven into the soft, tilled soil and the volunteers putting them up kept to the paths between rows so as not to disturb the soft, fine, seed-ready soil.

Anyway, the sight of it as I chased the tumbleweeds lifted from my wheel barrow by the spring breeze, brought back memories, as many things do for your nostalgic, old-fashioned PN Blogger. Peas have always been part of our gardens and putting up pea trellis is one of the gardening season’s first tasks.

I’ve never had to string trellis down several 60 foot rows as these people were doing, but I’ve made about do with many types of trellises in gardens big and small over the years. For a big pea patch in my quarter-acre vegetable garden, I strung three-foot-high chicken wire along cedar stakes cut from scraps gathered at the local mill. Still the peas climbed up and over the fence, making for a tangle that always seemed to hide another pod — or several — come picking time. In one tiny, short-term plot, I braced an old rose trellis in the ground for the peas to climb up either side. Needles to say, they never reached the top. (more…)

How To Prevent Damping Off

Damping OffMy grandfather used to say that gardening is like cooking. You never walk away from the stove.

What he meant, of course, is that gardening requires a lot of attention. Sticking seeds in the ground and just letting them go is akin to throwing some onions in oil over a hot burner and walking off. When it comes to controlling damping off, the fungal attack that destroys seedlings before they have a chance to flourish, attention to detail can be the organic gardener’s best tool, especially when it comes to watering.

Damping off is a common problem for those starting seeds indoors. But it can also be harmful to seeds planted directly in the garden. Shortly after emerging, seedlings develop a discolored, often black color at the soil line. This rot eventually claims the plant. There’s also a pre-emergence form of damping off that rots the seed before it’s had a chance to germinate. A number of fungi present in soils will cause young seedlings to die. And all of them like wet conditions. Not all fungi are evil … some are beneficial.

This is where attention comes in. If your seeds are growing in flats or starting pots, don’t keep them overly moist. Allow the soil to become dry before watering. Make sure drainage is good. Soil can dry on the surface but be saturated at the bottom of a pot. Again, monitor conditions closely. There’s a fine line between soil reaching a crumbly dryness and drying out rock solid at which point the seedlings tender roots will also dry and shrivel. Not good. (more…)

Celeriac: Looks Funny, Tastes Great

CeleriacMost years, your friendly and curious Planet Natural Blogger likes to plant something in his garden that he hasn’t tried before. How well he remembers that first sowing of kohlrabi back some (garbled) years ago! Now it’s a family favorite.

We’re expecting the same thing to happen with celeriac, sometimes known as celery root. Why we haven’t tried this classic cool weather crop previously is a mystery. Garden vegetable books always sing its praises and the words that usually attract us — easy to grow with few pest problems — often accompany the catalog accounts of this Medusa’s head of the vegetable world. Yes, she may be ugly but what sweetness she holds inside!

Then we were thumbing through an advance copy of Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd’s upcoming book To Eat: A Country Life (it’s due to be published in June). Eck and Winterrowd, the authors of several gardening and country living books, are the master landscapers behind Vermont’s North Hill Garden. Winterrowd passed away in 2010 making To Eat the team’s last book. In it, they write knowingly and poetically about what they raised at North Hill, everything from apples to wild salad. (more on this book when it nears publication). (more…)

Organic Tomatoes = More Nutrition

TomatoesDo you have your tomato starts started? If you need motivation, here’s the latest. A study published last month in PLOS One, the international, peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal, showed what a lot of us always suspected: organic tomatoes contain certain more nutritional factors than conventionally grown tomatoes.

You can read the study here. Don’t let its title — “The Impact of Organic Farming on Quality of Tomatoes Is Associated to Increased Oxidative Stress during Fruit Development” — discourage you. What it boils down to is that organic tomatoes contain more Vitamin C and more phenolic content than chemically fertilized, pesticide-dependent tomatoes.

You know what phenols are, right? Okay, neither really did we. From the report: “a large range of secondary metabolites in fruit and vegetables as phenolic compounds act as elicitors that activate Nrf2, a transcription factor that binds to the antioxidant response element in the promoter region of genes coding for enzymes involved in protective mechanisms.” Shorter version: they’re compounds that deliver antioxidants, otherwise known as phytochemicals. (more…)

Permaculture: Local and Sustainable

Permaculture LifestyleYour friendly and optimistic Planet Natural Blogger has more than once declared — rather grandly — that organic gardening can save the world.

Actually, it might take a little more than that, though local, personal and sustainable organic food production is playing a huge role in human health and the conservation of our resources. Many of us — suspicious of agri-business, unhappy with the poisoning of our environment in the name of corporate food production, upset with private control of energy sources, and wishing independence from as many facets of wasteful consumerism as possible — want to take charge of our own sustenance and well-being. The permaculture movement, dedicated to natural ecosystems, small-scale sustainable food and energy production, and ecologically-friendly living spaces, is that larger picture. (more…)

How To Grow and Cook Shallots

ShallotsFolks who do a lot of cooking at home frequently run into recipes that use shallots instead of onions. Because they’re so expensive, shallots are sometimes seen as the rich man’s onion. But that’s an unfair comparison. While shallots are in the onion family and resemble their cousins — though when you start to separate them, they look more like garlic cloves — shallots are distinctly different. If you’re one of those people who find onions sharp tasting and too strongly flavored, consider growing shallots for their milder, almost nutty -flavor. Most shallots have a different, almost sour tang than a pungent onion and most will cook up a little sweeter than onions. They’re perfect for creaming, combining with white wine or using sparingly in Asian stir fries.

The best way to assure an affordable supply of shallots is to grow them yourself. It’s not hard. Shallots are grown in a way similar to onions. The hardest part might be finding organic starts. We seldom see organic shallot starts available at local nurseries, but their are plenty of mail order sources, usually not the major seed companies, but smaller outfits that specialize in organic seeds. (more…)

Recipes from the Root Cellar

Root Cellar VegetablesThis is the time of year when a visit to the root cellar, or the basement, or wherever you store your “keeper” vegetables makes you realize… it’s time to get cooking! The carrots (or turnips or parsnips) are sensing spring and are sending out a few white hairs thinner than grandpa’s beard. The eyes on the potatoes are starting to bug. The rinds on the winter squash are still hard, but have lightened in color. You worked hard to grow these delicacies… so let’s not waste them. Here’s a pair of recipes — organic and non-GMO, of course — that we’ve found are good for those late season items that won’t last in storage forever. To the kitchen!

CARAMEL CARROT SOUP

This is a great way to boost the sweetness of late season carrots. There’s no caramel involved (unless… well, see below), instead we caramelize the carrots. But the kids like the idea that there’s caramel coming with the carrots. You can also use turnips or parsnips (or some combination) if you have them, but add an extra teaspoon of sweetener. (more…)

Grow Sprouts: For the Health of It!

Growing SproutsWe get cravings for greens this time of year. Sure, you lucky gardeners with indoor growing systems or hot houses may be eating home-grown kale or lettuce or spinach here in the dead of winter. But what’s a renter without his own garden patch to do? Grow sprouts.

Sprouts are one of nature’s most nutritious foods, full of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids as well as a great source of roughage. Lentil sprouts are 26% protein; soy bean sprouts, as you can guess, even higher. Radish sprouts contain large amounts of vitamins C and A as well as being a good source of calcium. Sunflower sprouts have lots of vitamin D. Clover sprouts are a good source of cancer-fighting isoflavones and alfalfa sprouts contain phytoestrogens needed for hormonal balance. If you’ve been scared away from sprouts because of contamination incidents with store -bought products, there’s a simple solution. (more…)

Planet News…with Links!

Breaking NewsItems (and garden news) of interest to organic gardeners, natural lifestyle, and health-conscious individuals that we’ve come across in the last few weeks:

–Legislation introduced in New Mexico that would have required labeling of foods that contain GMOs passed the state’s Public Affairs Committee only to have that recommendation turned down by the entire Senate which voted not to adopt the committee’s report. State Senator Peter Wirth who wrote the bill was quoted by Albuquerque Business First saying, “Even though SB 18 is dead this year, it’s clear that New Mexicans want and deserve a label that tells them whether or not their food has been genetically engineered.” Stay tuned.

–Drought and deficit: The New York Times is reporting that last summer’s drought will cost taxpayers an estimated $16 billion in crop insurance payments. That’s in addition to $11 billion that’s already been paid out in indemnity costs to farmers, a figure that could balloon to $20 billion before it’s over. Not all those payments go to farmers. Groups on both the right and the left have criticized the crop insurance program for subsidizing insurance companies and largely benefiting corporate farms. (more…)

Starting Seeds Starts Now!

SeedlingsFebruary the first marks the kickoff of a new gardening season. That’s when starting 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…)

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