Ask Farmer Jason
                                 Summer 2011

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...

Hi, folks!
These are questions posted on the Local Table Website. I am not very techsmart and didn't see them until recently. Sorry for the delay in replying.

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? -Madison Anderson-

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-thestalk 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! -Taylor Dozier-

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. Are pigs 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...