Friday, December 20, 2013

So a Cactus, Succulent and an Epiphyte walk into a bar....

Merry Festivus!  for the *ahem* never mind…

Welcome back to another holiday episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market, today we have some holiday delights but because of the upcoming holiday this episode is a tad condensed. Our next episode will cover the harvest records of the year and a little bit about 2014’s objectives. But that aside as you may well know the test gardens are a 365 sort of operation, and so something inside or outside is delighting and has to be covered here in the blog.

Cactus flowers are literally comparable to roses if not better then roses.
Now I hear a lot of folks say that they can’t get their (insert plant) to bloom but the most common is that they can’t get their Holiday cactus to bloom. Keep in mind I call (Easter or Christmas) them Holiday cactus not so much to satisfy cultural sensitivity, but more so to acknowledge that most of the cultures that grow these plants have some sort of holiday in the seasons when these plants tend to bloom. More so holiday cactus just sounds more festive. That said our specimen at the test gardens has both species of holiday cactus growing in one pot along with a similar relative. So let’s start by noting the differences between the three.

Crab/Claw/Thanksgiving Cactus– Schlumbergera truncata
This is the most commonly sold of the holiday cactus and one of the plants I dragged along with me when I packed up and left New Jersey. After a year or so of adapting it began to bloom every December about three years back. Originally the bloom was solid pink but it has changed to what you see in the picture, shimmering white with pink margins and pink throat. This plant becomes the center piece of the dinner table every December.

Christmas Cactus – Schlumergera russelliana

The specimen in this case is small, and very slow growing compared to its bigger cousin however the contrast in foliage is quite pronounced and I for one enjoy the color difference. Care requirements are identical, and I can’t say if or when this little guy will bloom it’s a few years old and I would guess not entirely big enough to do so.

Easter Cactus – Hatiora salicornoides ‘Drunkards Dream’

I don’t think I have to tell you all that this guy gets around! I sold small pots of this guy during the spring and summer, and it’s truly prolific, easily growing twice as fast as the other two cacti but requiring the same conditions. Though not yet in bloom (usually March-February) the flowers are bright yellow and before they open they resemble little Christmas lights. You can bet there will be more of these for sale next year.

With that said, I must point out, that the two common forms of holiday cactus are only named thus because in the industry they are often forced to bloom at certain times of the year which matches two specific holidays.  The act of ‘forcing’ which is also done with blubs such as paper whites is actually a manipulation of the plant’s normal biological processes. In the case of bulbs, typically the forcing is temperature based, they are kept cold to mimic winter for a set number of weeks and then warmed and exposed to some light to encourage sprouting. Plants such as Chrysanthemums, Holiday Cactus and Poinsettias are given or denied exposure to light to mimic the changing of the seasons which encourages blooming. The agri-business has worked out the exact number of hours needed to get a bloom at a desired time and the plants don’t know the difference.

For those of you who don’t like the scientific details and technicality skip the following paragraph, because I’m going to dive all up in the lurid details of cactus paternity and what not. First off none of the three plants I have spoken of are actually cactus. All of them are succulents and epiphytes. Now the rule is that all cacti are biologically succulents, but not all succulents are biologically cacti. The difference lay in the critical adaptations individual species have made to survive their environments. So here are a few things that are true cactus.

-Opuntia (Prickly pears)
-Mammilaria (Pincushin or Nipple Cactus)*
-Maihuenia (a primitive species of cactus, possibly prehistoric.)
-Pereskia (Lemon vine, Rose Cacti, Leaf Cacti)

The above are about all the plant taxonomy crowd can really agree on. It is and has been for some time a standing debate as to the precise definition of what a cactus is. To the point plants such as the Cardoon (artichoke relative) were once considered cactus. The origin of the word cactus comes from ancient Greek (Kaktos) and even the name Opuntia is also Greek, named for the nearby town where prickly pears were first identified. For our purposes, however we can agree that there are a lot of succulents out there. It’s clear that the plants store water in modified stems, leaves in a lot of species are absent or replaced by spines that perform some of the same functions. These plants cannot tolerate being constantly wet and get root rot readily in damp conditions. Some require poor sandy soil (opuntia, mammilaria) while others do best in soils that have a lot of organic matter mimicking their natural environments (all holiday cactus). With that said, I have to explain that epiphytes are plants that live on or in another plant. In the case of the easter cactus, it would likely be found growing in the crotch of a branch high up in a tree. I’ts succulent adaptation is that it stores what water it gets to counter the limits of its own soil space. The trailing habit of the Holiday cacti is both for getting more light but also so the stems can droop down over the edge of the branch and when conditions are right, the pads can snap loose and possibly sprout in some other place. In short it’s a means of asexual reproduction, which augments that the plant already produces beautiful flowers when mature. The flowers if pollenated produce brightly colored fruits and seeds. In short the entire plant is a lesson in adaptation and survival.

Ok those of you who ducked out of the biology lesson can return. Caring for a holiday cactus is relatively easy, first off use normal potting soil, you don’t need that cactus soil because you’re not growing true cacti. These epiphytes do best in light soil rich in organic matter, the soil also must drain well. Regular applications of liquid fertilizer during the summer months will produce the best growth; I might add growing these kinds of plant in clay pots seems to aid them in some way. It may be radiant heat or the air and water exchange granted by the porous clay of the pots. You can and should give these plants full sun during the summer and maintain reasonable summer moisture. Obviously Holiday cacti are frost sensitive so leaving them out beyond the end of September is not a good idea. Ideally a good sunny window where the cactus gets six or more hours of light will suffice for getting a good winter bloom. Now lastly, if the plant begins to drop pads (those are what the segments are called) it means your cactus may be stressed by something. Make sure you are not overwatering, that it’s getting the right amount of light and that you’re not fertilizing during the wrong time of year. As a final note on this topic, you can root dropped segments of a sick holiday cacti to clone a parent, but know that it will take a few years for the clones to bloom. This cloning process is often how one gets around a case of root rot before an entire plant is destroyed. In a way the holiday cactus are probably the most forgiving succulents known to agriculture.

Check it out definite color change!
Two weeks into the process and as you can see the ground cherry wine has an almost butter-like color. It’s not uncommon for batches of brew to change color in the process however this one went from yellow-orange to butter yellow which means it might wind up as a white sort of color when done. Time will tell the prickly pear wine was started in May and it’s first serve was October so there’s a lot of time between now and then in theory. But enough brewing shenanigans,  the weather this weekend is going to be beautiful with a high of 78 no chance of rain and a decent wind. This is in contrast to how the week started with cold and rain which goes with the precipitation for the week being 1.7”. That said it’s great Farmer’s market weather and I’ll be there, and if you want to stop by the farmers market is between 9:00 AM and 1:00 PM at 325 Franklin Street in downtown Fayetteville. But enough of that stuff onward to the market materials list.

Southward Skies: A northern guide to southern Gardening

This is the second edition of my book, which was published using data compiled from several years of test garden operations. It’s written to aid gardeners of all skill levels in successful garden methods that are targeted for the south east but had proven to be a valued resource for gardens across the weather coast. It’s certainly a good gift for that gardener you know or for yourself if you’d like to have a reliable field guide. The book costs $25.00 and we do take checks for this item, you can even have it signed. I forgot to mention that the book is also available online through for $10.00 in electronic format!

Black Magic Fertilizer
That’s right you’ve heard about it in trials all summer. This specially formulated liquid fertilizer was made and tested at the test gardens using natural ingredients and no chemicals. The result explosive growth, great harvests and of course no environmental side effects! We’re making batches of this stuff to order, at $6.00 per gallon of fertilizer. You can either order it at the market and pick it up the next week or have it delivered to your home in the Fayetteville area for a delivery charge of an additional $2.00.

Fresh Cut Herbs
Bundles of Fresh Rosemary, short stem
Bundles of Fresh Rosemary, Long Stem
Bagged Fresh Rosemary No stems
Rosemary Holiday Wreaths.

4x Spineless Prickly Pear
6x Morris-Heading Cabbage Collards
3x Georgia Collards
1x Stonehead Cabbage
2x Savoy Cabbage

You all out there know the drill, the plant list signals the end of another episode of Lost in the farmer’s market. One more episode remains to be posted and Christmas is on Wednesday of this upcoming week. With that said Merry Christmas and thank you all for reading this blog and hitting up the booth at the Farmer’s Market. The next post will be the yearly numbers so stay tuned and as ways keep ‘em growing!

They say it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Personally I say the fun and games ends when the hooch runs out.

*Oh Myyy!

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