Author: Sam May

Experience Moss Mountain Farm

When guests visit Moss Mountain Farm, it is more than just looking at flowers and gardens, it is an experience where you become completely immersed. Moss Mountain Farm is an epicenter for promoting the local food movement, organic gardening and the preservation of heritage poultry breeds, while serving as a place of inspiration, education, and conservation.

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Of course, what I love more than sharing my home with folks from all over the globe are the stories you all share with me during your visit. One of my favorite stories from this spring was of a family who found their way to Moss Mountain Farm from Mississippi thanks to their adorable 8 month old son. Their son would awaken each morning at 5:00, and the parents would turn on the television to try and wake up as well. Garden Home is shown in the early hours of the morning, and that’s how the parents became inspired by P. Allen Smith. This day, they were among 63 guests who came from 17 states to visit the farm.

I am also appreciative of those who trek through the rain and sludge. This is a group of 84 guests from 18 states enjoying a rainy day at Moss Mountain Farm.

One of my favorite events at Moss Mountain Farm takes place in the fall and spring, when flocks of poultry enthusiasts gather at the farm to learn more about conservation of heritage breed poultry.

Each day at Moss Mountain Farm is different, and I love seeing guests participate in the variety of activities we have planned throughout the spring and fall. One of my favorite tours recently was a “make it and take it” class, where the tour attendees were able to paint their own flower pots to bring home with them.

 

Lets look at a few stats for 2018 so far:

2122 guests visited from
38 states and Canada

634 eggs used in
203 Buttermilk Pecan pies and
200 dozen of Aunt Jamie’s Cookies
and Infinite memories made!

To learn more about our upcoming tour dates and to reserve your spot, click HERE!

 

October Garden To Do List

At the beginning of October my mid-south, zone 8A garden is still full of blooms but by Halloween, it begins its steady decline toward dormancy.  So I start the month in harvest mode and transition into doing a serious fall cleanup by the 15th or so.  The to-do list is getting shorter, but the tasks seem to require a little more elbow grease.  That’s okay because there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing a garden tidied up for its winter nap.

Here are a few tips to help you get your own garden ready for bed.

  • Cut back perennial foliage after a killing freeze. For a wildlife-friendly garden, cut back plants that have had disease problems during the growing season but leave stems and seed heads that will provide food and shelter for birds.
  • Mark areas where hardy volunteers have dropped their seeds so that next spring you can be on the lookout for the seedlings.
  • When using dried flowers with fuzzy seed heads, spray them with hairspray to keep them from shattering.
  • Rake up and remove any leaves on your lawn. It is important to remove dead leaves because over time they will form a dense mat that smothers your grass.
  • Clean and oil garden tools before storing for winter.
  • Protect your water features from fall leaves with netting. Stretch the netting over the water surface and secure the edges. Remove the leaves that land on the netting on a regular basis.
  • Before you put away your mower, drain gasoline and take it to the shop for any repairs needed.  It’s also a good time to have the blade sharpened and balanced.
  • Use hardware cloth to wrap around the base of small fruit trees and roses. This will protect them from rodents.
  • Transplant deciduous trees and shrubs after the leaves have fallen.
  • Pot up amaryllis bulbs now for indoor blooms during the holidays.
  • Hill soil to a height of 8 to 10 inches around roses for winter protection. Mulch after the ground freezes.
  • Save packets of half-used seeds in airtight containers in a cool dry place.
  • In my zone 7 garden and other mild winter climates, it is best to sow larkspur in mid-fall because the seeds need cool soil temperatures to germinate (50 to 60 degrees F).
  • Plant spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and globe alliums.

Good to Know

I garden in zone 8A. Spring usually starts in March and fall extends through November.  The summers are long and hot.  I write these tips with the idea that they are applicable to all zones during a general period of time. However, given microclimates and weather extremes timing can vary.  Observe the conditions in your garden and apply them accordingly.

How to Select and Use a Leaf Blower

From September through November (or December if you procrastinate like I do) the most used garden tool is the rake. This simple device, that probably began its life as a twiggy branch, has evolved into all manner of contraptions designed to make clearing out autumn leaves easier. I’ve tried many “new and improved” versions, but it’s hard to beat the good ole fan rake, especially when it’s paired with a leaf blower.

I’m certain some of you are opposed to leaf blowers, but I’d like to make a case for them. I think user error accounts for this useful tool’s negative image. If you select the right model for your garden and use it properly with consideration for your neighbors, a leaf blower can reduce your work considerably without being a nuisance.

 

Choosing a Leaf Blower

First of all you need to select the right leaf blower for your yard. What size is your yard? How will you use your leaf blower? To gather up heavy, wet leaves or for light jobs like clearing paths or a patio? What is more important to you: portability or power? By answering these questions you can purchase a leaf blower that works with you rather than against you. My favorite is the GreenWorks Cordless Leaf Blower from Gardener’s Edge. 

Big Yard

Choose a gas-powered backpack or wheeled machine. A gas engine will provide the power you need to tackle big jobs and a backpack or wheeled design makes toting a leaf blower over a generous amount of space easier. Look at the power and speed ratings: miles per hour (MPH) and cubic feet per minute (CFM). CFM is the volume of air a blower can move in a minute. MPH is the speed at which the unit blows. The higher these two numbers, the more power a blower will have.

Medium Yard
A gas-powered backpack or handheld blower with a two or four-cycle engine is ideal for a medium-sized space. You could go electric, but be sure the cord won’t slow you down or, if it’s cordless, the charge will last long enough to complete the job.

Small Yard
Unless you have an exceptional amount of clean up to do, an electric, handheld leaf blower is all you need for small spaces. These are lightweight, quieter, don’t require much maintenance and don’t produce emissions.

Time Line Showing the Evolution from Rake to Leaf Blower

How to Use a Leaf Blower

Once you have the best model for your purposes it’s important to know how to use a leaf blower properly. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there is a correct way to use this tool. When used correctly leaf blowers are truly helpful to you without being annoying your neighbors.

Be considerate about when you operate your leaf blower. Don’t run it early in the morning or late at night. And be mindful of where you blow your leaves.

Stop trying to blow your leaves into the next world. Instead, use your leaf blower to gather yard debris in a central area where you can then use a rake or broom to dispose of it. Blow leaves onto a tarp that you can dump into a compost bin or create a line of leaves that you can rake up in sections.

You’ll make yourself and your neighbors insane trying to get every last leaf with a leaf blower. Use a rake to collect stragglers.

Work in a single direction to prevent blowing leaves from your pile back into your yard. And get a helping hand from Mother Nature by blowing in the same direction as the wind.

Hold the blower at a shallow angle toward the ground and more across your yard using a sweeping motion. Be careful to not sweep away topsoil with the leaves.

Always wear eye and ear protection to prevent injury and hearing loss.

Flock Around The Clock

If you’re raising chickens or think you might add birds to your backyard in the near future, Chicken Chat at Moss Mountain Farm is for you. It’s ideal for everyone from small-scale chicken farmers to novices wanting a pet bird.

Event attendees will learn from P. Allen Smith about his heritage breed poultry and the importance of preserving these rare breeds. He’ll be on site answering all of your burning questions and sharing his long-standing love for chickens.

Best of all, you can meet Allen and tour the grounds of Moss Mountain Farm and his garden home, which is the staging area for his Garden Home and Garden Style television shows. He will take you to Poultryville, and you will see how he feeds, nurtures, and protects his own flock of heritage breeds.  Dr. Keith Bramwell will also be in attendance this day, bringing with him a wealth of knowledge on heritage breed poultry.

Lunch will be provided. You could even purchase chickens to take home and add to your flock! Chicken Chat is kind of a big deal, so reserve your spot today before they’re gone!

Click here for more info!

Eating Animals

A conversation has swept the nation regarding the implications of Big Tech in our daily lives with multiple powerful pieces appearing in the press. But what about an issue that is potentially bigger, and even more personal, that affects all of us? What about our modern industrial food complex and the confluence of government, academia, lobbying organizations and the implications of those relationships for our health, children, food access, animal welfare, and farming community? A dialogue surrounding these issues arose in the early 2000s with several exposés and analysis by major US publications.

However, that was 18 years ago. What has happened since then?

An important film by Christopher Quinn, narrated by Natalie Portman, and based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer of the same name—Eating Animals—brings us up to date, answers that question and introduces us to developments that affect the liberties of each American. Originally shown in the Fall of 2017 at the Telluride Film Festival, Mr. Quinn’s film has found wider distribution with the support of concerned philanthropists, notably from the EJF Philanthropies. This August, P. Allen Smith partnered with EJF Philanthropies to host a private screening and panel discussion for Arkansas thought leaders in Little Rock. This screening is part of a multi-city tour to encourage dialogue among citizen, business, and elected leaders to address food and health safety, animal welfare, and environmental hazards.

Arkansas has a rich agrarian community and passion for supporting local and small farmers. Eating Animals takes a deep dive of topics critical to our health and provides insight into the decisions facing our citizenry at the local, state and national levels. It is a must-see for anyone who cares about food security, environmental safety and business and government ethics. It is also a must-see for concerned consumers who want to understand the connection between the decisions they make at the grocery store and the health of their communities.

For over 18 years, P. Allen Smith has worked to support small farmers, local producers, and responsible farming practices through his national—and now international—television shows. In 2015, Mr. Smith profiled the leadership example of late philanthropist Dorrance Hamilton and her Swiss Village Farm mammalian preservation project in Newport, Rhode Island (now conserved by the Smithsonian Institute). Regrettably, avian genetics are much more fragile and cannot be reliably preserved using cryogenic technology.

That is where the efforts of Mr. Smith and the hero poultry farmer of Eating Animals, Frank Reese, come into critical prominence. They are part of a very small group of Americans who are independently safeguarding the genetics of robust, healthy Heritage birds. These are the birds that were originally bred to survive outdoor conditions and to feed our growing nation. Sadly, these same birds have been neglected by much of academia, industry, and government in favor of fast-growing, inexpensive genetics, as profiled in Eating Animals.

Beyond animal welfare, Mr. Smith’s 2015 TEDx talk in LIttle Rock highlights the vulnerable position society can place itself in when relying upon too narrow a range of fragile genetics and too great an emphasis on any one food source. The Irish potato famine is a perfect example of the danger of over-relying on any one food and is often cited as an important illustration of this concept.

Complicating our position today, however, as Mr. Smith explained in his TEDx discussion, is the appeal of meat in the diet of ascending India and China, and the robustly expanding middle class of both countries. Modern Indian and Chinese are increasingly consuming American protein products—frequently with poultry as the preferred source. The difference between the Irish Potato famine of 1845 and today, as many have observed, is scale and ability to adapt. In 1845, blight affliction caused massive crop failure of the leaves and tubers of the potato plant in Ireland, preceding unimaginable misery for an entire nation and over 1 million deaths. In 2018, in our highly standardized world, narrow ranges of poultry genetics serve the protein needs of world populations in far excess of 1 billion, with those populations highly clustered in large cities rather than rural communities. Our ability to quickly adapt carefully engineered food delivery systems with alternative protein and food sources is in question. With recent compromises in egg and poultry production in the United States, and with increasing appreciation of the precarious state of our current food delivery model, many are asking: what is our backup?

It is notable that private charities are leading the way in answering this important question. The efforts of Mr. Smith and Mr. Reese specifically help preserve strains of living genetics that may be critically needed by future generations. Both Mr. Reese and Mr. Smith have started 501(c)3 non-profits to maintain their programs. Mr. Reese is partnering with the MASS Design Group to develop a center at his Kansas farm—Good Shepherd Institute— to help educate the public and teach a new generation of farmers the almost-lost art of Heritage Poultry farming.

For over a decade, Mr. Smith’s Heritage Poultry Conservancy has improved and maintained the genetics of endangered heritage breeds. Smith has also invested in encouraging youth involvement in poultry science and believes progress on this issue is best accomplished by inspiring local and national leadership and encouraging the next generation to take up the cause. His outreach efforts have inspired youth to pursue academic careers in poultry science and contribute to the field.

To date, no food industry participant has been involved with the financing or support of either gentleman’s preservation programs. And in 2017, the University of Arkansas eliminated its Heritage Poultry facility, removing an important resource for students to learn and interact with genetic diversity offered by Heritage breeds.

 

Christopher Quinn (Director of Eating Animals), Caitlyn Taylor (Architect, MASS Design Group), P. Allen Smith and Simone Friedman (Philanthropist, EJF Philanthropies) and Guest at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, AR.  The group of panelists gathered after dinner in the Foyer of the Capital Hotel.


Caitlyn Taylor, Frank Reese, and Allen Smith walk to Mr. Smith’s Heritage Poultry Conservancy at Moss Mountain Farm.

Caitlyn Taylor, P. Allen Smith and Frank Reese pause at Moss Mountain Farm’s poultry gallery space.  The three reviewed the rare heritage genetics maintained at Moss Mountain Farm.  Mr. Reese and Mr. Smith safeguard satellite genetics of endangered flocks.

Allen explains his conservation program to Caitlyn and Frank.

Allen and Frank inspect young Narragansett and Bronze Turkey.

Allen holds a Silvery Grey Dorking, Frank holds a White Faced Black Spanish.

Christopher Quinn and P. Allen Smith at Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm, outside Little Rock, AR.

Caitlyn Taylor, Allen Smith, and Frank Reese pausing for a moment prior to making lunch at Moss Mountain Farm.

Smith preparing a family recipe pimento-grilled-cheese sandwich to accompany a cool summer tomato soup.

Caitlyn helps Smith prepare lunch.

Caitlyn, Frank, Allen, and Allen’s Scottish Terrier ‘Miss Chatty’ relax after lunch enjoying a refreshing breeze on the front porch of Moss Mountain Farm.

Rodney Thomason (CEO, Medical Assets Holding Group), P. Allen Smith and Ayasha Thomason at the Capital Hotel Reception of Eating Animals.

Simone Friedman, P. Allen Smith, Frank Reese, and Christopher Quinn share their insights during a panel discussion following the reception for Eating Animals at the Capital Hotel.

P. Allen Smith, Tim and Robin Ralston (owners of Ralston Family Farms rice), and Frank Reese at the Capital Hotel Reception.

 

For More Information, please see:

Eating Animals, a film by Michael Quinn:
http://www.eatinganimalsmovie.com/

EJF Philanthropies:
http://ejfphilanthropies.org/

MASS Design Group:
https://massdesigngroup.org/

Frank’s Reese’s Good Shepherd Institute Project:
https://www.thegoodshepherdinstitute.org/

Frank Reese’s Good Shepherd Ranch:
http://goodshepherdpoultryranch.com/

P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm Foundation:
http://www.mossmountainfarm.org/

Heritage Poultry Conservancy:
http://heritagepoultry.org 

P. Allen Smith’s 2015 TEDx Genetic Diversity, End of Choice:
https://youtu.be/yCsGFNHHIQw

P. Allen Smith’s profile on The Swiss Village Farm Foundation (and the problem with avian genetics):
https://youtu.be/jeqh94paXkw

SVF, Swiss Village Farm Foundation:
https://www.svffoundation.org/

The Garden Tool You Shouldn’t Live Without

Whether you’re just getting into gardening or have been growing flowers and veggies for years, you need the right tools to get your plants in tip-top shape. Good, durable garden tools go a long way in making all those garden chores a little more enjoyable.

Find out which tool you should add to your collection today. Read more

3 Ways to Harness Flower Power Through to Fall

When visitors tour the grounds of Moss Mountain Farm, they always marvel at the annuals looking16_06470 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.

  1. 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.

 

  1. Feedings: You should continue feedings, even though it’s hot. I usually give a dose of liquid fertilizer every third watering.

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  1. 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.

 

Planning for the Fall Garden

While the calendar may still read summer, autumn is right around the corner and it is time to start gearing up for the season. By planting a few seasonal super stars now you can extend your garden’s beauty until winter’s first hard frost.

Perennials – Each season has its own color palette and fall is one of the richest of them all. There are perennials that you can add to your garden now that will bolster autumn’s tapestry. Purple asters and blue salvias are wonderful color complements to the red, orange and gold foliage of the season.

And if you are a savvy shopper then you know that garden centers offer end-of-the-season prices to reduce their inventory before winter sets in. This means now is the time to get some great deals on plants that have yet to shine.

Here is a short list of some of my favorite autumn super stars:
Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’ (perennial)
Aster ‘Alma Potchke’ (perennial)
Salvia vanhouttii ‘Paul’ (perennial)
Japanese Anemone (perennial)
Hardy Begonia (perennial)
Arkansas Amsonia (perennial)
Autumn Fern (perennial)
Autumn Crocus (perennial bulb)
Lycoris (perennial bulb)
Nerine (perennial bulb)

Fall Flower BorderOrnamental Grasses – The texture and movement of ornamental grasses makes them well suited to the fall season. Look for varieties such as miscanthus ‘Morning Light’, calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and dwarf fountain grass ‘Little Bunny’.

Annuals – When it comes to pumping up the color in your garden it is hard to beat annuals. You can breathe new life into your summer annuals by applying a liquid fertilizer every 7 to 10 days and cutting back those that have grown leggy.

If you live in a region where warm summer weather extends well into fall, sow a second wave of fast growing annual flowers such as cosmos, gomphrena and celosia.

And save room for cool season favorites such as violas, pansies and snapdragons.

Container Gardens – Plan on revamping your container gardens for fall with a few “slip- in” plants. These are the plants you can add now to replace tired-looking summer flowers. Some substitutes I rely on are kale, pansies, snapdragons or ornamental grasses. Small trees and shrubs with striking foliage also a nice choice for giving your container gardens an autumnal glow. Try Virginia sweet spire, euonymus, Japanese maple, dwarf crape myrtle and fothergilla. At the end of the season, before the ground freezes you can transplant these into your garden’s flower borders.

Shrubs and Trees – The true stars of the fall landscape are those trees and shrubs that produce brilliantly colored foliage.

In Northern regions plant trees and shrubs in the ground well before the first frost date in your area so they can get established before cold weather sets in. Warm climate gardeners should wait until the heat breaks in the fall before planting. You will find that the cooler temperatures and more plentiful rain of autumn make the job of caring for newly planted trees and shrubs much easier.

Vegetables – Like the early days of spring, the cool temperatures in fall are ideal for growing certain vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Now is the time to get out your seed catalogs and place your order for lettuce, spinach and arugula. Vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are better started from transplants purchased at a local garden center. In my mid-South zone 7 garden I begin planting as soon as I sense that the heat is about the break, which is usually late August to mid-September.

When determining your planting date and selecting crops for your vegetable garden, you need to know the number of days it will take for a plant to mature and the first frost date of the season. You might think the best way to know when to plant is to take your average frost date and backup the number of days until maturity. But this doesn’t take into account the cooler and shorter days to come. It’s actually better to come up with an imaginary harvest date a few weeks before frost and back up from there.

Estimated First Frost Dates by Zone
Zone 3 – September 1st – 30th
Zone 4 – September 1st – 30th
Zone 5 – September 30th – October 30th
Zone 6 – September 30th – October 30th
Zone 7 – October 15th – November 15th
Zone 8 – October 30th – November 30th
Zone 9 – November 30th – December 30th
Zone 10 – November 30th – December 30th
Zone 11 – Frost Free

Caring for Summer Annuals

Whether you are interested in growing annuals to use as cut flowers, or just to add color and blooms to your garden, there are a few basic principles you can follow for a more successful growing season and a more beautiful garden.

Coreopsis at Moss Mountain Farm

Watering Annuals

When it comes to watering the key is consistency. You never want your flowerbeds or containers to dry out completely. This can be tough on your plants, particularly young ones. They rarely recover. One of my favorite ways to water is to use a soaker hose. It deep soaks the ground, which encourages a deep root system and a stronger plant. Then I just put a layer of mulch around them, to hold in the moisture.

Osteospermum and Diascia

Fertilizing Annuals

To grow beautiful stands of annuals it is important to feed the plants. An organic slow-release fertilizer will cut down on the amount of time spent applying fertilizer and you won’t have to worry about burning the plants by over feeding. Choose one that includes microorganisms that will enrich the soil too.

Another way to keep your flowers blooming longer is to remove spent flowers. If this seems like too much work, look for varieties that are self-cleaning, which means the dead blossoms will drop on their own.

Hardy Volunteers

Now at the end of the season, to encourage hardy volunteers like larkspur, bachelor buttons and globe amaranth to come back next year, I shake the plants out and make sure the seeds get scattered through the beds. Then next spring they come up and bloom again.

A mixed border of shrub roses, perennials and annuals.