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.

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