Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Dozens of flats needing care
            Business is booming. I’m pooped. As detail man for Fitzgeralds Gardening, my brain is overtaxed by client container and garden designs with plant lists complicated by the onus of pulling inspired substitutions out of my hat when grower extraordinaire Christine tells me she’s out of this or that pivotal specimen. Other self-imposed duties include keeping the dozens of flats on the south side of our house watered, cut back and perky-looking, and ensuring we bring the right plants to the right job. These activities fall on top of the first three design jobs we’ve landed since the Great Recession, reminders of how out of practice I've become with vellum and templates. And then there’s Toadflax Farm, where the produce is beginning to drift in, as are the kudzu bugs and the imminent threat of pickleworms.

            Have I mentioned that multitasking is not among my character strengths?

            Have I mentioned that lickety-split is not my favorite speed?

            Have I mentioned my occasional melt-downs?

Innovative Organic Solutions
             Had one of the latter this past weekend. Took the whole two days off, to putz and stare into space. I ignored emails, only turning on the computer to collect weather data and blog statistics, and to ascertain I had emails to ignore. I didn’t dust, vacuum or mop. I didn’t look at the pile of work on the drafting table, which we’d cleverly relocated from office/studio to living room during the winter so it’s harder to forget. Instead, I called my mom and nattered for two hours. I did laundry, an enjoyably mindless task. I leisurely hose-end-sprayered the farm with Growers Secret emulsion, because watering is fun when you’re not in a hurry. I knitted. I played cards (Solitaire’s my game). And I read.

            One of the things I read, cover-to-cover, was the June-July issue of Organic Gardening (OG). Always informative, the little articles bracketing the features ended up more dog-eared than usual this month. After closing the magazine with a contented sigh, it occurred to me that the information on those marked pages would make a good, if scatter-shot, blog post. So here it is.

Where Cabarrus County is in NC
            Page 22:  In rural Cabarrus County, NC, northeast of Charlotte, wannabe farmers get a chance to practice organic agriculture at the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm. No, these novices aren’t making incubators: rather, Don Boekelheide informs us, they are incubating themselves into sustainable producers of food, livestock and flowers for local consumption.

            Unsurprisingly, the idea of incubator farms first took root (haha) in that hotbed of self-sufficiency, Burlington, Vermont, back in 1990. By 2001, it had crept across the continent to Salinas, California. The USDA belatedly joined the party in 2008 with its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. These projects build participants’ skills and confidence with access to on-the-job training; land; animals; equipment; greenhouse, storage and packing facilities; and agricultural and marketing mentoring.

            Many farms provide both educational and hands-on volunteer opportunities for home gardeners as well; others “…report unanticipated interest” from this group of dirt-diggers, including full-time enrollments in their programs. Brings to mind my brief brush with commune living back in the ‘70s, only cleaner. And possibly not as cold, if one elects not to incubate in Vermont.

            Page 26:  “Homemade preserves with half the sugar and none of the fuss” promises Sara Foster in the subtitle to her article on making freezer jam. Since berries of all types are pouring into our kitchen from Lewis Farms of Rocky Point, NC, and since horrible memories of pre-air-conditioning summertime hot canning marathons make freezing my preservation method of choice, I’m going to give this one a go. Sara swears all you need is fruit, a potato masher, pectin, sugar, jars and freezer space.

            Page 62:  In the “Ask Organic Gardener” feature, Rose Rogers of Cary, NC, wonders if using some of her home-grown compost will improve her scraggly lawn. Well, sure, replies Cary Oshins of the U.S. Composting Council. It’s calling top-dressing, he says, and putting down a quarter-inch or so of screened organic matter benefits the grass by benefiting the soil. In the time-honored way of mavens, he goes on to outline the proper, officially sanctioned application procedure, and tacks on a recipe for compost tea that “… delivers some of compost’s benefits.” (Emphasis mine: seems like a whole lot of trouble to brew enough poo-water to drench an entire lawn area for only a fraction of the value of the exercise.) If you want to calculate how much compost you’d need, check out the compost calculator at the Composting Council’s website.

            Page 66:  Jessica Walliser, author of Good Bug, Bad Bug, offers a primer on the family of beneficial parasitoid tachinid flies. (Parasitoids end up killing their hosts in particularly gruesome ways, whereas your basic parasites don’t. Just in case you didn’t already know.) We differentiate these flying good guys (“good,” that is, if you’re not a host) from their ickier kin, the houseflies, by a) the dark, bristly hairs on the their abdomens should you manage to observe them up close; and b) the fact that they live in the garden as opposed to the house. While their cousins prefer garbage or whatever you’re having, all tachinid species eat nectar. So in addition to laying eggs on or in common pestiferous insects like grasshoppers, Japanese beetle grubs, gypsy moth caterpillars, cabbageworms, etc., tachinids also pollinate their food sources in the carrot and aster families. What’s not to love?

Hedera helix could kill your cat
           Page 68:  Did you know most pets only chew on plants when they’re bored? Did you know some plants that merely inconvenience dogs will kill cats? And vice-versa? Yew, on the third hand, is fatally toxic to dogs and cats, but not deer or birds. It’s a dangerous world out there for Spot, Kitty  and Flicka, says Ilene Sternberg, so check out the ASPCA’s website for a list of potential pet poisons.


That's one Red Admiral...

            Page 70:  Attention, citizen scientists—it’s time to count butterflies! Cristina Santiestevan lists five websites for Americans and Brits to access for getting involved.

Death to plastic nursery pots!
                        Page 76:  Finally, Katie Walker profiles five commercially available biodegradable garden pots. Made of materials varying from cow poop, ground-up spruce mixed with peat moss, and coir to rice hulls, bamboo, and newspaper, many can be planted directly into the soil, minimizing both transplant and landfill stress. Is that cool or what?

            So maybe you ought to go pick up a copy of the June-July Organic Gardening, if only to see what it was I didn’t dog-ear. 

            Thanks for dropping by.