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…)

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…)

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