Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Half Year Past

Welcome back to another episode of lost in the farmer’s market where we look into the ways and means of successful organic gardening with just a dash of comedic content to keep the topics from going to seed. As you may know with next week’s post we are heading into the second half of the year. This of course means the fruits of your labor for the summer harvest should be starting to produce results or are very close so now is a good time to talk about protecting your hard work and how to keep the produce coming. Before we get into that lets talk precipitation, this week the test gardens have received at least 1.1” of precipitation on average which has been supported by a number of brief showers. This comes on the heels of last week’s significant rainfall which is a good thing. Since the major rains in the area tend to be by way of thunderstorms this also means gardens in the area have been receiving atmospheric nitrogen. Adequate water is essential to the success of any garden that is designed to produce food for a house hold or for sale.

The discussion of production isn’t complete without a bit on fertilizer. Now as you might figure if your vegetable crops have been in place for a few months they might need a little boost in preparation for the difficulties of August. July is right around the corner and with it the oppressive heat and common drought of August. This basically sets the stage for a possible case of nutrient deficiency, or a soil fertility issue. Usually in the context of a garden it’s a localized problem take for instance the issue of blossom end rot in tomatoes which in truth is a calcium deficiency.  Most problems can be resolved or prevented with regular applications of water-soluble slow release organic fertilizers which when used in the right measure put back what you remove. It also has to be said that mono-cropping and not making use of crop rotation will only make the issue of nutrient deficiency worse in the long run. On a local note, at the Test gardens one of the tomatoes involved in the trials this year has already exhibited a case of blossom end rot. The real twist to this is that it’s a potted plant that is being grown in fresh soil and thus I have to point out that even with good potting soil you can have nutrient issues. I’ve resolved the issue with hydrated lime suspended in slightly acidic water from the rain barrels and the problem has not recurred but it does highlight that gardeners should always be wary. The link below goes to a document published regarding the varied symptoms of various nutrient deficiencies and is a rather informative read or reference.

Keep in mind in the case of the tomato that suffered blossom end rot even when potted, it was the San Marzano paste tomatoes. They might have been the first large tomato harvested had the entire first batch not suffered end rot. I suspect pate tomatoes just need more calcium in general as this happened last year also.  This is the life of the test garden; you react to whatever situations happen as they come about with the information at hand.

But this leads to the second topic of the week, how does one handle losses to birds and squirrels and such? A lot of visitors at the booth have stated that they often find their tomatoes with bites out of them in the middle of the yard (squirrels). Others have mentioned the birds getting them and basically leaving them still on the vine half eaten/pecked to death. At the test gardens I have problems with critters in both cases and have found a decent way to solve the problem at little or no cost. Some folks get decoy owls, or those weird inflatable balls that have bright colors, some get fox urine, of dangle old CD’s up or foil strips. The problem is birds and squirrels quickly adapt to these things, and let’s face it netting over your crops is a massive pain in the rear end. Admittedly I’ve never used a single one as the frustrations with these methods that are voiced at the booth at the farmer’s market as well as when I’m out doing landscaping have ruled out these options. So many people could not be so dissatisfied if it was effective. With that said this is how I handle it, instead of fancy and expensive stuff I will often ‘jacket’ the fruit of crops that are vulnerable to birds and squirrels.

Before you ask no, this is not a micro-greenhouse technique.

The use of plastic zip lock type sandwich bags protects tomatoes because for some reason the birds cannot quite tell they are ripe and the squirrels tend to leave them alone probably because of the plastic. I should say that in the bottom of each bag I cut three 1” slits to allow the fruit inside to breathe and to prevent water from collecting inside. The alternative means of ‘Jacketing’ a crop can be seen in the below picture.

Figs require a different method as they will not tolerate plastic.
For the White Ischia figs that ripened within the last few days (this is early, I think) it posed the problem of dealing with the bird population. Last year I field tested the use of muslin bags over the fruits that were gently tied to the branches of the fig bushes with great success. This year the process was repeated and for the early harvest I only lost two ripe figs to birds out of 23 which is a remarkable success rate. Basically this version allows the fruit to breathe but also removes the ripening fruit from sight so it’s not as much of a target. This method has only been tested with the figs, because of their slow ripening habits. Unlike other fruits figs generally are ripe when the fruit are very swollen, have a slight gloss to their skin and are very soft to the touch. I might add figs sag when ripe as if too heavy for their stems to support. The end result of all this  effort can be seen in the next picture.

Last week’s Mexico midget and Cherokee purple tomato harvest plus the first five figs of the year.
It does payoff to be vigilant, but it also pays off to be wise about how you manage your crops. As a final note for this post before we get to the market stuff, someone last week asked about caterpillars and the “eggs” they leave on the soil. Catapillars have this biological mechanism that allows them to fling their feces a distance away to prevent wasps from finding them. And so you get what I found in the house this week a caterpillar on one of my rhipsalis that seeming came from nowhere the following occurred right after.

Why Hi Mr. caterpillar, have seen you in a while.

What the hell? Did you just crap all over the living room?
Needless to say I don’t know how he got on that plant as it’s never been outside but he had to go and there was a cleanup after the fact. For note this is probably the first time we've resorted to toilet humor at LITFM, it was a barrier that needed breaking anyway.

But now I must move on to the Farmers Market stuff and indeed we appear to have a decent weekend coming up. Thought eh weather has a chance to throw a thunderstorm like it has had every day for the last two weeks that should not prevent you from hitting up the market. For those who have not heard the Fayettville Farmer’s Market is located at 325 Franklin Street, in downtown Fayetteville in the front parking lot and lawn area of the Fayetteville Transportation Museum. The market runs on both Wednesdays between 2pm and 6pm and on Saturdays between 9am and 1pm. This gives all of you two chances to get the freshest foods in Fayetteville and to hit up my booth for information and  GMO-Free, organic plants for your garden. Without further ado here is this Saturday’s Plant 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 eastern 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.

2x Amaranth, Tricolor, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Cucumber, Armenian, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Cucumber, Poona Kheera, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Eggplant, Casper , 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Eggplant, Louisiana Long Green, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Pepper, Jalapeno, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Pepper, Habenero, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Pepper, Sweet Banana , 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Pepper, Carolina Wonder, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Tomato, Brown Berry, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Tomato, Martino’s Roma, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
1x Tomato, Rainbow Cherry Mix, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Tomato, Red & Yellow Currant, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Tomato, Reisotomate, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
1x Tomato, Underground Railroad, 3.5” pot ($3.00)

2x Cape Gooseberry, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Ground Cherry, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Horned Melon, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Vine Peaches, 3.5” pot ($3.00)

4x Basil, Sweet, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Basil, Thai, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Basil, Cinnamon, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Basil, Red Rubin, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Artemesia, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Chives, Common, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Fennel, Black, 7” pot ($6.00)
2x Lavender, Hidcote, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Oregano, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Parsley, Italian, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Rosemary, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Sage, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Thyme, 3.5” pot ($3.00)

1x Passion Vine, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Coneflower, White Swan, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Coneflower, Cheyenne Spirit, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
1x Coneflower, Magnus, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Rudbeckia, Golden, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
1x Rudbeckia, Irish Eyes, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Rudbeckia, Summer Sun, 3.5” pot ($3.00)

Coming Soon:
Black Hungarian Pepper
Potatoleaf Hillbilly Tomato
Japanese Black Trifele Tomato
Muscadine, Copper

I admit this episode was a tad wordy however it is now at it's end, and I hope you enjoyed it. Next week caps off the real summer series, as we document things like the pepper trials and other stuff going on around the gardens. As always folks watch for lighting, carry an umbrella and never ever allow a caterpillar as a house guest they  seriously think the world is toilet paper. As always folks keep 'em growing!

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