Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer Xeriscaping Series: Part 7 of 9

Welcome back to another edition of Lost In the Farmer’s Market, today we are covering the seventh part of the Summer Xeriscaping series which covers plants that are Xeriscaping-compatible but generally don’t have that typical desert plant stigma. Additionally as with the other parts of this series we have a small section called natural wonders, and a subtopic which in this case continues the theme of what to do when you loose your crop.

First off I thought I’d show you this guy a common cicada, these are the critters best known for making a lot of noise in the trees during the summer.

 This cicada is demonstrating his or her preparedness for a new Olympic sport; Anti-Predation Camouflage.

A side shot of the same cicada so you can see the full body shape note the seeming lack of mouth parts. Cicadas only have a straw-like mouth part to feed on liquids such as nectar.

Now there are several species of cicada each with a differing life cycle, the one in the picture above is of the type that has a one year life cycle. The cicadas that get the most attention are those that emerge every fourteen or so years causing a nuisance in both sheer volume and noise. Thankfully cicadas overall are totally harmless as the adults don’t eat and generally spend their remaining time seeking a mate and making noise. Also cicadas are a important food source for certain types of wasp and birds in particular.

The second natural critter is this guy, a medium-sized dragon fly.

 This dragonfly sat there  unlike most and let me get close enough to snap this shot, they are in credible fliers with excellent eyesight by insect standards.

 The same dragon fly stayed still allowing this frontal shot from the same close range as the last one, despite what it looks like dragonflies do not have stingers and use their legs to capture their prey after which their chewing mouth-parts are used to eat whatever they catch.

A mere eight inches below the caterpillars were eating the same fennel plants still and one, had already formed a chrysalis.

 Normally I’d not even bother but this one perched atop the chewed tops of the fennel plant that the caterpillars from last week defoliated. But there’s more to that, as of late I’ve been seeing lots of these guys flying about. Dragonflies are unique insects that have a voracious appetite for the one insect we hate the most, mosquitoes and often inhabit the same sort of environment. It is worth saying that yes the test gardens have regular dragonfly visitors but this year it seems to have permanent residents.  Recently the CDC released a map of the states in which West Nile Virus and thus mosquito populations are on the rise as seen here.

This map can be found at full size on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website.

This is the United States Department of Agriculture Drought map as updated on August 7th 2012. You can find it in it's real PDA format on their website,

The most recent drought map seems to suggest a bit more if you notice a lot of the places where west nile is worst seem to also be areas hit by severe drought. The places where there is no drought (knock on wood) have reduced amounts or none of the virus problems.  It could be a coincidence, or it could be a sign of the times,  it is up to you to decide.

Now about losing your crop, it is a heart breaking event to realize that not only is that disease or pest situation so bad you have to cut down your own crops. If you consider that a crop loss tends to occur randomly and you may have a portion of a season left; you then are stuck deciding if you should try again for the short term or let the fields lay fallow and try again for fall planting. In prior editions we covered how to clear your affected crops, and what to do in the instance of containerized gardens to prepare for a shortened season and heavy productivity. 

Continuing that trend is the next step, once you’ve restarted your garden, what do you do to keep it on track. The first thing you must remember is that when you have to restart a crop in a short season is that you essentially are racing against time. As you saw in the case of my own container gardens, three weeks ago I destroyed the effected crops, then for a week let the pots and stakes sit to allow any remaining pests or larva die off as their food source was eliminated. Additionally all soil was disposed of as top soil in an area of the garden far away from any food crops. The pots were refilled with new topsoil that was enhanced with poultry manure and new crops were planted.  This brings us to the matter of what to do now, since the summer season will be coming to an end at least in temperature somewhere in September it means we have about six weeks, so the only option now is to fertilize.

In typical greenhouse production operations plants for consumption are fertilized at some level every time they are watered which in purpose counteracts limits of a growing season and the lack of nutrient in the sterile potting mixes. For your purposes if you utilized an manure enriched soil when restarting your crop and picked short-season crops, fertilizing twice a week with a nitrogen-rich water soluble fertilizer is the way tp get your crops to maturity in just a few weeks short. I recommend using an OMRI listed fish emulsion fertilizer (5-1-1) at the suggested rates on the packaging. The effect of this is to prompt your plants to reach their maturity faster then normal. In essence you would be borrowing a trick from the agri-business to make turnaround shorter without the damaging use of petroleum or chemical products while reaping a decent crop in the short term.

The advantage to this method is that vigorous plants that are well fed tend to be able to fend off most casual diseases and pests by themselves.  Now that the aspect of accelerating production has been covered next is the main topic for today.

 You can see two varieties of Pomegranate here, the bigger one to the rear is 'Angel Red' and the lower one with the branch reaching towards the bottom of the picture is 'Nana' or dwarf pomegranate.

Here is a close up if a leaf on the Angel Red Pomegranate as you can see the glossy leaves are oval and thus are well suited to providing less resistance to wind and presenting less surface area to the sun thus loosing less water to dessication.

Punica granatum – Pomegranate, Zone 6b-11

The noble Pomegranate, is one of those fruit-producing plants where the plant it self is virtually never seen, and yet the odd fruit is now in all sorts of beverages and in the produce aisle at the supermarket. If you have never eaten a pomegranate you have missed out; it is a wonderfully sweet and tart fruit and if you eat the seeds it also has this nice almond-like nutty flavor. No wonder the Greeks and Romans held it in similar regard to the fig what other fruit was good for you but also provided respectable levels of protein. As far as Xeriscaping goes pomegranate bushes are elegant looking well contained plants with rounded narrow leaves that resemble most narrow leaved evergreens in function. Obviously the leaves in this case are far larger, more rounded and in come cultivars have a reddish-bronze coloration when newly opened. What makes the pomegranate a Xeriscaping plant is its sheer resistance to drought. A prime case of this can be found in Fayetteville at the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens. The pomegranate specimen there produces a decent yield of fruit yearly but receives no irrigation other then what nature provides. Additionally I might add Pomegranates have virtually no pest problems in this climate and require little other then a little additional care post installation.

The Sweet Potato vegetable has heart shaped leaves and green or red stems, the ornamental has been hybridized to have a wide variety of leaf shapes and foliage colors.

Ipomoea batatas – Sweet Potato/ Potato Vine

The sweet potato in its two common forms, the ornamental annual and the annual vegetable is an efficient plant for Xeriscaping.  What makes the sweet potato efficient Is it’s resistance to pests and disease while bearing a strong tolerance to heat and drought. Both types of sweet potatoes produce tubers and both types of tubers are edible, sweet potatoes are a good source of numerous nutrients and the heart of the plants ability to withstand drought. The tubers of the potato vine are generally considered as a flavorless famine food and play less of a role in drought resistance. Ornamental potato vine instead relies heavily on its ability to root in soil where its vines touch to counter act the effects of drought and heat. Both plants are excellent ground covers which can choke out weeds with ruthless ability; even fire ants seem not to want to deal with soil where these plants are growing. The sweet potato vegetable is a good  long-season edible plant for Xeriscaping as it alone when grown under taller crops in tall raised beds can reduce the amount of time you spend weeding and help hold mulch in place reducing erosion and the need to water. The ornamental form respectively can be used in poor soils to again prevent erosion, reduce water runoff, and if need be add color to an otherwise unappealing area. As a final bonus did I mention, that both can be cultivated by stem cuttings, soil layering or saving tubers?  This means you could continually grow crops from little bits of last year’s crops reaping great rewards for little investments. In the test gardens 4-8 ounce tubers repeatedly yielded upwards of three pounds of food crops and the mother tuber could be recycled over several years paying for it self in about two years.

 Jerusalem Artichokes have a pretty flower that absolutely identifies their heritage and relation to the sunflower family.

 Much like traditional sunflowers Jerusalem Artichokes also display heliotropism, that is, their flowers naturally tilt to follow the path of the sun, even through cloud cover they still do this. Sunflowers as a whole might be the most cheerful plants you can grow.

Helianthus tuberosus – Jerusalem Artichoke

Jerusalem artichoke is one of those plants that is not as well known as it probably should be. As far as Xeriscaping plants go, in this years test gardens it has needed the absolute least water of any food-producing non-perennial plant in the entire garden.  In case the Latin name does not seem familiar the Jerusalem artichoke (aka ‘sunchoke’) is a member of the sunflower family and bears no relation to the actual artichoke family (Cynara).  Healthy stands of this plant can readily reach heights of six or more feet per individual tuber planted with a horizontal spread of three to four feet. Since it is in the Aster family its flowers are attractive to most pollinators especially assorted types of bees. Basically what makes this plant so great is that it produces large edible tubers that are an ideal substitute for potatoes minus the sugars and carbohydrates that can pose problems for diabetics. These same tubers are the core essence of its drought tolerance as are the plants trademark fuzzy leaves which greatly reduce desiccation. When grown in raised beds this plant can readily be a wonderful food source to be harvested in the fall when paired with sweet potatoes. Combined the Sweet potatoes act as a ground cover and benefit from the shade cast by the Jerusalem artichoke where as the artichokes benefit from the sweet potatoes ability to block out weed competition. Both plants respond well to fertilizer and shrug off poor soils but won’t tolerate prolonged wetness.

This brings us to an end for this episode of Lost in the farmer's market, next we we will be covering two xeriscaping compatible herbs and another often overlooked vegetable that one can be used in xeriscaping. Also the weekly sub-topic will continue on the same lines with any good things that happen to be caught on camera within the next week.  

As always folks, watch out for the wild weather; thank you for reading and Keep 'em growing!

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