Closer Look

Tapping into growing season resources

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Deena Bouknight

Plenty of knowledgeable and professional growers are accessible throughout Macon County to offer advice and tips on how to get the most out of the summertime produce gardening season. Whether growing in a few pots or containers or overseeing a large garden, the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Macon County on Thomas Heights Road in Franklin offers innumerable opportunities to glean knowledge – through classes, on its website, and via an e-newsletter. And, on Saturday mornings at two different farmers markets in Franklin, individual and large-scale farmers and horticulturists are on-hand to answer questions. 

One of those individuals is Tom Peeling. His parents were vegetable farmers first in Pennsylvania and then in Florida. “In the mid-1950s, they eventually owned wholesale and retail plant nurseries. So, I come from a farm/plant background, although I did not make a career of either. But it’s in my blood.”

Long timers in Macon County, Peeling and his wife, Becky, are regulars at the original Franklin Farmers Market on East Palmer Street, which runs year-round from 8 a.m.-noon each Saturday, rain, shine, or snow. Peeling, a retired journalist and historical memorabilia collector (see past articles in Macon County News and The Epoch Times about his collections), oversees a booth with Becky each Saturday during the spring-to-fall growing season and he offers plants and produce, while she sells jams, jellies, pickles, baked items, and more.  

Peeling noted that he and his wife enjoy being part of the Franklin Farmers Market because organizers “require all items sold to be grown right here in Macon County and not something brought in from the Asheville Wholesale Farmers Market, and it has a 25-year history of helping local farmers.”

He continued: “I love growing vegetables here. Although the seasons are short compared to South Florida, you can still grow a lot. Certain things do better than others and I believe a lot of that is related to the soil. That can vary from garden to garden. I can grow beans, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, broccoli, garlic, and squash very well, but struggle with peppers, eggplant, carrots, beets, and peas. We have very acidic soil here so it needs lime added every year. I have my soil analyzed by North Carolina State University each year to know my pH level and how much lime and fertilizer to add. They do it for free most of the year, or for a minimal charge after Thanksgiving through spring.”

TOM AND Becky Peeling bring seedlings and produce, as well as homemade items, to the Saturday morning Franklin Farmers Market on Palmer Street.

Vegetable plant seedlings offered in the couple’s booth are grown from seeds Peeling saved and purchased. He explained: “I save my own tomato seeds each year because I grow 10 heirloom varieties that are nearly impossible to find seeds for anywhere. I usually try one new variety each year to see if it’s any better than any of the 10 I already grow. I buy seeds for everything else. Seed is cheap compared to plants, so it’s not worth saving the others to me because you have to worry about cross pollination and other problems.”

Battling weeds and bugs

Partly because Western North Carolina is a temperate rainforest, both wanted and unwanted plants grow profusely. And, attracted to all sorts of produce plants are various unwanted bugs and diseases. All are the bane of a grower’s existence. To combat, Peeling offers various methods. 

“I have a small battery-operated tiller that I use to keep the weeds down in between the rows of plants. That helps a lot, but sometimes there’s just no escaping the use of a hand hoe.”

He added, “We grow all-organic, so bugs and diseases are a challenge, too. People will often see me in the garden early in the morning checking for bugs and diseases. Fortunately, there are organic sprays that can help a lot, but we keep those to a minimum.”

Peeling recommends, for caterpillars, such organic sprays referred to as BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) or Thuricide. 

“Copper fungicide is also considered organic, although I rarely use it in vegetables because it can burn them,” he said. “Soapy water or Neem oil can also be used to control bugs, somewhat. Tomato blight is tougher. I bought Actinovate biological fungicide this year to see if it works on blight, as some say it does. It supposedly is a bacteria that feeds on the blight spores, but it is very expensive.”

Peaches in peril

According to Macon County Extension Director Christine Bredenkamp, peaches are one of the cultivated fruits in this region that often pose a few conundrums among growers. 

She wrote in a recent e-newsletter offered to the community: “Every year around mid-summer, I receive inquiries about a ‘jelly’ like substance oozing out from the trunk of fruit trees [with fruit] either does not ripen or falls off early, and/or has a fuzzy brown substance that is invading the peaches. The top two foes causing these symptoms are the peachtree borer, which is a clearwing moth, and brown rot, caused by the fungi Monilinia fructicola.”

She explained that the peachtree borers “are clear-winged moths that deposit their eggs on the tree trunk, lower limbs or soil. Their eggs hatch and become larvae, which overwinters under the tree bark. When it warms up, they tunnel into the lower trunk and roots feeding on the growing tissue and inner bark. Bores that feed on the roots will lead to a reduced crop yield due to lack of nutrient uptake, while heavy trunk feeding can girdle the tree and cause death. The end result is the tree may lose fruit, exhibit stunted growth, yellow foliage, and eventually die.”

A solution offered is the use of a product with the active ingredient permethrin or cyfluthrin. Spray two or three applications from early August through mid-September.

For brown rot, which also affects such fruit trees as plums, quince, and cherries, “the following practices, such as sanitation, appropriate canopy management, and a properly timed spray program will go a long way to minimize the disease:

  • plant fruit tree(s) in a well-drained location with 8-10 hours of full sunlight;
  • prune regularly to keep trees open to light and air circulation;
  • remove damaged or diseased fruit and limbs to lessen infection;
  • clean pruners between cuts;
  • dispose of pruning and other debris to avoid recontamination;
  • thin fruit 6-8 inches apart;
  • pick off and dispose of infected fruit to help slow the spread of this disease and do not leave them on the ground; and, 
  • spray tree with a recommended fungicide, such as Captan, starting about four weeks prior to anticipated harvest, and sprays should be applied every seven days until harvest.

For more seasonal information about vegetable gardening, and to sign up for an e-newsletter that provides ongoing growing advice, visit