Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Angle gourds: an impressive cucumber-like fruit for Florida

Almost 10 years ago I was given a packet of "loofah" seeds. I planted them and ended up with heavily-ridged loofahs that were almost completely impossible to clean for use as sponges/scrubbers.

The netting was good inside... but getting the skins off? No process worked. I tried boiling water, letting them rot, drying, waiting until they were dry on the vine, picking them early, scraping with a knife... nothing worked.

I did some more research and discovered that my "loofahs" were actually "angle gourds."

This is an easy mistake. Both are loofahs... but only one is good for sponge-making.

I thought I had Luffa aegyptiaca... whereas I had Luffa acutangula.

After growing them once in Tennessee and once in Florida, I gave up.

The thing is, angle gourds don't give up as easy as I do. I threw some old ones in the compost pile in my food forest... and lookie here:

They're growing themselves!

Since the plant is so very persistent despite the heat and humidity, I decided to try the young fruits and see if they were tasty. The smell has put me off in the past: they have this rank green odor when the fruit and leaves are broken - yet to my surprise, the cooked young fruit are delicious and sweet... though they really do look strange.

They remind me of the Hindenburg.

The flavor: imagine the best of a zucchini mixed with a cucumber. Very good!

They're really good sauteed, incidentally.

Why yes, that is bacon grease. And the beans? These guys.
Since I haven't done well with either zucchini or cucumbers during Florida's summers, I think angle gourds will be filling a larger role in my future gardening plans. Since I've had them self-seed more than once, it may just be that I can scatter the seeds here and there and let them find their own way in the food forest. That's what they're doing this year, so why not?

Now that I've tasted them and found them delicious, angle gourds now get the green light to ramble as far as they'd like.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Grafting loquats

Remember the rare loquat tree I tried to save?

Well... it finally gave up. The top started to turn yellow and the leaves began to droop about a month and a half after I attempted bridge grafting the poor thing. Here, look:

That's pretty sad. Here's a close-up:

Obviously, at this point, the tree was not long for this world.

By God's grace I noticed what was happening before it went too far, so I cut off every stem tip.

The twigs in the glass of water have had all their leaves removed; the ones in my hand are about to get the same treatment.

Those little twigs are ready for a new life on a new host. Fortunately, I have lots of seedling loquats planted around the yard.

Like this one:

I learned at the Florida Earthskills Gathering earlier this year that one of the easiest ways to graft a loquat tree is to "veneer graft" it.

I started on this tree by removing a section of leaves from the middle of the trunk.

Then I picked out a twig from the donor tree that was close to the same diameter as the seedling tree and used my grafting knife (this really cool Opinel model) to make matching cuts on the budwood and the trunk.

I then joined them together:

A good fit is important. You want the bark on the budwood and on the tree to match up well so they can grow together. The layers just beneath the outer bark (the "xylem" and "phloem" - glad you asked!) transfer sap and will heal together as the graft takes. A tight wrap of grafting tape helps (I use this stuff - it's great) keep the bark together while preventing the budwood from drying out. I wrap all the way to the top. Since it's summer and brutally hot, I don't want to chance the grafts drying out and failing.

Once the leaves grow out on the bud and the graft appears to have healed, it's time to cut the original top of the tree off.

It's been a few weeks since I took the first set of photos and did my grafting. Most of the grafts are taking nicely now - here's a shot I took two days ago of one of the grafts:

Loquat grafting isn't hard. Knowing it has allowed me to save the genetics of a tree that would have otherwise been lost to my yard.

I was worried that the time of year was completely wrong for grafting fruit trees. At least in the case of loquats, I have happily proven my worries unfounded.

Now grow, loquats, and bring me fruit!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Improve Your Food Forest by Adding Density

A patch of tropical jungle at Pilgrim’s Farm. These friends of the author have stacked layers of edibles together.
Why is it that we find wandering through a lush woodland a wonderful thing… yet fight against lush growth on our own properties?
In our yards we seem to have disconnected ourselves from natural ecosystems. They’re scary I suppose. I mean, what would the neighbors think?
Our gardening is feeble and contrived, as if we’re making mudpies in God’s driveway.
We clear and cut and till and plant at extension-approved intervals and spacings.
Some time back I created a big post at my site on growing fruit trees from seed. One of the responses I get when I talk about seed-grown fruit is “what if some of the trees make crummy fruit? I don’t have space to grow trees from seed, only to have some of them turn out to be lousy!”
Trust me, unless you’re in an apartment… you have some space for seed-grown trees. Even for ones that don’t turn out well.
How’s that?
Look – trees don’t need as much space as you think they do – and trees with lousy fruit can always be grafted or cut down and composted. Or used to fuel a smoker or barbecue. Or cut and inoculated with mushrooms. Or cured and used for woodcarving.
We’re just too tentative in our gardening. Yes, sometimes you might plant things too close and end up with a tree (or three) that’s too shaded or too strangled… but you might be surprised how tight your spacing can get before a tree becomes completely unproductive.
Beyond just the trees, adding a larger number of plant species (basically packing in lots of biomass!) will help build soil and create a lush and resilient ecosystem.
I have seen multiple food forest projects that miss the benefits of density. They’ve made the transition from standard annual gardening to a more permaculture approach; yet they look more like an orchard without straight lines than a species-rich forest edge.
It’s fine to start by planting trees and mulching away the grass around them – but once you’ve got those trees as scaffolding, don’t quit! Build density and you’ll get more food and have less work in the long run.

Planting Around the Base of Trees

I use larger trees as shelters for my less cold-tolerant species. I’m growing guavas and pineapples in my front yard around the trunks of some large oak trees. Despite winter temperatures that occasionally reach down into the teens, they don’t freeze to death. If I planted those pineapples out in the open, they’d be toast. The increased density of my yard allows them to grow where they normally wouldn’t.
Some trees can also support climbing species. I’m growing yam vines up a small sweetgum seedling that popped up in my food forest. The tree grew rapidly and I considered cutting it down to replace with something edible… then I realized I should just take advantage of its quick growth and non-productive nature. I wouldn’t grow yams on my prize Hachiya persimmon tree… but on a sweet gum? Who cares!
If you add nitrogen-fixers, nutrient accumulators and pollinator-attracting plants around your fruit trees, you can support those trees better than you could with just mulch. I also like to plant herbs, leaf crops, sweet potatoes and wildflowers.

Letting The Seeds Fall Where They May

EmergingSeeds1Sometimes I play seed fairy and throw handfuls of seeds all over the food forest. When I’ve got more time, I make seed balls and chuck those around.
Did weevils get into some of your dried beans? Don’t throw them away – throw them in the food forest! The resulting bean plants will feed the soil, even if you never harvest them.
I once gave my children a bunch of old beans and told them to go have a bean fight in the front yard. Not only did they have fun… they also scattered nitrogen-fixers everywhere!
Throwing seeds around lets nature pick and choose what works and what doesn’t. I like a mix of flowers, brassicas, beans, grains and assorted tree seeds. Sometimes you’ll have seeds coming up a year or more after you threw them. I can never remember what the heck I’ve planted so I’m often surprised by what pops up.

Start ‘Em and Stick ‘Em

Plants can be expensive. When you spend $25.00 on a tree, you don’t really want to jam it into a shady corner and hope it survives.
I think economics are part of the reason some of the food forests I see are so regimented. The spacing, the watering systems, the perfect mulch circles – they make sense when you’re protecting an expensive investment.
I used to worry a lot about my trees. Now that I have a nursery and do a lot of propagation, I don’t worry as much.
When you start your plants from seeds and cuttings, they’re more expendable. You just don’t have that much money out there. It costs pocket change for decent dirt and old coffee cans and milk jugs can be pressed into service as pots.
Buy a couple of healthy plants from nurseries, then start a lot of babies from those initial purchases...

I ate these

They were great. These fungi are some kind of Cantharellus I found while on a walk. 

A little fruity with a smoky, meaty, very rich aftertaste. Very, very delicious.

Kids - don't try this at home!!!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mystery Bolete: Solved!

I was 99% certain I could eat the boletes I found on Thursday... but that 99% wasn't enough. Here are some shots:

My Audubon guidebook didn't contain the species, so this morning I decided to try again via my copy of James Kimbrough's Common Florida Mushrooms.

Lo and behold, it was in there! And it's edible! Check out these scans:

Everything matches... from the color to the look and the odor. And it was discovered under live oaks on a shaded lawn. Definitely Tylopilus tabacinus. With a confirmed ID in the bag... I put the mushrooms in the dehydrator and will soon make soup.

If you want to get your own copy of Common Florida Mushrooms, get it from the UF store - not from Amazon. It's a LOT cheaper. For a Florida mushrooms hunter, this book is a must-have.

A thanks also must go to permies.com, particularly to those who gave suggestions in this thread.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Foraging for yams and mushrooms

Yesterday was a banner day for foraging.

On my way to the bank I re-visited a vacant lot where I'd previously identified a good-sized colony of Dioscorea alata, the DELICIOUS winged yam, also known as the edible air potato. Unfortunately this species is listed as invasive, meaning I can't sell it in my nursery (and I can't send them to you in the mail... so don't ask)... but that doesn't mean I can't find it and eat it!

The bulbils and the large roots are both edible. I didn't come across any good roots (and I didn't want to dig any of them up anyhow), but I did get a gallon or two of the bulbils:

Though I've eaten the roots before, I've never eaten the bulbils because they were generally small or few in number. This time I don't have that problem!

After finding all these I called my brilliant friend Mart and asked how he prepares his bulbils.

"Cooked until soft, just like a potato."

Good deal. I'm going to have to see how they taste.

After running my errands, it was time to pack up and go to the 326 Market for my afternoon plant sale. As I pulled in, Kathy (the organizer) told me I ought to check out the mushrooms and pick them before they got trampled.

To my delight they were some variety of bolete and were in great shape.

I'm 99% sure these are edible... but that last 1% keeps me from eating them.

Mushrooms are nothing to play around with. I'm working on learning my species and the dangerous types but I'm not there yet. Unlike most plants, fungi can be super-duper crazy poisonous.

Dang it. They smell and look delicious.

At the Market I ran into many wonderful friends (Hi, all - you know who you are!) and met some new ones. The Dwarf Mulberries sold out and I also managed to give away quite a few peppers to people buying other things.

I was also visited again by the wonderful gal (the older of the two) I wrote about here and we talked seeds, plants, writing and more about plants.

When the market closed and I'd packed up, a couple of my children and I wandered further into the field to look for more mushrooms... and we hit the jackpot. Our recent rains have brought plenty of fungal bounty to the surface:

I wish I knew which of these were edible and which were poisonous. I'll get there one day.

For now I'm taking notes and pictures as well as making spore prints. I'm also reading multiple books on mushrooms at the same time.

Maybe next year I'll be brave enough to start eating what I find. Maybe.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Today at the 326 Community Market!

If you haven't stopped by the market yet... what are you waiting for?

I've still got a few edible hibiscus plants in stock. Turk's Cap, broad-leafed spinach type, plus red cranberry hibiscus with its delicious tart leaves. Come and get 'em!

I also have some dwarf mulberry trees in stock for $8.00 a pot. Plant a mulberry hedge!

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

Some of my wonderful selections include:


HOT PEPPERS (Jalapeno, Habanero, Cayenne!): $1.50 ON SALE!!! Or 10 for $10!

CELOSIA ARGENTEA (great green/amaranth-type grain): $3.00 a pot

SURINAME SPINACH/PURSLANE: $3.00 for small pots, $6.00 for large

CHAYA: $5.00



I also bring a limited number of other rare edible/perennial vegetable and fruit from the tropics and beyond!

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, September 17, 2014

Info-sheet: Rare and Delicious Greens for Florida Gardens

Florida is a great state for salad greens. Though we can't grow lettuce through our hot summers, there are some superior alternatives that take the heat and keep on kicking.

Chaya, Cranberry Hibiscus, Hibiscus Manihot, Feather Cockscomb, Longevity Spinach, Okinawa Spinach, Katuk and Surinam Purslane are all wonderful plants - and all but one of them are perennial.

I recently created a new handout on these great greens for Florida. Since the info will prove useful to those of you who want salads during the blast oven of summer, I'm reproducing it here.

Hope you find it helpful.

NOTE: You can download this handout and it will be easier to read. Just drag and drop to your desktop, then you can print it. If you post it elsewhere, just link back to this site.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Making Spore Prints from Mushrooms

On the way home from church I spotted a fairy ring of mushrooms I believe are Chlorophyllum molybdites.

I stopped the car and turned around to take a closer look. There was a pretty good patch going on a mowed and empty lot.

Since I couldn't carry the delicate things and drive at the same time, I handed three of them to my helpful wife to hold until we got home.

When we got home I showed the children how to make spore prints. If you've never made them before, it's a fun exercise as well as being very helpful in identifying your mushroom's species.

Step 1: Pick Some Mushrooms

This is easy and fun. Just don't eat them because death.

Step 2: Get Some Paper

Take it from Dad's printer. He won't care.

Step 3: Cut Off the Stems

This is important. If you don't do it, your spore prints will look blurry and stupid.

Here - do this:

Step 4: Lay the Caps on Your Paper

Spore-side down, of course.

Leave them alone for some hours, preferably overnight.

Step 5: Reveal Your (Well... God's) Art!

Spray the prints with some sort of a fixative if you intend on framing them. They smudge very easily.

Alternately, you can print on glass... then scrape the spores off and spread them around your yard to start new mushrooms. I also toss the mushrooms I find right into the mulch of my food forest.

Have fun!

Monday, September 15, 2014

39 Pictures of Mushrooms!

A couple of weeks ago I finally read this book by Paul Stamets:

Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

It was a fascinating read, containing info on mushrooms as food... mushrooms as medicine... mushrooms as toxic waste crews... mushrooms as water filters... mushrooms as firestarters... mushrooms as a biological internet... mushrooms as pest control... mushrooms as plant feeders...

Mycelium Running is well worth reading just for the insight into one of the lesser-known Kingdoms. (If you end up buying a copy, buy it through the link above and I'll make a buck or so from Amazon.)

That said, It's been nice and rainy lately and the wood chips in my food forest are really starting to rot into the soil. With that rot has come a profusion of fungi. Since I'm on a mushroom kick right now, I figured I'd re-start my blog writing with a bunch of photos I just took of the various species popping up in my yard.

I wish I were better at identifying mushrooms so I could give you the species. Sadly I'm a much better horticulturalist than mycologist.

Ready for some pictures? Here they are - enjoy:


A pretty unbelievable selection, eh? These are all growing inside my half-acre food forest.

How did I end up with so many mushrooms? Well, it's a combination of lots of wood chips, lots of chop-n-drop, lots of logs being dragged onto the property, plus when we take walks I've been known to pick mushrooms and then spread them around the yard and in the mulch.

Anyone recognize any of the species? Let me know!
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