Record amounts of moisture for western North Carolina (including Asheville, home of Barefoot Permaculture’s permacultureasheville.com). By mid-July, we were already several inches above the average total yearly amount.
For the first time in our garden/orchard history, water was not the limiting factor for plant growth. Plants are deep green, the uprights are tall, and the climbing, vining ones long.
There are repercussions always, to any change.
Winners and losers: those that benefit and those that are adversely affected.
As an example, this years’ main annual polyculture of tomato, basil, cucumber, sweet pepper, Red-eyed Crowder Pea, okra and Magenta Lambsquarters are both disaster and horn of plenty.
Tomatoes and cucumbers succumbed to the many summer blights (we harvested some, but not many: enough to eat a few and save seeds for next season).
The heritage sweet red peppers are almost 5’ tall: healthy and green. Hardly any flowers or fruit.
Basil is loving the moisture and growing well, as are the heritage Crowder peas (although they were reported to grow to a height of 4’, they are upwards of 10’, vining wildly around and over everything).
So much for the innocuous nitrogen-fixer growing within the polyculture!
The heritage okra (Fife Creek Cowhorn) loves hot and sunny conditions; the opposite of what we have had and are still experiencing. They have produced some fruit, yet are both small and struggling.
The deliciously edible “weed” Magenta Lambsquarters is still growing and producing very well.
Nearby, our second season (saved seed) Hopi Blue Corn, a drought resistant grinding corn, is a third taller than advertised, and is setting fruit well. This dried corn, when ground (milled) produces a sweet and delicious meal.
Behind our home is a small planting of Martin Prechtel’s corn (see “The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic” North Atlantic Books) intermixed with a single Hopi Blue (for a purposeful cross pollination).
Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans are over-running their 7’ trellis and making lots of delicious, tender green beans. Same with our Red Noodle Beans.
Our winter squash varieties are growing to record lengths, and also producing well.
Animals and Predation
During a 2 week period in late July, a canopy traveling gang of squirrels devastated our fruits, cleaning out our Chojuro Asian Pear (60-70 fruit), Moonglow European Pear (250+), Liberty Apple (125+), and several other trees with smaller amounts of fruit.
There was little we could do: they had all day.
It is heartbreaking to put so much energy into edging these fruits past the many potential last freezes, disease issues (from the excessive moisture and humidity), early insects (such as Plum Curculio) as well as the spring orchard treatments suggested by Michael Phillips in “The Holistic Orchard”.
Just to lose it all to fruit predators!
In the same vein, raccoons cleaned out our dwarfed Redhaven Peaches just as they were coloring nicely: not even a taste left for us…
The many species of fruit loving birds (Catbirds, Thrashers, and Cardinals in particular) are so happy with this oasis we’ve created. We have recently netted the Foch and Concord grapes in an attempt to actually harvest some. (This protects them from the birds, but not the raccoons or possums…)
Fortunately, the many Black Bears that frequent our site regularly, have, so far, avoided damaging our fruits and other plantings.
New Major Insect Pests on the Block
In western North Carolina, this is the first major appearance of the Spotted-Wing Drosophila (an Asian fruit fly: Drosophila suzuki): its presence is wicked on the soft fruits, such as blackberries and the other Ribes spp., Serviceberries, grapes, and perhaps Blueberries. The adult fruitfly lays eggs on the developing fruit, and the larva (maggots) burrow into the fruit to develop.
Their prodigious numbers, multi-generations, and lack of natural controls signify an end to fresh berries!
With our blackberries, we are responding by picking and immediately freezing the berries for later use in pies, smoothies, breads, and other baked goodies. As I pick, I also eat them by the handful (any interior insect larva taste just like blackberries)!
It remains to be seen how far the predations of this fruitfly will impact. They may already be moving onto thin skinned annual crops (tomatoes) and other perennials (such as Persimmon, Paw-Paw and beyond).
Although the Marmorated Stinkbug (another recent Asian pest: Halyomorpha halys) has been in the Southern Appalachians for the past 2 years, (and in North America since 1996) this summer marks their first-time presence as major fruit and other food pests.
This year at Barefoot Permaculture, in the southern Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina, this stinkbug has moved into major pest category. For instance, early in the fruiting season, many 1&1/2” pears were covered with brown pits (20-30 each) from the stinkbug’s feeding (Brown Marmorated Stinkbugs pierce the skin of the fruit with a proboscis, and feed inside the developing fruit).
Their presence and their tracks (damage) are everywhere.
A walk through our mid-August garden and orchard reveal many hundreds of stinkbugs, mostly in instar phases (juveniles) almost everywhere, and in groups and clusters: On almost everything: squash flowers, leaves & fruit; corn leaves and fruit; barely developing raspberries; okra; pepper leaves & buds; beans; and too many other plants to mention. In every scenario, they are feeding, doing damage, and vectoring diseases.
There are no native predators to keep these exploding populations in check, other than a few spiders. Cooperative Extension is looking at their native predators, and admit it will take 6-8 years of testing before government approval for introduction.
The pests get in for free: the pest predators have to go through rigorous testing, to ensure they won’t switch over to controlling different, desired prey, thereby causing worse ecological problems.
In the meantime, buckle your belt and be prepared to pay more for ecologically grown food, as well as have to physically deal with even more very toxic pesticides necessary to deter the stinkbug.