Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Tomato Trials

In breaking with then normal flow of things at Lost in the Farmer’s Market in this mini update, today I’ll be talking about the results of the Azomite test.  For those of you who do not know the product well, Azomite is as the maker states the following.

AZOMITE® is unique highly mineralized ore that is a complex silica (Hydrated Sodium Calcium Aluminosilicate or HSCAS) mined in Utah from a deposit left by an ancient volcanic eruption that was ejected out of the side of a mountain.’

All I have to say about that is wow, now that is one heck of a description in all seriousness the manufacturer goes on to state in their frequently asked questions that Azomite is not a replacement for typical fertilizers as it does not provide nitrogen,  potash or, potassium (N-P-K) You can find the Azomite website here at this address.

So for the purposes of the tomato trials the idea was to see if this amendment worked at all with additional fertilizers or was simply a fluke. To see if it worked four tomato plants of the same cultivar were selected. In the original trial four ‘Patio’ tomato plants were selected, and treated with the following arrangement.

  1. Plant 1 (P1) – No Azomite or Epsom salts.
  2. Plant 2 (P2) – 1 application of Azomite.
  3. Plant 3 (P3) – 1 application of Epsom salts.
  4. Plant 4 (P4) – 1 application of Epsom salts and 1 application of Azomite.

Each of the plants was potted up with a peat moss-free soil mix and given no fertilizer other then their amendments. Water was supplied from water collected in rain barrels on the property. As it was discovered patio tomatoes didn’t quite grow as perceptibly as other tomatoes, often these plants would nudge out 1/16th an inch of growth a day. Additionally the lack of a set measure point skewed the results from already barely measurable plants. 

The trial was restarted with a new cultivar, this time ‘Mountain Spring’ a fairly well known variety available through Totally Tomatoes. This variety is known for its determinate height good fruit set and special resistance to cracking and blossom end rot.  
These four test plants went under the same setting with one change, instead of the peat moss-free soil mix a high quality topsoil was used to better replicate the soil of a well established farm environment. As above the plants were provided amendments in the same order. The Azomite treated plants had their amendments added into the soil before the plant was added to the pots. The Epsom salt treated plants had the Epsom salts added to the soil surface and watered in. All tomatoes were planted ½” deep as per tradition to promote better surface rooting. The results were as follows

  1. Plant 1 (None)   8 ¾” starting | 11”     final |
  2. Plant 2 (Azom.) –  8 ¼” starting | 12 ½”   final |
  3. Plant 3 (Epson) – 10 ¼” starting | 14 1/8” final |
  4. Plant 4 (Az+Ep) – 10”   starting | 12 ¾”   final |

With these results in mind collected over the same two-week period  you can see a definite difference in the rate of growth between the four plants and their treatments.

Plant #1 – grew 2.25 inches
Plant #2 – grew 4.25 inches
Plant #3 – grew 3.875 inches
Plant #4 – grew 2.75 inches

It is quite clear that overall the Azomite plant definitely grew the most but, that difference for growth and development is by a gap of 6/16th of an inch. For the sake of agriculture and organic gardening purposes it’s enough to say that yes Azomite does work. It is interesting to note that the double treated plant (#4) grew less then the plants that received single treatments.

These are the Patio tomatoes weeks later in their 6" fluted pots.

As a related side note the Patio tomatoes from the first attempt proved to display later characteristics that are worthwhile of note. I did continue their trial treatment conditions for the sake of seeing what would become of them in time. All four were placed in a full sun location where they could soak up more natural heat and light conditions. Each was transplanted into a 6” fluted pot with high quality topsoil being added as the soil material.
Below are the results of that move as noted on the same day as the second tomato trial concluded.

| Category     | Most to least           |
| Largest fruit| 2,4, 3&1 tied for third |
| Most fruit   | 4,1,3,2.                |
| Biggest Plant| 4,1,2,3.                |
| Tallest Plant| 2,3,1,4.                |

Ironically over time, the dual treatment plant (#4) had the most fruit and was overall biggest. The Azomite-only treated tomato ended up leading in largest fruit and tallest plant.

What these results tell me is that Azomite again definitely does something and that is relative to the plant treated. As it turned out the patio tomatoes hit a certain height and instead of continuing to grow set impressive fruit. The mountain spring tomatoes turned out to be just the sort of plant needed and displayed a different set of growth characteristics that for the original context of this trial proved Azomite works.

In short give it a try, and see if it works for you, it certainly cant do any damage and apparently Azomite is reasonably inexpensive. So I recommend giving it a try and determining if it works or not.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summer Series: Trial and Error

Passing carefully though a thicket of crape myrtle and wax myrtle our intrepid plant hunter creeps into formerly uncharted territory…a backyard! Why is he here, what does he seek, what is with that ridiculous pith helmet? Our host pauses…across the distance is the elusive beast; a stand of non-invasive bamboo! Snapping a few pictures our host utters a few words in a bad Australian accent as if complimenting the subject of the photos. Moments later Mrs. Jenkins is standing off to his left with rolling pin in hand not amused at all.
“Clever girl!”
Moments later the running and flailing of weaponized kitchen implement begins….

Not a bad premise for a spoof movie…I imagine it might be called something like Sedentary Park. Welcome back to this weeks edition of Lost In The Farmers Market.
Today we have quite the gardening showcase first off  I would like to share some photos from the garden you might get a kick out of.

Anyone know a good taxidermist who can preserve stuff and mount this so it can go on my wall?

This is one of the Black Krim tomatoes straight off the vine, weighing 4.1 ounces it’s not bad for a start it’s the largest so far and many more are on the vine. Next in line is one of the more interesting flowers in the garden, this guy down here.

Looks like some sort of fungal infection/ botanical mutant!

In truth this is the first flower on the pomegranates and now you can see where the fruit actually comes from. The bright pink lower part is where the ovaries are and it swells to form the walls and white inner filling of the fruit. Keep in mind this is a Dwarf pomegranate and it tried to produce fruit last year also. I’m hoping this little guy turns matures and turns into an actual fruit. Next on the list is this weird growth.

Looks like a gnarled foot to me what do you think?

Before you ask no it’s not club root this is the root of a rutabaga that was left in the ground since the spring before last…it’s grown gnarled and is probably inedible but is cool to look at. If it were club root the roots would be affected by the tuber would largely itself be left alone. Lastly in the garden slide show is this one, a shot from the outdoor pre-composter.

These aren't the maggots you are looking for...

These little critters look like maggots don’t they, it’s because they are.  That does need some clarification, they are the larvae of the Black Soldier Fly, the adults have no mouth and live only to mate, the larva eat decomposing vegetable matter. These little guys will even eat coffee grounds leaving spongy powder-like material as residue. They got in there last year when I tossed out Loquat fruit in the composter and have reappeared year-round ever since. As they are doing what the worms can’t seem to do fast enough, and are doing no harm I have no plans to evict the critters.

Now onward to the plant spotlight; we have a quadruple header today so I am going to try and keep it brief.

Teucrium viscidum ‘Lemon & Lime’

Lemon and lime germander was covered last year but as it turned out this guy does not like full sun exposure and will disappear in late summer if left exposed. What I’ve found out since then is that it will return but also that it spreads by entirely underground rhizomes and little off shoots will appear upwards of a foot away. There has been no luck on finding any herbal use for this species of germander yet; however as always I’ll post any new details up here.

Philodendron x ‘Prince of Orange’

Wow talk about flamboyant! This is a philodendron that kicks the sold standby ‘Marble Queen’ to the curb. Not only is it’s new foliage some shade of bronze to bright neon orange, but it has a neat upright growth habit so you don’t have to wrangle masses of vines. Apparently it is a perennial in Zones 10a – 11, prefers filtered shade, can grow up to four feet tall and. prefers a soil pH between 5.6 and 7.5. This guy would surely make one hell of a gift for a houseplant enthusiast.

Hypericum hybrid ‘Hypeals Olivia’ – Hybrid Saint John’s Wort

Saint Johns Wort is a perennial herb that has medicinal use as a mild antidepressant. Additionally extracts of either the leaves or the fruit can be used in certain types of balm to reduce inflammation and for anti-bacterial use. As also these same balms aid in the reduction of time a bruise is visible. In the case of ‘Hypearls’ the fruit capsules as seen above take on a rose-pearl color which adds an additional dimension to an already attractive plant. For note this specimen is planted in partial shade and  with additional high quality top soil and compost added. Expect to hear more on this plant as the year progresses.

Portulaca grandiflora ‘Samba’

For those of you who don’t know the species portulaca is also known as purselane and is drought tolerant, and edible, annual flower.  As you can see here the Samba series flowers are positively huge and hard to miss. The long curved foliage is a nice change from the rank & file moss rose you see all the time.  In the garden it you be used in the same way as other purselane but you might want to consider hanging baskets or planter urns to show off the leaves. For note this year the test gardens are testing two of the samba varieties, ‘Peppermint’ and ‘Fuchsia’. I also had the opportunity to nab some Samba ‘White’ but it didn’t match the color mixes I wanted to use.

Onto the main topic of today's surprisingly long post, the use of Trial and Error in the garden. Trial and Error is not just a concept for the laboratory but also something you can implement for your own uses in the garden.  For instance what plants worked which were lackluster and which despite your best efforts seemed to completely suffer an epic failure.

For the purposes of the test gardens I found Kohlrabi, Turnips and Rutabagas were the failure. Wild Bergamot was the big success out growing traditional Bee Balm where as the lackluster item was Purple coneflower.

The next step to Trial and Error is to consider why you got the results you did in your gardens. Some times finding the reasoning for it may be a matter of observation over time, or could be seen by digging up a specimen to check the roots or feel the soil.

In the test gardens the Kohlrabi, turnips and rutabagas simply need more space then is available. The Wild Bergamot seems to like being packed close, can handle heat, humidity and dry soil and does not get disease. Lastly the coneflowers simply seem to be unable to handle the lack of deep topsoil or the long droughts.

The thirst step is to consider what you have learned so far. Considering what worked, failed, had no effect and then consider what you would need to do to change it so you could have what you want in your yard.

The Wild Bergamot seems to need no help and is in fact happily spreading. The Cole crops can’t be helped unless less individual plants are planted or a new bed is cut and neither is useful. The coneflower requires its bed be raised to get the soil quality issue handled.

Finally you have to ask yourself is the expense in time and funds worth it to make these things work? Knowing that may perhaps eliminate a option in the short run but may include it at a later time. Perhaps you can’t afford to drop truckloads of composted manure to solve a soil problem right now, but after a few years of composting you might have the soil you need.

In the long run, I can probably skip the Kohlrabi, Turnips and rutabagas as they require too much space. The coneflower in its present bed can be accommodated this winter at very little cost as raising the bed will increase the productivity of everything else in that bed too. The Bergamot may need some fertilization but for now it can take over the bet it’s in it’s doing great.

So with all that in mind, and yes I know this article has been a rather long one keep an eye on your garden, take notes on what does and does not work, and be ready to adapt to things as they come. The next post begins the Summer Xeriscaping series in which all the plant spotlights are aimed at drought tolerant plants it will also be the first post of the third quarter. Also during the week the results of the Tomato trial in entirely will be posted as a special post as they alone could be a blog entry.  

I thank you for reading and as always keep 'em growing.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Summer Series: Installation and Upkeep

Welcome back to another edition of Lost in the farmer’s market where we deconstruct the practices of modern agriculture and demonstrate how you can apply their conventional wisdom to your back yard endeavors. As you may have noted there was no blog post for LITFM last week, admittedly yours truly got bogged down at work and unfortunately I lacked the time to sit down and write it however this week  we will have extra content to make up for that. Additionally it dawned on me, the plant of the week was supposed to be Lemon Beebalm, but honestly I’ve covered the heck out of that and something far more interesting has come up so this week we have a double header of weird and wonderful plants. Also in this weeks double-installment we cover three plant spotlights, and both last week's main topic and this week's main topic. 

There is a correction to the last post as evidenced by my own plants, the plants noted as striped togo eggplant with unusually big leaves have thrown a curve-ball. As it turns out they are the Turkish Italian Orange eggplant, a labeling error has caused them to be misidentified. The fruit started off as ovoid which aided in the identification error then promptly between now and the last post began to swell outwards taking a wider shape. Perhaps Ironically, this error further proves the case for gigantism as the Turkish Italian eggplant are noted from the prior year to have poor vigor and only produced one fruit where as this year they are covered in fruit. The slow growing plants I labelled as Turkish-Italian Orange eggplant are of course the striped togo and are growing as expected tall narrow and columnar in shape. It seems that first real hot and dry spell caused their sudden rapid growth. Thus far the Togos seem to wilt less and require less water, more to come on this as it develops.

But before we get into the plant spotlight or the main topic I’d like to provide this bit of important information for all you folks out there who read the ‘weeds you can eat’ series or for that matter want to try some of the exotic spinach substitutes. It is important that you consider trying the Universal Plant Edibility Test to verify that you are not allergic or that your digestive tract is not sensitive to anything you eat. The last thing I want is anyone to get a case of the ‘trots’ at the least and a hospital visit at the worst. So I present to you the universal plant edibility test in full form.

The Universal Plant Edibility Test
  1. Abstain from eating for 8 hours before testing a new possible food source.
  2. Separate the plant into its basic components: Seeds, Leaves, Stems, Flowers, Buds and roots.
  3. Test for contact poisoning by placing the plant part in the crook of your arm for 15 minutes. If no irritation is visible or felt, proceed.
  4. Place the plant part to be eaten on your lips for 3 minutes to make sure it will not cause a burning or itching sensation.
  5. Place the plant part on your tongue for 15 minutes to make sure it causes no irritation.
  6. It there has been no adverse reaction to the plant material up to this point, chew a small portion and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes.
  7. Abstain from eating anything for another 8 hours to check for any ill side-effects.

It should be said that if nausea or vomiting ensues, drink plenty of water to flush out your system. If there are no adverse effects, prepare a small handful of the plant part and eat a whole portion. If another 8 hours pass without irritation or vomiting, you can consider the plant safe for consumption.

That’s a rather comprehensive test that you survivalists out there can try when the going is good to prepare for when the going might not be so good. For the rest of you it’s a good way to widen your palette safely without a great deal of risk. Plus you can tell your friends you just tried this crazy new food and usually if they’re garden-minded they’ll be thinking about it and might want to try it too. Plus think of the resulting dishes with food substitutes. Ever try a Garlic-Malabar spinach oriental stir-fry? Oh….heck YES! Summer spinach dishes for the masses with no fear of GMO, pesticides or any other creepy and unsafe Corporate Agribusiness shenanigans. Feel free to ask me for that recipe over at Sustainable Neighbors on On the forums my name is TKG.

With the edibility test in mind next we have the plant spotlight, and we feature three plants that sadly as far as I know have not passed the edibility test but are still very cool and add a flare of the exotic to the otherwise drab east coast garden. First off we have the White Voodoo Lily.

 This is the flower of white Voodoo Lily

Amorphophallus albus – White Voodoo Lily (foliage is in lower center of photo)

Now first off the scientific name says some odd things, Amorpho means ‘mishappen’ and phallus means penis, albus simply means white. What the name refers to is the shape of spadix, or the flowering organ that emerges somewhere between late spring to late summer. Before we go on here’s a little bit of plant botany; the spadix is a specialized reproductive organ that relies on what is called a bract to attract it’s preferred pollinators. Not unlike Poinsettias whose colorful ‘petals’ are actually bracts and the little bits in the center are the actual flowers bracts play a different game entirely. At the tip of the spadix are the tiny male flowers then midway down is a band of sterile flowers and way down inside at the bottom are the female flowers. The bract itself is ultimately cup shaped and may be covered with features to trap pollinators so that they cannot leave without passing pollen down to the female flowers inside. Some members of the Amorphophallus family such as the Titan Arum are known for their ability to create heat at the tips of the spadix to volatilize their scents to attract pollinators. I might add in the case of the titan arum, it smells like a corpse so of course the pollinator would be flies. Now before you ask ‘Why the heck would I want a flower that smells like I’m hiding a dead body in the yard?!’ the answer is simple, in most cultivated varieties this trademark aroma of the Amorphopallus family has been for the most part bred out or reduced so you get the perks of a really weird flower and crazy-exotic foliage without the police stopping by to see if you’ve been burying the neighbors in the back yard. I is important to note that the spadix type flower structure is not unique to the Voodoo lilies. Other plants with the spathe-type inflorescence include Skunk Cabbage (Symplicarpus sp. & Lysichiton americanus), Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum sp.), Calla Lillies (Calla sp.) the peperomia family (Peperomia sp.), Jack-In-The-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum ), Elephant Ear (Xanthosoma roseum) and more commonly The family of lawn herbs/weeds known as the Plantains (Plantago sp.). Needless to say the Voodoo lily much like other lilies in that aforementioned list are not actually in the lily family; a fair number of them are in the Arum family. For note, the arum family includes the food plants Taro, Eddoe and Malanga.  Getting back on track, the specimen pictured just emerged in early June, and is far larger then it was when I planted it. I admit it was one of those crazy impulse buys, this one when bout last year was about $10.00 tax included and I had honestly gotten to thinking it had died and then while giving a tour of the test gardens there it was emerging bigger then the year before. Now here’s the thing about Voodoo Lilies, you need to be patient; small tubers may take years to mature enough to flower but the foliage and its odd shapes and exotic forms make up for this. The below is a typical ‘black’ voodoo lily as seen at cape fear botanical gardens. I think

Voodoo lily shortly after flower emergence but before leaves emerge.

Amorphophallus konjac – Voodoo Lily (flower fully opened)

Note the polka dot speckling on the stems and overall dark coloration, quite a show-stopper when in this case paired with black bamboo, though I do advise skipping the bamboo and sticking with the Voodoo lilies with the right kind of backdrop to maximize the value of their foliage.  You can get voodoo lilies through Plant Delights online though expect them to be a bit hefty in price. As for care make sure they get adequate water the first year and plant them in heavily improved soil, they will tolerate a lot once established but don’t take it for granted. I might add Voodoo lilies are deciduous, that is they drop their leaves in late summer or fall and disappear generally the level of drought and stress will effect how long they remain leafed out.

Tricyrtis micranthopsis – Yellow Toad Lily, foliage only

 Tricyrtis micranthopsis – Yellow Toad Lily, in bloom

Tricyrtis formosana – Taiwanese Toad Lily, foliage only with measuring tape to denote length of stolons.

Tricyrtis formosana – Taiwanese Toad Lily, in bloom

To be fair, this little guy has everything I personally like in a garden plant, it self proliferates by stolon, it has exotic flowers and, it’s an underutilized garden perennial. Oh and one other thing, toad lilies are not invasive so you can have a nice colony of them in a few years that you can pass out to fellow gardeners. You should note that despite what some sources state yes Tricyrtis is in fact in the lily family and flower shapes aside bears no direct or indirect relation to the Orchid family. This means that their care and cultural requirements of this fine grouping of lily relatives is rather easy. While of ten toad lilies can be a bit pricy initially and their care can seem daunting the average gardener needs to remember just two important things. First toad lilies are woodland plants that grow best in or near riparian areas. What this means is they like shade and moist but not constantly wet areas also; a light topdressing of compost early and initial soil modifications to draw the soil closer to loam will produce the best effects. As I’ve said before the key to soil moisture retention is organic matter and where possible mulching every six months or so. For all this preparation you will be rewarded with unique and hardy plants that produce blooms something like the pictures below. I might note that the yellow toad lily will grow between USDA hardiness zones 6 to 8. But don’t worry for all you gardeners up north the Taiwanese Toad Lily will grow between zones 8 to 4 making it the better plant for those of you more towards the north. It is possible with clever use of stonework and or proximity to the masonry or stone siding of a building with ample mulch in winter to protect the roots one could wring zone 3 out of the Taiwanese Toad lily but of course that is pushing it. Likewise I am quite sure you could achieve successful stands of toad lilies as far south as zone 9 in deep shade with heavily amended soil. The USDA zones are a factual guideline, which the plants don’t know about, so they have no idea they aren’t supposed to grow somewhere. Barring that USDA zone limitation Toad lilies could be used as unique houseplants as they are disease free and well behaved.

Now onwards to the actual main topic, for those of you who tune in regularly to read this blog, you know occasionally I turn into a total garden geek, and the above is proof.  The intended main topic for this post was supposed to be how to keep your new plants alive, and last weeks was supposed to be about planting the last of your spring plants before the summer’s heat arrives. Due to my work status preventing me from posting last week in brief today I will cover both since it seems we in the southeast have a wave of hot and humid coming mid-week it’s not a moment too soon!

The first thing you should know is that generally much like when I suggest one should do all the stonework and heavy labor tasks in the garden in late fall through early spring to avoid the heat the planting of large numbers of annuals, perennials and so forth should also only be done before July. The reason for this is quite clear; I can’t speak for any of you but when the temperatures reach 90 degrees and the humidity is through the roof the last thing I want to do is plant things or for that matter be scrambling about to water dozens of plants that are still in transplant shock. Furthermore planting these plants when the August drought strikes are an even worse idea, because then you not only have unrelenting heat but possible water restrictions and of course the mosquitoes and humidity combine to make your life extra-difficult.  The first thing to do is to look at your intended planting area, determine the soil quality, and figure what kind of labor you need to do to achieve your goals. Consider the following questions when planting late in the season.
  1. Have you planted here before, if so what did you plant and will the soil need to be enriched?
  2. Is it a new bed, and if so, how much amending will it need.
  3. How deep is the soil currently?
  4. Where is the bed located?
Once you figure this out determine the watering needs of what you are planting, it is a rule of thumb that most plantings will require almost daily rain for the first two weeks after they are installed. However this rule applies largely to perennials and annuals, more permanent things such as shrubs and trees may need intensive care for a full month to recover fully from transplant shock. Knowing this basic level of care can allow you to plan your planting date ahead of the dog days of summer and ease your maintenance burden. As a final note to the ‘Last Call’ for planting, I do advise using transplant fertilizers; surprisingly they do actually seem to work. Generally a transplant fertilizer is one that uses less nitrogen and more phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) which promotes root growth, and drought resistance both of which are your biggest enemy when planting new plants.

Now keeping your plants alive post planting can be a daunting task, some times the weather cooperates and gives you the right amounts of rain and you have to do little. On the reverse some times it’s a mild winter and those critters are waiting to eat your hard work. Either way, for the sake of this portion of the article let’s presume that you’ve gotten your plants past the two week transplant period. Now the problems you face happen to be some of the usual ones that all gardeners face.

  1. Noting what time of day your plants wilt and if they stay wilted into the evening.
  2. Watching for damage from insects.
  3. Watching for animal damage.
  4. Keeping an eye out for soil erosion.
  5. Noting which plants are holding up the best.
The three things you have to worry about most are wilting, insect damage and plant collapse. The first; wilting can be caused by three things. Normally heat can cause wilt, this is a biological reaction by the plants to reduce the surface area that can be hit by the heat and light of the sun to conserve moisture. The cure for this is to wait and see if it persists into the evening after the sun has been off your plants an hour or two. Lack of water however, the real wilting causes cells to contract and become soft which causes plants to lose their rigidity. Normal wilting of course can be remedied by watering. The third form of wilting is the sort you can do little about, as a number of plant viruses, bacterium and fungi all can attack a plant’s vascular system and cut off water and nutrients to the green growth of a plant. The way to diagnose this problem is to watch for wilting that persists even if the soil is moist and the sun has not been shining on the plant for a few hours. If this wilt persists into the next day regardless of temperature, you may have a pathogen. Often it is cheaper to replace with another plant not susceptible to the disease then to treat the problem. To treat a plant or not to treat a plant is purely at your discretion with the cost of the treatment versus the plant’s value in mind.

Now the second thing to worry for is insect damage, a good example was noted earlier in this blog where I planted out my main production bed and had a slug problem. Looking at your plants as you care for them will allow you to see the telltale signs of damage from insect pests. Caterpillars skeletonize and leave chewing damage, slugs leave slime trails and raggedy damage, aphids cluster about stem tips and leave the shoots crumpled and deformed and, white flies often cause a gradual loss of color and vigor and fly about in swarms when the host plant is disturbed. Most insect issues come about at times of opportunity for the insects, as noted in the slug example above; these critters were active during our unusually wet spring. White flies came about in early summer due to a lack of winter freezes to kill them off. Aphids tend to show up in the drought of summer when ants act as their co-conspirators and thus are farmed for their secretions by the ants. The Only thing you can do is to observe, note the problem, and treat it as it happens with your preferred method.

The third thing to worry about once your plants are in and past their transplant shock period is plant collapse. Plant collapse is best seen when for instance you plant a bed full of impatiens and a handful suddenly die for no real reason. Typically plant collapse is really just Russian roulette; maybe those plants were the less genetically vigorous seeds in the flat. Perhaps those few plants didn’t get as much water or fertilizer during the growing period before sale. Maybe that portion of the soil mixture was tainted. It could be that the grower simply botched the care of a handful of plants and you had the misfortune to buy them. When one of your plants collapses in this way and you’ve done what is needed to care for your garden, the only thing you can do is remove evidence of the deceased plant and if possible replant or let the others nearby fill in.

As I like to say ‘if at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence you tried!’ and with that in mind we come to the end of another episode of Lost In The Farmers Market. I know this was a unusually long and detailed post, but I had to make up for the lack of a post last week and there was just too much good information to leave out. Next week we will be covering the last installment of the summer series titled ‘Trial and Error, Mostly error!’ which is about finding out what plants work best for your garden and the botanical journey that one often undertakes to get the sort of yard they want. Also our featured plant spotlight is a returnee from one of last year’s posts, Lemon & Lime Germander. I have some new information about this perennial that may spark your interest in using it in your yard. 

Thank you for reading and I owe some image credits to a select few groups as I lacked flowering photos of the plant spotlight plants today.  As always keep ‘em growing, and see you next week!

Special image credits
1.        Taiwanese Toad Lily in bloom: courtesy of Big Bloomers
2.        Yellow Toad Lily in bloom: courtesy of Big bloomers.
3.        White Voodoo Lily in bloom: courtesy of Plant Delights
4.     The two photos of  Amorphophallus konjac were taken by me at Cape Fear Botanical Gardens in 2011.

P.S. The Results of the Azomite Trial re-do will be available next week.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Summer Series: Understanding Plant tags 101

“Ah summer, you start out so nice, but I know your tricks, come August you will be kicking my rear like an enraged bookie determined to get his money.“

Welcome to another edition of Lost in the Farmer’s Market or LITFM for short. Today we have a very interesting episode for all of you readers out there, including a double-plant spotlight and the main topic, Understanding Plant Tags 101. Before we get to the Plant spotlights and the main topic I would like to talk briefly about the test gardens.

As you might have heard I operate a series of test gardens to test the veracity of numerous gardening claims that crop up (no pun intended) every year. In doing these tests often strange results occur, for instance earlier in the year I tested the validity of using Epsom salts to promote growth and vigor in tomatoes. This test proved to be measurably true, and thus worth recommending to all of you readers out there.  Here are some results of those trials.

Epsom salts promotes tomato growth: True!
Azomite improves plant growth: Undetermined.
Beer Traps effectively kill Slugs: Gross but True!
You cannot grow Kale in the Summer: False (see striped togo eggplant picture)
Upside down Tomato Planters improve yield: False
Upside down Tomato planters improve flavor: False
You cannot grow big tomatoes in the South: False
Marigolds have no insect pest problems: False (Slugs will eat them)
Peppers are pest free: False (Slugs again…)
Use miracle-Gro products to get bigger Plants:  False (see pictures below)

That said it has been an incredibly busy year and we have had some crazy results including botanical gigantism. Botanical gigantism is when a plant displays growth that is uncharacteristically large for it’s type for instance below we have a picture of what my Striped Togo Eggplant looks like right now.

 The Striped Togo Eggplant is in the center of this picture, the blue-green plant on the right is a Dinosaur Kale Plant, still growing strong despite it being June.

Last year the Striped Togo was tall narrowly columnar and had leaves no longer then 5” at the most. For some reason, this year it is short, massive leaved and has been covered in blooms since early May.  Then we have this group of tomatoes here two of these are Black Krim tomatoes and two are Red Currant.

 While it is not clear which tomato is which you can barely see the cages holding them up, instead of growing straight upright all these tomatoes decided to aggressively side-branch.

Both tomato plants are displaying incredibly aggressive branching, foliage growth and incredible vigor without the use of any artificial chemical fertilizers nor fertilizer-laced soil. But wait there is more look at these other eggplant, both of which are Millionaire type, respectively both have stems at least two feet long and there is even fruit on them as of this writing.

The visible eggplant fruit may not look like much but every plant has several.

Last on the list is this guy, my single rhubarb plant, it’s biggest leaf and stem measures at 9” long by 1” thick for the stem with a leaf size of 1’ 4” wide by 1’ 7” long. Now that may not seem like much but this is about the size you’d expect from a commercial farming operation. Take a look at the plant and see what I mean. 

This rhubarb is at least three years old and was installed when this bed didn't have b ricks or stone work. It now as of this year dominates that corner.

Keep in mind I put down compost this year, I used Fish fertilizer and Epsom salts, but did little else, we have had all those thunder showers and things are growing as if there was a tanker truck of steroids that spilled up hill somewhere. This sort of gigantism where plants are growing abnormally well is appearing all over the test gardens. I am surely not complaining, but is anyone else experiencing this level of overgrowth? The reason I ask is to determine if it is the regular rains causing this or some of my cultural care. Feel free to send in your comments, and with that said lets go onward to the plant spotlight.

 These tomatoes are  6 ounces and 4 ounces respectively on one of the black Krim plants, they were ripening before the farm tour and are not the first of this size on that plant this year. the pot is there to prevent the birds from finding them.

Now for today’s plant spotlight we have what I like to call, the Asian Invasion. Today’s plants of interest are Perilla and Okinawa Spinach. The latter is a new edible plant I came across by accident at a garden center within the last week or so. The former is a well documented and some times weedy plant you might find appearing in yards with little promotion. 

Perilla fruitiscens nankiensis - Perilla

Talk about dramatically purple, Perilla is a common herb in Asian cooking and can be found in numerous dishes as flavoring or colorant. In our climate perilla actually is an annual, but it readily comes back from it’s sown seed and takes on an almost perennial habit due to it’s prolific nature. For those of you in the north, it comes back from seed like lemon balm tends to, almost anywhere. Fortunately perilla has many uses for American cooking styles, the most obvious being that its purple color bleeds out when cooked and this can be used to make vegetable-based dye. The flavor of perilla is interesting as it resembles anise somewhat but with a slight camphor burn, that resembles cloves or basil. One interesting way to use this herb that I personally have devised is as an additive to pesto which gives pesto a unique flavor and color. A good winter vegetable stew with some kale as the primary greens might also both benefit from the neat color of this herb but also the flavoring when combined with fennel. According several sources perilla leaves have impressive amounts of calcium, iron and potassium, riboflavin, vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber. It is believed that perialla also bears anti-inflammatory components and may act as a preservative when added to other foods. Lastly oil extracted from perilla is confirmed to be a very rich source of omega-3 fatty acid and alpha-linolenic acids.

Gynura crepidioides – Okinawa Spinach

Okinawa Spinach on the other hand is a perennial from zone 11 through 9 in the continental USA which means it might survive a mild winter in Fayetteville North Carolina, but your chances of hitting the lottery are far better. Unlike conventional spinach or any of the other spinach substitutes I have cove red in this blog Okinawa Spinach prefers partial to full shade. The difference in sunlight tolerance means that those gardeners who love spinach but lack the sunlight to grow it well can now have a similar leaf-green to sate their culinary preferences. Fortunately this vegetable happens to make for a pretty attractive foliage plant and thus can be grown indoors readily Okinawa Spinach has dark green leaves with purple undersides which gives it an and appearance resembling some Kalanchoes and other common succulents used as house plants. As the pictured specimen indicates this spinach substitute is absolutely upright growing and will produce a lot of side branches. The leaves are generally eaten raw in salads or gently cooked like spinach and could be served in a dish like sautéed spinach and garlic along with pasta. The key is to make sure not to overcook the leaves as they do lose their exceptional nutrient value if overcooked,  remember you want them to retain some rigidity when cooked somewhat like dinosaur Kale. Speaking of nutritional value Okinawa Spinach is one of the more undocumented leaf vegetables, it is suggested that it may have stronger then average cholesterol reduction capabilities.

Onward to the topic at hand, understanding plant labels. Admittedly I talk about the labeling conventions for plant stock quite a bit. The reason for this continual discussion is that the industry has some guidelines which make perfect sense if you are savvy on plants and read the labels all the time. Unfortunately not everyone has the fortune to be a landscaper or super-avid gardener (guilty on both counts myself.)  so today I’m going to talk a bit about a few common misnomers as found on plant labels.

  1. Full Sun – Often defined as 6-8+ hours of direct sunlight. Full sun is relative; your environment will determine the truth. For instance Lemon Balm is labeled as ‘Full Sun’ however it will practically spontaneously combust in the south when put in full sun. Up north you could give it 10 hours of sun a day and it’s just fine. Be wary of this label, and test the plant’s ability to handle full sun first.  Some plants that definitely like full sun include Penstemon, Russian Sage, Portulaca, Purselane, Sedum, Ornamental Sage, Artemesia,  Rosemary, Santolina, Rue, Verbena and, Lantana.
  2. Plant Size – It only grows 18” by 12”.  Be wary of plant size information, some plants have no idea they are supposed to be limited in this way. A prime example of this is Mint in general, a number of plant labels often say their spread is something like 18” to 24” but I’ve had stands of spearmint take over an entire 15’ by 15’ lawn area. That sounds pretty bad but the mower sure was minty-fresh after each clipping!  Generally what you want to do with plant size is note it plus the spacing then throw on  an extra bit of buffer area just in case to handle any plant that is overly happy in it’s new spot.
  3. Native Plant! – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, native is relative. The fact is that the term native could mean it’s from this continent, but not necessarily from your neck of the woods.  Consider also that the plant you are about to buy may have been cultivated outside its native range and given certain treatments or enhancements to produce a different rate or style of growth. Always to the research before you buy and remember, some natives are great where they came from and terrible where you put them.
  4. Misleading Adjectives – A great example of a misleading adjective is ‘Swamp’ Sunflower which grows perfectly well outside of a swamp and can tolerate drought quite well. Another one is ‘Swamp Rose Mallow’ one of which I have growing in the hottest, driest areas of the test gardens with little irrigation except for natural rain. A third example is Water Mint which isn’t an aquatic plant nor does it like growing in standing water it does like moist soil but not standing water. To put it plainly you will need to use your common sense to break through these naming conventions.
  5. Common Names – Common names are a problem, because they are just a common name, which means that these names might be national, regional or local. A prime example is ‘Monkey Grass’ which is almost any form of Liriope. If you go to a garden center and ask for just Monkey grass you’ll be shown whatever they have which may not be what you actually want. Another good example of common name confusion is found with the Cone flowers. Technically four different genera within the Aster family can claim that name, Dracopsis, Echinacea, Ratibida and, Rudbeckia, in a more clear example of that confusion, Rudbecki lacinata is known as Cutleaf Coneflower, yet Echinacea purpurea is Purple Coneflower, Echinacea paradoxa is Yellow Coneflower and,  Rudbeckia maxima is the Great Coneflower. It is easier to use the internet to find the botanical Latin name for a plant and ask for it using that name in whole or part so that you get the plant you want which will be best for your area. Some times a garden center will have it and some times they might have a similar replacement which makes for a fun experiment.
This wraps up another edition of Lost in The Farmer’s Market, next week we will be covering the ‘Last Call’ for planting seasonal plants for the summer before the real heat of summer arrives.