Soil Health

Experienced growers know that a beautiful, sustainable garden starts with living, healthy soil. Most plants thrive in well-drained, slightly acidic, soils that are rich in organic matter. The challenge, however, is that most of the world’s soils do not exist this way and they must be balanced, or amended, to provide the conditions necessary for robust plant growth. Click on the information and news below to learn about soil health and what can be done to improve it.

Preparing Garden Soil

Organic Garden SoilHealthy soil is the basis of healthy plants and a healthy environment. When garden soil is in good shape there is less need for fertilizers or pesticides. As author and respected gardener Frank Tozer writes, “When building soil you not only improve your plants health, but you can also improve your own.”

Organic soil is rich in humus, the end result of decaying materials such as leaves, grass clippings and compost. It holds moisture, but drains well. Good organic garden soil is loose and fluffy — filled with air that plant roots need — and it has plenty of minerals essential for vigorous plant growth. It is alive with living organisms — from earthworms to fungi and bacteria — that help maintain the quality of the soil. Proper pH is also an essential characteristic of healthy soil. (more…)

Coconut Coir or Sphagnum Peat Moss?

Coconut Coir MixCoir, the popular hydroponic growing medium, rivals peat as an effective soil conditioner. Here’s the comparison.

There’s a lot of discussion going on over which soil conditioner is best for your garden: sphagnum peat moss or coconut coir? Sustainability is part of the discussion. Effectiveness is another.

Truth is both are great additions to garden soil. Both are natural and plant based. Both help break up heavy, clay soils and improve water retention in sandy soils. Each has its own list of beneficial nutrients it adds to the soil. Both encourage beneficial microbial populations. (more…)

Why Grow Organic? Taste.

Organic ProduceThere are many reasons to eat organically. Better taste is one.

Your friendly Planet Natural blogger, always hungry to learn about cooking, saw the Dan Barber installment of the new Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table. The series profiles a different, high-profile restaurant chef each of its six episodes. Barber, a long-time champion of the farm-to-table, sustainable-agriculture movement, is the co-owner and executive chef at New York City’s Blue Hill, an upscale restaurant with a sister location in the country, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, 30 miles north.

The interviews in the documentary make it clear that Barber is solidly behind organic growing and for all the expected reasons. But he doesn’t dwell on the dangers presented by conventionally grown crops or the amount of chemicals and pesticides poured into the environment, although that gets mentioned too. Instead he talks about the importance of soil to flavor. (more…)

Worm Castings: Plant Superfood

Worm CastingsThe benefits of making and using nature’s best organic compost at home.

One thing we’ve noticed over the last few years of haunting nurseries and other stores selling garden supplies is the growing availability of worm castings. Big box home and garden stores — even Walmart — now carry the best soil amendment nature provides.

What makes worm castings so great? It’s the worm. As it digests the organic materials it consumes, it refines them. Nutrients, including minerals, are reduced to their most usable form. The castings have a neutral pH of 7.0. (more…)

Contaminated Potting Soil and Compost

Potting SoilBagged soils can contain herbicides, gnats, and other unsavory problems.

Stories about compost possibly contaminated with heavy metals from sewage waste and disastrous herbicides turning up in potting soil aren’t new. In 2010, the University of Maryland Extension put out a “Gardener’s Alert! Beware of Herbicide-Contaminated Compost and Manure.” The Ohio State University Extension put out a fact sheet on one persistent pesticide showing up in compost that kills off tomato, eggplant and other nightshade family vegetables as well as beans and sunflower.

But it seems more recently that gardeners are starting to pay attention to other problems that come with mass-produced, commercial potting soils and compost: the importation of pests and disease into your garden or indoor grow space. (more…)

Economics, Water Drives Soil Conservation Farming

Soil ConservationNo-till, reduced pesticide and herbicide, cover crop farming methods on the grow.

Organic gardening practice that emphasizes soil quality in our backyard vegetable patch and landscape is one thing. Improving our nation’s farm soils, acre by acre, is another.

So it was with a smile that your cheerful Planet Natural blogger ran across this announcement of the 2015 Tri-Basin Natural Resources District Soil Conservation Award from south-central Nebraska.

The winner, Greg Linder of Loomis, Nebraska, is something of an American inspiration for both the generations of farming his family represents, as well as his efforts to protect two of his county’s greatest resources: its soil and water. It’s worth reading the whole story. (more…)

Rewilding Your Home Landscape

Native LandscapingGardening with nature in mind’s new buzz word.

What is “rewilding?” Valerie Easton’s Natural Gardener column in a recent issue of The Seattle TimesPacific NW Sunday magazine puts perspective to the Johnny-come-lately gardening term. The piece, called “In Harmony With Nature,” is sort of a celebration of rewilding which, she notes, only first appeared in the dictionary in 2011. She says, “I like to think that in the gardenesque sense of the word, rewilding represents a desire to meddle less and celebrate nature more.”

Less meddling sounds like less work to me. Needles to say, your mostly-industrious Planet Natural blogger likes the idea of less work. (more…)

Pest Prevention, Soil Testing …

Garden Work…and other garden tasks we should have done this past year.

Your friendly Planet Natural blogger is not ready to start making New Year’s gardening resolutions just yet. But with the new year in mind and our ongoing resolve to be a better organic gardener year after year, we’ve gone back through our gardening journal and found problems that we might have solved, if only … well, you know the rest.

So, in the interest of growing better organically, here’s some things we could have done better last growing season. (more…)

Soil Health: The New, Sustainable Green Revolution

Healthy SoilsThe world is learning the value of improving soils and growing without chemicals.

As organic gardeners, we’ve long known the value of maintaining healthy soil. It’s the key to successful growing and the means to avoiding the use of harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Keeping our garden soil in top condition by adding plenty of compost and other organic matter, using cover crops and mulch to protect it, and doing all we can to promote healthy microbes, fungi, and other living organisms that promote the restoration of nutrients, goes a long way in assuring successful gardening without environmental harm.

Organic gardeners know that soil is alive and must be treated as a living organism. Treating it with harmful chemicals and poisons, otherwise known as herbicides and pesticides, takes the life (and therefore the productivity) from the dirt in which our crops grow. (more…)

How Do Earthworms Survive Winter?

EarthwormHint: It’s the slime.

Maybe your friendly Planet Natural blogger ate too much pie. But during a free hour in our recently passed holiday, he sat quietly — no football, no television — and thought about his garden and the ongoing cold snap. Then, as Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Akyroyd) says in the film Ghostbusters, it just popped in there. What happens to worms in winter?

Now every gardener loves earthworms. They’re tunneling helps keep your soil porous and conduct moisture. They feed on decaying matter, leaves and other plant matter, as well as fungi, bacteria and nematodes, then excretes them as vermicompost or worm castings, one of the most potent soil amendments there is. As the Colorado State University extension department puts it, both the structure and fertility of your garden soil are in the care of earthworms. (more…)

GMO Vote, Leaf Mold, High-Tech Farming … And Pie!

High-Tech TractorShort-takes on natural gardening topics we’re following.

As we enter a new month, your (mostly) timely, inquisitive Planet Natural blogger takes a minute to catch up on a handful of issues.

–Oregon GMO Labeling Vote: The final vote count is in and Oregon Initiative 92 to label products that include genetically modified ingredients is so close that a recount, scheduled to start December 2, has been called. Initial reports from The Oregonian on the day after the election had the measure failing narrowly. That margin — 812 votes or 0.05% of the total — turned out to be closer than imagined and now the race is too close to call. This is encouraging news, no matter what the final tally shows. Corporate forces, as usual in these votes, vastly outspent the pro-labeling side and the closeness of the Oregon vote suggests that they’ll even have to spend more to spread their misinformation. (more…)

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