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!

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