The Only Local Guide To Food And Farms In Middle Tennessee - Spring 2017
Farmer Jason is the brainchild of rock music legend, Jason Ringenberg of
Jason and the Scorchers. In 2002, he created Farmer Jason to
educate and entertain children about farm life and the wonders of nature.
If you would like to ask him questions,
email him at email@example.com
A sk Farmer Jason
Question: Why does it get cold in the fall?
- Royce, age 6, Franklin, Tennessee
Farmer Jason: It gets cold in the fall because the Earth starts to tilt away from the warm sun every year in September. Because it is tilted away, it is farther from the sun, so we get colder. In the spring, the Earth tilts back towards the sun again and warms up.
Question: We have several apple trees in our yard. I think it would be fun to make something with them. What can we make that isn’t too hard?
- Kelsey, age 13, Nashville, Tennessee
Farmer Jason: Oh, boy! A yard full of apple trees is a rich yard indeed. Apples are so easy to grow here in Tennessee—or just about anywhere, for that matter. An easy project to make with your apples (with your caregiver’s help, of course!) would be applesauce. Simply peel the apples, cut them off the core, cook them slowly on the stove until they are completely soft, add in a little orange juice to sweeten them, and then blend them in a blender. You will have very good sauce, and anyone can make it!
Question: What animal on your farm is the most fun?
-Chloe, age 5, Newcastle, England
Farmer Jason: I absolutely love our chickens. My daughter Camille helps take care of them. Chickens make perfect pets! They give you fresh eggs, they are funny to watch, and they rarely cause any problems. All you need is a nice little chicken house and pen or yard for them to run around in. Some people have little pens they can move around the yard &Icalled &I“chicken tractors.” I am not sure why they call them chicken tractors. You certainly can’t pull a plow with them!
Question: Have farmers always had tractors?
- Henry, age 7, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Farmer Jason: That is a very good question, Henry. Tractors have been around for only about 100 years. Before your great grandfather’s time, farmers used horses, mules, donkeys, or oxen to do the heavy work around the farm, like plowing, planting, and pulling wagons. Oxen were especially valuable. An ox is simply a cow that has been trained towear a yoke and pull plows and wagons. Many pioneers used oxen to cross this great country of ours. They were much hardier than horses or donkeys, and could pull much bigger loads.
TIP YOUR FARMER (a gardening tip for our grown-up friends)
When planting autumn crops, like lettuce or radishes, in the late summer or fall, you will find that they often get fried by the hot sun. Even in September, the Tennessee sun can bake young seedlings. To prevent this, cover the seed area with a board (preferably painted white to reflect the heat) until they germinate. You will find that the seedbed will stay wet for several days if you water the area after planting it, then cover it with a board or some other sort of cover. Just make sure the cover is a few inches off the bed. Put bricks or something underneath it. After the seeds germinate, put a section of lattice over the bed until the plants are safely established. Not only will this protect the plants from getting baked, it will also help keep birds off the plants. After all, birds love fresh seedlings!
Question: The river by our house gets so high sometimes. Why does that happen?
-Roy, age 4
Farmer Jason: That is called a flood. A flood happens when it rains so much and so heavily that the rain doesn’t sink into the ground. It runs downhill to the nearest stream, which flows into a river. If too much water goes into the river, it rises very high and becomes a flood.
Question: Why do birds sing?
-Angie, age 6
Farmer Jason- Many birds sing to show other birds the boundaries of their homes, sort of like when your parents put a fence around your yard. Some boy birds will sing to get the attention of girl birds. Personally, I think many birds sing simply because they love singing!
Question: My teacher says tomatoes are really fruit. Is that true?
Martin, age 13
Farmer Jason: This is a very confusing question. Scientists classify it as a fruit, but believe it or not the Supreme Court ruled it is a vegetable! I am not sure why they weighed in on this…
Question: Corn flakes don’t really look like corn. Are there cornflake trees?
-Dustin, age 5
Farmer Jason: Cornflakes do come from corn plants. There is no such thing as cornflake trees. Cornflakes are made from kernels of corn that are ground up, rolled into little flakes, and baked.
Tip the Farmer (for Moms and Dads ): For pumpkins, gourds, squash, watermelons, and cantaloupes, try to keep them off the ground when they are ripening so they are less likely to rot. Put a board, piece of plastic, or can underneath them. However, be sure to punch holes or slant the underlayment pieces or water will collect on them and actually rot the fruit faster than if you didn’t use them at all!
My teacher said the trees are budding? ^What does that mean?
-Brendan, age 6, Nashville, TN
Farmer Jason: In wintertime, most trees go to sleep. The roots don’t send water from the ground to the branches. This sleep causes the leaves to dry and fall off the tree. When the weather warms in the early spring, the trees wake and send water to their branches again. This water, which is also called moisture, gets sent to the new baby leaves. These baby leaves are called buds. These buds start to swell with moisture called “budding.” As the weather gets warmer, the buds keep swelling until they are leaves.
I like apples. Are apples fun to grow?
-Destiny, age 8, Bloomington, IL
Farmer Jason: Apples are very fun to grow. Anyone with a yard can grow an apple tree. Apples can grow almost anywhere in the United States. Apple trees can grow even in the desert, if kept watered. However, it’s best to plant small apple trees, called dwarf or semi-dwarf. It helps to have two types of apple trees. Bees carry pollen from one tree to the other tree. Bee’s pollen makes better apples and more of them.
How do birds fly?
-Andrew, age 7, Sewanee, TN
Farmer Jason: That is a very good question. Birds do not fly the same way that airplanes do. They fly more like helicopters. When they flap their wings the motion pushes against the air. This lifts the bird. Also, birds have very light bones making it easier to lift them into the air.
Tip the Farmer: For you grownups; Big Beef is a great tomato to grow in Tennessee. The biggest issue with tomatoes for us here is disease. Between the humidity and heat, Tennessee has the perfect climate to breed diseases! Big Beef is resistant to most diseases and tolerant to hot, dry weather. It is an indeterminant, which means it will keep growing all year but needs to be staked or caged. When I say staked or caged, I DON’T mean those puny cages and stakes that Wal-Mart sells. These plants can grow to be 8’ tall. Make BIG stakes or BIG cages. I usually use 8’ concrete wire made into 2’ diameter cages.
I would like to have information on planting rhubarb in Middle Tennessee. I need some guidance on preparing the soil, placement of the roots and anything else that would help. Thank you!
-Russell- Wartrace, TN
Farmer Jason: Howdy! Rhubarb is difficult to grow in Tennessee, but not impossible. It doesn't like heat and is susceptible to fungus and diseases which are prevalent in the mid-South. Although most plant catalogues and encyclopedias say rhubarb needs full sun, I believe in Tennessee you are better off planting it in an area that is in or near late afternoon shade. This helps keep it cool in the deep heat of the day. Don't plant it near a dark colored building or fence, since dark colored structures absorb and hold heat.
Rhubarb definitely needs very rich soil. I would recommend you use a raised bed one foot high and two feet square for each plant. Dig up and loosen the original soil, then fill the box with good soil, compost and manure. Plant the crown so the top is right at surface level. Water it often and heavily, especially the first year.
Regarding what breed to plant; they really are all about the same. Some folks say that the MacDonald variety is easier to grow in the South. Henry Fields sells this type.
Rhubarb is a challenge to grow in Tennessee, but the rewards are great. Fresh rhubarb made into sauce or muffins is a wonderful treat. It reminds me of my Grammy, who made a heavenly sauce out of it that we used on cereal. She also made rhubarb bread that was mouth-watering. And, of course, there is rhubarb pie…
I want to start my first garden this year in Warren County. What would you recommend for a first garden?
-Craig- Warren County, TN
Farmer Jason: I always recommend starting small and planting things easy to care for. Gardens are like new pets. They are so cute when young, but they can turn into a lot of work and trouble, if you are not prepared. For starters, everyone in Tennessee should grow tomatoes. We have a great climate for them. They love heat, lots of sun and moisture. I recommend an “indeterminate” variety, since these grow and produce all year if you keep them watered. The retail tag should say if it’s indeterminate. The most common variety is Better Boy, available at most retail outlets. Better Boy is a good variety. However, be sure to stake or cage it, at least 6 feet high. It will grow that high. You have to keep the plants off the ground or they will get diseases or rot. Other than that, just water them once a week. You will get tomatoes.
Another family of plants good in Tennessee is the summer squashes like zucchini and yellow crookneck squash. Bugs and diseases don’t bother them. They are tough. Just make sure to pick the fruits young (no more than 6 inches long). They will taste better and produce longer.
Beets, radishes, and snap beans are other great veggies for a first year TN garden.
These are some plants to avoid the first year, since they take some real knowledge, work and experience to produce: pumpkins, winter squash, eggplant, watermelon, snap peas and lettuce.
I am thinking of buying 30 acres of fairly flat land on top of South Pittsburg Mountain. Looks like red clay. Will I be able to grow anything here?
-Greg- South Pittsburg, TN
Farmer Jason: Wow! 30 acres on South Pittsburg Mountain!! You rock! That’s God’s country there. If the ground is fairly flat, I think you could grow about anything. Certainly you can make raised beds and fill them with manure and compost, if the soil is poor. The mountain will probably be a bit cooler which will also be in your favor.
Why do you plant corn and lettuce on your farm?
Farmer Jason: Lettuce is a wonderful veggie because it is the first to grow in the early spring. If you plant in March, you can be eating great fresh salads in April!! I love corn because I grew up on an Illinois hog farm. We had 200 acres of corn. If I don’t grow corn I feel unfulfilled inside! And nothing on God’s green earth tastes better than just-off-the-stalk sweet corn… Well… maybe fresh peaches!
Thanks for helping so many people with your great knowledge, Farmer Jason. I have a quick question about worm castings and organic farming. When using worm compost/castings on veggies and herbs, do the inputs (food scraps and the rest) need to be organic in order for the worm castings to be considered organic?
I love my worm composting bin, which takes up little space in my small house/deck, and I would love to incorporate the castings and black tea into my first organic gardening attempt. Thanks so much!
Farmer Jason: Wow! That is really a deep question, no pun intended!! Honestly, you have stumped the farmer! I don’t know the answer to this one, but my feeling is that your worm castings would be considered organic no matter what they eat.
Hello Jason! Say “hi” to Petunia. Love their "singing" to PUNK ROCK SKUNK. Arepigs suitable animals for gardening?! All the best!!
-Neele, 5 years old, Germany
Farmer Jason: Hi, Neele!! Yes! Pigs are a wonderful help to farmers and gardening. My Daddy would plant our gardens where the pigs used to live. When the piggies rooted around in the mud, they would make holes in the soil for air to get in. The dirt loves to have air in it and plants like that too. Also, believe it or not, when the pigs go to the bathroom, this makes something called “manure” which is very good for plants. Pigs make plant food!!!
We recently moved to the area and have approximately 3 acres of farmable land. I’ve read articles about goats, farmers markets, llamas, bees and tons of other interesting information. But once a person decides what it is they wish to grow or raise; how does one go about marketing the critter or the crop? We want to compensate for the effort and expense. Bottom line - we don't expect to make much money. Are we expecting too much to think our small piece of God's earth can help pay for itself?
-Randall and Mary-
Farmer Jason: Absolutely! You can make 3 acres produce enough to make a bit of money. I suggest you contact your local state Agriculture Extension office to get some real advice on this. That’s what they are there for, unless their positions have been cut…
I have kudzu on my property and was wondering if there is any way to organically get rid of it?
Winston, age 49, Charlottesville, Virginia
Farmer Jason: Alas, I am afraid I know of no easy organic way to get rid of kudzu. If it is out in the open, and not climbing into trees and fences, frequent mowing can sometimes stunt it into oblivion. However, you have to mow it continuously, like every week all spring, summer, and fall. Eventually it will get discouraged and give up the ghost. If it is already in your fences and trees, your options are limited. You can spray it with some sort of chemical vine and brush killer, or live with it. A few good sprayings will usually knock it way back, but I am sorry to say that you will probably have to fight it for the rest of your life at that property.
There are some folks who claim kudzu is good. Believe it or not, I have heard that it can help cure alcoholism!! I have no earthly idea how that could happen, unless it’s because it takes up so much of your time to fight it that you don’t have time to drink!
I for one believe that kudzu is the anti-Christ. There has to be a 666 somewhere on the plant.
Editor’s note: Although kudzu is an invasive and problematic species in our area, it is also a high-nutrition forage, and has been successfully controlled and eradicated using goats and sheep. For more information, visit www.ca.uky.edu/NEWS/?c=n&d=195.
What kind of radish do you recommend for Tennessee?
Brent, age 30, Dickson
Farmer Jason: Any radish will do well in Tennessee. I like Champion but that’s just because my local Farmer’s Coop always seems to have them on sale in the fall for 90% off. Plant them the first part of March, or earlier if you have a cold frame. Scatter them on top of your planting area and sift a bit of dirt over the seeds. You will get radishes.
It’s a wondrous vegetable. They have no pests, animals don’t like to eat them, they mature quickly (sometimes in 3 weeks!), and they scoff contemptuously at late frosts.
Do your hens crow and wake you up in the morning?
Aiden, age 4, Franklin
Farmer Jason: No, our hens never wake us up by crowing. In fact, hens don’t crow at all. The loudest they ever get is a happy clucking after they have laid an egg. The roosters, or boy chickens, do all the crowing. That is why we don’t have roosters on the Farmer Jason farm. I like waking up early, but not by a rooster! By the way, one of our favorite hens, Maybelline, was given to us by none other than Lisa Shively, publisher of Local Table. She is a sweet bird and delivers great eggs. Maybelline I mean… not Lisa!
Tip the Farmer: Cold frames are small boxes in which cold weather plants can be planted in advance of warm spring weather. They can be very easy to make. The simplest way to do it is place or nail four planks or boards in a box shape and place an old storm window on top of it. Put some good dirt in there, and plant some radishes, greens, or lettuce in the early part of February. Be careful, though, on hot days. Be sure to take the window off, or the plants might fry.
We bought 4 baby chicks this summer,which were supposed to be hens. However, two of them are acting very aggressive and look taller, with bigger combs. Could they be roosters? We hope not, since we live in Nashville and their crowing would be considered a nuisance.
Chris, Nashville, Tennessee
Wow, do I feel for you. This day and age, roosters are about as useful as a 1997 computer. Almost everyone wants pullets (females) for eggs, plus they make sweet affectionate pets. My 10 year old daughter takes care of ours and loves them dearly. Roosters, on the other hand, are aggressive, loud, and essentially useless, unless you want fertile eggs. They simply cannot be kept in the city backyards like hens can. Sooner or later, the city authorities will get a complaint about their crowing and you will get busted. If that happens, it is extremely difficult to find “good homes” for roosters. Unfortunately, although chicken companies claim they are accurate regarding the sex of the chicken when they send or sell birds, they make mistakes, and a lot of them.
Still, I wouldn’t panic just yet. Some hens can look like roosters and have aggressive traits. They are the roller derby girls of the chicken world. Until they start crowing, I would not assume they are roosters. However, if they do crow, as sure as Republicans like low taxes, they are roosters.
Why do corn plants wear hats?
Angie, age 5, Hopkinsville, Kentucky
The hat on top of a corn plant is called a tassel. The tassel drops little pieces of a thing called pollen which helps the corn ears grow. Without the hat, you would have no ears!!!!
I am really over gardening. I have no luck with it. Either diseases or bugs ruin it every year. I quit!!
Tom, age 27, Nashville, Tennessee
Don’t quit, Tom! Gardening can be fun! I promise! I recommend that next year you try one more time. However, only plant veggies that do well in Tennessee, and are resistant to diseases and pests. For example, any variety of yellow crooked neck summer squash will grow in Tennessee, or anywhere for that matter. Plant a few hills of that, water it during dry spells, keep it weeded, and I guarantee you will get yummy squash, absolutely delicious grilled or stir fried. Just be sure to pick the fruits young, and NEVER let then get bigger than around 6 inches. They will bear longer if you keep them picked. Other easy veggies to grow would be sweet corn, zucchini, and Big Beef tomatoes, which are resistant to many tomato diseases. The problem is not your gardening skills, it’s that you really need to plant the easier varieties to grow. Once you get the hang of doing these plants, you will get more excited to try others that take more effort and education.
Can winter wheat be grown in Tennessee? What type do you recommend for a 10x20 garden?
William from Tennessee
Yes, winter wheat can be grown in Tennessee very successfully. My neighbor does just that every year. It makes a great winter cover crop you can plow under in the spring, or harvest the wheat. As to what type to grow, that I am not sure about that. I recommend you drop by your local Farmer’s Coop, and ask an old guy with big glasses and short hair.
TIP THE FARMER:
Plant potatoes in the early spring. After they have been harvested around mid July or so, till up the patch and plant sweet corn in it. The potatoes will have really aired out the soil, and loosened it beautifully. It will grow a great late corn crop that will mature in early October, when everyone else’s corn is long gone.
Question: After gardening for 5 years, I really have to question the economics of this enterprise. I figure my tomatoes cost me 4 times what I could buy them for in the store. Every time turn around it seems I have to
buy something for this garden. Am I doing something wrong? - Allen Brentwood, Tennessee, age 29
To be 100% organically honest here, unless you have
superhuman penny pinching powers, gardens cost money. Yes, you probably can
buy vegetables at Wal-mart cheaper than you can grow them yourself. That is
a fundamental bummer, but essentially true for most people, especially first
time gardeners. For starters, you need seeds, tools, topsoil or compost to
amend our poor Tennessee soil, garden and soaker hoses, and mulch materials.
That's just the tip of the iceberg lettuce! If you aren't using raised
beds, you also will have to pay someone to till your plot. All this costs
money, and a good bit of it. However, over time you will find that the costs
begin to level off. You figure out how to save or trade seeds. You learn
what tools you need, and to find them at garage sales. You might share a
tiller rental with neighbors.
But even given all that, you shouldn't garden because it saves you money.
Gardening is one of life's greatest therapies. Spending time in your garden
connects you to the earth, and to your primordial past. It gives your family
quality food that you grew with your own hands. If you become successful at
it, you will be the envy of the neighborhood. Everyone admires a good
gardener, and harbors secret dreams to someday have one in their backyard.
It is best to think of it as a hobby, like golfing or fishing. Hobbies cost
money, but in the case of gardening, the return can be deeply satisfying.
There is no place of greater peace and well being than a well tended garden,
and enjoying those fresh vegetables straight out of YOUR garden is a
culinary delight with no parallel.
Question: Is a pony a baby horsey? ~Ruby, age 6, Nashville, Tennessee
Great question Ruby! Ponies are not baby horses. A baby horse
is called a colt. A pony is simply a smaller version of a horse. We have a
pony on our farm. Her name is Tinkerbelle. Our goat Azalea is her best
friend. They hang out together all the time!
Question: Our garden dies every year in July and August. What can we do? ~ Brandon, age 43, Kingston Springs, Tennessee
I have three words to say to you: water, Water, and WATER!
You HAVE to water the garden during long hot spells, at least once a week if
rain is scarce. Water those plants deeply and consistently. If you are on
city water, this of course will raise your water bill. However, if you get
stingy on the watering, you will lose everything in your garden. All that
work you put into it will be for naught.
Also, try to use plants that can take some serious heat. For example,
Better Boy tomatoes can take the heat. Ditto for Kandy Corn (a super sweet
corn that thrives in Tennessee). For more on that, check out the Henry
Fields seed catalogue's Southern Version. They mark the plants that are bred
to do well in the hot dry Southern summers. It's a great free way to find
out what plants do well in the dry heat.
TIP THE FARMER:
This tip relates to the last question. Everyone argues about when is the
best time to water your garden. Some folks say the morning, so the plants
will dry quickly and not get diseases. Others say the evening is best, so
the soil stays wet longer. I am sure Congress will soon debate this
momentous question, and we should expect a filibuster of some sort...
I am going out on a limb and give my opinion, although I may lose friends
and fans by doing this. Such courage...here goes:
In hot climates like Tennessee, you should water your garden in the evening
so the soil stays wet all night, and the plants can use it. If you water in
the daytime, that sun will dry that soil almost as fast as you can water it.
However, DON'T use sprinklers. They are a waste of water and get the full
plant wet, which spreads diseases. Use soaker hoses, or hose the water
around the base of the plant as slowly as you can. The idea is to
thoroughly wet the soil without getting water on the foliage. Moisture on
the foliage spreads plants diseases. That is a fact.
Question: I want to get my parents a fruit tree for their anniversary. They have a very small yard. What should I buy them?
- Madison, age 30. Franklin, Tennessee
Tennessee is actually a very difficult state to grow fruit in. Trees bloom early during balmy warm spells, and then get hit with our inevitable late frosts. On top of that, droughts are becoming more common these days, plus fruit trees are susceptible to many diseases in this humid climate. All things considered, fruit is not easy to grow. If you’ll notice, we have very few commercial orchards in Tennessee.
Considering all that, apples are your best bet. You will find them to be reliable producers here in Tennessee , most of the time anyway. Like the ubiquitous tomato, almost anyone can successfully grow an apple.
You mention you have a small yard. I would recommend a new dwarf size called Li’l Big. Most big seed companies carry these. They are smaller than semi-dwarf trees (which themselves can get 15 feet tall, “hardly semi-dwarf”) and grow about 6 feet tall. They are very easy to manage in a small yard. Fuji, Sundance, and Liberty are good breeds that do well in Tennessee .
Question: Where do moles live? Are they nice?
- Ben, age 4, Chicago, Ilinois
Moles are really neat animals. They live in the ground in cool dark tunnels they build themselves! They can’t see very well, but they can smell and hear better than you and me. They are very nice animals, and help our world by bringing air into the ground with their tunnels. Believe it or not, the soil loves to breathe too, and moles help them do this.
Question: This time of year I get so impatient to start the early spring plants like lettuce and radishes. It says on the seed packets that February 1 is a recommended date to start in this region. What is your opinion?
- Brandon, age 25, Murpfreesboro, Tennessee
I have never in my life had any luck whatsoever seeding early spring plants the first part of February, even in cold frames. Invariably, we get severe freezes in March that kills all your work. I always wait until March 1. It is a mantra I never deviate from… well ALMOST never… Ok let’s get real. No one can resist planting lettuce or radishes during warm snaps in February!! I’ll bet even Buddha would have succumbed to the urge…Go ahead and plant that early if you want, and tempt the fates.
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