Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Debunking the Misuse of Terminology Part 1

Welcome back to another episode of lost in the farmer’s market. This will be the first episode of August and of course as you gardeners out there already know the month of august tends to bring some difficulty in maintenance and productivity. Normally the usually ample rain diminishes; the humidity level rises and we have some form of drought. Additionally all the biting insects we loathe are up and running and that makes maintaining our gardens and crops less than pleasurable. For those of you with rain catchment systems, this is the time of year in which you might have to force-fill the system with municipal water using the overflow valve but in reverse.

With that in mind I always recommend increasing the effort to irrigate, and the strength and frequency that you fertilize. Obviously certain fertilizers cannot be increased in frequency so it’s wiser to use more than one type to put back the nutrients that you have depleted in the last three months to keep your crops going. If you’re daring, in the third week of August you can start some of your less heat-sensitive cold season crops so that they get a head start when the temperatures drop off in mid-to late September. The rest can be started at the beginning of September. But the aforementioned isn’t the main topic of this post, instead today we will be discussing adaptation and artificial selection. It’s no secret that we live in a age of blind sensationalism. You often hear people condemning certain terms or misusing terms without having a keen understanding of what they mean and this leads to a financial windfall for those who make a living exploiting those who don’t dare do the research from fair and unbiased sources. This is a two-part discussion, and in this part I’m going to open the discussion with some direct agricultural examples and in part two I’m going to take aim at portions of the Holistic/supplement/panacea industry who are flat falsifying information.

In the business of agriculture I often hear people talk about what is and is not natural, often these conversations are spurred by personal agendas, beliefs or sometimes bad information. More often than not it comes from a serious misunderstanding of terminology, someone hears that say hybrids are the same as GMO, and either fails to verify that accepting it as a fact because a certain person said so. Or the same person poorly researches it and does not even consider the sources he or she uses to research might be biased or poorly researched themselves. Occasionally this cumulates in the form of what I like to call “Misguided Conservation” which is when an individual upon hearing something like the fact that there are no native stands of Aloe vera in the wild begins to get a bit sad and starts talking about how terrible the human race is. The problem is this is a knee-jerk reaction to a fact that while true does not tell the whole story. Using the same example, yes the true medicinal Aloe, is extinct in its native habitat, but because of human activity aloe has a worldwide distribution in climates and places it normally would have no chance of getting to or surviving in. It is safe to say that there are more Aloe vera plants in cultivation now then there ever were in nature. This is actually an example of mutually beneficial symbiosis, we cultivate and protect the Aloe and it provides us with health benefits from its gel and beauty from its blooms.

We both win in the above case and everyone’s happy. But sometimes mutual benefit isn’t so obvious when you start talking artificial selection for traits and asexual reproduction. In terms of agriculture you have the common fig which at some point in the past gained the ability to produce fruit without a pollinator which didn’t benefit the fig, but when humans noticed we started taking cuttings and spreading the fig’s range. It’s clear there are far more fig bushes in more places than at any time in prior history and all because we are helping the plants along to success and expansion while they feed us. But take the case of a flatly non-advantageous artificial section for a house plant. Below you will see an image of a ‘Marble Queen’ devils ivy plant.

Epipremnum aureum – Pothos, “Marble Queen”

If you know nothing about the houseplant commonly called devil’s Ivy, know that traditionally you will see it sold in its normal green-only foliage form. As a pure green plant it is vigorous and its vines can easily grow to be several feet long in a growing season. It is rare to see a bloom on a devil’s ivy plant but we grow it for its easy care, and air purifying ability. Marble queen is the least common variety seen in stores for sale because it is the exact opposite of the normal green form in that it is slow growing, seemingly not very vigorous and yet its foliage is almost pure white and quite striking. There is no doubt that marble queen likely purifies air too but it’s chief limitation is that the white foliage means a lack of chlorophyll, which means in nature it might have died out if someone hadn’t come along and taken a cutting. Here we have a species that only exists in cultivation and if put in the wild has a limited chance to survive assuming that it does not revert to some version of the pure green form. In this case it is not exactly mutual symbiosis because the plant needs up to exist in its current form than we need it. This is called benign symbiosis, where we are doing the work and receiving less benefit from the plant in question. Technically it’s not taking advantage of us and we aren’t of it but we are doing more to keep it alive. Below is an example of a middle ground plant, the variegated form of heart leaf philodendron in this case is mostly some shade of green with splotches of yellow. This mutation is at best a moderate to mild limitation to the plant, which is attractive to the eye, and yet it’s vigorous enough, and still cleans the air.

Philodendron hederaceum PPI12956 – Philodendron “Brazil”
The interesting part is that variegation in these shades isn’t a limiting factor to this house plant. It can still photosynthesize quite well and most of its vigor and speed of growth is retained. This plant ‘Brazil’ in this case has a 50-50 chance of surviving in an acceptable wild climate because it’s not radically out of place in form or shape. Its variegation is not a great hindrance like with Marble Queen, and it stands a chance to ‘revert’ to a green form. In the landscape we often see reversion in variegated shrubs such as euonymus where a previously variegated shrub suddenly has a more vigorous green-leafed branch or shoot appear in the middle or side of the shrub. In a cultivated setting the problem is that if we do not remove the shoot early, it will outgrow the rest of the plant, choke out the variegated parts and the shrub will become all-green in short order. Below we have a plain green Heart Leaf Philodendron, it along with the Swiss Cheese Plant are the two most vigorous vine forming house plants in my collection.

Philodendron hederaceum – Heart Leaf Philodendron
This again is because they are in a natural form with no impediments to worry about except if or if not I remember to water them. Interestingly Philodendrons have a unusual mechanism for protecting themselves from overwatering, as they can exude excess water from their leaf tips. I do not know if this is a surviving trait from the wild or something that was dormant and emerged to counter household cultivation and low humidity. However it is darn cool to see during the winter and the water droplets are potable amazingly, perhaps in the future someone will cultivate a philodendron water filtration plant, who knows? But I will close this post with two pictures from the field.

The toad is trying to bury itself in the soil in the pot which is just plain hilarious....epic amphibian FAIL!
I’ve said before that during the summer I encounter a large number of toads due to a nearby water feature in the neighborhood. This one got on the patio somehow and has been camping out in potted plants.

Cycas revoluta – King Sago Palm
This is a mature sago palm at my mother’s house. The strange brown structure is a male cone which indicates it is a male plant and mature. This means the palm is between 15 and 20 years old and unfortunately there is no way to tell which gender a sago palm is until they’re nearly two decades old or you have received a gender-verified cutting like they do with Ginko Biloba trees. Cycads are a largely extinct species of pseudo coniferous plants that had their heyday during the Jurassic period. Much like the ginko they are living fossils and due to cultivation at least the sago palm has a range that almost matches it’s prior one. If you’ve heard of Tulip mania, there once was a Cycad mania where specimens could fetch prices of several million, this lead to poaching of wild specimens and ecological decline of the species in the wild. Some of the rare specimens in their native habitats in parts of South Africa are protected by fences and armed guards. Which leads to a modern moral to this post; ‘Should there be another Plant Mania; we can be sure that the plants won’t be thrilled about it.’

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Ain't no time for the summertime blues!

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In The Farmer’s Market. For this week’s episode we are spotlighting a specific garden annual that is native to the United States. If you believe the agricultural chemical companies this annual plant is one of the scourges of the perfectly trimmed lawn. Then again I like to suggest that the perfectly trimmed lawn is the scourge of the landscape as it is thoroughly impossible to maintain because it is unnatural. The very idea of having a neatly mowed lawn around your property comes from the deception of wealth.  Anyone who was rich enough did not need to grow a garden to supplement their food supply and thus could afford to demonstrate their wealth by having a lawn. In practice lawns serve no real purpose other than erosion control, and realistically the amount of fertilizers and chemicals needed to maintain a lawn is prohibitive. Of course, the golf industry isn’t helping at all, as they often get legal allowances that let them skirt drought restrictions and chemical runoff laws. 

All that leads us back to the topic, what is a gardener to do about drought, and what specific crop is commonly found as an annual in your lawn. The answer is a group of plants commonly called the Purselane group, their scientific name is Portulaca and they are a native succulent annual that prefers the hot season and tolerates a wide variety of poor soils. You may have seen Purselane before at the garden center because fancy-flowering versions look like the picture below.

Portulaca sp. – Flat leaf Purselane [Variety unknown]
Purselanes are known for their large ‘cactus’ flowers, but this variety has been bred to be exceptionally flamboyant. The specimen pictured was cultivated from a stem cutting. Fortunately Purselane is easily cultivated from stem cuttings and responds well to rooting hormones. But commonly Portulaca will self-propagate from seed and if sown in the right spot will form regular mats of vibrantly colored flowers. The most common variety of Purselane grown this way is commonly called Moss Rose, and it’s scientific name is Portulaca grandiflora. Moss Rose is edible, but the thin needle like leaves are hard to harvest and so moss rose is primarily used as a annual ornamental.

Portulaca oleracea – Flat leaf Purselane (Red Grunner and Goldgelber)

            The flat-leaf Purselane group is known as Portulaca oleracea. Flat-leaf Portulaca has wide flat leaves that are easy to harvest and make for a great crunchy addition to a salad or if you have enough of them and interesting thing to add to a stir-fry. It is only very recently that the Industry has picked up on these easy to grow plants and begun hybridizing a wide array of bloom colors. Fortunately purselanes are easy to grow, drought resistant, and free of pests so they make for a good garden option. With that said below you will find the Market list for both Wednesday and Saturday.

The Fayetteville City market occurs twice weekly at the Fayetteville Transportation Museum on 325 Franklin Street. The Wednesday market runs from 12:00 to 5:00 pm and the Saturday Market runs from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. If you look below; the new plant list for this week includes some new selections.

4x Purselane, Red Gruner - $4.00
4x Purselane, Goldgelber - $4.00
3x Pepper, Flashpoint Habanero - $3.00
8x Pepper, Novelty - $5.00

3x Tomato, Pink Stuffer - $3.00
3x Tomato, Grand Rapids Cherry- $3.00
3x Tomato, Traveler 76 - $3.00
3x Tomato, Black Krim - $3.00
3x Tomato, Cherokee Purple - $3.00
3x Tomato, Brandywine - $3.00

2x Sweet Basil - $3.00
4x Cinnamon Basil - $3.00
2x Milkweed (A. tuberosum) - $ 4.00
2x Milkweed (A.incarnata) - $ 4.00

2x Small Aloe Vera - $3.00
6x Medium Aloe Vera - $4.00
2x Large Aloe Vera - $6.00

Monday, July 6, 2015

Special Delivery

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In The Farmer’s Market. This episode will be posted late simply because of the Holiday weekend.  For those not in the USA, this weekend is Independence day which is a celebration of the end of the American Revolution, and the series of events that led up to it and came immediately afterwards. I hope that all you readers out there have a happy and safe 4th of July.

First off we have the above image. This is a picture of the ‘turning area’ at the headquarters. It high lights one of the points of confusion between northern and southern gardens. In the south, the number of pine trees means that the cheapest available mulch is what is called pine straw.  At the store it might cost 3-5 dollars per bale, but if you have pine trees you get it for free. As far as mulches go, pine straw is light, cheap, and if it’s harvested from long leaf pines it lasts for roughly 2-3 years. Mulch acquired from bark, or chipped hard wood by comparison lasts 1-2 years on average depending on type. The point of mulch is twofold; firstly it limits or stops erosion by water by acting as a physical barrier to hold the soil in place. Secondly, mulch acts as a slow releasing soil improvement since mulches from pine straw, bark or wood chips all eventually decay leaving behind organic materials that help improve topsoil quality. In the picture above a lot of moderate quality pine straw has been used to cover what was bare sand soil. In doing so, the soil beneath the pine straw can only erode at a limited rate. This means that even with restricted vehicle traffic, the erosion issue in this area has been successfully abated at the cost of using 204 cubic feet of pine straw. Eventually the pine straw will break down and need to be patched or replenished but until then it looks good. For note, if you notice there is no pine straw under the truck. This lack of pine straw there is intentional as pine straw still contains pine resin and potentially can still catch fire if exposed to a source of heat such as a hit vehicle engine. Also, this is why I balk at the use of Rubber mulch; it does not break down and only leaches zinc into the soil making it a poor choice for residential use in the garden.

But speaking of soil and such with the entry into the month of July, it is now that we must keep a wary eye on our nightshade crops for that summertime scourge known as blossom end rot. Blossom end rot is a ‘disease’ that actually is a nutrient deficiency. For some reason in the peak of summer members of the nightshade family, particularly tomatoes  might start getting blackened bottoms on fruits while they are in the green stage typically. The long-term solution to this problem is to use a little fast-acting lime, oyster shells or, eggshells. The short term and fastest solution is to crush one regular strength antacid tablet in a cup of water and apply the mixture to the single effected plant and repeat process for each other affected plant.  Why this nutrient deficiency strikes is unclear. It is known that bloom end rot will attack potted plants even if they are growing in new potting soil and plants planted in your garden beds with equal opportunity. It seems to strike different plants every year and with no set pattern. It’s one of those summertime vigilance things that all of you out there should pay attention to. But don’t worry, here’s the good news, garden photography!

So here we have an improvised irrigation system for one of the figs. This fig came into my possession in fall of last year, I don’t outright recall the person’s name but they were moving had this brown turkey fig potted up in a 16” pot and could not take it so it was offered to me. I carted the bush away brought it home and it the cold weather set in before I could get it planted. As seen in earlier images it was finally planted near the growing trays so it could make use of the fertilizer runoff and be much easier to maintain. The bucket is an old brewing vessel that proved unneeded. Inside of it is a layer of large stones and a single small hole was bored in the bottom so water or fertilizer placed inside drips out slowly right at the roots of the target plant. The lid is weighted so it cannot blow off and the old non-functional airlock ensures air exchange. With a two-gallon capacity if can mimic a good ½” to 1” rain depending on climate conditions roughly speaking.

In this image some of the surplus rudbeckia have decided to bloom, I think they’re one of the Indian summer types I sold last year. They were in bad shape when planted and I didn’t expect them to survive winter.

In this image we have a mix of three types of cone flower, some Echibekias which are a rudbeckia-Echinacea hybrid and in the upper left the leaves of perennial cabbage.

I think this is a Sumerina Yellow Echibeckia, the last image had an orange one.

Vaccinium ashii – Rabbit Eye Blueberry
It’s that time of the year and the blue berry crop is off the charts already. My four bushes are so loaded with berries they’re bent over from the weight. I’ve already harvested a pound and a half.

Lilium sp. ‘Rio Negro’ – Asiatic Lily
Honestly, they’re dark pink! With a name like Rio Negro I expected dark red or, a darker shade, but then I’m not complaining at all.

Lilium sp. ‘Purple Prince’ – Asiatic Lily
Ok so this Asiatic lily is at least sort of purple it’s not nearly as flamboyant as Rio but still very nice. Obviously this is an overdue post, so there is no farmers market info attached, stay tuned for this week’s post where I’ll include the plants list and introduce you to a garden plant you may not have considered before.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The end of June 2015

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In The Farmers Market. I have to open this post with a bit about weather safety. As you may realize, the recent weather has brought us a lot of rain, but also with it comes a bit of danger. As those of you who live in Fayetteville might have noticed, the thunderstorms while excellent at providing much needed rain, are also perfect conditions for high winds, potential tornadoes, flash floods and or hail. There is also the risk of downed trees, and flying debris to consider. In our last storm we received 1.6” of rain and the one before that 2” and the mega storm two weeks ago 3”, this poses several problems. The fertilizer you applied in your fields may have washed out, yet you’re getting a mega-dose of atmospheric nitrogen. Likewise with all the water flowing through you may have lost some topsoil. These storm cycles are excellent for certain crops such as figs but terrible for more delicate fruits. In the end I advise that all of you who read this remember to take caution during storms, the severe weather advisories seen on TV and the Radio are no joke even if the weird sound effects on the radio ones make them seem so.
With that in mind I did not attend the Saturday market this week because of the weather, we had a line of ugly storms come through on Friday evening and they persisted into the early morning hours of Saturday. Honestly, with the high daytime temperatures and the thunderstorm activity, I think we can officially call it Monsoon season. Despite this, as you know, we are in the middle of transfer season, the spring veggies are nearing their end, but the summer herbs, and perennials are just about to begin. I’ll keep a variety of peppers tomatoes and a few other odds and ends available, but expect more of the fine summer specials, and of course aloe vera plants in three sizes for your medicinal enjoyment. The new plant list should be available and posted up here later in the week.  In the next post I’m going to show you some tricks to help keep your garden irrigated in these difficult weather conditions. For this week I finish this post with a photo or two.

Aloe barbadensis/vera – Medicinal Aloe
This is ‘Big Mother’ the oldest aloe in the collection and the largest potted house plant I own. I’ve had this plant for about five years, and for most of that time it has been in an small 6” pot. The aloe plant was so heavy that it used to top over its old pot so I had to put it in a large thick-walled container made out of terra cotta and weigh it down with stones so it would not tip over. Earlier this year ‘Big Mother’ was repotted finally to a much larger 12” pot as seen in the picture. All the little aloes I’m selling came from this one plant and as you can see, this aloe is now free of pups.  Grown 100% organically, you will have a hard time finding healthier plants.

Adenium obesum – Desert Rose
The desert Rose is one of those plants that a plant enthusiast seeks out for the reward of its blooms. Sort of like a Holiday cactus in use, the Desert rose validates the effort to find one by blooming once a year with stunning blooms that are pink, red or some shade in-between. A well cared for Desert rose will bloom twice a year or in the case of mine twice a year and on every stem. The blooms can be so heavy that the stems bend and desert roses can get so large that they resemble a small shrub with corky bark. As for care, you barely water or fertilize this succulent and treat it like a true tropical. This puts a cork in the bottle for this weeks post, check back for another post later detailing the current plant selection and DIY irrigation tricks.