Friday, November 21, 2014

Marion County Homesteading Group

If you're within shooting distance of Marion County, there's an excellent new homesteading group that's worth checking out:

Marion County Homesteading

I attended last night, gave a short talk and also heard an excellent presentation on aquaponics. Friendly people with a lot of knowledge scattered through the group.

Worth joining.

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A beautiful persimmon tree

On the way to church this last sunday, my wife spotted a beautiful little Japanese persimmon tree by the side of the road. Since we were running late, we remembered the spot and came back to it on the way home so I could take a photo.

Here it is:


That's about the size they normally grow. Japanese persimmons are not large trees, unlike their American counterparts. Check out the great wavy shape - it's really a pretty growth pattern. They always remind me of Japanese ink paintings.

This particular tree looks like an astringent Hachiya type, judging by the large acorn-shaped fruits.

I just thought it was great to see a bearing fruit tree in someone's front yard.

Whoever you are, nice work. Enjoy your fruit.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

No More 326 Community Market: Done for the Winter!

I've had a great run at the 326 Community Market this year.

They're still open through the winter; however, much of what I sell in my nursery doesn't display well during the cold season so I'm calling it quits for now.

I mean, just imagine:

ME: "Hi, ma'am, how are you today?"

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: "Fine. What are you selling? Sticks in pots?"

ME: "Yes. A great selection. This stick is a pear tree... this one is a Japanese persimmon. Over here, I have peach and nectarine sticks."

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: "I have sticks at home."

ME: "But these sticks will turn into fruit trees in spring."

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: "What are those trays of little green plants?"

ME: "Various rare perennial vegetables."

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: "Can I plant them in the winter?"

ME: "No."

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: "I'm going to another booth."

ME: "No - please stay."

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: (starts to walk away) "I'm going."

ME: "You have pretty eyes!!! And a nice sweater!!!"

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: (moving away quicker) "GOODBYE!"

ME: "WAIT! I have cassava! You can plant those in JUST four months!!! WAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTT!!!!!"

This just isn't a good time of year to be a nurseryman. I'm going to spend the next couple of months improving my homestead's infrastructure and finishing my new book on composting.

That said, I'm still going to be hitting the market to buy eggs, fruit and honey. Stop on by and support the local community.


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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More Food Forest Sweet Potatoes: Gainesville Edition

I posted last week on our wonderful success growing no-work sweet potatoes in our front yard food forest.

Two days ago I saw that my friend Andi reported similar success.


I like her idea of growing sweet potatoes as a ground cover one year, followed by squash the next. That would definitely help lower the pest problems on both crops.

Various worms and larva like to eat sweet potatoes, squash bugs and borers like to eat squash. The pests don't cross species. They also tend to overwinter in the same place. If they wake up after eating sweet potatoes one year to then discover the food is gone... they'll move on.

As a side note: good squash (like Seminole pumpkins or butternuts) and sweet potatoes taste quite similar and can even be used interchangeably in many recipes, meaning you're not really giving up much by switching.

Harvesting sweet potatoes is like digging for treasure.
Try growing some sweet potatoes in your food forest next year and let me know how you do. It's worked for me, it's worked for Andi, and I bet it'll work for you too.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Protecting Moringa Trees, Citrus and Other Tropicals from Frost

Since much of north Florida is facing its first frost tonight, I think it's worth reposting this video on frost protection I created almost a year ago:


Good luck everyone. See you on the other side.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Homegrown Pickled Jalapeno Slices Recipe

Making pickled jalapeno slices is easy and fun
This year I started a bunch of hot peppers in the greenhouse for folks to grow in their gardens.

Some of the plants that didn't sell got too big for their little pots so I decided I would go all-out and plant about thirty of them in my fall garden.

That means I'm raking in plenty of peppers right now. I'm making my own ground red pepper, of course, but I've also been experimenting with canning my own jalapeno slices (I started with this simple recipe I found online, then expanded on it).

I finished my second batch this week and I think my recipe is ready for prime-time.

The flavor... oh my goodness... the flavor. These pickled jalapeno pepper slices are incredibly good.

Are you ready to can your own? Here's how I do them.

Ingredients

4 lbs jalapenos
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup sea salt
1.5 quarts vinegar
1.5 quarts water
6 cloves garlic
Dash of turmeric
2-3 hot red peppers (any kind)
Sprinkle of pepper
Sprinkle of mustard seeds

Yield: 6 Pints

Note: Before step one, wash your canning jars and lids so they're ready to go.

1: Pick Your Jalapenos

Crisp green jalapeno peppers fresh from the garden
That's about 4-5lbs of Jalapenos. Two weeks later, I picked another 4-5 lbs. Yeah, that's the way we roll in my garden.

I like to pick mostly green ones but leave a few reds to ripen here and there. They add color and a sweetness to the mix. I also toss in a couple of cayennes when I have them.

2. Chop Your Jalapenos


Or just have your wife chop them. Extra points if your lady is as foxy as mine.

I tend to chop them in perfect circles; however, ellipsoids also fall inside pickled jalapeno orthodoxy.

One thing that's amazing about homegrown jalapenos is how crisp and juicy they are. The quality you'll get from your garden is far beyond what you can buy.

PRO-TIP: For extra fun while chopping jalapenos, touch your eyes.

3. Start Your Brine

Mix your vinegar and water together, along with your salt and sugar, then bring to a boil.


I tend to throw in a dash more or less of salt and sugar according to taste.

If it's zippy and a little salty and sweet, it's good. (My two favorite salts are Himalayan pink salt and Celtic sea salt. I get them both from Amazon in the 5lb bags. Regular table salt is a factory product with some ugly additions... my understanding is that real salts contain micronutrients and a much better balance of potassium and sodium, among other things.)

4. Pack Your Jars

This is where you get to see how pretty things are going to be.


Isn't that great?

Pack in the jalapenos as tightly as possible, then mash them down further and pack a few more in. Otherwise, when the jar is canned they'll get a little thin as they cook.

Once the peppers are packed in, add a pinch of mustard seeds, a pinch of turmeric and a pinch of pepper, along with a chopped garlic clove in each jar.

5. Pour On The Brine


Having one of those mason jar funnels is a big help at this point. Load the jars up with brine to about 1/4" from the top of the jar. Make sure you jog them around a bit since bubbles tend to hide inside the slices. Add more brine as necessary.

Screw the lids down tight and you're ready for the final step.

6. Can Your Jalapeno Slices

Canning is easy when you're dealing with pickles. You're not going to get a horrible disease if you mess it up, since the vinegar keeps the food good and safe. I boil my pepper pint jars for 10 minutes in my excellent stock pot.


Note: if you're scared of canning, just pop your jars into the refrigerator. They'll keep for longer than you think, thanks to the vinegar.

This jalapeno recipe is easy and tastes amazing. 

I gave a jar my friend Ray a week ago. He called me yesterday and said "Dude... I've just eaten half a jar and I can't stop! I got some chips, some sour cream... and man... these are OUTRAGEOUSLY good! I'm still eating them as we talk... wow..."

I hope he's still alive.

Homemade pickled jalapeno slices: just one more reason to garden.


Make a batch and let me know how they turn out!

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

This week at the 326 Community Market

Last week was fun, as usual. I got a visit from my friend Heather, chatted with Farmer Tim (his produce stand is next to my plant stand), hung out with Kathy and Leah (they're planting a dwarf mulberry hedge at their house), saw multiple other friends and, of course, sent some delicious edibles home with various folks.

Pineapples do indeed grow here!
My nursery is a little thin right now but I'm not tapped out yet. I've still got some trees, some bananas, some vegetables and a collection of strange edibles in stock.


Visit the 326 Market north of Ocala today and go shopping. There's a lot going on in the nursery and I'm finding more rare edibles each week.

The 326 Community Market runs every Thursday from 3 - 7PM and is really easy to find.


Google map is here. Their Facebook page is here (with lots more photos and info):


Beyond what I carry, there are also folks selling homegrown produce, real old-fashioned lye soap, handcrafts, handmade jewelry, signs, delicious ice cream (from actual hand-milked cows), crafts, vegetables, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies, local raw honey, ornamental plants, homemade birdhouses and more.


The prices are good and my gardening advice is free... come say hi!





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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Indian Pipe: A Rare and Beautiful Native

I was walking through the woods with a few of the children when my daughter suddenly called out.

"Dad! What type of mushroom is THIS?"

She was pointing at a strange cluster of white growth emerging from the ground. As I took a closer look, I realized it was a strange wildflower I'd only seen in guidebooks: the Indian Pipe, also known as the "Ghost Plant", or most properly, as Monotropa uniflora.


Unlike normal plants, the Indian Pipe doesn't produce chlorophyll, which means it doesn't take its energy from the sun. Instead, it seems to be a parasite on specific mycorrhizal fungi that co-relate with certain trees.

That means a tree gets energy from the sun, shares it with a fungi connected to its roots, then the Indian pipe connects its roots to that fungi and steals some of the energy its receiving from the tree.

Now that's an amazing design - and it's also the reason you don't see Indian Pipe plants very often. They like rich soil, mature trees of specific species that must also be interrelating with specific fungi or the plant cannot grow.

I've been looking for one for a very long time. In this particular patch of woods I found four or more additional clusters of Indian Pipes after my daughter spotted the first group. Here's another picture I took:

 

No matter how long I wander the woods it seems there's always something new to see.

According to some sources, Indian Pipe may edible. Other sources claim it's medicinal.

Since it's so rare, I won't be harvesting them for any reason. Instead I'll just take photos and marvel yet again at the strange wonders of Creation.


To start searching out your own wildflowers, I recommend the Audubon Society's guide - it's excellent.


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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Growing Sweet Potatoes in my Florida Food Forest

For the last few years I've been trying to grow sweet potatoes in various places.

In Florida sweet potatoes are one of the easiest crops you can grow. Healthy, nutritious, low water needs, plus high in calories - you can live on these roots.

Bonus: you don't have to grow them in a conventional garden.

The first way I grew them as a kid, long, long ago, was in my neighbor's flower box when she was out of town. They took over and smothered the petunias.

It was awesome.

Later, I've grown them here and there in raised beds and in deep mulch gardens and even in my blueberry patch.

I don't recommend doing that anymore, since my blueberries grew really slowly thanks to the root competition.

I also tried growing them around cassava but the canopy overhead was too much for them - if I do that again, it will be with widely spaced cassava plants.

Now I'm sold on a better way to grow them: right in the food forest.

I've done that for a few years. It was a nice ground cover; however, the yields were poor due to the lousy compacted sand they were growing in.

After dumping a few loads of mulch last fall, however, along with doing a lot of chop and drop (and shredding stuff), everything is starting to look really, really good.

And the sweet potatoes know the soil has improved.

I went out on Sunday afternoon and started rooting around.

There was something good in the ground... I could feel it...


Almost there...


AH! Here's the mother lode!!!


Look at all the fungal mycelium in there - those are all those white patches. That's good stuff. I planted the original slips through 6-12" deep mulch into the soil, but they put roots everywhere. Check out this view of the path where I tossed the sweet potatoes I unearthed:

Mrs. Survival Gardener is my photographer. And lover. Shhh.
Overall, I planted perhaps 20 slips in the spring... and just let them run through the food forest around my trees and shrubs. Some made plenty of roots... some didn't.

The total yield?

77lbs.

Not bad at all considering I didn't water or fertilize or do anything from March all the way through November. I just let them ramble and occasionally pulled vines out of the paths.

Some of the tubers ended up getting quite large:

Check out my foxy new glasses. And my giant sweet potatoes. Which are more awesome? Hard to say.
The biggest sweet potato tipped the scales at 3lbs, 12 oz.


I really pulled in a decent yield considering the lack of work involved. Just some cuttings in spring, some deep mulch, whatever rain the Lord sent and then a little digging.

Fortunately, I received a lot of help from our two-year-old. That boy is great at filling baskets.

Babies + sweet potato harvesting = a great afternoon.
By the way, we buy our baskets from local thrift stores for a dollar or two each. They're great help on the homestead and much cheaper than buying new baskets or totes. Plus they're all different and homey.

If you haven't planted sweet potatoes in your food forest or mulch beds, why not try some in the spring? They're a wonderful crop and very rewarding. Pulling them up is like digging for treasure.

And the best part? We'll be enjoying these well into the winter... and when they're done, it'll be time to plant again.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Crash Gardening S2, Episode 2A: A Tour of My Food Forest

Last summer I posted a food forest video tour that proved to be rather popular.

I've been asked for an update, so Jeff and I filmed one this last week as part of Crash Gardening Season 2.


As you can see, the trees have really taken off. Stay tuned: I'll be posting Pt. II next week!

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Friday, November 7, 2014

The Raisin Tree

I heard about the "raisin tree" (Hovenia dulcis) a few years back but have never seen one for sale... until I worked the Kanapaha plant sale and ran into Adam from Xenoflora Nursery.

He had one, along with some other amazing plants (check their website out - I've never heard of most of their offerings).

I bought it and it will be planted to my front yard food forest within the next week or so.

I'm always on the lookout for rare edible species that can handle the cold and the heat here in N/C Florida. I'll let you all know how this puppy does.

Here's a little video on the Japanese raisin tree from Daley Fruit Tree Nursery in Australia:

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

This Week at the 326 Community Market! Blueberries ON SALE!


It's Thursday again!

The offerings are getting thin as we move into fall; however there are still some good plants to check out at my booth.

I'm clearing out my blueberries right now - they're on sale in 3-gallon pots for just $12.00 each!

Here are a few more things I'll have with me:

CASSAVA CUTTINGS: $2.00 each

NATAL PLUM (small): $6.00

BANANAS (Dwarf Red - cold hardy): $8.00

DWARF MULBERRIES: $8.00

GAINESVILLE EPIC FIGS: $12.00

BLUEBERRIES: $12.00

NECTARINES (various): $22.00

PEACHES: $22.00 

Visit the 326 Market north of Ocala today and go shopping. There's a lot going on in the nursery and I'm finding more rare edibles each week.

The 326 Community Market runs every Thursday from 3 - 7PM and is really easy to find.


Google map is here. Their Facebook page is here (with lots more photos and info):


Beyond what I carry, there are also folks selling homegrown produce, real old-fashioned lye soap, handcrafts, handmade jewelry, signs, delicious ice cream (from actual hand-milked cows), crafts, vegetables, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies, local raw honey, ornamental plants, homemade birdhouses and more.

The prices are good and my gardening advice is free... come say hi!



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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: The Market Gardener

I just finished reading Jean-Martin Fortier's The Market Gardener and was quite impressed.

Though his farm is based in Quebec, there's a lot of universal gardening information and techniques which carry over into our climate.

Here's the kicker: he's making great money from a 1.5 acre farm.

Even more impressive, Fortier is pulling this off organically.

I'm going to be implementing some of his techniques in my fall field crops. (Yes - I have field crop beds again, thanks to a new friend in the neighborhood!)

Fortier's gardening methods borrow from traditional pre-industrial agriculture, permaculture, modern science, Biodynamic gardening and more. He uses simple tools for the most part, including broadforks and wheel hoes... and at the same time, uses woven plastic nursery sheeting and a flame weeder to kill weeds and a walk-behind two-wheeled tractor for bed prep and other jobs.

If you're interested in growing more food and squeezing every calorie out of your piece of the earth, buy this book.

You won't regret it. Just check out the reviews.

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