Easy-To-Grow (Tasty, Too) Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem ArtichokeThese toot-sweet (ha!) tubers, also known as sunchokes, are a healthy addition at meal time.

Your friendly and inquisitive Planet Natural Blogger once inherited a garden that had an established bed of Jerusalem artichokes. At the time we took it over, the artichokes were already growing and some, despite a rainy summer there in the great Northwest, were already sporting flowers. “We don’t do anything to ’em,” the crusty old gardener from whom we bought the property told us. “They just come back every year.” “Whatta ya use them for?” we wanted to know. “Oh, all kinds of things,” he said, which we later found out included throwing a bunch of them to the couple of hogs he was raising. (more…)

Our Food, Our Health, Our Gardens

French FriesComparing organic and conventional produce, milk, more; poison and potato farms, and exposing corporate agriculture’s challenge to the nation.

One of the great reasons to garden organically is to assure that the food we put on the table for our friends and family is as healthy as it can be. But even the most intensive gardener can’t grow everything she or he brings to the kitchen. Here’s some recent food issues and related topics that have caught our eye here at Planet Natural. If you’ve seen other stories of interest to us and our readers (you!) then, please, by all means (including Facebook) let us know. (more…)

Springtime Garden Soil Preparation

Preparing Garden SoilEven if conditions aren’t yet right for planting, there’s plenty to do to get your garden ready.

We’ve come to believe that the oh-so-common planting directive “as soon as the soil can be worked” is almost meaningless. Workable soil is important to planting but other conditions — including amendment additions, pH conditions, and soil temperature — have to be considered as well. Your friendly and eager Planet Natural blogger has often advised patience when it comes to spring planting. On the other hand, there’s plenty to be done before the point of workable soil — in other words, when it’s safe to stick seeds in the ground — is reached. And that work can help make your soil workable sooner.

Sure some of our friends in warmer climes have already “got their gardens in,” as my grandfather used to say. But many of us are still waiting (forecast for Saturday night here in our hometown of Bozeman, MT is for snow). Maybe we’ve put in a row of peas along the northern border (with its southern exposure) knowing that the peas we’ll plant in a week or two will probably catch up. (more…)

Learning To Love Moss

MossEasy to grow and care for, moss can make green carpets under shade trees, provide color and texture to rock gardens, or replace entire lawns.

Moss is most often seen as a problem, not a solution. It’s been called “one of the most persistent and annoying weeds” that occurs in home lawns.” Moss is a weed? I guess you can see it that way if it’s taking over from turf beneath trees or in other shaded and usually moist areas. Getting rid of moss often means improving soil, making it more favorable to growing grass. Just raking out patches of moss won’t eradicate it. Unless grass will take over, moss will come back. And creating the conditions for grass to grow where moss has grown before, can mean everything from working the soil to improving drainage, adjusting pH, even pruning or chopping down trees.

Might it be better just to learn to live with moss?

Not surprisingly, moss’ negative reputation is changing as more and more people discover its use as an alternative to a grass lawn. For one thing, you don’t have to mow it. (more…)

Grow Organic Potatoes

PotatoesKeep pesticides off your dinner table by growing your own chemical-free, heirloom potatoes.

Potatoes have always been a family favorite and for good reason. We associate them with Sunday dinners, Monday hash, and home-made Saturday night fries. We love baked potatoes topped with homemade salsa and home-fries with salsa and eggs. We use diced potatoes with cheese and green chile as an enchilada stuffing. In the fall, we make a delicious cheese and mushroom tart with a potato crust. We’ve even been known to make a potato and onion pizza with rosemary. And yes, like everybody else, we love garlic mashed potatoes. (more…)

Vegetables Not To Start Indoors . . .

Directly Sown Seeds. . . and why (plus how) to raise these plants 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.

Peas and bean germinate and grow well indoors. But transplanting sets them back. Plant some peas in your garden on the same day you transplant the peas you started indoors and within a month or less, the direct-sown peas have caught up with, even overtaken, the transplanted peas. Same with beans. (more…)

Using Cold Frames: A Year Round Gardening Tool

Cold Frame GardeningGive your garden plants a head-start and shelter from chilly spring weather 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.

It’s also the time of year we’ve also run out of room under our indoor grow light and need a place to keep vegetable starts where they’ll get more sunshine than they would on a window sill. (more…)

Soil: America’s Greatest Resource

Healthy SoilA recent project looks to catalog the earth beneath us.

We were fortunate to have had a middle school teacher (when middle school was still called “junior high”) who when teaching American history gave a lot of attention to the the dust bowl years of the 1930s. This fine instructor — if only we could remember his name! — not only discussed the destruction of farm land, the migration of displaced farmers from Texas, Oklahoma, and other states, and the huge black clouds that rolled into cities as far away as St. Louis, but the causes of the disaster; not just drought but the wrong-headed, unsustainable farming practices that turned once verdant farm and pasture land into what today would be called an environmental disaster area. (more…)

Learning To Love (Some) Bugs

Bug BookA new book takes a wholistic approach to the use of beneficial insects in organic gardens.

Regular readers of the Planet Natural Blog know our enthusiasm for including beneficial insects in any Integrated Pest Management program.  Gardening author Jessica Walliser  — she co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” radio program aired on station KDKA in Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania — has a new book out that discusses beneficials role in your garden environment and what you can do to create landscapes friendly to them.

Attracting Beneficial Bugs To Your Garden: A Natural Approach To Pest Control (Timber Press) is a detailed, wholistic, and wonderfully illustrated guide to the lifestyles of all the insects that inhabit the organic garden as well as creating the conditions needed to encourage those you want in the fight against those you don’t. (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.

Garden books and magazines have always been great sources of knowledge and inspiration and continue to be. While much of the publishing world is in a confused shamble, garden books continue to do well. (more…)

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