Posts Tagged ‘Organic’

Irvine, California

Pink Coneflower



Durango, Colorado


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We’re coming up fast on Labor Day people. Lots of tired clichés come to mind and I’m not going there (you’re welcome), but yikes! Here in Southern California that means it will soon be time to plant our cool season crops. We’re a lucky bunch, we get two growing seasons  — warm and cool. But that doesn’t mean that gardeners in the cooler regions can’t grow cool season crops. There are some regions where it’s not possible, but for most of the country you can grow at least a few of the early maturing crops.

Tip #1— Cool Season Crops

In Southern California the list of vegetables that can be grown in this second season is long. It includes: arugula, beets, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, mache, escarole, favas, green onion, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mesclun, mustard, parsnips, radicchio, radish, snap peas, spinach and turnips. These seeds should go into the ground in mid-September.

In Colorado where Mary Beth gardens it is possible, with some frost protection to get a few plants to produce into early November. These seeds should go into the ground now: arugula, beets, broccoli, green onion, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, turnips.

As always, read your seed packets! There is a wealth of information on them. Pay attention to the days to maturity. This will tell you how long it takes to go from seed to harvest. If you are unsure of your climatic conditions contact your local cooperative extension. They know everything there is to know about local growing conditions and will be happy to help you figure out when to plant.

Check our resources page for seed companies and get your orders in asap.

Tip #2 — Extend Your Growing Season

To extend the growing season in the colder regions invest in some hoops or row covers. They’re not too expensive and they will protect your crops from light frosts which could buy you a few weeks of harvesting fresh vegetables.

Tip #3 — Digital Photography Contest

The nice folks at The Nature Conservancy contacted us to let us know that they are running a digital photo contest. Surely you have some great photos that you’d like to enter! Anything depicting to the natural world will do.

It’s easy to submit photos. Contestants can enter using the Conservancy’s free Flickr(TM) photo sharing group. All photos submitted to Flickr(TM) should include the tag – “PhotoContest-TNC10”.  Deadline for submissions is October 4, 2010 11:59 PST. Go to the Nature Conservancy website for more details on what and how to enter.

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Keeping Pets Safe in the Garden

We are proud to introduce the stars of today’s post: Kea, Sage and Joker who live in Colorado with Mary Beth. Emmie’s in California with Barbara.

Kea loves to pose for the camera.

Sage does not!

Joker couldn't care less. His specialties are hunting and looking pissed off.

Emmie doesn't like the camera or crows.

We figure that every gardener who has pets has also had a brush with disaster when their pooch or kitty has gotten into something in the garden that has made them sick. We are no exception to the rule. All of our pets have gotten mild upsets from eating the wrong thing, but it was when Mary Beth almost lost Kea last year that we realized how serious a problem it could be.

About this time last year Kea was so sick that everyone, vet included, was afraid she wasn’t going to make it. To make a long (and expensive) story short, Kea was medically supported through a couple of touch-and-go weeks and made a full recovery. We never did find out definitively what was wrong with her, but the short list of possibilities is a scary one for anyone who gardens and has pets.

The toxicology reports all came back negative, but there were three things that seemed likely to have caused Kea’s almost-fatal illness:

  • Plant poisoning: Kea loves to carry and chew sticks. Mary Beth had recently pruned a large hydrangea and Kea might have picked up a stick to play with. Symptoms of this poisoning are very similar to what Kea had: vomiting, fever, diarrhea, depression, increased heart rate, and weight loss.
  • Compost: This can be very attractive to your pets. You throw all kinds of goodies in there that you’d never put in your dog’s food dish, but that horse manure, moldy food, grains, etc. can smell mighty tasty to your dog. According to the Pet Poisoning Helpline, “Mycotoxins, the toxic component contaminating certain moldy foods or compost, can result in serious poisoning. Even very small quantities may cause illness. Mycotoxins can be found in moldy dairy foods, moldy walnuts or peanuts,  grains such as corn or wheat, hay, clover, cotton seed, moldy bread, moldy blue cheese, moldy spaghetti, compost, and other food substances. If your pet gets into this, you’ll typically see clinical signs within 2-3 hours of ingestion. Clinical signs include vomiting, tremoring, full grand-mal seizuring, an increased body temperature, increased salivation or drooling, a depressed respiratory rate, and an increased heart rate.”
  • Leptospirosis: Thirsty, or just plain curious dogs will drink from standing water and birdbaths. In fact, they seem to like a funky, finely-aged puddle of water, but this can cause serious illness. Symptoms are: poor appetite or not eating at all, fever, loss of energy/doesn’t want to play, more frequent urination, vomiting, muscle stiffness, and red eyes. The disease can cause kidney or liver failure. If your dog has these symptoms, call your vet right away. The sooner treatment is started the better the outcome.

We’ll never know what made Kea so sick, but that list of three is not all you should be careful about. Other things to be aware of are:

  • Cocoa mulch has sickened more than a few dogs who are attracted to the delicious chocolate smell. Interestingly, the frequent reports of dogs being killed by ingesting the stuff seem to have been exaggerated. Still it can make sicken or kill. Click on this link to read Snopes’ more balanced view on the issue.
  • Sewer or bio sludge fertilizers contain poisonous heavy metals and this can cause all kinds of problems if your dog likes to eat soil that has been treated with it. Don’t get us started on this stuff — we think it’s really bad to use anywhere in the garden. And NEVER use it on edibles.
  • Other fertilizers and nutrients. Emmie was sick for the better part of one day a couple of weeks ago and Barbara thinks she may have lapped up some of the alfalfa tea that she carelessly left within reach. Just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s not poisonous. If you wouldn’t eat it, keep it out of reach.

Poisonous Plants

Let’s get back to poisonous plants as they are an obvious, if tricky, concern. Tricky because there are hundreds of lists out there that contain pretty much anything you might want to plant and if you went by most of them you’d end up with barren patch of dirt. So we’ve been researching the burning question: which plants are really, seriously poisonous?

Since a nibble or two is all most dogs will eat, most plants are pretty safe, but that nibble on the wrong plant will land your pet in a world of hurt. Here’s a link to a some very helpful lists published by the scientists at University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. The lists, using both common and scientific names, give a toxicity rating for plants ranging from 1, causing serious illness or death to 4, causing skin rash or irritation. Here is a link to a list of symptoms and which plants cause them. It also contains some more or less common household chemicals that can poison pets and what to do about it.

Where to Get Help

What should you do if you think your pet has been poisoned? Call your vet, animal hospital, or a poison hotline. Last year when Emmie ate some granular fertilizer (on a Sunday of course), Barbara called the Poison Control Center — 800-222-1222. They told her that it would probably not do more than give her a tummy ache. We don’t know if they always give advice for dogs so here are some pet specific resources:

BTW — we’re not endorsing either, just providing info.

How to Prevent Trouble

As gardeners, what should we be doing to keep our pets safe in the garden? We came up with this list of tips. If anyone has had a similar experience or some more tips to keep pets safe, please share in the comments.

  • Make sure you do a thorough cleanup especially when pruning plants like hydrangeas, azaleas, etc.
  • Put a fence around your compost bin
  • Use mulches that are nontoxic
  • When fertilizing, leave your pets indoors until you’ve dug or watered it in
  • Never spray pesticides, fertilizer, etc. when your pets (and kids) are nearby
  • Put all your fertilizers, nutrients, pesticides, and the like in child-proof containers or a locked shed
  • Don’t let dogs drink out of birdbaths or puddles
  • Don’t use sewer sludge! We said it before and we’ll say it again. Some gardeners use it as a deer deterrent thinking it’s safe because it’s organic. There’s more than recycled human waste in there. How do you feel about putting “disease-causing organisms (bacteria, viruses, etc.), heavy metals and inorganic ions, and toxic chemicals from industrial wastes, household chemicals and pesticides.” in your garden or on your lawn? And under the right circumstances some for the crap in it can be inhaled, absorbed through your skin or your dogs paws.(*Source: Natural Life Magazine)

While we focused on pets in this post, needless (?!) to say, this all applies to your kids too. Be thoughtful. Be careful!

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Companion Planting

Each spring as we make plans for planting our vegetable gardens, one of our guides is the ancient tradition of companion planting. Companion plants are mutually beneficial, helping each other by increasing nutrient uptake, pollination, productivity, or by controlling pests. You should also be aware that certain plants should not be planted near each other as they will hinder productivity.

Using companion plants to repel pests is part of a practice known as integrated pest management or IPM, which is a holistic approach to preventing plant damage. Using IPM techniques will almost always solve a pest problem and save you from having to use pesticides.

Further down the path of polyculture are practices such as intercropping and trap cropping, but today we’re going to keep it simple — sort of. A comprehensive exploration of companion planting would take a book-length post and we’re already late with this one, so we’ll stick to the most commonly planted vegetables.

Let’s start by saying if you could only plant one plant to prevent pest damage, that would be the marigold. This little soldier repels all manner of bad bugs. Plant lots of it around your vegetable garden. Nasturtiums are another star of pest control, as is oregano. You’ll start to see some patterns emerging as you learn more.


Companions: basil, parsley, tomato.

Pest control: marigold deters beetles.


Companions: beet (bush beans only), cabbage family, carrot, celery, chard, corn (see Three Sisters), cucumber, eggplant, pea, potato, radish, strawberry.

Pest control: marigold, nasturtium, rosemary and summer savory deter bean beetles.

Helpers: summer savory improves flavor.

Don’t plant near: garlic, fennel, onion and shallots.


Companions: bush bean, cabbage family, kohlrabi, lettuce, onion.

Helpers: catnip, mint. Garlic improves growth and flavor.

Don’t plant near: runner or pole beans (stunts growth) and mustard.

Cabbage Family: (bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collard, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnips)

Companions: beet, celery, chard, lettuce, onion, potato, spinach.

Pest control: catnip, hyssop, mint, rosemary, sage, tansy and thyme deter cabbage moths. Mint deters ants. Nasturtium deters beetles and aphids. Tansy deters cutworm.

Helpers: chamomile and garlic improve growth and flavor. Dill improves growth and health. Mint improves flavor and health.

Don’t plant near: kohlrabi and tomatoes stunt each other’s growth.


Companions: bean, lettuce, onions, pea, pepper, radish and tomato.

Pest control: rosemary and sage deter carrot fly.

Don’t plant near: dill retards growth.


Companions: bean, cabbage family, tomato.

Pest control: chive, garlic and nasturtium deter aphids.


Companions: bean, cabbage family, and onion.


Companions: bean, cucumber, melon, parsley, pea, potato, pumpkin, squash.

Pest control: marigold and white geranium deter Japanese beetles.

Don’t plant near: tomato attracts the same worm.


Companions: bean, cabbage family, corn, pea, radish, tomato.

Pest control: marigold and nasturtium deter beetles. Tansy deters ants, beetles, bugs and flying insects. Oregano deters pests in general.

Helpers: nasturtium improves growth and flavor.

Don’t plant near: sage.


Companions: bean, pepper.

Pest control: marigold deters nematodes.

Helpers: tarragon, mint.


Companions: beet, cabbage family, carrot, onion, radish, strawberry.

Pest control: chives and garlic deter aphids.


Companions: corn, pumpkins, radish, squash.

Pest control: marigold and nasturtium deter beetles. Mint deters cabbage moth and ants. Oregano deters pests in general.

Helpers: mint improves flavor and health.


Companions: beet, cabbage, carrot, chard, lettuce, pepper, strawberry, tomato.

Helpers: chamomile and summer savory improve growth and flavor.


Companions: asparagus, corn, tomato.


Companions: bean, carrot, corn, cucumber, radish, turnip.

Pest control: chive deters aphids.

Helpers: mint improves health and flavor.

Don’t plant near: garlic and onion will stunt growth.


Companions: carrot, eggplant, onion, tomato.


Companions: beans, cabbage family, corn, eggplant, pea.

Pest control: marigold deters beetles. Horseradish provides general protection when planted at the corners of the potato patch.

Don’t plant near: tomatoes are attacked by the same blight.


Companions: corn, melon, squash.

Pest control: marigold and nasturtium deter beetles. Oregano provides general protection from pests.


Companions: corn, melons, squash.

Helpers: chervil and nasturtium improve growth and flavor.

Don’t plant near: hyssop.


Companions: cabbage family, strawberry.

Pest control: borage deters worms. Marigold deters beetles. Nasturtiums deters beetles and squash bugs. Oregano provides general protection.

Helpers: borage improves growth and health.


Companions: bean, lettuce, onion, spinach, thyme.

Pest control: borage improves resistance to insects and disease. A border of thyme will deter worms.

Don’t plant near: cabbage.


Companions: asparagus, carrot, celery, cucumber, onion, parsley, pepper.

Pest control: basil repels flies and mosquitoes. Borage deters tomato worm. Marigold deters nematodes and tomato worm and pests in general.

Helpers: Basil, bee balm, borage, chives, and mint improve flavor and growth.

Don’t plant near: corn attracts the same worm. Mature dill retards tomato growth (although young dill helps growth and health). Kohlrabi stunts tomato growth. Potatoes attract the same blight.


Companions: pea.

Many thanks to Cass County Extension where I got much of this information. If you want to know more about companion planting there are two book titles that I ran across over and over again while researching this post: Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte and Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham.

Apologies to folks in the warmer climes for not getting to this sooner, but there are still many tips that you can use this season.

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Barbara: I’ve been running around all day doing errands — I HATE doing errands. I kept feeling like something was missing, like I was forgetting something. What could it be…?

Tuesday!! OMG! It’s near the end of the day and this day is Tuesday! Ding, ding, ding!

Here are your tips — a miscellaneous trio. A little late, but it’s still Tuesday.

Banana Peels for Roses

Mary Beth swears by this tip – bury a chopped up banana peel next to each of your rose bushes and they will be happier and healthier. It makes a lot of sense. Bananas are naturally high in potassium and phosphorus. Plants need these macronutrients for fruit, flower, and root formation. Put the extras in your compost. Free fertilizer!

Geranium Budworms

Those nasty budworms make little holes in your geranium buds and eat the flowers before they blossom. They also munch geranium leaves and petunias and generally make a frassy, raggedy mess out of your plants. According to Pat Welsh, in Southern California the night-flying moth that is the parent of the budworm usually lays her eggs with the first full moon in April.

Phenology again! Although the April full moon is a marker, the timing most likely has more to do with the temperature. If you’re not in SoCal, you can probably figure out which full moon applies to you by using the average nighttime temperatures in our area which in April are in the high 40’s to low 50’s. So that means that you would spray one day before whichever full moon occurred in a month when the nighttime temperature was consistently in the high 40’s to low 50s.

So get out your BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) and spray or dust your zonal geraniums the day before the full moon, which would be tomorrow in Southern California. Repeat for three or four days. This should keep the little buggers from destroying your flowers. Do the same next month at the full moon and you should have a lot less damage from these worms.

Watering Your Potted Plants

When you’re watering your potted plants be sure you water until it runs out the bottom. This will ensure that salts in the water don’t build up in the soil and it will encourage the plants roots to grow all the way down into the soil.

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Two Tuesday’s Tips in a row! We amaze ourselves.

This week Mary Beth wants to tell you about her favorite tool. Last summer she slapped one in my hand and I was an instant convert. Then I’ve got some tips for starting peas and beans.

Mary Beth: If I had to pick only one important tip to give you, it would be to find yourself a good tool to weed with. For years I never used a tool to pull weeds — never even thought about it. Then about twelve years ago my first client introduced me to the Cape Cod weeder and it was a revelation. Aaaaahhhhhh! It’s made weeding almost bearable.

During the growing season it never leaves my side. There was a time when I had only one Cape Cod weeder and then it disappeared (I later found in the compost pile). I was completely lost without it, so now I have at least 3 at all times. It’s oddly ergonomic and I sometimes give them to clients who are suffering from achy joints. Every single one of them is now hooked. I purchase mine through Amazon.

My other tip is buy some screaming bright paint and paint the handles of your tools so you can find them in your garden beds and compost piles!

Barbara: So many tips to share! Here are a couple for this week, just in time to help you get your peas and beans started.

The first one is a recipe for a soil-less seed starting mix. Everyone knows that you should use this or sterile seed starting mix (don’t sterilize soil yourself, buy it at the garden store) so you don’t loose your seedlings to damping off, right?

4 quarts shredded sphagnum moss

2 quarts fine grade vermiculite

2 quarts perlite

1/4 cup kelp meal

1 tablespoon ground limestone

Mix all ingredients in a clean bucket. Wet down the night before you plant your seeds so you’ll have a a nice crumbly mix to start your seeds in.

Tip #2: Using an inoculant when you start your beans and peas can significantly increase your crop yield, but did you know that you should only use bottled water to start? That’s because chlorine in tap water will kill the bacteria that are in the inoculant. So go get yourself some bean and pea inoculant from your friendly neighborhood, independent garden store. Soak your seeds in bottled water for a half-hour or so. Drain the water and spoon the inoculant into the container of wet seeds. Mix it to coat the seeds and then plant them right away. Make sure you use either new containers or old ones that you have washed with a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach + 9 parts water). Rinse well after washing with the bleach solution.

Happy planting!

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Spring has sprung in the West and it’s on its way in the East — although with that crazy weather you might find it hard to believe. This week’s tips focus on roses and weeds.

In the Garden

MB: Whip up a batch of my version of Rose Tea for a quick boost. I make this tea for roses, but irises love this as well. In my garden the blooms are huge and plants just thrive on it. I usually make a large garbage can full of this and let ferment for a week. (Be warned — it smells really bad! )

This recipe is for a 5 gallon pail for those who don’t want to have a surplus of stinky tea in their backyard. Multiply as needed for larger quantities.

Rose Tea
2-3 cups alfalfa pellets or alfalfa meal with no salt added  (inexpensive at an AG store or farmers co-op)
5 tablespoons fish emulsion
1 tablespoon of liquid seaweed extract or 1/2 cup kelp powder  (I use Stress X)
1/2 cup Epsom salts (buy it at the drug store — way cheaper than at the garden center)
3 tablespoons molasses (supposed cut smell down)

Mix all the ingredients in the pail then fill with water to the top. Stir, cover and let sit for a week. Feed roses twice a month with tea, about 1/2 gallon to 1 gallon for each plant. The sludge that remains on the bottom of the pail can be spread around plants. Scratch it in a little to prevent a crust from forming.

Another quick rose tip: bury chopped banana peels and eggshells around your roses.

Weed Control

B: With the rains come the unwelcome abundance of weeds. Knock down the first spring flush and you’ll have less to deal with later on. Knock down the lesser second and third flushes and you’ll be living easy the rest of the summer. Well, I’ll be honest, it’ll be easier. With weeds it’s all relative, but less is ALWAYS better.

Annual weeds reproduce exclusively by seed, so the best time to control them is at germination or shortly thereafter, but especially before pollination. After they’ve dropped their seeds, you’re in for a whole lot more weeds.

Perennial weeds are harder to control. Hand weeding in early spring will eliminate a lot of them, but you have to be sure to get all of the roots and runners.

These are good IPM (Integrated Pest Management) practices for controlling weeds and it’ll make it much less likely that you’ll have to resort to chemical means of control later on.

A good resource for identifying weeds and methods of controlling them is the University of California IPM site. You’ll find weeds that are common in gardens across the country, but if you’re in a state other than California and you don’t see what you’re looking for, I suggest going to your local university cooperative extension’s website.

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