Friday, June 13, 2014

Apparently it rains everywhere else but the test gardens...

Welcome back to another episode of Lost in the Farmers Market. Today we are going to forgo the loose garden photo format to talk a bit about the events of the garden tour last week. Some of you could not make it to see the sights and pose your questions so I thought it would be a good idea to post the most frequently asked questions so that until the next Sustainable Neighbors garden tour in October you could at least get some of what you wanted to know answered. You can bet there will be garden photos but they’re last in line and come before the market listings. So without further delay I’m happy to present the most frequently asked questions regarding the test gardens.

  1. “What are the Test Gardens? 
The test gardens are an extended study of the feasibility, productivity and economic viability of organic gardening and agricultural practices for use in urban or semi-urban environments that can be expanded for use in rural environments with limited space. To put that more simply the idea is to see if organic growing can work in places with limited space for the least amount of cost and the most productivity. Thus far there have been several versions of the test garden over the years with the smallest being the original fire escape garden and the largest being the current version in Fayetteville.

My vision for the test gardens is to use it as a functional example and template for others to see how it can be done and foment their own ideas and implement their own plans for urban agriculture and sustainable organic practices.

  1. “How big are the Test Gardens?
The overall area of the property is a half –acre. From an inner-city perspective this is a lot of area, and from a rural angle it’s tiny. However as I’ve said before the front half of the property looks perfectly normal and suburban while the rear of the property is where the sustainable activity tends to be. Officially speaking there is a little over a thousand square feet of cultivated area, out of which approximately 1177.83 square feet are used to grow food crops in raised beds. In addition to the ‘in-ground’ beds, there is a large number of potted crops growing as well. As of  this writing of this article, the container garden section of the test gardens includes, two 10.5” buckets, twenty-five 3-gallon nursery pots, four 6.5” pots, six 7.75” pots, two 7.5” pots, six 12” pots, one 15” fabric pot and a single 13” pot. This adds up to a grand total of 62.47 square feet of additional growing area.

I’d say it’s not bad for a study in sustainability to be able to produce food with 1240.3 square feet of growing area. For fair reference, 1240.3 square feet is about 2.8% of an acreor in short…. If I had a farm sibsity like most farmers do my cost per pound of food would be equal or less than what you pay at the supermarket even with labor added in.

  1. “Is it worth it? /How much do you really produce?”
In the case of the first part of the question the answer is an undoubting yes. Like any other project there are moments of doubt and so on in regards to if the message is being understood and if the things under trial will work. In the end however it is utterly worth it when I hear gardeners out there are trying their first attempts at a new idea or are trying some of what the test gardens are currently doing. To answer the second question we produce more than you might think. Armed with a kitchen produce scale I started weighing the literal fruits of the test garden’s labors in 2009. So far the following yearly information has come from the study of productivity.

2009 – Negligible
2010 – 25.25 pounds (first year of aggressive soil enrichment)
2011 – 111.55 pounds
2012 –  71.03 pounds (Drought and whitefly infestation caused crop losses)
2013 – 54.04 pounds (prolonged rain season caused summer crop losses)
2014 – 2.96 pounds (this total is in progress, a bad winter killed most of the winter crops.)

  1. “I live in an Apartment/Condo, how can I garden?”
That should not be a problem, as you can see with the above area information, the test gardens incorporate 46 container crops as of this writing and I fully expect that to be fifty or more in the coming days. But if you do not have the space for big 14” or larger diameter containers there is the option of window boxes or herbs grown in smaller pots to sate your inner gardener. In fact some of the pots in the test gardens are in the 6” diameter range and ornamental potted plants often can make due with 4-6” diameter pots.
There is also a wide range of edible house plants such as Okinawa spinach or even the medicinal house plants such as the aloe family to fit your need. Space is honestly the least of your worries.

  1. “What about this ‘Organic’ stuff I hear it’s a hoax!”
That’s both true and false. On one had you have major corporations that want to slap the term organic on things whether they actually are organic as per standards outlined by groups such as the Oregon Tithe or are “organic” because some corporate entity says so. On the other hand you have the lawyers who are paid to create intentionally ambiguous and confusing language to make identification of truly organic materials harder. Somewhere in the middle is the consumer who half the time cannot even get a real honest answer from the other two and has to rely on interpersonal networks and their good judgment. 

The concept of growing organic crops or raising live stock in an organic fashion is not a hoax any more then rain catchment systems are a fraud. In fact it is a very legitimate means to increase the longevity the land. Whether you agree or not the land itself is alive, every single blade of grass is covered in organisms, and the same can be said for every speck of dirt. Although it has not been studied in a multi-decade long study to determine side effects of agricultural chemical pollution there is some short term and median information to suggest that practices such as mono-cropping, GMO crop proliferation and mass application of pesticide and insecticides is not positive. But for you at the very least, if you grow your crops organically, you know that they have no funny business going on. Keep in mind the average head of lettuce travels at least a few hundred to a few thousand miles to get to you there is no telling what happened before during or just before you bought it. The head of lettuce growing outside in your back yard? You can be sure you know what went on there. And that is the point, organic growing practices are food security.

  1. “What is the point?! [Insert reason not to garden]”
I do get this sort of question every so often, typically it’s worded in a confrontational way and as always I answer it anyway. The reason I encourage urban farming, sustainability and gardening in general is that it’s flat out good for you. The act of gardening is formally recognized as exercise, more so whatever you grow has a positive effect on your outlook. Consider how rewarding it is to see that tiny seed go from a crusty dry thing to a gorgeous adult plant over a period of weeks or years. Some will say negative things about the bugs, or chemicals in the rain or jet contrails making it cloudy or whatever and you know what? I keep on gardening because in the end, anyone who opens with a negative assessment telling you not even to try has their own problems that need work, not you. The best part is that as they try and dissuade you from gardening, you can drown them out with the crunch of that salad composed of lettuce, spinach, amaranth, tomatoes and cucumbers that you grew on premises and smile knowing that you’ve just proved the doubters wrong.

So those are the six most common questions I get both on garden tours and at the farmer’s market table. I got a little wordy with some but that’s just what it takes to explain. We have a brief weekly photo section and then the market information.

Oenothera biennis – Sundrop/ Common Evening Primrose

I’ve talked about it a bit before but here is a night time picture of the evening primroses in bloom at about 8 pm at night. True evening primroses bloom right after dusk to attract moths and some species of pollinators. Despite having very pretty flowers they are not aromatic in a good way. For note this traditional form of primrose is a biennial.

Sanseveria trifaciata – Snake Plant / Mother In law’s Tongue
Now here’s something I’ve yet to see, a snake plant in bloom, um, yeah it’s not quite the prettiest of blooms but as far as these plants being willing to bloom I think the flowers are kind of cool. The sanseveria group rarely bloom and for note in this picture both the birds nest dwarf type and the true tall type are growing in the same pot.

Solanum sp. – Cape Gooseberry or Ground cherry
Yet another member of the ground cherry or gooseberry clan appears as a volunteer. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s some trick at work here, they do not germinate when I sow the seed but will germinate once the seed starting pellet is tossed out in the garden. Maybe I ought just throw about fistfuls of ground cherry seed and see if I get a delicious forest

Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ – Black & Blue Sage
Black and blue sage in bloom is something to behold. The humming birds love it and while it has no herbal uses I know of the striking combination of the black stems and electric indigo flowers is enough to throw some extra sparkle to any garden bed.

Rudbeckia maxima – Giant Coneflower
Giant cone flower is a rudbeckia that can get up to six feet tall, and are best pet as the tallest ornamental in a bed for the obvious reason that they get very huge. Much like cut leaf coneflower R. laciniata, giant cone flower is a experience unto its own. They are essentially wild species that the industry has not tampered with so, the giant cone flower is a rudbeckia for part shade while the cut leaf coneflower likes moist stream banks. Bot can be used to expand the range of your garden’s options.

Lampranthus sp – Variegated Ice plant
I know this was on last week’s post, but finally I snapped a photo of the plant with its flowers open. The normal skinny leaf ice plant has bigger flowers but I still like this one the bright pink contrasts nicely with the foliage.

Bufo fowleri – Fowler’s Toad
So after the Wednesday market was rained out I returned home to find this little guy hopping about inside the enclosed patio. I still can’t for the life of me figure how he got in there as he could not have hibernated in a plant, none on the deck had been outside, nor could he have come in under the door, the gap is too small. My nearest guess is this tad burred in under the foundation and got onto the deck through the crawlspace entry but either way this critter had to be put back outside or he’d die. So it took some doing but I finally caught him and placed him in the block bed. Moments later the toad burrowed into the soil doing this crazy spinning move to dig and then unburied himself once night fell. Such is the way things are at the test gardens, critters aplenty. I might add that in the neighborhood of the test gardens there are the toads, and the resident frogs. The frogs are Hyla andersonii or Pine Barrens Tree frog. I photo graphed one of these guys hanging out in the fig bushes last year.

This weekend there is a chance of a thunder shower so I’d advice considering bringing a umbrella. The chances are not high but it is better to be prepared than soaked. For reference the Fayetteville farmer’s market occurs Wednesdays between 2 and 6 pm, and on Saturdays between 9am and 1 pm. The market is located at 325 Franklin Street in the front parking lot of the Fayetteville Transportation museum. I’m now present at both market days so you now have two opportunities per week to hit up the booth for info or plants and let me tell you, flower season is upon us. Some of the rare plants and exotics will be appearing this weekend so get ready for horticultural mayhem. This weekend’s plant list is as follows.

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.

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, Pimento, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Pepper, Carolina Wonder, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Tomato, Brown Berry, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
1x Tomato, Cherokee Purple, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Tomato, Martino’s Roma, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Tomato, Rainbow Cherry Mix, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Tomato, Red & Yellow Currant, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Tomato, Reisotomate, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Tomato, Underground Railroad, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Cucumber, Armenian, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Cucumber, Poona Kheera, 3.5” pot ($3.00)

6x Strawberry- Ozark Beauty, 3.5” pot ($3.00) (On sale!)
2x Ground Cherry, 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)
3x Chives, Common, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Fennel, Black, 7” pot ($6.00)
1x Lavender, Munstead, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Marjoram
4x Oregano, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Parsley, Italian, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
4x Sage, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
4x Thyme, 3.5” pot ($3.00)

2x Passion Vine, 3.5” pot ($3.00)

Coming Soon:
Black Hungarian Pepper
Lavender ‘Hidcote’
Potatoleaf Hillbilly Tomato
Japanese Black Trifele Tomato
Melon, Vine Peach
Melon, Horned

Well this has been a rather long episode hasn’t it, and here we are at its end with the precipitation report. Surprisingly up until the shower on Wednesday we had virtually no noticeable precipitation despite several showers that deposited less than 0.10” of rain. This later rain event was far more generous lasting about a half hour and leaving with an average of 0.375”. a bit over a quarter inch isn’t much but it’s better than the humidity soaked nothing we were getting before.

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