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!

Vegetables Not To Start Indoors . . .

Directly Sown Seeds. . . and why (plus how) to start them indoors anyway.

Your friendly, impatient Planet Natural Blogger has a hard time waiting for the ideal time to start seeds, especially those that do best when directly sown in the garden. We’ve all heard how some vegetables shouldn’t be started indoors. Peas, beans, corn, and most definitely root vegetables (carrots, beets, turnips, and the like) do best planted right in the ground where you want them to grow. Starting them indoors can be a frustrating waste of time. And for different reasons. (more…)

Using Cold Frames: A Year Round Gardening Tool

Cold Frame GardeningGive you plants a head-start and shelter from the cold with a versatile cold frame.

Springtime sees your friendly, think-ahead Planet Natural blogger putting his cold frame (PDF) to heavy use. Now, in a time of year where frosts are still possible, many of our indoor vegetable starts are almost ready to go into the garden. They need to get use to being outdoors. Many of them can’t survive the night-time cold but can when protected inside a cold frame, maybe draped with a blanket on the coldest nights. (more…)

Gardening Blogs: A Growing Community

Gardening BlogGardeners share their experience and knowledge — with pictures! — online.

Friends and readers have questions: You’re always preaching patience this time of year. Wait until the last frost, wait until the soil is workable, don’t get into the garden too soon. That’s all well and good. But what do we do in the meantime?

Well, we’ve always counseled planning and dreaming. Plan your coming garden and landscape. Dream of what your yard, your vegetable patch will look like in just a few months. To facilitate that planning and stimulate that dreaming? Read. (more…)

Starting Annual Flowers Indoors

Annual FlowersRaising your own flowering annuals gives you variety, costs savings, and home-grown quality.

Why would your start your own flowering annuals from seed when they’re readily available as starts at nurseries and big box stores? The answer is cost, selection, and quality.

Sure you can find marigolds and other common annuals as ready-to-plant starts. And they’re relatively inexpensive if you’re just growing a few here and there. But if you’re looking for unusual annuals, either heirlooms or strains of favorites that you can’t get just anywhere, well, then, you’ll have to start them yourself. And if you’re using annuals as borders, say along sidewalks, or filling an entire garden bed with color, then you’ll need a lot of starts and suddenly the cost of those individual plants start to add up. A packet or two that contain enough seed for your needs? Probably $5 or less (more…)

Organics Gain In Farm Bill

Farm BillLocal and organically grown foods, in demand now more than ever, get a nod from legislators.

There’s plenty in the recently passed Farm Bill that requires us to plug our noses. That’s true for nearly everyone, no matter which side of the ideological divide you’re on. Some say the Farm Bill is a hand out to corporate agriculture. Some say its a hand-out to poor families in the form of food stamps, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP. No one is happy.

The often cranky British magazine The Economist points out why folks on both sides aren’t happy. It claims that 80% of the Farm Bill spending has nothing to do with farming. At the same time, it points out that 75% of the farm subsidies the bill provides are taken by the top 10% of farm business. (more…)

Growing the Perfect Radish

Organic RadishesRadishes are great for getting kids started with gardening. Yet growing good radishes isn’t child’s play.

Anybody can grow radishes. Even a kid can do it. But growing a good radish? Now that takes a little work and a lot of attention. And really, isn’t that exactly the kind of lesson you want to pass on to your little ones when it comes to gardening?

Radishes, a cool-weather crop, can be planted early, as soon as the soil can be worked and weeks before the last frost. In our household, they’re the first scratch on the itch to garden. Let’s go to the center of the country to gauge when you can sow radish seed. The Iowa State University Extension Service’s radish page says they can be planted in late March in the southern part of the state, in mid-April in the state’s northern counties. This suggests that they can be planted early, say February, further south. And in higher elevations and along the northern tier, try putting in radishes as soon as the snow is out and the soil is half-way friable. (more…)

Patience When Planting Peas: The Payoff

Pea PlantsWait for the right soil temperatures and conditions before planting peas.

This time of year we’re thinking peas. Peas are always the first thing to go in our garden and the common wisdom — “plant as soon as the soil can be worked” — is our cue to get into the garden as soon as the soil dries enough that it doesn’t ball up when squeezed in our fists. Peas are also a cool weather crop, doing best in spring and early summer but also planted in late summer-early fall in places where winter doesn’t jump the shark as soon as October comes around.

Not only great eating — we were all about serving curls of fresh pea shoots in salads before it became popular in gourmet, farm-to-table restaurants — peas serve another purpose that promotes well-being in gardeners. They give us something to do in the weeks (and months ) ahead of when the rest of the garden goes in.

If you’re like me, you’re chomping at the bit once March rolls around and garden season is imminent. It’s like waiting for Christmas when you’re a kid. Sometimes you just can’t keep your hands off the presents even before the big day. (more…)

Buy Plant Starts? Or Grow Your Own?

Vegetable Starts

How to get the best organic and heirloom vegetable starts for your garden.

Organic gardeners are faced with a dilemma this time of year. How do we obtain organically raised vegetable starts for placement in our gardens? The best answer of course is to start them ourselves. This allows us to control all the variables — the seed, the starting mix, any amendments or rooting formulas we might use — without using or having any unnecessary concern for herbicides, pesticides, inorganic soil additives, or such chemicals as growth regulators. (more…)

What’s Left In the Root Cellar

Root CellarUsing, not losing, what remains of last year’s harvest.

We were fortunate to have a root cellar when we had a small hippie homestead years ago in the Pacific Northwest. While we often think of root cellars as being underground, or part of a basement — a good thing as being below ground, surrounded by earth, moderates the cold outdoor temperatures — our “cellar” more resembled a tiny cabin. With its thick cedar log walls stacked tightly against each other and a dirt floor, we were able to keep some of the summer’s bounty — mostly root vegetables and squash, but also onions and a cabbage or two — well through the winter. (more…)

Home Grown Brussels Sprouts

Brussel SproutsPlan now to start and grow one of the garden’s most nutritious plants.

Brussels sprouts have enjoyed a surge in popularity lately. Much of that is due to the fact we’ve realized how good they are for us. Those little miniature cabbages — they are actually quite different from cabbages even though they belong to the same family, the crucifers, as do kale, broccoli, and kohlrabi — are a gold mine of necessary nutrition.

Brussels sprouts contain a lot of cardiovascular disease fighting and cholesterol lowering fiber — 13% of a man’s daily requirement in a one cup serving (9% of a woman’s) — as well as lots of vitamins C and K for bone health, carotenoids for healthy vision, and a surprising amount of protein for a vegetable — 3 grams per serving. Another attraction: that single, one cup serving has only 38 calories. Here’s the complete nutrition rundown.

But the thing that’s really made Brussels sprouts so attractive is their use in the kitchen. Brussels sprouts had gained something of a bad reputation for a couple reasons. The first was the quality of the sprouts sold at the market. Often harvested during the still-warm months, or shipped up from southern countries in the spring, they didn’t have the advantage of taking on some cold weather just as they were ready for harvest. Everyone knows that a light frost brings out a sweet flavor in any of the crucifers. (more…)

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