Friday, October 21, 2011

The 2011 Plant Trials

The Trial of the century

Alright, maybe this article's title is a bit much. But the nightshade and Okra trials were serious this year if you recall during the early summer I posted images of the hybrid okra I was testing and as of this writing that same okra is headed towards it's natural end due to the suddenly cold weather. For those first-time readers I planted a hybrid okra in a 14" fluted pot and gave it only what it needed in irrigation and limited fertilizer. In early growth the leaves often reached one foot in width and length with an eight to ten inch long petiole. The first months of growth saw a distinctly uniform shape guided by a strong central leader with little branching. The overall color of the plant was medium green with reddish tinges on the stems which gave way to a gray-tan coloration with age. Where the leaves met the petiole, there was a crimson spot which was quite unique. Early leaf shapes were generally maple like with a irregular serrated margin where as later leaves became thinner more filigree and decidedly smaller as the plant flowered and grew to full height. Overall the full size of the hybrid okra was about 4-7 feet and it's prime productivity was about 0.5-1.0 pounds of okra per week during prime season. I might add pod size on average was about 6-8" long without development of fiber. This is hybrid is going to be tested next year also and has earned the name 'C3' or Clark's Carolina Colossal.

In respects the night shade trials revealed a lot in terms of plant selection,  form survivability and problems. The drought this year took a heavy toll on a number of the plant selections and narrowed the field greatly. It is also worthwhile to note there was an ordering error instead of ordering 'Paul Robeson' I accidentally ordered 'Black Krim' which is the dark colored tomato sold at the Urban Farm Day event.
Despite this, the trials did reveal quite a bit about what can and cannot survive with minimal care and maintenance. With that said I present the good, bad and the ugly of the nightshade trial.

The Good
 The good are the successful plants of the trial all of which are worth running new trials for next year. BL2 recommends trying these plants. If you want to know where to get the seed just post a comment on this blog or contact us via the email listed on the blog.

-Red Currant: Produced well, held up to southern sun, drought and insects.
-Solar Fire: Produced well, not fond of late summer heat but did ok.
-Purple Tiger: Produced well, the eggplant were attractive but slow to start.
-Hansel: Not bad, decent eggplant production
-Balada: Many many chiles of varied size quite impressive.
-Gypsy: produced all summer, is still producing peppers in October.
-Tomatillo: Excellent producer, lots of fruit.
-Ground Cherry: I wish I had planted more of these.
-Garden Huckleberry: Produced berries up until early September, several quarts of berries.
-Wonderberry: Produced berries by the quart, slow to develop attracts birds self sown in nearby pots.
-Super Hybrid: Produced peppers in ornamental role all spring, summer and now in fall.
-Sangria: Attractive and reliable ornamental pepper.
-Bed of Nails: slow to start attractive plants blooms within a month of establishment.

The Bad:
 The bad are a list of plants that did not perform well, for whatever reason. It may have been the weather or many other factors, They may be retested later.

-Striped Togo: tall impressive plants, barely any fruit.
-Gretel Eggplant: not vigorous, no fruit.
-Burpee Hot Mix: The peppers grew just fine from seed, but produced nothing.
-Burpee Bell Mix: One or two bell peppers, barely worth the time.

The Ugly:
 The ugly is a list of plants that completely failed despite extra care. Needless to say not a single one of these plants will be re-tested.

-Sweet Sue: Total failure, not one tomato.
-Black Krim:  Plants bombed, not a single tomato.
-Pink Brandywine: Plants bombed, not a single tomato.
-Turkish Italian Orange: One eggplant all season, disappointing.

2012 nightshade trial plants:
The 2012 selection will include the following plants that were from this years trials as well as a few new plants that need a little testing.
Eggplant: Hansel, Striped Togo.
Pepper: Gypsy, Kung Pow.
Physalis: Ground Cherry, Tomatillo.
Solanum: Wonderberry, Bed of Nails
Tomato:  Red Currant, Solar Fire

New additions to the list for testing in 2012 include:
Paul Robeson Tomato
Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherry
Purple Tomatillo

Other trials revealed the following
'Big Red' Sweet Potato - 7.2 pounds of tubers from three plants, no fire ant damage, excellent flavor with little to no irrigation or fertilizer.
Strawberry Spinach - Crop failure.

Herb Trials

 The herb trial was a test of several new herbs to see which one displayed the best characteristics for further low maintenance propagation.

Egyptian Onion - Plants did well ready for harvest next year? Totally drought immune!
Pyrethrum Daisy - Two of three plants did well and are doing well, possible insecticide next year.
Wild Tobacco -  Grew ok, summer heat killed it.
Russian Comfrey - Did ok, Healthiest plant seems to be handling well
Yellow Coneflower - Single plant looks great, will be better next year.
Narrow Leaf Coneflower - Sole plant looks fine,  decent size but slow to start.
Lemon Bergamot - All four plants did fantastic, very large very healthy.
Mexican Oregano - Attractive plant for hanging baskets, hummingbirds love it!

Fruit Trials
The fruit trial was the attempt to see if a sustainable low maintenance fruit garden could be designed and installed for the express purpose of having fresh fruit most of the year.

Blueberries - Produced 8 quarts of berries, very tasty, good vigor.
Pomegranate - Dwarf bloomed no fruit, Red angel doubled in size.
Figs - Black mission, Celeste and Brown turkey all loaded with figs, all produced great growth, kadota frost damaged but recovered.
Persimmon - Great growth, fruit dropped early as expected for first year planting.
Raspberry - A few berries, good vigor.
Muscadine Grape - Just planted.
Arctic Kiwi - not planted yet

Monday, October 10, 2011

Xeriscaping Part IV: Naturalized Xeriscaping

Naturalized xeriscaping is another way to reduce your water usage. Despite the name naturalized xeriscaping is more about matching the right plants with the right location. Additionally you should have a preference for plants that are natives or well adapted. In a prior article I did discuss how the term 'native' has become an unfortunate victim of over-branding. For note the problem with 'native' plants these days is that the natural range of some plants could make them native to a continent but not necessarily native to your precise region. Also these natives could become invasive outside of their natural habitats which is a major problem for the obvious reasons.  There are three steps to creating a natural looking xeriscaped garden.

1. Improve your soil.
Soil improvement is critical, if only for the long-term survival of the plants you will install. In effect soil improvement is exactly like building an quality foundation for your house  since in the case of plants everything about their success or failure hinges on the soil quality. In terms of natural xeriscaped gardens that also include flowering or food-bearing plants soil quality is a must as there are simply certain soil-borne nutrients that no applied fertilizer can ever match. A deep rich soil  will also promote excellent root growth and thus exceptional hardiness which is critical to reducing water needs and improving plant vigor.

2. The Right Plant
Picking the right plant is sometimes a matter of trial and error,  certain plants just cannot handle the climate in which you live. A good example of this problem can be found in the difficulties of growing tomatoes in the south. The tomatoes are an excellent vegetable crop in the north but a average one in the south this is due to the heat humidity and extended periods of drought. A good replacement could be eggplant, peppers or smaller size tomatoes all of which can withstand the heat and still bear with regularity.

3. The Right Location
The location of your bed is critical because exposure to wind, rain and sun can affect your  plants greatly. For instance lavender cannot withstand the full southern sun, humidity and, the depleted sandy soils of the sand hills of North Carolina. So what a good gardener must do is enrich the soil  space the plants and put the plants in a location with good air circulation that is partial shade.

The interplay of shapes forms and colors in a naturalized xeriscaping garden can in fact reduce your irrigation woes significantly.  Some times for the sake of form you have to have a plant that is not fond of full sun out in a full sun location, the only way to make it work is to find a taller plant to offer it shade that is equally deciduous or evergreen. With naturalized xeriscaping form becomes more important as there are less hard features such as boulders or stone work  so the plants themselves have to stand out. For instance, a tall 'San Gabriel' Nandina with the support of some 'Silver Mound' artemesia and 'Angelina' sedum forms a structural, colorful blend of plants all of which are evergreen and shine at certain times of the year. The Nandina is bright red in fall and it's lacy leaves allow you to see through it to the plants below, the sedum is orange-red in summer and blooms in late winter, while the artemesia has silver foliage all year and yellow flowers in early summer. All of these plants are drought, heat and humidity tolerant and need little else then good soil and an occasional mulching to keep weeds down.

To summarize, naturalized xeriscaping isn't the xeriscaping you read about in the horticulture magazines it is a differing animal that discards the conventional plants of xeriscaping. The trade-off is that you get more plants to work with, yet the downside is that if you love cacti and succulents you might feel the concept is too open. Either way all of the readers out there should give it a shot, and feel free to get creative. If you have any comments thoughts or questions feel free to post them up here or email me though the email listed to this blog.