Take Action To Save Pollinators

Bee PollinationPlants that bring bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to your garden can help save them.

It’s the time of year when air-borne pollinators are buzzing and humming and hovering all over our gardens. Honey bees are working the purple orbs atop chive stalks, wild bees are crawling the first pale, stem-bound blossoms of a potted rosemary plant, hummingbirds are working trumpet-shaped azalea blossoms, and various-sized and colored wasps are busy visiting flowers of all sorts blooming in our yards and landscapes.

Earlier in the season, the bees were all over our apple blossoms. Not long from now, they’ll be in the pea blossoms while butterflies will be tracing twisted, sunlit paths above our heads. They’ll all be doing the work of pollination, the natural process so important to the plants that feed us and bring us beauty. (more…)

Gardening and the Five-Gallon Bucket

5 Gallon BucketChores, container gardens and other uses for 5 gallon buckets.

After our post on garden tools, a friend mentioned that we’d left out an important one: the five-gallon bucket. “Gardeners are doing things with buckets that we can’t imagine,” he enthused. “It’s truly the tool of a thousand uses. And there are uses still out there that no one has yet dreamed.”

He might be exaggerating. But buckets of all sorts are utility tools, good for carrying, mixing, and picking up. And if they’re used, food-grade 5 gallon buckets (no one needs to tell you to stay away from those that held paint or other toxic materials), then you’re making a contribution to sustainability by keeping those buckets out of the landfill. (more…)

Chicken Producers Cut Antibiotics

Chicken FarmFoster Farms joins a growing list of commercial chicken raisers to hear consumer calls for antibiotic-free, organic products.

Foster Farms, one of the nation’s largest chicken producers, has announced that it has stopped the use of antibiotics “important to human medicine” in all of its chicken raising facilities. The move was part of a press release announcing two new lines of chicken products, Foster Farms Certified Organic and Foster Farms Simply Raised an antibiotic-free chicken.

The press release can be seen here. (more…)

Early Season Fruit Thinning

Pear TreeThinning emerging apples, peaches and other fruits early in the season improves size, quality and future blooming.

A friend who grew up on an acreage tells us how his favorite apple tree — he doesn’t remember what kind — produced clusters of small, under-sized apples. Some of the fruit developed brown spots, probably apple scab from the way he describes it. His story made us wonder: why was this his favorite apple tree? (Answer: it was the furthest away from the house and offered him a shady, quiet place to escape his younger siblings and read, either sitting on the ground against the trunk or up in its welcoming branches.) (more…)

USDA Develops Voluntary GMO-Free Label

Inspecting Food LabelIs the USDA’s GMO-free certification program an attempt to kill comprehensive genetically modified labeling initiatives?

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced last month that the Department of Agriculture will create a voluntary certification program for food products that claim to be free of genetically modified ingredients. A USDA “Process Verified” label will be awarded to products that request and meet certification.

Whether or not the certified products will carry a “non-GMO” label is unclear at this point. (more…)

Using Fish and Seaweed Fertilizers

Using Fish EmulsionNutrient-rich fish and seaweed fertilizers make the garden grow.

Many of us are reaching that point in the gardening season — two weeks after plants emerge from the soil — when we’re ready to apply the first round of fertilizer. To a lot of us, that means applying fish fertilizer.

Now a lot of our gardening friends don’t think we’re in our right mind when we let our enthusiasm for fish fertilizers show. They’ll ask, why would you want to mess with that smelly stuff when there’s a granular, organic, slow-release nutrient formula that will pretty much do the same thing and with half the effort?

The answer, of course, can be found in the results. (more…)

Planting Strawberries in the Home Garden

Growing StrawberriesPlanting and caring for your strawberry patch.

After you’ve chosen the perfect site for your new strawberry patch, after you’ve worked its soil to be full of well-drained organic material and decided which row method you’re going to use and which cultivar you’ll grow (see “disease resistance” below); you’re ready to plant.

Planting strawberries at the proper depth is important for their survival and longevity as well as their productivity. Before you get ready to set your plants, trim away all runners and any blossoms from them. Roots longer than five inches should also be trimmed. (more…)

Starting a Strawberry Patch

Strawberry PlantsGrowing a strawberry patch takes good soil and advanced planning.

This is the time of year that strawberries flood our supermarkets, filling us with expectations of fresh juicy fruits and pies. Sadly, a lot of those strawberries are commercial varieties, meant to ship and maintain shelf life. Neither juicy nor full of that good, old-fashioned flavor, they’re seldom good for fresh eating and take more than a cup of sugar to make themselves worthy for a decent pie.

On the other hand, smaller strawberry growers are opening up their roadside stands and those berries, depending on the grower, tend to be the real thing. The problem with good, small-producer strawberries is that they often sell-out on a day-to-day basis and are available for only a short time near the end of spring. (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…)

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