Planet Natural: The Blog

Planet Natural BlogWelcome to the Planet Natural Blog, a clearinghouse for all things green and growing. What are we about? Organic gardening, sustainability, and the natural lifestyle, of course. That means you’ll find how-tos on raising healthy, great-tasting, heirloom vegetables, growing beautiful landscapes and flowers, composting, and improving soil health. We’re all about controlling weeds without harmful herbicides and pests without toxic pesticides. We’re engaged in conserving water and xeriscape gardening, growing herbs, and raising cover crops, and all the wise-use practices that make for sustainable, healthy gardens and landscapes.

The practice of organic gardening is as old as gardening itself. It’s only in the last several generations that farming and gardening has embraced the chemical fertilizers and risky pesticides that lead to short-term production gains while sacrificing our soil, our wildlife, and our very health. (more…)

Coffee Grounds and Compost

Coffee GroundsIs it okay to use coffee grounds in the garden as a soil amendment?

One of the more interesting blogs out there has a pdf paper on one of those consequential issues of interest to inquiring gardeners: coffee grounds.

The blog is horticulturalist and associate professor at Washington State University’s Puyallup’s Research and Extension Center Linda Chalker-Scott’s “Myths, Miracles … or Marketing?,” a series of papers that explores the research on such timely questions as the effectiveness of wood chips as mulch or the risks of using water retention crystals known as “hydrogels.” (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…)

What’s the Best Compost?

Finished CompostAnswer: Homemade compost. Here’s why.

It’s no secret. The best compost is the compost you make yourself. Why? The answer has to do with what you put in your composter as well as what some of the big, commercial grade composters put in theirs.

Homemade compost can be better even if you don’t do your own composting. More about that later.

At the height of spring planting season, compost is on the move. Lots of us are out buying it to spread in our gardens. Those of us who make our own, are screening and harvesting compost from our bins and tumblers for application in our landscapes. We’re thinking about the next batch and what we’ll be throwing into our barrels or our piles, now that we’ve taken what we can. (more…)

Bees Still In Peril

Honey Bee ColonyBee deaths accelerate in 2014.

Beekeepers lost over 42% of their colonies in the 12 months that began in April, 2014. This came after a year when total winter losses were 23%, less than the 30% average losses per year since 2005.

The figures come from the Bee Informed Partnership, a collaborative effort between university research laboratories, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The Partnership is dedicated to studying bee health on a “large scale” rather than in individual lab experiments. And that means data collection. (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…)

Be Ready For Garden Pests

Aphid Plant PestsPreventive measures now stop insect pests and disease problems later.

When it comes to garden pests, it pays to be proactive rather than reactive. This is a central tenet of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Being prepared for pests and doing everything you can in advance to discourage them saves not only damage to your plants but cuts the chances that you’ll be forced to use pest-killing methods, often chemical, that you’d rather not.

What can you do in the spring to prevent pest problems down the road? Lot’s. Discouraging pests by knowing the conditions they favor, say lots of moisture, and then denying them is a start. (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…)

Start an Organic Asparagus Patch

Asparagus BedNothing says spring like steamed, green spears of organic garden asparagus.

When I was a kid, we had an asparagus bed out at the far end of the backyard. It was already there when my parents bought the place, thus saving us the two to three years of waiting after planting before taking the first harvest. The plants were so big that in the fall, after the spears had grown tall and sent out thin, fern-like seed branches, we kids would burrow into the center of the patch to hide.

The best part of growing asparagus came in the spring when the first spears emerged, often beginning before we’d put in our vegetable garden. Most kids didn’t like asparagus but I did — maybe it was all the butter I’d slather on — and going out to harvest enough spears for dinner added to my appreciation. If memory serves, cutting asparagus from the ground was the first time I was allowed to use a knife. (more…)

GMO Eggplant Forced On Developing Countries

Genetically Modified EggplantGenetically engineered Bt brinjal, thought to ward off pests, is an apparent failure. But that doesn’t stop its promotion.

The introduction of genetically modified eggplant or “brinjal” as its called in Bangladesh, India, and other places in the East, has been hard to follow here in the U.S. What has emerged in the U.S. media is mostly cheer leading based on the claims that the GMO brinjal will increase yields and fight malnourishment. This message is applied to the larger one: it’s foolish and against science to resist GMOs when they improve human lives.

If only it were true. (more…)

Succession Planting Increases Small Garden Production

Multiple PlantingsHow to maximize crop yields from small space vegetable gardens.

At different times in our gardening life, small plots have forced us to take growing space seriously. It was in a small backyard corner space that we first tried square-foot gardening. We started succession plantings — raising one crop then, after its harvest, immediately replacing it with another — in a couple raised beds in a California front yard.

While square-foot vegetable gardening has been one of our staples no matter where we lived, succession planting becomes a more complicated proposition the further north you go. We have cousins down south that brag they’re growing different crops in succession all year long. In the midwest, we once got three crops in, if memory serves, greens and radishes, followed by bush beans, followed by turnips that came out of the ground sometime after the first hard freeze. (more…)

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