Friday, April 26, 2013

Springtime Changes

Welcome back to another edition of lost in the farmers market where we look into the nature of organic gardening and it’s practicality for self-sustainability. Today is somewhat of a belated double-post. As some of you may know there has quite a bit of busy times over at the test gardens as control of the property has passed to BL2 and by extension LITFM. This of course means that for the first time in history we will be doing tours during the summer and our first on-site Sustainable Neighbors crop mob will be occurring in a few weeks. 

This is the area targeted for the crop mob.
As you can see this patch of earth has lost a lot of its viable topsoil and is in need of some serious repair. Originally those tree roots were buried but compaction and erosion due to vehicle traffic has ruined this area and it is our ambitious goal to recover it with an innovative anti-erosion project. It is my hope that some of you sustainable neighbors in the Fayetteville area can join in on this project when the time comes. I digress on that, the shift on control of the property has had me personally tied up for two weeks straight as soon as the work load lessened it was like spring was showing me that there was light at the end of the tunnel so here is an entourage of spring color for all of you to enjoy.

These are Bird’s Foot Violets. I planted them two years ago and thought they had died. They bloomed for the first time this year.

This is the tiny azalea often seen in the mailbox garden at the front of the property, it was dug early last year and moved to the shady rock garden where it bloomed for the first time.

This is a set of irises given to me by a client who had some to spare during my first year of operations as BL2. They once bloomed as a bicolor, blue and white but have become this pure white. This is the second year they have bloomed.

As promised in an earlier episode, here is a picture of those pincushion flowers planted last year. They came into bloom quite heavily this spring.

The blue columbines awakened late but are making up for lost time as you can see here.

This Coral Bells was a salvaged plant as it was found dumped by the side of the road near one of my client’s houses. I cleaned it up and put in this three gallon nursery pot with some improved soil and it over wintered rather well.

The coral bells is not a part of the shady rock garden and is part of the failed 'Mint hill'.

While not colorful the White Ischia figs broke bud first and already are bearing the largest figs.

Last in the group is the new growth of the Fetterbush in the shady rock garden. For note this is a Leucothoe axillaris, which is not the same as the rainbow fetterbush.

This plant stands as a example of making sure to put the right plant in the right place as it did horribly for three years where it was and then in the shady rock garden it’s multiplied it’s size several times. Much like the azalea mentioned before it’s rewarded me with heavy blooms and in this case dramatic foliage color.

Needless to say spring is a marvelous time it is the renewal of ones own faith in nature and I have to report that the nest in my hanging pansy basket from a earlier post has occupants, at last sighting there were four little eggs in the nest and visual confirmation of some sort of tiny bird possibly a wren. It seems they like that sort of basket and so I’ll leave it in position from here on out.

That last bit aside as some of you may know there was no Urban Farm Day this year, it seems Sustainable Sandhills decided to let the concept go. The good news is that along with Sustainable neighbors I am now going to help man the booth at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market which means the odd and exotic plants as well as copies of the book will be available through that venue. Now due to the odd winter and early spring weather my crops will be available in staggered fashion but if you stop by you can make reservations for items or ask about the status of stuff.

A close up of the bulblets expanding from the stem tips of an Egyptian or Tree Onion aka Allium proliferum. Sadly we are completely sold out of this plant for the time being though more may be available later in the year.
This weekend you can expect to see a LOT of tomato varieties, Angels Trumpet, Vietnamese Coriander, Chinese Foxglove, Flowering Ginger, Betony, Saint Johns Wort and whatever else looks ready to go and gets loaded on the truck on Friday evening! I can tell you this, it’s been a fantastic year for the crops and we went a little overboard with the seed so expect some varieties you may not have ever heard of.

That said the Fayetteville farmer’s market is located at the transportation museum in downtown Fayetteville and runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Sustainable Neighbors is present on Saturdays from 9 am through 1pm or the entire time the market is open. For note I will be keeping the same hours as sustainable neighbors so feel free to stop by and say hi. As a final note, next week the results of the soil test trials will be completed and available here on the blog so stay tuned for that info and as always folks keep ‘em growing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

April Showers and whatnot!

Welcome back to another episode of lost in the farmers market! Despite the gaps in our update schedule we have a good first episode of April for you here and it starts with two cool images from the field. As some of you know half of gardening is finding those odd things that make your garden go from rank and file to masterpiece. Some of these interesting facets of nature though are what comes before the plant emerges.

The wonders of nature can be as complex as a fully grown plant or as simple as these seeds. The Asian Winged Bean has quite interesting bronze and brown colored seeds.

Most people don’t think that calla lilies have any place in the garden, these black calla lilies sure are one of the incredible symbols of spring.

The second item is this guy. I bet some of you out there never thought that you could grow Calla Lilies in this climate as a perennial but you can. This gardener has done so and as you can see this variety is exotic and striking. But beyond the plants is the use of statuary and metalwork in the garden. For many metalwork in the garden means odd statues or fences but for this gardener she has a statue with a interesting sentiment.

I spotted this in a client’s garden just this week and thought it’s hard to argue with that!

Plants and statuary aside there is this bad news from capitol hill. It seems The president assigned the Farmer Assurance Act which in reality should be called the “Mega Corporate GMO force-feeding act” for it’s clear effect on the landscape of the GMO battle. The original article that came to my attention is here at this address below.

I can say this is not a good sign but more so it means we need to be a bit more vigilant about our purchasing and materials. Political maneuvers aside I would like to talk about something that is kind of related, and that is grain. I’ve gotten a few questions about how much area someone might need to grow a crop of a specific grain. After digging through university websites and various growers associations around the United States I’ve finally got an answer for all of you urban farmers out there who want to give it a go.

Corn - For the home owner this average is about 35 lbs per 100 square feet roughly. From that final estimate you can ascertain what a ten square foot plot (3.5 pounds?)might yield if managed well.

Barley - Barley was an easy one; literally it takes 100 square feet to produce 10 pounds of barley grain on average. This space-efficiency means that the average gardener in a 10 square foot garden could be producing a pound that could be stored for winter.

Rice – Rice is a conundrum, we think it requires standing water and yet this is really part of the traditional cultural care to reduce the competition as most weeds cant grow in the standing water. Cultural practices aside you could likely produce a pound of rice with aggressive fertilization practices in a 15 square foot area if you mimic the flooded fields. If you skip on the flooded field effect then you may be able to produce a pound of rice in about ten square feet. For note unlike with dried beans sold at the grocery store, rice sold at the store will not likely sprout as it’s been hulled already.

Wheat – Remember wheat grows best when soil pH is more towards the alkaline side, and then within certain limits of weather. For backyard use a 100 square foot plot might produce about 5-6 pounds of grain. Scaled down, that means a more manageable 10 square foot plot might produce about a little over a half pound of grain in theory. I might add this is calculated for modern wheat varieties, Kamut and the older heritage varieties might have better results.

I hope the grain information helped, all of the numbers are reverse-calculations from numbers on the acre level. Admittedly I’ve never tried to grow grain in the test gardens mostly due to a lack of interest but this doesn’t mean you should not. At the very least corn is very easy to grow and non-GMO varieties are easy enough to get.

Bud break for flowers of a Rabbiteye blueberry.

Initial budbreak is still quite pretty but the later stages are no less attractive.

Final flower emergence on rabbit eye blueberries confirms that they are indeed a member of the Ericaceae group or in english the heath family.
I wanted to include this timed photo of flower emergence on the stand of blueberries at the test gardens. It is normal for rabbiteye blueberries to have emerged by now and they do add a unique color and dorm to the gardens. As noted in an earlier post my blueberries never quite went dormant and seem to have just flatly resumed growing. As far as fruiting plants go, thankfully blueberries are very tolerant and inexpensive for a gardener of any skill level to use. The down side is you need at least two or three to ensure pollination. On the other hand the bumblebees and honey bees love the flowers of the rabbiteye blueberries so, they can be part of your early spring plan for providing food to pollinators. But in other sectors the last of the cabbage family crops are rolling in and this week we pulled this record haul of reg giant mustard.

Total weight, 6lbs, 1 ounce. the longest leaf int he batch measured at 16" the heaviest leaf was approximately two ounces due to it's unusually thick stem.

Not bad really, in fact despite my earlier thoughts, I may yet pull another harvest from the mustard crop before the summer crops go in the ground. Even so by sheer bulk the mustard yet again by length of harvest period and sheer volume even when proportioned to match the other cold seasonal crops still out produced everything. Red Giant is a keeper for next year, and I hear through Marsha Howe that it even did incredibly well on the bridge. But of course this is not the only plant available in the gardens for eating.

Paris Market Carrots at their sweetest and ready for harvest. I can either grow them on at this point or pull them at this size.
This is a Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus ), it's a edible relative of the Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus). 
The Cardoon above has taken a few years to get to that size and it's finally turning into something substantial. The cardoon itself is considered the wild originator of the artichoke and it's spiny inflorescence can be eaten the same way if treated with care. Personally  I don't know if I'll let it bloom or make some wild artichoke dip, we will have to see how that works out even so it's quite a interesting foliage plant. Now speaking of things related to edibles I thought it would be cool to show some of you out there what flowering ginger looks like.

Flowering Ginger in 1/2 gallon pots.

For note Flowering ginger as far as I know is not edible, but it's sweetly scented flowers are gorgeous and it self-propagates rather well. The plants pictured above will be part of BL2's annual plant sale so yes you can get some of your own rather soon. Also they are perennial from zone 7 southward so these guys are your ready replacement for Canna.  As a final note for this double-wise episode, I have the latest find in a garden center that has been added to the collection.

Opuntia cylindrica cristata - "Emerald Idol Prickly Pear"
As the caption notes this is a member of the prickly pear family, and it's clearly also a monstrose form cactus. Now, typically the cylindrica group of the opuntia family has a very specific look; essentially a overall cylindrical stem with occasional branches and some have pseudo-leaves. A monstrose form like this tends to result from a  mutation of a growing tip where the 'stem' or pads don't elongate normally creating a bizzare form like what you see. The 'cristata' part of the name notes that this plant forms a crest of sorts. I picked this one up because it reminded me of the other monstrose cactus I already have but I know that opuntia tends to grow much faster so it makes for a greater demonstration of cactus care. In the long term expect periodic comparison photos of this cactus. for note upon getting this one home I repotted it into that pot you see with plenty of root room. Opuntia grow really fast when fertilized so I expect this one to be owning that pot soon.

This wraps up a double-episode of Lost in the farmer's Market but don't worry, tune in next time to see some more garden mayhem and a peek at the BL2 production lines as well as a little bit about soil testing. As always folks Keep 'em Growing!