Pet Safe Garden


Animal health begins in the soil, healthy soil provides nutrients to grow healthy plants, and healthy plants are then consumed by animals. Your garden is the center of nourishment for your entire family, including your pets. When growing your fruits and vegetables keep in mind that much of the harvest should be designated for your pets. You should grow enough produce to feed both your family and your pets.

Many gardeners design a garden with pet safety in mind. Your garden can have many purposes, to provide you with nutrients, and a natural environment to enjoy for both you and your pets. If your intention is to grow healthy fruits and vegetables for your family, you might as well grow enough to feed your pets as well. We all love and trust our own food; I know your our pets will benefit equally. Not all vegetables and fruits would be considered healthy for your pets, as a general rule of thumb, it is best to learn what plants may be toxic for dogs and cats, I really trust a good quality independent garden nursery for a detailed list of those plants that can be grown in your region. Many pets are rushed to the veterinarian every year due to an accidental consumption of harmful plants. However, this is a rare occurrence, as most of the time when pets are rushed to the emergency room from something related to the garden, it’s typically caused by the consumption of a chemical fertilizer, pesticide or herbicide.

Most fruit and vegetable plants do not pose any toxicity problems with the exception of a few, I will list a few common varieties throughout this article that may be found at your local nursery, conversely, many are very healthy and great for human consumption, but may pose some health risks for your pets. Onions, chives and garlic, which a lot of pets do like, contain compounds that, if ingested, can cause anemia. The leafy part of the potato plant, and the green part of potato skins contain compounds that are toxic if eaten in sufficient quantities. Fruits also contain toxic chemicals in their seeds or pits. Apple, plum, cherry, apricot and peach seeds & pits contain cyanide, which can cause fatal seizures.

Why An Organic Garden Is Safer Even For Pets
As a general rule, organic gardening techniques pose minimal health risks for your pets. Since the use of organic fertilizers and composts and even insecticides are usually plant or animal-based, thus, minimal health risks posed. Many of us want to garden and harvest the maximum amount of produce possible, temptation; to completely control all insects becomes great when we see any devastation to our crops by any kind of pests. This is the time, to really stop and think about your actions. Is it worth harvesting 100% of your crop, while simultaneously, running the risk of potentially poisoning your pets? I think not, I would much rather allow mother nature to take a certain percentage of my harvest to ensure the safety of my pets, besides that, simply the peace of mind in knowing that everything I apply to my garden will not harm my pets or my family in any way. I remember what Gary Poznick, a biologist friend of mine told me over 27 years ago, “grow more than you plan on harvesting if you want to do it naturally, remember that all living things need to eat too…if you want 100% of your harvest, then grow 120%”. I never forgot that lesson as a young gardener; this goes back to the fundamental foundation of organic gardening, bio-diversity and getting the balance right.

When you have to apply an insect control and many of us eventually will, choose the least toxic and environmentally friendly option. We make a complete line of safe killer sprays called Dr. Earth® Final Stop®. Most independently owned nurseries with high ethical standards will provide you with several good options. I have been witnessing a national trend in the last several years, many nurseries and pet stores offer very effective alternatives to controlling nasty insects and pests in your garden that are completely people and pet safe. This gives me great joy, as I know there is a mass movement of consumers who are demanding higher standards from manufactures to provide effective, yet safe, long-lasting treatments to support the growth of organic crops with pet health in mind.

For example, diatomaceous earth or botanical sprays are excellent for controlling fleas and tick’s in the garden and are very effective with minimal side effects, I would consider these the least toxic. Botanical sprays are incredibly effective as well as biological controls. Diatomaceous earth is highly effective for those infested areas around the garden, usually dog runs, or the perimeter of the garden were cats and dogs love to play, do not confuse the diatomaceous earth that is used in swimming pools, which is completely different from the diatomaceous earth you will need to control insects in your garden. Also remember, never over apply, even safe alternatives are broad-spectrum killers, and will kill beneficial insects as well, remember, biodiversity is the most important factor in growing a healthy garden.

Make Sure Your Plants Are Pet Safe
As I mentioned above, some plants might be toxic to your pets, for example baby’s breath which is common in many flower arrangements can be quite toxic. I really like the ASPCA and the hard work they do, they provide a complete list of plants available for all animal lovers, both the plants that are considered toxic, and those that are considered completely safe. I highly urge you to visit ASPCA website to learn more about the specific varieties of plants that you could grow in your garden. There are numerous facts and myths surrounding which plants can actually be harmful to small animals. Just remember this when dealing with toxic plants; many plants can be problematic if the animal ingests an inappropriate or large amount. Besides visiting ASPCA, your local independently owned plant nursery will know which plants could pose a threat.

Most of the garden variety plants will not pose any life threatening health threats to your pets, but it can’t hurt to do a little research just to be sure. Always remember this, any time an animal consumes anything that is not a part of its usual diet in high quantities, a mild to moderate GI imbalance may result. Most garden variety plants you grow and animals are attracted to such as squash, zucchini, cucumbers, melons are safe. The majority of herbs are safe and most fruits are as well. All outdoor pets have access to fallen fruits that have seeds such as apple and cherry seeds and are often thought to be poisonous. Although they do contain cyanide, the amount is minute. In addition, most pets do not chew the fruits thoroughly, which means that the seeds are not usually broken open when ingested. It is more likely that the seed will cause some kind of foreign object obstruction in its digestive system than it will cause a toxicosis from cyanide. Nobody loves growing tomatoes more than I do, I have grown thousands over the years and have never had my dog or cat ever consume any, but you should know that green tomatoes could cause a toxic reaction if consumed, rarely, but possible, also dogs are attracted to eating grapes which are not good for them, be careful if you grow avocados as some pets love them and have had toxic reactions, plants such as rhubarb, garlic and onions consumed in large quantities could cause an adverse reaction as well.

Your backyard is your pets kingdom, outside in the in the fresh air with warm spring and summer days were animals love to roll in the dirt, pardon me, “the soil”, safety must be taken into consideration, a little thoughtful planning can create the most productive and enjoyable environment, both for you and your pets. Many varieties of ornamental plants naturally attract your pets to want to consume them; their curiosity often leads them to consume flowers or the foliage of even ornamental plants, which can sometimes produce irritating and even life-threatening toxic effects that will require a visit to the veterinarian. When you finally make those decisions of the different plant varieties for your garden, both edible and ornamental, make sure to choose those that are non-toxic even to the touch, for some plants can be highly irritating even if your pets come into contact with them, again ASPCA will provide you with a list of those plants.

For a complete list of plants to avoid consult with your local independent garden nursery. The plants below are commonly found at most nurseries and should be taken into consideration, most of the time your pets will avoid these, but as added insurance simply avoid them if you have a curious pet, puppy or kitten and are not sure of their behavioral patterns. I would consider these plants to be toxic to your pets yet rarely are they ever consumed by them. ASPCA can provide you with a complete and comprehensive list. Plants like trumpet vine, Japanese Yew, Oleander, castor bean, Jerusalem cherry, lily of the valley, precatory beans, foxglove , azaleas, ferns, hydrangeas, lilies, oleander, rhubarb, sweet peas, green fruit particularly and nightshade (tomatoes, potatoes, sweet pepper and eggplant). My pets have never gone after any of these plants, but if you intend on growing them, you might want to do so in an inaccessible part of the garden, or simply install a fencing structure just to be safe.

Common Sense Pet Safety
We are all aware that using lawn and garden chemicals pose the biggest threat to your pets, so avoid them. Reach for a safe alternative such as our Dr. Earth® Final Stop® organic line of sprays to kill weeds, insects and fungus. Always store all chemicals out of reach of pets and kids, a locked up garage or storage shed is the best. If you must kill or control an insect, reach for safe controls. Try to wash the leaves and vegetables off with a strong blast of water first. If the problem persists, reach for organic methods.

A little, unobvious act like mowing the lawn can pose a threat, I have heard of pebbles or a stick flying in the air as the lawn is being mowed and directly hitting a pet’s eye, this seemingly harmless act could cost your pet great pain and discomfort not to mention an expensive visit to the veterinarian. Always read all product labels for anything you use, this goes way beyond pet safety and garden materials; you should adopt this philosophy with everything you buy. Keep your pets inside when applying any treatments, even organic, to the lawn or garden. Give your cats an outdoor litter box to avoid your garden or kids sand pit being used as one. With a little planning you and your pets can enjoy a safe and beautiful garden. Before you start the garden planning phase, take a trip down to your favorite independent garden nursery and visit the “hard goods” section for all treatments or any potential pet hazards, knowing what you might use and not need will likely save you and your pets much grief. For the most part, an organic garden that is well planned and maintained naturally will bring great nutrition and joy to those furry friends of yours.

Harvesting and Storing


Most organic gardeners make excellent resolutions about producing much of the family’s food. We plan extensive canning and freezing sessions to regularly use up the ever-mounting harvests that we intend to take from the garden. But the reality is that we are usually so busy with other things that the resolution falls apart.

Although the arts of canning, making chutney, or even drying foods are mysteries to many of us, once mastered, they provide a surprisingly satisfying and easy way to fill a sizable pantry with the finest quality foods, for use in the winter months. Preparing food for deep freezing takes a little time but is another achievable skill. Vegetable canning does require some expertise, and you will need instructions from someone competent in home canning, or follow a good book on the subject to the letter.
Start by setting aside an area to store food reserves. Everything should be off the floor and on shelves. Check carefully that no rats or mice can enter, and clean the area out thoroughly, finishing with a wipe-over with cider vinegar.

No matter how you try, the bean harvest will get ahead of you. There are only so many beans you can eat, so leave the remainder of the crop to run and seed. Broad beans are a variety that is equally delicious as a green bean, fresh shelled, or used dry. Bean seed is prone to attack by a small weevil that bores neat holes in the seed, leaving telltale traces of sawdust behind. Place all bags of bean seeds in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator to eliminate this pest.

Progressively harvest all culinary herbs. Most can be hung to dry and then rubbed down and stored in sealed, labeled bottles. Other herbs lose their delicate flavor easily. Parsley can be chopped and frozen in ice cubes or in zip lock bags in the freezer. Tarragon dries relatively poorly (it is freeze-dried commercially, as is parsley,) but readily converts its flavor to vinegar, and can be stored as tarragon vinegar, or it can be deep frozen in the same manner as parsley. Chives are also best stored deep-frozen.

Many fruits are readily stored by deep freezing or by canning, or they can be used to make preserves, chutneys, sauces, or jellies.

This is nowhere near what could be achieved, but with a little effort you will have canned and/or frozen vegetables and fruits for winter use, a huge array of dried herbs for teas and flavorings, dried beans for winter dishes, and more chutneys, sauces, preserves, and jellies than you are ever likely to need. Finally, as the bounty from your garden grows; you can always swap your excess harvest for different organic produce from other organic growers and friends living in other areas and climates. Be healthy year round and know exactly what you are consuming.

Multiplying Your Plants


Plants grown from seed, cuttings, or division are a good way of inexpensively increasing the number or plants in your garden. I have done this for years and saved a lot of money, a few tricks will help you too!

Growing From Seeds
This is much less expensive and can be more fun than buying cuttings or mature plants. Annuals like poppies and nasturtiums can be raised easily from seed and will often self-seed once established. Just make sure you get them from a good source. I trust my local independent nursery for guidance and directions.

The simplest method is to sow seeds straight into the spot in the garden where you want the plants to grow. This is especially effective if you want to achieve a mass planting of one particular variety, if the seeds are tiny (like radish seed,) or if the seedlings are from plants that don’t like to be moved once established.

To prepare the ground, rake the area clean, lightly cultivate the soil, and remove all weeds. Add Dr. Earth® Starter Fertilizer at half strength. Scatter the seeds over the soil surface, and then rake again gently to distribute them. It would be beneficial to add a thin layer of planting mix or compost to help keep the seeds moist. Be sure to keep the seeds moist and thin out the seedlings as they develop.

If you are sowing seed in pots or trays, use Dr. Earth® Potting Soil rather than garden soil. Fill the container with moist potting soil and lightly firm it. Then scatter or space the seeds evenly. After sowing, add a little more potting soil to maintain even moisture. Keep moist and provide even light and temperature until sprouts appear. Once the seedlings have developed a set of leaves, you can gently separate them out and transfer them to individual containers. They can be transplanted to the garden when they are approximately three to four inches tall.

Growing From Cuttings
Small segments of stem or leaf sections can be removed from one plant to generate a completely new one that is genetically identical to its parent. Fleshy-stemmed plants like begonias, nasturtiums, and pelargoniums can be grown easily from cuttings. Remove a new shoot, cutting just below the third set of leaves from the tip. Trim off the lowest set of leaves and make a fresh cut at the base of the stem. Insert the cutting into a pot of potting soil. Cover the plant with a plastic bag or the top half of a plastic bottle to conserve moisture, keep it in a light airy place until a root system develops. The plants can then be transplanted to a large pot and gradually moved outside.

In mild climates, cuttings can be taken at almost any time of year, although rose cuttings are usually taken in very early spring. Cuttings taken from shrubs can be placed straight into fine soil and kept outside in a sheltered spot. Several cuttings can be packed tightly into one pot; the survivors could be potted when there are signs of good root and leaf growth.

Cuttings, seedlings, and small immature plants grow best in even temperatures and in light, but not in bright sun. Keep moisture levels fairly constant and provide shelter. Some air circulation is essential.

This is a quick and easy method of propagating clump-forming perennials such as anemones and campanulas. Use a fork to loosen and lift the entire plant, then gently cut or pull apart the roots so that the plant is divided neatly into sections. To survive, each section must have both roots and above-ground shoots. Replant the divided sections as you would any new plant. The best time to divide plants is when they are dormant.

Tuberous-rooted plants, like begonias, can also be propagated by division. Lift the tubers, choosing one with at least three shoots, and use a sharp knife to cut the tuber into sections. Each section must have a shoot. The sections can then be replanted.

Once bulbous plants, like daffodils and lilies have been established for a few years you can divide them by removing the young “bulb-lets” that form on the main bulb. Dig up the bulbs when dormant, gently remove the small” bulb-lets” from the parent bulb, and replant. They may take a few years to flower again.

African violets and succulents can be propagated from a single leaf or leaf segment. Remove a leaf with its stalk, or a segment from a succulent, and place the cutting in a pot of fine propagating soil. Provide even temperatures and moister levels until the cutting takes root. As soon as the plants develop a root system, give it a light dose of Dr. Earth® Liquid Solution Fertilizer and Dr. Earth® Seaweed Extract.

Nicholas Shammas
Architect/Builder and Milo’s older brother

Kids’ Secret Gardens


To kids, young and old, a garden is a big world filled with possibilities. Even the simplest garden can be a place of mystery and excitement, but gardens can offer so much more. The best ones are filled with special places—sunny spots, trellises dripping with sweet raspberries and crisp sugary peas, pumpkin vines rampaging on fences, clumps of milky corn on the cob to be gathered and nibbled, each small kernel popping creamy sweetness, vast pools of nasturtiums with nectar to be sucked, snapdragons to be snapped, ants to watch for hours, clouds to see strange worlds in, jungles of summer leaves to hide in, teepees of sweet peas to read beneath.

Fortunately, in the Dr. Earth® organic world—provided that no poisonous plants are grown—children can play freely. Ponds, however, present a danger even if they are shallow, and should not be accessible until children are old enough.

Children love to imitate what we adults do. Allocate a small area of a good piece of land, one that has been well cultivated and composted. First results with gardening have a way of staying with us. Poor soil in a shady corner is a recipe for early disillusionment with gardening.

Large-seeded plants are easiest for young fingers to manage. Corn is a good choice. Make sure that many seeds are planted. Draw a circle on the soil and encourage your child to plant it evenly with seed. Sunflowers are an easy crop. So too are zucchini, tomatoes, nasturtiums, marigolds, beans, peas and strawberries.

Include children in planning garden plantings for the season. Vegetables become special when you own them or have helped care for them. Make harvesting a privilege and supply a personalized basket to make the job special. Create projects that you can do together, such as planting a flower carpet. Design it together, choosing the pattern and the colors, selecting the right dwarf plants, buying or raising seedlings together, drawing the pattern on the soil and filling it in. The living picture is glowing color in midsummer will be a memory to treasure. Use a simple motif such as a white duck against blue water with a yellow sun, or a pattern of squares.

Creating a thyme lawn, a planter pot filled with strawberries or a hanging basket full of flowers, or constructing a teepee for climbing beans are all simple projects that will bring the magic of gardening into young lives, as well as older ones. Don’t forget the simplest of pleasures, making it a family event. A few fairytales, myths, and magic can complete a perfect summer memory.

Teaching Kids to Garden

My mother was my gardening teacher from the time I was five years old. She would build my enthusiasm before she took me out to the garden to help dig a hole or help with a little weeding. My mom knew that I was kid with a short attention span, so she would only push me as hard as she knew I would enjoy. She put me in charge—or at least, I thought I was in charge—of amending the soil. I remember she would have soil bags next to the vegetable plot every year. It was my job to help spread the soil and add a little fertilizer. I loved that part and I still do! Maybe that’s why I became Dr. Earth®!

I remember learning in elementary school about the pilgrims and how the Indians taught them to amend the soil with fish and other natural materials. This really stuck in my mind. My father and I would go fishing in the spring and summer just about every Sunday in Santa Monica, Malibu, and Paradise Cove, California. When I was seven, I came up with the clever idea to bring home all the fish by-products I could from the fishing boat my father approved.

With my mother’s guidance, I buried fish bones, fish heads, intestines, and basically all the waste products (fish scraps) that would be thrown back into the ocean, in an area of the garden approximately three feet by three feet. We waited a few weeks to let things decompose a little and then we planted some vegetables. I remember we planted a couple of tomato plants and a few cucumber plants. This was my first success in the garden. It really made a huge impact on me and my love for gardening. My fish fertilized plot outperformed all other plants in the garden, and my mother made sure she relayed that to every family member and friend that visited us. Wow! What great feelings of pride and joy that gave me! My mom told me that I was a great gardener.

I caught the gardening bug young, and I could not wait until our next project began, even if it was to help weed or cultivate the soil. I must admit though, my favorite part of gardening was harvesting summer vegetables, especially tomatoes and cucumbers, and eating them right off the vine before they ever made it inside the house.

My mom was my best teacher. Because of her guidance and support, my very first class elective in junior high school was botany. When most of my friends were taking wood shop, metal shop or printing shop, I chose botany. That was one of the most important decisions of my life. It gave me the fundamental knowledge about plants that I needed to involve myself in more community gardening projects.
By the time I was in high school, I was a seasoned gardener with many years of experience behind me. I ultimately went to college, studied plant science and went on to become founder and creator of Dr. Earth® Inc., a very successful organic fertilizer, soil, and organic insect spray company that now is nationally renowned. The experiences that my Mom gave me as a child in the garden have helped to shape my entire life. It is amazing what kids will become with a little guidance and enthusiasm. I personally believe the best thing you can ever grow is a gardener.

Giant Pumpkins


Giant Pumpkin Secret Growing Instructions and Tips

Selecting a Planting Site
Select a sunny place in your garden. Giant pumpkins thrive best in strong sunshine. The larger the area, the better (500-1000 sq. ft.), but smaller areas have been successfully planted too. An area that receives eight to twelve hours of sunlight per day is ideal.

Preparing the Soil and Mound
1.) The best pumpkins come from the best-prepared soil. Dig a hole, 40”-48” deep, 3′-5′ in diameter, and mix the soil well with 6-8 bags (8-12 cubic feet) of soil amendments such as Dr. Earth® Planting Mix. More is better!
2.) You should have a mound, 3′-5′ in diameter, 16”-18” high at its center.
3.) Allow 15′-25′ between individual mounds if you are planning on more than one vine

Germinating Giant Gumpkin Seeds
1.) Soak seeds overnight in warm water (8-12 hours.) This softens the pumpkins seed’s shell and accelerates germination. Start germinating seeds early May to late May.
2.) Plant seeds in a 4” minimum or larger peat pot, in a seed germinating mix, laid flat, 1”-1.5” deep.
3.) Keep seeds moist and warm, 75-80 degrees F., is ideal.
4.) Under these conditions, seeds should sprout in 5-10 days, sometimes even sooner.
5.) After the seedling has developed 2-3 true leaves, it is ready to be transplanted into the mound.
6.) Allow the seedling to ”harden-off” for 1-2 days, or get used to being outside by placing it outdoors for 6-10 hours each day, prior to transplanting.
7.) Or, you may sow your seeds directly into the mound. Competitive giant pumpkin growers have successfully used both methods.

Transplanting Seedlings
1.) Plant the seedling, peat pot and all, in the center of the mound. Peat pot should be well below the top surface of the mound. Transplanting late afternoon/early evening will help reduce initial sun and wind damage. Water the seedling thoroughly.
2.) Protect the seedling from winds, strong sunlight, insects and other potential damage by placing and open cardboard box around the seedling until it gets fully established, usually, 7-10 days.

Watering, Fertilizing and General Care
1.) Pumpkins are 90% water. Soil should be kept moist. Water once a day, or up to once every 4-5 days, depending on the weather and your soil conditions. Watering times should be consistent. Early mornings, late afternoons, and early evenings, in this order, are the best times to water.
2.) Be sure to use Dr. Earth® Organic 5™ Vegetable Fertilizer at the time of transplanting. Then use Dr. Earth® Liquid Solution™ fertilizer every 10 days for maximum size and production.
3.) Mulch around the main stem with compost, straw, or well-aged manure spread 4”-5” deep. Leave 9”-12” of clearance around the stem. Mulching will help regulate the temperature and retain moisture around the main stem and root system.
4.) Cover the pumpkin with shade cloth once it reaches 24”-36” in diameter to help keep the pumpkin’s skin from hardening and cracking from the hot, late summer/early fall sun.
5.) Place a wooden pallet underneath the pumpkin before it gets difficult to move (25-30 pounds) to keep the pumpkin’s bottom from rotting, and to facilitate lifting and transporting it later.

The most important tip of all: have fun and good luck!

Stuart Shin
Giant Pumpkin Expert

Growing Organic Avocados


Avocado trees are attractive, broad-leaved evergreens. The yellow-green flesh of the fruits is rich in oil and protein. They are easy to grow outdoors in most of California, Florida, and Texas. They also make attractive houseplants but will not bear fruit indoors.

Selecting Trees
Avocado trees mature to a height of 15 to 45 feet and are as wide as they are high, so give them plenty of space. Mexican types have dark, rough skins and are hardy to about 22° F. Guatemalan and West Indian hybrids have smooth, green skins and are less hardy. Not all cultivars are self-fertile; check pollination requirements before you plant. Ask your local independent nursery for further information about the variety that will grow best in your area.

Purchase a grafted tree and plant it slightly higher than it was growing, in the original container. Dig the hole twice as wide as the container size it is growing in. Use Dr. Earth® Planting Mix at a rate of 50% Planting Mix and % native soil, plus Dr. Earth® Starter Fertilizer, according to product directions. Choose full sun and very well-drained soil with a pH of 5.5-6.5. If you have poor drainage, plant your tree in a large raised bed or mound. Avoid windy locations, as the trees are prone to breakage.

Water young trees weekly, mature trees every other week or often enough to prevent wilting. If your water contains a lot of salts, flood the tree every fourth watering to flush out salt built-up and lessen possible root damage. Feed every other month with Dr. Earth® Fruit Tree Fertilizer to ensure a healthy and hardy crop. Apply a thick layer of organic mulch out to the drip line to conserve water and protect roots. Keep mulch one foot away from the trunk. If a young tree is not growing vigorously, an application of compost in early spring to midsummer is helpful. If new leaves yellow, have the soil tested. It may be a pH problem. Using a foliar fertilizer such as Dr. Earth® Liquid Solution will give the tree quick results.

Avocados need very little pruning. Pinch back upright shoots to control the height. Other than that, pruning will reduce yields and expose the trunk to sunburn damage.

The most common avocado problem is root rot. Symptoms include no new growth, very small fruit, and leaf yellowing and wilting. In advanced cases, a tree may die or survive in poor health for many years. Prevent root rot by providing good drainage and not over-watering. Avocados are sometimes attacked by fungal disease such as anthracnose, scab, and powdery mildew. They all thrive in high humidity. Control fungal diseases by spacing trees widely and trimming back surrounding trees to increase sunlight. Insects do very little damage to avocado trees, unless the tree is weakened by disease. Some cultivars naturally tend to fruit lightly, then heavily, in alternate years. Check with your local independent nursery for the best variety for your area.

Avocados bear in about three years. They ripen almost year-‘round, depending on cultivar and location. Avocados stay hard on the tree and soften only after they are picked. They are ready to harvest when they reach full size and the skin starts to change color. Pick one and let it sit indoors for a day or two. If the stem end doesn’t shrivel or turn dark, you can pick others the same size. You don’t need to pick them all at once, but don’t leave them on the tree too long or they’ll begin to lose flavor. Harvest avocados by cutting the fruit from the tree, leaving a small piece of stem attached. Handle carefully to avoid bruising. Avocados are ready to eat when they yield slightly when squeezed.

Growing Organic Apricots


Growing organic apricots can be a little bit challenging, but the sweet, aromatic fruit makes it well worth your effort. This juicy and naturally sweet fruit is one of my favorites to eat right off of the tree.

Selecting Trees
Doing a little research ahead of time, can help you to choose the tree best suited for your climate and will provide the best chance for success. Some apricots are self-fruiting; others need a second tree for cross-pollination. While winter-hardy, if you chose a variety that blooms too early for your climate you may lose its crop due to frost. Many cultivars don’t do well in high-humidity areas. Select trees grafted to seedling apricot rootstock. These do the best. Avoid those grafted to peach or to dwarfing rootstocks.

Dig the planting hole at least twice as wide as the container the tree came in, but the same depth or a couple of inches shallower. This will ensure that the tree does not settle and become prone to fungal diseases. Use Dr. Earth® Planting Mix at a rate of 1/3 planting mix and 2/3 native soil, plus Dr. Earth® Starter Fertilizer according to product directions. Space trees 20 to 25 feet apart, or a little closer, for better pollination.

Apricots, like any other fruit tree, need to be fed on a regular basis. Use Dr. Earth® Fruit Tree Fertilizer in early spring, just before they break dormancy, and then every other month, until the harvest is completed. Feed once again after harvest to replenish the soil of nutrients that have been depleted.

Apricot trees can grow up to 30 feet tall. Train them to an open center shape. Where diseases are a problem, limit pruning cuts, and slow down growth by spreading young limbs. With newly planted trees, make the first cut low, to encourage low branching for better access to fruit.

If your tree escapes frost, it may set too many fruits, and you’ll need to thin by hand. While leaving all the fruits that set is very tempting, thinning a tree provides larger apricots and removes the danger of breaking limbs. Remove smaller and damaged fruits before the pits harden. Where summers are moist, leave enough space between fruits to prevent them from touching.

Apricots bear fruit in four to five years. Harvest when the skin turns a beautiful orange and the fruit is soft. They dry well.

Best Cultivars
If you have spring frosts and humid summers, look for late-blooming, disease-resistant cultivars such as ‘Jerseycot’, ‘Harcot’, and others starting with ”Har,” including ‘Harglow’, ‘Hargrand’, ‘Harlayne’, ‘Harogem’, and ‘Harval’.

Growing Organic Apples


Biting into a crisp apple picked fresh from your own tree is so rewarding and full of nutrition. You may never taste anything quite so delicious. Growing apples organically is easy if you follow a few basic rules. Once you have grown a successful crop, tasted the fruit of your labor, you will never want to bite into a store bought apple again.

Selecting Trees
Since apple trees take at least several years to bear fruit, it pays to select trees carefully before you invest time and energy in them. Consider these factors: Apple trees come in wide range of sizes to suit any yard, they also make attractive landscape trees. Apples are subject to many serious diseases such as apple scab. Choose resistant cultivars; new ones are being released every year.

Tree Size
An important consideration. Standard trees can reach 30′ and take 6 years to bear fruit. Most home gardeners prefer dwarf and semi-dwarf trees, which are grafted on a rootstock that keeps them small, grow 6′-20′ tall (depending on the rootstock used), and produce full-size apples in just a few years. The final height of your trees will also depend on what cultivar you select, because some cultivars are more compact than others. Tree size will also depend on growing conditions and pruning and training techniques. Some cultivars bear fruit on short twigs called spurs, while others produce fruit along branches. Spur-bearing cultivars have more fruiting twigs than non-spur trees do, and produce more apples. Cultivars that have a strong, horizontal branching habit are easy for beginners to prune.

Most cultivars need to be pollinated by a second compatible apple or crab apple within 40′-50′ that blooms at the same time. Some cultivars, such as ‘Mutsu’ and ‘Jonagold’, produce almost no pollen and cannot serve as pollinators. A few cultivars including ‘Golden Delicious’ are self-pollinators. If you only have space for one tree, improve fruit set by grafting a branch of a suitable pollinator onto the tree.

When choosing apple trees, consider your climate. Your tree will produce more fruit and live longer if it is suited to your area. Antique apples can be fun to grow but require careful selection because many are susceptible to diseases.

Sample the fruit before you choose. Find some less familiar cultivars at farmer’s markets and orchards, or order a collection from a mail-taste order sampler company. The range of aroma, taste, flesh texture, shape, color and size of apple is far greater than a trip to your local supermarket would even begin to suggest.

Buy dormant one year un-branched grafted trees, sometimes called whips. Plant apples in the early spring in most areas, or in late fall in the Southern climates. Space standard trees 20′-30′ apart; semi-dwarfs 15′-20′; and dwarfs, 10′-15′. Start training immediately.

Healthy apples grow 8”-12” per year. Have the soil tested if growth is less. Low levels of potassium, calcium, or boron may cause reduced growth and poor-quality fruit. Apples thrive with a yearly mulch of 2” of compost and Dr. Earth fruit tree fertilizer. Apples also benefit from foliar feeding. Spray Dr. Earth Liquid Solution when the buds show color, after the petals fall, and again when young fruits reach 1/2”-1”diameter to improve yields. If testing shows calcium is low, spray 4 more times at two week intervals.

Begin training to a central leader shape immediately after planting. Prune trees yearly, generally in late winter or early spring.

Once your tree starts bearing, you need to remove excess fruit if want large and flavorful apples. Thinning also helps prevent trees from bearing fruit every other year. Remove the smaller apples in each cluster before they reach 1” in diameter. Leave one fruit per spur on dwarf trees, two per spur on larger trees.

Insects and diseases are a major frustration for organic apple growers, but new resistant cultivars and pheromone-bated insect traps make it easier to grow apples organically. Common apple pests include apple maggots, codling moths, green fruit worms, leafhoppers and mites. Aphids, scale, and tarnished plant bugs can also cause problems. Fall webworms and tent caterpillars spin webs in branches and munch on leaves. Remove and destroy webs as soon as you see them. Spray BTK (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki) where caterpillars are feeding. Leaf rollers pull leaves together and spin small webs. They feed on buds, leaves, and developing fruit. Native beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps help control them. Spray dormant oil just before bud break to kill eggs. Monitor with pheromone traps, and spray with BTK or Dr. Earth Pro-Active insect spray, handpick after webs appear. To help prevent disease problems, dispose of all pruned wood as well as fallen leaves and fruit.

Apples ripen from midsummer through late fall. Early apples tend to ripen unevenly over several weeks. Late apples can all ripen the same day. If you have room for a few trees, you can select cultivars that ripen at different times and pick apples all season. Taste apples to decide when they are ready to pick. Skin color and the first fallen apple may be good clues, but taste is the best method. If they taste starchy, they are still green. Some apples are ideal picked early. Others improve as they linger on the branch. You may have to experiment to find when each cultivar tastes best. Lift each fruit in the palm of your hand and twist the stem. If ripe, it will part easily from the twig without tearing. Handle apples with care so they don’t get bruised.

Apples vary greatly in their keeping quality. In general, late apples are better keepers than summer apples. Store apples in a humid refrigerator at temperatures just above 32° F. If you have several trees full of fruit, you might want to be the generous provider to family and friends. Remember to check regularly for that one bad apple that really will spoil the barrel.

Best Cultivars
There are hundreds of apple cultivars to choose from. Here are a few with particular characteristics.

Disease Resistance
New resistant cultivars are being released every year; check nursery catalogs to find out what’s new. Two good cultivars immune to apple scab are ”Red Free” with medium-sized, dark red, slightly tart fruit and ”Williams Pride” with sweet, medium-sized, dark red fruit. Both mature in mid-to late August.

”Liberty” produces dessert-quality apples, is immune to scab, and resists cedar apple rust, powdery mildew, and fire blight, and it ripens in September. ”Sir Prize”, another scab-immune cultivar, bears fruit similar to ”Golden Delicious” but bruises easily and is susceptible to cedar apple rust. Two antique apples with good disease are ”Summer Rambo” from the sixteenth-century France and ”Yellow Transparent” from Russia.

Ease of Pruning
Cultivars that have a strong, horizontal branching habit such as ”Haralson” and ”Honey Gold” are easy for beginners to prune. Those with upright habits, like ”Red Delicious,” are harder.

Growing Organic Citrus


Every home should have at least one citrus tree in the garden, where suited to the climate, to provide delicious fruits packed with vitamin C. Few things beat a freshly picked juicy tangerine just off the tree, or squeezing a little fresh lemon juice on your organic salad. Citrus trees have shiny evergreen leaves, fragrant flowers, and attractive fruits that hang for months without dropping. In northern climates, you can grow dwarf citrus trees in containers and bring them indoors during the winter.

Selecting Trees
There are so many types of citrus that you may have trouble deciding which to grow. Edible types include grapefruit, lemon, lime, kumquat, mandarin orange, tangerine, orange, tangelo, and temple orange.

Consider the yearly range of temperatures and possible frost, when making your selection. Local nurseries usually stock citrus that grow well in the area. The fruit of all types is easily damaged by frost, but the leaves and wood of some are more cold-resistant. In general, limes are the least hardy, oranges slightly hardier; kumquats are the most hardy, withstanding low winter frost temperatures.

A single mature citrus tree yields more than enough fruit for a family. If you plant more than one tree of the same type, select cultivars with different harvest times, or plant different types of citrus so you won’t be overwhelmed with one kind of fruit. Almost all citrus are self-pollinating. A few hybrids are not; be sure to check for the kind you want when you buy.

Select sturdy nursery-raised trees. A one-year-old tree should have a trunk diameter of ¾ inch. A two-year-old plant should have a diameter of at least 1 inch. Those with fewer fruits and flowers are better because they have put more energy into sturdy top and root growth.

Most commercially grown citrus fruits are grafted onto rootstocks that are resistant to frost and insect attack. Select the proper citrus for your area when your soil is susceptible to nematode attack and other soil problems. Your local extension office or a good quality nursery could tell you what rootstock is best in your region.

Citrus do best at pH 6.0-6.5. They are not fussy about soil but do require good drainage. If drainage is a problem, plant trees in a raised soil mound, about 1½ feet high.

Select a sheltered area with full sun, such as a sheltered, south-facing alcove of a building. Citrus flowers attract bees, so don’t plant them in high-traffic areas.

It is best to plant citrus in late winter or early spring. Keep the graft union six inches above soil surface when planting. Full-sized trees require at least 25 feet between trees; smaller trees need less.

Citrus bark is thin and easily sunburned. Wrap the trunk with commercial tree wrap or newspaper for the first year, or paint it with diluted white latex paint.

In dry areas, water newly planted trees at least once a week for the first year. Once established, trees need less-frequent watering, but never wait until leaves wilt to water. Water stress can cause developing fruit to drop; prolonged drought causes leaf drop and may kill the tree. Water slowly and deeply; shallow sprinkling does more harm than good. In drought areas, construct a shallow watering basin that extends from six inches away from the trunk to one foot beyond the drip line. Or install drip irrigation under a thick layer of mulch to conserve water and protect shallow feeder roots. Keep mulch six inches away from the trunk.

In citrus-growing areas, soils often lack organic matter and nitrogen. Spread compost, mulch and Dr. Earth® Fruit Tree Fertilizer on the soil surface out to the drip line four times a year, beginning in February. This will help to ensure a healthy productive crop that will be full of nutrition for you and your family.

Most citrus trees need little pruning beyond removing dead or broken branches. Limit the tree’s size by thinning out fast growing shoots that outgrow other branches. Thin the branches, rather than shortening them. Remove suckers as soon as they emerge from the ground.

You can revitalize an old unproductive citrus tree by pruning severely in early spring. Wear thick gloves if the tree has thorns. Cut off all branches two inches or larger in diameter flush to the trunk, and feed and water heavily for the next year. Note: Very severe pruning may stop fruiting for up to two years.

Winter Protection
Citrus are usually grown outdoors in climates where frost is rare. Some types of citrus fruit are vulnerable when frost does occur. In areas where mild frost is common, don’t plant cultivars that bear in winter and early spring. Since succulent new growth is more prone to frost injury, withhold extra water in late summer to limit new growth. When frost does threaten, cover trees with large fabric sheets. Use fans to keep air circulating around the trees. If symptoms of frost damage appear, wait until spring growth starts to see the true extent of damage. A tree that loses all its leaves can still rejuvenate. If damage is severe, dieback may continue during the growing season.

Citrus trees usually bear in three to four years. It can be hard to tell when citrus fruit is ready to pick. Color is not a good indicator. Fruit can have ripe coloration several months before being ready to harvest or remain green and unappealing even when ripe and juicy inside. Use the taste test to determine when fruit is at its peak flavor. Allow fruit to ripen on the tree before picking.

Use pruning shears to cut stems close to the fruit when harvesting. Don’t just pull fruit off the tree. Ripe citrus fruit can remain on the tree for up to three months. Once harvested, citrus can be stored in the refrigerator for three more weeks. Enjoy the fruits of your labor; they will be juicy and full of flavor and nutrition.