I’m British, which means I like talking about the weather. It’s not just that Brits have nothing better to talk about; it’s because British weather is really crazy. Our small island lays at the tri-juncture of three large weather systems: The Arctic weather from the north, the Siberian from the Southeast and the Jet Stream / Atlantic from the west. Western North Carolina is not meant to be like that. Yes, there are fluctuations in weather from year to year, but we seem to be living in the Age of Superlatives. Each new weather event is the hottest, wettest, stormiest, driest, coldest, since records began. Take May 2020 as a great example. The beginning of May was summer-hot, in the mid 80s. The middle of may was cold, frosty, plant killing, cold. Then we had 3 days of ‘normal’ and moved into a week of rain and storms.
This makes growing anything a serious challenge. We really need to be embracing systems and crops that are resilient.
One aspect of our experimental farm that I have not yet managed to implement, is moving to a soil regenerating, no-till system. The benefits to the soil microbiology, soil structure and water holding capacity are becoming more and more documented. We need a shift in the way we think about the function of soil, which has the power to sequester carbon and grow more nutrient dense food.
This week on the farm we sowed a strip of oil seed sunflowers and Aztec marigolds. They’ll provide a beautiful border and some pollinator habitat. They will feed the soil with living roots sharing exudates with the soil microbiology, and in time they will die and decompose and continue to feed the soil. I’m looking forward to sharing photos when they are in full blooms! In this manner, I plan to transition all of our growing spaces into cover crop rotations to build soil and benefit our environment.
With regards our main crops, we have mainly been biding out time and trying to keep the potted plants as happy as possible prior to their imminent freedom (i.e. when it dries out!). However, Thursday did give us a clear afternoon, so we whizzed out to the farm to plant turmeric (five varieties), African potato mint, and jicama.
African Potato Mint (Plectranthus rotundifolius)
African potato mint is an exciting root crop because the top mint-like growth forms a ground cover above ground and small potato-like tubers below ground. Our germplasm stock came from Mark Homesteader, our friend of the project in Florida, so it remains to be seen how well it will grow and produce in our region. Right now the plants look super healthy!
Jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus)
It may surprise you to know (as it did me) that you can grow jicama from seed as a temperate annual and get both a root crop and a seed crop for seed saving. That makes jicama a very viable crop for Western NC. This year we hope to assess yield potential and have devoted a half row to growing out this root crop!
Thanks for following along with our experimental farm work. We hope you survived the heavy rain and are able to grow some of your own food! Please consider supporting our work by becoming a Patron of the Utopian Seed Project.