Monday, August 6, 2012

Summer Xeriscaping Series: Part 6 of 9

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In the Farmer’s Market. Our goal here is to provide you a weekly resource for growing a better garden without all the back-breaking labor, chemicals or corporate shenanigans.

Today’s episode was set to be posted yesterday but occasionally nature forces me to change what I plan to post in part or in whole. The main topic for this post has not changed since part six of nine of the summer xeriscaping series is still nature aside quite useful. What has changed to some degree is the sub-topic which is an adjusted continuation of last week’s topic. Last week’s sub-topic covered what to do when insect damage to your crops renders them unproductive and beyond recovery. This weeks sub-topic will cover how to recover from such losses especially in the case of using container gardens to improve productivity while maintaining efficient use of water and space.

Now the natural menagerie of stuff that caused the delay of this article first off is this picture of the marble sized hail that fell in a major thunderstorm that occurred on the 2nd of August. 

This is the third hail-thunderstorm that has hit Fayetteville and is a sign of the times. While the weather shifts, the storms will be come more violent and you start to see record highs and lows. Areas that used to receive regular timely rain will go dry or worse get too much. Remember folks you may not believe in climate change but at least have respect for the power of nature and be careful when storms like these come to pass

The second distraction was finally getting a picture of one of these little guys.  I’ve stated before that the test gardens are home to a reasonable population of both frogs and toads. On Sunday night I saw one hanging out between the container plantings.

Toads are generally active at night or on overcast days and are voracious eaters of insects. While I didn’t catch it on camera this little guy or gal had literally while I watched just eaten a cricket bigger then its head. Toads will generally eat anything they can fit in their mouths including smaller tads if hungry enough. However they are good at handling anything they can catch which means larger insect populations can be controlled if you do a bit to support a toad population. A pile of overturned broken clay pots can provide an adequate cover for toad populations. Additional areas of moisture like water features can provide a spawning ground that can produce decent resident populations. Lastly remember to avoid using vehicles or power equipment such as mowers around areas known to have active populations.

The third distraction comes in the form of these little critters; some folks might think ‘arggg caterpillars eating stuff!”  I personally think hey cool, these guys are neat, and they’re the larvae of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. While yes they are chewing up the bronze fennel they are on I did plant it as much for a seasoning as a food supply for them.

 The larvae of the Black Swallowtail are attractive in their colored banding, to the point you can see them feeding on a stand of bronze fennel from several feet away easily.

 If you look carefully this little guy or girl is flipping me the bird for poking it.

In the second image I gently coerced this caterpillar to extend its defensive organs which are called Osmeterium. Basically these little slime coated organs deliver a reeking chemical-pheromone designed to repel predators by contact-dousing them basically in the same way riot police might use tear gas.

With all the natural wonders covered next on the list of topics is the sub-topic. How does one recover from a massive crop loss caused by insect infestation? Say you’ve lost your back yard crops to an insect problem or pathogen and proceeded to cut everything and disposed of the dying plants then taken the next step to save what seems to be doing well. What can you do then as you look at the empty plots that used to be your grand spring garden, a comparatively barren expanse?

You can take the first step by recovering with fast-growing crops. Typically if you suffer a crop loss in full or partially you can rapidly turn around the situation with a crop that can produce within a season or about 60 days. Secondly make sure to start with fresh soil, and spike that soil with a non-burning soil amendment/fertilizer such as black hen.  Generally a 14” fluted pot will require about 0.5 to 0.6 cu of soil material to be full enough to be within 1-2” of the pot rim. Additionally once the pot is half full if you mix in about a half-pound of black hen you can provide a season’s worth of soil fertility for most crops. It bears mention that the primary soil you use is important, but you must be discerning, potting soil is nice but it comes in two varieties with slow-release fertilizer (miracle-gro products) or the types that lack this and may be lacking in nutrients (pro-mix). Instead consider using a high quality ‘lawn soil’ or top soil that has been enriched using coconut fiber or peat moss allowing it excellent drainage.

The plants you can get to make a fine replacement this late in the season are some what limited but you can still pull a decent harvest in limited space within sixty days before it becomes time for the fall crops to go in. Some plants that are great for rapid productivity include the following.

  1. Tomatoes: most cherry, grape, currant, pea or paste types will do.
  2. Squash: Yellow Summer and, Zucchini.
  3. Cucumbers: Armenian, Space master, and other small types.
  4. Peas & Beans: Snow Peas, Black eye peas, some varieties of bush bean.
  5. Leaf crops: Loose-leaf cabbage, Malabar Spinach.
  6. Annuals: Nasturtiums, Zinnia, Marigolds, Cosmos.
  7. Select herbs: Dill, Parsley, Cress.

Recovering garden beds can be done in the same way except it’s probably a bad idea to dump all of your soil and instead start with enriching your soil using a manure product. Depending on the potency and type of manure product you may need to apply as much as a pound of poultry manure per square foot or twice that with composted cow manure. At witch the soil needs to be turned and new seeds or plants installed after. At the very least your late summer crops could provide early shelter for the fall crops and a continued harvest.

Ficus carica – Common Fig, Zones 7-11 (Perennial)
For note this is a ripe black mission fig.

The common fig is one of those Xeriscaping plants that many books pass over. This is a shame because figs are naturally accustomed to catching and using every drop of water they encounter while also acting rapidly on every bit of fertilizer they get. Add in the production of figs and you have an excellent plant that is efficient. Now the thing that makes them a Xeriscaping plant is that they often will produce fruit without your meddling and grow quite large while doing it casting excellent tree-like deciduous shade with time. The quirk of fig biology can be found in their roots, as they produce an exceptionally large number of feeder roots that are used to capture water and nutrient. This allows them to aggressively out compete most similar plants while making them a great choice for planting near hard surfaces such as driveways and cement paths as the roots will go under, not heave the surfaces and absorb every drop that bleeds through.  Interestingly enough the discharge water from laundry machines seems to have no negative effects on figs planted down hill from such a discharge.

Loropetalum chinensis ‘Daruma’ - Fringe bush

Loropetalum (Lore-o-petal-um) is commonly called fringe bush, and for good reason. When typically seen in the landscape its foliage quite striking regardless of cultivar. Typically you will find loropetalum in one of two foliage colors, purple or green, but some burgundy shades do exist. The variety pictured above is called ‘Daruma’ and is a slower growing member of the purple variety and as you can see it is seriously purple.
Foliage color is good and all and this shrub might sound like a one-trick-pony right? Wrong, actually fringe bush is also known for its equally intense bloom, as green varieties often produce white flowers and the purple ones produce anything from hot pink to fuchsia colored blooms. But wait, it gets better, the blooms aren’t like say rhododendron blooms, individually they don’t last that long instead these tiny flowers are visible because of their 2” long petals that look like brightly colored fringes like you’d see on some sort of decorative pillow. Typically a fringe bush will also be covered with these blooms giving the entire thing a wild haze of color that resembles some sort of Jimmy Hendrix-inspired trip involving illegal substances.  Yeah it’s that intense, and completely worth it.  The reason a fringe bush is included is because it is almost drought-immune once planted and established, shears into an excellent hedge and with time can get up to 6’ tall in some varieties making a gorgeous border shrub. All you need to do, is settle it in, give it decent soil with good drainage, and once established occasionally prune to shape it.

Scabiosa columbaria – Pincushion Flower,  Zones 3-8
I admit this one isn't in bloom but if you type in scabiosa in google you'll see why it's liked.

Scabiosa, probably has the worst Latin name ever, I honestly can’t get past the word ‘scab’. Either it was named by a person named that or some union-busting scabs picked the name; yours truly has not bothered to look to far into it.  Its common name is Pincushion Flower and once you’ve seen the blooms the common name makes perfect sense. The flowers are borne on 12” stalks typically and form clusters that do resemble pin cushions in a nice shade of blue. Newer varieties include white, purple, deep red, pink and even a shade that resembles black. The real reward to using scabiosa is the wide variety of butterflies it tends to attract. Now for Xeriscaping the scabiosa is tougher then it looks as it has similar durability as can be found in cone flowers but this comes at one requirement, better soil. Once you meet that soil requirement, you can use scabiosa in Xeriscaping plantings for its unique flower shape, and its relative drought resistance.

That does it for this episode of lost in the farmer’s market, I know it was a long one with a brief delay but I hope it was useful and informative.  Next week we will have another triple Xeriscaping plant group that dips into the vegetable and fruit side of the topic. Additionally the sub topic will continue on with the bit about what to do when you’ve lost your crop to insect pest damage and how to boost growth towards that rapid harvest of your efforts. 

Thank you again for reading, and as always folks keep ‘em growing!

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