I wrote this E-mail to my family and some friends, relating part of the process of becoming a Master Gardener and attaching the news article I was required to write as part of the process. It may prove interesting to our members and those who follow my blog articles, since it relates to the Master Gardener's required perspective of being rational about gardening, its environmental implications and a code of community service we observe. It also relates to the impact of nature's fickle finger of fate and its hand in the uncertainties of gardening and farming..
We were required to write a newspaper article or a press release. I chose to write an article which essentially covered those plant stress factors which we had covered during the Master Gardner course. It was written before the storm hit us, in what had already been a very wet year, bringing 7 to 9 inches of rain in the weeks preceding the storm, drenching the soil to maximum capacity, by the time the storm hit us. This followed a very dry 2008, where drought was catastrophic to farmers, foresters and gardners alike, some its effects waited to be observed until spring of 2009.
The storm, which dropped over 6 inches in 2 days with high winds, plus gusts of over 50 mph and hit our beaches with devastating tides, causing serious beach erosion. It capped a very wet year, which seems not to end, as more rain is expected from Thursday on. These circumstances gave a very real sense of the Sussex reality and most of the Delmarva peninsula to the article. I have documented this in 4 x 6 photographs, which show our property before the initial rains, after the initial rains and after the storm. I took a total of some 360 photos, which are contained in 2 CD's, that include photos taken in an air show, in Georgetown Municipal Airport, between the two huge rain hits.
I edited my original article (written tired, for I had to meet a deadline I was unaware of) to take care of some syntax errors and improve ease of reading. It will be published later this year. The program director praised its actuality, accuracy and scope.
I also passed my Master Gardner exam, with a note from the director that stated "great answers". I was somewhat apprehensive, since I have not had a test in some 30 years and at 69 I have to worry about "senior moments."
Our last conference and class presentations will take place this coming Wednesday then I'm done, except for the 45 hours of Master Gardner volunteer work I'm committed to do.
Master Gardener Pond Area
Joseph Pine Preserve Sussex Co. DE
From: Horseppl To: email@example.com CC: Horseppl Sent: 11/11/2009 3:55:28 P.M. Eastern Standard Time Subj: How not to garden in Sussex County
HOW NOT TO GARDEN IN SUSSEX COUNTY
Most home gardeners moving from outside of Delmarva into Sussex County, Delaware, would likely chose plants that are said to be viable in its Agricultural Zone 7, deeming that temperature's high and low ends, which determine the areas Agricultural Zone, is the only concern and, with this information in hand, proceed to determine their choice of plants, while thinking that they can now grows much of northern species and much of species grown traditionally in great part of the South, as it is shown in plant and seed catalogues. This must be Gardner's Heaven: such plant grows in zones 7 and 8 and such other one grows in zones 5 to 7, so lets get them and grow them.
Well....While Sussex is not Gardners Hell, this line of thinking would be a grave mistake that will eventually cost much time, money, unnecessary grief and disappointment.
Much of Sussex soil is slightly acidic and made up of very fast draining sandy loom with little water retention capabilities; but, in random areas, there are clay deposits which have very little drainage. Moreover, both conditions do exist in many plots of land, like mine.
There is also history of very erratic rainfall, where a year of drought like 2008, may be followed by a year of extraordinary and flooding rainfall, as is the case with this year, 2009. Couple this with the drastic effect of both extremes on soil and plants and the resulting damage to much of plant life is practically inevitable. Add to that how this affects the level of water tables and with it drainage and root problems.
Our coastline areas have the additional contention of salt in the ground and in the air, which can reach several miles inland and pose severe limits to plant life, which are likely to also contend with even sandier soils.
We do have lots of forest filled lands, private and public, in very close proximity to human habitation. where deer, raccoons, possums, squirrels, rabbits, foxes and even coyotes, join snakes, untold varieties of birds, plus a vast insect life and all stand ready to pay a visit to your garden and sample its contents.
Although we are in temperature based Zone 7, this does not account for the day/night differential gap in temperatures, which are very important in the development of many plants. This 2009, night temperatures have been cool and provided a good gap from the hotter days. However, this area normally has hot humid summer days and matching nights, which can affect flowering, fruit production and bring about fungal diseases and sun scorch.
Sussex is a very flat landscape, standing next to very large bodies of water, Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean; also, just a few miles away from another very large body of water, Chesapeake Bay. This generates a fairly constant flow of wind, which can sweep its huge areas of unobstructed farm landscape with winds of 20 mph quite regularly and even much higher on occasions, tumbling, bending and drying many plants.
This is a "right to farm state" and Sussex is the most farmed area in the state. It has been farmed for centuries and farming certain plants, trees and shrubs in mono culture fashion has been the traditional way for generations of farmers. By the same token, certain trees and other plants have also become fashionable by home gardners, who have planted them by the thousands for a long time. Both types of behavior have denied plant diversity, resulting in now endemic plant pests and diseases, which local gardners/farmers are alert to and have managed in various ways.
Partly because of the above, there may be soil borne diseases entrenched in your particular soil, or the lingering effects of herbicides and/or defoliants, resulting from previous land tenant's use, which can seriously affect future plantings.
Additionally, particularly in developments, but also in the construction of many homes, future occupants have to deal with very compacted soils, resulting from heavy equipment traffic; very little topsoil under their sod lawn; the encroachment of roads, driveways and hardscapes on the root systems of trees; issues of sun /shade from neighboring houses and fences, plus the effect of possible herbicides and/or defoliants commonly used by driveway contractors before laying down gravel and asphalt, which could also kill or damage future plantings as those products leach onto the garden area, or roots come into contact with them otherwise.
This combination of such mounting diverse plant stress factors affecting Sussex (and Delmarva in general), give rise to the need of choosing plant varieties that are resistant to such conditions and of methods of gardening that are consistent with informed, effective, safe practices of selection and cultivation which permit plants to survive and prosper here.
There are ways of addressing all those issues, but one must become keenly aware of them before going about blindly digging about and choosing plants and seeds for your garden, orchard, or vegetable patch. Your Sussex County Agricultural Extension Office is there to help you directly, or via their volunteer Master Gardners Program. They provide all sorts of specific publications, a Master Gardners Help Line and other services, such as soil sampling and plant identification, to make the gardening experience of Sussex residents rewarding and enjoyable.
Therefore your first gardening move should be calling the Sussex County Garden Helpline, manned by volunteer Master Gardeners 302-856-2585 ext. 536, "Helping people put knowledge to work.". Who knows? Maybe I'll be the one who answers.
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"Kapieren und Kopieron", or "First understand Nature, and then copy it."--Viktor Schauberger