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!

Small Stores, Big Advantages

Local BusinessPlanet Natural prides itself on being a small, specialty business. We don’t just stock gardening supplies. We stock natural, organic gardening supplies. We don’t stock just any household cleaner. We stock natural household products that are safe to use around your family. We don’t add just any new product that comes along. We examine it, see what others say about it, and try it ourselves. We don’t just carry a wide selection of products. We carry a select variety of products, products we’ve selected for their effectiveness and reliability ourselves.

There’s a growing movement that supports independent, small stores over large, corporate-owned “big box” and national merchandisers. It’s a movement that’s part of and parallel to the small, self-reliant, local farm and food movement that is sweeping the nation. Planet Natural is proud to be part of both movements, movements that emphasize the home-grown, locally-control, smaller-is-better philosophy that’s so prevalent in our national discourse but so often missing from business and economic discussions. (more…)

Love Those Blogs

garden-blogsThere are so many great gardening blogs on the web…who can follow them all? Here are some interesting links we’ve discovered recently. Any to add?

–Chris at Backyard Gardening Blog makes it sound too good to be true: “What if I told you there was a way to have a greener lawn, that needed less water, less fertilizer, attracted beneficial insects, and yes, it would be greener?” he asks. The answer is probably already in your back yard. (We especially like the “less water” part.)

The Manic Gardener (aka Kate Gardner) has a great article AND podcast(!) from Lee Reich about keeping a garden weed free. And there’s not a single mention of RoundUp.

–Elizabeth Licata has a novel way of how to look at all the maintenance her outdoor plants require this time of year. It involves the late screenwriter/director Nora Ephron, mascara and washing your hair. (Guys should take a clue.) (more…)

Knee High In Corn

Garden CornCorn is our country’s great vegetable. Since its seeds first migrated up from Mexico and spread across the world, corn has served as an all-American symbol as well as one of its favorite food crops.

Growing — and eating — garden corn is the source of countless family memories. Generations have grown up watching seeds the size of their finger tips turn into towering stalks with ears. How many of us actually laid between rows on a summer night to find out if it was true you could hear the corn grow? We still follow grandma’s directions: the first thing to do when picking corn is put the pot on to boil, so not a moment off the stalk is wasted. And we remember grandma cutting the kernels from the cob so grandpa — bless his dentures — could enjoy it even if he didn’t have his God-given teeth. How many times were we told that it was hot enough to pop corn right in the garden? Who can forget the unique sweetness of fresh-picked sweet corn? (more…)

Tomatoes: Taste? Or Color?

Garden TomatoesIt’s no secret that most commercially grown tomatoes taste lousy. Now scientists have discovered the reason: a gene mutation, the one bred into tomatoes to yield consistent color. It seems that tomato breeders discovered the gene about 70 years ago and began to cross-breed it into nearly all commercial tomatoes so that they would have an attractive red color. There was just one problem. Adding the redness gene “turned-off” flavor genes, the ones that created more sugars and carotenoids, various compounds in the tomato that contribute to flavor. The result? Tomatoes that look good but taste like paper. Here’s the abstract of the studies that determined the effects of the “redness” gene. Now we’d like to see the marketing studies that motivated commercial growers to think consumers prefer perfect red fruits without regard to taste. (more…)

Joys of Bok Choy

Bok ChoiOne of the most beautiful sights in the summer garden is the deep, rich green color of bok choi leaves, bunched like a bouquet, standing above the creamy white stalks that support them. The form and intense shades of the plant almost — almost — keep us from reaching down and cutting it off at ground level. There’s only one thing we like better than growing bok choy in the garden: the sight of this cabbage family member chopped, stir-fried (maybe with some garlic) and heaped next to a dollop of brown rice.

Bok choi or pak choi, or pak choy is a cool weather crop that does best planted in early spring or late summer. It can be successfully sown mid-season if it’s harvested very young before it has a chance to go to seed (strangely, very cool weather will also cause it to go to seed). Cabbage moths and other pests are more active in late summer so you’ll want to protect your plants with row covers. The secret to growing attractive, loosely bunched, erect choi is to plant sparingly and thin judiciously, allowing as much as eight inches between the larger varieties. The good news is that the thinnings can be added to stir-fry no matter their size. (more…)

Oh, Oregano

OreganoWhen the abundant moisture of spring has given way to drier summer conditions, it’s time to plant oregano. Both culinary and decorative — it’s delicate blossoms will attract pollinators to your garden as well as make for attractive additions to salads — oregano is one of the most rewarding herbs to grow. It can be started from seed, but buying plants is the easiest way to get them started (they can also be propagated from cuttings or from root divisions). Oregano is hardy to zone 5 and can be overwintered in zone 4 with a thick covering of straw or mulch. It’s a perennial and will provide tasty leaves and flowers for years before it becomes too woody and sharply flavored. To encourage longevity, cut plants back almost to the ground at the end of the growing season. Often grown in containers, oregano also grows well in terraces and rock gardens. A Mediterranean plant, it likes full sun but will tolerate some shade, as I found out growing it in an old tub under a pear tree in the Pacific Northwest. Oregano isn’t fussy about soil conditions but does require good drainage. It needs little water and is perfect for moisture-sensitive xeriscapes. (more…)

Father’s Day In the Garden

Father's DayNo matter what part of the country you live in or how far along your garden is, Father’s Day is a great time of the year to step back and enjoy your work. In many areas, greens are already being harvested, peas are beginning to pod, bush beans are in blossom, and tender baby carrots and turnips come easily from the ground. At higher altitudes and in northern climates, germination is in its early stages and young transplants — tomatoes, peppers and squashes — are taking root and standing tall. Spring flowers have faded or are long gone, summer blossoms are making their bright appearance. Everything is green, healthy and striving to grow strong. (more…)

Mesclun Greens

Mixed GreensNot so long ago, the word mesclun was unknown to everyone but hippies hard of hearing. Now the mix of garden greens is a favorite among gourmet restaurants and gardeners who love the crisp, occasionally spicy taste of loose leaf lettuces. As grown in its place of origin — Provencal, France — mesclun is a specific mix of chervil, arugula, lettuces and endive. In American gardens, anything goes: red and green loose leafs, Asian greens, kale, even radicchio.

One of our favorite gardening practices — inspired by Mel Bartholomew’s now-classic Square-Foot Gardening — is to stake out a two-by-two foot square in the garden and freely sow a mesculun mix, either one purchased ready-to-go or one we’ve mixed ourselves from favorite greens (deer tongue, rosso, black-seeded Simpson, mizuna , kale, Asian mustard, arugula and garden cress). We sow them into the corners and across the middle. A quick raking and tamping, followed by a thorough watering, is enough to get them growing. (more…)

Midwest Farmers’ Markets

Farmer's MarketsThere’s no doubt that farmers’ markets are more popular than ever. While no part of the country has a corner on the markets, some of the best can be found — in season — in the American midwest.

Janine MacLachlan’s brand new book Farmers Markets’ of the Heartland (University of Illinois Press, $24.95) is an engaging journey through America’s small farm and business, direct-to-the-consumer revolution. More than a guide to some of the largest and most unique markets in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and states between (with a special chapter on Chicago), MacLachlan’s book is a celebration of market culture, the place where farmers and their customers meet. It profiles the small growers and artisans — pumpkin growers, turkey raisers and cheese makers — who dedicate their lives to quality product rather than profit.

Consider Bill Weston of Wisconsin’s Weston Antique Apple Orchard who sees stewardship of his land to be as important as the selling of his crop. Weston donated eleven acres of his land to the nearby city of New Berlin as a “passive park” with the stipulation that it remain an orchard. (more…)

Garlic Scapes

Garlic ScapesThis Memorial Day weekend, along side the greens, turnips, carrots, young rutabaga, green onions and radishes at our corpulent, late-spring Saturday Farmers Market here in Santa Fe, New Mexico (a much better tourist attraction than the area’s fabled art gallery scene) was something we didn’t see much of not so many years ago: garlic scapes. When we first noticed them at our then-local farmers market in Bozeman, MT a couple years back, we thought the vendor was exercising some creative marketing by offering a product that otherwise might go to waste. Turns out the garlic scape is a wonderful spring bounty whose harvest not only encourages the growth of the garlic it sprouts from but, when harvested early enough, tastes great, too. And, it’s good for you! (more…)

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