Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Double your posting, double your plants!

Welcome back to another episode of Lost in the Farmers Market. 

As you may have seen today has had a double post, the earlier one is for  the weekend before last and this one is for the weekend just passed. Unfortunately it was course work that bogged me down so much the posts just never made it on time. But that aside talk about strange, as we head towards election day, as it turns out those who early voted may decide the out come in several states as sandy has pummeled the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey & Connecticut). While I wont get into the politics I will say this;  folks if you have not already then please go out and vote. 

I might also add that the erratic behavior of the latest hurricane literally puts another feather in the cap for the argument regarding the realities of climate change. The hurricane season seems to be getting longer, and the storms more devastating. We also are coming off a year with the highest temperatures and longest biggest drought in quite some time. I know that for some of you reading what has been said is  pretty much preaching to the proverbial choir. But for the rest of you considering climate change I urge you to look at the temperature records available through he USDA as well as the drought records and see if you cant reconsider what you thought you knew. With that said time to get off the soap box and back into the fields!

In terms of today’s trio of plants we have the Asphodeloideae family, best known for it’s two most famous members Aloe and Kniphofia (red hot poker). However for the purposes of the trio in this episode I am referring to Aloe, Gasteria and Haworthia and their assorted hybrids. In the plant trade occasionally you will see man-made or natural crosses of similar plants however the three plants noted above can produce hybrids through natural crosses if given the opportunity. What makes these three genus of house plants interesting is their ability to photosynthesize using CAM photosynthesis. Now for those of you who missed the last post CAM photosynthesis is noted as the following.

“CAM or Crassulacean Acid Metabolism, the plant stores carbon dioxide in an acid form before it is used in photosynthesis. CAM is commonly seen in the crassula family which includes the Jade Plant. This form of photosynthesis is incredibly efficient and allows the plant to metabolize the carbonic acids whenever the environmental conditions favor thus allowing a plant to survive arid conditions for long periods.”

What this means is that all three plants are incredibly durable versus drought and heat, and thus do not tolerate being wet for any long period of time. Also it means they benefit from having a poor but well drained soil as well as being pot bound as they tend to both offset and bloom more frequently when cramped. Consider all three as succulents and not cactus because because they lack several critical features that differentiate the two. As the old rule goes, ‘All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti.’ 

Here comes the brief biology lesson for today’s post. Since it is clear that cacti are succulent but succulents are not cacti what makes them different. First off cactus generally belong to the family Cactaceae where as succulents come from a number of families. Additionally in the case of cactus the spines are directly attached to the individual stem segments which respectively are called pads. In cacti the pads often fill a mixture of the role of leaf and stem as true leaves in their case have been replaced by the spines and the finer smaller spines known as glochids. I might also add that the vast majority if not all cacti are endemic to the Americas, where as succulents can be found on almost every landmass in some form or shape. I might also add a bit from personal experience, I have successfully grown Opuntia microdasys ‘Teddy Bear’ out doors in northern New Jersey for several years in the past. Despite this I have never successfully grown any succulent species outdoors in  the same conditions all year long.

The Aloe Genus

The aloe family is best known for Medicinal Aloe which now is found in some amount in medical supplies lotions and anything generally used to treat skin ailments. What is often ignored is that the aloe family is a large and diverse group of succulents that have varied and unique shapes and forms most of which are considered tender perennials in the south east and absolute house plants in the north east. A prime example of the variability of aloes can bee seen with the below pictures of traditional medicinal aloe and an ornamental aloe species.

Aloe vera – Medicinal Aloe
 I might add aloe is one of those odd plants where the succulent top of the plant holds so much moisture on average that the above ground growth is often heavier then anything in the pot below. With age they can become quite top-heavy. If there's ever a burn injury at the ranch we are completely prepared!

Aloe quicksilver x rare flare – Silver Ridge Aloe
The Silver Ridge aloe is a ornamental type of aloe that is incredibly neglect and drought tolerant. I have had this specimen for about two years. Since I've had it it's needed  one re-potting and it filled the original pot with offsets to the extent it it became impossible to water from above. I eventually had to dunk the plant, pot and all in a bucket of water until I stopped hearing bubbles and let it drain to water it every month or so.

The flower of the Silver ridge aloe.

Aloe haworthioides Var. aurantiaca - Faux Haworthia
Aloe-Haworthia hybrids are not commonly seen in the trade due to incorrect identification and possibly the lack of interest. Even so from a biological standpoint you can see the aloe influences in the especially fat  stems which are a clear aloe genetic influence. The Haworthia genetics are visible in the little white dots, and soft spines spread across the stems. Also the sharply triangular shape of the leaves and the relative lack of leaf size and length are both clear haworthia heritage effects.

The Gasteria Genus

Gasteria derives its name from the unusual shape fo the flowers which resembles little stomachs roughly. The name is in part due to the pink coloration of the flowers and the actual curved shapes. In respects Gasteria is incredibly slow-growing, absolutely intolerant of wet soil but easy to care for. Only one member of the gasteria family (G. batesiana) is noted for any medical usage. I might add that the medicinal species of gasteria is almost extinct in its native range and may only be found in commercial propagation. Gasteria are often known as a whole under the names ‘cow-tongue cactus’, ‘Lawyer’s Tongue’, ‘Mother-in-law’s tongue’ and ‘ox-tongue’.

Gasteria pillansii var. pillansii - Ox Tongue

 This is a gasteria that has been int he collection for about three years, it came from a  cutting acquired through Fayetteville Technical Community College's Horticultural program. Admittedly int hat time it has grown just a few inches at best and the small offets near the base of the parent plant appeared late last year. As far as house plants go, gasteria seems to take whatever it gets. I barely water it, it gets virtually no fertilizer, and it seems not to care. I might add it requires so little that the plant that shared it's pot has long since died and the gasteria is moving along as if it was never there.

Gasteria x Aloe ‘Green Gold‘ - Gasteraloe
 As noted in the picture info this plant is a Gatsteria Aloe hybrid produced by Altman Plants and bought at bLowes from the succulent plant rack.  I've only had it in the collection for about two months, and re-potted it a few weeks ago into the clay pot you see above. As far as I can tell from the gasteria genetics side of things the speckling on the leaves, and sloe growth rate plus the seeming lack of offsets are what it inherited from the cross. On the aloe side of it's genetics it seems to have gotten a rosette form where leaves emerge in a loose radial arrangement. Additionally the swollen stems of the aloe half of the cross as well as their general shape seems to have trumped a lot of the gasteria genetics. Time will tell what this hybrid becomes.

The Haworthia Genus

The first thing to know is that the Haworthia family is named in honor of Adrian Hardy Haworth (1768-1883). The haworthia family is physically shaped a lot like the aloes and some of the gasteria family.  Much like the other two groups the haworthias are succulents that prefer soil with excellent drainage and will not tolerate being wet for long periods. Not surprisingly at least one species of Haworththia (H. maxima) is noted for being used as a skin softener in its native country.
The most common example of this plant species in the trade is Zebra plant or Haworthia attenuata which can be found in most house plant racks in most stores. In fact it looks a lot like faux Haworthia  but you can type in the latin name and find images of it by the boat load on the internet.
Haworthia cuspidate - Star Window Plant – (cross of H. retusa and H. cymbiformis)
The star window plant is without a doubt one of my long standing favorite haworthias. Not only is it largely care free but it blooms a few times a year and is a mobile biology lesson on biological diversity and evolution. This plant has evolved to have little windows on it's leaf tips to allow sunlight to shine in at a set angle to maximize photosynthesis using the least external surface area. This adaptation means that it is incredibly water-efficient because there is little external surface area where photosynthesis is going on proportionately thus less gas exchange and evaporation of moisture.

Haworthia resendeana - [No Common Name]
Occasionally in the plant trade you will find plants who have  Latin name but no common name and this haworthia is one of them. While theorized to be some kind of H. coarcata hybrid there is no certain information to prove of debunk the theory. As noted in the picture information this specimen albeit a lot smaller survived the trip from New Jersey to North Carolina some years ago and has put on incredible growth requiring several transplanting operations. As far as care is concerned it is somewhat slow growing, largely neglect proofed and responds well to fertilizer.

So with that said this wraps up October’s episodes of Lost in the farmers Market.  I know the talk of house plants is not normal for the time of year however I thought it was a unique topic. Since the holidays are rapidly approaching some of this might make your selection of gifts a bit easier for those gardening-inclined people you know. In the meanwhile  remember that we are approaching the last weeks of the year in which you can plant your crops, if you have not done it do it now.

So remember folks, Keep ‘em Growin!

Always something out there

Here we are at the juncture of summer and fall; up north there is no doubt that the deciduous trees are already showing color. In the south I can clearly see the dog woods are turning their own special shades of red. That observation brings us to the annual fall showcase. As those of you who live in the south east know the tree foliage is somewhat lacking more often then not due to the large numbers of conifers. Honestly as much as I appreciate conifers and their role in the biology, they are somewhat lacking in the color department simply because they are some special shade of green all year long. Keep in mind the golden color of pine straw it self is its own seasonal color that I honestly appreciate in the landscape for what it is and does.

 Portulacaria afra - Elephant bush

In the category of unique plants you never knew you can eat today we have a very cool entry and it’s a common house plant that you can get at places at like ‘bLowes’ and ‘Home Despot’.  Perhaps some of you have heard of Portulacaria afra. This plant’s common names include elephant bush or mini-jade plant. The former name comes from the fact that in its native habitat this plant can get quite large and is in fact eaten by elephants in the wild. The second common name stems from the resemblance to Jade plants which belong in a different family. I might also add it has a number of names in its native habitat of Africa such as iGwanishe/iGwanitsha (Xosha name), isAmbilane/isiCococo/inDibili-enkula/umDondwane/iNdibili/iNtelezi(Zulu names), also it’s Afrikaans name is Spekboom which means porkwood, bacontree or fat tree.

What makes this plant interesting from a biological standpoint is that it unlike other plants performs the processes of photosynthesis. Unlike a number of other plants whom perform the functions of photosynthesis primarily during the daylight hours Elephant bush performs what is called C4 photosynthesis. Keep in mind for plants there are three basic methods of photosynthesis, CAM, C3 and C4. CAM or Crassulacean Acid Metabolism, the plant stores carbon dioxide in an acid form before it is used in photosynthesis. CAM is commonly seen in the crassula family which includes the Jade Plant. This form of photosynthesis is incredibly efficient and allows the plant to metabolize the carbonic acids whenever the environmental conditions favor thus allowing a plant to survive arid conditions for long periods. C3 photosynthesis is named as it is because it incorporates carbon dioxide into a 3-carbon compound. C3 is the method by which most plants perform photosynthesis.  Now C4 photosynthesis is different because it bonds carbon dioxide into a 4-carbon compound and the photosynthesis takes place internally as opposed to in cells near the surface of the plant’s leaves. For note this is why the leaves on elephant bush seem to be somewhat translucent. Other plants in this group include Corn, and most of the expressly summer annual plants. In short, C4 is very efficient and allow the plant to survive high light intensities and it makes the plants extremely water-efficient.

Beyond the biology, why this plant is a feature in today’s overdue post is simply because we at LITFM as noted above found out rather recently that it is safely edible. After some checking as it turns out elephant bush is a relative of Purselane. Much like Purselane and Moss Rose the fleshy leaves are edible. In fact there are two species of purselane found as common lawn weeds that are edible and were covered in detail during the ‘weeds you can eat’ series earlier in the year. I know what some of you might be thinking ‘Ugh! ok I can eat it…does it taste any good?’ The answer is simple, it is an interesting taste, the leaves are crunchy, a bit sour and they have a taste similar to some forms of mesclun mix. If it were mixed with a conventional salad or paired with a sweet salad dressing such as walnut vinaigrette it would be quite good as a fresh green. From what I have been able to find most aspects of it nutritional value indicate it is a low protein (2.3g per 100g of leaves). It is noted that the leaves generally contain B1, B2, C, Carotene, Potassium salts, glucose, Cellulose, calcium, Phosphorous and iron. The list of nutrients in the leaves goes on but the aforementioned ones are in the highest amounts.

It is important to note this information only refers to the non-variegated types and before you try this plant in any quantity you should test taste a single leaf on an empty stomach to check for allergic reactions. Also there is another plant called the elephant bush which is often grafted to P. afra root stock. This ‘name-alike’ plant is known as Ceraria namaquensis and it is not edible.

 Eriobotrya japonica - Loquat

I thought I'd post a picture of the loquat plant in full bloom. This is one of the sustainable 365 plants I've spoken of before in both lecture and blog post. Generally a loquat will bloom sometime between late September through early November and be full of fruit somewhere between late February and April. The fruits are small and orange with relatively large seeds but the flavor is tart and sweet and very strong given the size of the fruit. This is one of the few winter-ripening fruits that works especially well in North Carolina. I might add these plants with time can take on a tree form and are evergreen, so in landscape use they present evergreen exotic foliage. I might add this plant is not related to the Kumquat which is a citrus under the scientific name of Citrus japonica.


The above to pictures serve as a reminder, just because it has cooled down does not mean some pests are not out causing mischief. This was the last rainbow bell pepper of the season and as you can see it was all set to take on color and possible be the largest. If the top photo is any indicator it would have been a purple color. The second picture shows where a slug chewed away where the fleshy parts of the green cap over the fruit. The worst part about this damage is that the slug usually stops after effectively eating that part and ruining the fruit. Remember, beer traps and diatomaeceous Earth are your most effective way to handle slug problems.

 Lastly we have a picture of Siam Thai Queen Basil in full bloom Most gardeners seem to pass up siam basil  possibly because they are not familiar with it or, do not know how to cook with it. I first encountered this variety of basil in Canada at a Vietnamese restaurant in Montreal. The restaurant used it as flavorful addition to the noodle soups they served. Basically they would stick a 2" sprig in the soup so the warm broth would volatilize the essential oils of the basil. The first thing you would smell when you were served your soup was this basil. Compared to Sweet basil it has a more licorice-anise effect but it does not linger on the palate long enough to be overwhelming. In North Carolina this basil will self-slow itself if given the chance but it is not a perennial..

That said this brings to an end a greatly belated episode of lost in the farmer’s market. In the next post which will be coming shortly, we will be covering a trio of house plants that are related each of which has a medicinal use. Thank you for reading and for bearing with us and the academia-related posting delays finals are coming soon so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

As always Keep ‘em Growing!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cold-Weather Projects


The wonderment of autumn is best seen through a lens that only the rapid color change of deciduous foliage can cast. Here we are with another episode of Lost In the Farmers market, a web log devoted to the promotion of good horticultural practices, and the expansion of variety in the average garden. Today we have a couple of really cool things to cover I think you will find this episode of LITFM both useful and interesting.

Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre’ – Afghan Fig

Sometimes in the trade you see something in the landscape that strikes you so greatly for reasons untold that you decide you absolutely must have one. In that light it becomes easy to understand the early plant craze known as tulip mania. I would not have known about Afghan figs had I not seen a specimen of the normal green type at Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh North Carolina late last year. The Afghan fig at Raulston had small unripe fruit on it proving that it was both vigorous and productive. Inevitably I had to track down the horticultural director to find out where they had gotten their plants from. They were incredibly helpful in giving me the contact information for their supplier Cistus Nursery in Portland Oregon.  As soon as I have more detailed information I will post it here, the two examples of this plant in the test gardens will no doubt prove interesting.

Eupatorium coelestinum – Mist Flower, Hardy Ageratum

This is a Hardy Ageratum, one of the many members of the Eupatorium family. This group of generally perennial herbs is best known by its most famous member Joe Pye Weed. For note these plants get their name Eupatorium from Mithridates Eupator the king of Pontus. In the case the Hardy Ageratum as the picture shows these perennials outwardly resemble common annual ageratum. The key difference is that the hardy ageratum tends to grow up to three feet tall and form dense herbaceous colonies. Hardy Ageratum also spreads by underground stolons and can colonize in even the poorest soils. This particular hardy ageratum is well noted for its drought tolerance and blight cheery sky blue blooms starting in summer through fall. I might add and this warrants further testing, Fire Ants seem not to want to colonize where this plant grows. Once the hardy ageratum began to grow around the compost pile the pile stopped having ant problems.

Eupatorium greggii - West Texas Mist Flower

This member of the Eupatorium family is a deciduous perennial like most eupatorium it spreads by seed and underground runners forming impressive seasonal colonies. The bloom resembles Ageratum but is limited to appearing in late-summer.  What makes this species interesting is that it has dark colored stems and bright green leaves with deeply serrated margins. The effect is a striking plant on par for use with Russian Sage, minus some unwanted aspects such as being borderline invasive.

With all that plant geek action covered here is the main topic. Now you may have heard that I make extensive use of raised beds in the test gardens. All the raised beds are supported by stone work which costs more in the short term but allows an extension of the growing season thus paying back the investments rather heavily. The main reasons for the raised beds are the ability to limit erosion, maintain soil fertility and quality and, it makes spotting my produce much easier. Plus, *knocks on wood* the voles seem unable to find my crops in raised beds. Some of you out there have heard of the high production beds, these were the first beds to be cut and the most heavily refined since their construction. Below is a picture of how they appeared just before today’s project began.

This is a picture of the high production beds.  Just outside the picture is high production bed #3 which will remain separate for the purpose of this project. On the right is HP1, in the middle is the asparagus bed and on the left is HP2.

The first steps to the process of combining and rebuilding these beds are to clear the remaining summer crops, harvest what you can and remove the residual mulch. After the mulch and crops are gone I carefully dug up the asparagus crowns and, set them aside on a tarp. If you are unable to replant the crowns the same day, you can put them in a bucket filled with water until you are able to replant them.

The next step is to remove stone work as needed, and lay bricks as needed to connect the beds.  At this point once one connecting wall is installed you can begin to move in the first loads of fill soil. In this case I am using raw compost because it has enough nutrient to feed the asparagus over time.

Following the last step is the continued filling of the middle area. At some point you can lay the opposite wall, and begin to add compost by shovel while smoothing the soil with a spring rake or hard rake as needed.

In the case of this project I mounded the compost up, and planted the asparagus in the peak of the mound. This is where the use of raw compost is important; raw compost still has coarse materials that can aid in countering soil erosion until the asparagus recovers.

In this picture, the mound is covered with 20 pounds of poultry manure compost. The addition of the manure is there to both increase soil fertility and promote rapid growth of the asparagus crowns.

After the manure is applied 2” of topsoil is scraped off the existing HP1 & HP2 beds and placed over the surface of the mound.

Next is the addition of 60 pounds of composted poultry manure over the entire soil surface area. According to the application information it says 10 pounds per hundred square feet.  The additional amounts are to compensate for several years of heavy feeding crops and to reduce the need for soil amendments and fertilizers next year.

In this picture the soil is smoothed out and the final soil amendment is being applied. I'm using organic composted turkey manure which is a much more sustainable soil conditioner then the wood ship fines you see at big box stores.

Special attention has been paid to the contours of the mound and keeping the soil as level as possible. The new dimensions of the bed are 8’ 4 ¼” by 8’ 4 ¼”  by 14" tall on average which amounts to 60.06 square feet and 71.33 cubic feet.

The next to last step is the planting of seasonal crops. In this case 27 lettuce plants, 9 collard plants, 5 red cabbage plants, and 20 mustard plants have been planted.  All of these seasonal plants are biennial which means a relatively consistent source of greens from fall through mid-spring.

 The final steps in this project are to water the plants individually and then lay pine straw.            
After the pine straw is applied the bed is watered heavily using a rain wand to both settle the soil and ensure uniformly moist soil strata.

That is how you combine existing beds with an eye for heavy productivity. This method will not be for everyone, but the rewards are worth it, for a few short hours work you get months of food production which can put a size able dent in your grocery bill. In our next episode we will cover more of the cold season preparations, and how to save seed since by now you no doubt have some ready to collect.  Remember you have about three to four weeks before it’s just about too late to plant cold-season crops, if you are going to start don’t delay.

Until next time; Keep ‘em growing!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Autumn Harvest

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In The Farmer’s Market where we at the test gardens look into another one of the horticultural issues of the day. Today however the conversation is about winter preparations and cold season produce. Our gardener friends up north have already seen 40 degree temperatures and we in the south know the temperature is soon to start dropping and say low. So what is a gardener to do about the theoretical bleakness of winter? Well the answer is clear, now is the time to get those last additions to the garden in the ground. Last week we covered the things you might want to consider when planting but I don’t think we covered it all so today we are going to cover that but first a slight note about the plants of note and an important update.


You know what’s funny, under the guise of company supply inspection I get to travel the state looking into what’s new. About half the time the plant geek in me wins out and I have to explain why I bought to much of this and that and thus, often some portion of my own pay is in plants. Those outside the gardening zone would call this crazy but you know, getting a new plant, seeing it succeed and then passing the cuttings on to others is the real reward of this job. Seeing another gardener’s face light up as they realize that this plant is the thing they wanted but never knew existed is what makes every penny, and every minute worth it. Today I have three plants in their absolute best for your viewing enjoyment. Two of the plants I have spoke of before but lacked good images to show you. The other plant is new but I think you will enjoy it.

Solanum quitoense – Bed of Nails

I once joked that the bed of nails is the exact plant you place under your teenage daughter's bed room window to ward off unwanted suitors, and now you see why. This member of the Nightshade family is made of thorns, and only gets worse once it dies as the thorns get harder and puncture clothing more readily. The fruit is edible and is said to have a pleasant citrus flavor. It's cousin, the Devil's Thorn may or may not bear edible fruit but does have bright orange-red spines and both are excellent low-care plants.

Heurnia zebrina – Life Saver Plant

Also here is a close up picture of a bloom from a life saver plant, its bloom was covered over the winter of 2012 but the plant was refusing to cooperate. As you can see it got its name for the red ring which is about the same size as the candy, not the floatation device. One of the things to remember when you have these guys is to water sparingly! They hate wet feet and will get rot at a glance especially during the winter so lay off on water in general. For note, these are related to stapellia, which is known as carrion flower but life saver plant does not have any aroma at all.

Cyrtomium falcatum Rochfordianum - Japanese Holly Fern

For a real-life view of these guys check the Fayetteville Technical Community College main campus, these ferns are tucked into corners all over the place. They handle traffic abuse, neglect and sun rather well. As for your own use treat them as somewhat hardier then average ferns and give them semi-shade or sun with morning or afternoon shade and make sure to enrich the soil then are to live in moderately before planting. These ferns are semi-evergreen depending on exposure.

This is a picture of the sweet potato bed, as you can see it’s a brick-walled raised bed. The bed’s total height is 14” tall and is 1’ 4”wide by 4’ 6” long. At the start of this year four sweet potato tubers totaling 10 ounces were planted in the sides while one 3 ounce Jerusalem Artichoke tuber was planted in the center.

 In the case of the test gardens our tuber beds are designed to be long and narrow with the bricks being laid dry without any mortar. As shown in the picture it facilitates harvesting, basically our first step is to lay out a tarp to catch spilled soil, and then remove the bricks in one side of the wall revealing the soil within.

 The second step is to cut away any above-ground vegetative growth and remove any anti-critter protections. In our case we lay bits of chicken wire over the bed and leave them there over the season until harvest. The sweet potatoes can grow right through the wire and so can the artichokes but squirrels can’t get at your tubers after planting. Once the top-growth and protections are gone you are free to dig gently with a trowel for your tubers.

This is an image of the excavated Jerusalem Artichoke‘s tubers before the dirt is shaken off, as you can see the tubers radiate outward neatly from the central mass but need a lot of cleaning.

 This is the resulting tuber harvest after the bulk of the soil is shaken off, as you can see there is a marked difference in yields between the two tuber crops. I’ll note the results a b it later but, the cleaning of the tubers is more about shaking and gently brushing off the obvious dirt. If you try to grow tuber crops you will have to wash them with water after to get all the soil and grit off.

At the test gardens we run a 365 day production schedule,  so the tuber bed come October and after the harvest is converted into a cold-seasonal bed. The bricks are replaced and 4” of removed soil is returned to the bed. After the soil is replaced, a light layer of poultry manure is added and then another 2” of excavated soil. This process is repeated until the soil level is close to the original depth before the harvest.

 The final phase in this operation is to plant the actual cold crops. In this case we have four red cabbage plants, which are one of the many cold crops grown in the test gardens.
It is very important to note that crop rotation is very important, monoculture or the intentional cultivation of the same crop in one area over a long period is generally a bad idea as most of our common food plants are being grown outside of their native regions. The perpetual propagation of a single crop depletes the soil over time and promotes the arrival of specific diseases and pests that can hurt your yield over time. I rotate crop positions and types multiple times in every year this process is as much to lower pest problems as is it is to test out new plant varieties that come to my attention. Last year the cold crop was Cabbage-Collards which performed incredibly, before that it was lettuce, next year I’m considering beets, Chard or heirloom carrots. As a final note the chicken wire protections were replaced temporarily until I could get some pine straw. Both work equally well but I prefer using longleaf pine straw as it lasts longer, seems to keep weeds down and of course as the property has five white pines, one loblolly and a longleaf pine most of our straw is home grown.

As a final note for this incredibly late post, in the tuber trials of 2012, Jerusalem Artichokes were the clear winner, in productivity, drought resistance and auxiliary advantages (food for pollinators). At a glance here are the harvest results:

| Crop         | # | ST Wgt.  | Harvest weight |  
| Sweet Potato | 4 |10 ounces | 3lbs, 15oz     |
| J. Artichoke | 1 | 3 ounces | 5lbs, 13oz     |

For comparison last year the sweet potatoes produced 7.5 pounds of tubers, using three seed tubers weighing 4 ounces each which amounts to 10 ounces of produce per 1 ounce of seed tuber. In a nutshell maybe this year’s sweet potato crop had a bad year, but, it is clear for the virtues of a lack of maintenance ease of propagation that the Jerusalem Artichoke is at least at this moment superior in sheer volume of food production. For cultivation purposes it is important to note that each sunchoke seed tuber has the potential to produce upwards of 200 new tubers in a given six-month growing year. In our case it produced 113 new tubers assuming we harvested all of them. It is very important to grow this crop in high raised beds or in large pots such as half-whiskey barrels. The one problem with the Jerusalem Artichoke is it’s potential to get loose of the fields that grow it and become a problem. While it isn’t nearly as bad as some species of mint or bamboo, it can become a problem warranting multiple uses of herbicide in the warmer climates.
At the least it warrants a new test for next year and, as soon as I have some good recipes for you I’ll post them up here.

As one of my landscaping clients mentioned, there was at one point a scam going around where farmers were persuaded to invest in planting Jerusalem Artichokes as the hunger-ending crop of the future. In theory given the care and culture requirements this could be true in other parts of the world. In the USA however, it is a specialty and or luxury item seen in places like Whole Foods, Kings and, Harris Teeter type supermarkets. My own seed tuber came from a package of tubers bought at the latter supermarket for 5.00 a pound before taxes. Basically there is a market for this crop, but it’s a luxury item not unlike Shitake mushrooms, black radishes and all the Asian-type cabbages. It is my thought that growing this crop for production means that it would need to be sold through unique margins such as farmer’s Markets or high-end supermarkets. The regular supermarkets such as Aldi’s, Pathmark, Food Lion, IGA, Stop & Shop, A&P and so on all might follow in the trend later but not yet.

As a final note, why would one want to eat a Jerusalem artichoke? The answer lay in its unique composition. The Jerusalem Artichoke is a member of the sunflower family and is known by it’s Latin name Helianthus tuberosus. The tubers when sliced thin can add extra flavor to salads, while if steamed are as good as potatoes with pepper salt and butter. Given the type of carbohydrates it is important to note that it takes less cooking to prepare Jerusalem artichokes in general and they require no peeling which makes for an interesting variant on mashed potatoes. In terms of flavor, the Jerusalem Artichoke is sweeter, and has a nutty flavor in comparison to white potatoes but to the unknowing, this may not be noticed as the tuber itself but the seasonings.

So this tops off another episode of Lost in the farmer’s Market. Our next episode covers the process of bed merging, we will have step-by-step photographic instructions on what it takes to combine existing beds.  Also remember, you have roughly three more weeks to get your cold crops in the ground so if you want cold season plants don’t dawdle the weather is already acting up.   

As always folks, Keep ‘em Growing!