Thursday, June 27, 2013

Despite some Bad news, The show goes on!

Welcome back to another Episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market, your weekly guide to sustainable property management techniques and general plant geek mayhem. This weeks episode will unfortunately feature few if any images and I cannot say that the following episodes will be any different, as we open this episode with some bad news. Some time in the late afternoon on Friday of last week the BL2 HQ, often referred to here as ‘The Clark Ranch’ was broken into and ransacked. We lost our camera and a few other things but comparatively we lucked out as far as Burglaries go. Now this means that unfortunately this block may be using existing stock images on fine or no images at all as we cannot take pictures to show off projects or things seen in the field. We will of course to continue with the quality literary works but, sadly the images of garden geek action no can do. With this in mind, we bring you now to this week’s topic and ask that you bear with us while we make due during the current situation.

Today I’d like to talk about the effect of rain and weather on your watering schedule. I think most gardeners have been at that point where they look outside and see it’s raining a bit perhaps from a pop-up thundershower and breathe a sigh of relief that they don’t have to water the crops for at least another day.  But you have to wonder what it is after a brief rain that makes your plants go from wilting drama queens to examples of excellent gardening care in such a short time. The answer is simple enough, no not soil moisture but sheer humidity. You would be surprise how little a plant, even a cutting of one wilts if the humidity is very high. Part of this is because the plant is losing less moisture then its outside surfaces are taking in. This complete state of wetness also reduces the ambient temperature somewhat lessening heat stress for long enough to get past the days apex heat in theory.  So basically what you see is a natural response to the plant not suffering as much from heat and moisture loss.  It’s a win-win for everybody you do less work and your plants look great for a while. The down side is that a brief shower is no real match for a drenching rain or you actually going out and watering so often the effect is temporary and has the nasty side-effect of stirring up the mosquitoes. 

Thunderstorms play a different role in comparison to rain showers because they often deliver a comparatively greater amount of rain over a short period of time. This extra precipitation can be the cause of flash flood warnings and sometimes severe soil erosion. But thunderstorms do just one very important thing, they ionize atmosphere wherever they are, and by doing so draw atmospheric nitrogen, into their precipitation and by way of their rain deliver tiny amounts of nitrogen to the land. If you have ever noticed the day after a thunderstorm everything is super green, it’s because of the nitrogen. Nitrogen is pretty capricious, it dissipates so quickly that the USDA Soil Lab wont even test for it because they know it wont be in the sample by the time it gets to the lab in any useful amount.  I might add it has been noted in some reputable publications that being downwind of a thunderstorm and thus receiving the spike in humidity it causes is sometimes enough to get a weak greening effect. Not bad at all if you consider those may showers we talk of in rhyme and those night time and afternoon summer storms are actually doing you a double-favor. Rain itself is a godsend because it can flush the water-soluble pollutants out of the soil (such as salt) with successive rains as well as aid plants in developing a deep root system and support better yields.

That said watering from water storage devices does trap some of whatever trace elements are in the rain, but not any useful amount of the nitrogen. However in most cases unlike water pulled from a well or a municipal source collected water tends to be closer to pH neutral except in regions with heavy pollution. This makes collected rainwater an important resource for transplanting and deep irrigation while tap, well or municipal water is somewhat better for use during droughts. The chlorine in tap water actually serves a surprising use in the garden as it can be applied to aid in calcium uptake in vegetables or fruits such as those in the nightshade family to avoid blossom end rot. Admittedly it’s a bit of an expensive solution when compared to dolomitic or hydrated lime but it does in the right measure with a set amount of dissolved Epsom salts aid in countering some soil deficiency issues.

The last and perhaps most important aspect of this topic that needs to be addressed is the ‘Deep and Infrequent’ principle of irrigation. Basically it has been proven that watering a little but more frequently benefits your plants less then if you water heavily but infrequently. The reason for this is that shallow watering does not promote deep roots. Basically what happens is your garden plant if watered shallowly will develop most of its roots near the soil surface and thus be more subject to drought and heat related stress. Additionally soil nutrient depletion may occur over time ruining the longevity of a garden plot. Now the deep and infrequent concept holds that you would like to have 1” of water per week total at least. There are little devices you can get to measure the amount of water you are applying in inches at most hardware stores but it’s better to get a actual rain gauge and monitor weekly rainfall amounts to get a feel for your own specific area. Deep and infrequent is important as a watering method because you are ensuring that a larger column of soil is being wet by the applied moisture. The effect is that your plant’s roots radiate out through the soil strata more evenly and thus are better prepared to suck up every drop of moisture that comes their way as well as being better able to get at any near ground water that might be below. This even rooting zone translates to more uniform nutrient uptake and improved drought, pest and disease resistance as the plants are stronger overall. In the end this all translates to a sigh of relief in the drought season for you because you know that those plants out there can handle the brief periods when you cannot add extra water and no rain is forthcoming. In short, you and nature have struck a deal, and it’s mutually beneficial.

Despite the summer heat I am still manning the booth down at the Fayetteville Farmers / City Market in downtown Fayetteville. Keep in mind the venue is open rain or shine with the proviso that obviously violent storms are about the only thing to impact the market being open. The market runs from 9:00 am through 1:00pm and is located at 325 Franklin Street. As always there will be great handouts about soil conservation and wildlife management and of course copies of my book Southward Skies.

5x Burgundy Okra
2x Nankeen Cotton
5x Ghost Pepper (Sweet)
12x Banana Pepper (Sweet)
11x Red Carolina Wonder Pepper (Sweet, Bell)
3x Chinese Ornamental Peppers (very hot)
2x Large Beef Steak Tomato
6x Small Beefsteak Tomato
1x Roma Tomato (Cooking Type)
1x San Marzano Tomato (Cooking type)
1x Sedum (Groundcover)
-plus whatever else fits in the truck!-

Next week
4x Spear Sanseveria (Houseplant)
4x Sangria Pepper (Ornamental)
3x Litchi Tomato

Available Soon
3x Red Peter Pepper (Spicy)
4x Green Carolina Wonder (Sweet, Bell)
1x Peperomia Verticiliata (Houseplant)
15x Egyptian Onion

With all that said thank you for continuing to support our humble endeavor by reading this page, and commenting when you do. Next week’s topic will cover another aspect handling the summer heat as well as a related bonus topic focusing on plain cool plant stuff.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Projects Abound as the Temperature Rises

Welcome to another summer episode of Lost in the Farmer’s market. Today’s topic is container gardens and how to manage them in the peak heat of summer. In this episode you can expect some pictures from the field as well as some images from the test gardens. That said lets delve into the topic at hand first, and afterwards the field photos. But first as its poison Ivy season here are two photographs. Try to identify which is poison ivy and which is poison oak. the answer to which plant is which will be revealed at the end of this article.

Poison Ivy?
Poison Ivy?

When it comes to container gardens, the first thing one much remember is not to overcrowd. Our artistic impulses as gardeners indicate that we want to fill every space because that is what the garden magazines and shows indicate should happen. There is a certain amount of reward in watching plants grow and fill in space naturally as opposed to the frustration of plants placed to close and competing and thus never reaching their best potential. Part of the process of plant spacing is the container in which the plants are growing. a Properly sized container means less stress for the plants, more productivity and less work for you. I might add almost anything can be grown in a container the variable in this fact is the amount of maintenance one must perform to make the planted container work. The amount of care required is directly proportionate to the size of the plant material in question relative to the pot size. A case in point would be planting fruiting tress in pots, which is a bad call no matter what the garden catalogs say because eventually you will reach a point of diminishing return. Like wise picking a crop that is inherently fussy about the climate and growing it in a pot may also not work in the long term.  It is best to pick garden plants that produce smaller fruits and veggies to compensate for the limited space and thus reducing your need to perform maintenance.

Chichorum intybus – Radicchio are perfectly suited to growing in a somewhat shallow bowl planter despite the summer heat. The spacing of the plants is just right for their container and size.

Lycopersicon esculentum – Tomatoes for all the fuss we as gardeners lavish upon them do quite well in pots as long as watering needs are addressed.

The type of pot you use can also effect your harvest and overall success as well as the economy of your operations. A case in point can be found with the pots in the picture immediately above. Those tomatoes and the eggplants and peppers in later pictures are all growing in 14" fluted pots. That is pots who have a upper rim diameter of 14" and a bottom diameter of 12". The advantage to this shape is that the feeder roots, which are typically in the upper 3" of soil get maximum expansion while the buttress roots bet a deep soil column. You the gardener have to use 1/3 less soil to fill a pot like this. The same effect can be found in bowl planters and the like. As a final note, the shape of a pot can influence the effective distribution of water and fertilizer to the roots of your plants. Additionally the shape of your pots can also effect how hot the soil inside gets by presenting a larger surface area to the sun.

Solanum melongena – Eggplant take a while to get started but once going they seem to actually prefer to grow in large pots.
Capsicum anuum – Peppers are surprisingly well adapted to growing in pots perhaps more so then their nightshade relatives.
The soil mixture in container gardens should be carefully considered.You definately do not want to use native soil or straight compost because with both you are bringing in whatever possible problems may exist in the native soils and thus may have problems later on in the season. Likewise you should also skip the expensive garden soil or potting soils as most of the price there is not for product but rather for packaging. In the same way skipping the ultra cheap materials will save you disappointment later on. What you want is a soilless mix composed of a slow-decaying material such as peat moss but preferably coco-fiber (coir) along with perlite and vermiculite. Any soil mix that uses at least 50% ratios is relatively light when wet and holds moisture and nutrients rather well. Additionally such mixes decay into a nice topsoil, so after a year or two of use the 'spent' soil can be used as a enriching top dressing for a garden bed. Your best bet is to find a quality topsoil or lawn soil, for filling your containers as the price is often easier to handle and you can get the soil in bulk easily. In the case of ornamental plants it is easier  use the soil straight where as in the case of production crops it is easier to add a little composted manure to add a little extra vigor to your crops. 

Fragraria x ananassa - Even ever bearing strawberries can adapt to a life in the confines of a pot, and genuinely do well in hanging baskets especially if positioned well.
Tagetes patula - French Marigolds, As ornamental as they come and a definite attractor of pollinators.
Watering plays a triple role in the case of your container gardens. Watering is the vector by which plants receive most of their moisture, how they get liquid form fertilizers and the means by which excess accumulations of salt and other damaging compounds are removed from the soil. I covered the soil mix and it's relevance to watering, as well as how the pot shape plays a role in watering. The placement of your pots plays a role also as too much exposure means you will be watering far more often thanks to the effects of wind and heat. Too much water can cause your crops to rot, and ruin a gardening season. Take for instance the picture of the strawberry above and the French Marigold. Both are sited well because they are in hanging baskets under a roof gutter with a roughly eastern facing so they get the cool morning sun and some of the early noon sun but by the afternoon are in partial to full shade. Additionally both plants are watered by the gutter system's overflow every time it rains. This placement means these pots can be fertilized more heavily, and thus the plants are more productive with no risk of soil toxicity.

Amaranth, Basil, Peppers and a Perennial Cabbage.
As a final note to the topic a well designed container garden can be quite successful, most of the real difficulty comes in thinking of what size your preferred plants will be as opposed to what size they are when you install them. Planning ahead, helps considerably however upgrading as you go between the seasons is also a viable means to improve productivity. I hope I've covered the concepts reasonably well and as always feel free to ask any questions you like either here on the blog or in person at the farmer's market. next in today's post are some photos from the field.

A close up of the french marigolds from earlier, this variety is called 'Jester Mix'.

While adjusting the logs intended for building the wildflower berm, this very large toad bounded out from under it.

This one also hopped out of the original berm site.

As work continued, another one unburied itself, note the natural camouflage.

This little one also unburied itself, could it be toads intentionally bury themselves under decaying wood to get at bugs?

Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus' - Purple Coneflower in bloom with a bumblebee or carpenter bee pollinator.
Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus' - A mutant Purple Coneflower bloom. This sort of thing occurs when the cells that will eventually become a flower bud fail to split completely and remain fused forming a 'double flower' like this.

The pink Cosomos were the first in bloom in the small wildflower patch, the orange dazzlers and bright light mix are not far behind though.

Summer heat or not I am still manning the booth down at the Fayetteville Farmers / City Market in downtown Fayetteville. The market runs from 9:00 am through 1:00pm and is located at 325 Franklin Street. As always there will be great handouts about soil conservation and wildlife management and of course copies of my book Southward Skies. Without further delay below is this weeks plant list.

2x 4” pot Beefsteak Tomato
8x 3” pot Beefsteak Tomato
1x 3” pot Roma Tomato
1x 3” pot San Marzano Tomato
12x 3” pot Carolina Wonder (Red)
2x 3” pot Nankeen Cotton
3x 3” pot Chinese Ornamental Pepper
1x 3” pot Asian Winged Bean
1x qt pot ‘Red Weed’ Castor Bean
-plus whatever else fits in the truck!

I might add this is just the tip of the iceberg, a number of things are in transition and are growing to size out in the test gardens and will be available soon. In the coming weeks a veritable pepper blitz will be going on as the plants start to reach proper sizes so if what you see above is not to your liking, in the future you can expect the following:

-Ghost Peppers (sweet)
-Carolina Wonder (Green bell)
-Pasilla Baijio (Spicy, but no heat black Cayenne)
-Red Peter (Red chili poweder with ornamental use)
-Sangria Pepper (Bright Purple Ornamental)
-Burgundy Okra
-Egyptian Onion Starter bulbs
-Litchi Tomato (Last plants  of the year!)
-Purple Calabash Tomato (Last plant of the year!)
-Amana Orange Tomato (Last plant of the year!)

This brings to a close another episode of Lost in the farmer’s Market, I hope you enjoyed today’s topic and as always feel free to ask any questions either in person at the farmer’s market or as a reply here. Next week we begin the process of building the anti-erosion/ Wildflower berm so you get to see how that is done. Finally in the case of the pictures of the poison ivy/oak pictures at the start of today's blog post the answer is simple enough, both are poison ivy. The fact is most people except those who trek deep into swamps will never actually encounter poison oak. The pictures above are two opposite sides of the same patch just three feet away from each other. Poison ivy comes in a great variety of leaf shapes and may be confused with a variety of non-toxic plants such as juvenile sassafras, Virginia creeper and some of the tree-form legumes. Before you destroy any suspicious plants get a professional to verify the identity of the plants and NEVER burn anything that may have poison ivy plant parts on it.

With that said stay safe out there and as always folks keep ‘em growing!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Staying cool in the summer

Welcome back to your weekly edition of Lost in the farmer’s market, today’s topic is plant selection and the effect it has on the frequency and amount of watering you will have to do during the dog days of summer. We also have some great garden photos for you, so stay tuned because your about to embark on a sustainable adventure into the land of urban farming!

The first thing to know when considering your plant selection with an eye out for reduction of watering is to remember that the entire process will be trial and error. What works in the test gardens may not work in your yard to the same degree. However most gardening is trial and error even with the best of circumstances and so you will never find yourself operating outside of the same element you always have been. It’s pretty obvious certain plants are complete water hogs, they just need more then average and commonly this group are the ornamental annuals. By definition an annual is a plant that germinates, matures and produces seed or fruit within the confines of one season. A prime example of a annual that often requires a bit of extra water might be Impatiens, Pansies or Violas. Much the same way a handful of perennials are equally dramatic complete with very pronounced or other discoloration and the biggest offender here is your lawn.  In the department of biennials and such most of the lettuces, spinach, radicchio, and Swiss chard are notoriously needy of extra water but yours truly admittedly overlooks this due to the produce factor.

The selection of what you put together will influence how much work you put into watering as well as the possible cost found in your water bill.  For instance if you were to have a full sun bed it would be wiser to put in a group of plants able to not only withstand the sun, but the humidity and soil factors. One could achieve color effects and shapes by selecting within the primary plant groups selected and still get the entire effect without the maintenance effort or the cost. This of course means you will have to think outside of what the garden magazines say, you may even have to discard your garden books to find what works in your yard. A case in point can be found with the Curbside mailbox bed at the Test gardens. This bed is an odd blend of perennials of several differing types. At the core of the bed is enriched topsoil that gets mulched yearly with pine bark. The bed is a raised one with a one foot internal depth and a slight incline in the back to counter the curve of the front yard. Here is where the design gets interesting and the point gets proven. The mailbox bed is centered around a Swamp Mallow, with a pair of flanking ‘Magnus’ Coneflowers, and a pair of spineless prickly pear cactus followed by, yet an other pair, two very vigorous Artemisia plants. In the front row buried under the artemesia are a matched pair of Star Tickseed plants the front row otherwise is all ice plants. The back row is filled with alternating Blue Beardtongue and ‘May Nacht’ Ornamental sage. Needless to say every single season has something going on and I never have to water the thing ever! The weeds can barely get a foot hold, and I get great but unconventional decoration for the mailbox.

Technically, the one plant out of place in the design is the Swamp mallow which is not supposed to do well in hot dry spots yet the plant has not gotten the memo. This is where trial and error becomes important as does knowing your soil quality. Using the case in point all if not most of the plants are matching in their needs (drought and heat proof), some have double uses (artemesia, coneflower, prickly pear) and at least one is a complete long-shot oddball plant (swamp mallow). It may take a few tries to get the selection right, but the trick is to start with a handful of core plants, then base the rest of the selections off of those plants to create an effect. When and if things die, consider why they died and if there is more then one if the others died. Some times despite the best of attention you get a bad plant or a disease comes in to undo your work. Just remember the key to selecting plants in regards to reducing watering needs is to pick the right plant, for the right place especially when it comes to exposure. If you match plants with the same needs and don’t shirk on soil quality after your plants are established you shouldn’t have much in the way of problems barring bizarre weather. But remember; think outside of symmetry too, a plain bed that’s all herbs or ornamentals is like having an invitation for complications.  If you mix and match your plants within the frame work of their needs the results will be nothing short of amazing over time.

A tiny little baby preying mantis hanging out on one of my paprika peppers!

This toad seems to like getting a shower as I water the castor bean plants.

Monarda fistulosa ‘Purification’ – Beebalm doing what it does best bringing in the bees

Hemerocallis sp. -  The first Daylily bloom of the year.

Foeniculum vulgare - Black Fennel with a small stink bug on it, note the diamond shape in the bugs carapace.

Ruta graveolens - Rue, the seed pods of this bitter culinary herb are unique in the carrot family.

These are black Muscadine grape vines, both plants are of the same variety selected for productivity as much as the neat foliage.

Another attraction to the local bird population for the test gardens is sand bathing where they seem to roll about in the sand.

Oregano in bloom is worthwhile to note because its flowers are a bit odd by mint family standards.

Santolina chamaecyparissus - Lavender Cotton in full bloom, not bad for an aster relative huh?

With all the garden topics covered as you all well know I will be at the Fayetteville farmers/ City Market which is located in downtown Fayetteville located at 325 Franklin Street. I will be there from 9:00 AM though 1:00 PM. I will have copies of Southward skies available and as always here is the plant list for

6x 4” pot Beefsteak Tomato
10x 3” pot Beefsteak Tomato
3x 3” pot Roma Tomato
4x 3” pot San Marzano Tomato
2x 3” pot Amana Orange Tomato
2x 3” pot Purple Calabash Tomato
5x 3” pot Nankeen Cotton
3x 3” pot Chinese Ornamental Pepper
1x 3” pot Asian Winged Bean
1x qt pot Red WeedCastor Bean
2x 5” pot Star Coreopsis
-plus whatever else fits in the truck!

With all that said, check back next week for another episode of lost in the farmer’s market when the topic will be about how to manage containers in the heat! I hope to see some of you down at the farmer’s market and as always folks keep ‘em growing!

Monday, June 10, 2013

The sun and the Sandhills

Welcome back to a belated episode of lost in the farmer’s market, For those of you hardcore fresh food fans out there who came out to the Fayetteville farmers market this past weekend you no doubt know why this episode was delayed. For those of you, who didn’t make it, lets just say I was having a bit of a hard time getting out to do field work and leave it at that. Today’s topic is about soil and its effect on the need to water your plants. Of course we also have a lovely group of test garden pictures including one such picture that is probably the most awesome thing this year so far.

As some of you long-time readers of this blog might know I often talk about how important soil quality is. In fact I cannot stress enough how greatly it effects the margins of success or failure you will experience in the endeavor to have a productive garden. I have to state that ornamental gardens do better with improved soil as well but, in their case it’s not as much an issue because often it does not matter if ornamentals set fruit. So lets start with the region we live in; we are in the sand hills of North Carolina, an area that is composed of coarse to medium grit sand that is often of golden or gray coloration. There are areas of clay too often composed of mottled gray or bright tones of red but generally the rules of engagement remain about the same in either instance. A soil dominated by anything absolutely is bound to be a bad soil for productivity of the things you like. An overly loamy soil can be called muck if wet, an overly clay soil can compact to a hardness similar to concrete, a overly sandy soil has the nutrient and moisture retention abilities of a desert. Silt-heavy soils tend to be light and fluffy and thus are what blew away during the great dustbowl.

With that said no one expects you to perform a miracle and convert a soil in a single growing year. Admittedly it is possible to do the expense is insane, and thus we have today’s topic. As you may know Organic matter is often called loam and a bunch of things, but as with the old roman maxim ‘Nothing to excess’, loam itself does best in the right proportions to the mineral aspects of the soil usually about 30% to 50%. The reason you don’t want to get more then that is that the minerals in the soil tend not to wash off or blow away if the loam and sufficient anti-erosion measures are in place. This all relates to watering directly because it has now been established that clay and silt tend to repel water where as sand tends not to hold water. The quality of your soil is relative to it’s ability to hold onto water and nutrient long enough for your plants to make use of it. Mulch is your first line of defense for maintaining soil moisture as it disallows weed competition, wind and water erosion and eventually decays into a new layer of organic matter to add to your layers of loam. The real key is the actual amount of organic matter present in the first few inches of soil where all of your plant’s feet roots will be. Those feeder roots bring nutrients and water into your plants and they are quite important because relative to taproots and buttress roots they have more surface area with which to seek nutrients and absorb more of the water that is applied. The feeder roots are also what take up the fertilizers you apply and often are what find the manure or compost products you apply and thus are directly responsible for your increased yield.

To put it mildly, good soil quality, that is a presence but not overabundance of organic matter will aid your soil in retaining nutrients and moisture which in turn translates to greater heat, disease, pest and, drought resistance per cultivated plant. A case in point can be seen with the opuntia cactus shown later in this article which was given excellent soil quality and a dose of poultry manure last year. It responded by blooming several years early indicating early onset of plant maturity and exceptionally fast growth. As I always say, feed the soil, feed yourself, this is not a catch phrase, it’s a fact. 

One of the easiest and least expensive ways to improve your soil is to use low-cost indoor potting soil as it basically is a bag of perlite, vermiculite  possibly some bark fines and maybe some soil material with a dash of peat moss. The effect of this addition is that you get a basic topsoil going from which you can aspire to greater things without going broke. I do not advice the use of fertilizer or chemically enhanced soils because their performance and the side effects of the chemicals are uncertain. As soon as you can I advise setting up a composting bin or acquiring compost on a yearly basis to top dress your beds to further add nutrient and fertility. As you get further in you should also consider the use of a composted manure product to add additional fertility so chemical fertilizers are not needed. Barring all of the aforementioned, if instant gratification is the goal then you can always go for a truck load of compost from a reliable garden center or supplier. The effect of this method is that you get the fertile cropland you sought instantly without much more effort then it took to move and spread the stuff. The effect is the same, the more in balance the soil is, the better it will hold moisture, and the less frequently you will have to water barring extreme weather. With all that said lets move onto the pictures for this episode.

Opuntia humifusa - Spineless Prickly Pear

This is the showcase of the year so far. As some of you may know prickly pears take some time to get to a mature state and thus don’t bloom for a while. This one, decided to prove the normal wrong and bloom its third year and it seems to be ready to produce fruit as well. In fact the pair of cactus are so vigorous I may snap off a few pads and have them at the market in fall.

Physalis sp. - Ground Cherry ‘Cossack Pineapple’

For those of you in the know, I find ground cherries to be the most underused fruit in America and yet they are  both native to this climate and incredibly delicious. What makes these plants great is the fruits protective covering which means bird and critter damage is minimized. The harvesting method means you have to be a decent gardener and the plants sheer durability means it really does not ask for much but produces heavily when amply provided for.  I managed to snap a shot of a maturing ground cherry, as you can see the husk is enclosed. Later on I’ll take a picture of the fruit when ready and with the husk peeled back.

Ricinus communis – Castor Bean ‘Red Weed’

The stand of Castors at the test garden are growing on, pushing about a foot tall with leaves between 6-8” depending on how you measure. These guys are doing good in the blinding hot sun with absolute full exposure! Some of the more adventurous visitors to the booth bought some of the castors and I am sure you wont be let down by them either. For note, mine are planted the way they are to see if I can get them to bleach out their red and partially they do, this is not how one would normally plant a castor bean as the best color comes from providing some partial shade.

Coreopsis pubescens – Star Tickseed

As per request here is a picture of the dense clump of star tickseed in the shady rock garden section at the test gardens. As you can see it’s consumed its section and hungers for more. The soil below is barely enriched soil with appropriate amounts of pine straw. The plant is virtually never watered and more often then not other perennials have to be rescued from it. More of this plant will be available at the market next week.

Leptoglossus sp. – Leaf-footed Bug

These guys are a yearly feature in the garden. They are neither problematic nor beneficial but are a welcome site just the same. They started hanging out the year I grew a Wonderberry plant, and have appeared in groups in the garden every year ever since. For note these guys are true bugs as evidenced by the diamond shape seen on their backs when their wings are folded, and by the piercing/sucking mouthparts they possess. This year tons of them were just hanging out in the blooms of the Yucca I photographed last week.

Well this brings to a close a delayed edition of Lost in the farmer’s market, in the next episode which I hope to have posted on Thursday or Friday with a plant list, we will be covering plant selection and its effect on your need to water. I thank all of you who braved the weather to come out to the market and hope to see you this upcoming Saturday. As always folks be wary of the weather and keep ‘em growin!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Beating the heat? Nah it's beating me!

And here we are and it is undoubtedly summer but don’t worry here comes another episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market! Today we have some cool test garden pictures and the start of a brief series on how to prepare your gardens for the coming spike in temperatures. We all know the drought days of august are coming soon so while the weather is currently tolerable it makes sense to  prepare as best we can for the heat now as opposed to compounding our labors later.

Lets face the facts folks as gardeners we all know it’s going to get warm in summer and for those of us in the south east that means a delicate balance between watering our beloved plants or letting nature do it’s worst and pick up the pieces later. Obviously it doesn’t have to be this way, but this is often what it appears to be a narrow spectrum of choice. The truth however could not be more different in several differing ways. Take for instance the average garden plot, we know that the addition of much can help conserve soil moisture and keep down weeds but then it gets into the differences between the types of mulch. Whether you realize it or not mulch is as different as the people who choose to apply it so here is a fast rundown on the types.

Stone – example granite, pea gravel marble chips bluestone gravel ect.
            Stone is nice and fairly permanent but it suffers from the issue of being both expensive per square foot, heavy and it contributes nothing to the soil. For that matter stone really only works well when combined with landscape fabric and thus by itself won’t block weeds very well unless several inches are applied. I might add stone does have to useful features as it tends to help retain soil warmth and in the case of certain crushed stone products may add trace nutrients to the soil as it weathers.

Pine Straw – longleaf and short needle types such as loblolly and white pine.
            Well out in Fayetteville this stuff is everywhere so it’s no surprise it stays in use, and good clean pine straw isn’t bad stuff. On application pine straw is nice and fluffy but settles down somewhat flat. With age (1-3 years depending on species) pine straw will decay into a sort of pine straw loam. Pine straw also has use as an anti-erosion material as the numerous surfaces it creates tends to slow down water runoff and wind keeping the soil beneath it where it is. The downside of pine straw is the cost, irregularity of the bales if purchased and its high flammability. Pine straw tends to weather to a light brown or a pale gray depending on sunlight exposure and moisture.

Pine Bark
            Pine bark is more a southern thing then a northern thing, and as a byproduct of the timber industry it makes sense to recycle this waste product into something useful. Fortunately you can get pine bark both by the bag and by bulk which makes it rather economical. The quality of pine bark does vary so most of you out there are advised to get a good look at what your local garden centers sell and determine what is best for you on a case by case basis. A major advantage to pine bark is that it forms a dense cover that most weeds have trouble getting through especially when an inch or more is applied. More so pine bark has all the useful qualities of pine straw with one difference. New applications of pine bark may float off during heavy rains and washout is a problem also. Good pine bark after weathering tends to be a golden-brown color.

Hardwood/Cedar Bark
 The hardwood and cedar group are more found up north, and tend to cost more but also last longer, and have anti-insect and decay properties. Cedar and cypress mulch are notorious for this effect which is good if termites are a concern and you can get cypress or cedar in bulk. Hardwood much tends to be maple or more commonly oak, and has the advantage of lasting at least as long as pine straw but is heavy enough to resist all but heavy rain induced washout. Cedar and Cypress both last the longest of the organic mulches and tend to weather to a light brown-gray where as hardwood much is often a light gray.

If you will notice I skipped two much products in this list, the first is rubber much and the second is any form of colored mulch. I skipped the former because of its habit of leaching zinc into the soil. Rubber much is often made of spent auto tires with the internal wires removed and thus due to vulcanization exudes zinc and in cheaper tires sulfur residue. Rubber mulch is however ok for use in kid’s playgrounds but not so good in an actual garden. The colored mulches were skipped because they are essentially the industries biggest scam. I might also add the red much is incredibly tacky looking unless you live in a McDonald’s restaurant. The real scam here is that when you buy a bag of dyed mulch not only are you paying for the cost of labeling and advertisement but also you are often buying a lower quality product. Depending on whom you buy colored mulch from at the worst the actual mulch may have ground up reject lumber and crushed wooden pallets instead of true timber materials. What they might call bark may not even actually be tree bark but the remains of the timber process after logs are turned into boards. There is the lack of permanence in the dyes used, as red much tends to turn pink, and black mulch takes on a gray color after a few weeks to a month or so. At a worst case scenario the dye leaches out and stains other surfaces. In short friends don’t let friends buy dyed mulch!

Considering the options of what mulch you use is as important as where you apply the material. As we all know mulch can act as a weed barrier because it prevents light from reaching the weed seeds that may lay dormant in the soil. More so the few weeds that do germinate then have to push their way though that extra layer of material just to get to light and but the time they do they’ve burned off a lot of energy. By this point the weeds are very visible and that’s where you come in. Needless to say mulch is quite important for your beds in numerous ways but did you know you can use mulch in your large pots for the same purposes? Indeed the test gardens insulate our 14” planters with a ½” layer of pine bark mulch to reduce watering needs and it seems to work. The squirrels also seem to want to mess with the planters less and fire ant mounts if they ever appear are very visible which makes it a triple bonus. We also use mulch in our raised and non-raised beds equally to promote better moisture retention and an improved topsoil quality as the bark does break down over time. But enough on this topic, next week we will cover watering, and after that plant selection. As promised earlier here are the week’s best test garden photographs.

This is what a maturing Kiwano or Horned Melon vine looks like, at the time of this photo the vines had reached the top of the 5' climbing support and were still aggressively growing despite that. If the growth is an indicator of the potential for fruit I may be buried in horned melons! I sold young kiwano plants this year and this folks is what you ought be prepared for.

Here Is that rascaly rabbit I was telling folks about. He or she posed right behind the tailgate of the truck long enough for me to snap two pictures. As it turns out this rabbit was no doubt attracted to the yard by the number of dandelions I grow which is a food staple for conttontail rabbits.

Ascepias tuberosum also known as Milkweed or Pleurisy Root in full bloom. This pure orange variety is one I brought to Fayetteville from new jersey and is the only perennial on premises that made it through year one. It's not well known but Asclepias of this type have a LONG taproot so they loathe to be transplanted. When grown from seed it takes two or three years for the seedlings to mature. Also the plants appear from nothing in late spring bloom and then slowly appear to decline and die going dormant until next year.

Yucca filimentosa also known as Adam's Needle or Spanish Bayonet, this tough perennial is best known for it's foliage but mature clumps flower in early summer. The flower stalks can be upwards of 6' tall and are covered with these bell shaped flowers. No scent but then not such a big deal for a plant often deemed unapproachable.

I snapped a shot of this butterfly on a particularly windy day as it settled in the pine straw no doubt to take a brief rest. After a little research it seems to be a black swallowtail type. According to some aspects of African lore butterflies carry the souls of those recently deceased. Personally I just consider the presence of this butterfly as a sign that the work completed int eh gardens is worth it.

A Silver Fir Tree tomato showing off it's 'fir' which sparkles a little in the light and it's mature form lacy foliage. This is one of the tomato varieties sold this year. Overall the fir tree tomato is turning out to be rather durable and is growing quite well in the test garden.

Oxalis articulata or Pink Sorrel this common garden plant is often considered a weed. As a relative of the sorrels it is a perennial with a reasonably good drought resistance. This little plant spreads both by seed and it's tuberous roots. It will tolerate poor soil drought and has few if any insect problems but may succumb to a fungal infection of Rust. Generally a cheery plant in the spring and fall very easy to propagate and it also makes for a reliable perennial addition to any garden.

Physalis, Cossack Pineapple Ground cherries in a 15" pot out in the test gardens. For note all pots in the test garden this year received a 1/" layer of much to conserve moisture. This variety was sold this year and this is what a established but not quite mature plant looks like. For those who don't know the ground cherry is a semi-native that is disease resistance and drought tolerant. There are few issues with this plant in general and the best part is most casual visitors will never know this is anything other then an ornamental. The fruit is fantastic though, they taste like little candies.
Penstemon gloxinoides, or Gloxinia-flowered beardtongue. This variety of penstemon has all the durability traits of the other varieties but also bears large two-tone flowers throughout summer. as you can see the variety above called Hot coral is very striking. These plants are drought tolerant but to do their best need a decent soil.
With that last picture this brings to a close another episode of Lost int he farmer's Market. I know this episode didn't quite make it online at the time it was planned with a plant list but, never fear, next week's episode should be posted on Thursday evening if not Friday proper.  In the next episode I'll continue the topic with a bit about soil amendments and quality and it's effect on how efficiently you water your garden.  As always folks be wary of heatstroke and hydration  and also keep 'em growing!