When visitors tour the grounds of Moss Mountain Farm, they always marvel at the annuals looking so bright-eyed and bushy tailed all the way into fall. And they start fishing for the secret to keeping those garden beds flourishing through the dog days of summer. Now that we’re in the tail end of those days, I’ll share those secrets now. Hopefully, you can employ those secrets through the rest of the season or file them away for next year.
Cutting back: If flower beds were a metaphor for the human life cycle, this period might be midlife where things start to “creep” or broaden and widen. You must stay vigilant and trim up those creepers that would overpower the more timid plants. Plants like sweet potato vine, which can be thuggish and push over smaller flowers. It’s also helpful to cut back the spent blooms, and I pay special attention to plants like my Snow Princess® Lobularia or the Angelonia.
Feedings: You should continue feedings, even though it’s hot. I usually give a dose of liquid fertilizer every third watering.
Filling in: I will typically pull out plants that haven’t fared well and plug in new things for fall. Sometimes the animals help with that task. For example, I had some petunias rooted out by armadillos. So, I’ll either plant more petunias or prepare for fall by substituting plants that like colder temperatures like nemesia, diascia or argyranthemum.
Fermentation was the original way to preserve the harvest, and it’s very easy, said Cat Swenson, the fermenter-in-chief and managing partner of Great Ferments. It predates canning and pickling, and is even more fool-proof than those. People have been fermenting foods for 7,000 years under some very unsanitary conditions, she said with a laugh, and fermentation can preserve food for longer than you ever thought possible. (Look below to see Cat demonstrate her process to Allen. Or click here.)
If you’re raising chickens or think you might add birds to your backyard in the near future, the Poultry Workshop is for you. It’s ideal for everyone from small-scale chicken farmers to novices wanting a pet bird. Guest speakers throughout the day will discuss techniques for breeding and raising heritage chicken breeds as well as egg production, housing, predator control and more. You can also expect seminars on humane poultry processing, biosecurity and how to choose the best birds for your home flock.
You’ll also learn about the differences between a home flock and choosing birds for the show ring using the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection. Young chicken enthusiasts can learn about careers in animal science.
Best of all, you can meet Allen and tour the grounds of Moss Mountain Farm, which is the staging area for his Garden Home and Garden Style television shows. He will take you on a tour of Poultryville, and you’ll see how he feeds, nurtures, and protects his own flock of heritage breeds. And he’ll be on site answering your burning questions and sharing his long-standing love for chickens.
Lunch will be provided, and some great prizes will be given away. You could even purchase chickens to take home and add to your flock! This workshop is quite a deal! Reserve your spot today before they’re gone!
For budding poultry enthusiasts and 4-H members, P. Allen Smith is offering a limited number of scholarships to attend the workshop. Call Joyce at (501) 519-5793 to reserve your spot.
If your grandmother had a garden, chances are good she grew daylilies. This easygoing perennial has been a favorite for generations, but the newer kids on the block are definitely not for the old guard.
I always recommend daylilies for a garden because they’re low-maintenance, showy in the garden and the late-blooming varieties will offer bold, trumpet blossoms until fall. If you choose several different varieties that bloom early, mid and late in the season, you can extend their bloom time throughout the entire season.
The scientific name for daylily is Hemerocallis, which translates from Greek to “beauty” and “day.” The blooms only last one day, but don’t worry! Daylilies grow in clumps with many blooms on each stalk. Much like fireworks, they’ll give you one exploding bloom after another for many weeks. Bloom! Bloom! Pow!
Daylilies are perfect for slopes, beds, near foundations or even in containers. They need at least six hours of direct sun per day to thrive, but they will bloom even better in a full day of sunshine. When planting a daylily, set the plant in the ground or in a container at the same depth it was growing in the pot you bought it in. You want to avoid planting it too deeply. Space plants 10 to 12 inches apart in the ground or grow just one as a “thriller” in your combination container. For best results, add some compost, especially if you have heavy clay or sandy soil. Water your newly planted daylilies consistently during the first growing season as they establish themselves
You’ll find one of the best things about growing daylilies is they multiply! Divide and share with friends or plant elsewhere in your garden. Spring or late summer is the best time to divide and share daylilies. To do this, carefully lift the clump out of the ground with a shovel and divide it with a sharp knife, removing any sickly looking foliage. Cut the foliage down to about half its height and then transplant the divided pieces back into the garden immediately.
Because of their association with grandmothers, daylilies have a vintage feel, but I prefer to call them “timeless.” Though they’ve been around for generations, newer varieties have improved upon the older ones, making them stronger, brighter and more generous with their blooms. The following varieties are colorful, floriferous and vigorous; everything you expect from a daylily, but more of it. They are certainly Proven Winners in my garden, and I recommend them for yours.
RAINBOW RHYTHM® ‘Primal Scream’ Hemerocallis
Very large 7 ½ – 8 ½” flowers
Glimmering tangerine orange, gold dusted flowers with twisted, ruffled petals
Blooms in early midsummer on 34” tall scapes loaded with buds
Full sun to part shade
RAINBOW RHYTHM® ‘Going Bananas’ Hemerocallis
Lightly fragrant, lemon yellow, 4” blooms
Reblooming variety that begins flowering early and continues into fall
Relatively short; 19 to 22 inches tall
Early season blooming
RAINBOW RHYTHM® ‘Ruby Spider’ Hemerocallis
Gigantic 9” flowers
Blooms are ruby red with a radiating yellow throat
Urban farms are exploding in popularity across the country. No matter the size of your city, you can bet someone is taking advantage the space in a vacant lot or an empty rooftop to grow fresh produce. Chicago has become one of the most popular cities for urban gardening, and entrepreneurs there are innovating in growing methods like agroponics in abandoned warehouses. In smaller cities, like Little Rock, the urban gardening trends are taking off in schoolyards and large lots in busy neighborhoods. Today, we talk to two farmers about the hurdles to starting an urban garden in small and large metro areas.
Sara Gasbarra Founder, owner of Verdura saragasbarra.com Sara spends her days designing, installing and maintaining onsite culinary gardens for hotels and restaurants, typically on the roof. She uses good old-fashioned dirt and irrigation systems to grow specialty items that restaurants would normally order in bulk and most likely sacrifice freshness and product in the process. She says growing in Chicago has its issues.
“It’s hard to compare to other cities. It’s not as jam-packed as New York — there’s actually a decent amount of space here, and I see a lot of urban farms popping up indoors and in warehouses,” she said. “Space availability can be a challenge to source, but there is a lot available. Certain areas are a bit more compact and clustered but there are a lot of areas particularly on the south and west side that have lots of open land. That may be part of the reason the urban farm movement in Chicago is very prevalent.”
And even if you found a vacant lot, chances are your efforts would be hampered by poor soil quality. “If you’re going to grow in ground, you have to get the soil tested, because most likely it has high levels of lead. So, you’ve probably got to build raised beds and put a barrier down and bring in fresh dirt.”
She says city gardening generally means fewer bunnies and pests, but urban gardeners will encounter other rodents. And while rooftop gardening may seem glamorous, access to those high spaces can be tricky. She feels fortunate when a hotel has and elevator with rooftop access, but she’s also had to haul dirt and supplies up a ladder and use lightweight materials.
“Most of these buildings are very old. I always have to calculate weight and provide it to the client and they make that final call. Generally, if I’m on top of a roof, I use super lightweight container soil like Good Dirt.”
She faces red tape when it comes to liability and the hazards of working on rooftops.
“My insurance dictates a few things with regard to liability and walking on the rooftop, and the restaurants I work with have insurance,” she said. “You’re setting up a farm, and the food is going to be brought down to a restaurant. I would never start setting up projects on top of roofs without thinking of the liability aspects. You want to be cautious.
Her clients are interested in growing specialty items, like rare edible flowers, they would not find in a farmers market.
“They would normally order from a company and have it shipped. That’s expensive to do and it doesn’t travel well, or you’re ordering in bulk and a lot of it is wasted,” she said. “A rooftop garden provides the opportunity to harvest as much as they need, and harvest right before they’re ready to utilize it. And for people who are dining, they know these things were grown right above my head or right outside the door. And it’s a nice way to promote that and bring it full circle.”
Nathanael Wills Owner/farmer Felder Farm Little Rock
As cars and city buses barrel down busy Woodrow Street in Little Rock, the tall tomato plants of Felder Farm draw the attention of neighbors and commuters. In addition to his stalks of tomatoes, he’s growing eggplants, peppers, and flowers.
“Everyone tries to stop and talk to me about these tomatoes. I cause trouble with traffic sometimes. People want to stop right there,” said owner and farmer Nathanael Wills pointing to the street. “I tell them to pull off in the driveway,” he said with a laugh.
He’s been urban farming for five years and admits he’s made his share of mistakes, everything from figuring out drainage and runoff to spacing and timing of plants. He said that’s why most urban farmers will suggest newbies work with an established farm or on rented land before they try it on their own. For Wills, Felder Farm began as a school project, but when the school closed he found a home with a large lot and moved his farm there. But the lot was overgrown with weeds and shrubs and trees, so clearing it was, and still is, a hassle.
“We had to cut out a ton of trees and privets and slowly beat back all the weeds. We still have pretty bad weeds. Underneath every piece of ground is tons of interwoven roots, and we had to bring in soil, and that would be silly in a rural farm.”
Not long ago, he spent a week with a rented excavator pulling up stumps just to make an additional 25-foot bed, something a traditional farmer probably wouldn’t do.
“But it’s worth it to us because of our location. It takes me one minute to get to my farmers market. So that’s a huge advantage,” he said. “So, in the end, I chose to spend all that effort to make one extra bed.” His city farm, and limited space, also dictates what he plants.
“I can’t grow sweet corn or melons or winter squash, because those are things you need a ton of space for. I’m still learning which crops it makes sense to grow. That’s a huge learning curve,” he said. “You’re not going to be an urban farmer and grow watermelons and do well. So, I’ve got to grow more specialty things, I grow a lettuce mix and things like that.”
The other problem he has to face, sometimes things walk away from the farm.
“People definitely steal stuff,” he said. “I had someone steal almost an entire compost pile, a dump truck load, so always joke with the rural farmers at my market like, ‘I don’t think y’all have those kinds of pests.’”
Sometimes he’ll face an inadvertent code violation with a greenhouse or something else unexpected, but he thinks his farm ultimately adds to the landscape of the community, and he’s all in. Totally committed.
“You can’t just grow five or six blueberry bushes, you have to be all in. It doesn’t do me any good to grow 10 feet of flowers, you have to learn flowers and be into flowers,” he said. “And flowers are a great thing, and I think it helps the community when people drive and see the blooms. It looks good.”
The cafeteria at Centers for Youth and Families overflows with organically grown tomatoes, peppers and more, and the staff barely has room for the harvest donation from Moss Mountain Farm. In the coming weeks, they’ll see even more produce arrive to provide nutritious meals for children in treatment and summer programs at Centers.
Moss Mountain Farm, owned by P. Allen Smith, has been fortunate enough to share its bounty with neighboring outreach programs. These hundreds of pounds of summer vegetables have been given to nonprofits in Little Rock and Conway. The Centers for Youth and Families was one location chosen to receive a donation because of a shared project to install a therapy garden on the campus. Centers for Youth and Families provides treatment for family issues and emotionally disturbed or at-risk youth in a residential setting, and studies have shown therapeutic gardening, sometimes called horticulture therapy, provides relief for stress and mental and developmental disabilities.
“On behalf of The Centers Foundation, it’s always an honor to receive donations from corporate and community partners like this, that will go on to benefit our children and youth. What makes this donation even more special is that it’s also symbolic of Centers for Youth & Families roots,” said Doug Stadter, president and CEO of Centers. In 1884, Elizabeth Mitchell couldn’t bear the thought of children in need and began to taken them into her home. She quickly inspired others to do the same. Her actions led to the formation of the organization now known as Centers for Youth & Families. “More than 130 Years later, this is a great reminder of the importance of helping children and youth who need it the most,” Stadter added.
Centers believes the garden project would greatly benefit its patients, and while planning for that project continues, the Acre Garden at Moss Mountain Farm overflowed with a summer harvest of Bonnie Plants and those grown from Sakata Seeds. The farm produced crates and crates of Juliet, Yellow Jubilee and Sungold tomatoes as well as Banana and Yes to Yellow peppers, among others. The cafeteria at Centers proved to be the ideal landing spot for the farm’s harvest. And this donation will have the dual purpose of prepping the staff at Centers for an influx of fresh produce from its on-site gardens once the project is completed. Smith and his farm plan to continue weekly donations as long as the harvest allows.
“Thanks to the generosity of the Moss Mountain Farm Foundation, children in our residential treatment program, emergency shelter and summer program are enjoying farm fresh, organic produce this summer,” said Stadter. “Providing a nutritious diet and teaching our kids the importance and fun of healthy eating is an essential part of our work at Centers for Youth & Families. We’re grateful to P. Allen Smith and the Moss Mountain Farm Foundation for being such a great partner in our efforts to build happier and healthier children, families, and communities across Arkansas.”
In addition to Centers, Moss Mountain Farm’s Acre Garden also supplied 125 lbs of fresh tomatoes, peppers and okra to St. Peters Food Pantry in Conway.
The idea of hot coffee in the middle of summer is not appealing at all. However, with a little bit of planning, you can enjoy the smooth taste of cold-brewed coffee. It’s all the caffeine, with less acidity. I actually look forward to summer and the opportunity to make it!
Our friends at Westrock Coffee have shared a very detailed method for cold brewed coffee on their blog, and their method guarantees the very best flavor out of the beans. We can attest to their passion for coffee. (More on that below.)
However, sometimes I don’t have the usual implements and need a cold-brew alternative! So, I’ve discovered a few simple methods for cold brewed coffee for those on the go.
Big Batch of Cold-Brew: 1. Finely grind 1 cup of beans. 2. Add to a pitcher with a tight-fitting lid. Then add 4 cups of room temperature water. Attach lid securely. This prevents refrigerator flavors from affecting your cold brew. 3. Let sit overnight, or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator. 4. Strain the mixture through a filter. 5. This mix will be concentrated. I typically put it in a mason jar with a lid, and dilute it in my cup each morning with more water and ice to taste. Add milk and sugar, if you like. And you’re ready to go!
This method makes about 5 to 7 servings!
No Filter, Small-Batch Method: For this, you’ll need a ceramic teapot with a strainer. 1. Grind a handful or two of beans. 2. Add to the mesh strainer section of your teapot. 3. Fill with water. Cover the end of the teapot with a plastic baggy or a dish towel to keep refrigerator flavors out of your coffee. 4. Set it in the fridge overnight. 5. Wake up and pour coffee into your mug. This will be fairly concentrated, so add water to taste. Then add ice and milk and sugar, if you’re so inclined.
I can’t help but recommend Westrock Coffee for your home brew. It’s what we drink in my office because of Westrock’s passion for coffee and commitment to fair-trade practices. The company improves the lives of the farmers they partner with by paying them a fair price for their coffee as well as offering training and support to increase yields. And I’m grateful for the ability to enjoy a great cup of coffee and help others at the same time.
Mason jars might be the most useful item in your kitchen, and it seems like the internet – we’re looking at you, Pinterest – keeps finding new uses for them! Some of the trends we’ve seen include, packing a salad lunch, creating luminaries and, of course, desserts. They’re the perfect size for single-serving parfaits, puddings and pies.
Because mason jars are made to withstand high heat in the canning process, they can also be used for baking everything from cobblers to cupcakes.
Little Rock’s renowned South on Main restaurant has a mouth-watering menu of seasonal mason jar desserts, and Chef Matt Bell and his team have reached Mason Jar Expert Level. Some of the restaurant’s most popular desserts are banana pudding, berry cobblers, bread pudding and s’mores. He has some tips for creating your own desserts at home and says the process is fairly simple. All you need are basic ingredients and the right ratios.
“For cobblers, we basically make a cobbler filling with berries, sugar, cornstarch, then put that in a jar,” he said. “For the topping, we use our biscuit dough and put a little on the top of each jar, sprinkle it with sugar in the raw, and bake it.”
Though mason jars generally do well with baking, as a precautionary measure, his chefs put the filled jars in a deep pan and add water to buffer the heat and prevent the jars from cracking.
“You want to use a water bath, like you’re making custard,” he said. “It’s not so much for the dessert, but it’s to protect the jars. They’re made to be heated, but it’s a step we like to take.”
He’s also had success using the mason jars to make cakes.
“Yes, you’ve got to compensate for the cake rising,” he said. “The guideline would be to fill it like you’d fill a muffin tin. Don’t fill it to the top, or it’s gonna go all over. Usually when we do cakes, we fill them halfway, and when it cooks, it picks up another third of the space. So when it’s done, it’s three-fourths full give or take, and then we’ll top it with buttercream or a cream cheese frosting or something like that.”
When layering desserts like puddings and parfaits, he has a certain ratio he likes to hit.
“I like to have three layers of filling and two layers of the crunch, whatever it might be,” he said. “So, for the s’mores jars, we’ll start with the fluff and do a layer of graham cracker and chocolate, and another layer of fluff and graham cracker and chocolate, and finish with the fluff.”
He says a dish like banana pudding would work the same way: “Start with pudding, then add vanilla wafers, pudding, wafers, and finish with pudding. It almost doesn’t matter the size of the jar, but we feel like, for texture and consistency, it works best if you have three of the filing and two of the crunch, crumble, cookie, whatever it might be.”
Two layers of crunchy stuff, three layers of sweet fluff. Got it.
He also loves the to-go aspect of mason jar desserts. Put a lid on it, and send it home with guests. He says the layers don’t tend to shift much once they’re in place.
“If you’re hosting a party, and you want to send someone home with something, what an awesome takeaway,” he said. “Here’s a cobbler, lid’s on it, heat it up tomorrow and have it.” We agree.
The summer issue of our Naturally magazine is full of recipes, architecture, DIYs and more. Be inspired to party with sweet figgy bourbon cocktails, spicy green beans and sunny, heat-hardy flowers that will brighten up your home all summer.
In this issue, learn how easy it is to grow and harvest your own baby broccoli, get a peek into an historic piece of architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and learn how to make the most of your water feature. Click below to start reading!
Feeding plants is complicated. However, you should remember you’re not feeding the plants, you’re feeding the soil. The plants use up nutrients in the soil, yes, but much like the human gut, soil is made up of microorganisms with specific jobs. They break down nutrients, so the plant can absorb them and stay healthy.
If you’re new to gardening or a new homeowner, a soil test would be beneficial. Or for a short-term solution, ask neighborhood gardeners about the soil quality in your area. Take a sample of soil to your local extension office for testing. Here in Arkansas, a basic soil test checks for: pH factor, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, iron, sulfate, manganese, copper, zinc, boron, and salinity. Soil tests done by your local Cooperative Extension Service generally include fertilization recommendations. If you’re curious about the general pH levels of your soil, it’s possible to determine through a variety of home testing methods, like the ones on this site. For organic gardeners, we recommend the certified Bone Meal and Blood Meal options from Jobe’s Organics. Here’s a quick rundown on the uses and benefits of these additives.
Blood Meal Blood meal, which is a slaughterhouse byproduct, adds nitrogen back to the soil in a very efficient manner. Nitrogen is the nutrient that fluctuates the most in soil. Many plants are heavy nitrogen feeders, too, like corn, tomatoes, squash, lettuce, cucumbers and cabbage. Blood meal is water soluble and can be used as a liquid fertilizer. If you’re replanting the same garden bed year after year, blood meal will be beneficial, as plants have a tendency to deplete the soil. Blood meal will also make your soil more acidic, lowering the pH value. Blood meal acts quickly in the garden to fix nitrogen deficiency and a single application can effectively feed plants for 6 to 8 weeks. However, be careful when applying nitrogen to young plants, too much can burn them. For best results, try dissolving it in water or mix some into the soil when planting.
Bone meal Bone meal adds phosphorus and calcium to the soil. It’s available in powder or granular form, and the powder form can be dissolved in water for a fast-acting fertilizer. Granular bone meal is more of a slow-release additive. Unlike blood meal, bone meal won’t burn your plants if you add too much. If your soil testing indicates a shortage, add bone meal to your soil to help plants grow and flower. Again, pH testing is important because if your soil has a pH of 7 or higher, bone meal will be relatively ineffective. The acidity level must be addressed first. In addition, mixing bone meal with high nitrogen soil additives can balance out high nitrogen fertilizers like rotted manure. Note: if you have pets, keep bone meal away from them. It can be dangerous if ingested.
In short, your garden soil needs a variety of nutrients to thrive. Bone meal and blood meal are suitable substitutes that can help your garden be stronger and more productive. Blood meal is considered an appropriate additive for organic gardens. When it comes to using gardening products sourced from animals, organic is the safest bet.