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!

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…)

Grow Herbs Indoors

Growing Herbs IndoorsBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

There are plentiful reasons to grow herbs indoors: basil pesto, rosemary chicken, maple and marjoram-roasted turkey, fresh oregano pizza sauce, tarragon salmon, cilantro-flavored salsas and spicy chive dip. The rise of gourmet home cooking as well as the popularity of fresh, home-raised and locally-grown foods has increased demands for fresh herbs. Why not grow your own, year `round? With modern advances in grow lights, growing mediums and self-contained hydroponic systems, raising herbs inside a small corner of your home can add year-round flavors, scents, even profits to your life.

Kitchen gardeners have long grown herbs on windowsills, under kitchen fluorescent bulbs and next to indoor orchid lights (see How to grow herbs indoors during winter). The success of these practices, touted in articles, videos and a few misinformed books, varies greatly. There’s seldom enough light in even the sunniest windowsill to yield more than an infrequent harvest, say a pinch of rosemary in February or a few basil leaves at Christmas. Standard fluorescent lamps could help plants over winter and even produce some harvests depending on how close and intense the lights were. Having herbs under lamps two or more feet away might do little more than keep perennials like oregano, rosemary and sage alive, sometimes barely, until they could be transplanted back in the outdoor garden. (more…)

Hybrid Seeds Past & Present

Seed PacketsAs your friendly, memory-challenged Planet Natural Blogger goes through the newly arrived seed catalogs, he marvels at the latest crop (heh) of F1 hybrid seeds to hit garden store racks. Then we start to wonder: what happened to that supposedly high-yielding, easy-to-grow, delicious hybrid tomato or lettuce or squash that was such a sensation back in whatever year it was?

In the catalogs this year, we find a new hybrid tomato with the word “super” in its name, a sweet corn designed to grow in pots, and a spaghetti squash glorified with the name of an ancient Roman city. Will any of them still be around in 10 years? Some, like Burpee’s Early Girl Hybrid have survived the test of time. Others, like the Moreton tomato, celebrated in the mid-Atlantic states for its “Jersey” taste, disappeared when the Harris Seed Company which owned its patent stopped producing it. Luckily, Rutgers University has helped bring it back.

And that’s the problem — at least one of the problems — with F1 hybrids. Like GMO crops, they are owned by the business that holds their patent. No one else can offer the seed unless they buy the patent or it expires. It’s a great way to corner the market. No wonder new hybrids are advertised with such superlatives. (more…)

New Year’s Resolutions

Gardening ResolutionsThe world is resolution happy this time of year. And why not? The start of a new year, though just a day on the calendar, gives us a chance to show resolve (a quality sorely needed, especially among our political class), to reconsider, to calculate, to make decisions, to be resolute; all the thing a resolution implies. Your humble and determined Planet Natural Blogger thinks a resolution is a commitment to just try harder. In that spirit, here is his list of New Year’s gardening and organic lifestyle resolutions when it comes to the realm of gardening and organics. Please feel free to add other gardening and natural lifestyle resolutions that I may have overlooked or which apply to your particular situation.

1) To use no harmful chemical spray, herbicide or pesticide on our lawn, garden or trees; in other words, to use organic solutions whenever possible.

2) To institute a program of integrated pest management to control harmful insects.

3) To buy and plant more heirloom seed. With this, goes the commitment to improve and expand methods of saving heirloom seed from plants grown in our own garden; in short, to establish our own line of heirlooms to grow year after year. (more…)

Seasons Gleanings

Happy HolidaysDid you notice? The sun came up seconds earlier this morning. The winter solstice has passed. Though there’s plenty of cold weather left — the year’s coldest weather comes after the solstice — our hemisphere’s tilt back towards the sun means warmth and light are on the horizon. And more warmth and more light means… gardening!

Okay, those days are still months off. These are the days we go back through our gardening journals, we study seed catalogs, we make sure the living things in our homes — green and not — are well-taken care of. Still dealing with last minute holiday tasks? For your last minute shoppers, here’s a list of gift ideas that just might save your reputation as a thoughtful and generous person. It’s an oldie but a goodie… we especially like the last idea; a “promise” gift that involves an activity or helping out a friend or family member. Still looking for blooms on your Christmas cactus? Here’s helpful suggestions for all your Christmas-themed houseplants including poinsettias and Norfolk pines. (more…)

Last Minute Local Shopping

Bozeman, MontanaOnce again your friendly but prone-to-procrastination Planet Natural Blogger has left his holiday shopping until the last weekend. This is not the overwhelming problem for us last-minute shoppers that it appears to be. There’s an easy solution. Shop local! Your locally-based retailers probably have just the thing to delight those on you gift list. In fact, when you’re looking for unique, thoughtful gifts that show you had the recipient in mind — as well as in your heart — local business often have that one-of-a-kind item that stand apart from the same ol’, same thing that everyone is buying at the big box store. Better yet! It may have been produced locally, too!

Now, we’ve written on the advantages of shopping locally before. But all the pluses — supporting the local economy and your neighbors who work at locally-owned business (ie, profits stay in town rather than being shipped to Arkansas or some place) — are magnified this time of year. Especially this time of year, it’s great to shop in a cozy place with helpful, present-and-available clerks who have the time to help and make suggestions. Considering the size of your town, you might even know these people. In our humble estimation, that’s what makes a great shopping experience. (more…)

Poinsettias Past Christmas

Christmas PoinsettiaWho hasn’t received a velvety, red-leafed poinsettia as a gift or purchased one or more for their home during the holiday season? And how many of those poinsettias survive the year to flower again next holiday season? Hmmm…

Long ago and far away when I was a school teacher, I was given a beautiful poinsettia by one of my darling, young students. It had obvious problems, planted in a small plastic pot filled with a dry concoction dominated by Styrofoam chips. Obviously, its grower didn’t intend for it to last into the new year. Ignorant of growing poinsettias but generally knowledgeable about what plants needed, we repotted it on the solstice, thereby saving the plant but loosing its blossoms.

With its rootball in a big new home filled with nourishing, compost-laden soil mix, our poinsettia thrived, though it never again blossomed. It seemed to grow best during fall and winter and over the years became something of a twisted bonsai with its circling branches decorated with spare green leaves. (more…)

The Many Benefits of Kale

KaleOkay, beets may have won the “Vegetable of the Year” honor in 2012 — at least, in Duluth — but in our book, er, garden journal, the benefits of kale make it the repeat winner. Why? It’s one of the easiest vegetables to grow and it’s packed with nutrition. We stir-fry it with pancetta to make a fancy pasta, with bacon when we’re not being so fancy, and with grated cheese (and sometimes an egg) when we’re cooking vegetarian. But we like it best simple, lightly steamed and drizzled with a little olive oil or lemon juice.

We’ve grown kale in various seasons and places: near the cold Pacific on the wet and cloudy Olympic Peninsula where harvests came year-round with the help of a cold frame, in the middle of winter near the beach in Southern California (no cold frame required), and summers in Montana where we were able to pick it early in spring from well-mulched plants held over from the previous season as well as late (late!) into December with the help of a little plastic and — sometimes — a snow shovel. With kale, it seems the more difficult the growing conditions, the better it tastes. (more…)

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