Most every commercial potting mix contains sphagnum peat moss because it’s a good, lightweight, organic amendment that improves drainage, as well as water retention and air circulation. The downside to peat moss is that it isn’t a sustainable resource. Peat moss is the decomposing remains of living sphagnum moss, and it is harvested at unsustainable rates from bogs in a manner than involves scraping off the top layer of the living moss to get to the saleable product below.
This process destroys centuries-old bogs, doing away with wildlife habitat, releasing C02 into the air, and eliminating wetlands that help prevent flooding. Because of this, conservationists and scientists all over the world have been pushing for limits and even bans on peat moss harvesting.
In Britain, for example, where peat is often burned for fuel, harvesting has become so intense that the government has set goals for phasing out peat for home gardening use by 2020. Professional growers will need to go peat free by 2030. For more information, check out the Royal Horticulture Society’s website: http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardening/Sustainable-gardening/Peat-and-the-environment/More-about-peat.
Most of the peat used by the horticultural industry in the U.S. comes from Canada where talk of limits and bans is also heating up. So, whether you are concerned about the sustainability of peat of not, now seems like as good a time as any to explore some peat-free potting soil options.Read More»
I admit it. I have Home and Garden Show envy. I read blog posts by gardeners all over the world who talk about the innovative gardening products and to-die-for plants they just saw at their local Home and Garden Show. (Most of them post great photos, too, so I don’t think they’re lying.) Inevitably, their exuberance makes me feel excited about going to Minneapolis’ Home and Garden Show, which is ridiculous because I already know that our local show is totally lame. Lame, lame, lame! Year after year, I go because I get free tickets with a garden magazine I subscribe to. And every year I walk away complaining about how lame it is that people have to pay $11 per ticket, $13 at the door, to walk around a hot, windowless arena packed solid with trade show booths offering the same array of stuff: granite countertops, gutters, expensive kitchen gadgets, hideous bathtub and shower inserts, outdoor gazebos, patio furniture, flooring and hot tubs. So many hot tubs—$16,000 hot tubs.
Seriously, they should pay people to attend this event. Or at least let people in for free: the hope being that once they’re inside folks will buy some mini doughnuts and cheese curds followed by copious amounts of beer. Enough beer to, say, allow them to throw down a credit card for a hot tub as big as a Volkswagen. “Ah, who the hell cares where we’ll put it, honey. Let’s just get it!”
Okay, if you’re not a local, you’re probably thinking: “Hey, it’s not like anyone is holding a gun to people’s heads to make them go to this home show thing.” But you’re wrong. There is a gun, and it’s called winter. In Minnesota, by the time March rolls around, most of us would pay any amount of money to go anywhere to see anything different than what we’ve been looking at for five months indoors. Add the word “garden” to the name of the event, and you’ve got yourself a crowd. Even people that don’t give a hoot about plants will fork over cash just to see something ALIVE, maybe smell some dirt, see some flowers. We are a desperate lot.
But therein lies the problem. There ain’t much Garden in our Home and Garden Show. Yes, there are some interesting gardening talks given by local gardening gurus, as well as some of my fellow master gardeners. But those are usually off in some airless side room far from the arena’s main floor. To see actual plants you have to thread your way through countertops and hot tubs and super-absorbant sponges to get to one small area in the back of the arena where mostly lesser-known landscape design firms have their displays. Some years are better than others. This year, though, was just plain weird. For reasons I am completely unable to fathom, there seemed to be some kind of TV show theme to the booths. This would have been bizarre no matter what, but why Fantasy Island, Miami Vice and Gilligan’s Island? Did the organizers of this event swear off TV in the 1980s? Are the TV shows of my adolescence already so kitschy they’ve actually become cool?
Were people worried that visitors would be bored looking at some dumb, old plants outside the context of a TV theme? I don’t get it. Do you?
So, tell me. Do you have a good garden show in your city? If so, please email me a photo so I can live vicariously through you. Or, hey, maybe I’ll send them to next year’s local planning committee. They could use some ideas.
Spring is just around the corner, which means ordering seeds and plants tops most gardeners to-do lists at the moment. I grow heirlooms and hybrids, so the pile of catalogs on our coffee table is out of control. Normally, I find ordering seeds a relaxing experience, but this year I’ve been mulling over a couple of issues that have made placing orders more stressful.
The biggest one concerns GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the need to avoid buying GMO seeds for our gardens, and you’ve probably seen at least some of the various lists going around touting ”safe” seeds. Many people, including me, don’t want to buy seed that has been genetically modified. So I was happy to find out from my friend Jeff Gillman, a hort professor at the University of Minnesota, that GMO seed is not yet available to home gardeners.
Farmers have long been able to buy GMO seed, particularly for corn and soybeans, alfalfa and sugar beets. But, at least for now, that seed isn’t available to the general public so we can’t unwittingly buy them off the shelf or online—unless we pretend to be farmers for some weird reason. So where does the confusion come in? Well, maybe because you can mistakenly buy seeds from Voldemort, I mean Monsanto. And where there is Monsanto, we assume rightly or wrongly, there are GMOs.
How could you mistakenly buy from Monsanto? Well, as you may already know, the company has purchased many independent seed companies in the U.S. and abroad over the years. The biggest coup was in 2005 when Monsanto acquired Seminis, Inc., estimated to control more than 40 percent of the U.S. vegetable seed market and around 20 percent of the world market.Read More»
Ever wonder why your nose runs like crazy when it’s really cold outside? My husband Mike asked me if I knew why in the heck this happens just the other day. We were walking our dog, Lily, who was tired of being patient while we waited for temps to rise into at least the low teens. As expected, we were just a few steps down the sidewalk when our noses turned into leaking faucets. (Tip: always buy washable winter gloves.)
I had no idea why noses run in the cold, and I forgot to look it up to see if I could find out. But last night I was reading Do Sparrows Like Bach?: The Strange and Wonderful Things That Are Discovered When Scientists Break Free, and there was the answer. There is no answer. Scientists don’t quite know what causes “cold-induced rhinitis,” which is what doctors call faucet nose. According to the book, which was put out by New Scientist magazine, researchers suspect that the autonomic nervous system may be involved.
Here’s an interesting tidbit on how to stop the faucet from a chapter in the book called “The Yuck Factor”: “Nerves belonging to the autonomic nervous system, some of which connect to the nasal glands, use a neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine. Fortunately, there is a quick fix.” That fix, the book goes on to explain, is two squirts of ipratropium bromide, an inhibitor of acetylcholine, in each nostril 45 minutes before heading out into the cold or before eating spicy food.
What is this miracle product? I wondered. So I did a quick Google search and found that doctors often prescribe ipratropium bromide inhalers for allergy sufferers and people with more serious issues like asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Inhalers, which are sold under a variety of trade names, can be purchased inexpensively as generics. But first, I’d be inclined to weigh the pro of not having snot on my mittens against the cons, which include this list of common side effects: dry mouth, cough, headache, nausea, dizziness and difficulty breathing.
Heck, snot’s not so bad, right?
Okay, this is absolutely anecdotal and unscientific, but I’m going to go ahead and say that I think orchids love bathrooms. It must be the humidity from the shower because I’ve grown orchids for years, and they’ve never looked as lush and beautiful as they have since I moved them all to a shelf in the bathroom. Orchids are on my mind right now because it’s the time of year when they are putting out new growth that will soon be blooming and, so far, my fertilizing regimen seems to have paid off.
My orchids didn’t get the best start in life, so it’s no wonder they’ve struggled over the years. Purchased on sale at the grocery store, found abandoned on curbs and plucked from end-of-the-season tables at big-box stores, these orchids are not the Best In Show sort. But, having brought them home, I’ve felt duty-bound to try to do the best by them that I can.
Though they look delicate and elegant to the point of being unreal, it’s honestly not that hard to grow orchids if you pick the right ones and follow a few simple tips. Phalaenopsis, or the moth orchid, are probably the easiest ones to grow. And now that orchids are sold everywhere, it seems, you can find them really easily. When you get home, put your moth orchid in a sunny east, west or shaded south window (perhaps in the bathroom?) out of direct sunlight. Cattleya and Dendrobium orchids are also easy to grow, so check out your plant tags before you buy.
Water when the mix is nearly dry, usually every four to seven days. Fertilizer is the key to getting orchids to rebloom, so be sure to fertilize every week when your orchids are starting to put out new growth as they head into the growing season. Back off to once every other week or even once a month after they’re finished blooming and are ready for a rest. Orchids bloom and rest, bloom and rest, so don’t be alarmed when those beautiful store-bought blooms fade away. Just cut off the spent stalk and keep watering and fertilizing.
You’ll find plenty of orchid fertilizers out there, but any houseplant fertilizer will do. When you feed your orchids, dilute the amount of fertilizer you use to a quarter of what the label recommends. You can always beef up your mixture a bit if you don’t get the growth you should.
Orchids do best in environments with reasonable humidity. So if it’s dry in your house, group your orchid pots on top of a tray filled with pebbles. Keep the water level low enough that the potting mix doesn’t get wet. Or, that’s right, grow them in the bathroom!
**NOTE**A correction to this piece was made in my October 2, 2012 post.
You might recall that earlier this year Scotts Miracle-Gro pled guilty to charges that they had illegally used insecticides known to be toxic to birds and wildlife in two brands of bird seed: “Country Pride” and “Morning Song.” According to prosecutors, the Ohio-based company knowingly coated the seed with these insecticides because they wanted to protect it from insects pests during storage.
Millions of bags of toxic seed were manufactured and sold over two years. And even warnings about the toxicity of the pesticides from two of the company’s own employees did not stop them from selling it. The products were recalled in spring of 2008 and, eventually, Scotts was fined $4.5 million.
This incident certainly isn’t the first time Scotts has behaved in a manner that has surely earned its executives a nice, toasty seat in hell. But it’s a good one to call out when talking about the company’s history of asshattery, including making it nearly impossible to buy a freakin’ bag of soil that doesn’t include its products. What are they up to now? you ask.
Check out this post by Amy Stewart on Garden Rant: “Dear Scotts: Just Try, One Time, Not to be So Shitty.” It’s about how Scotts’ lawyers nabbed and quickly trademarked a phrase that garden writer C.L. Folinari came up with as part of a goodhearted campaign to get people excited about gardening and growing different types of plants.
Oh, and Scotts also went public in June about their $200,000 donation to Restore Our Future, the super PAC that supports Mitt Romney. The donation made Scotts one of the first public companies with a well-known brand to contribute directly to an election campaign following the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision on campaign funding.
Scotts has made its corporate character very clear. It’s up to gardeners like us to do the same.
Aquaponics has been on my “Must Learn More About This” list for a long while. So when I found out Garden Fresh Farms in nearby Maplewood was giving free tours of their aquaponics facility, I signed right up to go. The tour was scheduled for the middle of a week day and Maplewood is a pretty long drive out of the Twin Cities, so I didn’t expect much of a crowd. Whew! I was so wrong.
All of the tour dates booked up fast and when we arrived, the back room of the building where the tour started was already bustling with people eating cookies and waiting to head inside. If you don’t know much about aquaponics, no worry. I’ll do my best to explain, albeit simply because goodness known I am no expert on this.
Essentially, plants are grown in water rather than soil. Lights do the work of the sun, and fertilizer is provided by fish in the water (tilapia and trout in this case) who generously contribute their nutrient-rich poo. In turn, the plants’ roots help filter the water for the fish.Read More»
As a master gardener, one of the things I’m supposed to advise people to do is get a soil test before they start plopping plants in the ground. I admit that I’ve chafed against having to say this forever because, honestly, I’ve had a garden for 15 years and I’ve never tested my soil.
Also, I once asked a big group of master gardeners if any of them had tested their soil and not one of them had done it either. Instead, we all admitted to relying on the lazy gardener strategy of putting plants wherever we wanted to and just moving them someplace else if they didn’t do so well. Second time’s not a charm? Move that plant again, we say. After three strikes, hey, give the poor thing away to a new home where it might luck out and get more doting parents.Read More»
Every year, Macy’s teams up with Bachman’s, a local garden center, for a spring flower show on the department store’s eighth floor in downtown Minneapolis. I don’t recall how long the flower show has been going on, but I’m grateful that Macy’s carries on the tradition, which was started many years ago by Dayton’s and continued by Marshall Field’s.
It’s strangely warm in Minnesota this spring but, typically, the flower show comes at a time when seeing an actual plant in bloom is nothing short of amazing. This year’s theme is “Brasil: Gardens in Paradise” and admission, as always, is free.
There’s a lot to rave about this year, but I was most impressed by the gorgeous topiary toucan at the show’s entrance. Crafted by artists at Macy’s Parade Studio, the toucan features plumage made from “meticulously arranged” magnolia leaves. I’ll say! And what might all of those delicate flowers be on the bird’s beak and chest? Why those are thousands of Brazilian button flowers that were applied by Bachman’s floral designers.Read More»
I have wanted a worm bin for years, ever since I read Amy Stewart’s great book: “And the Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievement of Earthworms,” to be exact. Yesterday, I finally bought one while attending “Burst Into Spring,” an annual lecture series put on by the Isanti County Master Gardeners.
I was invited to the event to speak about my new book, “Decoding Gardening Advice,” and over the lunch break I got to talking with Roger Welck from Princeton, Minnesota. He’d heard my talk and wanted to know why I’d discussed compost, but hadn’t covered vermicompost.
Time was the only reason, I told him. Vermicomposting is touched on in the book. But I’d removed those slides from the presentation for that day because it was kind of an involved topic, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to fit it in. “Damn you!” he joked, gesturing toward his vendor table laden with bagged vermicompost, worms in buckets and worm bins.Read More»