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’ve written a lot about planning your garden, which plants go where, crop rotation, companion planting, and the like. But what to do when you’re starting a garden or want to create a second (or a third) garden space? Where is the best place for your new garden to go? What factors should you consider when starting it?
Often we don’t have a choice. Our yards are small. Everything is heavily shaded except for that one spot over there. If we put the new garden right in that sunny spot in the middle of the yard, where will we play badminton on the fourth of July? Choosing where to put a garden space is a problem a lot of us don’t have.
But if we’re lucky enough to have the space where a choice is in order then it’s important we choose wisely. It’s safe to say that we already know the principles. What’s best for the plants you want to grow? Here’s a brief and most likely incomplete list of principles to consider when starting a garden. Feel free to add things we may have overlooked and other suggestions that will assure you convenience and make your plants a growing success. (more…)
Reading through Danny L. Barney’s new book Storey’s Guide To Growing Organic Orchard Fruits (Storey Publishing) not only got us to thinking about what it takes to grow apples, pears, cherries and other fruits without chemical sprays, but also, like a lot of things, made us nostalgic.
Your sentimental, fruit-crazy Planet Natural Blogger grew up on a small orchard back in Nebraska that was sprayed heavily every year. My father was in the pest control business and had access to the compounds and equipment. I remember him fogging the whole place in an effort to keep the mosquitoes and other insects down. Insects weren’t the problem, and needless to say the sprays did nothing to alleviate our real problem, blight and blemishes (and we still ended up with mosquitoes anyway). He didn’t wear a mask or respirator when doing this and neither did we. But we loved to run through the fog much to his chagrin (Note: Dad’s long gone but we’re still healthy).
Maybe it was in reaction to this that — like a lot of former hippies — when we took to the land, we adopted an organic lifestyle. Those of us old enough to remember the Alar apple scare of 1989 probably aren’t surprised to know that the conventionally-grown fruits we buy are still tainted with harmful substances. Some of these chemicals are especially bad for children. (more…)
A recent study clearly demonstrates the health and longevity benefits of eating organic produce over conventional produce… if you’re a fruit fly. The study designed by a then 16-year-old Texas student not only won her top honors in the national science fair competition, it added to a growing body of evidence that eating organic — despite stiff food industry-sponsored denial — is indeed healthier.
The study also illustrates the value of engaging your children in family nutrition, gardening, and life-style choice discussions. The fruit fly study winner was inspired to put the organic question to the test after hearing her parents discuss the issue.
The award winning study not only won Ria Chhabra the national science fair competition but also publication in a respected scientific journal and access to nearby university labs usually available only to graduate students at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The study, as a few news sources pointed out, stood in stark contrast to an infamous Stanford study that suggested organically raised produce was no more nutritious than conventionally raised produce. (more…)
A reader and friend has pointed out that I seem to have an old-school view of the patience required to be a successful gardener. She’s suggested that your friendly, all-in-a-rush Planet Natural Blogger actually finds more timely gardening gratification with fast growing, quick-to-harvest greens that not only are ready in a short amount of time but also offer nutritional and flavor benefits that longer-grown vegetables don’t match.
That kind of growing for us anxious types is the subject of Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz’s The Speedy Vegetable Garden, a new book that shows the patience we’re always urging gardeners to display isn’t really necessary when it comes to some harvests.
We’ve mentioned Diacono and Leendertz’s book before in regard to growing microgreens and certainly used it as reference when talking about sprouts and edible flowers. But in a half-dozen chapters they also address quick cut-and-c0me-again salads as well as quick-harvest vegetables. (more…)
When planning your vegetable garden, don’t forget to consider edible flowers. They’re not only attractive garnishes for salads and plate designs (or “plating” as chefs say) but they add an element of beauty to the garden. And they have practical benefits — like attracting pollinators — even before they’re harvested.
My grandmother was the first to feed us flowers, namely petunias of which she’d put one on the plate with our salad (she’d also put one behind her ear when her hair was pulled back but that’s another story).
We’ve been adding nasturtium blossoms to salads for years; in fact creating whole salads with nothing but their blossoms when we had an abundance. At first we considered them only as decoration. Later we learned to savor their petals, popping them into our mouths straight from the plant as we walked around the garden, enjoying their spicy, sometimes peppery flavor. Nasturtiums are easy to grow and make a great companion plant. (more…)
Microgreens are all the rage. Professional chefs and home gourmets love them for their concentrated flavors and beautifully tangled appearance. Gardeners love them because they are quick and easy to grow … indoors! The health-conscious among us love them because they are a concentrated and delicious way to get vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.
What are microgreens? They’re basically seedlings, planted in soil, and harvested early — very early — when their first true leaves appear. The difference between microgreens and sprouts? Sprouts are typically raised without soil and harvested before true leaves are formed. Sprouts are otherwise much the same, just younger. Growing microgreens in soil with sunlight, allowing them to reach the point where they are setting leaves, gives them both a nutritional and flavor edge. They’re the miniature, fledgling form of greens and other veggies you plant in your garden in tiny concentrated form. Strong-flavored greens and herbs — things like radish, basil, arugula, beets, fenugreek and Asian greens — make the best microgreens. But almost anything you sprout or any green you plant in the garden will make delicious microgreens. (more…)
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 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 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…)