Monday, December 18, 2017

Hiatus is Over...and so is 2017 (almost)

Yeah when the fertilizer is out they grow-rampage gardens.
These are all of the monstrose cacti in my collection currently.

Despite a long hiatus to handle certain issues, LITFM is back, and I hope you are ready for a new year’s worth of new content unlike any prior content we posted here before. For those of you who are new to this blog I had trouble posting regular content in 2017 due to the death in my family and the subsequent need to divert time and attention to handling the issues of estate and property which can be quite problematic. Fortunately, I am for the most part out of the woods on that matter so I can bring you reasonably regular updates on this blog.  Today’s topic has to do with a specific form of succulent and cactus known as monstrose form.
Eve's Crest - Optuntia subulata cristata
The cause of the mutation that makes for monstrose form in succulents and cacti is not precisely known, but damage to growing tips by viruses, bacteria, insects, physical damage, frost or even near lightning strikes are all thought to be potential causes. It is also known that some monstrose form cacti can actually randomly revert to their non-monstrose form in part or whole which creates some very interesting forms. The mechanics of this are fairly simple, in a normal plant growth is often guided by a single growing point called an apical tip. When this tip is removed the secondary tips in the side branches respond by producing a spurt of growth that will often lead to one of them becoming dominant or in a new dominant tip sprouting from near where you removed the old one. 
Eve's Pin Cactus - Austrocylindropuntia subulata
This biological response is intended to ensure that the given plant always continues growing and is able to out-compete other plants for nutrients and water. In a monstrose cactus, all of the growing tips think they are the apical tip and grow equally and to some extent compete with each other causing strange curves lumps and bumps in a plant that is genetically identical to it’s non-monstrose counterparts.

Ming Thing Cactus - Cereus validus
damn....your just prickly.
Catapillar Cactus - Echinopsis cristata
For the most part monstrose form cacti and succulents fall under a sort of ‘It’s so ugly/weird that it’s cute’ sort of appearance which is not unlike pugs really. This fact alone makes monstrose form succulents and cacti quite unique as no two plants match exactly and variations in foliage color can cause these plants to fetch some pretty high prices at the garden center. Generally, though monstrose form succulents and cacti are propagated by cutting to maintain the strange form, and as such this can translate to a slow rate of reproduction as some forms take years to get to a size where taking a cutting is viable and even longer for said cutting to get large enough to trade or sell. There are also special species-specific cultural care requirements that need to be considered before considering using a monstrose form cactus or succulent as a spawning plant to make more. The one thing I can say about growing or caring for monstrose form succulents is that you want to keep their soil on the dry side and refrain from giving them fertilizer as this may cause new growth that is fragile and potentially even more deformed to the point of being a health hazard to your plant. You also would want to treat them exactly like you would their normal counterparts and give them as much light as possible and protect from freezing and or frosts if that is a problem where you are. If you put your cactus or succulents out for the summer would advise making sure they are not sitting in a pool of water after a rain, and that you slowly introduce them to the area you intend so they do not suffer sun scald.
The Euphorbia family includes Poinsettias.
African Milk Bush - Euphorbia lactea f. monstrose
For cacti and succulents with extreme variegations, they may not be able to take full sun at all, and if you must put those out, look for a spot that gets morning sun which is cooler and less apt to scald. To summarize while some find the look of a monstrose form succulent or cactus off-putting the reality is that they are just another form of variety in the world of plants. Given that they for the most part have the same care requirements as their more normal counterparts but are more of a conversation piece it’s a win-win for the gardener who wants a unique house plant.

This doesn’t bring our article to a close quite yet though because I have to get to the advertisement part of things. As always barring terribly wet and cold weather or illness I still manage a vendor’s space at the Fayetteville City Market at 325 Maxwell street between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm on Saturdays. I sell four things primarily during the winter months and they are:

Soup Kits - $6.00
Seasoning Packets – $2.00
Whole Garlic – $1.00

Also, I will be bringing a number of random house plants every week if weather permits and While the assortment is purely random, there is not a thing for sale that is above $10.00.

If the market isn’t your thing or your schedule does not allow you to go there my premium exotic house plants can be purchased in attractive clay pots with unique embellishments at LeClair’s General Store. LeClair’s General Store is located on 1212 Fort Bragg Road in Fayetteville North Carolina.

The Fayetteville Observer’s Article:

This is their Facebook Page:

The Visit NC page’s Listing:

Now I am generally at the store at least twice a week, maintaining stock and/or delivering new materials so if you go to visit the store there is a fair chance I’ll be present to answer your questions. If not, you can always send me questions through this blog or visit the farmer’s market or pay attention to what Sustainable Neighbors is doing at the link below.

Finally, this brings to a close my hiatus and starts the new year right with regular updates to LITFM. Please check back in two weeks for the next update which will cover the varied forms of a succulent, the Euphorbia. Thank you all for your patience and I hope to hear from you soon.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

We're Back!

Good Afternoon and welcome back to a new episode of ‘Lost In The Farmers Market’. This blog has been on hiatus for a long while with sporadic updates due to several personal situations that needed to be sorted out by the author before any new content could be created. For those of you who are new, and have not checked our episode archive, LITFM is your weekly guide to growing unusual and exotic plants both in the garden and in your home. This leads ups to today’s plant on hand, at prior times I have covered this plant but never before have I had such a nice specimen to demonstrate the point with. But before I talk about this week’s plant, I want to share with you an update on the memorial garden. Below is a picture of the garden at roughly full bloom.

This garden due to solar lights has a entirely different character at night.

As a refresher, planted in the garden are several varieties of Asiatic lilies (Lilium hybrid) all with a white bloom, Star Gladiolus (Gladiolus acidanthera), and Hymenocallis. The difficulty in getting a picture of everything in bloom is due to the fact not all of it got planted at the same time, and it’s perfectly normal for bulbs to bloom out of sync for the first year because they need that year to settle into their new home. I can say that I am adding white daffodils to the display next year to further lengthen the bloom period of the garden. Overall, the memorial garden turned out just fine and other then a little maintenance I do not plan to change very much about it other than to enlarge it.

Now as for today’s plant, today we have the Bed Of Nails plant. Its scientific name is Solanum quitoense, and yes that means it’s a member of the nightshade family which includes, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, wonderberries, ground cherries and two other plants that will be covered in the next few weeks. I know some of you are wondering at this point why someone would name a plant ‘Bed of nails’ and the picture below explains that quite nicely.

Surprisingly, the damage to the leaves isn't from insets but the plant's own spines...maybe they should have called it the S&M plant.

In this case my specimen is two years old, and has been grown in a pot its entire life thus far. I bring it in for the winter and give it the same care that I would if it was a tomato in general. In the garden, bed of nails has a medium growth speed and will not tolerate cold or frosts so it’s real growth doesn’t happen until temperatures get above 60 degrees. A decent frost can disfigure or kill one of these plants and that’s when you find out that even in death it’s thorns can still be a hazard as they persist even when thrown in the compost for a few months making compost sifting somewhat dangerous.  The advantage to the plant is that you can grow it just like a tomato, but it never gets blossom end rot and its fruit are ripe when they turn orange and are edible and used as a flavoring in drinks…that is if you dare brave the thorns to pick the fruit. As an ornamental, the bed of nails is so exotically strange that visitors to your garden cannot help but look at it. The bright purple spines catch the light it’s large white and very obviously nightshade family styled flowers dare visitors to your garden to identify the mystery plant. Unlike tomatoes peppers and potatoes, the bed of nails gets none of the same pests; even the voracious Tomato Horn worm will touch it which says something about how tough the bed of nails plant can be. Propagation of Bed of Nails can be done through tip cuttings like one would with a tomato or, collection of seed from matured fruit (you might have to wait for the second growing season for this). If you bring a bed of nails into a sun room for the winter, I recommend moving it indoors before the first frost, and putting it in the position that gets the most sun if possible. If your sun room is unheated, you may need to use a thin plastic drop cloth to protect bed of nails from drafts and temperature micro-climates. Do not fertilize this plant once you bring it in for the winter, water only when dry and try to make sure that none of its leaves come into contact with windows as those leaves may suffer contact frost and then possibly some form of rot.

This concludes the discussion of the Bed of Nails plant and if you have any questions about it feel free to post them in the comments below. Additionally, I should note that I am still a vendor at the Fayetteville City Market, and if you check out Leclair’s General store at 1212 Fort Bragg Road, some of my exotic succulents and cacti are available in decorative clay pots which makes for a fine gift or a nice item for the collector of unusual succulents. You can check out LeClair’s General store at the link below:

Those crazy looking succulents next to the terrarium books are some of the stock I’ve shipped to the store, but the plant list changes fairly regularly. You can of course request specific stock through the store (ask for Pat) or stop by the City Market on Saturdays between 9:00am and 1:00pm to make requests or see an entirely different selection of items. In the next month or so (probably the last Sunday of October) I’m planning a house plant blowout sale, so stay tuned to LITFM for more info. Thank you for your patience and thank you for reading, see you next week.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Last Act

This is a special episode of Lost In The Farmers Market. It is not special because I’ve run across some new breed of plant or gardening technique. It is not special because there is an April Fool’s Day trick written into this post. Honestly If I ever posted on time I’d think that would be trickery enough. No, this time I will be discussing in detail the construction of a garden bed and the clearing and adaptation of land to achieve the goals of a given project. 

For those of you who do not know, On February 5th at 3:00 pm my mother passed away due to complications of Ovarian Cancer. She was diagnosed in October of 2015, and it was at stage four by the time it was clearly diagnosed. This made for a long battle that lasted seventeen months. In one of our conversations while we were at the funeral home sorting her affairs in advance just in case the worst happened she asked me what I would do with her ashes after she was gone as she intended to be cremated. I honestly had no idea as it was a new idea; I mean the idea of having the sole responsibility to lie to rest someone’s mortal remains isn’t something to be considered at the spur of the moment. It’s something you think about for a while and find (hopefully) the most considerate option. I asked her what she wanted as I had no idea what to do in that given circumstance and seemingly randomly, she asked if ashes made for good fertilizer. Honestly this fell into a strange grey area for me because I knew of potash and that the word alkaline came from a Arabic word for wood ashes but I had never really heard of the idea of using human ashes as fertilizer. Chemically I suppose the plants growing on such a plot would not know the difference, ash is ash give or take a few trace minerals and nutrients, but I doubt anyone would dare eat any food grown on such a site. I told her that I did recall that ashes and bone meal did help bulbs grow and she thought about this for a moment and said that she wanted ther ashes to be used as fertilizer for a bed. I asked her what she wanted planted there and she asked for ‘Lilies, like the ones at my house by the mailbox… but white.’ And that cemented the plan for the interment of her mortal remains. Thus this post will cover the construction of the memorial bed and the associated projects leading up to its completion.

To frame the series of events, Mom died on the 5th of February, and her Funeral was not until February the 19th. Normally this would be a major problem but mon chose to be cremated so the actual memorial service could be delayed by two weeks to allow family and friends to come into town to pay their respects. Work on her memorial garden did not start until the 22nd of February because of the complications of handling the funeral and its aftermath. On the first work date, the first tasks on hand in order were; survey the site, determine exposure to sunlight, assess problems with the land and begin initial clearing if possible.

The future site of the memorial garden as seen when facing towards the front yard.
The future site of the memorial garden when facing towards the  right hand side of the yard.

The site itself is relatively full sun with a 5-8% slope give or take. The sand there is relatively sandy and organic matter poor to the point that it will barely sustain sweet potatoes and a number of crops grown there have failed. Some of you readers can see the raised mound where prior attempts to grow things in the area have been tried and were unsuccessful. The overhanging trees are mainly composed of Carolina Cherries (Prunus caroliniana), Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), and the occasional oak or hickory. The first order of business was to lop off any overhanging branches so that the new garden has no competition from weed trees and in the image below you can see the beginning of the pruning that was talked about in March's post.

This pile of cut tree limbs is just the beginning.

 Work did not resume for a few days due to weather and other factors  and it was not until the 1st of March that things got really interesting. During this time the hedgerow clearing project was underway, which cut all the privets along the driveway down to a three foot height but also the clearing of the land occurred also.  I raked away small debris, and took measurements of the area to understand just what I was working with. The bed would be 9 feet by 8 feet roughly if I left the existing edge of the old bed mostly intact. 

The mound with the leaves and small debris cleared is still not much to look at.

It also meant that my original plan to place one white Asiatic/Easter lily bulb per year my mother lived would not fill the space. She lived 77 years and by my calculation I had room for at least 88 bulbs. I knew that My aunt was sending 12 bulbs which meant that I had to worry about 76 more with room to spare so the planting list ended up going from a simple 77 bulbs to something like the following.

6x Annika Asiatic Lily
66x Casa Blanca Asiatic Lily
17x White Trumpet Lily
20x Star Gladiolas (Peacock Orchid, Gladiolas acidanthera)
3x Hymenocallis (Preuvian Daffodil)

All of the above have pure white flowers except the gladiolas and the Annika lily but more than anything else all the actual lilies were known for size and scent. In total this meant there were 112 bulbs in the bed which guarantees there are no bare spots. Of course while waiting for the main shipment of lily bulbs to arrive I had the bulbs sent by my aunt and the buffer bulbs I'd bought (gladiolas, Hymenocallis, annika) start to sprout. This was a bad thing because Asiatic lilies are a specific type of bulb that can die very easily if they dry out. For comparison tulips and true daffodils are called tunicate bulbs which means they have a papery husk to help them survive longer, bulbs without this are called imbricate bulbs and they don't have such a good shelf life.  As a stopgap to avoid loss of perfectly good but sprouting bulbs I had to partially plant the garden.
The first step to bed preparation in this case was to remove all the spent soil while leaving the edges of the bed relatively standing.
The 8"x8" tamper was useful in flattening and leveling the inside of the garden bed and it's walls.

 The early planting and excavation occurred on the 19th of March,  once the old soil was excavated out of the bed, the first decoration fot eh new bed was placed. Although the picture does not really show it, that is a double-shepherd's hook with a solar powered hummingbird light facing towards the house and a Woodstock wind chime facing towards the rear of the garden. Also in the above image you can see that the hedge row was effectively cleared by this point.

The fill soil of choice for the project was Black Kow and this is the first four cubic feet out of ten needed to complete the project.
It isn't hard to see why I picked Black Kow, compared to the existing soil it's like literal night and day in color.

 The picture just above needs some explanation, the chicken wire is there to keep squirrels or other critters from digging up the bulbs. Also the long area of Black Kow on the left is where all the Asiatic lilies I had at the time were placed. The spot where the square grey paving stone is placed is where the Gladiolas and Hemerocallis are planted, the gladiolas are in front and the Hemerocallis are in the back just before the shepherd's hook.   Work around the site and along the driveway would continue while I waited for the big shipment of lilies to arrive.

Add caption

 As luck would have it, the shipment of lilies arrived on April Fool's Day, and due to this I resumed work the very next day, the first Sunday of April almost two months to the day my Mother died. The above image shows what the beds looked like after I removed the chicken wire in preparation to work. Some of you are wondering what the two objects are in the image above. The both hold critical significance to the memorial because one of them meant a lot to my Mother, and the other had spiritual significance to her. The statue is of a howling wolf, and at some point she went to a Native American powwow and found out that this was her spirit animal.  But how I came into possession of this unique statue is an interesting story unto itself  you can scroll down for that as it's just below the wolf's closeup. The second Item is a inscribed stone that sat near her front door, many visitors never noticed it but she took it wherever she called home. I'll explain that in detail below the stone's image.


 This wolf statue wasn't at all what I was looking for when looking for a suitable marker for the location where here ashes would be interred. I was looking for something more symbolic I guess, maybe a cross or an ankh, something that espoused her life. One Sunday after much searching both online and in person I found myself at one of the many garden centers in the area, a Place called Big Bloomers and I figured, 'what the hell they have statues...lets take a glance.' I'd arrived there late and had about twenty minutes until closing time and begun looking through their selection of statues, most were just bland. Honestly I still don't know who thinks putting peeing cherubs in a garden is acceptable but to each their own. I wanted for about ten minutes until I hit the section with animals, and they too were bland, kittens, puppies varied farm animals and so on and then there sitting by itself with no others like it was the wolf you see. I looked at it and could not help but wonder what it was doing there as it didn't match anything else and it was literally the only one. On examination it had a price tag so it was inventory but when I got up to the booth they seemed not to know they had it either. Either way I ended up buying it with little care for the price as it was exactly right. I've been back to that nursery twice since and the spot where the statue stood is still empty so perhaps the old saying is right you don't choose the stone it chooses you. Ironically I had bought the square grey paving stone as a base for whatever statue I planned to buy, but the wolf has it's own base which  then means I can use the paver for another problem I had no solution for at the time, the installation of a birdbath nearby.

Mom bought this stone while on Martha's Vineyard and she always placed it by the front door of her house. Many have entered and few have noticed it or even read it and yet it has sat there like a mute sentry to all who pass. She used to love going to the Vineyard during the early summer before it got too hot, but she found a similar experience in going to Hilton head for a week or two every year up until she was too sick to go. I figured it too was an appropriate thing to place in the memorial garden

Her Urn, it's carrying bag and, the dried roses that will fill the urn once it is emptied.
 So here's the urn, the velvet bag it goes in and, the dried roses are from the floral arrangements at the memorial service. Since all the arrangements had white roses with exception to the living arrangements I thought it would be a fitting tribute to fill the urn with the petals after the fact so something would be in there.

I will say this I did not know what to expect in the urn. But ashes dont take up much space but they seem rather heavy. One could say that the the weight of your final task adds to this or is most of this but I am not certain. The movies and television clearly get what cremated remains look like completely wrong. What came out of the urn was light grey powdery and without and noticeable 'chunks'.... though I was glad the wind was still because any wind could have blown this stuff all over the place.  So I sprinkled the ashes gently in the remaining bed area that needed filling and set the bulbs down in a pattern as seen in the next photo.

 No it's not the photo angle, your eyes or editing, those lily bulbs are very large. Large lily bulbs are a good sign they are healthy, vigorous and ready to grow. It tells me that despite the garden's cost overruns everything will look great. The pest part is the photo below with the soil filled and the mulch in place.

 This site without a doubt which tourists can see during the Urban Farm Tour is most definitely a place of final rest. In case you are wondering, the Bulbs were planted at an effective depth of 4" with an additional 2" of mulch on average. This may seem a bit shallow but this bed is going to receive more care than my normal ones for several years to come. normally lilies are planted 6"  down with out considering the mulch but since this already is a raised bed I wanted their roots to be at a high to get the most out of runoff during rain storms. I also know that the nutrient from the Black Kow will drip down to the roots of the lilies also while immediately having it on hand will accelerate their first year growth.

Feel free to ask any questions you like in the comments for this post and stay tuned for some more garden activity next month.