Landscape Design: Building, Planting A Trellis

Landscape TrellisesVertical gardening with roses, grapes and other vines on arbors and trellises.

Well into his winter garden planning, your friendly Planet Natural blogger is thinking of vertical growing, both in the garden and around the yard. Maybe an arbor at the entrance too, well, I’m not sure yet. Or vines, heavy with trumpet blossoms, trailing up over a trellis placed against a fence. This could be a winter project, the way to get through a cold January and February, maybe even March (knowing how I proceed), then, come spring, set the thing outside and plant climbing vines.

I had youthful success doing this once before in the friendly climate of Venice, California. In fact, too successful. My trumpet vines and bougainvillea grew so thick and so far — and so heavy — that they eventually pulled down the slat fence that largely supported them. (more…)

Bitter Herbs: Dandelion and Other Garden Tonics

Dandelion GreensHow to grow bitter herbs, greens, and roots organically.

The seed catalogs are coming in and that gave me and my brother-in-law something to talk about over the holiday weekend. Since when did mega-seed selling Burpee stop selling dandelion seed? We couldn’t find it in the 2015 catalog. Brother-in-law went over to his shelf and pulled out the 2014 catalog. Nope. (Full disclosure: They do have dandelion listed online. Go figure.)

This seemed strange because growing bitter herbs, dandelion among them, is once again all the rage because of their reported health benefits. Besides dandelion’s super-rich vitamin content, it’s also — like most bitter plants — known to be a digestive aid and de-toxifier. It’s said to give a healthy boost to the immune system. Dandelions have something of a cult-following among gardeners, the health-conscious, and gourmets who cherish the greens in the same way they cherish radicchio, another bitter plant. (more…)

GMO Battle 2015

GMO GrassGenetically modified grass (some plants) escape regulation.

From the looks of the “regulated letters of inquiry” page over at the United States Department of Agriculture’s “Animal and Plant Inspection Services,” the list of genetically modified plants looking to enter our environment and food supplies includes potatoes, pineapples, and sorghum (a sweetener with multiple uses). Then there’s the one we don’t consume: lawn grass. In certain ways, it might be the most frightening.

Why? Because it’s completely unregulated. It needs no prior approval from the USDA before it can be unleashed in America’s front yards. And it’s not alone. Among the other GE plants escaping oversight are a corn that promises less methane from the cows who eat it and an ornamental plant that glows in the dark. Yes, really (scroll down to “How We Make the Glowing Plant”). (more…)

Butterflies, Bees, Organic Corn

Monarch Butterflies…and other good gardening news for the New Year.

Life under a daily barrage of bad and often frivolous news can be unsettling. The good things that happen are often over-shadowed by the sensational. But small things matter, too. In that spirit, here’s some uplifting news of interest to organic gardeners and a silver-lining spin on a story that otherwise might be thought downcast.

Monarchs on the rebound? Observers are seeing noticeably more monarch butterflies returning to their wintering grounds in western Mexico this year over last. “We’re encouraged,” Gloria Talavera, director of the official monarch butterfly reserve, told The New York Times. Talvera reports bunches of butterflies clinging to fir and pine trees. Recent years had seen a worrisome decline in butterfly numbers. (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…)

The Year In GMOs

Reviewing GMOsEvidence that GMOs are harmful to our health, our environment, and our farming economy continues to grow.

Yes, 2014 was a frustrating, difficult year for those of us concerned about the effects of genetically modified crops on our health, our environment, and on the economics of food production. Defeats of the labeling initiative at the tail end of 2013 in Washington, the turn-down of a labeling initiative in Colorado, and a near-miss, no more than 800 some votes in Oregon, all seemed to point to the inevitability of our never knowing what kinds of food we’re putting on our tables. (more…)

The Spirit of Gardening

Spirit GardeningGardens nourish the soul as well as the body.

I like gardening – it’s a place where I find myself when I need to lose myself. –Alice Sebold

Your practical and down-to-earth Planet Natural blogger is usually all about the work of gardening, the planning, the digging, the weeding. But this time of year, when the days are short and outdoor garden activities (but not the indoor) have all but come to an end, we find that our garden continues to nurture us even as we nurtured it during the growing season.

The physical rewards of gardening — the work that makes us healthy and strong, the fruits and vegetables produced and the nourishment gained from it — are a wonderful reason to keep a little garden patch. But we can’t deny the spiritual rewards that gardening gives us. Gardening, like family and gainful work, keeps us whole. (more…)

Is the Christmas Cactus A Succulent?

Christmas CactusHow to grow this holiday favorite, and other cactus and succulents, indoors.

Our friends have pointed out that we seem fixated on poinsettia and holly this time of year. Looking back over our ever-growing gardening blog we’d have to agree. These same friends point out that a visit to our home shows that we give equal space, if not more, to another colorful indoor plant: the Christmas cactus.

We kept a wonderful Christmas cactus, started from a cutting by our grandmother, for years until, until…well, we’ll save that story for later. The Christmas cactus left behind!

But let’s get down to the matter at hand. Is it a cactus, as its name implies? Or a succulent? (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…)

Growing Holly for the Holidays

Winter HollyFind the right kind of holly for your landscape and grow it!

We love the ever-green, natural plants associated with the holidays: the firs and pine trees celebrated in song, the poinsettia, mistletoe  (actually a parasite that attaches itself to trees from which it draws water and nutrition). But our favorite, despite the fact that no presents go under it, is holly.

We had a large holly bush growing against the south side of one of our out-buildings when we lived on a small hippie homestead in the Pacific Northwest. Partially shaded a couple hours each day by two very large Douglas firs that were several yards away, the bush grew up to the roof and supplied a bounty of sprigs and red berries each year without any care from us. (more…)

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