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 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…)
Your 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…)
My 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…)
Most 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…)
Do 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…)
Your 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…)
Folks 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…)
This 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…)
We 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…)
Items (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…)