Monday, July 28, 2014

Snakes: better than rodents

If you have a healthy ecosystem, you have predators.

Snakes are some of my favorite predators:


I caught this 3' long yellow rat snake after discovering him under a pile of branches in my food forest.

I'm always amazed by people that complain about birds, squirrels, mice and other pests... and then kill snakes.

Do you not understand how nature works? If you kill a snake, you might as well have bred a few hundred rodents and released them.

Snakes keep pest populations in check. Leave them alone, or better yet - create habitat! Rock piles, stick piles, logs, tall brush, ponds and woodland... these attract and keep rodent controlling reptiles on your property.

Florida only has a couple of snakes worth worrying about: the Eastern diamondback and the water moccasin.

Coral snakes are pretty inoffensive creatures, as are pygmy rattlers. Just don't try to kiss them and you'll be fine.

It's been estimated that only 5 people die each year from snakebite in the US. That means you're roughly a zillion times more likely to die from your crummy diet than from a snakebite.

Quitting McDonald's makes more sense than cleaning up a stick pile in your yard.

Unlike snakes, Ronald "You So Fat" McDonald doesn't kill the squirrels that take my peaches.

Snakes are your friends.

They are.

Just accept it, move on, and enjoy the decrease in varmints.

Friday, July 25, 2014

18 Amazing Trees For Your Woodlot

Mulberries: delicious and useful.
Mulberries: delicious and useful.
Trees are a gift from God. They shelter, feed and warm us. Our books and hand tools are made from them. They provide us with oxygen, cool us in the summer and break the freezing winds of winter.
I recently posted on why you should plant a woodlot. Today I’m going to give you more info on 18 of my favorite trees so you can start gathering what you need to create an epic stand of woods.
Ready? Let’s go!
1. Hawthorn

Hawthorns are small trees or shrubs in the rose family. They produce edible fruit and will bring in plenty of game. They also, apparently, are magic. Though they’re not particularly useful for lumber or fuel, their edibility and small size makes them a good tree to tuck in here and there. Hawthorns are a large genus… there’s bound to be a family member in your area.

2. Black Walnut

As well as being one of the most valuable timber species in North America, black walnuts also produce an abundance of edible nuts. Not all trees can stand to grow near them, however, as black walnut roots produce a growth-dampening toxin known as jugalone. If you find walnuts in the fall, husk them, let them dry out a little, then bury them in damp soil and put them in the fridge until spring. Or just plant them in place and let winter do it for you. In the spring, they’ll start growing (provided the squirrels didn’t steal them).

2. Pecan

Pecan nuts are valuable and the timber is excellent. They’re also a native North American tree. Some types can grow all the way from Florida to Canada. Plus, pecan pie.

3. Hickory

Hickory
Hickory trees: beautiful with tasty smoke.
Hickories are an excellent hardwood for tools. It’s also a wonderful cooking fuel, especially for smokehouses. Bonus: the nuts of most hickories are edible, though not all of them are worth the effort.

4. Chestnut

Chestnuts used to be one of the most common and useful trees in the United States before the horrible Chestnut Blight knocked out almost every hint of the native population. The wood is excellent for furniture… if you can find it. Fortunately, there are multiple organizations seeking to restore this majestic tree to North America. For large and tasty nut production, the Dunstan type is hard to beat. Otherwise, smaller Chinese trees are blight-resistant and will at least feed the livestock.

5. Persimmon

I can’t tell you how much I love these trees. The wood is beautiful and super-hard, plus female trees bear delicious and abundant crops of tasty fruit. American persimmon trees can be tucked in between other species, though they prefer more sun.

6. Sugar Maple

Maples produce an abundance of fast-decomposing leaves for your compost pile… and that’s the least of their talents. They also produce excellent wood and can be tapped for syrup.

7. Crabapple

Another small tree, crabapples are just wild forms of our domesticated apple trees. If you have them in your woodlot, they’ll feed the animals and provide you with useful fruit. They’ll also pollinate your other apple trees. If you want to get fancy, crabapples also make excellent root stocks for improved apple varieties. Graft away!

8. Osage Orange

This is a strange and thorny tree with disgusting bumpy green inedible fruit. It’s also a great tree for crafting bows, plus it makes a formidable hedgerow when planted closely. The wood is wicked hard and very rot-resistant.

9. Hackberry

Hackberry trees feed wildlife and produce good wood for furniture and plywood. They also grow quickly and can handle urban environments. Remember that if you decide to build your woodlot on the gutted remains of a burnt gas station.
(CLICK HERE TO SEE THE REST OF THE LIST!)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Today at the 326 Community Market! Peaches! Olives! Hot Peppers!

Photo credit: Cathy Snyder
Let's see what I have today at the 326 Community Market...

Peaches

I've got a few peach trees back in stock. $20 each!

Olives

I picked up some olive trees this week - come on down and get your own Arbequina olive and plan on some tasty Mediterranean dishes.

Hot Peppers

I started a bunch of peppers in the greenhouse. I have jalepeno and cayenne right now, with paprika and red habeneros on the way. Mmm. 

Goji Berries

I still have some. Small goji berries are $4.00 a pot... pick up a few and discover this weirdly flavored lycopene-loaded superfruit.

Mulberries

SOLD OUT!

Chinese Water Chestnuts

Do you have a pond? A swampy spot? A kiddie pool? Chinese water chestnuts are a delicious root crop that loves the heat and will produce abundantly. It's also perennial! I figured out how to package them up for sale (regular pots don't work) and I'll have some with me today - give 'em a try!

Chestnuts

I was able to get a few more. They're $40 a pot and they're one of the best nut trees you can grow in North/Central Florida!

Japanese Persimmons

Simply one of the best fruit trees for this area. Sweet, luscious, non-astringent fruit... and my price of $29 per tree is really hard to beat.

I'll also have some various bananas, plus other tasty fruits. 

Visit the 326 Market in Ocala today and pick up a few plants. There's a lot going on in the nursery and I'm finding more rare edibles each week.

Some of my other wonderful selections include:

BLUEBERRIES: (Not ready)

APPLES (Anna, Dorsett, Tropic Sweet): $20.00 

GINGERS (Various)

PEARS: $20.00

CHAYA: $5.00

PAWPAW TREES: SOLD OUT!!!

PECANS: SOLD OUT!!!

BABY COFFEE TREES: $6.00

POMEGRANATES (Various): $20.00

DWARF POMEGRANATES: SOLD OUT!!!

FIGS (Various): $20.00

MULBERRIES (Dwarf Everbearing): $20.00

JAPANESE PERSIMMONS (Various non-astringent): $29.00

MUSCADINE GRAPES: Red, Green and Bronze (various) $9.00

Coming soon: herbs, moringa, katuk, edible-leaf hibiscus, Suriname spinach.

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):

My prices are good and my gardening advice is free.

Beyond what I carry, there are also folks selling melt-in-your-mouth Florida peaches, goat milk cheese and soap, handcrafts, recycled pallet wood furniture, fresh lemonade, chickens, delicious ice cream (from actual hand-milked cows), crafts, vegetables, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies (really good), local raw honey, ornamental plants, homemade birdhouses and more.

It's a great group of people and very friendly... the way a local market should be.

Come on down!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

More on the power of encouragement

Last year I published a post on the power of encouragement. My parents nurtured and fed my nascent love of gardening, turning me into the garden teacher and writer that I am today.

Last week at the Farmer's Market, I had the gift come back to me in a wonderful way.

As I was working my plant booth at the 326 Community Market, I looked up to see two young ladies walking my way with two pots that were overflowing with happy plants.


Months previously, I had given a handful of seed bombs to the girl on the right and told her how to grow them. I had forgotten the gift until Thursday. She and her blonde niece walked up to me and said "hi."

"Hi," I replied. "Nice to see you again! What do you have?"

"These are the plants we grew from the seeds you gave us! We need you to tell us what they are!"

I looked and identified a type of hibiscus, a buckwheat, a small sunflower and some mustard greens. After telling her what they were, I asked her how she'd grown them.

"I planted them in these pots and kept them watered and they just grew!"

"Wow," I replied. "They look really happy!"

"Yes!"

"Had you ever planted anything before?" I asked.

"No! This is the first time I ever planted seeds!"

"Amazing," I answered. "You did a great job!"

She smiled shyly, then continued, "My mom always told me she had a black thumb. I was afraid that I inherited it... but these did so well that I think I can grow things!"

"You sure can," I answered. "I don't believe there's any such thing as a black thumb. It just takes practice. You can learn how to do almost anything. For instance... you could learn how to tile a bathroom if you wanted to, even though it seems complicated. Just start reading, learn from someone that knows what they're doing, discover how tile works, learn to measure... and you could do it. Plants are the same way."

She looked at me quizzically. (I don't think she had any interest in tiling bathrooms... maybe not a good illustration.)

I continued, "I also think plant know when you think you have a black thumb. They get scared and don't want to grow for you!"

The girls laughed at this.

"I've killed a lot of plants," I said. "More plants than most people have ever grown in their lives. But I keep doing it and I keep learning, and plants usually grow well for me now. Just don't be scared! This is a GREAT start you have here!"

I asked if I could get my picture taken with them and post it here... I just had to capture the moment for posterity. (Thanks for taking the photo, Cathy!)

You know, I didn't sell very many plants on Thursday - but this was better than any sales I could have made. I left feeling like a million bucks.

I may have encouraged these young gardeners, but they encouraged me much more than I can ever say. The fact that they brought their plants back to show me the progress... priceless.

Good work, ladies. Keep on growing!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Forest Man

My pastor sent me this video yesterday:


Truly inspiring. This is what can be done when one man possesses a vision and acts on it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Duckweed and azolla = free fertilizer!

Check out this close up shot from one of my ponds:


The larger plant is some kind of native duckweed... the tiny light-green plants are another type, and the frilly dark-green plants are azolla.

Duckweed and azolla are loaded with protein, which means... NITROGEN!

Azolla has the additional benefit of being a nitrogen-fixer, which means it makes nitrogen out of thin air. Er, water. Or something.

Anyhow, if you have a place to grow these tiny floating plants, you can use them as fertilizer in your garden. Simply scoop them out with a net and side-dress your vegetables with sloppy clumps of duckweed/azolla, or add them to your compost heap. Once they're out of the water they break down quickly, giving your food plants a kick of nutrition.

Free fertilizer!

For lots and lots more on duckweed, check out this gal's site. Plenty of food for thought there.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Today at the 326 Community Market: Japanese Persimmons! Water Chestnuts! Goji Berries!

Let's see what I have today at the 326 Community Market...

Goji Berries

I finally got 'em again. Small goji berries are $5.00 a pot... pick up a few and discover this weirdly flavored lycopene-loaded superfruit.

Mulberries

I found two more Dwarf Everbearing Mulberries - come and get 'em.

Chinese Water Chestnuts

Now this is a GREAT edible:

Chinese water chestnuts like old bathtubs. So do mosquitoes. I added mosquito fish to the tub - problem solved!
Do you have a pond? A swampy spot? A kiddie pool? Chinese water chestnuts are a delicious root crop that loves the heat and will produce abundantly. It's also perennial! I figured out how to package them up for sale (regular pots don't work) and I'll have some with me today - give 'em a try!

Japanese Persimmons

Simply one of the best fruit trees for this area. Sweet, luscious, non-astringent fruit... and my price of $29 per tree is really hard to beat. I mean... look at this beautiful tree:

Photo credit
Even if it wasn't delicious... I'd buy it. And I have. I've got three in the yard and I'm trying to figure out how I can cram in more.

Quick! Buy them before I exceed maximum plant density! ;)

Visit the 326 Market in Ocala today and pick up a few plants. There's a lot going on in the nursery and I'm finding more rare edibles each week.

Some of my other wonderful selections include:

BLUEBERRIES: $15.00

APPLES (Anna, Dorsett, Tropic Sweet): $20.00 

GINGERS (Various)

PEARS: $20.00

CHAYA: $5.00

PAWPAW TREES: SOLD OUT!!!

PECANS: SOLD OUT!!!

BABY COFFEE TREES: $6.00

POMEGRANATES (Various): $20.00

DWARF POMEGRANATES: SOLD OUT!!!

FIGS (Various): $20.00

MULBERRIES (Dwarf Everbearing): $20.00

JAPANESE PERSIMMONS (Various non-astringent): $29.00

MUSCADINE GRAPES: Sold out - more soon!

Coming soon: herbs, moringa, hot peppers, katuk, edible-leaf hibiscus, Suriname spinach.

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):

My prices are good and my gardening advice is free.

Beyond what I carry, there are also folks selling melt-in-your-mouth Florida peaches, goat milk cheese and soap, handcrafts, recycled pallet wood furniture, fresh lemonade, chickens, delicious ice cream (from actual hand-milked cows), crafts, vegetables, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies (really good), local raw honey, ornamental plants, homemade birdhouses and more.

It's a great group of people and very friendly... the way a local market should be.

Come on down!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Meet Campsomeris quadrimaculata, a Grub-destroying Wasp

Rachel has been taking pictures for the blog with our new (used) Canon camera. She has a keen eye and she's better behind a lens than I am.

The other day she wandered around our front-yard food forest taking shots of whatever caught her eye.

In the case of this giant wasp, she swallowed her fear of giant scary stinging things and got some great shots - check them out:






That's Campsomeris quadrimaculataa type of Scoliid wasp.

Other than pollinating my kumquat tree, this wasp parasitizes beetle grubs.

If you've ever dug in the garden and overturned handfuls of creepy little see-through grubs up to an inch or more long... you've met a common Floridian pest. Scoliid wasps search these things out, flying above the ground until they find one (somehow), then they paralyze them with their stingers and lay an egg in the zombified grub.

Later, after consuming the grub from the inside out, the baby wasp pupates in the soil and emerges as a big, scary adult wasp. Which then poses for photos.

When I added mulch to my food forest last fall, I created a haven for white grubs. They're pretty common in the soil now... and the wasps have heard about the buffet and are regularly wandering my yard looking for babyfood.

Good hunting, my friends. Good hunting.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Beautiful poison

Of all the "weeds" that appear in my yard, pokeweed is one of my favorites.


I love the look of the plant... the fleshy stems and leaves... the deep purple-black berries with fuchsia calyxes. 

I also like that it grows in terrible soil. I have a feeling that pokeweed is a nutrient accumulator, though I can't say for sure. Its habit of inhabiting waste areas makes me think so.

Whatever it is, I like to spread the seeds around my yard by clipping the berry stalks from the plant and chucking them here and there.

I'm asked regularly about pokeweed's edibility. The answer is yes, with proper preparation; however, they'll make you really ill if you screw up. I still haven't eaten any, but Green Deane does and relates his method here.

I let pokeweed plants get big, then chop them back to use as mulch/compost around my fruit trees. One day I might get around to eating them, but for now... I'll just enjoy their strange beauty under less life-endangering conditions.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Lots and lots of promise

One of the hardest things about planting fruit trees?

The wait. The long, long wait.

Some trees reward you with good things almost right away - like mulberries - but most trees do not. Now that I've been on my property for almost four years, however, my trees are starting to come into bearing size and we have a smattering of delicious fruit that will be ripening soon.

For starters, the elderberries are really jumping this year:


Elderberries are a very interesting fruit. The entire plant is poisonous except for the blooms and the fully ripe fruit. It's best for processing or drying, with an interesting flavor that tastes more "healthy" than "sweet." If you have a moist or swampy area, you should grow these babies. They've been proven to help knock down colds and the flu. Good enough for me.

Here's another fruit that's on its way:


Though pears aren't as fool-proof as some fruit trees are, the "sand pear" varieties are disease resistant and productive, provided you keep an eye out for fireblight and don't let it eat your trees during long wet seasons. Pear butter... pear pies... pear preserves... pear brandy... mmm.

Another tree that I love: the Japanese persimmon. We're getting our first few fruits this year on a tree I planted three years ago:


Persimmons are one of my top three favorite EASY fruit trees for North/Central Florida (the other two being loquat and mulberry). And... speaking of easy... check out these muscadine grapes:


If you haven't tried a good fresh muscadine, you haven't lived. The vines are vigorous and very disease-resistant, plus they make grapes.

Win. And wait... here's more win. We have citrus this year. Check out this developing blood orange:


Though I don't recommend citrus anymore, we haven't lost ours to greening yet. I'm praying we don't. Let's take a look at some Key limes:


Those are on the tree I'm growing up against my south wall. It's flying and needs a good pruning and tying back before winter this year.

It takes time to get a perennial system like a food forest going... but once it's going, the bounty is hard to beat.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Flowers


My beloved spoke and said to me,
    

“Arise, my darling,
    my beautiful one, come with me.

11 
See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.


Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,


the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.

13 

The fig tree forms its early fruit;
    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.


Arise, come, my darling;
    my beautiful one, come with me!"

(Photos by Rachel Goodman. Poetry by Solomon.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Weekend Link Roundup!

David and his wife carefully count their pennies to see if they
can afford to buy milk, beans, sardines and diapers.
It's been a busy week! I've spent a lot of time in propagation, getting ready some new nursery offerings for the fall, did a horticultural analysis of a a property, worked the 326 Community Market, sent off a bunch of water chestnuts to new homes, plus I've been writing my fingers off (which is normal).

Let's do a roundup of good stuff you can check out over the weekend.


Twitter


You've probably noticed the new twitter feed in the sidebar. You can sign up to follow me here. When I come across something interesting, I post it. A lot of gardening info, plus some economics and other esoterica.

New Newsletter:




FSG Newsletter #007: Suriname Spinach! Snake Beans! Survival Gardening Secrets!



New Article for Mother Earth News:


Discovering Chinese Water Chestnuts


@ThePrepperProject:

Two new fun posts this week... one on crazy plants that are worth growing... the other on crazy trees that are worth growing. Check 'em out:

1 Extremely Poisonous Plant You Should Grow (Along With 5 Others You Might Not Think About!)

Will Trees Save Your Life After Everything Crashes?


Other Cool Stuff:


Good video of a food forest/permaculture garden in New Jersey. I like this guy:



This week was also cool because you guys were able to nail down some plant IDs for me.

Mystery plant #1: Solved by Garden Gnome. It's Clematis reticulata!




Mystery Plant #2: Solved by myamuhnative. 

Behold the terrifying skunk vine!


Good work, folks.

Have a wonderful weekend in your gardens... I'll see you all again next week.
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