Friday, March 25, 2016

Get lost winter!

Welcome back to another fine episode of Lost In The Farmers Market, this is our first episode of spring 2016, and you can bet there is some good stuff planned for this one. You have to love how spring came so fast though; it was not long ago temperatures were dipping into freezing every night. It appeared as if nothing seemed to be growing except the winter weeds and then suddenly we had a bunch of hot days and everything was dusted in a patina of yellow pollen from the pines. As if teasing all those nice seed catalogs and garden supply books started showing up in the mail and you placed your orders and the waiting game started. We all looked outside and relished the few warm spring-like days and then the weather started to act like summer sort of and we had to hold onto the urge to do anything because we knew it’d cold again. But then the miracle happened, all that stuff you ordered in February showed up in March!

Oh yes it’s very much like this.
So you have the goods, and well the weather turned sideways…again. But there is good news, the unofficial final killing frost date is Sunday April the 31st and that means in short order it will be very safe to start putting out your tomatoes or planting your warm-season plants directly. But of course not everyone knows what to do this time of year so of course as the first order of business I’m teaching this class.

Jump-Start Your Garden
Sunday April 10th, 2016 2:00-4:00pm

At the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex
801 Arsenal Avenue Fayetteville NC 28305.

You can sign up for this class here:
Walk-ins are welcome.

This class is hopefully the start of a monthly series (2nd Sunday of every month) and it comes about three weeks before the Sustainable Neighbors Urban Farm Tour which is slated for the First May 1st, 2016 between 2:00-5:00pm. The garden tour locations will be announced as I verify who is willing to host a location. So yes spring has sprung and there are all sorts of good stuff going on. Also there is the City market Meetup which happens weekly and

The City Market
325 Franklin Street, Fayetteville NC
Saturdays 9:00an-1:00pm

Below you will find a list of what is most likely going to be available at the market; I should note that this is the last week that I sell soup-kits. This is mostly because I require the table space for warm season crops and honestly soup isn’t as great when it’s hot out. I should have tomatoes and or warm season items in a week or two depending on what the current weather pattern decides to do.

8x Soup Kits, $5.00 (Celery, Carrot, Red Potatoes, Onions, Purple top turnip and a parsnip)

Crop Plants
8x Rouge D’hiver Lettuce, $3.00 (Romaine Type Heirloom)
8x Napa Cabbage, $3.00 (Asian Cabbage, Heirloom Type.)
6x Dinosaur Kale, $3.00 (AKA Tuscan Kale, good for kale chips)
6x Swiss Chard $3.00 (Bright Lights Mix)

With all of the aforementioned covered, now I move onto the main topic. For you regular readers you might remember the image below from January. This is a Crosby’s Prolific Aloe, and this image was again taken of the plant in January. As the weather has stabilized I was preparing to bring it out to the deck so that it could get some additional sun and hopefully bloom and I noticed something was wrong.

 Aloe x. nobilis – Crosby’s Prolific Aloe

The fact is that succulents and cacti are very dramatic when sick and you can easily spot a sick succulent in a row of identical ones because they are very apparent. Since succulents can’t exactly wilt like a bedding annual and can be scarred by injury for years when they suddenly collapse it means something is terribly wrong. So you have what I found on the growing tray a few days ago.

This is incredibly bad.
This aloe is suffering from a sickness that is commonly fatal to aloes because it is so difficult to detect before the plant has gone soggy. The sickness is commonly called Root Rot and it is caused by one of two types of water mold both tend to strike as a result of over watering. The two common culprits are called Pythium and Phytopthera and both are hydrophilic in nature in that they need a wet environment to attack your plants. For note I keep my aloes very much on the dry side so I suspect this aloe got attacked because fungus gnats are known to spread root rot as the root rot organisms can live on the feet of fungus gnats. Why root rot randomly attacks healthy plants is unknown, but it’s always severe, some plants lose half their mass and recover, others seemingly turn into a puddle of slush overnight. Literally for succulents root rot is as severe as Ebola is in humans. Generally treatment isn’t worth doing but if it’s a special specimen like this Crosby is, then the first step is to remove as much infected tissue as you can.

Opportunistic fungi and diseases move in after root rot has done it's worst

Mostly cleaned this aloe still is a mess.

In the case of my aloe, that means removing any and all collapsed stems. Since most of the connective tissues are pulped by the disease this should be easy but try not to touch the healthy portions of your plant after you’ve touched diseased portions. Cut away as much as you can and then wash your hands and any tools you may have used with rubbing alcohol. Next inspect the healthy portions; in the case of my aloe the one healthy stem is also being attacked. Since this is a specimen plant, I will go ahead and cut the healthy stem off, then peel away the dry papery coverings over the stem. The next step is to cut ahead of the encroaching rot and make a cut into healthy tissue with a clean pair of scissors or a very sharp knife.

The rot has attacked this stem also but the crown in this case is well above the damaged area.

With the papery sheaths at the leaf bases removed it's clear that the rot does not go all the way up.
A simple single cut with a clean pair of scissors and now we have a potentially viable  cutting.
It is possible this cutting may make it but there is one more aspect to after-care, this cutting should be allowed to air-dry for a few hours, then get dipped in rooting hormone and allowed to form a callus at the end of the stem. The callus forming procedure can take a few days, but make sure to seat the cutting so it’s bottom faces down like shown. In few days the cutting will either collapse due to rot or begin to form roots, at this point it’s a 50-50 chance depending on how well you maintain sterility during the cutting procedure. If it survives, a few days place the cutting in a small pot with sterilized potting medium and water sparingly. Within a month the cutting will either grow roots and, continue on or the disease will take its toll. As for the remains of the plant and its old potting soil, dispose of that in in the compost and do not use any compost from your compost bin for at least six to eight months.

The cleaned cutting being dipped in rooting hormone after being allowed to dry a few hours.

The cutting is placed upright in a jar for a few days to allow a proper callus to form and to impede the progress of any surviving root rot pathogens.
 From the point in the last picture it become a waiting game to see if or if not the cutting recovers. Either way I hope this helps some of you succulent and cacti growers out there.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

More of the Good

Welcome back to another installment of Lost In the Farmer’s Market. This is the February post and for the purposes of getting back on track for March in a twice-per month schedule the two posts containing haworthia and gasteria will be combined into one larger post for your reading enjoyment. In March I will begin discussing all things late winter and spring so hold on to your hats…it’s going to be good!

Few garden enthusiasts realize that most of our garden species come from a limited number of plant families. For instance the Aster family contains the daisies, marigolds, Calendulas, Dandelions, Coreopsis, Echinacea, Lettuce, Radicchio, Rudbeckia, Zinnia and of course the Asters. In the same light the Aloe grouping has three major branches to it’s family tree, in my last post I covered the Aloe group but in this post I will be talking about the Haworthia and Gasteria branches. I have to admit that the Aloes are better known because of course we see their most famous representative (Aloe barbadensis/vera) in a wide variety of skincare products and some health beverages. In interesting contrast, the Haworthias are no less varied in shape and form and actually are more cold tolerant. To an extreme for a succulent, Gasteria are even tougher than the haworthias and can survive long periods of complete neglect as long as they get some sunlight.

As noted before the first rule of succulents and cactus is that “All cactus are succulents, but not all succulents are cactus.” This saying means that basically Cacti have a very specific biology, and thus when dealing with a succulent plant it’s smarter to call it a succulent until you know absolutely what you are handling. Aloe, Haworthia and Gasteria are all succulents because they lack spines, whereas cactus will have several types of spines as a form of self-defense. I am simplifying a bit but then this is not a hard botany article so my light-weight definition is reasonably accurate. As for haworthias which consequently have no common name, it’s best to think of them as aloes with much smaller leaves and a habit for growing faster and producing offshoots quicker. They are as a whole somewhat more tolerant of moisture but I would not assume that to mean you water them as often as a house plant such as a philodendron. Haworthias can handle temperatures as low as 28 degrees as long as they are not exposed to chilling winds or have wet foliage but frozen soil will kill a haworthia. Make no mistake, if you leave a haworthia outside in winter where the temperature drops below freezing you will probably lose the plant. If kept in a sunroom and covered over with a thin plastic drop cloth it is likely that a haworthia will survive the winter without needing to come indoors barring any exceptionally cold weather.

Haworthia coarctata – Dragon Haworthia
Haworthia cuspidata – Star-Window Plant
Haworthia cuspitata  – Star-Window Plant (red type)
Haworthia margaritifera – Pearl Plant

Haworthia miribilis – Wonderful Haworthia

Haworthia venosa subspecies Tesselata – Tesselated Haworthia
Next up we have the gasterias which are commonly called Ox-Tongues for some reason or another. The name gasteria comes from the stomach shaped flowers (Gastric) and the members of this branch of the family are exceptionally hardy but still vulnerable to freezing and will not tolerate frozen soil. With that said if you want to see rapid growth, gasteria are not the plants for you as they are slow, but respond impressively to limited fertilization and repotting every three to five years. They bloom in later winter to early spring if not into summer just like the aloes and haworthias do. It should be noted that despite being plants that prefer an arid climate, aloes, Haworthia and Gasteria can suffer sunscald and must be introduced to full sun slowly in the spring to avoid disfiguring damage to their foliage.

Gasteria liliputana – Dwarf Ox Tongue

Gasteria minima – Miniature Ox Tongue

Gasteria maculata – Ox Tongue

Gasteria bicolor – Bicolor Ox Tongue

The next few plants answer a question that all you house plant fans out there may have wondered, ‘if those three plants are in the same family, can they produce hybrids?’. The answer is yes as  they can with careful management produce viable hybrid offspring, thus far I have no aloe-haworthia or haworthia-gasteria crosses but the following are gasteria-aloe crosses that have produced an interesting variety of forms and colors.

Gasteraloe hybrid – “Green Gold”
Gasteraloe hybrid – “Green Ice”
Gasteraloe verrucosa – “Radiance”
Gasteraloe verrucosa – “Flow”

Now that the main topic has been handled stay tuned for our next article in two weeks where I’ll be talking in brief about the Rhipsalis family and a bit about spring preparations. Before I go however I do have to talk in brief about the City Market and the Better Health Market.

Better Health Market
1224 Bragg Boulevard, Fayetteville NC
Thursdays 5:00pm-7:00pm
(Indoor Event)

The City Market
325 Franklin Street, Fayetteville NC
Saturdays 9:00an-1:00pm
(Outdoor event)

I bring up both markets because as of this week I’ll begin offering my first spring plants as we are just about to enter the month of March and the time when most gardeners in our region really begin to consider their options for the coming warm season. You can expect the following at both events this week so feel free to stop in at your leisure.

6x Seasoning Packets, $1.00 (Rosemary, Thyme, Tarragon, Sage, Garlic Cilantro.)
6x Soup Kits, $5.00 (Celery, Carrot, Red Potatoes, Onions, Purple top turnip.)

Crop Plants
6x Parris Island Lettuce, $3.00 (Romaine Type Heirloom)
6x Rouge D’hiver Lettuce, $3.00 (Romaine Type Heirloom)
6x Napa Cabbage, $3.00 (Asian Cabbage, Heirloom Type.)
6x Dinosaur Kale, $3.00 (AKA Tuscan Kale, good for kale chips)
3x Red Giant Mustard, $3.00 (Good ornamental or for stewed greens)
3x Savoy Cabbage, $3.00 (Great for steaming)
2x Cabbage Collards $3.00 (Heirloom, Carolina)

Hopefully I’ll see some of you at the market, but otherwise stay tuned for our next episode.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Return to the Fray

Happy new years, for the holidays mega-aloe got decorated!

Welcome back to the first post-hiatus episode of Lost In the Farmer’s Market. For those of you who were wondering where LITFM went, I had a bit of a family crisis to handle that took several months to get back to a reasonably relative state of normality. For clarity purposes, my grandmother had become sick in August with no confirmed cause until October when she was diagnosed with what was thought to be stage 3 ovarian cancer. She had to undergo a serious surgery to remove as much of the cancerous growth as possible as it had escaped into other organs. Her surgeon and general practitioner didn’t us then then but the chances of her surviving the surgery and the ICU period after were nonexistent, yet she pulled through and now she’s about to go on her third chemo therapy treatment. As the one person who has to handle her medical and legal affairs I don’t think I have to mention exactly what sort of chaos comes with not only having to handle your issues but someone else’s as well. But then there is the cavalcade of well-meaning folks who try to step in and help which adds another logistical complication to the situation. The situation is being handled on a day-to-day status and now that it has leveled out, I can again begin writing LITFM for all of you readers out there. With that said LITFM isn’t dead but it did go into an early dormancy and now just to thumb its nose at our bizarre cold weather and the recent snow/sleet event we burst through the frozen ground not unlike a spring snowdrop.

For this installment I am going to talk about some house plants, and some of you know where this is going but for those who don’t, sit tight. For this episode I’m talking about three of the more durable house plants you can get. The family names of these house plants are Aloe, Gasteria and Haworthia, but there are a number of crosses between these three because we have gasteraloes, and aloe-haworthia hybrids. For note the three are closely related and can cross-breed sexually producing natural and viable hybrids without genetic meddling in a lab. So of course if you see a ‘gasteraloe’ at the store or at my table at the market* you can know that these plants can be GMO-free and can be organically grown.  At the market I often get a lot of passersby who claim they have a ‘black thumb’ or that they ‘kill plants’ and I often want to look at their significant other and remind them that they should have gotten a prenuptial agreement. Taking care of aloes isn’t particularly hard and they are more often killed by kindness rather than by neglect. However when you think about it, this isn’t unlike a relationship in a lot of ways, too much attention and you come off as a creepy stalker, but if there is too little attention then you seem to be cold and withdrawn and in either situation you wind up…. well the picture below sums it up.

Go on cue up Mad World by Tears for Fears you know you want to.
The first rule of growing aloe, Haworthia or Gasteria is to remember that they thrive on benign neglect, prefer moderate to bright light and may only need watering once a week in the warm months but as little as once per month in the winter months. But then there is the third issue these three plants face, in that everyone thinks that they all look like aloe vera when in fact just the aloe family comes in so many shapes colors and sizes that realistically it’s no surprise that Gasteria and Haworthia also come in a staggering number of colors shapes and sizes. There is literally a shape and color for every need and taste.  But I would bet some of you don’t believe me, so allow me to prove the point starting with the aloes. For those of you who remember my article about this last year, there are some new entries to this list and yes there will be a test afterwards for aloeology certification. Since I capped off this post with an image of the  well-known Aloe vera/barbadensis that I decorated in lieu of a Christmas tree the following list will cover the other varieties.

Aloe ciliaris – Climbing Aloe

I don’t think anyone believed me when I said climbing aloe would rapidly become the tallest aloe you had ever seen but the specimen plant certainly proves it. I’ve had this aloe for about three years, and it’s now two feet tall and has no offsets.  These are a must-have for collectors because they grow in a way that is at odds with what most know about aloes.

Aloe cultivar – Walmsley’s Bronze Aloe
This is a new addition to the collection; the common form of this aloe is Walmsley’s blue, but bronze makes rare appearances. The difference between the two is that this variety gets a bronze coloration when in bright light as opposed to the blue turning a blue-green color. I picked this one up in mid-2015 with a group of Walmsley’s blue and noticed the labelling was wrong then tracked down a positive match.

Aloe deltiodantes ‘Sparkler’ – Checkerboard Aloe
To be fair this species of aloe didn’t have a common name until I named it, but the variety is actually sparkler and it’s one of the more durable aloes despite its moderate to slow growing habits. The one thing to remember with this aloe is to try to water the soil by using a measuring cup or something that can apply water to the soil without getting water on the leaves.

Aloe descoingsii – Miniature Aloe

I received this plant from a college several years ago and thought it was some form of haworthia, several misidentifications later I found a clear match. This aloe species is seen in the trade as a small terrarium plant that often is sold in tiny 1.5-2.25” pots for just a few dollars at most. If I had known that several years later it’d be five times its original size and was still reasonable to manage I’d have cultivated it as a sale plant instead.

Aloe dorothea – Sunset Aloe

I think a lot of you have seen this one, as I’ve sold them during the summer at the market for about two years now. Sunset aloes are fairly rare in the trade but make quite a statement as their coloration goes from bright green to yellow-green and on to shades of orange and bright red with exposure to the summer sun. In their native range this species is critically endangered due to overharvesting as it has all the same medicinal properties as Aloe vera/barbadensis.

Aloe gastrolea – Midnight Aloe
I sold a naturally occurring mutation of this aloe at the market in 2014, and this is the original strain. Midnight aloes are surprisingly tough, require little care and have a striking dark green color that stands at odds with what one might expect an aloe to look like.

Aloe hybrid ‘Christmas’ – Christmas Aloe
I received a tiny offset of a mature example of this aloe about two years ago and while it wasn’t the fastest growing plant in history finally it’s achieved a size that makes it fairly photogenic. I still don’t quite know why it’s called Christmas but I suppose it will become clear with age.

Aloe hybrid ‘ Snowstorm’ – Snowstorm Aloe
Snow storm is one of those odd aloes that has an odd color pattern that stands out amidst other ‘white’ type aloes because it is so unusual. It’s the combination of a primary green color mixed with the white oval shaped spots and the mostly white teeth ion the margins of the leaves that makes it so different.

Aloe hybrid – Silver Star Aloe
The Silver Star aloe has a number of trade names and this is due to multiple subspecies variations on the original silver star plant stock. I sold naturally occurring mutations of Silver Star at the market much to the delight of a number of lucky customers. As a general rule though, this aloe is less tolerant of persistent cold and wetness so be wary on watering this one too much.

Aloe hybrid quicksilver x rare flare – Silver ridge aloe
This aloe declined a little due to a brief case of root rot and is showing some decent recovery. Though considered an ornamental aloe variety it does bear gel and its silver-white coloration is certainly rather interesting as is it’s rough-textured leaves. Otherwise it’s a fairly care-free aloe that will bloom in early summer without fail and rarely needs repotting.

Aloe nobilis ‘Gold Tooth’- Gator Aloe
Gold tooth aloe seems to have never lived up to its name as the teeth on its leaf margins never even turned yellow. According to the original grower’s images and information this was supposed to be its big trait which as noted never manifested. The shape of the leaves and their dark green color led to me nicknaming the ones that never developed any gold teeth ‘Gator’ which turned out to include the specimen plant of the original variety. I can presume that this plant is prone to reverting to its original form and that the gold tooth thing was a random genetic variation that was not stable.

Aloe x. nobilis – Crosby’s Prolific Aloe
Marketed as one of the faster growing vera/nobilis crosses Crosby’s prolific isn’t nearly as fast growing as the grower information suggested but to its credit it has tripled in size in about two years which is still very good by aloe standards. I do know this species is still medicinal and with some age it could  compete with traditional aloe for medicinal gel output.

Aloe x ???  'Grassie Lassie'
 I cannot find the exact parentage of this aloe variety but, it is clear that it is theoretically a perennial up to zone 8 if not some parts of zone 7b.  Trials have had about a 50-50% success rate in the Fayetteville area though I kept my specimen as a house plant. In that role this aloe is more like a very cold-tolerant aloe vera and does produce some gel and seems to be largely care free. The leaves are different in that they do have a grass-like habit of bending randomly and they are a bit more fragile.

It does not matter how you perceive it, there are many aloe options out there and growers are producing more every year to meet the personal tastes of the gardeners out there. What I have posted on LITFM is the first part of  a three part series, and next week we will delve into the Haworthia group and the week after that the Gasteria and Gasteraloes. Stay tuned and tell your freinds...LITFM is back!

*Ok that was a cheap plug.