Field and Farm

Posted 4/29/18

Walker County Extension CoordinatorThe warmer weather conditions that we have been enjoying for the past few days can only mean that our traditional summer growing season is rapidly approaching. …

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Field and Farm


Walker County Extension Coordinator

The warmer weather conditions that we have been enjoying for the past few days can only mean that our traditional summer growing season is rapidly approaching. Usually about this time of year we start getting calls on everything from tomatoes to turfgrass to oak trees, armadillos, and snakes and everything in between. Having grown up on a small family truck farm where we grew corn and a few other vegetables for sale at farmers markets as well as a small cattle herd and even a little cotton for good measure, taught me to appreciate many things. I have a great appreciation for the hard work and wisdom it takes to grow crops of any kind from seed or transplant to fruit or even to grow flowers, shrubs, etc. to add color and functionality to home landscapes (although honestly you could not tell that by looking at my back yard right now). One other thing that I learned especially when it comes to garden fruit and vegetable food crops is that it seems to have a language all its own.  Some of this results from gardening lore of times past that have been handed down and over the years to the point we use these terms without really understanding what they mean.  Already this week, I have heard a couple great examples of this exact thing.

Who can argue that one of the greatest advantages of living here (maybe other than tomato sandwiches from our home garden) is the fact that during the summertime we are never far away from fresh locally grown peaches. Just recently I got asked “where can I find clear seed peaches that I can plant and grow in my backyard.” Peaches are a very difficult crop to grow for most home owners because of the absolute need to spray and spray often for both disease control and insect control. In fact it is not a crop that I recommend most home owners even try – but that is a whole other issue. The term “clear seed” is not a peach variety at all but rather a term that refers to a group of peaches in which the flesh separates itself easily from the seed. It is the peaches that you can cut down the middle or else pull the two halves apart and easily remove the seed. There are many varieties of “clear seed” peaches in both yellow as well as white flesh. They are the most common ones that you see for sale in local grocery stores as well as produce and farmers markets.  The other category of peaches is the “cling” or “cling stone” peaches. These tend to be a little smaller, are very juicy, and also have a very sweet taste but it is very difficult to separate the flesh from the seed. Most of the canned peaches that we buy and the peaches packed in small containers that we put in our kids lunch boxes are cling peaches.

Another great example that I hear quite frequently is “paper shell pecans.” Just like with peaches, “paper shell” pecan is not a variety that we grow but rather a very large group of improved variety pecans that are grown for cultivation either commercially or in home orchards. The paper shell term simply refers to the relative thin shell (and ease of cracking) as compared to our native pecan which has a harder and thicker shell. There are many varieties of these and each are different in their size, nut quality, disease resistance (especially to the fungal disease called pecan scab), availability, and many other traits …. but they are all “paper shell.”

Yet another example that really hits home with me is the term “scuppernong.” I was talking to my own cousin (might as well admit it) about growing grapes one time and he insisted that “I do not have muscadines, I have scuppernongs.” In all actuality scuppernong is another of those age old terms that has taken on a life of its own. Scuppernong actually refers to one very specific variety of bronze colored muscadine. We have several varieties of bronze colored muscadines that we now grow here including Carlos, Fry, Pam, Pineapple, and many others including of course Scuppernong. Scuppernong was the original native bronze colored muscadine and most if not all of the bronze varieties that we have now grow have scuppernong in their background breeding. There are also muscandines in other colors as well including “black,” purple, or even redish or purplish which gives rise to one of my favorite sayings “ALL scuppernongs are muscadines but not all muscadines are scuppernongs.”

Not even fertilizer is immune from these language issues. I frequently get asked such things as how to apply “potash.” Back when most (if not all) homes were heated with wood burning stoves (not to mention all the cooking) the residue or ash was periodically scooped out of the belly of the stove and spread on gardens and fields. This ash product was not only a very potent liming agent but also contained a lot of the plant nutrient potassium. The same elemental potassium that is found in common bagged fertilizers along with nitrogen and phosphorous. Over time the term potash has grown to refer to any potassium containing fertilizer, so now when anyone asks me about “potash” I know they not referring to the ashes that come out of wood burning stoves but rather the nutrient potassium.

Along those same lines is the term “soda” or as my parents and grandparents said…”sodee.”  My mom once told me to go put some “sodee” around our garden plants. This term actually refers to a very specific fertilizer called ammonium sulfate which is a grade 21-0-0 fertilizer (meaning that it is 21% nitrogen) and also has 24% sulfur. It was and still is a very common fertilizer product especially for acid loving plants and is a very common ingredient in many of today’s blended fertilizers.

There are many more examples of “speaking the gardening language” so to speak, but these are some of the very common ones. I think that along with the joy of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other plants that part of the joy is learning to speak the language and finding out about the real meaning of some of the gardening terms that we often use without even thinking about it.