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!

Fast (Fresh, Organic) Food

Fast FoodA reader and friend has pointed out that I seem to have an old-school view of the patience required to be a successful gardener. She’s suggested that your friendly, all-in-a-rush Planet Natural Blogger actually finds more timely gardening gratification with fast growing, quick-to-harvest greens that not only are ready in a short amount of time but also offer nutritional and flavor benefits that longer-grown vegetables don’t match.

That kind of growing for us anxious types is the subject of Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz’s The Speedy Vegetable Garden, a new book that shows the patience we’re always urging gardeners to display isn’t really necessary when it comes to some harvests.

We’ve mentioned Diacono and Leendertz’s book before in regard to growing microgreens and certainly used it as reference when talking about sprouts and edible flowers. But in a half-dozen chapters they also address quick cut-and-c0me-again salads as well as quick-harvest vegetables. (more…)

Edible Flowers

Edible FlowersWhen 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…)

Growing, Enjoying Microgreens

Growing MicrogreensMicrogreens are all the rage. Professional chefs and home gourmets love them for their concentrated flavors and beautifully tangled appearance. Gardeners love them because they are quick and easy to grow … indoors! The health-conscious among us love them because they are a concentrated and delicious way to get vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.

What are microgreens? They’re basically seedlings, planted in soil, and harvested early — very early — when their first true leaves appear. The difference between microgreens and sprouts? Sprouts are typically raised without soil and harvested before true leaves are formed. Sprouts are otherwise much the same, just younger. Growing microgreens in soil with sunlight, allowing them to reach the point where they are setting leaves, gives them both a nutritional and flavor edge. They’re the miniature, fledgling form of greens and other veggies you plant in your garden in tiny concentrated form. Strong-flavored greens and herbs — things like radish, basil, arugula, beets, fenugreek and Asian greens — make the best microgreens. But almost anything you sprout or any green you plant in the garden will make delicious microgreens. (more…)

March Tests Gardeners’ Patience

Garden FeverWe used to call it the “fever,” as in cabin fever. Not that we were stuck indoors. (When are we ever stuck in doors?) But that grand desire — the fever — to get to the season of whatever we craved doing — ski season, high country backpacking, lake swimming, planting seed — would obsess us during this between month when winter hasn’t yet left and spring hasn’t yet arrived.

In March, we suffer garden fever. The seed catalogs have been around for a month or more and most of the seeds are in hand. In large portions of the country, the weather teases us. A few warm and dry days go by, snow melts, soil starts to dry. We think this is it, this is the year we get a huge jump on the season and once the peas are in we’ll stick in all kinds of seed: lettuce and other greens, turnips, why not take a chance with the squash? Maybe this is the year that we don’t have a killing frost once spring has sprung. Maybe we should take advantage? (more…)

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 pea 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…)

Damping Off In Seedlings

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 growing 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…)

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