Category Archives: Growing

Spring is in the air…

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
―Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg


I don’t know that I find anything more energizing than seeing the first daffodils emerge, a sign that spring has surely arrived.

…The cool mornings and warm afternoon breezes, the drizzly mornings, the sunny afternoons, the grass awakening to a vivid green, the red buds, the dogwoods, the cherries….Spring is my soul medicine.

It’s hard for me to not want to skip out of my job and spend my days barefoot gardening, and my nights cleaning out and organizing my home.  Spring is a time to start fresh and allow yourself, and your garden, to grow, flourish, and fruit.

Look how happy spring makes me…

By now you have hopefully prepared your beds, if not, it’s never too late…maybe.  You can now focus on the health of your soil and your spring, summer, and fall garden plan.  Planning ahead allows you to reap a continuous harvest, and avoid a lot of frustration and confusion.

Compost is key to soil health, and you should consider adding about a 2″ application over your beds and incorporating it 6″ deep into the soil.  There are many sources of compost.

You can get fully composted animal manures, mushroom compost (though this may be laden with harmful chemicals if not organic), make your own compost from kitchen scraps and waste, etc.

I find that making compost is the best source.  For one, it’s pretty much free.  Secondly, you know what is in it.  And lastly, you help keep all those kitchen scraps from ending up in a landfill and leaking methane gases into the atmosphere.

Spring time, to me, smells like soil.  The bacteria are kicking into full-drive, as they decompose matter to create fertile, earthy goodness.  You can tell the health of your soil from smelling, feeling, and looking at it.

Healthy soil should form a ball that can be broken by  the light push of the finger.  It should smell like the forest floor, and it should be dark with very few large clumps.

If you find that your soil is heavy in clay (in Polk County??….neevveerr).  Adding compost, over the years will help to fix some of the problems associated with heavy clay soils.  Clay soil tends to hold onto too much water, hinders root development, causes caking of the top layer, and decreases the ability of plants to absorb certain nutrients.

Compost improves aeration, drainage, soil texture, organic matter content, and bacteria in the soil.  Over time it increases the fertility of the soil, allowing you to grow healthy plants with minimal input.

This blog was just a taste of the gardening information out there.  The best way to learn to garden, is to garden.  Let your mistakes teach you, find what works best for your space and time, experiment, and most of all, delight in your successes.

A great website that has helped me a lot is

A good book for a quick reference is the Rodales’ Complete Guide to Organic Gardening.  Don’t let the size fool you.  This big book has short informational blurbs on almost anything you could think of.  My mom gave me her copy, and for that reason, I love it most of all.

So, as you shed away the winter blues and begin to work your garden, be sure to acknowledge the joy it brings you, and share this with those around you.

Happy Spring to you!



Feel free to email me with questions:

Sydney Klein



Relocalizing Food for Resiliency (Pt. 3)

“If you’re going to change a community, start with food, it transcends all ideologies” -Chuck Marsh

Above is a picture of Geneva, Switzerland.  The country began a program of “foodscaping”  to provide families with low-cost healthy produce from their own back yards.  Growing food provides not only food, but it is therapy, and there is a lot of research to back that up.

When a garden is brought into a home it increases fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, and overall health.

Home garden promotion is just one step in a multidimensional process of relocalizing our food system.

This blog is the final post of a 3-part series covering our December Friends of Agriculture Breakfast, and will conclude with a discussion on the actual process and steps needed to relocalize the food system in Polk County.


 The first step is to begin in the garden.

As you can see above, a food system has multiple scales, and each will require tweaking as the process continues.  Once home gardens become established you can move to neighborhoods, the town, the county, the region, the state, etc.

Some ideas could be:  Establishing small orchards in neighborhoods, planting fruit trees in town centers, or planting 1/4 acre plots at schools, hospitals, retirement homes, etc.  for in-house use and education.  The list can go on and on.

The trick is to model the food system after ecosystems by designing for:

  • Adaptability
  • Interdependence
  • Cooperation and mutual support
  • Diversity
  • Redundancy
  • Stability
  • Energy Conservation

Neighborhoods and homes could establish small-scale vineyards, orchards, herb gardens, vegetable gardens, small livestock shelters, and maybe even aquaculture.

It is very exciting to think the changes that could occur within our community if our food-system were to be rebuilt.  This of course will require re-skilling residents on growing food as well as cooking.  Thirty-five percent of Americans don’t even own a frying pan!

The trick is to understand that relocalizing food will not occur overnight and will require trial-and-error.  Failure is to be expected, but should not be a hindrance to progress.  Polk County will be working towards this in the upcoming years, so keep an eye out, exciting things to come.

As Chuck said:

“Have fun.  Savor the journey toward an abundant future.”

Relocalizing Food for Resiliency (Pt. 2)

The last blog emphasized that despite grocery stores shelves being packed full of products, and millions of dollars being distributed for food assistance programs, our world is actually quite food insecure.   Limited access to nutritious, affordable food is leading to rampant health problems and decreasing our societal knowledge of where food comes from.   The first step is acknowledging the fact that food insecurity is a real problem for Polk County, as discussed in part one.  This blog is part two of our series, and will discuss how we assess what we need in order to “relocalize” our food system.

“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”
Joel Salatin

Just as Joel Salatin emphasizes above, it is clear that we must begin to address food system issues from the ground-up, rather than depending on outside agencies to be the fix-all solution.  In order to begin building a resilient local food system, we must first understand what our nutritional needs as humans are.  Then we must address the nutritional gaps in our local food supply and how to fill these at various scales within the community.

As humans we need: about 2,300 calories a day in the form of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; additionally we need vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and medicinal plants for healing.  All of these nutritional needs come from vegetables, herbs and spices, root crops, grains, animals and animal products, oils, nuts, fruits, berries, mushrooms, and products made from the above.  In order to build a resilient system, we must grow all of the above, and also produce value-added products.  That seems like a lot to tackle!  But if addressed at various production scales, it is actually quite feasible if the community is willing.

The first step is to identify regional staples that can be reliably produced in large quantities each year.

One example in Polk County would be sweet potatoes, or apples.  Next you ask:

  • “How many pounds of apples, sweet potatoes, ________, do Polk County residents consume in a year?”
  • “How many pounds do we currently produce…How many pounds are imported?”
  • “How can we increase local production to meet demand?”
  •  “How can we make these local products accessible in all markets?”

Other regional staples for Western NC include: potatoes, onions, beans, corn, pumpkin and squash, cabbage and greens, eggs, fruit, nuts, berries, wild plants and game, and small and large livestock.  Establishing a steady supply of products that are easily grown in your region is a first step towards stabilizing the food system.

 After we establish regional staples, we must look at growing the most nutrient dense foods.

The trick is to grow things that provide the most nutrition per square foot of production.  Some examples include: Cranberries, which are high in nutrient content and used to be native to NC, muscadines and paw paw which both provide cancer fighting potential and grow wild in our region.

We must also consider growing grains such as millet, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.  Additionally nuts have lots of potential to provide economic support to farmers, since now a large percentage of nuts produced in California are being shipped to Asia (70% of almonds are being shipped!).  Locally we can produce almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and pecans.  Seeds are also nutrient powerhouses and flax, sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds could all be produced locally.

In terms of fats we must be able to produce oil and also obtain some from animal products.  Grapeseed oil has great potential in our region where viticulture provides grape skin waste that could be processed into oil.  Oil presses are not a high-cost equipment, and could be used on a co-op scale.  Other important nutrient powerhouses we can produce locally are mushrooms, herbs, goat’s milk and cheeses, as well poultry and eggs.

It is also important to grow Antioxidant Super Foods

Elderberry is a great example of a product that is native to this region and also possesses many medicinal properties.  Muscadine grapes, as mentioned above, are also a great source of antioxidants, boasting a higher antioxidant content that blueberries!  Vegetables such as kale, asparagus, red peppers, red cabbage, beets, etc. are also so called “super foods.”

 Muscadines Black


One we establish what we need to grow, it is important to understand how  we can grow enough food to support our community.  To do this we must:

Identify and plug local nutritional food gaps.

Chuck Marsh stated that the two hardest nutrients to provide at a local scale will be oils and minerals.  Mountain soils are old and typically lack many minerals, but can be re-mineralized with proper soil management techniques.  Oils on the other hand will require large scale supply of products, as well as the machinery to process and package.  Typically grain is grown in the cereal belt, but in order to address food security, we must promote grain farming for human consumption.  Finally non-grain staples and value-added products will be needed, which opens up the opportunity for local economic development and diversification.

The whole goal is to cut out the intermediaries who, by shipping the food 1000’s of miles, and spending large amounts of money on advertising, distort the true cost of food while also depleting the health of citizens.  By cutting out the middle-man we can provide great nutrients per dollar and rebuild our local economies.

This will not be an overnight change, nor will it come without its challenges  One insight I gained from the discussion is that we cannot learn or grow without challenges.  Challenge builds character and inner strength.  Working as a community to address food security will not only improve the physical health of citizens, but may also promote emotional and spiritual well being.  The final blog will discuss how we can begin to work towards filling the gaps in our system.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time…

Relocalizing food for Resiliency (pt. 1)

This month we were fortunate enough to have a presentation by Chuck Marsh at our monthly Friends of Agriculture Breakfast.  Chuck is the founder of Useful Plants Nursery and is the senior partner in Living Systems Design, a permaculture and restorative land design consultancy.  Chuck is currently working with Groundswell International to develop local initiatives to address rural childhood poverty and malnutrition through permaculture based garden projects.

At the breakfast we discussed how to rebuild community resiliency and nutrition through local food projects.  Because we covered so much, this blog will be broken into three separate posts.  First, we will cover food security issues on a global, statewide, and regional scale.  Next we will discuss key ingredients needed to develop a regionally “resilient” food system.  We will conclude with a discussion on how our county can begin to address food insecurity and build a resilient local food network.

Chuck began by stating there is a…

“critical need for local and regional food system design strategies to address the challenges we face from a fragile, risky, even dangerous corporatized modern food system”

A resilient food system is one that has the “ability to thrive and respond effectively to change.”  Our diet today consists of foods that travel on average 1500 miles, often being picked 7 days before even arriving at the store.  If shipments are hindered, our grocery stores only hold enough food to support a community for 3 days!  That itself is quite alarming, but doesn’t even touch on the issues we now face with health and access.

Food Insecure:

“lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food”

Globally, food security faces many challenges.  For one, there is global competition for fuel, a resource that is unpredictable in its cost and availability for the future.  Additionally there is declining soil quality and productivity, increasing food and transportation costs, climate instability, reduced food diversity (increasing food vulnerability), and declining nutrient content of available foods.  Food grown in depleted soils and shipped long distances loses many of the valuable vitamins and minerals our bodies need.

Nationally, North Carolina was rated the 1st in local food insecurity in the USA, sourcing less than 5% of our food products locally.   One in four kids face hunger issues in NC, and one in three children are obese.  With our state’s strong agricultural heritage there is no reason for our communities to be malnourished or hungry.

On a regional level, food insecurity in Western North Carolina has some alarming statistics.

Based upon the 2011 Gallup Survey on Food Insecurity in 100 US Metropolitan areas, the Asheville Metropolitan Area  was the 7th worst in the nation in 2010.  In 2011 this area was rated the 3rd worst!  One in five people in Western North Carolina are food insecure (that’s approximately 106,000 people).  Poverty rates are soaring in Western NC, with the largest increase occurring in Polk County with a 73% increase from 2007-2012.  In 2010 44.9% of students in Polk County were eligible for free lunch.  Obesity rates in our county are also rather high, with 14.5% of children and 23% of adults being overweight (source: USDA).  In a county with a population around 20,000, nearly 3,000 receive Federal Food and Nutrition Services (DSS 2012-2013 annual report).  SNAP Redemptions for 2012 amounted to $88,659.95!  Yet even with federal assistance, 14.2% of Polk County residents are food insecure (source: Feed America),  Thermal Belt Outreach served 9,145 Polk County residents in 2013 alone!  Clearly there is a gap in food access and affordability.  Educating residents on how to grow even a small portion of their food at home while simultaneously scaling up local farm production and variety could begin to fill these gaps.

Other countries have addressed these issues, for example: Geneva, Switzerland; Angola; and the Ukraine.  Our own country used to be very food secure, with home food production intensifying during times of crisis; for example, Victory Gardens during World War II.  Is it because many do not realize the fragility of our food supply?  Or are we as a society, losing touch with our food and agricultural heritage.  We could not live without farms, and it is time for citizens to step up and make the changes they want to see, rather than being dependent on a broken food system.  Chuck’s presentation showed that addressing food security will require re-skilling, education, and community champions, but it is feasible.  Research shows that working in gardens can decrease depression, help with ADHD and Alzheimer’s patients, increase overall health, and lead to social bonding, neighborhood improvement, and increased volunteerism.  Creating a  strong regional food system would not only help to alleviate hunger in our region, but it could give us our identity back, empower citizens, and build community.

Is your farm prepared for an emergency???

How will I water my livestock if I have no power?  If there is a flood, how will I move my animals to higher ground?  Where should I go in my field should a tornado occur?

Though these questions may seem simple, without a solid thought-out plan behind them, one might find themselves, and their farm, unprepared for emergencies.  Being that 44% of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are found in the south, it is important for these important economic centers to have emergency plans in place.  Being prepared involves knowing your risks and developing emergency plans to use during and after these events.  By being prepared, you minimize the impact on your family, farm, business, pets, and livestock.

There are a variety of emergencies to consider such as:

Natural Disasters



Severe Thunderstorms


Excessive Heat


Severe Winter Storms

Biological Emergencies


Pandemic Influenza

Foreign Animal Diseases

Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases

Emerging Crop Diseases and Pests

Food Safety Recalls

Technological Threats


Bio- and Agro-terrorism

Agrochemical Issues

Power Outages


Here in Polk County we are most likely to be affected by extreme heat, cold weather, power outages, flooding, severe thunderstorms, and possibly a tornado.  Still, having a comprehensive plan developed that addresses any potential risks is the best way to go.

Preparing your farm for an emergency requires the following:

  1. Figure out what disasters and/or hazards are most likely to occur in your area.
  2. Find out how you will be warned of an emergency.  Stay alert for emergency broadcasts; listen for NOAA weather radio alerts; and/or check for news on the radio, tv, or internet.
  3. Put together a  Family Emergency Supply Kit. 
  4. Draw a farm site map.  Include: buildings and structures, access routes, barriers, locations of livestock, locations of all hazardous substances, and electrical shutoff locations.
  5. Make a list of your farm Inventory: livestock, crops, machinery/equipment, and hazardous substances.
  6. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers: local and state veterinarian, county extension service, local emergency management, and your insurance agent.
  7. Make a list of suppliers/businesses providing services for your farm.  For example: your livestock or milk transporter, feed delivery service, fuel delivery, etc.
  8. Contact your insurance agent.  Be sure to review your coverage and get additional coverage for “all hazzard” situations (e.g. flood, hail)
  9. Stockpile supplies needed to protect your farm during an emergency.  Such as sandbags, plywood for windows, extra fuel, fire extinguishers, a gas powered generator, safe supply of food for your livestock, hand tools, wire and rope, etc.
  10. Identify areas to relocate animals if needed.  Be sure to take into account all livestock and horses, equipment, feed, grain, hay, and agrochemicals.
  11. Remove or secure any loose equipment or materials.
  12. Prepare your farm employees.  Be sure all employees are aware or the farm emergency plan as well as the know the location of shelter-in-place and evacuation sites.  Be sure to keep a record with the contact information for all employees.

Plans should also be established specifically for livestock, which would include keeping an up-to-date inventory of all animals, their location, records of ownership, immunization and testing records, as well as planing safe evacuation routes, alternative shelter, and emergency stores of food, water, medicine, and other necessary supplies.

This serves as an introduction to emergency preparedness on a farm.  For more information here is a list of resources to utilize while developing your farm emergency plan:

Newsletter from Polk Cooperative Extension

If you are not signed up for the Polk Extension newsletter, now is a great time. Check out this month’s newsletter below – lots of great info.

Sign up for the newsletter by calling Extension at 894-8218.

Lawn Seeding Time
Labor Day signals a time for action to homeowners that need to seed or reseed their lawn. Ninety-five percent of all lawns in Polk County are Tall Fescue. Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass lawns are more successful when planted during the month of September. For bare ground or a complete renovation, use 6 pounds of seed per every 1,000 square feet. If you are over-seeding an existing lawn, reduce that amount to 3 pounds of seed per every 1,000 square feet of lawn area.

Tree ID Class September 30th
Ever wonder what type of native trees are growing on your property? If you have, then you’ll want to participate in the Tree Identification Class at the Raymond Fitness Trail behind St. Luke’s Hospital. Polk County Cooperative Extension and the NC Forest Service are co-sponsoring the event beginning at 10am, Tuesday, September 30th. A handout will be available for folks who call the Polk County Extension office at 894-8218 and register for the class. (A rain date has been set for Friday, October 3rd at the same time).

Sweet Autumn Clematis


One quick trip around Polk County and one will see wild vines growing on trees and shrubs with small, fragrant white flowers in late August and early September. Locally there are two different species of fall blooming Clematis. We estimate 70 percent are an Asian relative that can be somewhat weedy. The second fall flowering Clematis called the Virgin’s Bower Clematis is a native flowering vine, also with white fragrant flowers.

How can you tell the difference? The foliage on the two vines are totally different. The image on the right is the native Virgin’s Bower Clematis leaf. These can be found growing in sunny abandoned fields and often on woodland edges. This is a great vine and not as aggressive as the Asian Autumn Clematis.

Growing Garlic
In WNC the best time to plant garlic cloves is mid-September to early October. Space cloves 2 to 6 inches apart in the row. It is critical that garlic be transplanted in the fall because cold weather is needed for good bulb development. Recommended hard-neck varieties for our area are: German Extra Hardy, Chesnok Red, Music, and Spanish Roja. Soft-neck recommended varieties are: California Early and New York White Neck.

Research in NC has demonstrated that hard-neck garlic produces superior yields and possess more winter hardiness. This September try your hand at producing your own deliciously fresh garlic!
Planting Cover Crops

One garden task not practiced enough in Polk County is the use of cover crops. Cover crops or “green manure” crops help improve garden soils in many ways. Legumes such as Crimson Clover, Hairy Vetch and Austrian Winter Pea should be seeded in September. Small grains such as Rye, Barley, and Triticale can be planted as late as October 25th. We are mentioning it now so you can locate a source of seed.

Goldenrod vs Ragweed

Photo: Ohio State University archives

Fall is allergy season and many people blame their sniffles and sneezing on Goldenrod. Unfortunately Goldenrod is getting falsely accused. Goldenrod pollen is heavy and doesn’t float freely in the air. Ragweed on the other hand blooms at the same time (see photo) and its pollen goes everywhere. Worst of all, in Polk County, we have both common Ragweed (pictured), and Giant Ragweed.

Got Blackberry Problems?
Wild blackberry plants will pop up in abandoned fields and hillsides without any encouragement. Often these thorny plants become a woody weed in need of control. If you experience this problem, treat the blackberry foliage and canes with 1 1/2 percent solution of a herbicide with glyphosate such as Round-Up. Applied to wild blackberry in September, Round-Up will surprise you next spring, the plants won’t sprout. (note: spray with caution since glyphosate will also kill your pasture grasses if sprayed).
Orangestriped Oakworm Arrival

Here today, gone tomorrow, is an accurate way to describe the foliage on several species of oak trees in Polk County. Last week there were no Orangestriped Oakworms observed. In seven days they have denuded several Willow Oaks and numerous Red Oak species including: Pin Oak, Scarlet Oak, Northern Red Oak, Black Oak, and Southern Red Oak.

If the trees are small (under 15 feet) or newly planted, you should spray the Oaks with an approved insecticide containing Acephate, Spinasad, Bifenthrin, or Sevin. Dipel is an organic product that is an option when the worms are small. Note: sometimes the worm’s stripes are yellow, orange, and on occasion green.
Native Blue Ageratum

Last month we told you about the Japanese Anemone. This month we have another underrated fall blooming perennial. Native Ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum) has sky blue flowers in September on plants 18 to 30 inches in height. It is a vigorous plant that spreads by rhizomes and can become weedy in ideal growing conditions. This herbaceous native is often found in moist soils along streams, ponds, and ditches. It will grow in full sun to partial shade and continues to flower until frost. Great for the novice gardener to try, and best of all it is pretty!

4-H Barbeque Supper
BBQ pit at 4-H Center, Columbus, NC
Mark your calendar for Friday, October 24th for it will be the date of the Fall 4-H BBQ supper. Slow cooked chicken prepared over an open pit with our special sauce, or slow roasted roast beef cooked in its own juices. Get your tickets now for there are no tickets sold at the door. They can be purchased from Dot or Sarah at the Extension Office.
Feed Fescue Now
If you own pasture or have a cool season lawn (most are), then mid-September through mid-October is the ideal time to fertilize both. You may need to raise the soil pH by adding lime, but the only way to know for sure is with a soil test. Typical fertilizer rates are 1 pound of nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet of lawn. Without a soil test, read and follow the directions on your turf fertilizer label, or apply 10 pounds of 10-10-10 per 1,000 square feet. For pastures take a soil test today to determine what you need!
Pink Muhly Grass

A North American native, Pink Muhly Grass sounds too good to be true. Long-lived with little to no insect or disease pests, this ornamental grass is perfect for  the low maintenance sunny garden. Starting this month, delicate plumes of flower panicles create a striking pink haze above the foliage. Muhly Grass tolerates heat, humidity, and poor soil.
Tell a Friend
Please feel free to forward the newsletter to your other gardening friends. If they would like to receive the letter, ask them to contact the Cooperative Extension Center in Columbus at (828) 894-8218.

John Vining
Recommendations for the use of chemicals are included in this publication as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this publication does not imply endorsement by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use chemicals are responsible for insuring that the extended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label, Be sure to obtain current information about usage and examine a current product label before applying any chemical. For assistance, contact an agent of the North Carolina Extension Service in your county.

Diversity of a Pollinator Garden in NC

There are some lovely photos from Debbie Roos of Cooperative Extension fame at her website, Growing Small Farms, here are a couple of the pictures but click here to see many more.

If you find yourself in the Piedmont, she hosts monthly tours of the garden and you can find those dates on her website.

IMG_11273 V018

Basil Downy Mildew

Check out the link below for more information about this problem and some great close up pictures to help identify if this is a problem occurring with you.


Tomato Blight in WNC

Tomato late blight, caused by the oomycete Phytophthora infestans, was confirmed today (July 11, 2014) in a tomato sample from Henderson County, North Carolina and confirmed by the Plant Disease and Insect Clinic and the Quesada Lab at NCSU. 

Here is the link for more information:

Sweet Infographic – Vegetable Growing Cheat Sheet

I think everybody loves an awesome infographic and this one from the folks at Good to Be Home is one of the best, a nice website with tons of information. Check out their website by clicking here.

UK housing energy fact file infographic