Thursday, November 13, 2014

Frost Advisory

Welcome back to another episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market. The current weather has prompted a change to our intended topic for this week. As some of you noticed we have a serious cold front due to hit late on Friday. Temperatures are expected to be below freezing so instead of our planned photo tour we’ve got a bit about frost and how to make sure your winter crops survive the weather.

The first thing you need to consider is that you should make provisions to either bring in any crop plants that are NOT hardy or make a complete harvest of said plants so that you don’t lose what you have.  In the case of the test gardens the houseplants there outside as part of the warm season display have all been brought inside for the winter. The crop plants that I’ve decided to overwinter were withdrawn indoors and everything else received maintenance including all things that were planted within the last month. The first thing to know about a frost is that frosts are unpredictable; it may kill everything next door and skip your yard entirely or only hit one plant in your entire yard. The best thing you can do about a impending frost is to make sure you water all potted plants left outside as well as any new planting that has occurred within the last month. The reason you water new plantings and potted plants is because a well-watered plant is more likely to survive frost damage and resist being damaged. Basically a under-hydrated plant has shrunken cell walls within the stems and leaves that are more easily frozen and burst but the crystallization of whatever water is in and around them. Frost damage often looks like an ugly bruise because for plants that’s almost exactly what frost damage is. So before any frost hits it’s always wise to water your winter crops and if there is a lot of wind involved it may be necessary to protect your crops with tarps to reduce exposure. I always recommend harvesting lighting just before a frost so that the crop plants have less surface area that can suffer frost damage.

Obviously there are those last vestiges of the warm season crops in your garden right now. If the weather predictions are as serious (26 degrees) as suggested then it’s wise to go ahead and harvest what you can. Certain warm season crops such as basil, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes in general tend to be ruined by a killing frost. In the case of the root crops if the ground freezes there is a high probability of crop loss. Basil is easily damaged by frost so of course harvesting all of it cleaning it and freezing the resulting materials is the best recourse. the images below demonstrate how to harvest a sweet potato crop as well as what happens when you plant sweet potatoes too late.

In this particular case the basic tools for harvesting sweet potatoes can be as simple as a pitch fork and a wheel barrel.
The sweet potato crop at the test garden was started late and honestly I didn’t expect much of it.

Patiently loosening the soil to see what has developed without doing any damage is why I always go with a pitchfork for this sort of task.
The tubers often are caked with dirt and may not be immediately visible but generally the tubers are right under the central crown of the foliage.
For note I didn't get the seed tuber in the ground until late in the summer so it's no surprise that little came of it. Generally you want to get sweet potatoes in the ground in late April or May and I wasn't able to plant the seed tuber until late June.

Aww look someday these might actually turn into real sweet potatoes.
It looks pretty bad right? not quite the Steadman wilderness test plot made up for the test garden failure quite nicely. The Wilderness plot started with twenty five starter plants, we lost two and ended up with roughly 135 pounds of sweet potatoes.

Now that’s what I’m talking about, Test garden crop was a bust, the Steadman experiment yielded way better.
Yes…you are reading that right the scale does indeed say four pounds. This single sweet potato from the Steadman test plot is the size of a child’s head and is that heavy.

Switching the focus of this post slightly I often get questions at the market about when to begin picking leaves off a plant for eating purposes. The obvious answer is that you can do that at any time you like however it may not promote the best health for your crops if you start picking to early. So now that some of the crops at the test garden are of the right size I snapped a few photographs for size comparison so all you winter gardeners out there can get a fair idea.

Rouge D’Hiver lettuce, at a a good size to pick a few leaves per plant.
Lettuce is one of those things where most gardeners have been a bit indoctrinated to it looking and being harvested a certain way. We like to think that lopping off the heads of lettuce is the right way and in truth it isn’t. From the plant’s perspective you’ve done massive damage and from the long term perspective if you lop off the top of a lettuce plant you have stalled any further harvests for a while assuming the plant survives. The size shown above is just right for picking a few of the lower leaves from each individual plant to make up a salad.

This is a good size to pick a few leaves on a Japanese Red Giant Mustard Plant.

Mustard and other cabbage crops all can be ‘harvested the same way as I suggested with lettuce. Picking just a few leaves per plant and focusing on the lower most leaves first can rapidly give you a lot of food in a short amount of time and, your plant lives and will produce more. The low-pick method is a win-win situation for you and your garden.

Radicchio needs a little more caution in picking lower leaves but the same rules apply
But then not all things are affected by the whims of the harvest and the mercy of the frost. Perhaps it is a funny irony that some of the plants at the test garden seem to not care that theres a frost I mean look at the below photograph.

Brown Echibeckia still blooming despite weather so far.

Oh look these here zinnas don’t care.

Hah, the snow peas are doing their thing, sticking it to the man…old man winter that is!
So there you have it, perhaps the ‘killing’ frost on Friday isn’t so scary anymore. If you remember to protect anything you have doubts on and thoroughly water everything else the frost won’t be so bad. But even with the potential for bad weather the Fayetteville City market continues on. The City Market occurs every Wednesday between the hours of 1:00pm and 6:00pm and on Saturday between the hours of 9:00 am and 1:00pm.  You can find the City Market on the property of the Fayetteville Transportation Museum located at 325 Franklin Street. Below is a list of what is coming to market this Saturday.

Southward Skies: A northern guide to southern Gardening
This is the second edition of my book, which was published using data compiled from several years of test garden operations. It’s written to aid gardeners of all skill levels in successful garden methods that are targeted for the south east but had proven to be a valued resource for gardens across the eastern coast. It’s certainly a good gift for that gardener you know or for yourself if you’d like to have a reliable field guide. The book costs $25.00 and we do take checks for this item, you can even have it signed.

Good Stuff
Rain Forest & Devil's Tongue Pepper packs - ($1.00)
Sweet Potatoes, 2lb Bag – ($2.00)

Cold Season Crops
6x Romaine Lettuce, “Parris Island Cos” - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Mustard Greens, India - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Mustard Greens, Japanese Red Giant - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Cabbage, Copenhagen Market - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Cabbage, Savoy – Perfection Drumhead - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Collards, Georgia Southern Creole - 3.5” pot ($3.00)

[Depending on weather I may bring some aloes]

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

We are one dog short of a...oh wait.

Welcome back to a November edition of Lost In The Farmer’s Market or LITFM for short. This week we bring you the latest test garden happenings as well as the market report for the Veterans Day special activities. Soon we will be present a Photo-tour of the Fall test garden for those of you who missed the Garden Tour on Sunday.

We used to call her “Dust mop” because her fur color and pattern resembled an old well used cotton dust mop.

But first off this week’s Post is sponsored by the Test garden’s Mascot Houdini. In case some of you have not heard, ‘Houdini’ is basically a mixed breed small dog that routinely escapes its owner’s yard even when put in an outdoor kennel and ironically she runs right to the test gardens every time. If anything you might say this little one is probably the epitome of boundless optimism.

This is the teardrop shaped garden with mulch applied.
So, first off many gardeners often lament the lack of plants in bloom during autumn with good reason. Realistically if you go by what the nurseries sell our selection consists of snapdragons, pansies, violas, chrysanthemums, ornamental kale/cabbage and shrubs that are on sale and definitely not in bloom. Of course we at LITFM know for a fact that there is more than that narrow selection and here are a few options to consider.

Hypericum peroratum ‘Glacier’ – ‘Glacier’ St. Johns Wort
Say what you want about St. Johns Wort being invasive under certain circumstances in the test garden for the last three years it’s been nothing but well-behaved. The variety called Glacier not only has the pretty yellow flowers of the normal type but also has these attractive marbled leaves which add extra color to shady spots with dry soil conditions. As far as perennials go it’s reliable and stands out.

Trycyrits hirta – Toad Lily
The tad lilies are late-summer/Fall blooming and very exotic. They resemble Orchids but require none of the special conditions other than soil that is reasonably moist that bears a fair to moderate amount of organic matter and some shade. In areas with a high water table they can spread at moderate pace filling shady beds with a sea of gorgeous purple-speckled flowers in fall. Toad lilies spread by stoloniferous growth and can be divided every few years for use as gifts or for trade to other gardeners.

Aloe x hybrid ‘Fauxgave’ – Faux Agave-Aloe
This is the perennial hardy aloe that was sold at the market this year as a limited quantity special item in August. The Test Garden specimen developed a flower stalk in late summer that prevented it from being planted in the gardens. Basically I wanted to see what the blooms were like and often transplanting a plant in bloom often causes the plant to drop bloom so now our specimen sits on a growing tray inside the lab. I do not know if this picture does any justice but the flowers are a wild pink-red color overall while the petal tips a sort of lime-green color in contrast.

Yes indeed the evidence of some frost activity played out on the basil plants still outside in the test gardens.
 So indeed we did get a minor frost at the start of the week though it was not quite up to the state of panic some seemed to think it would be. The cold snap might have been a disaster for certain warm season plants but hardier ones positioned near structures such as these basil plants will often survive several frost events allowing for a prolonged harvest or collection of seeds.

Frost damage can vary and unless it's a "killing" frost may hit with complete randomness.
Notice in the above picture where frost left the tips of the basil alone but "scorched" the tops of the lower leaves. The critical thing to remember is that frost is very random unless for some reason the localized micro-climate reduces it or  the plants in question have been watered within 24 hours of the event. Frost damage is technically a secondary effect. Plants that are watered before a frost hits tend to take less damage as frost damages though dessication the cold then causes cells to rupture in the leaves and stems especially when they are not fully hydrated.

Don’t worry, as other things come into bloom this fall you can expect to see the pictures up here along with images and suggestions for the normal rank & file plants that see common use. The topic must now shift to that of the City market this week. As you may well know the Fayetteville City Market is open on Wednesdays (2pm-6pm) and Saturdays (9am-1pm). As noted in the last post or two we’ll be maintaining a presence at the Wednesday market at least until November the 26th and decide on if or if not to hold a spot at the market for December. I do however definitely plan to be at the City Market on Saturdays Up until the 27th of December, After which I may take a two-week vacation from market operations between the 28th and 9th of January. If that is the case you can expect to see it up here by the first week of December. But enough of market scheduling, as some of you might have heard this Saturday is one of the big market events, Veterans Day is on the 11th and the city of Fayetteville has it’s Veterans Day parade and festivities on Saturday so the City Market is following suit. On the grounds of the Fayetteville Transportation Museum there will be a car show and the Market is taking over Maxwell Street and so our booth position will be shifted slightly. Normally we are in the front parking lot of the Museum but for this event we will be located on Maxwell street not far from our normal position.

For those who do not know the Fayetteville Transportation Museum is located on 325 Franklin Street, and Part or possibly all of Maxwell Street will be blocked off for the event. Event goers may need to plan accordingly and possibly dress for the weather depending on what traffic and parking will be like for the event.  Here is the market list for Wednesday, and well let’s just say that I may sneak some odd and unusual things in for Saturday that may not be on the list.

Southward Skies: A northern guide to southern Gardening
This is the second edition of my book, which was published using data compiled from several years of test garden operations. It’s written to aid gardeners of all skill levels in successful garden methods that are targeted for the south east but had proven to be a valued resource for gardens across the eastern coast. It’s certainly a good gift for that gardener you know or for yourself if you’d like to have a reliable field guide. The book costs $25.00 and we do take checks for this item, you can even have it signed.

Good Stuff
Rain Forest & Devil's Tongue Pepper packs - ($1.00)

Cold Season Crops
3x Romaine Lettuce, “Rouge d’Hiver” - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
12x Romaine Lettuce, “Parris Island Cos” - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
9x Mustard Greens, India - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
9x Mustard Greens, Japanese Red Giant - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Cabbage, Copenhagen Market - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Cabbage, Savoy – Perfection Drumhead - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Collards, Georgia Southern Creole - 3.5” pot ($3.00)

Oh no....Houdini is looking at YOUR yard!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Post Garden Tour Update

As promised in our last post for this mini-episode of LITFM we present the information on how to plant shrubs and trees. The reason his information as withheld from the last post was because the example plants in question wound up going into a specially designed bed that our photography would have ruined the surprise on.  Without further delay LITFM presents the missing content for last week’s post.

Planting a shrub or tree should not have to be a back-breaking endeavor; if you are equipped to handle the task it should be no more difficult than any other normal garden task if provisions are made for the physical requirements of the task. The first thing to know is that the best time to plant trees or shrubs in the landscape is either mid-spring or in autumn after the high temperatures that tend to linger have finally begin to reliably drop into the low 70’s to mid-upper 50’s. The purpose of planting at these two times is to give your trees and shrubs a chance to settle in before any major weather comes into play be it hot, cold, wet or dry. For the purposes of this example two plants are being planted at the test gardens. The tree used in the example is a Ginko biloba which is commonly called a Ginko or a Maidenhair Tree. The shrub is a Rhaphiolepis indica or Indian Hawthorn. The two were placed in the same bed because their relative needs are somewhat similar and their shape, form and contrasting passive features make them stand out in the landscape.

The right tools for planting a shrub and or tree, Excavator shovel, Trenching shovel and wheel barrel.
In the above picture you can see that the excavation of the planting site has already begun. In the wheel barrel there is at least 6cu of excavated soil and this is important to note because at a later step remembering how much soil you remove will determine your workload later. The trenching shovel is present to bust through roots in the planting zone where as the excavator is used obviously to remove the large amounts of newly unpacked soil that needs to be removed so you can plant.

The initial planting holes with the plants set next to their holes.

Many sources say that you should dig your planting holes to a diameter double the diameter of the plant’s root ball however honestly I find that digging a tapered planting hole just as effective. Basically the planting hole at the soil surface is double as wide as the tree or shrub’s root ball but the bottom of the hole is perhaps ¼ wider while the bottom of the hole is softened up so that there is somewhat loose soil beneath the plant. The purpose of this method is two-fold, your trees and shrubs have ample room to form their network of fine feeder roots while the primary tap roots or buttress roots have no impediment in going downward in search of nutrient and moisture.

Loosening the root ball is critical to the process.
Containerized plants often have what is called a ‘Root ball’. The root ball results from the plant’s roots inability being able to spread out as normal due to the restricting nature of a nursery pot. The roots over time hit the sides of the container and continually circle or attempt to grow out through a drainage hole at the bottom. This situation is unhealthy for the plants in the long term and in a nursery environment shrubs and trees that fail to sell are often repotted to keep them healthy. However when you get such a plant it is wise to loosen the root ball to break the circling habit of the plants. In some cases this may involve tearing up the roots at the bottom of the plant’s pot, in others it may involve a process called ‘Butterflying’ the root ball. Typically you use a 3” knife or a carefully welded shovel to cut four lines along the sides of the root ball that are equally spaced. After the sides are cut you would then cut a X along the bottom that matches your other cuts. You might also loosen any roots at the bottom that look to tangled to be healthy.
Some say that shrubs and trees should be planted level with the natural soil level, however I tend to plant them about ½” high.
Settling the plant into its new home is more a matter of preferences and landscape observation than anything else. I plant my shrubs and trees just a bit high to encourage better feeder root growth; also it allows me to mound the beds so they have a lower risk of flooding. Remember how I mentioned earlier that it is important to note the amount of soil you displace by planting? I displaced about 8cu in total but because of the root balls of the Ginko and Indian Hawthorn, I ended up having to replace only 6 cu. In this case the soil seen around the hawthorn and in the wheel barrel in the last picture was ‘spent’ potting soil. Some might object to using my old potting soil for this purpose however, the soil excavated was almost entirely pure sand, putting composted manure would have been a problem here and using new topsoil would have been a waste. Spent topsoil however is ideal because I’ve got no shortage of it this time of the year and while it’s spent in terms of growing crops for food it is not spent in the context of being a viable soil amendment for moisture retention and nutrient quality for slow growing landscape plants.

The finished bed, along with the shovel that didn’t quite make it to this point in the process.
The above image is how the bed was finished just before mulch was applied; the teardrop shame came to me on a whim. Apparently I failed to take a finished image of the bed after cypress mulch was applied but that will be coming shortly. The end result was a compact design that has some year-round interest factors.  The use of contrasting height primary plants coupled with a semi-seasonal flowering contrast plant (I stuck a single red canna lily between the tree and shrub) the effect should be quite striking in 2015.

So this wraps up this miniature post, As mentioned before, the big veterans day city market event is on Saturday the 8th and we’re setting up early that day because of the new position for the event and the fact that there is a car show on premises. The Wednesday market will continue as normal and we will maintain a spot there at least until the end of November. Stay tuned for more information on the big Saturday event in our next post will hopefully will be posted as soon as we have our position data for Saturday.

Our intrepid Tourists braving the wind and cold in search of the greatest garden tips & tricks
With any luck this week’s actual post will be posted up here no later than Thursday. I know the weather wasn’t quite cooperative but for those of you who braved the cold to go on the tour thank you!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Welcome back to another episode of lost in the Farmers Market, this post is a bit late and will not have all the pictures and information included with it. There is a good reason for all this slackery, the subject intended for this post, specifically how to plant large plants such as shrubs and or trees is complete but, considering how the project evolved while in progress the resulting planting is now a surprise element of Sunday’s Tour. With that said, the planting information won’t be posted until Sunday evening so there is no early sneak peek sort of situation. Don’t worry this post won’t be completely bare until Sunday because we have the following three images from the gardens which won’t ruin any surprises.

The Crescent Moon as seen in the east at dusk.
It's probably no surprise but I've been working until there's no visibility just to get the test gardens ready for the big garden tour on Sunday November the 2nd.  I can tell you, this the pictures on this site have been selectively angled and or cropped not to give away too much and this one is no different, the bottom half of the image has been cropped to cover up some of the patio work. The sky that evening was plenty and it's rare I can get a moon shot that clear unless it's the full moon.

Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’ – Red Dragon Knotweed
I purchased this plant from Ladybug greenhouses in Fayetteville as a pure impulse buy along with a giant coneflower, and a black and blue salvia. Originally this was the wimpiest of the three and now it's a large and pretty foliage plant that just so happens to have odd tiny flowers. "Big Red" as I've taken to calling this one may yeild some cuttings and those cuttings may appear at the market next year.

Marribum vulgare - Horehound
Surprisingly it's taken a few years to find a good spot for Horehound in the test gardens. This specimen was a surplus plant that no one wanted to buy when offered for sale at the market. As with many things that don't sell they end up in the test gardens. I never expected this lone plant would in one season get bigger then any Horehound ever grown in the test gardens ever even if all the prior ones were combined. More natural Herbs for me, or perhaps you might see cleaned and bagged clippings of this one at the market? 

So with the topics covered and everything arranged as you may have noticed Saturday seems set to be a bit rainy, and yet the market goes on. Surprisingly I’ll be down there unless it’s already raining sideways in the morning, and then I might be down there anyway. The Fayetteville Farmer’s Market runs from 9:00 am through 1:00 pm on Saturdays and between 2:00pm and 6:00pm on Wednesdays. The Fayetteville Farmer’s market is located at 325 Franklin Street on the property of the Fayetteville Transportation Museum. The market runs all year-round, though at least for me, I’ll be discontinuing my presence at the Wednesday market at the end of November until spring of 2015. I’ll be at the Saturday Market however as long as I have materials to bring.

Southward Skies: A northern guide to southern Gardening
This is the second edition of my book, which was published using data compiled from several years of test garden operations. It’s written to aid gardeners of all skill levels in successful garden methods that are targeted for the south east but had proven to be a valued resource for gardens across the eastern coast. It’s certainly a good gift for that gardener you know or for yourself if you’d like to have a reliable field guide. The book costs $25.00 and we do take checks for this item, you can even have it signed.

Good Stuff
Rain Forest & Devil's Tongue Pepper packs - ($1.00)

Cold Season Crops
6x Romaine Lettuce, “Rouge d’Hiver” - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Romaine Lettuce, “Parris Island Cos” - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
9x Mustard Greens, India - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
9x Mustard Greens, Japanese Red Giant - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Cabbage, Copenhagen Market  - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Cabbage, Savoy – Perfection Drumhead  - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Collards, Georgia Southern Creole - 3.5” pot ($3.00)

If you have not already signed up for the tour, you still have time.