Soil Health

Experienced growers know that a beautiful, sustainable garden starts with living, healthy soil. Most plants thrive in well-drained, slightly acidic, soils that are rich in organic matter. The challenge, however, is that most of the world’s soils do not exist this way and they must be balanced, or amended, to provide the conditions necessary for robust plant growth. Click on the information and news below to learn about soil health and what can be done to improve it.

Preparing Garden Soil

Organic Garden SoilHealthy soil is the basis of healthy plants and a healthy environment. When garden soil is in good shape there is less need for fertilizers or pesticides. As author and respected gardener Frank Tozer writes, “When building soil you not only improve your plants health, but you can also improve your own.”

Organic soil is rich in humus, the end result of decaying materials such as leaves, grass clippings and compost. It holds moisture, but drains well. Good organic garden soil is loose and fluffy — filled with air that plant roots need — and it has plenty of minerals essential for vigorous plant growth. It is alive with living organisms — from earthworms to fungi and bacteria — that help maintain the quality of the soil. Proper pH is also an essential characteristic of healthy soil. (more…)

Why Are Today’s Vegetables Less Nutritious?

VegetablesHow building soil, growing heirlooms can stop nutrient decline in vegetables and fruits.

It’s an old question among those interested in the quality of the food we eat. Do we get enough nutrition from the fruits, vegetables, and other foods we consume? Or do we need to supplement our meals with vitamins and minerals?

The answers to this two-part question is both no and yes. No, we don’t get enough nutrition from our foods and yes, we do need to supplement to make up the difference. This thinking has been backed by one simple fact. There’s been a decline in the nutritional value of vegetables and fruits over time. (more…)

Causes of Plant Stress

Water Stressed PlantHow lack of water, poor soil and other plant stresses make your garden vulnerable to pests and disease.

Plants are like us people. No matter which biological classification kingdom we’re in, all of us are affected by stress. In humans, stress comes from an infinite variety of circumstances that involve family, health, work conditions, finances, social contact and just plain worry. Plants are stressed in physical ways and not that many.

Give plants enough sunlight and moisture in the right soil conditions and, other than whatever thinning is required to establish non-competitive space, they’ll thrive pretty much stress free. (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…)

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…)

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…)

Contaminated Potting Soil and Compost

Potting SoilBagged soils can contain herbicides, gnats, and other unsavory problems.

Stories about compost possibly contaminated with heavy metals from sewage waste and disastrous herbicides turning up in potting soil aren’t new. In 2010, the University of Maryland Extension put out a “Gardener’s Alert! Beware of Herbicide-Contaminated Compost and Manure.” The Ohio State University Extension put out a fact sheet on one persistent pesticide showing up in compost that kills off tomato, eggplant and other nightshade family vegetables as well as beans and sunflower.

But it seems more recently that gardeners are starting to pay attention to other problems that come with mass-produced, commercial potting soils and compost: the importation of pests and disease into your garden or indoor grow space. (more…)

Economics, Water Drives Soil Conservation Farming

Soil ConservationNo-till, reduced pesticide and herbicide, cover crop farming methods on the grow.

Organic gardening practice that emphasizes soil quality in our backyard vegetable patch and landscape is one thing. Improving our nation’s farm soils, acre by acre, is another.

So it was with a smile that your cheerful Planet Natural blogger ran across this announcement of the 2015 Tri-Basin Natural Resources District Soil Conservation Award from south-central Nebraska.

The winner, Greg Linder of Loomis, Nebraska, is something of an American inspiration for both the generations of farming his family represents, as well as his efforts to protect two of his county’s greatest resources: its soil and water. It’s worth reading the whole story. (more…)

Rewilding Your Home Landscape

Native LandscapingGardening with nature in mind’s new buzz word.

What is “rewilding?” Valerie Easton’s Natural Gardener column in a recent issue of The Seattle TimesPacific NW Sunday magazine puts perspective to the Johnny-come-lately gardening term. The piece, called “In Harmony With Nature,” is sort of a celebration of rewilding which, she notes, only first appeared in the dictionary in 2011. She says, “I like to think that in the gardenesque sense of the word, rewilding represents a desire to meddle less and celebrate nature more.”

Less meddling sounds like less work to me. Needles to say, your mostly-industrious Planet Natural blogger likes the idea of less work. (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…)

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