March 11th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Rising grocery costs and concerns over toxic pesticides have led many organic consumers to start home vegetable gardens.
The task is easier than you may think, and you don’t need an expansive plot of land to enjoy nature’s bounty. Many popular veggies can grow in containers or compact spaces.
Here are three ideal choices for newbies and seasoned gardeners alike.
Commonly considered vegetables, tomatoes are actually fruits. They can, however, be an integral part of a vegetable garden.
Tomatoes are high in cancer-fighting lycopene and other antioxidants. There are also myriad varieties to tempt your palate.
Tomatoes can be planted after soil has thawed and there’s no other chance for frost. They’ll require plenty of sunlight. Fruit will be available to harvest toward the latter part of summer.
Pick up some heirloom and exotic seedlings from the Tomatomania collection.
Peas grow inside the pods of legumes. These plants like moist soil that drains well.
Water frequently, but make sure soil doesn’t become flooded if you want peas to flourish.
Consider growing Chinese pea pods so you can whip up Garlic Snow Peas with Cilantro straight from the garden.
Peppers come in so many varieties that it’s easy to find ones that appeal to your personal culinary tastes.
They generally thrive in soil that’s high in magnesium. Adding compost and Epsom salt to soil can help achieve the environment peppers desire.
FYI: Red bell peppers have significantly more beta-carotene and vitamin C than green bell peppers.
Read More:3 Spring Gardening Favorites
March 4th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Move over, iceberg lettuce and romaine!
Spruce up your salad plate with miner’s lettuce, also referred to as Indian lettuce or winter purslane.
This mild green, known for its heart-shaped leaves, is available at farmers’ markets and natural/organic food stores from late winter to early spring.
The lettuce was named after old-time California gold miners, who ate it to boost vitamin C consumption and prevent scurvy. Usually featured in raw salads, Miner’s lettuce may also be substituted for spinach in cooked dishes.
If you’d like to grow your own crop, organic seeds for this hardy green may be purchased online from Cottage Grove, OR-based Territorial Seed Company ($3.05 to $14.95).
Get the Recipe: Wild Miner’s Lettuce Salad, with blue cheese, dried cranberries, toasted pine nuts, vinaigrette and citrus zest
Like the Look? Wear an organic Miner’s Lettuce T-Shirt.
Photo courtesy of MarxFoods.com/Flickr
Read More:Miner’s Lettuce: Great Source of Vitamin C
March 3rd, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Green Zebras. Bloody Butchers. Big Boys. Polish Linguisas.
Organic gardeners will have a literal field day with these and other tomato varieties at Tomatomania, billed as the world’s largest tomato seedling sale. The event will tour select cities from March 20 to May 23.
If the tour misses your area, you may purchase several collections online—from heirlooms to paste tomatoes used in cooking—from Litchfield, CT-based White Flower Farms, which also sells organic tomato fertilizer. Shipping begins next month.
Tomatomania proprietor Scott Daigre, owner of PowerPlant Garden Design in Los Angeles, will sell his book, Tomatomania! How to Grow Tomatoes Successfully in Southern California, at the shows.
Daigre also teaches a Crazy for Tomatoes! class at California State University, Northridge. The course covers soil preparation, staking, fertilizing, saving seeds and getting the best production.
Read More:Grow Organic Tomatoes
February 11th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Andrew Carmellini, the award-winning chef at New York City’s Locanda Verde, used to cook at home with store-bought dried herbs.
“I think I went through six brands before I gave up,” he writes in his wonderful cookbook, Urban Italian. “I couldn’t believe how flavorless they were.”
Carmellini urges readers to purchase fresh local herbs and dry them at home, which protects flavor intensity. Home-dried herbs stored in sealed, airtight mason jars will last up to 6 months, he notes.
The easiest way to dry organic herbs is the method Carmellini favors:
- Lay them on a baking sheet, without overlapping them.
- Let the pan sit in your kitchen for 3–5 days, until herbs become brittle and gray-green.
- Remove the dried leaves by rubbing them off their branches.
If you’re an organic gardener, plant your favorite herbs outdoors (or in indoor containers). You can then dry them to keep your pantry well stocked.
- Growing an Indoor Herb Garden
- No Room for an Organic Garden?
- Salt Shaking
- Replacing Lawns with Edible Gardens
- Victory Garden Revival: Green Living, Green Savings
Read More:Dry Your Own Organic Herbs
January 24th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
By Kathy Bond-Borie, Guest Columnist
Even though the weather has turned cold and we’ve put our garden roses to bed for the winter, we don’t have to be rose-deprived until spring.
Miniature roses adapt quite well to life indoors. They’re a bit more particular about light and humidity than some indoor flowering plants, but they will reward the extra effort with stunning flowers that come in a wide range of colors.
For the most part, miniature roses are scaled-down versions of full-sized roses, and while they vary in many ways, all mini-roses have small, rarely fragrant flowers. Plants can range from micro-minis (5 inches or less) to 3 to 4 feet, or even larger. Flowers can be anywhere from 1/2 to 2 inches across, with a color range as broad as that for full-size roses.
Miniature roses need plenty of bright light, such as a bright west- or south-facing window. But for repeat bloom, you’ll need the supplementary light provided by fluorescent tubes.
Also provide some extra humidity around the plants because indoor air is typically quite dry. Set plants in a water-filled tray on a layer of pebbles, or use a room humidifier. If humidity is too low, the leaves will shrivel, turn yellow and drop.
Here are some additional tips:
- Buy new plants each season to ensure they’re free of diseases and pests. Choose varieties that are short and especially floriferous.
- Fertilize weekly with a fertilizer diluted to one-quarter strength. To encourage blooms, use a fertilizer with a formula high in potassium, such as 5-5-10.
- Watch carefully for any signs of pests. Spray whiteflies with a lightweight horticultural oil. If spider mites become a problem, wash plants thoroughly every 2 to 3 days. For a severe infestation of spider mites, strip all leaves and cut the plant back by half. Healthy new growth will emerge rapidly.
- When repotting, use a commercial potting mixture that contains perlite and vermiculite.
- When flowering has finished, place plants under fluorescent lights to encourage reblooming in about 6 weeks.
- After the last frost in spring, gradually acclimate plants to outdoor air. Plant them in the garden or in an outdoor container.
A former floral designer and interior plantscaper, Kathy Bond-Borie has spent 20 years as a garden writer/editor, including her current role as horticultural editor for the National Gardening Association. She loves designing with plants and spends more time playing in the garden—planting and trying new combinations—than sitting and appreciating it.
Photo courtesy of the National Gardening Association
Read More:Grow Miniature Roses Indoors
January 18th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Growing your own organic groceries will be one of the hottest gardening trends this year.
In fact, a National Gardening Association survey reveals a 19% increase in new hobby country farms and urban edible gardens over the last year.
“It’s time to reclaim our land for our greater good,” says Margie Grace, the 2009 International Landscape Designer of the Year, as awarded by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.
Americans can “take that food-producing garden from the back 40 and put it wherever we want,” she says. “Reunite the ornamental with the edible—roses beside tomatoes, beds edged with herbs and veggies used as annuals.”
Grace and many of her colleagues are encouraging gardeners to “delawn” America by substituting vegetable and rain gardens. They want to eradicate “hell strips”—the wasted plots of grass between sidewalks and streets—and replace them with sustainable plants.
Ready to take the plunge?
For Your Organic Bookshelf
Read More:Replacing Lawns with Edible Gardens
December 3rd, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
By Kathie Bond-Borie, Guest Columnist
If you’re looking for a plant with year-round appeal, holly belongs near the top.
No matter where you live, hollies offer shiny red, orange or yellow berries, and many varieties have characteristic waxy leaves that clothe the plant in all seasons.
There are thousands of different varieties, the main distinctions being either evergreen or deciduous. They all prefer similar growing conditions.
Here are some tips to keeping hollies healthy and full of fruit:
- Hollies need a neutral to slightly acidic soil that’s well drained and loamy to sandy.
- If you have clay soil, amend it with compost or composted organic matter.
- Full sun will promote the best fruiting, but hollies will grow reasonably well in partial shade.
- All hollies are tolerant of air pollution and road salts.
There’s still time to plant hollies this fall. In northern areas, the best time is after the plant has gone dormant but before the soil freezes. In southern areas, you can plant anytime.
Dig a hole that’s deep enough to allow the root ball to sit slightly above the soil line. Make the hole twice as wide as it is deep. After planting, spread mulch to keep the roots cool and moist, but keep it about 6 inches away from the trunk to prevent nibbling by mice during the winter.
If you want to cut some branches of berries this fall for holiday decorating (they last about two weeks indoors), make cuts with an eye to the plant’s shape. Most shrubby hollies grow naturally into an attractive shape. The taller, tree-like hollies, such as English and American hollies, look best if trained when young into a pyramidal shape with a dominant central stem.
Hollies with small leaves tolerate shearing. Selective hand-pruning will give your plants the best overall shape and the best crop of berries. Save this type of extensive pruning for the spring, just before new growth begins.
Spring is also the best time to fertilize. Spread a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, on the soil surface. The roots are shallow and can be damaged if you try to dig it in. Apply one-third of the fertilizer inside the branch canopy and the rest outside the drip line.
A former floral designer and interior plantscaper, Kathie Bond-Borie has spent 20 years as a garden writer/editor, including her current role as horticultural editor for the National Gardening Association. She loves designing with plants, and spends more time playing in the garden—planting and trying new combinations—than sitting and appreciating it.
Photo courtesy of the National Gardening Association
Read More:Decorative Hollies
November 17th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Steven Trudell, PhD, and Joe Ammirati, PhD, know their ’shrooms.
Authors of the recently released Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest, Trudell is an affiliate professor of forest resources and lecturer in biology, while Ammirati is a professor of biology who specializes in mycology (the study of mushrooms). Both teach at the University of Washington.
The profs wrote this book because mushroom guides are plentiful, but they could never find one that focused on the Pacific Northwest—an area with diverse and abundant mushrooms. In 352 pages, with more than 460 photos, they cover the geographical area, fungi basics, mushroom collecting, fungus ecology and mushroom poisoning.
Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest makes a great gift for organic mushroom aficionados. It regularly retails for $27.95, but Amazon is currently offering the book for $18.45 (a 34% savings).
Read More:Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest
October 24th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
If you’re ready to take the organic gardening plunge, we have some great tips for you from the experts at Bonnie Plants, a green-gardening wholesaler in Union Springs, AL:
- Don’t be intimidated. With a little attention and effort, growing fall vegetables in a backyard garden and in planters has advantages over spring and summer plantings. Cooler weather means plants require less care, as increased rainfall reduces the need for watering. Plants will grow rapidly at first and gradually slow as the days become shorter and colder. You’ll also find fewer destructive insects, and weeds will germinate less often.
- Shine it on. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day, as well as a steady supply of moisture and nutrients from soil. Mix a 2-inch layer of compost into soil, or spread an organic fertilizer according to package directions. Plants will need an inch of moisture per week, either through rain or supplemental watering.
- Start with transplants. Transplants buy you time, as plants are at least 6 weeks older when you put them in the ground. This means you’ll begin harvesting much sooner than if you start from seed. Your local garden center should offer optimum fall varieties for your geographic region.
- Don’t fear frost. When frost threatens, cover plants with a floating row cover, cold frame or cloche. Or, you can grow fall veggies in a container and move the pot to a protected location on frosty nights. Make sure your soil is well drained and doesn’t get soggy.
- Make room for new plants. Before planting fall crops, clear the area of summer and spring crops you have previously planted, as they may decay and encourage bacterial infection.
Photo courtesy of ARA
Read More:5 Tips for Fall Gardening
October 22nd, 2009 - Gerald "Gerry" Pugliese
Thailand’s embattled southern region has a big plot of organic farmland.
The hope is that community agricultural will help quell unrest between Muslims and Buddhists, and promote self-sufficiency in the local community.
Muslim residents of Thailand’s Yala province, who make up 80% of the population, say they are treated like second-class citizens in the predominantly Buddhist country.
In 2004, minor violent outbursts morphed into full blown conflict, with both Buddhist monks and Muslims being murder, forcing a strong military presence in the region.
The organic garden serves as tool to teach all of Yala’s citizens, who are among the poorest in the nation, the merits of organic agricultural and how supporting the community garden can help citizens help themselves.
Officials say that thousands of villagers and local businesspeople have attended training courses on using bio-fertilizer and composting. Buddhist army officers regularly give lessons on how to use the fertilizer to Muslims in the area.
Even though violence continues to wage in the region, members of the Military say the organic farming is an important attempt to win hearts and minds.
Community Supported Agriculture is a great way to get people working together, so maybe it’ll help on such a large-scale too.
Via Time Magazine.
Image credit: ArmyRecognition.com
Read More:Can Organic Farming Bring Peace to Thailand?