Thursday, September 11, 2014

September showers bring October...bah...doesn't rhyme.

Welcome back to a slightly rain-soaked edition of Lost In the Farmers Market or LITFM for short. As we’ve discovered by googling* our own name… that apparently our short hand acronym also means “Look In The F****** Manual”.  Don’t worry you won’t find that sort of impatient vulgarity here on LITFM, well unless we’re talking about Monsanto who deserves heaping piles of vulgarity just because. With that said as of this writing we have had several rain events since our last post.  We had a total of 1.85” last week after the last post spread across two precipitation incidents and now between Sunday and Monday, we have had a total of 0.00”.  In short making sure things are irrigated is not a problem right now. Compared to the weather last year we’re practically swimming in precipitation which for long term growth is a good thing and since larger landscape plants means irrigation and the cool temperatures and rain make the task easier.

The Harvest moon was visible on the 5th and 6th and again on the 9th.

But precipitation aside, I get a lot of folks at the market who are form other places who want to know how to grow things in the North Carolina climate and often the discussion the booth can’t quite cover it all. So for this episode I in print will reiterate the five critical things to know about adapting to the North Carolina climate especially considering it’s almost time to plant the cold-season crops.

1. The Weather
The North Carolina is fairly regular, and usually by April you can figure out what the rest of the year will do within some fair margin. Usually the hard frosts happen between December and April and the drought period tends to start in Late july and range through August. High humidity is a normal thing year-round because of the geography of the state and the fact that we are just barely in the start of the Sub-tropical zone. This means our thunderstorms can be pretty violent, as can the hurricanes and there is always a risk of tornadoes. Due to this it’s always wise to have a rain catchment system and be very wary of erosion of your land.

2. The Soil
The soil in our state varies greatly but in the Fayetteville area we range from gray clay to red clay and sand soils. There are obviously places where you will find mixtures of the aforementioned types and occasionally you may find all three in the same spot.  Due to the swampy areas you may even find a soil type called ‘muck’ due to its high organic content and it being constantly wet. I might add that many underground rivers and surface riparian areas wind through the area making the land and its soil very diverse.
With all that said generally our soils suffer from nutrient deficiencies due to the fact that in the case of clay the soil particles compact and prevent the movement of water and nutrients. In the case of sand the soil particles are so large that water does not stick around for long and nutrient washes out into the subsoil putting it out of reach of the roots of most plants. So, what is one to do under this situation? The answer is simple, you add slow-decaying organic matter, compost and manure products to darken and enrich the soil in general while also increasing its nutrient capacity and water retention. I have to admit that unless your building raised beds or using containers it’s a slow process to make the soil acceptably fertile but it can be done.

3. The Bugs
Let’s face it, with the warm and humid climate you will encounter larger and more numerous critters in general. Because we have such a long warm season you can expect to encounter uglies such as palmetto bugs, several types of mosquitos, fleas and ticks almost year-round. Your crops will likely have to fight off attacks by varied types of caterpillars, and then there is dealing with the fire ants and for your furniture the possibility of termites. This means that for the average gardener you need to be proactive as opposed to reactive and maintain an environment that does not favor pests and try not to disturb natural predators. For some the knee-jerk reaction is to reach for the insecticide bottle and to those people I pose a thought to consider for the next time you’re tempted. “Is this pest causing serious damage to my crops or posing a significant risk to my health and safety?”  If the answer is no then you may be able to ignore the pest problem as it’s not a problem. If the answer is no, I recommend considering what you are to use and see if there is not an alternative that only targets the pest in specific or a physical method of control that refrains from altering the local ecology.

4. The Plants
It seems simple enough on paper, and I explain it plenty of times in lecture and at the table at the market but, plants come from specific regions and are adapted for those regions specifically. In of that plants have certain needs you must address in order for them to do well. I get a lot of customers at the market who ask for Mint, Cilantro, Dill and other cold-season plants in the dead heat of summer. It’s then I have to explain that they will not tolerate southern summers due to a mixture of heat, drought and humidity and in order to get them to produce that late a gardener has to go through a number of steps that are often more trouble than they are worth. While a lot of our favorite garden plants come from Mediterranean climates even more come from tropical or alpine climates and making sure to know the difference is critical to your success as a gardener.

For instance, Lavender prefers colder temperatures, is not fond of humidity, and will not tolerate poor soils. Well we have poor soils excess humidity and a long warm growing season so it would seem that growing lavender is a loss right? Wrong, the trick there is to find some way to handle most of what your lavender plants need; so we know lavender doesn’t like excessive heat. Well the solution there is to ignore the labels that came with the plant and plant it in a spot that has afternoon shade. We know that lavender needs decent soil so perhaps the cure is to excavate the native soil where the lavender is to be planted and backfill with composted manure and spent potting soil to create an oasis of plant nutrition and improve overall water retention. The humidity issue in the case of lavender can only be reduced, this is as simple as avoiding overcrowding and keeping all other plants at least six inches away from your lavender so there is adequate airflow about the plant. Obviously this won’t lower the atmospheric humidity any but it will reduce the local humidity by preventing continuously wet mulch and leaf surfaces which can contribute to foliar disease.

5. Timing
The pace of a garden is relative to the season and weather. We know that generally there are two primary seasons in relation to the plants you can grow. Basically you have the cool-season and warm-season crops/plants that summarize our gardens in this region. With the plants being divided you have to consider plant life cycles (annual, biennial, perennial), and how much time these plants take to mature and provide what you are expecting. As a general rule of thumb, if you are starting seed for use in the next temperature-period you want it sown at least three months before you intend to plant it in the field. If you are taking cuttings, often you can chop a month or more off the startup time depending on the type of cutting (Non-woody cuttings are the fastest.). So for instance when it comes to timing, you might sow your warm-season crop’s seed in late January-February, and be preparing it for planting out by Easter in April. Your cold-season crops for long term use might be sown in late-August to September and planted out between Late October and November depending on the variety of plant in question. In the meanwhile while you’re doing this soil enrichment and preparations might be made out in the fields to receive the crops. Final harvests of plants at the end of their season and the composting of their uprooted materials might also be a way to seasonally build your composting operation. I might add that with every crop shift you may want to consider adding mulch also to generally improve your topsoil over time.

As I said before this is just a generalized guide to the five aspects of urban farming in general. Each yard and the situations it will present will vary and for that you must find your own variant methods and practices that work in your area. But the time has come to shift the topic.

Late Summer Veggie Delight!
That’s right this Wednesday (2:00-6:00 pm) and Saturday (9:00AM – 1:00 PM) I will be at the Fayetteville Farmers market selling aloes galore for the last week of Sparklitis month. This is your last chance to lay hands on the rare and unusual aloes before they are taken off the sale racks for a few months. Some of the plants may return during the holiday months but I wouldn’t bet money on that one!  The Fayetteville Farmer’s Market is located in downtown Fayetteville in the Fayetteville Transportation Museum Property on 326 Franklin Street.  Without further delay here is this week’s plant list which polishes off this week’s LITFM post, I hope to see you at the Market.

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.

Cold-Season Crops (Available on Saturday)
6x Mustard Greens, India, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Collard Greens, Georgia, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Lettuce, Black seeded Simpson, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Onion, Egyptian Red, 3.5” pot ($3.00)

3x Artemesia, 3.5” pot ($2.00)
6x Baloon Flower, White 3.5” pot ($2.00)
6x Nicotina, Flowering Tobacco, 3.5” pot ($2.00)
6x Rudbeckia, Irish Eyes, 3.5” pot ($2.00)

House Plants: (By Price, Wendnesday only.)
1x Aloe x hybrid ‘Fauxgave’, 6.0” pot ($12.00)
2x Peperomia orba, Teardrop Peperomia - Gift pot ($9.00)
2x Aloe glauca, Cosmetic Aloe - Gift pot ($9.00)
3x Adenium obesum, Desert Rose – 6” Pot ($8.00)  < Limited Supply!>

1x Aloe hybrid, Blizzard Aloe - 4.0" pot ($6.00)
2x Aloe x Gasteria, 'Night Sky' Aloe - 6.0" pot ($6.00)
3x Aloe dorotheae, Sunset Aloe - 4.0" pot ($6.00)
3x Aloe deltoideodantes, Checkerboard Aloe - 4.0" pot ($6.00)

2x Peperomia orba, Teardrop Peperomia, 3.5” pot ($5.00)
3x Aloe nobilis ‘Gator’, 3.5” pot ($5.00)

Perennial Flowering & Fruiting Vines:
2x Passiflora incarnata, Passion Vine – 3.5” pot ($3.00)
1x Muscadinia rotundifolia, Muscadine Grape Vine (Copper) – 3.5” pot ($3.00)

Coming Soon: (September 13th)

Just as a clarification, if the weather does not cooperate on Wednesday sparklitis month may extend to Saturday and then the new cold season plants and the rare houseplants will be at the booth at the same time!

*Googling yourself honestly sounds dirty…it’s not though.
** For those who don’t know, Food Lion is the same as Pathmark in the north literally the same company.

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