Friday, April 17, 2015

A Delightfully Soggy April

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In The Farmers Market. This week is a pretty important one because it marks two major events. The first event happens on Saturday and is the opening day of the Fayetteville City Market which is expected to be pretty big. At the end of this post I’ll have the first formal plant list for what is for sale at the booth on Saturday.  In addition to this the 4th annual Sustainable Neighbors Garden Tour is about two weeks away.  For those in the know, the Garden tour is a fine tradition started about two years ago that has grown into a twice-per year event. The spring tour draws the most visitors while the fall tour tends to be a more laid back educational event. As it stands we have five locations this year, If you opt to take the tour in order, they are the following;

1.      The Arsenal Bridge Gardens (Marsha Howe)
2.      The Food Bank Garden (Marsha Howe)
3.      The Celtic Gardens (Melissa Brady)
4.      [TBA]
5.      The Test Gardens (Thomas Clark)

The “To be announced” listing is there because the applicant hasn’t sent in his information yet, but the good news there is that it’s  none other than the Suburban Hermit of Fayetteville. You can hit up his blog here:

As if that’s not enough blogging action, the Celtic gardens now has a blog of its own and that’s over here:

Whew, the number of residents in blog-land is steadily increasing not that it’s a bad thing! But you all ought to go over and take a gander. Perhaps this is a spoiler alert, but you might see some cool stuff early if you do.  Now I do have a few pictures this week to answer a question I commonly get at the booth on Saturdays. More often than not I get asked how big a mature size of a plant being sold is. All the gesturing and description of spread and height in inches or feet can’t do a photograph justice so I went out and snapped a few pictures of mature size winter and spring crops to better illustrate the point.

Parris Island Lettuce in a 12" pot, at harvest size.

Dino Kale, Collards, Savoy Cabbage, all also at harvest size in three gallon pots and 14" pots.

Japanese Red Giant Mustard plants, all ready to harvest.

What is this? Some super large bird's droppings?
This folks is a common spring sight; a slime mold, the high production bed has one emerge in it yearly. Slime molds are largely harmless but some find them unsightly. In the case of this one it emerged overnight where the citronella geranium was, and has an entire corner of the high production bed covered in what looks like giant bird crap.

I cut a section out to show the interior composition.
 It's been theorized that slim molds which are comprised of a mass of cells that posses a sort of simple intelligence as a communal organism of sorts. A article that explains this theory better can be found at the link below.

Wild Lupine.
 This was one of the great experiments of 2015, I've always wanted lupine plants in the garden, but the seed  of the common Russel hybrids, and the Tutti frutti mix are terribly unreliable. Literally I had two successful plants out of hundreds of seeds. Worse yet lupines much like milk weed have very long taproots and absolutely hate being transplanted. I needed a Lupine species that either was sold mature or, had less finicky seed. When the seed catalogs came in for 2015, I found my objective in one, and ordered four ounces of 'wild lupine mix'. If you've never seen a lupine in bloom it's quite spectacular, as they bear tall spikes of pea-blossoms in shades of blue. I've seen reds, oranges yellow, white and pink as well as deep purples but, I'd take a stand of hardy lupines in blue that are reliable over all that any day of the week. These guys were sown in late February, and were up by mid March, Now they are at a stage where I can apply fertilizer and hopefully they can take over the bed they are in and grow alongside the four 'o clocks that are there.

With all that said, I have to mention the particulars of the Fayetteville City Market. The city market runs on Saturdays between the hours of 9:00 am and 1:00 pm and  Wednesdays roughly between 12:00 and 4:00pm. The market is located at 325 Franklin Street in the parking lot of the Fayetteville Transportation Museum. The Saturday market runs year round but this Saturday opens the official season.

Southward Skies: A northern guide to southern Gardening
Southward Skies is a pocket-sized guide to gardening in the Carolina region. It will guide you through the process of having a productive garden in our region using a year-round format that matches the timing of what you should do and what time of the year you should do it. Unlike a lot of garden guides Southward is written in a way that can help even the most discouraged gardener to find success. Southward Skies has been tested by gardeners in other states ranging from as far south as Naples, Florida, as far north as Dorset, Vermont and as far west as Reno, Nevada. As a general guide you can’t lay hands on a better collection of tips, tricks and methods. A copy of this book costs $25.00 and we do take checks for this item, you can even have it signed. The EBook version costs $10.00 and is available through Amazon.

4x Thai Basil - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
5x Sweet Basil - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Lavender, Lady Anne - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Sage, Common - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Rue - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Oregano - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Artemesia - 3.5” pot ($3.00)

Spring Greens:
6x Lettuce, Parris Island - 3.5” pot ($2.00) ON SALE!
4x Radicchio - 3.5” pot ($2.00) ON SALE!

Summer Vegetables:
6x Eggplant, Early Black Egg - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Okra, Red Burgundy - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
4x Pepper, Ancho - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Pepper, Flashpoint - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
4x Pepper, Sweet Banana - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Tomato, Black Krim - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Tomato, Brandywine - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
5x Tomato, Traveler 76 - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
7x Tomato, Underground Railroad - 3.5” pot ($3.00)

Coming Soon:
Bloody Dock
Purselane, Golden
Purselane, Red
Aloe Vera
Fig, Negronne
Fig, LSU Gold
Fig, Ischia
Grape, Copper Muscadine
Milkweed, Orange

Needless to say, the season officially starts with a bang! That’s right, come on down to the farmer’s market this week and lay hands on the best GMO-Free, organic garden plants in the region. You never know what surprises are in store but you can check back here for your weekly dose of garden information and the plant list. See you in the field!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Seek, Read, Digest, Repeat!

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In The Farmers Market where we take a look at the nature of things in the agriculture industry and explain them to the reader in terms that don’t require a PHD and a comprehensive set of encyclopedias to understand. For the opening to this week’s post I’d like to talk to you about something I encountered while purchasing a tree at a wholesale nursery.

It probable you’ll encounter this if you are on watch when planting a large shrub or tree. I purchased a Redbud (Cercis canadensis) as they are quite nice this time of year. For those who do not know a Redbud is best known for its vibrant pink flowers this time of the year and is a native plant. It has heart shaped leaves that take on a bronze cast when they are young and again before they drop in fall. So the transplanting went just fine but in the bottom of the plant’s container was a small plant tag that had the following on it.

Front: “This plant is protected from problematic Aphids, White Flies, Beetles, Mealy Bugs and other unwanted pests by Neonicotinoids”

Back: “Treated with Neonicotinoids, These pesticides are approved by the EPA.”

Upon reading this I thought to myself, ‘what the hell is a Neonicotinoid?!’ Honestly, it sounds like an artificial sweetener they might put in diet soda or something. But after breaking out the NC pesticide applicators manual it turns out that Neonicotinoids are a classification of insecticides considered to be neurotoxic. They are used because they are most effective against insects of varied types and less dangerous to mammals. Similar common compounds include Imidacloprid, Acetamprid, Nitenpyram, Thiacloprid, Thiamethoxam, Nithiazine, and Clothianidin.  It is suggested that some of the resulting byproducts from the decomposition of the Neonicotinoid family are still toxic in the environment. That would be fine and well but there’s a problem, Neonicotinoids in specific are applied as a systemic insecticide which means the compounds are only effective if the insect pests eat the treated plants. This means no chance of friendly fire in this sort of insecticide right? Wrong, there are a number of studies to suggest that systemic insecticides also are present when applied in the treated plant’s pollen and or its nectar which means the friendly fire has a chance to hit pollinators. As if this were not bad enough, say a bunch of aphids are on their way out but get eaten before they can die by a lady bug, what do you think happens to the lady bug? Systemic pesticides used in the wrong way, or excessive amounts pose a very difficult problem as their secondary effects need more detailed study. The regular readers of this blog know what I think of pesticide use already but for those who are new or not regular readers I pose the simple statement that follows.

“Chemical solutions to natural problems should always be in proportion to the problem and even then a last resort after all other methods have failed. In of that, we in the agriculture field, find our parallel in the medical field with the overuse of antibiotics. For us to carelessly use chemical solutions for every possible ailment is the act of setting the stage for a grand failure in the not too distant future.”

Much like my stance on genetically modified organisms, I view chemical use through the lens of its long-term effects on the environment, the economy and the people. The issue we face is that there’s too much money wrapped up in the agricultural industry and so some times the primary sources of information be they bio-technology, petro-chemical or agricultural lobby, organic and holistic are all out for your money and thus their scrupulous nature isn’t reliable. Just look at the immense amount of false information over the anti-vaccine movement. Normally the loudest folks in that group are those who read one biased book, go on the internet and think they are better informed than a career immunologist. Not that we don’t get our own share of “blind scholars” in the organic and anti-GMO movements as these kinds of people are everywhere. So I bid you always consider the source and try to verify its credentials and the scope of the information collected to better realize that we are in a new era of scientific dishonesty.

It’s like the old song “Your momma told you, you better shop around” indeed this is the truth when it comes to understanding a topic or a major life decision. You should always seek out answers to your questions and look at the entire scope of a situation. Only consulting one side makes you biased and willingly ignorant. At least if you consult a variety of sources from both sides of a situation you then most likely have the ability to make a fairer set of decisions. Take for instance an incident that happened to me last year. An individual was talking about and handing out flyers about the dangers of fluoridation of drinking water. And so I listened and at the end of the talk I took a flyer for further study. Now according to the flyer fluoridation caused about eighteen separate health issues. Of course being logical I read through them and realized that half of the list leads to the other half. For instance it listed migraines and decreased sex drive and or impotence…really I don’t know about you but the last thing I want to do is strenuous physical activity while I’ve got a raging headache so yes you can say that that claim was debunked easily as a logical fallacy. After seeing that I went online to see what utility companies and the federal government had to say about fluoridation in the water, Afterwards I checked independent medical sources, and after that I looked into privately owned water bottling companies, and then I ran the spectrum of anti-fluoridation sources ranging from professionals with health concerns, to conspiracy theorists who claim fluoride allows government mind-control. In the case of the latter part yes that is a thing, it’s mind-bogglingly insane however, the evidence presented would never stand in a scientific inquiry as it preys on fear and ignorance….sort of like most religion. (Go figure)

The next week I had a chat with the person who was behind the flyers and we had a very civil conversation where I explained why it’s bad to just regurgitate stuff found on the internet verbatim without research and that the flyer was sending a incorrect and unfair message. I also took care to politely point out why the health effects were misleading. The person’s response was to sort of blow me off with a curt “well I don’t have time to do research!” Great, fantastic even, you’re in a position of power/authority and you can’t be bothered to make sure you’re giving fair and unbiased information or verify the veracity of your claims in front of a very gullible public? I guess this is why I can’t go into politics, that level of dishonesty and blatant laziness would drive me mad! So I suppose, the moral of this story is that the only thing that can hurt you is less information as, having more information only helps you make better decisions and thus you can have a greater impact on your life and those that matter to you. Having more information ensures that you are better suited to be reliable contributor to the global community and the act of pursuing such a state of balance is one of the most noble endeavors a person can work at.

Now, with the main topic handled I have to cover the market news. Disclaimer, this is probably the biased part of this article, but the Fayetteville City Market is open, in downtown Fayetteville on 325 Franklin Street in the Fayetteville Transportation Museum parking lot. We’re there on Saturdays from 9:00 am to 1:00pm and next Saturday is the start of the official Market season. Also at the booth I will have the first tomatoes of the season, all Aunt Lou’s Underground Rail Road, the easiest southern climate compatible medium size tomato. You can expect more tomato varieties just as soon as they get to size. Also I will have Snow Pea’s and a lovely variety of spring greens so come on down, check us out and don’t be a stranger!

Friday, April 3, 2015

April Showers More April Showers Apparently

Welcome back to another springtime episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market. Originally I’d planned to post this episode on April 1st with all sorts of comical slapstick and then well no. If the rest of the internet is pulling the same stunt it’s just not as funny. So today we have some pictures from the field, and then our main topic, the fourth and final installment of the weeds you can eat series. As with all the other episodes this week’s weed comes with a culinary recipe for making a dis that is tasty enough to serve to guests of adventurous palate.
seriously....I cannot un-see the seens!
What could be better than greeting spring with epic Pansies?
Few people realize how tough pansies are. Seriously despite the name of these little violets being considered synonymous with being wimpy, these annuals are almost perennial and may be biennial in climates with shorter cooler summers. These little guys have been frozen repeatedly, buried in snow and ice and yet this spring they bounced back to mock old man winter yet again. I planted these in early fall and they’ll have run their course in early to mid-summer. There is also a chance of them sowing seed that will mean new pansies of random colors next fall.

Wintergreen Barberry – Berberis julianae
This plant was given to me by Marty Williams as he had two but no room for both, and well, I couldn’t pass up such a unique evergreen plant in the barberry family which makes it related to Mahonia, and Nandina (Heavenly Bamboo). I was concearned it had frozen to death over the winter but it much like a mahonia, opened the early days of spring by being coated in little yellow flowers that were clearly pure pollinator crack.

Japanese Camellia - Camellia japonica
It’s not spring in Fayetteville without an obligatory camellia picture. The test gardens have both red and pink camellias but the red camellias had their buds frozen whereas the pink camellias are doing just fine.

Horehound – Marribum vulgare
Last year this plant was a single unwanted herb that no one seemed to want to purchase so it wound up in the crescent garden.  In the second half of 2014 it looked spindly and very unhappy but now it’s sort of exploded. For those not in the know, Horehound is used to soothe coughs and is commonly used in old time horehound candies you see in some pharmacies.

Plantain Lily – Hosta spp.
Ok so hostas, big deal right? Well the hostas in the picture above were part of a salvage effort. A client of mine decided that they simply no longer wanted their hostas and they had to go and my instructions were to put them in the trash. Well I nicked the newly evicted hostas and put them out in the shady rock garden. Thus far I’ve had trouble getting any good bedding plants to stick back there so I figured, “well if they fail it’s a pocket of good soil to try something else in, if they succeed then I’ve saved myself a LOT of money.” As any gardener knows hostas, even plain green ones are pretty expensive, in the catalogs you might get a plain green hosta for five bucks, but at the nursery they range from 8.00 to 20.00 per pot! So I arrived at the test gardens with the truck half full of salvaged hostas which were planted in the newly vacated borders and beds that formerly held plants that failed or were moved to the crescent garden. With the bad winter I was understandably concearned the hostas died especially after all the winter storm damage, but no, the perennials are coming back like gangbusters.

Prickly, Tall or Wild Lettuce – Lactuca Canadensis (Syn. L. scariola or serriola)
Wild lettuce is a member of the Daisy family and is thus grouped with a number of common food plants that we are very familiar with. It is generally considered to be an annual or biennial and is often found in disturbed sites such as fields, roadsides and vacant lots. Wild lettuce is not native as it was introduced from Europe but, it is not considered invasive. A good identification feature for wild lettuce is its height, as it can get to a height of 5-6’ and has a very narrow columnar overall shape. Its flowers look like tiny dandelions and are born in somewhat unruly clusters. Wild Lettuce much like dandelions spreads by producing seeds with a tiny filament that allows them to float on the wind to areas distant. In my studies however it seems the plant’s seeds seem to take root roughly ten to thirty feet away from the last know occurrence of the plant with a flowering body in the prior year.

This is wild lettuce and at mature height it is one of the tallest annual weeds you can find in your garden. Under normal circumstances just before blooming wild lettuce can reach a height of 5-6’ with a strictly columnar habit. It literally looks like a dandelion on steroids and it’s flowers look very much the part also. Its primary method of spread is through wind borne seeds thathave a filament that allows them to drift on the wind, much like dandelion and thus it is in the daisy family. Few people realize that true lettuce like we buy at the store is this plant’s heavily cultivated and hybridized cousin. Both are edible, though wild lettuce has a bit more of the latex sap much like dandelion greens.

But of course what is the discussion of an edible wild green without a recipe to eat it?  For starters I advise picking the leaves of wild lettuce when the plant is fairly young the best time is while the plants are less than 8” tall however, if you are cooking the greens you may be able to manage harvesting a taller plant. You can use the fresh greens chopped like one might do with normal lettuce in a tossed salad. As a cooked dish the greens should be boiled for 2-3 minutes in very little water, a little bit of adobo along with some butter or olive oil. Should the greens be wilted the process is a bit different as you need to pour boiling water over them and let them sit for 5 minutes. Allow to drain and then make a dressing consisting of 3 slices of crispy bacon crumbled into ¼ cup of vinegar with 1 tsp. sugar and ½ tsp. salt. Mix and pour over the lettuce. As a final note, large quantities of this edible weed in some individuals due to the latex sap can cause digestive upset.

If you are still doubtful consider the company that Wild Lettuce keeps. Wild lettuce is in the same family as Sunflowers, Jerusalem Artichokes, Echninacea, Chrysanthemums, Tarragon, Marigolds, Lettuce, Chicory, Endive, Escarole, Santolina, and, Stevia. So doubts aside it’s very unlikely wild lettuce is poisonous and since we eat so many of it’s relatives regularly it’s unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. However always taste test a little bit first to verify if or if not you will have a reaction and if included in a recipe let anyone else who might eat it know that you have included it.

Finally a image of the woodland side of the gardens after storm cleanup.
Yes as you well know in the ice storm back in February, the test gardens took a considerable amount of damage in the woodland area and our photos as posted show a tremendous logjam of branches down making certain areas inaccessible. Well after a number of fits and starts in clearing the damage, mostly due to inclement weather finally the woodlands are clear and have taken on a new character with the changed amount of sunlight now leaking into the woods. As seen in the plantain lily image above, the great gamble of 2014, paid off, every salvaged Hosta not only survived but are actively growing very vigorously. This of course bodes well for the renewal of spring.

But this wraps up another episode of Lost In The Farmer’s Market, We here at LITFM wish you all you gardeners out there a happy Easter and hope you’ll stay tuned for the first of the spring posts next week. I’ll be down at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market tomorrow with spring veggies for sale, and next week starts the inorexible march of the Tomatoes, so check in, next week the first of the Bordeuax Regional Nursery’s GMO-free, Heirloom Organic tomato species ‘Aunt Lou’s Underground Railroad’ will be available for purchase.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Looks like winter takes another shot at us

Welcome back to another episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market! I know this post is a few days late but; here it is a somewhat short but intriguing look into the greater world of the natural and as this week’s topic is about another weed that you likely did not know you could eat.

Cardamine hirsuta – Hairy Bittercress

The hairy bittercress is a common cold-season weed that is considered to be a short-lived annual. There are dozens of regional varieties of this plant with minor at best differences scattered across the continent. None of them are known to be poisonous but you should consult an expert before you eat anything and keep a good guide to edible weeds handy that has high quality photographs to avoid any error. With that said this article focuses on the Hairy Bittercress which is common to the Sandhills region and is very visible in most yards right now.  The first thing you should know is that Hairy Bittercress is a member of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae) and will occasionally show up in older weed guides using the old name for the cabbage family which is cruciferae. In comparison to the cabbage family members we know Hairy Bittercress is as noted before, it’s short lived and the harvesting window is incredibly short if foraged in nature. The seed can be collected, and a potentially easier and longer living crop can be grown. 

But about that name “Bitter Cress”, it doesn’t seem particularly tasty now does it? The truth is that the harvesting window for this plant is short, as with a fair number of cabbage family members once the plant blooms it goes bitter. So of course bitter cress when first encountered was probably picked and tasted after it flowered and thus the misleading name. The leaves are the part you eat, and they are equally edible raw in a salad or cooked gently to maintain their somewhat spicy cress-like flavor which is where the rest of the plant’s name originates from. I’ve heard of this plant’s leaves being used as a garnish with something savory or with a baked meat item. As always I advise you try a little bit of this plant first before making a large pot of stewed greens and then try a large helping. It might not be to your taste or you might have an unexpected reaction. As with any forage weed, it is wise to play it safe.

Now for a third and more interesting use, as it turns out, this weed is a magnet for Aphids, probably because what makes it eventually bitter, and provides that spicy cress flavor might serve as a chemical defense against predation of the aphids. For those of us who like to keep things organic, these little weeds are excellent as a trap crop to lure in pests for eradication wholesale by either an organic non-chemical insecticide or by means of the natural predators which will eventually follow in the aphid’s trail.
That wraps up our short post for this week. Next week we’ll have the last installment of the weeds you can eat series, and by then the last of the winter storm damage will have been cleaned up at the test gardens so we will have a before and after photo for your viewing amazement. As a final note at the end of April Sustainable neighbors will have the 3rd Annual Sustainable Garden Tour. Who will be on the tour and want delights will be shown this year? Stay tuned and find out.