Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ok so it's early summer now....right?

Welcome back to another episode of lost in the farmer’s market where we discuss the horticultural events of the day. In this episode I’ve got some neat stuff to discuss and the first thing on the list is the rapid shift in the political tides against the Monsanto Protection act. It seems one of the original signers of the item has actually read it and decided it’s a terrible thing. How about that, maybe it should be a law that in order to run for office you must read cover to cover any law or bill that is up for a vote with a neutral third party witness present.

For those who do not yet know the Monsanto protection act was an act that gave Monsanto immunity form lawsuit in federal court should it be found that one of their Franken-crops is found to be causing damage to public health or the environment. How Ironic, this comes after a decade of Monsanto Franken-crop screwups including the Monarch butterfly killing corn, The displacement of native forms of Maize in south America and the company’s rabid attacks on local farmers over their growing of crops contaminated by Monsanto’s GMO crops. I mean I have to ask when Monsanto will stop acting like the Sony of the Agriculture world. You might remember how sony at one point tried to claim that when you buy a CD you don’t won the music on it just a license to listen to it, well Monsanto as a company is no less ridiculous as is seen in the article on the link below.

Needless to say the implications of that trial are troubling because it increases Monsanto’s pretext to force more farmers out of business due to crop contamination. Monsanto can now go about invading private property, stealing samples contaminating genetic diversity and suing small farmers out of existence and in the case of Bowman v. Monsanto the courts seem to have given the green light. In case some of you don’t recall Monsanto is also responsible for Roundup which was originally labeled as Ecologically safe but the label had to be removed after a court challenge and testing determined that Roundup does not in fact break down in the environment and can seep into the ground water. I know what some of you might say, yes companies need legal protections for their product but when your product is a living thing, the right to patent is entirely unjust. It reminds me of the case where a specific company actually has a patent on two primary genes that have to do with the probability of specific forms of cancer.

In this particular case it means that without paying said company a lot of cash, no one can test for the said genes to determine likely hood of the cancer being a problem. This in turn means the cost of getting the test from anyone is higher, and thus less of the population is likely to get the test and the mortality rate is not going to get any better. It’s funny, I thought the medical profession was there to do no harm, but all I see here is harm. From an economic standpoint the folks that often support such patents on living organisms, often claim to believe in free market economics and yet don’t realize such patents effectively eliminate competition and thus are the exact opposite of the economics they claim to espouse. On the biology front one has to consider if it’s right to have legal rights to own any sort of organism found in nature. If this sort of legal corporate ownership is ok what is next, suddenly everyone has to pay to use their body parts?

But there is hope in an odd way, Last summer there were verified reports of certain ‘weed’ species developing immunity or resistance to roundup. Specifically two forms of amaranth developed roundup immunity and were choking out roundup ready corn crops. The irony is amaranth is a very edible species of plants, that will grow just about anywhere and requires very little in the way of fertilizer or specialized soil. A large segment of the world eats amaranth as a food staple, and yet we have starving folks in the USA, and massive corn crops that are the vertical equal in usefulness to lawn grass. To put the fight against GMO in contexts one has to consider that the companies that produce GMO crop plants are a little like the Hydra of myth, every time we score a victory by cutting off a head new ones grow back, and thus we face a more difficult confrontation. I think the only way to finally get all GMO absolutely labeled and companies such as Monsanto in check is to first to educate the nations consumers about what they are up against. Now going back to the issue with Monsanto, the problem as it stands is that they don’t want anyone growing their special round-up ready crops without a signed contract. They also don’t want their materials labeled as GMO, and don’t want farmers saving seed, or any real serious third party investigations into their product. You know what this behavior sounds like? Two words folks Organized Crime, that’s right, the fight to get rid of GMO isn’t just a slogan, and it’s a battle against criminal greedy behavior by several companies who don’t care about what their product does to you.
 The way to cauterize the hydra’s stumps in this case is economic and informational action. If no money is rolling into a company’s coffers for long enough they go belly-up, in the same way if a company is getting such a great public backlash that their media machine cant function, they come apart because the economic angle eventually follows. That said if you’re on the fence about the GMO thing, then check out Sustainable Neighbors and they can give you some great information. 

As an end note to this article I will be at the Fayetteville Farmers Market on Saturday between 9am and 1pm. The market is located at 325 Franklin Street at the Fayetteville Transportation Museum property. My table is next to the Sustainable Neighbors table and you can come check us out or merely pick our brains about sustainability and garden stuff or just have a chat. As always this is the list of what will be coming to market this week.

Cucumbers & Melons: Armenian Cucumber (1x).
Leaf Greens: Turkish Rocket (2x), Red Malabar Spinach (1x)
Herbs: Mountain Mint* (3x).
Ornamentals: Castor Bean “Red Weed” (2x)
Tomatoes: Purple Calabash (2x).
Eggplant: Nyakati (1x), Early Black Egg (1x).
Peppers: Cayenne Purple (2x), Lemon Drop (3x), Carolina Wonder (4x), Chinese Ornamental (2x).
Vegetables: Red Burgundy Okra (6x)
Potatoes: Dark Caribe (1x), Carola (5x), 3” Dark Caribe Potato starts (1x), 3” Carola Potato Starts (6x) .
Bean: Asian Winged Bean (2x)

“Marsha’s ‘Maters”:
3” pot size - Roma Tomato (4x), Beefsteak Tomato (4x).
4” pot size – Beefsteak Tomato (6x)

House Plants:
2” pot Rhipsalis salicornoides ‘Drunkards Dream Cactus
3” pot Heurnia zebrine ‘Lifesaver Cactus’
6” pot Huernia schneideriana ‘Dragon Cactus’

*Pycnanthemum muticum – Short Toothed Mountain Mint

All that great horticulture information and action aside this brings to a close another episode of LITFM. Remember to be wary of those summer pop-up thundershowers as they work wonders for plant growth but the lighting is certainly no joke. As always folks keep ‘em growing!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ah Summer, how ye bring thee heat!

Welcome back to another weekly episode of Lost in the farmer’s Market, this is our post-mother’s day episode and we’d like to extend our thanks to all those mothers out there. We at LITFM know quite well how you tirelessly work day in and day out to make sure things turn out right so for all you mothers who read this web log we thank you. First out of the bat I would like to share with all of you a picture of a rose. This rose isn’t just any rose; it is the very rose my great grandmother planted on the property in the 70’s. They don’t breed roses like this anymore, and it has out lived countless others no doubt. Every year it grows a little, and produces some leaves and bears a lot of thorns and yet, around Mother’s day every year it produces just a few blooms. Below is this years bloom which opened and lingered up until Mother’s day.

You cannot beat those old-school rose varieties, the blooms seem to light up the universe while the numerous thorns remind us that such beauty does come at a price and ought be respected.
With the rose in mind earlier this week this guy or girl (I didn’t ask) was moving about on the outside section of the patio so I snapped a shot. In case you didn’t know wolf spiders are a primarily nocturnal arachnid that plays a critical role in reducing pest populations. Wolf spiders don't spin webs and thus range freely at night hunting everything from slugs to palmetto bugs. They are not venomous and they display an unusual habit of carrying their egg sac and later their young around with them. In fact as far as our local spider species go, the wolf spider acts more motherly then most. As you can see in the picture, a wolf spider’s eyes reflect light which in this case is my camera’s flash. This natural feature of the wolf spider anatomy is useful for finding them or avoiding them when out in the garden at night. I might add the Carolina wolf spider is also the state spider of South Carolina.

Hogna caroliniensis – Carolina Wolf Spider (the picture is sized down but the spider was about 3" across)

Passiflora incarnata – Maypop
Now what would May be without the aptly named Maypop, I did an article about this type of passion vine last year and true to form it is now covered with blooms and is of course ready to pop. the above was the first bloom to open and the flower is often attributed with holy references about the trinity and so on. If there ever was an indicator of what month it is without the aid of a calendar then the Maypop being in bloom was a sure sign it is spring and definitely May. In case your wondering this member of the passion fruit family does produce little fruits that are reportedly edible but I’ll test that out later.

Tradescantia virginiana - Widows Tears
Widow’s tears are a common garden perennial found in most gardens on the eastern coast. You may not realize it but you probably have some in your back yard right now. They make for dense stands of coarse grass-like foliage topped with the flowers you see above. The closest relative of these plants is Purple Heart (setcreasia pallida) and both are sold at garden centers in a staggering array of varieties. Considering the reduced size of the image you may not be able to see it but the dark blue at the flower's center is actually fuzz of some sort.

Triodanus perfoliata - Clasping Venus Looking glass
 Often considered a weed the Venus looking class is a spring time annual that has full continental distribution. It is often considered a nuisance weed and can sometimes get in the way of crops but otherwise is a neat little plant that isn't worth pulling up most of the time. The star shaped flowers are hard to miss and the unique cupped flowers add to it's wild beauty.

Amaryllis spp - Amaryllis
In the south the well known common amaryllis is a perennial, and many gardeners use them as a follow up for the daffodils in early spring. They spread easily and as you can see produce gorgeous blooms that act as a introduction for the later blooming daylilies. The real bonus to amaryllis in the south is that they are fairly inexpensive to get in bulk and to some extent cover the colors of most tulips. Squirrels also seem to not be fond of amaryllis either so you win out in the end when Daylilies, daffodils and amaryllis are mixed.

This weekend you can come and speak to me in person at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market. The market is located on 325 Franklin Street and operates between the hours of 9am and 1pm, though if last weekend was any indicator we were there until almost 2pm. Barring significant rain I will be there and will have cool and unusual stuff. Also I’ll be teamed up with the Sustainable neighbors, so you can come on by the sustainability booth and get some good information about sustainability, local foods, organics and heck even stuff about why GMO is so bad. As promised here is the plant list of what will be available for sale at the booth this week

Cucumbers & Melons: Armenian Cucumber (1x), Poona Kheera Cucumber (1x).
Leaf Greens: Turkish Rocket (3x), Red Malabar Spinach (3x)
Herbs: Sweet Basil (4x), Mountain Mint* (6x).
Ornamentals: Castor Bean “Red Weed” (3x)
Tomatoes: San Marzano (4x), Mexican Midget (1x), Solar Fire (1x), Underground Rail Road (1x).
Eggplant: Nyakati (3x), Early Black Egg (1x), Turkish Italian Orange (2x), Louisiana Long Green (2x)
Peppers: Cayenne Purple (2x), Lemon Drop (4x)
Vegetables: Red Burgundy Okra (4x)
Potatoes: Dark Caribe (1x), Carola (5x)

*Pycnanthemum muticum – Short Toothed Mountain Mint

In the next 1-2 weeks the following will be added:
Asian Winged Bean (2x),
3” Carola Potato Starts (6x)
3” Dark Caribe Potato starts (1x)
Carolina Wonder Bell Pepper (4x)

Also some time soon, the following will become available:
Litchi Tomato
Purple Calabash Tomato
Striped Ntula Eggplant
Red Peter Pepper
Carolina Wonder Bell Pepper

Needless to say if you need some sort of exotic or a plant to fill a gap we’ve got you covered, and if you want to get a hold of something early you can reserve plants. That said as with every week there will be copies of Southward Skies at the booth and if you wish you can pick up a copy of the skye project’s fine book about gardening on the east coast of the United States.

This brings to a close another episode of LITFM, but in the coming weeks we will be covering a site project, and you can certainly expect other pictures of plants in the test gardens as they do their thing. As a final note for this blog post, I urge you to be wary as the mosquito population has seemingly rebounded, and the fire ants are as vicious as ever. With all that said, folks remember to maintain your watering, it only takes 8 ounces of water to un-wilt a plant and just remember to keep ‘em growing! Thank you for reading.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Summer on the Horizon!

Welcome back to another fine episode of Lost in the farmer’s market where today we will be presenting the farmer’s market plant list early, and talking about how to grow a specific vegetable that seems to be on a lot of our fellow gardeners minds that’s right for today’s episode we will be talking about growing potatoes. But before we get in to the fine art of growing your own vodka plants, I’d like to take a moment to show you some shots from the garden to show you gardeners out there some plants worth considering for your own back yards.

What is spring without an obligatory rhododendron? This one is part of the shady rock garden and has not bloomed once since I moved to North Carolina.  Rhododendrons do work in North Carolina but require special placement and soil considerations.
Bloody Dock is a perennial member of the Rumex family its better known relative is the Sorrel you see in the gourmet greens at the supermarket. Typically this plant is grown as an ornamental however the young leaves are plenty edible but do require either to be sliced fine in salads or cooked a bit extra in stews.

Pesto Purpetuo Basil is one of those basil varieties that has sweet basil flavor but produces no flowers so all leaf all day all night. You can get these plants out at Eastover Garden Center.

This is Red Rubin basil one of my old time favorite red-purple basils because of it’s true to form mutations. In any given batch of seed most will come out the color above but a few might have reverted to green or have freckles. In the kitchen it is used the same as sweet basil and makes for a wicked looking but good pesto.

Penstemon or Beardtongue is a tough perennial that blooms in dramatic reds, pinks and associated shades like you see above. There are dozens of varieties on the market and this is just one of many but all are worth every penny in the garden.
Many people think of sage as the kitchen herb and forget the ornamental sages are quite expressive in the garden. This variety is called ‘May night’ and is heat, drought, neglect and resistant to deer grazing damage. Additionally they happen to be readily available and are rather inexpensive.

Now on to the topic at hand; for today’s main topic I will be discussing how to grow your own potatoes in your back yard. It is a common misnomer that potatoes take up large amounts of space and are hard to grow. The truth is that they are relatively easy but require special care and considerations as well as for your own sake special placement so you can get at your harvest bounty.  The first thing to know is that potatoes are not grown from planting tubers that have significant amounts of growths emerging from the eyes. In fact those eyes and a little slice of potato are what you want. Generally a potato left in a sunny window long enough will sprout in a few weeks and that is how the home owner can get a seedling potato. Now keep in mind some companies irradiate their tubers so they cannot grow so you want to try and get a seed tuber from an organic source or a farmer’s market.

This is representative of a white potato 'Slip' after some exposure to moisture and sunlight, note the eye growing roots.

In comparison, a Sweet Potato, which is in a different family then white potatoes grows it's starting stems as seen.

With a bit more exposure to moisture and soil medium a slip looks like this in about  ten days.

At fourteen days a potato slip's roots elongate greatly and the stems turn to find light.

At 20 days the potato slip has a working root system and pretty much with care can produce other potatoes with time.

A potato slip planted in a 1 quart pot at 28 days looks something like the plants above. When you hear of heirloom tomatoes with a "potato leaf" this is sort of what they mean, both plants are in the nightshade family and in theory it is possible to graft one onto the other.

At the test gardens this is how we grow our white potatoes. The tubers are planted in a 30 gallon nursery pot, and the top covered over with chicken wire as you can see. More soil will be added as the potato stalks grow to encourage side-shoots and further tuber development. The screen discourages squirrels from digging while the black pot keeps the soil just a bit to warm for most pests.

The three potato pots at the test gardens are raised on two pieces of paving stone so they can drain better, and arranged to catch the most sunlight possible. I might add they are very close to a source of water to facilitate watering if they go dry.
 Growing potatoes for your self is relatively easy, all you need to is provide plenty of room for the tubers, ample water and fertilizer. Protecting your crop from critters and pests is reasonably easy as most problems are very visible and can be remedied by any number of non-chemical means. Other possible methods to grow potatoes includes whiskey barrel planters, raised beds and this method as seen on the Urban farm tour some years ago.

 the brick structure in the middle is a Potato chimney, it uses the same principle as the  yam beds in the test gardens. A raised structure filled with the best soil possible that acts as a controlled environment to maximize production with minimized space. As a side note, that guy on the left doing all the pointing and talking, ignore him he's a total goofball.

This weekend you can come and speak to me in person at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market. The market is located on 325 Franklin Street and operates between the hours of 9am and 1pm, though if last weekend was any indicator we were there until almost 2pm. Barring significant rain I will be there and will have cool and unusual stuff. In fact to that point in two weeks or so I will be bringing Mountain Mint as one of the sale items. In case your not familiar, Mountain Mint is a well-behaved mint relative with all the same uses as normal mint except it grows rigidly upright.
Also I’ll be teamed up with the Sustainable neighbors, so you can come on by the sustainability booth and get some good information about sustainability, local foods, organics and heck even stuff about why GMO is so bad. As promised here is the plant list of what will be available for sale at the booth this week

Cucumbers & Melons: Kiwano (1x), Armenian Cucumber (2x), Poona Kheera Cucumber (2x).
Leaf Greens: Red-Leaf Amaranth (3x), Turkish Rocket (3x), Red Malabar Spinach (4x)
Herbs: Sweet Basil (6x).
Ornamentals: Castor Bean “Red Weed” (3x)
Fruit: Ground Cherry “Cossack Pineapple” (1x).
Tomatoes: San Marzano (4x), Mexican Midget (1x), Solar Fire (1x), Underground Rail Road (1x).
Eggplant: Nyakati (3x), Early Black Egg (1x), Turkish Italian Orange (2x), Louisiana Long Green (1x), Striped Togo (1x)
Potatoes: Dark Caribe (1x), Carola (5x)

Also I will have copies of Southward Skies Second Edition available for purchase at the market. The book is 120 pages of gardening tips tricks and information that is useful for gardeners of all skill levels. Each book is $25.00 and of course at request you can get it signed and pose any questions about it you’d like.

That said this wraps up another episode of lost in the farmer’s market, we’ll continue to post cool stuff up here as it happens so feel free to check back as the season progresses. Remember folks, all these spring rains are nice but it also means the weeds and the lawn grow faster so if your mower isn’t ready get set to kick some grass that aside as always keep ‘em growin!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Spring Showers bring...soaked gardeners

Welcome to the glory of spring and the promise of summer! We are reapidly approaching that point in the year when the grass demands mowing, the birds are out there singing like crazy and the soil is warm enough to support your summer crops. The rain is regular, the nights are cool and the mosquito population isn’t quite up and running. In short it’s one of the best times of the year to be a gardener. The test gardens themselves are rapidly evolving into something of a state of unmatched beauty as the dormant plants for the most part are awakened and going about business. Much has been done but even more remains to be done and that brings us to another episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market.

Before I start into the details of our first test of the year, I’d like to share some pictures from the gardens that I thought you might enjoy.
Yellow German Bearded Iris  (Iris germanica)in all it's glory, these guys are so bright, you can see them from across the property.

Exploding ourward in a ball of blooms is the inflorescence of the herb Chives or Allium schoenoprasum.

Even the blackberries are in the springtime act as they are coated in blooms, The bloom also reveals that blackberries are in the rose family

As you may have heard the first experiment of the 2013 year was a growth comparison between various soil mixtures to see what if any effect the use of Bio-char would have on a basic crop. In the case of our test we used four Radicchio plants of similar size, and created four different soil mixes one of which was spiked with a set amount of bio-char. Photos were taken at three-day intervals to visually chart the subject plant’s growth and at the end of the study the plants were each measured for width and height. Notes regarding observations on soil moisture retention, and overall vigor and color were also kept just for the sake of later review. I might add the Radicchio plants selected were of a dark red variety for the express purpose of determining health and nutrient deficiency.
03-22-2013 - A motley bunch they are, but then again for Bonnie plants which are notoriously under-developed not too bad.

03-28-2013 - The end of their first week and all is well


04-08-2013 - From this point on most of the test plants get over their exposure caused coloration and start shifting back to green.

04-14-2013 - This was about when I realized the soil mixture seemed to be trying out every other day you can see the odd downward pucker in all the plants.

04-20-2013 - I goofed a bit on this one, you can see my boot in the picture.

04-26-2013 - The last day of the trial. It is clear the compost soils beat the pants off the coco fiber soil.
As a side note not a single one of these plants was given fertilizer, just rainwater from the rain barrel nearby. It's a funny thought but these photos also show a sort of time-lapse display of the weeds growing below, and it's funny to see whats down there. How many can you Identify?

In case you were wondering, in the picture from left to right the plants had the following soil mixtures; Coir fiber soil mix, straight compost, Compost with worm castings added, and Compost with worm castings and bio-char. It is also clear through the alternating sequence of pictures that the compost, castings and bio-char plant developed faster and was larger. Now obviously this was just a test to see the relative effectiveness of such a treatment, but at least in a laboratory setting bio char seems to clearly do something. In fact as far as leaf greens are concerned if I could get a hold of enough of the bio char to do a planting row test using winter crops I’d gladly do so. In short I do think the Bio-char is useful; there is also evidence to suggest its introduction alone has a clear and visible effect on plants.

I might add as an afterthought once the trial was over the radicchio plants were repotted into bowl planters so they could grow on and hopefully make a good salad item later. They currently reside on the front porch and the root development in all the compost plants was noticeably better then that of the plant in the coir fiber mix. The bio-char plant however had only marginally better root growth as compared to the other compost types which suggests that bio char may make additional nutrients available in amounts that encourage steady growth. Stay tuned for our next trial which is the creation of a anti-erosion berm.

Just as a note to all you readers out there, I will have a table at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market this weekend. The Market is located on 325 Franklin Street, and will be open on Saturday between the hours of 9am to 1pm. As with the last two weeks I’ll be present and teamed up with the Sustainable neighbors, so you can come on by the sustainability booth and get some cool info and ask any garden questions you might have. As promised here is the plant list of what will be available for sale at the booth.

Cucumbers & Melons: Kiwano (2x), Armenian Cucumber (1x), Poona Kheera Cucumber (1x).
Leaf Greens: Red-Leaf Amaranth (3x), Turkish Rocket (4x).
Herbs: Blue African Basil (2x), Siam Basil (2x).
Ornamentals: Castor Bean “Red Weed” (3x)
Fruit: Strawberry (1x).
Tomatoes: Heirloom Cherry Mix (5), San Marzano (6x), Gold Rush Currant (1x), Red Currant (1x), Red & Yellow Currant Mix (1x), Sweet Pea Currant (1x), Mexican Midget (1x), Solar Fire (1x), Underground Rail Road (1x).
Eggplant: Nyakati (2x), Early Black Egg (1x), Turkish Italian Orange (2x), Louisiana Long Green (2x).
Potatoes: Dark Caribe (5x), Carola (5x)

As you can see we’ve got some good stuff coming to the table this weekend but in the following weeks as things mature out on the growing Plot more will become available. Also, I might add that copies of the book Southward Skies will be available at the booth also.

That last brings a close to our first post in the month of May. I hope to see you all at the market and barring that stay tuned here to find out the results of our field tests and other cool stuff. Thank you for reading and as always keep ‘em growin!