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.

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 vegetable 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…)

Cold Frame — Hot Box

Vegetable StartsCold frames are a great gardening accessory, giving you a place to harden off transplants before putting them into the garden, giving seeds a head start in germination just before the last frost, and giving warm weather crops — tomatoes, peppers, eggplants — a warm boost when the days and evenings might still be cool. In general, they’re a great way to extend the growing season from either end, spring and fall. Building one is simple. Resourceful gardeners make them from scavenged wood and reclaimed window sashes. But you can also build them from scratch, allowing you to use materials that will better withstand the elements while putting your woodworking skills to use. And, of course, you can buy them as kits.

The English, because of their cool, moist summers, are great champions of cold frames, often incorporating them right into the design of their homes. The English row house often features cold frames along the south or west side of the building, often made of the same brick as the home. While most of our cold frame experience is of the salvaged wood type, we’ve also seen some pretty nice set ups built by those who are more handy than we are. (more…)

Starting Seeds Indoors

Starter PotsBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Starting plants from seed just might be the second most enjoyable act of procreation you’ll ever experience. In addition to the fun — starting seed is the perfect cure for those late-season winter blahs — raising your own plants offers practical and aesthetic benefits. You’ll get an earlier start to your garden and you’ll be able to raise vegetable and flower varieties not offered as starts by your local garden store or nursery. You’ll have plants that are healthier, vigorous, more disease resistant and ideally chosen for your personal growing conditions. And you’ll be able to choose vegetables that taste better, produce earlier and store longer. You might even save some money. Often a single start from your local garden supplier costs as much as a whole packet of seed. Plus, the satisfaction you’ll receive watching plants that you started yourself go into the garden is priceless. Your kids will love watching the miracle of growth from seeds they started themselves… and they’ll learn something as well. (more…)

Hazardous Harvest (GMOs)

GMO TomatoWhat GMOs mean to organic growers.

By Bill Kohlhaase for Planet Natural

When U.S. District Judge for New York Naomi Buchwald threw out a lawsuit in February filed by The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) and dozens of other plaintiffs against the Monsanto Corporation, she struck a blow against organic growers, small farmers and concerned citizens across the country. The suit, filed in March of 2011 on behalf of organic farmers and seed growers by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBAT), was a preemptive measure designed to prohibit Monsanto from filing future lawsuit against growers whose fields may have inadvertently been contaminated by genetically-modified crops — known as GMOs — patented by Monsanto. This contamination can be caused by wind-carried seed, bird droppings, neighboring farmers losing seed in transport near a non-GMO field, or other unintended methods. Once Monsanto discovers its patented GMOs in a field where the plants volunteered even without the farmer’s knowledge, its legal team goes to work. (more…)

Garden Planning: Form and Function

Vegetable GardenSurprisingly — or not — garden planning has become more important the smaller my garden gets. When I started out with the first plot of my very own back some (garbled) years ago, I had plenty of room. It was easy to plot crop rotations year to year and find space for vegetables I’d never tried before. Sure, I’d pour over the seed catalogs, then order too much. I’d draw up a plan that I often deviated from when I actually put my garden in. Because the entire, quarter-acre space was in full sunlight when the sun indeed shone there in the rainy Pacific Northwest, I didn’t have to worry about plants to grow in shaded parts of the garden (except for that spot just north of the Jerusaleum artichoke patch). But I did have to worry about selecting vegetables that grew well in cool, cloudy locations, pretty much the same thing. (more…)

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